Thursday, June 30, 2016

The New Deal: Work, Not Charity

Above: The finishing touches are being put on a 1940 exhibit in Chicago. The panel reads, "The foundation upon which this nations stands is the dignity of man as an individual... his right to free expression in politics and religion, and in the labor by which he builds his way of life. Work is America's answer to the need of idle millions... work, not charity... peaceful work... useful public work to benefit us all." Unfortunately, over the past several decades, this New Deal philosophy of work has been replaced with trickle-down economics and neoliberlism. Today, if you're laid off and can't find a job, you will be called a parasite, grudgingly given some unemployment benefits and, when those benefits expire, told to find a church or charity that can put you on their dole. Even many Democrats have abandoned the New Deal work ethic. As I've pointed out many times before, when U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced legislation to create a new WPA in 2011 (when unemployment was very high and people were being financially destroyed) he received virtually no support from his fellow Democrats, including President Obama. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

WPA sewing room projects for children - a historical rebuke to our current policies of child neglect

Above: The description for this photo reads, "WPA District of Columbia - Sewing Project - John Marshall Place - sweater and hat made by WPA." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: The description for this 1938 photo reads, "Photo shows child model wearing dress that was made by a WPA sewing project." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: The description for this 1938 photo reads, "Baby garments are cut from patterns by WPA women." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Of the 382 million articles of clothing made by WPA sewing room workers, about 67 million were for boys, 78 million for girls, and 75 million for infants (including 29 million diapers). After Eleanor Roosevelt visited several WPA sewing room projects, she said: "What interests me most are the people carrying on these projects. I had opportunity to meet them clear across the continent and their enthusiasm and belief in their work is really fine to see. It is not the kind of spirit you see in people who are working because they received a certain amount of money at the end of each week. There is a fire in them, I think, through the feeling that they are really working to better conditions for their fellow beings" (Work: A Journal of Progress, September 1936, p. 2).

WPA sewing room projects were just one part of a multi-pronged effort to improve the lives of children during the New Deal. There were also WPA health clinics & immunization campaigns, PWA-built hospitals, free art classes, new playgrounds & recreation centers, thousands of miles of new water lines to deliver clean water to children, and much more. 

Today, our cultural attitude toward the well-being of children is quite a bit different, which is why you are seeing a record number of homeless children, an increasing number of children killing themselves, children drinking leaded water all across the country, and a childhood obesity rate that has ballooned since the implementation of trickle-down economics. Indeed, many of our children are in the pipeline to prison, where corporate executives, wealthy investors, and corrupt judges are waiting to make a profit off them.

As a nation, we know we can do better. The New Deal proved it. We are simply choosing a different, more bloodthirsty path. Shame on us.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

New Deal Art: The Hunter and the Falcon

Above: This ceramic tile was created by artist Cecil Jones, while in the WPA's Federal Art Project in California, ca. 1937-1938. Image courtesy of the National Archives.

Friday, June 24, 2016

WPA Robin Hood

Above: The description for this 1938 photo reads: "Hand carved wooden dolls representing famous characters of fiction and history are part of the display of the WPA exhibition of skills of the unemployed in the National Museum [today called the "National Museum of Natural History"]. These dolls are hand carved in wood on a Minnesota Handicraft  project and are used as visual education models in schools, libraries and museums. In the picture is shown 'Robin Hood'." Photo courtesy of the National Archives, record group 69.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Good Bankers

Above: A few years ago I saw this billboard near Winchester, Virginia. How sincere it is I don't know, but I thought it was an interesting advertisement given the recent wide-scale fraud practiced by the big financial institutions. In my blog, I frequently criticize bankers and corporate executives who defraud the public. But there are also many bankers and executives who understand that fraud is wrong, and that our nation would be better off if we had a more equitable distribution of income, wealth, and opportunity.

Above: Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Marriner Eccles, 1940. Eccles was a skillful banker who prevented his family banking business from collapsing during the Great Depression. And, unlike many commentators today, he understood that the poor and unemployed should not be blamed for the nation's economic recessions. In 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, he told Congress: "The present condition is not the fault of the unemployed, but that of our business, financial, and political leadership." Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: Leo Crowley, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), 1935. Before he was placed in charge of the FDIC, Crowley had protected the banking system of Wisconsin from the worst harms of the Great Depression. He had a particular aversion to banking incompetence, and once remarked: "It is my belief that bank supervisors [regulators] have erred in failing to keep bankers informed of supervisory policies and procedures, and that bankers, in their turn, have shown a curious lack of interest in the why and the how of bank supervision" (“Crowley Upholds Bank Supervision,” New York Times, September 24, 1937). As chair of the FDIC, Crowley oversaw the near-elimination of bank failures, and also helped to ensure that Americans no longer lost their life saving when their banks did collapse. Today, Americans still benefit greatly from FDIC, even as their Republican and Tea Party representatives tell them that the policies created during the New Deal are bad. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

A New Deal Firehouse in Honolulu

Above: The Central Fire Station at 104 Beretania Street, in Honolulu, Hawaii. This firehouse was built with the assistance of funds from the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA), 1934-1935. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: This 2009 photograph of the firehouse is provided courtesy of Joel Bradshaw and Wikipedia. According to the Fort Street Mall, "The central three bays feature impressive sets of aluminum doors, supplied by the California Artistic Metal and Wire Company in San Francisco.

Vital public services experienced a renaissance during the New Deal. For example, in addition to PWA funding, laborers in the Works Progress Administration (WPA) built 325 new firehouses and participated in nearly 2,400 other projects to repair or improve firehouses. All this New Deal funding & labor came at a time when state & local budgets had been smashed by the Great Depression. Today, we have a different policy approach. If state & local needs can't be met with state & local funding, then those needs simply won't be addressed in an adequate manner.  

This changed policy approach is why the residents of Flint, Michigan, for example, were recently told by the EPA that they face "multiple long-term threats" to their water supply. Instead of supplying more funding & labor to replace old water mains, pipes, and fixtures--as was done during the New Deal--the federal government has been reduced to the role of messenger-of-bad-news, i.e., "Your water supply is dangerous, you can't afford to fix it, we're not going to help you, and so you'll just have drink water, take showers, and bathe your infants at your own risk from here on out. Sorry." (See "Flint, Michigan Water Risks Will Be Long Term, EPA Warns," Huffington Post, June 17, 2016.)

Which policy approach do you like best? The one that lifts up our national infrastructure, or the one that says, "Tough luck, you're on your own"?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Artist Tonita Pena

Above: Artist Tonita Pena on an art project in New Mexico, funded through the Federal Emergency Relief Administraton, ca. 1934. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Puerto Rico: Bernie Sanders and the New Deal vs. Obama, Clinton, Ryan, and the Vulture Funds

(A new school in Ceiba, Puerto Rico, ca. 1933-1935, funded by the New Deal's Federal Emergency Relief Administration. Photograph courtesy of the National Archives.)

Bernie Sanders has been calling for debt restructuring, infrastructure investment, and other progressive reforms for Puerto Rico. Many Republicans, and even many Democrats, think this is pie-in-the-sky dreaming. But, as journalist Zach Carter has highlighted, it's been done before, and with great success:

"In the 1930s, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt supported an agency that pumped federal dollars into infrastructure investment in Puerto Rico, directed by local officials who understood the island’s needs. Their plans helped eradicate malaria, tuberculosis and hookworm from the island, make electricity available to the island’s interior and establish hurricane-proof construction using local manufacturing. Life expectancy significantly increased, according to research by Geoff Burrows, a Seton Hall University history professor" ("Here’s Bernie Sanders’ Plan To Save Puerto Rico And Stick It To Vulture Funds," Huffington Post, June 13, 2016). 

Actually, FDR supported several agencies that helped Puerto Rico (as well as the rest of the nation), for example, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the Works Progress Administration, the Public Works Administration, the National Youth Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration (PRRA). With respect to the latter, a researcher at City University of New York found that "PRRA public works projects made concrete contributions to the physical security of millions of Puerto Ricans through the construction of hurricane-proof houses, schools, hospitals, roads, sewers, waterworks, and rural electrification networks."

(These artists were funded through the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, ca. 1934-1935. The New Deal not only made massive investments in education and infrastructure, but also funded theater, music, writing, artwork, and historic preservation. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.)

Today, many super-wealthy Americans don't give a crap about the life expectancy, or the physical security, of Puerto Ricans. They just want more money, so that they and their families can enjoy extreme luxury. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren has correctly noted that these super-wealthy Americans "want Puerto Rico to raise taxes, cut health care, fire teachers, cut pensions, sell off $4 billion worth of government buildings, privatize public ports, close neighborhood schools and cut support for the University of Puerto Rico, all so these vulture funds can squeeze out more profit." How these wealthy people sleep at night, I have no idea. But being a sociopath probably helps. 

Many of our conservative politicians have largely sided with the super-wealthy, which is no surprise since they are funded by the super-wealthy. These conservative politicians include President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Paul Ryan. They're all supporting a bill that would, for example, reduce the minimum wage and grant financial oversight to an undemocratic control board - just like oversight was given to an undemocratic "Emergency Manager" in Flint, Michigan, shortly before thousands of people were switched to a foul water supply and poisoned by lead and other contaminants (see, e.g., "Clinton backs Puerto Rico debt bill," The Hill, May 20, 2016).

America should be working towards a New Deal for Puerto Rico, as well as other troubled areas of the United States. Instead--in what has become the global, routine, and sadistic policy of choice--we say, "Close your schools, give us money, f*&k you." And maybe that's why a record number of Americans are committing suicide, dying deaths of despair, and taking anti-depressants; and also why 1.3 million public school students have no place to call home, while the children of the super-wealthy are bathing in gold bathtubs.

"Equal opportunity" is a deceit, and we're seeing this deceit played out in Puerto Rico (among other places). Make no mistake about it, we're living in a caste system. A few escape, but most do not (see, e.g., "America Is Even Less Socially Mobile Than Economists Thought," The Atlantic, July 23, 2015).

Sunday, June 12, 2016

New Deal Sanitation: Clean Waterways

Above: WPA workers sealing an old mine in Garrett County, Maryland, 1937. Old and abandoned mines pollute waterways, so New Deal policymakers hired unemployed workers to seal them. In Ohio and Pennsylvania alone, about 187,000 mines were sealed by the WPA. Across the nation, it was estimated that about half the stream pollution from mines was eliminated by this New Deal program. Today, abandoned mines are once again causing major pollution problems (see, e.g., here). Unfortunately though, we don't have many policymakers today with the vision and courage that New Deal policymakers had. Hence, you won't find the federal government hiring and training unemployed workers to seal mines, or addressing any other infrastructure problem. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives. Statistical information from the Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1946, p. 54.

Above: WPA workers planting oysters in the Chesapeake Bay, 1936. Oysters filter water, so New Deal policymakers hired unemployed workers to replenish dwindling numbers. Across the nation, WPA laborers planted about 8 million bushels of oysters. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives. Statistical information from the Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1946, p. 132.

Above: WPA workers clearing debris from the Pocomoke River in Wicomico County, Maryland, 1935. New Deal policymakers thought it was wise to keep our waterways free from junk, pollution, and man-made erosion. For example, between 1935 and 1943, the WPA utilized the labor of jobless Americans to improve nearly 13,000 miles of shoreline, river banks, and stream beds. Might we do the same today? No, that would be socialism. Better to let our waterways become foul, anoxic, and radiated, in service to Corporate America, cut-throat capitalism, and American exceptionalism. That's how we become great again. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives. Statistical information from the Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1946, p. 132.

Clean waterways are essential to clean drinking water, clean swimming areas, clean fish, and so on. And jobs are important to the preservation of dignity, hope, and skills of the unemployed. New Deal policymakers understood this much better than policymakers today, so they put the two together. For example, a 1935 report from the Work Division of Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA, a precursor to the WPA) highlighted the value of hiring jobless workers to seal mines:

"The waters of the Ohio River and its tributaries in the vicinity of the abandoned mines of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia have been polluted annually with three million tons of sulphuric acid, causing an annual damage of ten million dollars [about $180 million today]... through corrosion of metal parts of dams, locks, boats, boiler tubes and other industrial equipment. Water seepage [from abandoned mines] carries the acid into the rivers, making them unfit for stock watering and bathing, and fatal to fish and other aquatic life... The only remedy is to seal such mines... [as of] June 30, 1935, some 10,000 openings had been closed... and many small streams rendered wholly or partially alkaline again" (The Emergency Work Relief Program of the FERA, April 1, 1934 - July 1, 1935, pp. 54-55).

Today, we have many water problems. This was recently highlighted in Flint, Michigan, when the city was switched to a foul water supply - so foul, in fact, that it damaged water pipes, caused lead to leech out, and poisoned thousands of people. And this type of thing is happening, to one degree or another, all across the country. Furthermore, we lose about two trillion gallons of water, through a quarter-of-a-million water main breaks, every single year. These breaks also cause water contamination, service interruptions, flooded basements, closed businesses, sinkholes, traffic congestion, etc. 

Given these facts, wouldn't it be great if we hired and trained some of the millions of unemployed Americans to help improve our waterways and infrastructure? I say, let's do it! Oh wait, I forgot; American exceptionalism forbids this type of evil socialism. Never mind. Let's just keep poisoning ourselves - that's how we become the best servants to capitalism.

So drink your leaded water with a smile, and become a REAL Patriot!

Friday, June 10, 2016

New Deal Sanitation: Clean Drinking Water

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

Clean drinking water--and clean water for bathing, showering, and brushing teeth--was very important to New Deal policymakers; far more important than it is to modern policymakers, most of whom are more concerned with securing tax breaks and business favors for the ultra-wealthy than with improving American infrastructure (which is why so many children are drinking leaded water from a delivery system that the American Society of Civil Engineers graded a "D"). 

In 1939, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, and his New Deal Public Works Administration (PWA), wrote: "Water is life. Apparently this fundamental fact must be learned on the battlefront of experience again and again. When this lesson is forgotten, even for a moment, the consequences are immediate and disastrous" (America Builds: The Record of PWA, 1939, p. 169). This is why Ickes approved well over 2,000 PWA-financed waterworks projects across the nation. We are still using many of these projects today, significantly past their intended lifespans.

The work-relief projects of the New Deal also focused on improving our water infrastructure. For example, WPA workers installed 16,000 miles of new water lines, constructed 276 water treatment plants, 4,000 water wells, 3,000 water storage tanks and reservoirs, and much more (Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1946, p. 132).

We could do the same today, were it not for the control of our government by the super-wealthy. Their interests and our interests are not the same. While they seek yachts, mansions, private islands, lavish vacations, and gold bathtubs for their children to soak and gloat in, the rest of us are desperately seeking the essentials, for example, job stability, affordable housing, retirement security, and clean drinking water. In Bernie Sanders, we had the opportunity to begin the process of taking back our government from the selfish moneyed interests. We squandered that opportunity. So, profit and greed will continue to reign supreme; and infrastructure will continue to crumble. Add a Clinton or Trump presidency to a Congress controlled by conservatives (who are themselves controlled by millionaires and billionaires) and no other outcome is possible.

When you think about it, we have not only lost our New Deal concern for infrastructure, we have lost our New Deal willpower altogether.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

New Deal Sanitation: Incinerators and sewage treatment plants

Above: CWA workers building a new garbage incinerator to replace an old trash dump in Charleston, South Carolina, ca. 1933-1934. Laborers from other New Deal programs also worked on sanitation facilities. For example, between 1935 and 1943 WPA workers engaged in 202 projects to build or improve garbage incinerators and 1,505 projects to build or improve sewage treatment plants. Photo from the book America Fights the Depression: A Photographic Record of the Civil Works Administration, used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

New Deal Sanitation: Sewer Lines

(A CWA worker excavates for a sewer line in a national park, ca. 1933-1934. Photo from the book America Fights the Depression: A Photographic Record of the Civil Works Administration. Used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.)

(WPA workers installing a sewer line in Hurlock, Maryland, 1935. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

Between 1933 and 1943, the New Deal built or improved many thousands of miles of sewer lines all across the country. The work-relief programs, alone, built or improved well over 30,000 miles of storm and sanitary sewer lines. A 1935 report from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration reported that a new sewer system built in Las Vegas was considered "one of the best sewer jobs in the West."

But that was 80 years ago.

In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America's wastewater infrastructure a letter grade of "D", noting: "Although access to centralized treatment systems is widespread, the condition of many of these systems is also poor, with aging pipes and inadequate capacity leading to the discharge of an estimated 900 billion gallons of untreated sewage each year." According to the advocacy group American Rivers, "3.5 million Americans get sick each year after swimming, boating, fishing, or otherwise touching water they thought was safe... Untreated human sewage teems with salmonella, hepatitis, dysentery, cryptosporidium, and many other infectious diseases."

Wouldn't it be great if we created work-relief programs today, for the 20 million Americans who are un- or under-employed, so that wastewater and other infrastructure systems could be improved? Obviously this isn't going to happen--since our federal government is so hyper-focused on pampering the wealthy and looking for new military adventures--but I'm just asking, wouldn't it be nice if we connected the dots of unemployment and old wastewater systems, and kept "human waste... household chemicals, personal hygiene products, pharmaceuticals... pesticides, fertilizers, automotive chemicals, and trash" out of our streams, lakes, and rivers? (Also see Jared Bernstein's op-ed, "May’s Seriously Downbeat Jobs Report... Underscores Need for Deep Infrastructure Dive," Huffington Post, June 3, 2016).  

Friday, June 3, 2016

New Deal Sanitation: Restrooms and Privies

Above: "Los Privados," an oil painting by Pedro Cervantez, created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: Sanitary privies being constructed in Chestertown, Maryland, 1936. Between 1935 and 1943, WPA workers constructed over 2.3 million new sanitary privies across the country. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.

Above: A WPA poster promoting improved sanitation, image courtesy of the Library of Congress. Some people thought the construction of sanitary privies between 1933 and 1943, by New Deal programs, was funny - or that it indicated that work-relief programs were engaged in useless, unneeded work (these are probably the same type of people who ignore our crumbling infrastructure today). A 1935 report from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) noted: "Some people have found humor in the statistics of sanitary privy construction under the CWA, the Work Division [of FERA] and the Works Progress Administration. These sanitary privies have already resulted in the elimination of much of the surface breeding of hookworm in the South, and have helped immeasurably in the fight against typhus. In the annual report of the Surgeon General of the United States Public Health Service we find that in 1934 the typhoid fever death rate for the 47 states reporting was 'the lowest ever recorded...'"

Above: A restroom at Swallow Falls State Park, in Maryland, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Between 1933 and 1942, the CCC installed or improved over 16,000 latrines and toilets, making visits to state and national parks a little more convenient and a lot more clean. Photo by Brent McKee.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

New Deal Art: "Cross Road" - a White House winner

Above: "Cross Road," an oil painting by Paul Benjamin (1902-1982), created while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), ca. 1933-1934. According to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, "Benjamin's unpretentious canvas did well in national competition; it was one of thirty-two PWAP works to win a coveted spot in the White House." There is something alluring and serene about this painting, perhaps even more so today than during the 1930s. Its simplicity and peacefulness stands in opposition to the congestion, greed, and self-important aspects of modern living. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian.