Sunday, October 30, 2016

Corporate America's extortion message to the American people: "Give us a pass on our tax avoidance, AND lower our taxes, or your children will continue to drink lead and suffer brain damage."

Above: Although this may look like a scene from "Our Gang," it's actually an example of how the New Deal prioritized children's health. The description reads, "Bowen Day Nursery School - Maxine and Thomas Still - children are inspected and given orange juice and cod-liver oil first thing in the morning." Between 1935 and 1943, the WPA ran nursery schools for the children of middle- and lower-income working parents. These nursery schools became more and more important as America's involvement in World War II increased. The men & women joining the armed services, or working in the defense industries, needed help with the care of their children. This photo was taken in Washington, DC, 1937. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Part of Hillary Clinton's infrastructure plan is to "revitalize aging water infrastructure with public and private resources" ("Hillary Clinton Releases Infrastructure Plan," Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, December 4, 2015). This sounds good, especially since millions of children are drinking lead-contaminated water.  

But it appears that Hillary may be working with Senator Chuck Schumer (Corporate Democrat - NY), on a grand bargain with Corporate America, to lower the latter's tax rates in an effort to "bring the money home" to fund infrastructure work (see, e.g., "The Huge Corporate Tax Cut Hillary Clinton Doesn't Talk About," New Republic, October 21, 2016).

If this is true (and it sure seems plausible, given Hillary's love affair with Wall Street), then not only will Corporate America get away with their tax avoidance games, but they'll also be rewarded with a massive tax break. (Trump, of course, is no better - his tax plan is a massive giveaway to the rich.) 

David Dayen, writing in the New Republic describes exactly what is going on here: 

"Over the years, corporations have learned that they can just stash cash overseas until Congress grants them a 'tax holiday,' enabling them to return the profits at a much lower tax rate... In anticipation of Congress bailing them out again, corporations have hoarded $2.5 trillion overseas since 2004. Nearly two-thirds of the money is held by pharmaceutical and tech firms, who are adept at making it look like most of their profits are earned abroad... What we have here, basically, is a monetary hostage situation. Corporations won’t bring back the money unless they get the same sweet deal as in the past: repatriation at a tiny tax rate."

Corporate America is (among other things) holding the health of America's children hostage. Their extortion message is clear: "Give us a pass on our tax avoidance, and give us a big tax cut, or your children will continue to incur brain damage from drinking contaminated water."

Now, some people might say, "No, no, no, corporate executives and wealthy shareholders would never do such a thing! Sure they're greedy, but they're not that ruthless!" Oh, but they are. The truth is, many (not all) super-wealthy people see other people's children as nothing more than financial transactions. That's one reason why they used to enslave them - and also why they used to try to get as many of them as possible to become interested in cigarettes (see image below).

Until we start playing hardball with Corporate America, nothing will change. The health of our children will be in constant jeopardy, the climate will continue to warm, we'll continue bombing as many nations as it takes to bring profits to the military industrial complex, our infrastructure will continue to crumble, and the American people will have to deal with never-ending financial and pharmaceutical scams. The supposed "job creators" are not our friends. The sooner we learn that the better off our children will be.

Above: This old "toy" gives us a good idea of what Corporate America thinks of children. See "Remembering Candy Cigarettes, Big Tobacco's Most Evil Way to Turn Children Into Smokers," Mother Jones, October 29, 2016. Image courtesy of Robert Proctor and Mother Jones, used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Has America become Ardana?

Above: Kirk and Spock look up at the city of Stratos, on the planet Ardana. Image used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.

A recent investigation by KDKA News found that residents of Pittsburgh who cannot afford to replace their lead-contaminated water lines are likely to receive no help. ("KDKA Investigation: No Help For Families To Replace Lead Service Lines," CBS Pittsburgh, October 28, 2016).  

Replacing a water line that runs from a public water main to a family's house can cost about $5,000; but unfortunately, thanks to years of Reaganomics, "63% Of Americans Don't Have Enough Savings To Cover A $500 Emergency" (Forbes, January 6, 2016), let alone a $5,000 water line replacement.

Earlier this year, attorney Tom Neltner, of the Environmental Defense Fund, highlighted how lead poisoning disproportionately affects poor and minority children: "With more than 500,000 children having elevated blood lead levels, as many as 10 million homes with lead service lines, and 24 million homes with lead-based paint hazards, our country has work to do. A priority needs to be children in poor households who are three times more likely to have elevated blood lead levels and African-American children who are twice as likely to show elevated blood levels as their white counterparts" ("Lead service lines must be replaced as soon as possible to protect children," March 16, 2016).

All of this reminds me of the Star Trek episode, "The Cloud Minders," where the Enterprise visits the planet Ardana. On Ardana, society has been split into two groups - the City-Dwellers, who live in the wealthy cloud city of Stratos, and the "Troglytes" who mine the caves on the planet and breathe in dangerous "zenite" gas. When Kirk and Spock question the fairness of such a society, the City-Dwellers express astonishment that things should be any other way, at one point stating, "The complete separation of toil and leisure has given Ardana this perfectly balanced social system... Why should we change it?"

It seems to me that America has become Ardana. True, we've always had a caste society; but from the New Deal to about 1980, we made great strides in moving away from our traditional system of economic apartheid. The middle-class grew like never before or since (thanks to New Deal policies and infrastructure) and the poor had a stronger social safety net. Since 1980, we have slowly but surely chipped away at all of that, and so now we have the Forbes 400 adding billions to their already-bloated wealth, while the children of working class families drink lead-contaminated water.

We don't have to be Ardana of course. We could create a New WPA, giving jobs to some of our 20 million un- and under-employed fellow Americans, to put in new water lines, thereby bringing clean water to every American child. During the New Deal, WPA workers installed 16,000 miles of new water lines and made nearly 900,000 water consumer connections. But we're not going to create a new WPA; and we're also not going to create any other type of nation-wide infrastructure program to replace contaminated water lines. Why not? The only answer I can come up with is, quite frankly, horrifying. And that is this: We've become so submissive and worshipful towards the super-rich, that we are literally willing to risk the health of our children, if that's what it takes to protect their wealth. If you think this sounds far-fetched, think about how many people flock to the likes of Kim Kardashian and other celebrities, and hang on their every word and action. 

Unfortunately, this adoration is almost always a one-way street. Many of the super-rich have absolutely no compassion for those of lesser means. Research indicates that about 92% of wealthy Americans don't like the idea of a public works program for those who can't find jobs in the private sector; and the children of these wealthy, soulless people are flaunting their inherited wealth on websites like Rich Kids of Instagram, where they show off their yachts, watches, champagne bottles, sports cars, and so on - and where, on the home page, we are told "They have more money than you and this is what they do."

And yet, even while America's children drink lead (causing irreparable brain damage), and even while the super-wealthy buy expensive & frivolous items--and rub our noses in it--Republican politicians are working hard to give even more tax breaks to the super-wealthy, and also trying to protect their illegal tax evasion.

People (usually Republicans) say we live in a Christian nation. But I don't remember the verse where Christ said, "Let the children of the poor drink lead, and let the children of the rich enjoy--and flaunt--great wealth." 

"It is mind-boggling that a major political party would even consider endorsing a resolution to facilitate tax evasion."

--Heather Lowe, global financial expert, after "The Republican National Committee (RNC) on Friday called for the repeal of a U.S. anti-tax-evasion law, siding with big banks, libertarians and American expatriates" ("Republicans bash U.S. law targeting offshore tax dodgers," Reuters, January 24, 2014)   

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Reverse New Deal: Subjecting our children to brain damage, for the sake of billionaires

Above: An information panel showing some of the ways the WPA improved the quality of life for America's children during the 1930s. This panel was displayed in 1940 at an exhibit in Washington, DC, where, today, our political "leaders" are ignoring the health needs of our children. Image courtesy of the National Archives.

In the last few days, high levels of lead have been found in the drinking water systems of Tallahassee, Florida; Quincy, Massachusetts; Bend-La Pine, Oregon; Lackawanna, New York; Albany, New York; Geneva, New YorkChicago, Illinois; York County, Pennsylvania; DeKalb County, Georgia; Fulton County, Georgia; Benton, Maine; and other cities and towns across America. Many of these high levels of lead were found in schools, including elementary schools.

Dr. Jennifer Lowry of the American Academy of Pediatrics has said, "We now know that there is no safe level of blood lead concentration for children, and the best ‘treatment’ for lead poisoning is to prevent any exposure before it happens. Most existing lead standards fail to protect children. They provide only an illusion of safety." The CDC has warned us, "No safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. And effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected." And yesterday, Dr. Olga Naidenko of the non-profit Environmental Working Group noted, "Scientists, pediatricians and public health officials from the U.S. and around the globe agree that there is no safe level of lead exposure. Even the smallest amounts can cause irreversible changes, including diminished IQ and behavioral problems in children."

Despite the multiple warnings, our conservative Congress shows no desire to create a large-scale national infrastructure program to replace the water mains, water pipes, and water fixtures that are causing lead poisoning in children. Instead, they are, as usual, focused on cutting taxes for the wealthy, protecting illegal tax evasion, and obstructing all laws that would hold Wall Street accountable for financial fraud and environmental pollution. And their decades-long efforts are paying off. For example, we recently learned that the richest 400 Americans have achieved their highest personal wealth ever ($2.4 trillion). And many of these super-rich Americans will, of course, funnel some of their record wealth back to the politicians who are working as their financial bodyguards. It's a protection racket so simple in design that even Al Capone would be impressed: "Give me some tax breaks, and I give you some campaign money. Capiche?"

During the 1930s and 40s, thousands of waterworks projects were carried out by the various New Deal work programs, to provide clean drinking water for Americans. President Roosevelt and his fellow New Deal policymakers thought that the health of children--and the health of the nation as a whole--should be a top priority. Today, by contrast, we are plagued with the "Greed is Good" mentality, i.e., that if we all just act in a completely selfish way, the best possible good will result. But the failure of this foolish ideology can be measured by the millions of children that have drank lead through infrastructure neglect. We have let personal profit crush the common good and, in the process, subjected our children to brain damage.

During his first inaugural address, after the American economy had collapsed due to financial industry greed, financial industry fraud, and financial industry incompetence, President Roosevelt spoke of restoring the nation: "The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit." The New Dealers stood true to those words, and engaged in an infrastructure program that this country has never seen before or since. New Deal roads helped people to get to hospitals and health clinics; New Deal electric lines brought power to rural areas; New Deal school lunch programs brought food to malnourished children; New Deal forestry work employed millions and restored our forests; New Deal water mains brought clean water to children; and the list goes on and on.

Why aren't we doing the same today, especially in light of the fact that so many millions of children have been poisoned by lead?

"We so easily forget. Once the cry of so-called prosperity is heard in the land, we all become so stampeded by the spirit of the god Mammon, that we cannot serve the dictates of social conscience."

--President Franklin Roosevelt, quoting Rabbi Edward L. Israel, 1932 (link)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

New Deal Art: "Mules"

Above: "Mules," a lithograph by Chuzo Tamotzu (1891-1975), created while he was in the WPA's art program, ca. 1935-1943. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

New Deal Art: "Justice Tempered with Mercy" and "Contemporary Justice and Woman"

Above: "Justice Tempered with Mercy," an oil painting & mural study by Emil Bisttram (1895-1976), created while he was in the New Deal's Treasury Relief Art Project, ca. 1936. In the early 1930s, Bisttram studied with painter Diego Rivera in Mexico. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: Another mural study by Bisttram, this time for of the New Deal's Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture, 1936. Bisttram co-founded the Taos Art Association (today called the Taos Center for the Arts). Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Drinking lead for the rich in New York

Above: WPA laborers on a waterworks project in Loudonville, New York, ca. 1935-1940. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Yesterday, we learned that schoolchildren have been drinking leaded water at public schools in Lackawanna, New York. Lead contamination frequently comes from aging water lines and fixtures. Like everywhere else in the United States, New York's drinking water infrastructure is old and deteriorating. In fact, as news was breaking about children drinking lead in Lackawanna public schools, an old water main broke in Hudson, New York, disrupting water service to residents there. One person said, "I’ve got soap on my face and I’m sick, so this isn’t helping." The water disruption also hurt at least one business. The owner of a breakfast-and-lunch diner said, "A couple hours is our whole day. We’re losing a day’s business." The Hudson Superintendent of Public Works noted: "The old stuff needs to be updated. About 20 of our mains are 4-inch mains, which means they’re probably 120 years old at least."

Americans have been warned, year after year after year, by engineering experts and public health experts, that their drinking water infrastructure needs to be updated. If we were smart, we would have done what President Franklin Roosevelt and his fellow New Deal policymakers did in the 1930s and 40s. For example, between 1935 and 1943, WPA workers installed over 1,200 miles of new water lines in New York. But we weren't smart, were we? Instead, millions of Americans scoffed at the pointy-headed experts (or were oblivious to them altogether), and elected wave after wave of conservatives into high political office. And those conservatives were far more interested in pampering the wealthy than they were with infrastructure. Result? America's children are drinking lead and damaging their brains, while the super-wealthy are smiling and enjoying record wealth.

Sadly, even after all this, tens of millions of Americans continue to hold their hands to the sky, in joyous rapture, and exclaim, "job creators... Job Creators... JOB CREATORS!!!" Meanwhile, the "job creators" are buying more politicians and pushing hard for the TPP, so they can outsource more American jobs to third world labor markets, and thus increase profits for executives & wealthy shareholders.

When will we ever learn?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Children drink lead in Chicago parks, while the Forbes 400 set personal wealth records

Above: President Franklin Roosevelt at Soldier's Field, Chicago, 1944. Roosevelt and his fellow New Deal policymakers made large infrastructure investments in Illinois. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

Two days ago, we learned that 43% of Chicago's parks have too much lead in their water fountains. Avalon Park, at 1215 E. 83rd St., had 1,800 parts per billion. That's 120 times higher than what the EPA considers safe (15 ppb). The CDC, meanwhile, says no amount of lead is safe for children. A water quality expert concludes: "Sadly, what people should make of these reports is that tap water at Chicago parks is not lead-free and they are on their own to protect their children from exposures. Demanding that public officials abandon the misleading crutch of the 15 (parts per billion) 'action level' and develop solutions that reflect current scientific understanding about lead in water would be a good first step."

Unfortunately, this story from Chicago is just the latest in a long list of stories highlighting how America's children are being poisoned by lead (see, e.g., my blog post, "We're still drinking lead for the rich").

But don't worry too much; because while children are drinking contaminated water from outdated infrastructure, and having their brains permanently damaged, we do have something to be ecstatic about: "The country’s 400 richest [people] are wealthier than ever, with a combined net worth of $2.4 trillion and an average net worth of $6 billion, both record highs" ("Inside The 2016 Forbes 400: Facts And Figures About America's Richest People," Forbes, October 4, 2016).

Isn't that great news?!?

Above: Here are some of the richest billionaires of the Forbes 400 - beneficiaries of inherited wealth, or deregulation, or Reaganomics, or all of the above. They certainly look happy, don't they? I wonder if their children and grandchildren are drinking lead too, like the children of working-class Americans. Screenshot image from Forbes.com, used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

In 2014, prominent Republican strategist Matthew Dowd wrote, "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."

This is what was done during the New Deal, under the Roosevelt Administration. For example, between 1935 and 1943, federally-funded WPA workers performed over 1,800 projects to create or improve public parks, playgrounds, athletic fields, swimming pools, and wading pools in Illinois. They also installed 853 miles of new water mains so that the children of Illinois (for example, the children of Chicago) could have clean drinking water. We could do the same today if we weren't so doped-up on trickle-down economics, and if we didn't worship the rich as gods. But we are, and we do. So, America's children will continue to drink lead and continue to incur brain damage... so that billionaires can keep more of their money. After all, living on $20 billion of wealth is unacceptable - it must be $30 billion.

The billionaires of the Forbes 400 who fight for "limited government," and bribe politicians with campaign contributions (to keep their tax rates low); and those people who serve as their financial bodyguards (i.e., conservative voters - both Republican and Democrat), should be ashamed of themselves.

Of course, it doesn't matter much what I say, or what clean water advocates say. In Plutocratic America, your message and your warnings are only as strong as the money you have to support them. And so we can scream from the rooftops, everyday for the rest of our lives, and our corporate-bought politicians will only snicker at us... while drafting the next piece of legislation that coddles the wealthy, or blocking the next piece of legislation that addresses our infrastructure.

"Now, a lot of people remember it as boondoggles... raking leaves... Maybe in some places it was. Maybe in the big city machines or something. But I can take you to our town and show you things, like a river front that I used to hike through once that was a swamp and is now a beautiful park-like place built by WPA."

--Ronald Reagan, recalling his young adult years in Illinois (from the book In the Shadow of FDR: From Harry Truman to George W. Bush, by William Leuchtenburg)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

"How will we pay for it?!?" Answer: With the $2 trillion we lose every year to military adventures and coddling the wealthy.


Above: In this video segment, taken from Thom Hartmann's show "The Big Picture" (10-17-2016), a whistle-blower describes how he blew the top off a massive tax evasion scandal. These type of tax evasion actions by the super-wealthy drive up the tax burden on non-wealthy Americans, in the form of increased taxes, tolls, fees, fines, and utility rates at the state & local level. YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7eZflk7mfPw.

Whenever it's proposed that we fix our infrastructure, or make public college free, or forgive all student loan debt, or give more assistance to the needy, or create a public jobs program for the unemployed, conservatives typically respond with an exasperated "How will we pay for it?!?"

Well, there are all sorts of facts & figures out there, detailing the amount of money we spend on fruitless military adventures; and all the revenue we miss out on thanks to the tax shenanigans of the rich & powerful, as well as their historically low tax rates. Here are just a few things to consider:

"The $5 Trillion Wars," Boston Globe, October 17, 2016 (written by Linda Bilmes, Harvard professor and former assistant secretary of commerce).

"What could raising taxes on the 1% do? Surprising Amounts," New York Times, October 16, 2015.

"The Cost of Corporate Tax Avoidance: America’s largest corporations have been storing profits in offshore companies for decades," The Atlantic, April 14, 2016.

"Federal Revenue Lost to Tax Evasion," Demos, estimating $3 trillion in revenue lost to tax evasion (separate from tax avoidance losses) between 2001 and 2010.

"Tax Rate for Richest 400 People at Its Second Lowest Level Since 1992," Tax Justice, January 29, 2015.

"U.S. Military Spending Dwarfs Rest of World," NBC News, February 24, 2014.


Above: In this video segment, Dr. Richard Wolff, professor emeritus at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, gives one of the best explanations I've ever heard, of how the wealthy are causing so many problems with their tax evasion & avoidance. YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptKiUnX6za8
 
You can do your own math, based on the sources I've listed above (and others), but I estimate that the U.S. loses, and misspends on military adventures, about $2 trillion each year (note: this figure includes lost revenue and debt taken on by the U.S. government). By my estimate then, about $34 trillion has been lost on military adventures and coddling the wealthy, since 2000. So, what could have been done, domestically, with that $34 trillion?

We could have done all of the following; not one or the other... but all of it:

We could have eliminated all existing student loan debt. We could have replaced or repaired all of the infrastructure in America. We could have created a new WPA to hire unemployed Americans on useful projects (historic preservation, environmental conservation & restoration, artwork for public buildings, improved roads & bridges, etc.). We could have jump-started a single-payer health care system, thereby getting rid of the greedy financial executives who arrogantly stand between us and our health care providers. We could have strengthened and expanded Social Security. We could have created a system of public financing for high political office, so that the rich & powerful could no longer corrupt our democracy. We could have done all this, and more; and the rich would still be rich (though a little less so) and our military would still be the largest in the world.

But we didn't focus on domestic needs, did we? Instead, we handed out massive tax cuts to the wealthy, these past 10, 20, 30, 40 years and more, and watched them buy private jets, private compounds, private islands, and their own private little politicians - little marionettes who sit on Capitol Hill, devising more ways to allow more financial predators to victimize more working-class Americans. And we also let our political "leaders" start wasteful and misguided military adventures in various parts of the Middle East - adventures that show no sign of ending, even after 10 to 15 years of troop deployments & troop withdrawals, then more troop deployments & withdraws, bombings, bombings, bombings, weapon sales, weapon losses, questionable contracts with private security firms, and Lord knows what else.

And worse than all of the above, is that none of this foolishness will end any time soon. Millions of people are saying "I'm With Her," throwing their support behind a war hawk who is a Wall Street darling and a multi-millionaire - a woman who has utterly no personal stake in the problems caused by our vast income & wealth inequality. Millions of others are saying "Make America Great Again," and throwing their support behind a man who has no governing experience and wants to hand out even more tax breaks to the wealthy. What about Bernie Sanders? The one major candidate who actually cared about the middle-class and poor? Oh, he was thrown out long ago - a victim of media bias, paranoia of the masses ("Socialist!!!"), and likely collusion between the Clinton Campaign and the biased DNC.

So, "How will we pay for it?" (i.e., our domestic needs)? Well... I guess we won't.

"When it came to taxes, [Franklin] Roosevelt simply believed that rich people should pay more than poor people. And in emergencies, they should pay a lot more." 

--Joseph J. Thorndike, Their Fair Share: Taxing the Rich in the Age of FDR, Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press, 2013, p. 45.

Monday, October 17, 2016

New Deal Book Projects

Above: The description for this photograph (ca. 1935-1940) reads, "One of the several stack rooms at Morgan State College Library [Maryland] and three of the girls employed on the NYA [National Youth Administration] out-of-school work program. At the typewriter is Miss Geraldine Hawkins typing shelf list cards. In the center is Miss Ida Tyler whose principal activity is the preparation and checking of periodicals for binding. In the background is Miss Rose Smith whose activities include pasting book plates, embossing and listing gift books." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: The description for this 1939 photograph reads, "This NYA girl is in the process of shellacking a new book for the school library of the [San Francisco] State College. This was done as a preservative measure after the books were catalogued and filed." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: "[WPA] Poster promoting reading as an avenue to adventure, showing a knight in armor and fleur-de-lis." Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: "Stream in [Franklin] County, Kentucky - main trail for horseback librarians. A few miles beyond this point, the librarians part, taking four trails into the mountains." During the New Deal, work-relief programs like the Federal Emergency Relief Administration and the WPA hired unemployed librarians to deliver books and magazines to remote rural areas. Photo (ca. 1933-1935) courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: "Memorial Library, Williamsport, Maryland - This library was built [by WPA workers] as a memorial for the fourteen Williamsport High School students who were killed in the tragic bus accident at Rockville, Maryland. The library is located in the Community Park. The building is constructed of semi-fireproof material - red brick walls, with ornamental doors and windows, and portico painted white. There are about 1200 sq. ft. of floor space on the first floor, divided into library room, adults reading room, and children's reading room. In the basement there is an exhibition hall and lecture room and public comfort stations." Across the country, WPA workers built or improved over 1,000 libraries. Photo (1938) courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A WPA poster encouraging Americans to read books about African Americans and their contributions to the country. Note the soldier and the Tuskegee Airman. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: A WPA bookmobile awaits customers in Bayou du Large, Louisiana, ca. 1935-1943. As this photo shows, there was a great hunger in rural America for books, news, magazines, and information. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library & Museum and the New Deal Network.

Above: "Reading to the illiterate is all in a day's work for the Works Progress Administration's Pack Horse Librarians in the Kentucky mountains. Most of the people yearn to have the Bible or other religious works read to them." This photo also shows how the New Deal tried to bring Americans closer together. In today's America, if you suggested that the federal government pay unemployed librarians to read to illiterate or lonely citizens, you'd be laughed out of the room. Today, after decades of Ayn Rand's toxic philosophies, and decades of trickle-down economics, many Americans are more likely to scold and ridicule those in need, calling them "parasites," "takers," or "weak." Maybe that's why record numbers of our fellow citizens are committing suicide and dying deaths of despair. After shunning the New Deal, and embracing hyper-individualism instead, we're becoming a happily coarse and mean-spirited culture. And while it's true that we've always had nasty elements in our society, the New Deal worked hard to change that. And so it's sad to see how we've turned away from (and forgotten) the New Deal, and embraced the sociopathic tenets of Reaganism and Neoliberalism instead. Photo (1938) courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Above: A WPA poster promoting a book written by the WPA's Federal Writers' Project. WPA writers created about 1,500 books, booklets, brochures, magazine articles, etc. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: The WPA made "talking books," so that blind Americans could enjoy books too. The WPA also transcribed books into Braille. Photo taken in Washington, DC, 1938. Courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Above: Two Maryland women on a WPA book repair project, ca. 1935-1943. Across the nation, WPA workers repaired over 94 million books. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.

Above: A poster advertising a WPA "story hour" project in Illinois, ca. 1936-1939. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: The New Deal not only built libraries, but staffed them too. Here, two workers in the National Youth Administration (NYA) check in books at the Franklin High School library, Los Angeles, California, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: "NYA girls at Anne Wallace branch of the Atlanta Public Library cleaning, repairing and cataloguing some of the 10,000 books donated to the NYA in Atlanta for rural libraries in districts where there are no library facilities. In the small towns and villages where WPA and NYA maintain these libraries they are bringing to poor under-privileged whites and negroes the opportunity to read which they have seldom had before and which they are eager to have." Photo (1936) courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Above: October is a good time to read! WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Friday, October 7, 2016

On Vacation

Above: "Tourists," a screenprint by Elizabeth Olds (1896-1991), created while she was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1939. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

An 83-year-old water main broke in Berkeley, California. A New Deal could have prevented that.

Above: The description for this photograph (ca. 1933-1939) reads, "Tractors and heavily loaded graders level off an area to be used in the San Francisco, California waterworks system." This project was funded by the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Yesterday, an 83-year-old water main broke in Berkeley, California. The break caused traffic problems and water service disruptions (see, e.g., "Water main breaks in Downtown Berkeley, closing several city blocks," The Daily Californian, October 4, 2016). 

240,000 water main breaks occur in the United States, every single year - many of them due to old age. We could replace these old lines by creating a new WPA. During the New Deal era, WPA workers installed 1,200 miles of new water lines in California. The Civil Works Administration (CWA) and Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) installed new water lines too; and the Public Works Administration (PWA) funded dozens of large waterworks projects across the state. Californians are still utilizing many of these New Deal projects today, well past their intended lifespan.

Unfortunately, we're not going to have another New Deal, or another WPA. Republicans and neoliberals are much too busy babbling on about "job creators," "innovators," and "entrepreneurs," to be overly concerned about the deteriorating water lines that are poisoning our children with lead and closing our schools & small businesses. And, as long as our political "leaders" keep pampering the super-wealthy, in the hope of securing more campaign contributions, our infrastructure will continue to crumble. That means America's children will continue drinking lead and other toxins, while the rich enjoy tax breaks, tax loopholes, tax exemptions, tax deductions, tax avoidance, and tax evasion.

Above: Here is some money that could have been used to replace our poisoned water lines and protect the health of our children. Instead, this money was used to buy private jets, private compounds, private islands, and, of course, politicians. Image courtesy of Demos.org.

Monday, October 3, 2016

WPA Portable Theatre

Above: "Caravan Theatre," a lithograph by Raymond White Skolfield (1909-1996), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Above: A WPA portable theatre in New York City, ca. 1938-1939. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Children enjoying a WPA portable theatre show in New York City, 1935. Conservatives in Congress fought against the WPA theatre. They disapproved of the racial integration they saw, both on stage and in the audience. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library & Museum and the New Deal Network.

Above: Disabled and injured children enjoying a WPA portable theatre show in New York City, ca. 1935-1936. Conservatives in Congress thought the WPA Theatre program was a waste of money. Like today, they thought it would be better to give tax breaks to the rich. Photo courtesy of FDR Presidential Library & Museum and the New Deal Network.

Above: A WPA portable theatre production showing the nativity. Conservatives in Congress eliminated the WPA Theatre program in 1939. They thought it would turn Americans into communists. Photo courtesy of FDR Presidential Library & Museum and the New Deal Network.

In 1982, the Washington Post reported that, "During its brief life, the [Federal Theatre Project] produced 'Caravan Theatre,' a portable theater that went from town to town offering dramatic works to the people. 'They were one of the innovators of theater-in-the-park,' [Lorraine Brown, professor at George Mason University] said. "Joe Papp has always claimed originating it, but they were doing it in 1935."

The WPA Theatre program also produced circuses, puppet shows, variety shows, and more. 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Second graders drinking lead for the rich in Pennsylvania

Above: WPA workers on a water infrastructure project, 1935. New Deal policymakers cared about the health of America's children; so they installed thousands of miles of new water lines & sewer lines, all across the country. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.

Two days ago, it was discovered that 14 water fountains in Pittsburgh public schools were contaminated with lead. At one elementary school, children have been drinking water with lead levels 11 times higher than what the EPA says is safe (and the EPA's suggested limit is much higher than what the CDC says is safe - go figure). A parent with a second and third grader at the school said, "That's scary. I gotta call into the doctors first thing in the morning, and I'm going to get them checked." 

Even scarier: This is happening all across the country, to millions of children (see my blog post here). 

After decades of handing out gargantuan tax breaks to the wealthy, the federal government is now less willing & able to invest in infrastructure. Making the problem even worse: decades of military adventures costing trillions of dollars. And though the middle-class & poor are now being forced to pay higher taxes, tolls, fees, fines, and utility rates, at the state & local level (to make up for the revenue gap caused by Republican and neoliberal trickle-down economics) they just don't have the financial means to replace a substantial part of America's decrepit infrastructure.  

During the New Deal, WPA workers installed nearly 600 miles of new water lines in Pennsylvania, and 16,000 miles of new water lines all across the nation. We connected the dots back then, mitigating unemployment while simultaneously modernizing our infrastructure. WPA workers also built new reservoirs, made hundreds of thousands of consumer water connections, improved water utility plants, and much more.  

We could create a new WPA of course. But we won't. Tens of millions of people (through their voting habits... or lack thereof) are demanding that we give even more tax breaks to the wealthy, thereby making it even more difficult to replace poisonous water lines & fixtures. So, unfortunately, second graders will continue to drink lead for the rich.