Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Reverse New Deal: As America invests in "ghost schools" abroad, real schools here are falling apart

(WPA workers building a school in Centreville, Maryland, 1936. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

American taxpayers are funding a lot reconstruction efforts abroad, but a lot of the money has gone missing. A recent U.S. government report indicates that, "The inability to adequately inspect and manage [U.S. funded] reconstruction efforts has led to extreme waste, including one case where the Afghan government found that millions of dollars had disappeared as Afghanistan paid for 'nonexistent ghost schools, ghost teachers, and ghost students'" ("Tens of Millions Wasted on 'Ghost' Schools, and That’s Just the Tip of the Iceberg," Mother Jones, January 29, 2016). 

We've also lost an unknown, but large amount of military equipment in Iraq. In one case,  2,300 Humvees were lost to ISIS.  And, of course, our 8-million-dollar per hour wars show no sign of ending. Most likely, we'll be spending trillions of dollars on middle-eastern conflicts over the next several decades. For some, this will be a very lucrative outcome. After all, the loss of 2,300 Humvees might mean a contract for the building of 2,300 more.
 
In any event, while we're paying for ghost schools abroad, our own schools are falling apart. Old schools in Baltimore had to shut down because their heating systems don't work. Underfunded schools in Kansas had to close early to help pay for tax breaks for the rich. High levels of toxic lead (from old pipes) were found coming out of water fountains in schools in Sebring, Ohio. Detroit's school system is being sued over "rodent-infested school buildings that are crumbling, damaged by water and pockmarked with black mold," along with "unrepaired bullet holes, exposed wires, and boarded-up windows." And, all across America, schools are being closed due to water main breaks - most of which are occurring on old pipes that should have been replaced by now: Schools closed in West Baltimore on January 15th, in Barneveld, Wisconsin on January 19th, in Troy, New York on January 20th, in Atlanta, Georgia on January 26th, in Kirkland, Illinois on January 29th, and, well, the list goes on and on. What do you expect, in a country that experiences about a quarter-of-a-million water main breaks, every single year.
 
Things don't have to be this way of course. We could stop trying to be the Policeman Of The World, and start paying more attention to domestic problems; for example, fixing bullet holes & removing rats from our schools, and providing non-toxic drinking water to our schoolchildren. During the New Deal era, WPA workers engaged in 39,000 projects to build, repair, or improve schools, and they also installed 16,000 miles of new water lines. Other New Deal work & construction programs, e.g., the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) and the Public Works Administration (PWA) also engaged in these types of projects.

Unfortunately, fear is a big seller. So, it's quite probable that more and more money will be spent overseas, while less and less is invested in our own schools and infrastructure.

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