Thursday, September 29, 2016

Lead in our water and excess carbon dioxide in our air: Is it stupidity, or a collective death wish?

Above: An artist creates a portrait of President Roosevelt, 1934. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Water

In 1939, in a message to Congress about water pollution, President Roosevelt said: "Unprecedented advances in cleaning up our streams have been made possible by the public works and work-relief programs during the past six years... As in many other fields of conservation, great improvement in the Nation's basic assets of water has been incident to the fight against unemployment." 

FDR and his fellow New Deal policymakers hired unemployed Americans to install new water mains, build new reservoirs, improve water utility plants, and much more, all across the country. Many of these projects are still in use today, well past their intended lifespan. 

Yesterday, we were advised by one of the water quality experts who helped uncover the Flint water scandal that we should not trust America's aging and deteriorating water supply system ("Expert: Without filter, no water safe from lead pipes," The Detroit News, September 28, 2016).  

Air

In a statement to the Society of American Foresters in 1935, President Roosevelt said: "The forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people." 

FDR and his fellow New Deal policymakers created the Civilian Conservation Corps, which hired millions of young men to plant and protect billions of trees. Much of their work, and many of their trees, are still with us today in our state and national parks. Trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and improve air quality.

Yesterday, we learned that the Earth's atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are now consistently at, or above, 400 ppm, even in remote places like Antarctica; and it's quite likely that we're heading towards 500 ppm ("We Just Passed A Grim Carbon Dioxide Threshold, Possibly For Good," Huffington Post, September 28, 2016).

Stupidity, or a Collective Death Wish? You Decide.

Despite years and years of warnings from scientists, tens of millions of people still cling to the belief that initiatives to clean our air & water are "liberal conspiracies," and that global warming is just a hoax. And they also believe that we cannot possibly tax billionaires more, or tone down our military spending, to replace decrepit water lines with increased infrastructure spending. Instead, they look at super-wealthy Americans and fossil fuel barons with wide-eyed adoration, and proclaim in joyous submission, "JOB CREATORS!" (meanwhile, the supposed "job creators" are constantly looking for ways to reduce the number of jobs, since the cost of labor infringes on profits). As if this were not bad enough, tens of millions of others are so apathetic that they can't be bothered to vote, let alone examine the science of climate change or question the state of our infrastructure.

So, there's lead in the water that's hurting our health, and there's excess carbon dioxide in the air that's threatening our very existence. And yet we keep ignoring our infrastructure, and we keep burning fossil fuels with reckless abandon. Stupidity? Or a collective death wish?  

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Drinking lead for the rich in Connecticut

Above: "The Water Tower," a drypoint on paper, created by Lawrence Kupferman (1909-1982) while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Water infrastructure was very important to New Deal policymakers. They made heavy investments in water towers, water lines, reservoirs, treatment plants, pumping stations, consumer connections, and more. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

This morning, it was reported that three Connecticut schools have too much lead in their drinking water. And, "Since 2011, 20 Connecticut schools were found to have lead-contaminated water. The number could be higher, but some parents may never know because only the 170 out of 1,100 Connecticut schools that use independent water systems are required by the state to check" ("More Lead Found in Connecticut School Drinking Water," NBC CT, September 28, 2016).

The EPA sets its safe lead limit at 15 ppb (one of the Connecticut schools tested at 53 ppb); but the CDC has warned that no amount of lead is safe for children to ingest. Yet, we're letting our children drink lead all across the country (see my recent blog post here). 

Any rational culture would have, by now, begun a massive program to replace its aging, poisonous drinking water infrastructure - and paid for it by asking the most obscenely wealthy people to pay more. After all, if the super-wealthy can afford to buy private jets, private compounds, and private islands - and can also afford to spend millions buying politicians, surely they can help pay for infrastructure repairs & improvements. 

So, why haven't we started such a program? Answer: Because Americans are addicted to trickle-down economics, and addicted to worshiping and pampering the wealthy. Yes, even after all the multi-billion dollar frauds committed against us by the super-wealthy, a lot of Americans still want to pamper them with another round of tax cuts. They want to eliminate the estate tax, so people born into wealth will never have to work (and are able buy politicians with their inherited money); they want to lower the top marginal tax rate, even though it's already historically low; and they want to surrender to extortion, by lowering the corporate tax rate to (supposedly) "bring the money home" from foreign, and often shady tax havens.

Interestingly, in 2014, Republican strategist Matthew Dowd said: "we need to have a well-paying jobs program tied to infrastructure improvements administered locally by cities, counties and states where people still trust government to get the job done. And this should be funded by tax policies at the federal level which put a much bigger burden on the wealthy in this country. The federal government would merely be a collector of the money, then disburse it to more trustworthy entities, and the money would be managed and spent at the local level."

Makes sense. For example, during the New Deal, the WPA gave federal money to cities and towns in Connecticut to create 33 new or improved utility plants and to install over 300 miles of new water & sewer lines. Across the nation, WPA workers installed 16,000 miles of new water lines.

We could do the same today (and more), if we just pushed aside our bottle of trickle-down economics and sobered up. But, as long as we keep allowing Republicans, Tea Partiers, and neoliberals to hold high political office, well, our children will continue drinking lead for the rich.

Monday, September 26, 2016

WPA Museum Models: Egyptian Woman and Cro-Magnon Man

Above: A model of an Egyptian Woman, ca. 1500 B.C. The model was created during a WPA museum project in Baltimore, Maryland, 1938. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A model of Cro-Magnon man, ca. 50,000 B.C. The model was created during a WPA museum project in Baltimore, Maryland, 1938. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Egyptian Woman, Cro-Magnon Man, and other models on display at the National Museum (Smithsonian), in July 1938. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Friday, September 23, 2016

California's NYA Quintet

Above: The description for this photograph (ca. 1935-1942) reads, "A band within a band is this 'hot quintet' - part of a National Youth Administration band newly organized in Los Angeles, California, where they will play at various community events. Left to right are Lee Cretarolo, Paul Dunlap, Hall Brant, Jimmy Pullara, and Terry Cruse." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

A man named Lee Cretarolo, who was born in Massachusetts in 1921 and died in Palo Alto, California in 2008, may be the man pictured above. According to his obituary, he "spent his early post-World War II service years playing bass in small jazz groups" and also worked as a "senior executive of American Building Maintenance Company, headquartered in San Francisco, dealing with sales and operations across much of Northern California..."

Interestingly, there was a famous Hollywood composer named Paul Dunlap (1919-2010) who, according to his Variety magazine obituary, composed music for many films, for example, The San Francisco Story, and for television shows, for example, Gunsmoke, and also seems to have played piano. However, I'm not 100% sure if that is the same Paul Dunlap that we see playing piano in the photo above. The age would be about right though; approximately 16 to 23 years old in the photograph (the NYA hired young Americans between the ages of 16 and 24).

I couldn't find any information on Brant, Pullara, or Cruse. What happened to them? Did they serve in World War II? Did they have musical careers? Did they settle in California? Maybe someone out there in the Internet world knows...

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

NYA hope and training vs. today's insults and shaming

Above: The description for this photograph (ca. 1935-1942) reads, "Henry Suzuki, James Taiamon, and Sanaye Kitazone, shown sawing and nailing sheathing, are National Youth Administration workers on a construction of a $57,000 student union building for Compton Junior College, Los Angeles County, California." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Recently, an economist from George Mason University gave his opinion on why America has a lingering labor force participation problem: "There are a few reasons, but the internet may be the biggest. It is easier to have fun while unemployed. That's a social problem for some people... Maybe employers just aren't that keen to hire those males who prefer to live at home, watch porn and not get married" ("Debating Government's Role In Boosting Growth: Cowen and Smith," Bloomberg, September 12, 2016). Presumably, when the economist says "live at home," he means something along the lines of "live in their parent's basement," a common cultural shaming of people who can't find decent-paying jobs.

Of course, this is just the latest in a litany of insults cast upon low-income Americans and the jobless - insults that have included "takers," "parasites," "lazy," "lazy pigs," "wild animals," and "white trash."

There are many problems with the viewpoint that the unemployed enjoy being unemployed, including:

1. For most people, unemployment is not "fun." If someone asks, "Where do you work?" and you respond, "I don't have a job," it's incredibly embarrassing. The Internet, or video games, or whatever, are merely diversions from the pain of not being able to afford a car, or vacations, or a nice home, or nice clothes, etc. 

2. Most young adults do not want to live in their parent's home and not get married. Speaking from a male point of view, I believe that most men want a decent-paying job so that they can live on their own, support a relationship, and get married and have kids. But when a man's income is low or non-existent, and there doesn't seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel, the man's hope may slowly fade away, especially when his fellow Americans hate him and label him a wild animal. So, again, realizing that the better things in life might not be attainable, a man might settle for whatever source of enjoyment or escape he can obtain (drugs, alcohol, video games, Internet porn, food, whatever).

3. Insulting the unemployed, especially in a public forum like Internet news stories (where the opinion is broadcast out to millions of people), only makes the problem worse for low-income workers and the long-term unemployed. If employers are constantly told that these folks are, essentially, sub-human (i.e., parasites, lazy pigs, wild animals), they are probably less likely to hire them or give them a significant raise.

Above: The description for this photograph (ca. 1935-1942) reads, "NYA girl preparing to become an air mechanic in a work shop in South Charleston, West Virginia." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

During the 1930s, New Deal policymakers tried something new. They decided to create opportunities instead of insults. They initiated nationwide work programs for the unemployed, for example, the Civil Works Administration (CWA) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). For youth specifically, they created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the National Youth Administration (NYA). The result? Well, many young Americans learned skills and discipline. For example, many young women in the NYA learned aircraft trades and went on to work in the defense industries during World War II - the so-called Rosie the Riveters and Wendy the Welders. Many young men in the CCC served in the Armed Forces and, because of their CCC experience, they rose quickly through the ranks into leadership positions. General Mark Clark, the commander of the Allied Fifth Army during World War II recalled: "To my way of thinking the CCC... became a potent factor in enabling us to win WW-II... though we did not realize it at the time, we were training Non-Commissioned Officers" (see my blog post here). 

There are other legacies from the New Deal work programs for youth, for example, infrastructure and state & national parks that we still use today, but most Americans are not very aware of American history, and so they're very susceptible to the right-wing claims that the unemployed are simply lazy people, or perhaps even wild animals. And right-wing politicians are clever. They want nothing to do with a national work program that might prove their claims wrong, so they ignore and block such proposals (see, for example, "Senate GOP blocks veterans jobs bill," CBS, September 20, 2012). For them, it's better that the unemployed remain unemployed, and thus convenient political punching bags to insult, shame, and scapegoat for easy political points.

Which approach would you prefer today? A national jobs program for the unemployed, so we could begin to work on our national park system's multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog; and replace the nation's aging drinking water infrastructure that's poisoning our children with lead? Or, would you prefer that we continue the current right-wing approach: Ignoring contaminated water and labeling jobless Americans as lazy Internet porn junkies? Well, if you chose the first option, you're in the minority. The majority people have spoken--either through their voting behavior or their apathy--and they are simply not interested in clean water, infrastructure modernization, or a national jobs program for the unemployed - at least, not interested enough to actually take action and/or vote for progressive-minded candidates.

Unfortunately, there will not be another New Deal. Instead, tax-breaks-for-the-wealthy, voodoo economics, reduced spending on our crumbling infrastructure, insulting the unemployed, and a massive prison system will remain the prescriptions for our national ailments. For tens of millions of Americans, the poisons are still seen as the cure.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

WPA Museum Models: Roman Lictor and Egyptian Woman

Above: A model showing a Roman lictor from 66 A.D. The model was created during a WPA project in Baltimore, 1938. Image courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A model showing an Egyptian woman from 1500 B.C.. The model was created during a WPA project in Baltimore, 1938. Image courtesy of the National Archives.

Friday, September 16, 2016

WPA Museum Models: Queen Elizabeth and Gothic Knight

Above: A WPA model of Queen Elizabeth. Image courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A WPA model of a Gothic knight. Image courtesy of the National Archives.

These two models were created on a WPA Museum Extension project in Baltimore, Maryland, 1938. The Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43 describes the type of help that the WPA provided to museums during the 1930s - when many museums were experiencing funding problems: 

"WPA workers assisted museums in the making of dioramas, models, maps, lantern slides, and other visual-aid devices for extension work in public schools. These workers also assisted museums in the rearrangement and modernization of exhibits, and in the creation of accurate miniature representations of scenes illustrating (for example) the use of garments, dwellings and implements by aborigines or prehistoric peoples. WPA clerical workers assisted in the classifying and indexing of art, archaeological, and historical materials" (p. 63).

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

New Deal fish conservation and propagation

Above: The description for this photograph (ca. 1937-1942) reads, "The man sitting on the platform at the left counts salmon as they use a Bonneville Dam fish ladder to work upstream." The Bonneville Dam was constructed with the assistance of the New Deal's Public Works Administration. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A WPA laborer works on a fish hatchery near Lewiston, Maryland, in November 1937. Across the nation, WPA workers built 161 new fish hatcheries, expanded 135 others, and repaired or improved 159 more (Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program 1935-43, p. 132). Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.

Above: "Fish Market," an etching and aquatint on paper, created by Sarah Berman (1895-1957) while she was in the WPA's art program, ca. 1939. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

New Deal policymakers and workers did much to conserve and propagate fish species. For example, the Civilian Conservation Corps built about 4,600 fish rearing ponds (and maintained nearly 1,200 others), and "stocked streams, ponds, lakes and reservoirs with the enormous number of 972,203,910 fish or fingerlings!" (Federal Security Agency, Final Report of the Director of the Civilian Conservation Corps, April 1933 through June 30, 1942, p. 47).

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has highlighted that a "New Deal for Conservation" occurred during the Roosevelt years. This included the construction of Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, Maryland (built in large part with WPA and CCC labor), the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act (1934), and the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (1937).

Though there were certainly some environmental mistakes during the New Deal (for example, the benefit of predators was not fully appreciated), all the wildlife refuges created, and all the billion of trees planted, and all the millions of bushels of oysters planted, and all the hundreds of millions of fish stocked in ponds, lakes, and rivers, shows that, long before Rachel Carson's highly influential book, Silent Spring, New Deal policymakers and workers were engaging in a massive environmental conservation movement. (Carson, by the way, worked in the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries during the New Deal.)

So, to those who enjoy catching and eating fish (which includes myself), I say: Give a little thanks to the New Deal.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

New Deal Art: "Restaurant 4pm"

Above: "Restaurant 4pm," an oil painting by Bendor Mark (born "Bernard Marcus," 1912-1995), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1935. According to a biography on the website of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, "Bendor Mark... devoted most of his art to political statements... In 1937 he painted a series condemning the exploitation of mine workers and exhibited one of the scenes at the 1939 New York World’s Fair... During World War II he prepared classified drawings for army contractors and when the fighting ended continued to work as a graphic artist... Around 1955 his work began to be rejected from exhibitions, and he consequently withdrew from the public eye. Thereafter his political paintings became increasingly satirical." Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Friday, September 9, 2016

NYA resident project in Berkeley, California

Above: The description for this photograph (ca. 1935-1943) reads, "View showing the entrance to the National Youth Administration resident project at 3028 Regent St., Berkeley, California, used for the training of youths in domestic art, cosmetology and practical nursing." During the 1930s, when private business wouldn't (or couldn't) provide work for young people, the NYA offered jobs, training, and hope for millions. The building you see above seems to still exist (see here), and the address is now listed as the Eden Community Care Home for the Elderly. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: The description for this photograph (ca. 1935-1943) reads, "When at work, youths on this National Youth Administration resident project in Berkeley, California, learn the fundamentals of domestic art, cosmetology, and practical nursing. This scene shows youth occupants at recreation and study. The workers on this project enjoy the homey atmosphere." During the economically rough years of the Great Depression, the NYA facilitated social interaction and professional networking for young men and women. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

We're still drinking lead for the rich

Above: A water line project in San Francisco, funded by the New Deal's Public Works Administration, ca. 1936-1940. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

The nation's drinking water crisis is still with us, even though we've stuck our heads in the sand and hoped it would go away. Every few days, several more areas find that their water supply is contaminated with lead. For example:

Oregon: "Mapleton schools find lead in in water," Siuslaw News, September 6, 2016

New Hampshire: "Nine Manchester schools found to have high lead levels in drinking water," New Hampshire Union Leader, September 2, 2016

Ohio: "Norwalk schools turn off drinking fountains & faucets after high levels of lead," Cleveland 19 News, August 26, 2016

Missouri: "Lead found in drinking water at some St. Louis public schools," Fox2Now, St. Louis, August 18, 2016

Massachusetts: "7 More Boston Schools Found To Have ‘Unacceptable’ Lead Levels In Drinking Water," CBS Boston, August 16, 2016

Montana: "Sheridan residents on alert after lead detected in water," Independent Record, August 4, 2016.




Colorado: "High lead levels found in drinking water at 38 Jeffco elementary schools," Columbine Courier, July 28, 2016 


Georgia: "Elevated lead levels found in more Atlanta schools’ water," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 13, 2016. 

Pennsylvania: "Investigation finds some Pittsburgh homes have water laced with lead," Action 4 News, July 11, 2016.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has repeatedly warned us about our nation's aging drinking water infrastructure (see, e.g., here, here, and here); and the CDC has warned us about the harmful effects of lead, even small amounts. During the New Deal, Harold Ickes and his Public Works Administration said: "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... engineers everywhere to whom the Nation has entrusted the purity of its water supply must be eternally vigilant" (America Builds: The Record of PWA, 1939, pp. 169-170).

We've ignored all this.

I've also tried to sound the alarm bell these past several years. But, of course, since I don't have Koch money backing me up, and since I don't have gobs of money to give to politicians, my voice--like millions of other Americans--is (and will continue to be) ignored. As scholars have recently highlighted, the voices of ordinary Americans are routinely stomped into nothingness by the desires of the super-wealthy (see "U.S. Policies Favor The Wealthy, Interest Groups, Study Shows," Huffington Post, April 15, 2014).

So, as a society, we will continue to gulp down lead to please the rich, in the firm belief that we can't tax the holy "JOB CREATORS" more, lest they get angry and take our jobs away. Ultimately, the luxury and desires of the holy "JOB CREATORS" trumps clean water. Isn't that an amazing cultural philosophy?

Things were different back in the 1930s. Under the Roosevelt Administration, enormous investments were made into the nation's infrastructure, including thousands of waterworks projects. New water mains, new consumer connections to water mains, new water treatment plants, new reservoirs, and more. Roosevelt and his fellow New Deal policymakers did this with increased funding, more progressive taxation, and with work-relief programs for the unemployed. We're still utilizing many of these projects today, well past their intended lifespan.

So great were the New Deal's investment in America's infrastructure, that even Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump have praised it (see my blog post here).

We could make the same investments today, in part by providing infrastructure jobs for many of the nation's 20 million un- and underemployed Americans. We won't, of course, because... well... wealthy Americans don't like that idea too much. Research indicates that only 8% of wealthy Americans like the idea of a public works program for the unemployed, while 53% of everyone else likes the idea. And since the wealthy control public policy--through their campaign contributions, special favors, and Lord knows what else--there will be no public works program for the unemployed. Instead, we will continue to drink lead (and other toxic chemicals) for the rich.

Also see "Toxic Chemicals Contaminate Drinking Water For Over 6 Million Americans, Study Finds," International Business Times, August 11, 2016

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Anne Treadwell, Director of the California NYA

Above: Anne Treadwell (1905-2002), left, director of the National Youth Administration (NYA) in California from 1935 to 1939. The others in the photograph are (left to right): Mary McLeod Bethune, national director of the NYA's Division of Negro Affairs; Bill Robinson, a famous tap dancer; and Arthur Yale, the NYA supervisor for Los Angeles County. Photo taken in April 1938, provided courtesy of the National Archives.

In 1996, an oral history interview of Anne Treadwell was conducted (her name being Anne Dettner at the time of the interview), and these are some of her recollections of the Great Depression and NYA years:

On the years before the NYA: "the NYA wasn't being talked about at that time... It was generally accepted that people who could not support themselves and their families must suffer from neuroses, health problems, or personality defects."

On Eleanor Roosevelt: "The NYA was a program that was conceived and pushed by Mrs. Roosevelt. She, of course, was fully in favor of the WPA program [during Treadwell's time as director, the NYA was a subdivision of the WPA]. She thought young people have got to have a place in this whole effort of the federal government to get through the Depression. There ought to be a special organization for young people, to understand their needs and work in their behalf. And she remained very much interested in the program through its whole existence."

After turning down a WPA supervisory job: "But then when I got the other call to do the NYA, that was different matter. And of course, I had my headquarters in San Francisco."

Responding to the question, "how did it happen that the youth program was headquartered in San Francisco?": "Because I lived here and nobody asked me to move."

On the effect of the NYA: "[The NYA] was a godsend for young people. I can't tell you the number of people I've met in later life who have told me things like, 'Oh, if it hadn't been for the NYA, I couldn't have gone to school.' Or somebody says, 'I couldn't have had a cello,' who later became a professional musician. So it was really, I think, a very, very worthwhile and satisfying undertaking."

On creating a new NYA and CCC in modern times: "I have thought over and over that we should have a program of that sort during this current period when youngsters are joining gangs and buying guns and all this sort of thing. There was nothing like that in those days. I mean, youngsters didn't feel they were totally abandoned or that nobody gave a thought to what they did with their lives. It seems to me that was an extremely valuable thing... I think they were extremely valuable programs. And I think we should have them in any situation where the social condition is deteriorated."

Monday, September 5, 2016

Thom Hartmann calls for a new WPA


Above: In this video segment from his August 30, 2016 show, Thom Hartmann calls for a new public works program, like the New Deal's WPA, to provide more economic opportunities for struggling Americans (the original, longer video segment can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYrIk).

In June 1938, at a press conference in Hyde Park, New York, the following exchange occurred between a journalist and President Roosevelt:

Journalist: "... how should our relief policy be stated?"

Roosevelt: "I should say this, that the object of work relief as distinguished from the dole is to give wages for work instead of just enough money to keep body and soul together without work..."

Journalist: "I had in mind a more fundamental thing. There used to be a favorite statement with some people that the Government has no obligation to any of these people."

Roosevelt: "It is a continuing policy, and there are two perfectly definite schools of thought. One is to give them wages for work to a sufficient extent to keep them going, in as decent a way as we can afford to do. The other school of thought is merely to give them enough money for food and clothing, without asking them to work for it."


Above: In this audio clip, from his October 31, 1936 speech at Madison Square Garden, President Roosevelt describes the New Deal's philosophy on unemployment and work. 

Many years later, in his autobiography, Ronald Reagan praised the WPA for the very same reason Roosevelt and his fellow New Deal policymakers created it - work being preferable to the dole. Today, however, if you were to suggest a new WPA, conservatives would scream "bloody murder"... even though the president they have praised above all others (Reagan, who is almost a deity to them) applauded the WPA. Isn't that odd? Conservatives have ignored both Roosevelt and Reagan on this matter, and have instead joined in with right-wing extremists in labeling the unemployed as mere parasites and takers - undeserving of help. Democrats, for their part, are too wimpy and corporate-owned to promote a new WPA. We saw this in 2011, when U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) submitted legislation to create a new WPA, and his fellow Democrats (including President Obama) yawned and let the bill die in committee without a fight.

Here's a simple proposition (destined to be ignored of course, because I can't write million-dollar checks to politicians): (a) If a person is out of work, give them 6 months of unemployment benefits. (b) If, after 6 months, the person hasn't found a job--and can prove that they made a good faith job search--employ them on a public works project, on the condition that they continue looking for work suitable to their education & experience. (c) Give them two years on a public works project and, if they still haven't found a job, require them to retrain for another profession if they want to continue in the public works program for another year or two.

Again, this is just a simple proposition. More rules & requirements would need to be hashed out. But here's the great thing: We have the WPA experience to model a new public works program on - we could simply tweak it to suit modern day realities.

Above: A WPA exhibit promoting public works projects as a way to restore dignity to unemployed Americans. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

President Roosevelt to Congress, January 4, 1935:

"The lessons of history, confirmed by the evidence immediately before me, show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fibre. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit. It is inimical to the dictates of sound policy. It is in violation of the traditions of America. Work must be found for able-bodied but destitute workers... 

The Federal Government is the only governmental agency with sufficient power and credit to meet this situation. We have assumed this task and we shall not shrink from it in the future. It is a duty dictated by every intelligent consideration of national policy to ask you to make it possible for the United States to give employment to all of these three and one half million employable people now on relief, pending their absorption in a rising tide of private employment."

(The WPA was created 4 months later, and ultimately provided employment for 8.5 million Americans.)

Sunday, September 4, 2016

New Deal lawn cutting

Above: The description for this 1940 National Youth Administration photograph reads, "Marven Haralson, operating power mower on lawn planted and tended by youth workers, Land Propagation and Construction Project at Westley FSA [Farm Security Administration] Camp, Westley, California." Notice that the lawn mower is a Toro. Toro was formed in 1914 and still makes lawn equipment today. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

New Deal Art: "Landscape With A Hill"

Above: "Landscape With A Hill," an oil painting by Mark Baum (1903-1997), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1936. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.