Friday, December 30, 2016

The building where one of America's greatest public policies took place

Above: The Walker-Johnson Building, headquarters of the WPA, at 1734 New York Avenue, Washington, DC. This is where Harry Hopkins and his fellow WPA administrators created one of America's greatest public policies - a work-relief program for 8.5 million unemployed Americans, working on hundreds of thousands of public works projects, many of which we still utilize and enjoy today. This photo was taken in March 1938. According to Emporis.com, the building has been demolished. Like the WPA, and like the hopes & dreams of millions of unemployed Americans over the subsequent decades, it disappeared. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Old pipes are bursting in San Francisco. A New Deal could stop that (but the billionaires won't allow it).


Above: In this video, from CBS San Francisco, we see the aftermath of a water main break at Howard and Fourth streets, on December 9, 2016. The water main was installed in the 1800s, so it's no wonder that it broke. The burst pipe caused traffic congestion, flooding problems, and expensive road damage. YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwrL8HPmRq4

San Francisco has been experiencing quite a few water main breaks over the past several years, due to aging infrastructure. One of the latest occurred at the intersection of Evans Avenue and Rankin Street, on December 23rd, when a pipe installed in 1935 broke, "causing major flooding and street closures" ("12-inch water main breaks, floods San Francisco streets," SFGate, December 23, 2016).

During the 1930s and 40s, New Deal work-relief programs built and repaired waterworks all across California. The WPA, for example, installed 1,200 miles of new water lines (perhaps including the one that broke in San Francisco on the 23rd).

Californians are still using many of these New Deal projects today, well past their intended lifespan. I don't think New Deal policymakers expected us to be lazy, and not update our infrastructure from time to time. But we have been lazy, and so we're experiencing about a quarter-of-a-million water main breaks across the country, every single year. And, as we've seen in various part of the U.S., our children sometimes drink lead from these crumbling water lines (as well as old plumbing) - causing bone, brain, and organ damage.

Above: These formerly jobless workers--now employed in the New Deal's Civil Works Administration--are working on a San Francisco aqueduct project, ca. 1933-1934. New Deal policymakers thought it was extremely important for Americans to have a steady supply of clean water. Today's policymakers? Neh, not so much. For example, policymakers in Michigan switched the city of Flint to a foul water supply, to save a buck, and our Republican-led Congress has been reluctant to help. Photo from the book, "American Fights the Depression: A Photographic Record of the Civil Works Administration," 1934, used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.

So, as our water mains are breaking and our children are drinking neurotoxins (and also, as one-third of the nation has no retirement savings - thanks to decades of stagnant wages and job exportation), the world's richest 500 people, many of them Americans, just added $237 billion to their already-bloated wealth.

So, I guess we can tax these super-wealthy Americans more, and then use that money to help repair our dilapidated infrastructure, right? Well, unfortunately, no. You see, the super-wealthy don't like the idea of being taxed more. They feel that their "right" to buy private islands and gold bathtubs is far more important than providing clean drinking water to children. And since they've bought the politicians, and deluded the masses with their "job creator" propaganda (through the think tanks they've set up and the media outlets they control), the status quo of sick children and crumbling infrastructure will continue for the foreseeable future.

So, the residents of San Francisco (as well as the residents of the rest of the United States) will have to continue dealing with their epidemic of broken water mains, and continue wondering if their children are being poisoned by lead (or chromium 6, or Legionella bacteria, or diesel, or benzene, or 4-methylcyclohexane methanol) - while their right-wing & libertarian fellow citizens yell at them, "We can't tax the job creators! Taxes are theft!!"

We're living in strange times.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

New Deal Art: "Approaching Storm"

Above: "Approaching Storm," an oil painting by Robert P. Archer, created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1938. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Drinking lead for the rich in Louisiana. A classic case of people voting against their own interests.

Above: During the 1930s and 40s, New Deal policymaker and New Deal workers engaged in thousands of waterworks projects all across the country. We're still using many of these projects today, well past their intended lifespan. Image from America Builds: The Record of PWA, 1939.

A Drinking Water Emergency in Louisiana

A few days ago, the mayor of St. Joseph, Louisiana, declared a health emergency because the town's drinking water was contaminated with lead. The problem stems from a 90-year-old drinking water system and/or the old plumbing in many of the town's homes. This is not a new problem for Louisiana. For example, back in August, NBC News reported high levels of lead in the New Orleans water system. And the problem is certainly not unique to Louisiana either. A recent Reuters investigation found that 3,000 areas across the U.S. have higher lead poisoning rates (from all sources, not just water) than Flint, Michigan. And the problem is probably far worse than that because, as Reuters points out, "millions of children" aren't even tested for lead poisoning.

Ignoring Warnings, and Voting Against Their Own Economic & Health Interests

But Louisiana is an interesting case study because, as a "red state," the people have (collectively) sided with the Republican principles of tax-breaks-for-the-wealthy and "limited government." They elected Republican Governor Bobby Jindal to be their governor from 2008-2016, they have a Republican-led legislature, and they voted for Donald Trump. And what do Jindal, the Louisiana State Legislature, and Donald Trump all have in common? They installed, or are promoting, tax-breaks-for-the-rich (see, for example, "Bobby Jindal's Anti-Tax Fervor May Have Destroyed Louisiana," ThinkProgress, March 7, 2016; "Trump Tax Plan Gives 47% Of Cuts To Richest 1%, New Analysis Finds," Forbes, October 11, 2016). 

And Louisiana voters have been voting for politicians who promote tax-cuts-for-the-wealthy despite the fact that the middle-class and poor in Louisiana pay a larger percentage of their income in taxes than wealthy residents do, and also despite the fact that Louisiana needs more revenue, not less, to fix their crumbling and poisonous infrastructure. In 2012-2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) warned Louisiana about its drinking water systems: 

"Louisiana’s potable water infrastructure is deteriorating at an alarming rate...  older lines result in leaks that ultimately cost the water system valuable revenue... Water wells are no longer pumping at their design
capacity and need rehabilitation... The operators of public water systems in small, rural areas are typically overwhelmed... Many do not have the manpower required to fix leaks, read water meters and operate the system at the same time. Other systems do not have adequately trained certified operators... Routine maintenance and rehabilitation projects must begin before it is too late. Louisiana’s water systems receive a D+ for Condition" ("2012 Report Card for Louisiana's Infrastructure," p. 43).

Further, the ASCE recommended that "Local leaders should lobby for additional state and federal funding. Infrastructure will continue to deteriorate without proper action" (p. 44).

Collectively, the voters and politicians of Louisiana ignored these warnings, continued to promote more tax cuts for the rich (through their voting behavior, or lack thereof), and are now being poisoned by lead. This is a classic case of voting against one's own economic & health interests. And it's happening all across the nation.

Things Were Different for Louisiana During the New Deal

An interesting article from the March 21, 1940 edition of The Monroe News-Star newspaper shows how infrastructure neglect doesn't have to be the norm (as it is today). The article outlines the accomplishments of the WPA in Louisiana, after 4 and 1/2 years of labor. With respect to waterworks...

"WPA built 54 new utility plants... This included... 14 sewage treatment plants, 34 pumping stations... and a water treatment plant with a capacity if 1,500,000 gallons per day... The construction of water mains and distribution lines totaled 181.4 miles... a total of 4,315 water consumer connections were installed. A further improvement in Louisiana water supply was the digging of 12 water wells, the construction of 12 storage tanks or standpipes, and one storage dam... WPA workers installed 18,837 sewerage service connections..." ("WPA Conducts Big Program").

And keep in mind that this was only a little over half-way through the WPA program and, moreover, there were several other New Deal programs that worked on Louisiana's infrastructure too, for example the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) and the Public Works Administration (PWA).

Will We Return to the New Deal, Or Will We Continue to be Suckers for the Rich? 

We could replicate the New Deal experience (e.g., a new WPA), and fix our infrastructure, if we (a) stop worshiping the rich, (b) stop sticking our military noses in the affairs of every other country on the planet, and (c) start paying more attention to domestic problems (like millions of American children being poisoned by lead, as well as other filth, in our drinking water). Unfortunately, as I look around me, and as I read the news, it seems to me that a large percentage of Americans have learned nothing. And so, we'll most probably continue drinking lead (and other toxins) so that the rich can continue adding millions and billions to their already-bloated wealth.

Isn't that amazing?... that an entire culture, collectively speaking, would willingly poison itself to please the rich?

Think about this: If you were to tell a politician, or your average American citizen, or any number of think tanks, civic organizations, or media groups, "I think we should pay the unemployed to modernize our infrastructure," you be stared out like you're a weirdo, at best, and more likely laughed out of the room. You'd be told something along the lines of "That's pie-in-the-sky thinking." And yet, this nation has already paid the unemployed to modernize our infrastructure, and it worked spectacularly - as evidenced by the fact that we're still using many of those infrastructure projects today - even though they weren't intended to be used for this long. On the flip-side, our current public policy on infrastructure has resulted in millions of children being poisoned. Isn't it incredible that a proven public policy (the WPA) is considered ridiculous, but the current failed public policy (tax-breaks-for-the-rich & infrastructure neglect) continues on indefinitely, and is considered the more "serious" and "mature" way of thinking?

(Note: In 2011, U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) put forth legislation to create a new WPA--to put the unemployed back to work, and to fix our infrastructure--but the legislation died in committee. Republicans failed to support it because it wasn't a tax cut for the rich; Lautenberg's fellow Democrats failed to support it because they had abandoned the New Deal a long time ago; President Obama failed to support it because he didn't see how it would please his corporate backers; and the people failed to support it because they were too busy on Facebook and their Smart Phones to even know it existed. But there are consequences for all this ignorance and apathy, such as broken water mains and poisoned children.)

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Santa's WPA Toy Shop in Milwaukee

Above: A large WPA toy shop in Milwaukee made, repaired, and distributed toys throughout the state of Wisconsin. This image is from a larger article in The Racine Journal-Times, December 24, 1935; used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.

Above: The WPA also operated a toy loan program in Milwaukee (as they did in many other areas across the country). Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The WPA saves Christmas in Louisiana

Above: Discarded toys awaiting repair and distribution during the holiday season in New Orleans, Louisiana, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

From the January 6, 1937 edition of the The Monroe News-Star (Louisiana): "The WPA toy shop project was started November 30 for the purpose of collecting, making, and repairing toys for distribution to children of the parish whose belief in a Santa Claus would have been cruelly shattered unless the home project had been instituted. It was sponsored by the city of Monroe and began operating with 14 WPA workers and five volunteers. Toys were collected by Boy Scouts, schools, individual donations, the Capitol theater, members of the American legion and the Kiwanis, Rotary and Lions clubs. Broken toys were repaired and repainted and made to look like new." ("Report Given On Toy Shop")

New Deal projects like this were a win-win-win situation. Unemployed workers got jobs in the WPA; toys were recycled (thus saving landfill space); and children from low-income families had a brighter Christmas.    

Friday, December 23, 2016

New Deal Christmas toys for California children: A sign of a better government

Above: The description for this photograph (taken December 5, 1940) reads, "Toy donations received at National Youth Administration's Long Beach [California] Office, 1206 W. 7th St., are inspected by Ray Schakel and Mary Weissker, National Youth Administration workers, who will help recondition the toys for free distribution through the Christmas Cheer Fund." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

During the 1930s and early 40s, New Deal work-relief agencies made, repaired, and reconditioned toys, for distribution (or loan) to children from low-income families. For example, in the December 12, 1936 edition of The San Bernardino Daily Sun, it was announced that thousands of toys would be distributed to area children, and that many of the toys had been reconditioned by a WPA toy-repair shop. It was also reported that some of the toys were rag dolls and stockings, created by WPA sewing room projects. ("City Agencies To Distribute Toys To Needy")

It was a different time back then, a different form of government. Employing the jobless, to engage in projects that helped the poor, or repaired infrastructure, was seen as a good thing. In 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt said: "We seek not merely to make Government a mechanical implement, but to give it the vibrant personal character that is the very embodiment of human charity. We are poor indeed if this Nation cannot afford to lift from every recess of American life the dread fear of the unemployed that they are not needed in the world. We cannot afford to accumulate a deficit in the books of human fortitude... Better the occasional faults of a Government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a Government frozen in the ice of its own indifference."

Today, the unemployed are far more likely to be labeled as "takers," than receive public works jobs. And poor children are far more likely to face cuts in government services than receive free toys from the federal government to bring them smiles. Indeed, the latter would bring hoot & howls, nervous hand-wringing, and desperate cries of "the End Times are here!" from those on the far political right (meanwhile, federally-funded perpetual war, which kills thousands of children abroad, doesn't seem to garner the same amount of frantic concern).   

It's so depressing to see a nation embrace callousness, when it could, instead, embrace the very words of its Constitution - words that described a government that would "promote the general welfare" and "provide for... the general welfare." The way many people act today, you'd swear somewhere in the Constitution, it said: "Hate those who are different! Get the 'takers' before they get you! Government is only allowed to help rich people, you low-income parasite!"

San Francisco psychologist Michael Bader recently wrote: "when our social milieu is indifferent to our needs and inattentive to our suffering, widespread damage is done to our psyches, causing distress, anger and hopelessness. Such inattention and neglect lead to anxiety about our status and value, and a breakdown of trust in others... The failure of our institutions to empathize with the plight of the middle and working classes, to recognize their sacrifice and reward their hard work is traumatic" ("The Breakdown of Empathy and the Political Right in America," Alternet, December 22, 2016; also see "'Deaths of Despair' are killing America's white working class," Quartz, December 30, 2015, and "U.S. Suicide Rate Surges To A 30-Year High," New York Times, April 22, 2016).

When it came to government and empathy, the New Dealers had it right - as highlighted by (among other things) their toy repair, loan, and distribution projects. But today--after our embrace of "rugged individualism," and after our embrace of "winner-take-all capitalism"--it is clear that we're getting things dreadfully, dreadfully wrong. We're angry. We're scared. We're depressed. We're suicidal (the CDC reported that 9.3 million adults had suicidal thoughts in 2013). And, amazingly, we're about to double-down on all the things that have made us that way (wasteful military spending, trickle-down economics, and relentless attacks on the social safety net).

We need a New Deal... for children, for workers, for our finances, and for our mental health.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

WPA Theatre and Christmas Toys at Madison Square Garden

Above: A WPA worker repairs toys in New York City, 475 Tenth Avenue, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

On December 22, 1938, the WPA and the New York City Police and Fire Department gave out 50,000 toys to children from low-income families. Thousands of those toys were distributed at Madison Square Garden, after the children got a sneak preview of the upcoming WPA play, "Pinocchio." And many of the toys were the "work of the WPA Toy Repair Project, which has headquarters at 475 Tenth Avenue" ("50,000 Needy Children Get Toys From Police, Firemen and WPA," New York Times, December 23, 1938).

   Above: A WPA performance of Pinocchio, in New York City, ca. 1935-1939. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

New Deal Art: "Winter" by Dacre F. Boulton

Above: "Winter," an oil painting by Dacre F. Boulton, created while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. Today is the first official day of winter. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Americans are drinking lead, chromium-6, Legionella bacteria, diesel, benzene, and 4-methylcyclohexane methanol. Why?

"We see a lot of babies come into our clinics with high lead levels."

--Community Health Center Worker, "Hundreds of people line up for free water filters in Milwaukee," WTMJ-TV Milwaukee, November 30, 2016 

Above: A WPA waterworks projects in Birmingham, Alabama, 1936. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Drinking Poison

All across the nation, the drinking water supplies of nearly all Americans are at risk of contamination - or already contaminated. Some of the contaminants, such as lead, have made people sick. Other contaminants, such as the Legionella bacteria, have killed people. The list of contaminants in our drinking water has also included chromium 6, diesel, benzene, and 4-methylcyclohexane methanol.

During the 1930s and 40s, thousands of waterworks projects were carried out by New Deal work programs - new water mains, new filtration plants, new reservoirs, new consumer connections, and so on. There were also extensive efforts to clean our rivers, streams, and lakes, because, of course, they're an integral part of our drinking water supply. President Franklin Roosevelt once 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" ("Message to Congress on Water Pollution, February 16, 1939," University of California Santa Barbara).

Why Are We Drinking Poison and Bacteria?

All of the above begs the question: Why are Americans letting their drinking water become contaminated with bacteria and poisons? I think I can break it down into three reasons (the first two being closely related):

(a) Most Americans are unaware of their nation's history. This has been shown time and time and time again. Thus, they're not aware of what the New Deal accomplished and, in many cases, have probably never even heard of the New Deal at all. Yes, it seems unbelievable, but many Americans have no understanding or knowledge of the New Deal, despite the fact that it is, arguably, the largest work & construction program in human history. And so, they have no idea just how extensively the federal government modernized our infrastructure during the 1930s and 40s.

(b) Since they're unaware of their history, many Americans are susceptible to simplistic conservative rhetoric, for example, "government is the problem, not the solution." And once you buy into that nonsense, the idea of increased federal funding for infrastructure, or a new WPA, seems absurd (even though that's exactly what worked in the past).

(c) Americans have been convinced that rich people are special, and should be obeyed. Indeed, we have such a slavish devotion to the rich, that we're willing to bow our heads, drink contaminated water, and breathe foul air, because any limitation on the holy "JOB CREATORS" is seen as a risk to jobs. It seems that millions of Americans have been manipulated into thinking that we can't have jobs AND a clean environment - only one or the other.

Solutions

So, how can we fix this situation? Here are two solutions:

(a) We should stop obsessing about "STEM" (science, technology, engineering, and math), and start emphasizing Social Studies more (history, economics, geography, etc.). We are turning into a callous, technology-obsessed culture that has no respect or understanding of its history. And what good is math, if you have no soul, and have no sense of what it means to be a good citizen? Sure, you can calculate and perform regression analyses on all the ways that the middle-class is being pounded into the ground; but without an understanding of history, you won't have a full array of policy options to choose from - in fact, you may be left with only imbecilic thoughts, like "well, guess you'll have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps!"

Now certainly, if particular students show an aptitude for STEM, they should be offered courses to let that aptitude flourish; but Social Studies is the key to children & adolescents becoming well-informed, critical-thinking, civic-minded, and compassionate citizens. And that should be the foundation of our culture, from which everything else, for example, STEM, is built upon.   

(b) Create a New Deal Museum & Study Center, with an educational outreach program. The New Deal was the largest work & construction program in human history (counting not only infrastructure, but also artwork, publications, trees planted, historic preservation, and more). Isn't it amazing then, that such an enormous piece of our nation's history has no large museum? And make no mistake about it, there needs to be one. There needs to be a place where people can come and learn about this important and gargantuan piece of American history. The fact that there isn't is, frankly, jaw-dropping. For example, the WPA employed 8.5 million Americans to build, repair, or improve 650,000 miles of road. That's enough roadwork to circle the Earth 26 times. They also engaged in 124,000 bridge projects; created over 380 million clothes for low-income Americans; served 1.2 billion school lunches to needy children; and much, much more. And yet, there is no large museum to honor and showcase the work of these 8.5 million Americans?? Um, excuse me, but that's bullshit.

In sum, tens of millions of Americans do not know the history of the New Deal and, until liberals and progressives come together to make sure that they do, we may see a long line of Trump-type presidencies. Are you listening rich Democrats? Are you listening progressive-minded millionaires & billionaires? Are you listening crowd-funders? Are you listening Moveon.org, ThinkProgress, and Elizabeth Warren? Or are we just going to continue drinking lead and yelling in our respective echo chambers?  

"The WPA was one of the most productive elements of FDR's alphabet soup of agencies because it put people to work building roads, bridges, and other projects... it gave men and women a chance to make some money along with the satisfaction of knowing they earned it."

--Ronald Reagan, 1990, in his autobiography An American Life

"[The WPA] has added to the national wealth, has repaired the wastage of depression and has strengthened the country to bear the burden of war."

--Franklin Roosevelt, 1942, in the Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-1943, p. v

Monday, December 19, 2016

Jesse Ventura talks about infrastructure... and makes far more sense than our modern-day, corporate-bought politicians



Above: In this video clip, from the news show "Watching the Hawks," former governor of Minnesota Jesse Ventura discusses infrastructure. Though Ventura can sometimes be over-the-top, he is often far more cogent on the issues than our corporate-bought politicians. In this clip, he discusses Republican hypocrisy on infrastructure; the need for a long-term vision on infrastructure; the funding of sports stadiums vs. infrastructure spending; how people have been anesthetized by entertainment; military spending vs. domestic spending; and public vs. private spending on infrastructure. The entire "Watching the Hawks" episode can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-Ew1p8ZXvU.

At 5:20, Ventura says, "Let's take care of our own backyard. Why do we spend the obscene amount of money on defense that we spend? The United States spends more than the other twenty-five leading countries on defense, combined... If we would get out of these stupid wars we would have all that money to fix our infrastructure, to fix our own country. And I think that deserves a priority, more than fighting in the Middle East."

Ventura is right. Cumulatively, we're spending trillions on war but allowing our infrastructure to fall apart. Our deteriorating water lines are poisoning children with lead; our aging dams are putting people's lives at risk during heavy rain events (as South Carolina found out last year); and our sub-par roads contribute to 14,000 highway deaths each year. And yet, we're hungry for more war, we're hungry for more defense spending, and we're eager to line the pockets of the military-industrial complex shareholders - who are safely tucked away in their private compounds, secluded from the masses, and drooling for more conflict and dead bodies. To them, war is little more than a money-making video game - a game where they can shift numbers around and watch the body count grow alongside their fortunes. But for the non-wealthy, war just means death (see, e.g., "US Troops Killed in Iraq and Afghanistan More Likely to Be Poor Than in Previous Wars," Alternet, November 3, 2016).

At 7:57, Ventura says, "Certain things can't be used as money-makers; certain things have to be used as services to provide for a culture, and to raise everybody up in that culture so that we all get a fair chance."

Ventura is right again. And the neglect of our infrastructure shows that, as a society, we are abandoning the concept of the common good - opting instead for a culture based on Ayn Rand's philosophy of greed and selfishness. She believed, as do her modern-day disciples, that everyone should just pursue their own selfish interests. To them, there is no common good. And this belief is at the root of many of the problems we're experiencing today, for example, children drinking lead-contaminated water while the richest 400 Americans keep adding billions to their wealth. Ayn Rand's philosophy of greed and selfishness is the diseased philosophy of sociopaths. It is a philosophy that makes the rich richer, while millions of children are killed by air pollution, poisoned by contaminated water, and impoverished by apathy and indifference.


Above: A WPA waterworks project in Baltimore, Maryland, 1935. Thousands of New Deal waterworks projects delivered clean water to children, and removed wastewater, both of which served to improve the health and well-being of children. How did Ayn Rand feel about this? Well, she probably wasn't too keen on it. In 1936, she wrote: "My feeling for the New Deal is growing colder and colder. In fact, it's growing so cold that it's coming to the boiling point of hatred" (Jennifer Burns, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, New York: Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 38). Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Our New Deal retirement security is being blown to smithereens. And still, tens of millions of Americans continue to goose-step behind the super-wealthy predators who are destroying it.

Above: An oil painting by Ivan Albright (1897-1983), created while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1934. A description for the painting states, "Ivan Albright's obsessively detailed painting style put on canvas the crushing impact of drudgery and advancing age... Wrinkles multiply over her drooping flesh, speaking too eloquently of years full of ceaseless labor." Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

In 1944, in his Second Bill of Rights speech, President Franklin Roosevelt advocated for the right of every American to have "adequate protection from the economic fears of old age." And the policies that he and his fellow New Deal policymakers had earlier put in place went a long way towards ensuring that outcome. Most people's retirement depends on (or used to depend on) four things that the New Deal created or strengthened: A pension, Social Security, savings, and the value of one's home.

Recently, Newt Gingrich gleefully told the Heritage Foundation that Donald Trump's election could begin to show "firmly that we have replaced the FDR model and that we are now in a period of very different government" ("Gingrich brags that Republicans are coming for everything FDR accomplished," ThinkProgress, December 14, 2016). 

Actually though, Republicans, Libertarians, and Neoliberal Democrats have been chipping away at the retirement security of non-wealthy Americans for decades now. Let's look at what the New Deal did for retirement security vs. the situation today.

First Pillar of Retirement - Pensions

The New Deal

Thanks to the Wagner Act, and other New Deal policies, unions were strengthened. They were able to bargain for better pay, safer working conditions, and better benefits - all with less fear of retaliation from management. One of the benefits that unions bargained for was strong fixed pension plans. My father, for example, worked very hard for many decades as a machinist. He was a member of a union, and that union bargained for and won a nice pension that he enjoyed during his retirement. Upon his passing, a percentage of that pension transferred to my mother. And this union activity didn't hurt the company at all - the owners were still millionaires, many times over.  

The situation today, after our abandonment of the New Deal:

Fixed pension plans are going the way of the Dodo Bird. In an effort to become even more wealthy than they already are, super-wealthy Americans have been switching workers from fixed pension plans to 401(k) retirement plans (poverty plans actually). And with union participation much smaller than in previous decades, there's little workers can do about it.

There are two major problems with 401(k)s. First, they rely partially on employee contributions. But wages for American workers have been stagnant for decades. This means that workers have less to contribute and, worse, must sometimes raid their 401(k)s to get money to pay for life's necessities. Second, 401(k)s are subject to the the stock market. And since the stock market experiences booms and bust, and is managed, partially, by fraudsters and white collar criminals (see, e.g., "More bankers ok with breaking the law to get ahead," CNN, May 19, 2015), the strength of 401(k)s is unsteady, to say the least. The result is that "401(k)s have left the overwhelming majority of Americans unprepared for retirement" (Economic Policy Institute, March 3, 2016).

The Institute for Policy Studies recently highlighted that "100 CEOs Have as Much Retirement Savings as 116 Million Americans." But wait, a rising tide lifts all boats, right? Um, well, not exactly. For example, the report shows that "Topping the list is Progressive CEO Glenn M. Renwick, who can expect a monthly retirement check of $1,035,733. How does that compare with regular workers lucky enough to have 401(k) plans? With an average balance at the end of 2013 of $18,433, these workers can count on a monthly check of just over $100."

Above: The description for this 1936 photograph reads: "Maria Beans, over 80 years old, who was a slave in her childhood, having no stove in her kitchen must use an old galvanized bucket for a cooking fire to prepare a meal for her little 3 year-old great-great granddaughter at Montgomery, Alabama." Before Social Security, and before unions fought for and obtained better pensions, this is how a lot of Americans lived. A lot of right-wing politicians want America to return to this way of life - a way of life where, if you end up in extreme poverty, they'll brush you off and say, "Well, you didn't work hard enough." Ironically, they will then (as they do now) cater to their super-wealthy donors, many of whom were born into wealth and never had to work in the first place (the talking points, "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" and "work harder," never seem to apply to those who are born into wealth). Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Second Pillar of Retirement - Social Security

The New Deal:

President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law on August 14, 1935. It's feature policy was an old-age pension system. And the system worked so well, that in the 1950s Republicans bragged about expanding it: "The record of performance of the Republican Administration on behalf of our working men and women goes still further... Social Security has been extended to an additional 10 million workers and the benefits raised for 6 1/2 million" (Republican Party Platform of 1956).

Indeed, Social Security has been going strong for 80 years. It's been the best poverty mitigation program in American history. And, if the Social Security tax cap were removed, forcing super-wealthy Americans to pay the same as non-wealthy Americans, Social Security could be (a) expanded, and (b) protected forever.

The situation today, after our abandonment of the New Deal:

Social Security has been under attack by millionaire Republicans and millionaire Neoliberal Democrats for decades. Bill Clinton wanted to privatize it; President Obama wanted to cut it; and Ayn Rand ideologues, like Congressman Paul Ryan, want to do all of the above, with the end-goal of eliminating it altogether. And with a right-wing president and a right-wing Congress about to take power, we can expect to see some type of cut and/or privatization within the next few years.

Above: Believe it or not, there was actually a time when Republicans cared about the working class and poor. This Social Security document & calculator (as well as the 1956 Republican Party Platform I mentioned above) proves it. It says, "Increased Benefits Under The New Social Security Program, Enacted By The 83rd Congress And Signed By President Eisenhower." The 83rd Congress was controlled by Republicans (both houses) and President Eisenhower was a Republican. Today, however, the Republican Party has been taken over by extremists, charlatans, and crackpots, who seek to cut, privatize, or get rid of Social Security altogether. Unfortunately, most conservative voters are oblivious to their party's history, and thus don't know that Republican politicians once supported and expanded Social Security, during the very decade that conservative voters pine for - the 1950s. Image from personal collection.

Third Pillar of Retirement - Savings

The New Deal:

Here again, we have New Deal-protected collective bargaining. Unions fought for better wages and, after union participation blossomed after World War II, the middle-class grew like never before or since. Workers could actually save for retirement.

The New Deal also enhanced savings with the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). This prevented savings from being wiped out when banks failed. Tens of millions of Americans still enjoy this protection today (most without any knowledge of where it came from). 

The situation today, after our abandonment of the New Deal:

Union participation is down, our jobs have been exported to third world markets, and wages have stagnated for decades. Under these circumstances, is it any wonder that "66 million Americans have no emergency savings" (CNBC, June 21, 2016), let alone any savings for retirement?

Above: A miner in Carbon Hill, Alabama, 1938. Miners and many other blue collar workers benefited greatly from their unions, and also from the New Deal's protection of their unions. They were able to earn better pay, and thus save more. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Fourth Pillar of Retirement - The Value of One's Home

The New Deal:

Through policies like the National Housing Act of 1934, which solidified long-term mortgages with affordable interest rates, the New Deal boosted home ownership. Americans had yet another brick to add to their retirement foundation. My parents, for example, were able to sell their house in 2003 for much more than what they had bought it for. This was a major boost to their retirement security.

The situation today, after our abandonment of the New Deal:

Many people lost their homes after the 2008 recession; and many people can't afford to buy homes today, because of low and stagnant wages, as well as the overall job insecurity that exists in modern America.

So, what caused the recession? A lot of things, of course, like the drastic rise in gas prices that occurred during the Bush Administration (remember when those prices shot up to over $4.00 per gallon - I sure as heck do). But a lot of it was due to the abandonment of New Deal policies, i.e., the abandonment of regulations and strong regulatory oversight. We de-regulated the financial industry (yes, the repeal of Glass-Steagall had a huge role to play in the recession - whether in creating it and/or exacerbating it) and regulatory bodies were soft on enforcement. In short, the cops weren't walking the beat, and Wall Street took advantage of it by selling junk on the stock market.

Above: An old pin-back button from the New Deal's Federal Housing Administration (FHA). The FHA carried out the provisions of the National Housing Act of 1934 and facilitated greater home ownership in the United States. Image from personal collection.

Can we salvage our retirements? Probably not; at least not in our lifetimes  

The retirement catastrophe that is upon us will probably not be solved for many decades, because tens of millions of Americans are completely oblivious to their nation's history, and thus still march behind the super-wealthy predators who are systematically destroying their lives. Indeed, seeing so many middle and low-income Americans rally behind Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump made me lose faith that Americans are able to properly diagnose what ails them, let alone fix the situation.

The fact is, many super-wealthy Americans are ruthless sociopaths, seeking to become gods in a land of mass poverty and despair. To trust them to "make America great again" is ridiculous in the extreme. They send jobs overseas and then call their laid-off workers "takers" and "parasites." They invest in perpetual war and death, knowing full well that it will be the children of the non-wealthy who will suffer the most. They invest in private prisons and mass incarceration, thereby profiting off a subtle type of slave labor. They've made bankruptcy harder--and in some cases impossible--to ensure that most low-income Americans will never achieve the American Dream, but will become indentured servants instead. They inflate the cost of medicine and then lobby to kick people off Medicaid. They continue to sell cancer-causing products, like cigarettes, so that they can live in luxury on a foundation of dead bodies. They hide money in offshore accounts, to avoid taxes, while our revenue-starved infrastructure falls apart and delivers brain-damaging lead to babies. They add billions to their already-bloated wealth while financially-stressed Americans kill themselves in ever greater numbers, and then they buy politicians to make sure those results continue. 

Read all that again, and then tell me they're not monsters. 

And still... STILL!... tens of millions of people continue to goose-step behind these super-wealthy predators - believing these soulless creatures will save them.

Isn't that amazing?

Above: The description for this 1938 photograph, from Carbon Hill, Alabama, reads: "K.E. Kropp, Real Estate & Insurance: 'It's been a wonderful help to the businessmen in general. Industries have been down and it kept the people going. WPA money was put to good use and made the town for us. It's helped business too." It is my firm belief that Americans of the 1930s, generally speaking, were smarter than we are today. They understood, for example, that a strong consumer class drives a strong economy. Many Americans today, on the other hand, believe that the economy must coddle super-wealthy investors, i.e., we must shower them with tax breaks, so they'll invest that greater after-tax income in ways that produce a bevy of good-paying jobs. And, astoundingly, even after 30-40 years of this trickle-down nonsense--nonsense that has outsourced our jobs, corrupted our democracy, neglected our infrastructure, reduced our employment benefits, and caused our wages to stagnate, tens of millions of Americans just voted for MORE trickle-down economics (see, e.g., "Trump Tax Plan Gives 47% Of Cuts To Richest 1%, New Analysis Finds," Forbes, October 11, 2016). As I said, our ancestors were smarter than we are. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

New Deal Art: "Blacksmith Shop, Novia Scotia"

Above: "Blacksmith Shop, Novia Scotia," a wood engraving on paper, by Isaac Jacob Sanger (1899-1986), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1936. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

New Deal Health Projects: 20 ways the New Deal improved our health and well-being

"We cannot be a strong nation unless we are a healthy nation."

--President Franklin Roosevelt, at the dedication of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, October 31, 1940

Above: These African American children in Birmingham, Alabama, are awaiting a health exam at a WPA-run clinic, 1938. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Over the next 4-8 years, Republicans will be engaging in an all-out assault on our health. They'll be trying to kick low-income Americans off Medicaid; privatize Medicare; remove food, drug, and water regulations; reduce funding to public health agencies; pump more crap into the atmosphere (killing even more children across the planet), etc., etc., etc. At the same, of course, they'll be handing out huge tax breaks to the super-wealthy Americans who are already enjoying record wealth.

So, as our health is about to be violently attacked, it is interesting to remember the health projects of the New Deal. Let's look at 20 ways the New Deal improved our health and well-being.

1. Public Education Through WPA Posters



Above: A WPA poster promoting the benefits of breast feeding. The WPA created many hundreds of public information posters, many of which focused on public health and medical care. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

2. Cancer Research


Above: A WPA poster promoting early detection. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

On August 5, 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt signed legislation creating the National Cancer Institute, an addition to the National Institute of Health. Three years later, at a dedication ceremony, he said: "The work of this new Institute is well under way. It is promoting and stimulating cancer research throughout the nation; it is bringing to the people of the nation a message of hope because many forms of the disease are not only curable but even preventable. Beyond this, it is doing research here and in many universities to unravel the mysteries of cancer."  

New Deal work-relief programs also contributed to cancer research. For example, it was reported in 1944 that "NYA students at the Medical School of the University of Wisconsin have done unusual work in cancer research. Through centrifugation these young medical students have advanced the knowledge available on cancer by determining the substances in normal tissue which regulate cell growth, either inhibiting or stimulating such growth" (Final Report of the National Youth Administration: Fiscal Years 1936-1943, p. 61).

Compare this type of New Deal activity, with the Republican shut down of government in 2013 - a shut down that delayed clinical trials for children struggling with cancer. (See, e.g., "Shutdown Blocks Kids With Cancer From Clinical Trials," ABC News, October 1, 2013; and "32 Republicans Who Caused the Government Shutdown," The Atlantic, October 4, 2013)

3. Hospitals & Clinics


Above: A WPA-built hospital in Mesa, Arizona, 1937. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.


Above: A surgery inside the WPA-built hospital in Mesa, 1937. New Deal work programs built or improved thousands of hospitals and clinics across the nation. How many millions of Americans were treated at these medical facilities over the subsequent decades? How many Americans know this history today? Answers: "Many millions" and "very few." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

4. Mobile Health Units


Above: The description for this 1937 photograph reads: "Movable tuberculosis units built by WPA to be placed in patient's own backyard to isolate patient from rest of family." This innovative approach to health care, which kept an ill person close to his/her family and home, probably had a very beneficial effect on the patient. Photo courtesy of the National Archives


Above: The description for this 1939 photograph reads: "Farm Security Administration (FSA) migrant labor camp. Two trailers, one to be used by camp manager for living quarters and office, the other as a clinic and health center. Comprise part of the mobile camp unit. This unit will follow the workers from harvest to harvest, where emergency camps will be started." The Farm Security Administration was created by New Deal policymakers in 1937. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.


Above: The description for this photograph reads: "Young mother brings her child to the trailer clinic on the day when the doctor will be in camp to examine some of the children. FSA (Farm Security Administration) mobile camp. Merrill, Klamath County, Oregon." Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

5. Sanitary Privies


Above: A new sanitary privy being installed in Dyess, Arkansas, ca. 1935-1940. New Deal work-relief programs installed millions of new privies across the country. 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...'" Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

6. Better Nutrition With WPA School Lunch Programs


Above: The description for this 1938 photograph reads: "WPA Hot School Lunch Project - School lunches are prepared and distributed by trucks for undernourished children to schools in the Dist. of Columbia. Photo shows children enjoying their hot school lunch." Across the nation, the WPA served 1.2 billion school lunches (Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, p. 134). Compare that to the Republican philosophy today - a philosophy embodied in the words of former Lt. Governor of South Carolina, Andre Bauer: "My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed. You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don't think too much further than that. And so what you've got to do is you've got to curtail that type of behavior. They don't know any better" ("S.C. Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer Compares Helping Poor To Feeding Stray Animals," CBS News, January 25, 2010). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

7. Immunizations


Above: A WPA poster promoting vaccinations. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In the Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, it is noted that "School children were given various tests, such as the Schick test for susceptibility to diphtheria; and immunizations against diphtheria, typhoid fever, whooping cough, and other infectious diseases were widely administered in schools and clinics" (p. 69).

In the early 20th century, Diphtheria was a major problem. For example, in 1921 over 15,000 children died from it.

8. House Calls


Above: During the New Deal, unemployed nurses were paid to make house calls. This nurse is checking in on a sick child in New Orleans, 1936. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.


Above: The WPA employed many jobless women to help low-income families with their child care and housekeeping needs. The description for this 1939 photograph reads: "WPA Housekeeping Aid attending a mother and a 9-day old baby in a rural home near Brewton, Alabama." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

New Deal house calls were a win-win situation. Unemployed workers were given useful jobs, and Americans in need--for example, low-income mothers--were given assistance. Today, we'd never dream of such a thing. Today, the philosophy is: "The unemployed are undeserving & lazy, and the poor can just pull themselves up by their bootstraps." And perhaps this modern, sociopathic mindset is why "Our infant mortality rate is a national embarrassment" (Washington Post, September 29, 2014).      

9. Medical Care and Physical Fitness in the Civilian Conservation Corps 


Above: Between 1933 and 1942, millions of depressed, undernourished, and inactive young men transformed into proud, hard-bodied forest soldiers in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). In the process they created or improved hundreds of parks and forests across the nation - parks and forests that we still hike, hunt, camp, kayak, and fish in today. Image courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.


Above: A CCC track & field team in the Virgin Islands, ca. 1933-1942. Enrollees in the CCC had opportunities to play baseball, basketball, and more. Like their forest work, these activities turned them into physically fit young men. Could a new CCC help young Americans in this regard today, especially considering America's obesity problems? Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

The young men who joined the CCC came from low-income backgrounds. Growing up, they were not permitted to have the same level of health care as rich Americans. But that changed, to a large degree, once they joined the Corps. James McEntee, who directed the CCC during its final years, described their health care:

"All of the men who served in the CCC were inoculated against typhoid fever and smallpox. Many others in various sections of the country were inoculated against other diseases including pneumonia and spotted fever. At every camp there was a small 'hospital' or infirmary of four to eight beds to take care of minor sickness or injury... In case of critical sickness or injury, enrollees were taken to the nearest available Government or private hospital to receive the most skilled medical attention which could be obtained. There was a standard ratio of two doctors for every three [CCC] camps... Dental care was also provided by travelling dentists who would visit the camps periodically... In line with the standards of preventive medicine... was the policy of immediate and thorough treatment of even minor sickness or illness. This early and competent treatment of apparently minor ills resulted in a relatively large number of patients treated - and it greatly reduced the severity of illness and injury" (Federal Security Agency, Final Report of the Director of the Civilian Conservation Corps, April, 1933 through June 30, 1942, p. 54).

10. Better Drinking Water


Above: A waterworks project in Michigan City, Indiana, funded by the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA), ca. 1933-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

New Deal work & construction programs provided funds and labor for thousands of waterworks projects across the nation, bring cleaner water to millions of Americans. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, and his PWA, explained why they worked on all these projects - in words that, if we had heeded them, could have prevented the lead poisoning of millions of American children over the past several years:

"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. A brief lapse in maintaining the purity of a water supply occurred in 1928 in Olean, N.Y., a town with a population of 21,000. Typhoid germs rode into the Olean homes through the water pipes. Two hundred and thirty-eight cases of the disease resulted. Twenty-one people died... To prevent similar disasters, 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).

11. Removing Wastewater


Above: The description for this 1937 photograph, from Carbon Hill, Alabama, reads, "Depicting old method of collecting sewerage before installation of modern disposal plant by WPA." Many conservative politicians like to say "government is the problem, not the solution." Are you kidding me?? Photo courtesy of the National Archives.


Above: WPA workers installing a sewer system in Frederick County, Maryland, 1936. Across the country, WPA workers installed 24,000 miles of new sewer lines. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.

12. Fighting Malaria


Above: This WPA worker is spraying oil into a culvert to destroy breeding mosquitoes, in Dyess, Arkansas, 1936. WPA and CCC workers drained swamps and sprayed for mosquitoes all across the country. Though some of their methods might, in hindsight, not have been perfect for the environment, they played an instrumental role in the virtual elimination of malaria from the United States. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

According to Dr. Carl Kitchens, of Florida State University, "Between 1932 and 1940 the malaria rate in [Georgia] counties that received WPA malaria projects fell from 25.9 deaths per 100,000 to 5.3 deaths per 100,000. The empirical estimates suggest that WPA malaria projects led to 9.1 fewer deaths per 100,000 or roughly 44% of the observed decline in treated counties."

13. Food and Drug Regulation


Above: A WPA poster warning about contaminated milk. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

On June 24, 1938, President Roosevelt signed the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act into law. The act called for better ingredient labels, more scrutiny of drugs that made questionable claims, evidence of product safety, and more. One of the primary drivers behind the law was the death of over 100 people from "Elixir Sulfanilamide" in 1937. Apparently, the drug maker, S.E. Massengill Company, was unaware of a deadly ingredient they were using, failed to perform clinical trials, and shipped the drug off to pharmacies around the country. Many of the patients who took the medicine suffered an "extremely painful, excruciating death," sometimes going through several days of agony.

New Deal policymakers understood that life and death can't be left up to the "free market," unless you want a trail of dead bodies leading to various food and drug companies. Republicans, on the other hand, often see little need for regulation. For example, back in September, the Trump Campaign mocked the "FDA Food Police," questioning (among other things) why the FDA was so concerned about "food production hygiene, food packaging, [and] food temperatures" ("Trump floats rolling back food safety regulations," The Hill, September 15, 2016). This is the kind of mentality that gets people killed - just like the people who died in Flint, Michigan, from Legionnaires disease, after the city's drinking water was switched to a foul source to save money. As The Detroit News recently reported:

"It’s nearly certain the use of the Flint River as a municipal water source caused the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that killed 12 people and sickened 91 during the summers of 2014 and 2015, according to a team of scientists investigating the city’s water issues. Conditions created by switching the city to the river water without adding proper corrosion controls in April 2014 created a perfect environment for the deadly Legionella bacteria to thrive, Virginia Tech Professor Marc Edwards told The News. 'We have very little doubt that the outbreak was caused by the switch to Flint River water,' Edwards said."

This is the kind of world that Republicans and Libertarians are trying to create. A world where our lives and our health are at the mercy super-wealthy Americans and corporate-bought politicians. "Tainted food?" they ask. "A family member dead because of a bad manufacturer? Hey, no problem! No need for regulations! Just switch to one of their competitors! That's how the free market works!"

Yes, it's hard to believe, but that's their idiotic philosophy.    
    
14. Health education


Above: A WPA poster promoting one of its many health education programs. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.


Above: The description for this WPA photograph, ca. 1935-1943, reads, "Mothers [in New Orleans] receiving instructions on bathing and dressing babies at Maternity Center." Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

15. Sports and Recreation


Above: A man tees off at a WPA-built golf course in Bisbee, Arizona, 1937. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

New Deal policymakers understood that human beings need to get outside and get the blood flowing. They understood that life isn't just about "climbing the corporate ladder"; or sitting in a cubicle for 16 hours a day and making the already-rich richer; or sitting on a sofa and watching a bunch of self-absorbed "reality" TV stars; or being zombified by smart phones for hours on end; or being hypnotized by the millions of random thoughts posted on Twitter. They understood that America would become fat and sickly without proper recreation and physical activity (and so we have). So they built, repaired, or improved thousands of recreational projects all across the country - parks, playgrounds, athletic fields, handball courts, horseshoe courts, tennis courts, swimming pools, ice skating rinks, ski trails, golf courses, and more.  

16. Workplace Safety


Above: A WPA first-aid vehicle, on a WPA work-site in Mobile, Alabama, ca. 1935-1943. Workplace safety gained increasing attention during the New Deal. With the Wagner Act, for example, New Deal policymakers protected the right to bargain collectively. Thus, unions were able to push for safer working conditions - with less fear of retaliation. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.


Above: A WPA poster promoting workplace safety. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The WPA had an extensive safety program, as noted in its final report: "The WPA safety program has been the subject of much favorable comment by the Nation's press and by safety authorities generally. The WPA held full membership in the National Safety Council and was commended by that organization for its leadership in the accident prevention field" (p. 76).

17. FDR's Advocacy


Above: Franklin Roosevelt, 1941. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

During his Second Bill of Rights speech in 1944, Franklin Roosevelt advocated for the right of every American to have adequate recreation, as well as the "right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health." In a message to Congress in 1939, Roosevelt reported on a national health study he had started, and said: "The health of the people is a public concern; ill health is a major cause of suffering, economic loss, and dependency; good health is essential to the security and progress of the Nation."

FDR's advocacy was part of America's evolution towards greater health care for all Americans (think Medicare, and also the recent  Medicaid expansion).

18. Surplus Commodities and the Food Stamp Plan


Above: The description for this photograph, taken in Salem, Virginia, ca. 1935-1940, reads, "Two small colored boys pose with their mother in their new overcoats given to relief clients by the WPA-Surplus Commodities." New Deal policymakers & New Deal workers helped many families-in-need with surplus food, clothing, mattresses, towels, cotton, flour, and more. These commodities helped people deal with hunger and cold temperatures, thereby improving health. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.


Above: Our modern SNAP program has its roots in the New Deal's "Food Stamp Plan." The Food Stamp Plan was started in 1939, under the Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation (note the "F.S.C.C." in the upper left-hand corner of the stamps pictured above). The plan worked by giving out blue stamps to low-income Americans, for free, when they purchased the orange stamps. Photo from personal collection.

19. Better Housing For Better Health


Above: The description for this WPA photograph, from Newport, Arkansas, ca. 1935-1940, reads, "Family living in cave until it was condemned by social workers." Republican and libertarian voters who want to take America back to its pre-New Deal way of life, forget (or have never been taught in the first place) that many Americans lived in extreme desperation during those times. Without a social safety net, they resorted to living in caves, sending their children to work in the mines, letting contagious diseases go untreated (thereby putting all Americans at risk), and more. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.


Above: The description for this WPA photograph, ca. 1935-1940, reads, "Houses for poor families constructed at Arecibo, Puerto Rico." They're not much, but they're certainly better than caves, crumbling shacks, or cardboard boxes. New Deal policymakers tried very hard to create affordable housing or shelter for everyone. Sadly, many of our policymakers today have ice water running through their veins - and so they wouldn't even consider creating the modest little shelters you see above. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

20. Financial Security = Better Mental Health


Above: A WPA worker in Washington, DC, smiles after looking at his paycheck. In his autobiography, Ronald Reagan wrote: "The WPA was one of the most productive elements of FDR's alphabet soup of agencies because it put people to work building roads, bridges, and other projects...it gave men and women a chance to make some money along with the satisfaction of knowing they earned it." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

A big component of the New Deal was increasing financial security for Americans who had been pounded into the ground by the Great Depression: Jobs & paychecks for the unemployed; Social Security for senior citizens; FDIC to protect Americans' bank deposits; protection for unions to bargain for better pay & benefits; special programs to boost the income of farmers; reduction of debt; and so on.

The New Deal sought to relieve financial stress and anxiety because, when you can relieve those two things, mental health improves - people are happier and have greater peace of mind. Compare that to today, where we have tremendous financial stress across the population (e.g., stagnant wages, outsourced jobs, and crushing student loan debt) but most of our policymakers shrug their shoulders. As long as they can continue collecting cash from their billionaire donors, the pain and suffering of the masses matters not. In light of this, is it any wonder that the United States is experiencing more suicide, more deaths of despair, and a dropping life expectancy?

The Results of New Deal Health Projects 

The New Deal had a great positive impact on the health of Americans during the 1930s and 40s. For example, researchers from Oxford and Stanford universities estimate that "every $100 in New Deal spending per capita was associated with a decline in pneumonia deaths of 18 per 100,000 people; a reduction in infant deaths of 18 per 1,000 live births; and a drop in suicides of 4 per 100,000 people" ("How Austerity Kills," New York Times, May 12, 2013).

And subsequent to the New Deal, how many millions of Americans were treated in the thousands of hospitals and clinics that the New Deal built, repaired, or improved? How much disease was averted, over the decades, thanks to New Deal water lines, wastewater removal, and malaria control? How many workplace injuries were avoided, thanks to (New Deal-protected) collective bargaining for safer working conditions? How many lives have been saved by regulations keeping deadly "medicines" from consumers?

Amazingly, Republicans and Libertarians want to undo this legacy. For example, ThinkProgress recently reported on a speech that Newt Gingrich gave to the right-wing Heritage Foundation:

"Gingrich twice brought up the possibility of rolling back Roosevelt’s model of governance, at one point telling the conservative audience that, if Trump is succeeded by another Republican, that would establish 'firmly that we have replaced the FDR model and that we are now in a period of very different government.'"

And what does that "very different government" look like? It looks like--indeed, it is--fascism and plutocracy. It is a government where the extent of your freedom, and the health of your body, is directly linked to your wealth. It is government where, if you have no sizable political donation to make, your life doesn't matter. Of course, we've been moving towards this type of government for decades now, with Republicans pushing trickle-down economics on us, Libertarians pushing Ayn Rand on us, and Democrats losing their spine and turning their backs on the New Deal; but now, with Republicans in charge of all three branches of federal government, as well as most state governments, we'll be moving towards fascism and plutocracy with light speed.

How will our health be impacted by full-blown fascism and plutocracy?

And think about this: If Republicans convert any more states to right-wing governance, they'll be able to call a constitutional convention and fundamentally change the way we live. They'll create a toxic stew of fascism, plutocracy, and theocracy, and the words "general welfare" will be crossed out of the Constitution forever. Does that sound far-fetched? Well, a year ago, so did a Donald Trump presidency. (See, e.g., "Republican success opens door to amending U.S. Constitution," Chicago Tribune, December 5, 2016.)

In sum, the New Deal improved our health and well-being. Trickle-down economics and Clinton-style neoliberalism have seriously damaged it. But the coming right-wing federal government, and the potential re-write of our entire U.S. Constitution, may put the final nails in it.

"Better the occasional faults of a Government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a Government frozen in the ice of its own indifference."

--President Franklin Roosevelt, acceptance speech for the renomination for the presidency, Philadelphia, June 27, 1936