Thursday, March 21, 2019

The New Deal filled our piggy banks

Above: A WPA poster, ca. 1941-1943. Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The New Deal saved our savings

The Personal Savings Rate is the percentage of our disposable income that we save for the future. After the Stock Market Crash of 1929, Americans could save less and less, or not at all. They were just trying to survive. New Deal policies & programs changed all that, and Americans began to save again. 

Here are the annual Personal Savings Rates from 1929-1941 (data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis):

1929: +4.7%
1930: +4.5%
1931: +4.4%
1932: -0.2%
1933: -0.7% (the New Deal begins)
1934: +1.7%
1935: +5.1%
1936: +7.1%
1937: +6.7%
1938: +2.9%
1939: +5.4%
1940: +6.8%
1941: +13.9%

In recent decades, our savings have been decimated by right-wing economics

From 1942 to 1984, a time period where New Deal polices were still the dominant policies in America (things started changing significantly in 1981), the Personal Savings Rate exceeded 10% annually 38 times. Since 1984, i.e., since tax-cuts-for-the-rich, financial industry deregulation, and anti-unionism have really taken hold (think Reaganism, Bushism, Trumpism, and the Democratic Party's embrace of neoliberalism), the Personal Savings Rate has never exceeded 10% (or even reached 10%) when measured annually.

And yet still... tens of millions of Americans keep bumbling along, trusting in the "free market"; trusting in right-wing economics; and trusting in their millionaire & billionaire overlords. And the super-wealthy are loving every minute of it, enjoying their record wealth. Yes, they're bathing in cash, laughing at our dwindling savings, but we... like gleeful doofuses... keep fetching more buckets of warm bath money for them, grinning stupidly at our own economic humiliation. 

There is no word in the English language that adequately describes this level of stupidity. Idiocy? Imbecility? Foolishness? Lunacy? No, they don't cover it. We have reached this new level of stupidity so quickly, so thoroughly, that there hasn't been time to invent a new word for it. Until such time, the best way to describe our new reality is to say that we are living in the Stupid Age. Yes, there was the Bronze Age, the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, the Victorian Era, the Gilded Age, the New Deal Era, and now, unfortunately for us, the Stupid Age.

Recent Headlines:

"1 in 3 Americans have less than $5,000 saved for retirement—here’s why so many people can't save," CNBC, August 27, 2018 (the main reason, according to a survey: "Income hasn't changed or has decreased.")

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Historic flooding, bull-headed climate change denial, and the need for a Green New Deal

Above: "Flood," a wood engraving by Albert Abramowitz (1879-1963), created while he was in the WPA, ca. 1935-1943. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Historic flooding, historic ignorance

Over the past several years, we have seen many historic floods and rain events. For example, today it is being reported that "Rivers continued to rise across the Midwest... continuing the days-long siege of flooding that has inundated thousands of homes, forced countless evacuations and caused levee breaches in at least a dozen locations... Heavy rain and snowmelt in the region led to extensive flooding that has reached historic levels in 42 locations and killed three people" ("Historic Midwest Flooding Causes Dozens of Levee Breaches, Inundates Thousands of Homes and Kills At Least 3," The Weather Channel, March 19, 2019).

Despite these repeated historic and disastrous events, the political right continues to belittle climate science. For example, President Trump has done away with many regulations that were put into place to reduce carbon emissions, and also wants to make sure that new infrastructure initiatives do not have to take into account climate change (see, "Trump Signs Order Rolling Back Environmental Rules on Infrastructure," New York Times, August 15, 2017). Over time, this will waste trillions of taxpayer dollars, as new public works will be destroyed by flooding.

Rain events will continue to get worse in coming years. As the oceans warm up (as they already have), evaporation will increase and the extra water will be carried over land... and then dropped right on top of our heads. Not every area will experience this, but many red state areas will, like Florida. But many red state voters don't care, or don't believe it, so they continue voting for politicians who refuse to address pollution and climate change. (See, "Their Districts Are at Risk. But They Still Vote ‘No’ on Climate Action," Roll Call, October 17, 2018.)

It is amazing to witness so many areas around the country experiencing record, or near-record flooding (Houston, Puerto Rico, North Carolina, Florida, the Midwest, etc.) and simultaneously witness so many millions of Americans continue to reject the idea of disastrous climate change. From their rooftops, surrounded by water, are they yelling, "This is normal, this is okay, we'll adapt!"? 

It would be one thing if these rain and flood events were only occurring periodically--after all, Mother Nature has unleashed her fury since the beginning of time---but record events and once-in-thousand-year events are happening several times a year now.

The insane, costly, and suicidal resistance to a Green New Deal

We're racking up hundreds of billions of dollars in damages every year, our home insurance rates are rising (thanks right-wingers!), and the continued existence of the human race is increasingly in doubt, but when the idea of a Green New Deal is floated, the political right wrings its hands, gnashes its teeth, foams at the mouth, flops around on the ground as if possessed by demons, and howls in anguish, "We can't afford it! It's a liberal conspiracy!!"

We need a Green New Deal today, just as certainly as we needed a New Deal in 1933, when unemployment was 25%, thousands of banks were failing, and the political right proclaimed, "Nothing to see here folks, no need for major change--and even if there is, we can't afford it--it's all just a liberal conspiracy."

Saturday, March 16, 2019

WPA handicrafts in Florida. Could these type of recreational projects reduce social maladies today?

Above: In this WPA adult recreation project in Ocala, Florida, 1937, women and men put together metal, wood, and other handicrafts, using "inexpensive native materials." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

New Deal programs brought people together

During the 1930s and early 40s, New Deal policymakers facilitated many recreation projects for children, teens, and adults, for example, sports, summer camps, art classes, handicraft workshops, model plane classes, pet shows, discussion groups, and dances. Part of the rationale & result of these programs was more social interaction. For example, in the final report of the Work Division of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (a predecessor to the WPA), we learn that in Illinois:

"The extensive development of recreation projects has brought about a new attitude toward the constructive use of leisure time, both for the workers employed on the project and for those who--many for the first time--have had the opportunity to play, to make something which is their own, and to make friends with others in the group who are also enjoying these leisure time activities" (p. 96).

Modern America's unnecessary and destructive hermit culture

Many Americans today have an infantile obsession with "rugged individualism." But humans are social animals, and we thrive and feel better when we interact with others, when we help each other, and when we socialize and work together. Many of the social maladies we're suffering from today, for example, racism, suicide, mass shootings, and loneliness, stem, in part, from social isolation.

Scholars Erica and Nicolas Christakis write: "To combat loneliness in our society, we should aggressively target the people on the periphery with interventions to repair their social networks. Even better would be to prevent some of these individuals from ever becoming socially isolated" ("Navy Yard shootings: What role does social isolation play in mass killings?" Washington Post, September 19, 2013).

Princeton University researchers Angus Deaton and Anne Case have found that deaths of despair (suicides, drug overdoses, liver disease from heavy drinking, etc.), are linked to "poorer health and mental health, social isolation, obesity, marriage (or lack of marriage), poorer labor market opportunities, and weaker attachment to the labor market" ("Is the US facing an epidemic of 'deaths of despair'? These researchers say yes," The Guardian, March 28, 2017, emphasis added).

A group of French and Canadian researchers recently performed a meta-analysis of 40 studies and found that "The main social constructs associated with suicidal outcomes were marital status (being single, separated, divorced, or widowed) and living alone, social isolation, loneliness, alienation, and belongingness" ("Suicidal thoughts and behaviors and social isolation: A narrative review of the literature," on the website of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, emphasis added.)

A Veterans Affairs (VA) study found that "Among five forms of social connectedness, loneliness was tied to the highest levels of depression and suicide ideation" ("The loneliness factor: How much does it drive depression in Veterans?" VA, February 28, 2018).

In 2018, the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) studied the topic and found that 22 percent of adults in the United States "say they often or always feel lonely, feel that they lack companionship, feel left out, or feel isolated from others, and many of them say their loneliness has had a negative impact on various aspects of their life." The KFF study also found that low-income people are more likely to be lonely, and that Americans are "divided as to whether loneliness and social isolation are more of a public health problem or more of an individual problem (47 percent vs. 45 percent), and a large majority (83 percent) see individuals and families themselves playing a major role in helping to reduce loneliness and social isolation in society today and fewer see a major role for government (27 percent)."

Above: A young woman discusses news and current events with a man at a senior citizens home in California, as part of a National Youth Administration (NYA) project. Between 1935 and 1943, the New Deal's NYA employed millions of young men and women on projects of public benefit. Would it be useful to do the same today? (See, "The Risks Of Social Isolation For Older Adults," Forbes, November 29, 2017). Photo courtesy of the National Archives

The answer lies in solidarity, not more solitude

It's ironic that so many Americans view social isolation as an individual's own problem to fix (recall my observation--not entirely novel of course--that a lot of Americans have an infantile fascination with "rugged individualism"). Essentially, many Americans seem to be saying, "Lonely? Tough sh*t, your on your own." Now, think about that for awhile.

Instead of the individualism-cures-loneliness philosophy, I agree with the Christakis's argument (see above): "To combat loneliness in our society, we should aggressively target the people on the periphery with interventions to repair their social networks." They also write: "our society doesn't do well at bringing vulnerable people at our margins back into the fold. It's not just for their sake that we should do so, however, but for our own." 

In other words, sometimes people fall into a hole and need our help getting out. Sometimes they lose their social connections and need help developing more. So let's help them, it's not that big of a deal. We don't have to flop around on the ground in political despair, screaming in agony, "Rugged individualism! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!! Self-reliance!!!"

I believe that our national obsession with "rugged individualism" is about as healthy as flesh-eating bacteria. We are, in effect, trying to force a square peg (our biological. evolutionary need to be social) into a round hole (selfishness and sociopathic individualism). And this obsession with "every man for himself" helps fuel many social maladies, like suicide, loneliness & depression, deaths of despair, racism, and mass shootings. Unfortunately, and for a variety of reasons, a lot of Americans are isolated and stewing.

Among other strategies for combating America's unhappiness, we should look to the New Deal (which successfully reduced suicides and despair in the 1930s). For example, national and wide-ranging recreation programs, for all ages, supported by both federal and philanthropic funds.

Above: A WPA recreation project at Winnekenni Park, Haverhill, Massachusetts, January 15, 1938. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Higher Education: The New Deal strengthened it... and now rich Americans are making a mockery of it

Above: A new women's dormitory at the State Teachers College in Bozeman, Montana, ca. 1935-1940. The dorms were constructed with funds from the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Welcome to CSU - Caste System University!

On September 26, 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt wrote, "One of the surest safeguards of American democracy is the fact that a million young people year by year study America's historic ideals in the colleges and universities." In the spirit of that declaration, FDR and his fellow New Deal policymakers constructed hundreds of new college facilities across the nation. Also, through the New Deal's National Youth Administration (NYA), millions of struggling young men and women were able to earn a modest paycheck while attending college and completing their degrees.

Unfortunately, our abandonment of the New Deal, coupled with the greed and vanity of the rich, has turned FDR's noble sentiment on its head. Universities and colleges today are the nucleus of America's caste system (as they no doubt were before 1933, i.e., before the New Deal began leveling the playing field).

So, today, we're learning about a criminal racket, where rich parents allegedly paid bribes to get their children into prestigious colleges, almost certainly taking away slots from more deserving high school graduates from lower-income families. Even worse, it appears that many of these bribes were channeled through a charity set up to help disadvantaged kids. And, to top it all off, these false charitable donations may have facilitated tax breaks for the parents.

Ironically, these super-wealthy defendants are using their great wealth to get out of jail faster than you can say, "crony capitalism." For example, actress Lori Loughlin's husband was "released on $1 million bail." If they were poor, they'd be sitting in Los Angles jail cells for the next several weeks and months, enjoying meals of gruel and rusty water. (California is getting rid of its cash bail system later this year... sure to be replaced with something equally offensive and unjust - that's just the way we roll in the United States.) 

Of course, we must also keep in mind our long-standing system of legalized bribery, where wealthy parents donate money or buildings to colleges, so that their gilded children can receive admissions preference. All perfectly legal in America's caste system.

There is also unfairness in how we pay for college. Children of the rich can attend college debt-free (and thus, stress free), but children from lower-income groups must often taken on large amounts of debt. This is why Bernie Sanders' plan to make public colleges free is appealing - it levels the playing field, so that children of common folk can attend college with the same (lower) level of stress that the gilded children enjoy.

The caste system unfairness also extends after graduation, where the spoiled brats of the wealthy immediately get jobs in Uncle Bill's investment firm, or take prestigious and connection-making unpaid internships in Hollywood or Wall Street. (The unpaid nature of these internships, especially in high-rent areas, is one of the many tools used to keep away "undesirables," i.e., young men and women from low-income backgrounds who can't afford to work unpaid internships in areas where the cost-of-living is very high).

We need another New Deal... but Idioplutocracy (idiot-supported plutocracy) will prevent it

Many people today are unfortunate, part-owners of the national $1.6 trillion student loan debt load. And many of this group have not been able to (and never will) find jobs that pay enough to justify the expense of their education. To pour salt into the wound, Congress has virtually eliminated bankruptcy relief for student loan debt holders (but not for businessmen, of course, who can utilize bankruptcy multiple times, like Donald Trump has). Instead of debt-relief, they will live in old age poverty, their Social Security garnished to pay for their fruitless degrees. Yes, for years they were told, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste"; but the more accurate statement would've been, "Hope is a great thing to exploit."

Our university and debt system is sick and twisted - and the rich made it so. The resulting caste system keeps them in positions of economic dominance. It ensures that their children will always have multiple advantages over ours: More access to elite colleges; no debt; more connections; higher-paying and more interesting jobs; and so on.

Northwestern University law professor Daniel Austin says: "It is perverse and obscene. We are creating a generation of indentured people. It is mind-boggling that we would do this to a whole generation of young people. I can't understand any other modern society doing this" ("Joe Biden Backed Bills To Make It Harder For Americans To Reduce Their Student Debt," International Business Times, September 15, 2015).

It's clear we need another New Deal for higher education. It's also clear--thanks to right-wing donors and voters--that the caste-system corruption will continue unabated. The current bribery scandal is nothing but a minor nuisance to the plutocrats. They'll simply wash it away with a fresh round of Goebbels-style, "job-creator" propaganda. And the masses will quickly submit, either with apathy or the voting lever.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

New Deal Art: "Curtain Time" and "Encore"

Above: "Curtain Time," a lithograph by Carlos Anderson (1905-1978), created while he was in the WPA, ca. 1935-1943. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Above: "Encore," another WPA lithograph by Carlos Anderson, 1938. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

New Deal Art: "The Fair Sex"

Above: "The Fair Sex," a lithograph by Claire Millman Mahl (1912-1988), created while she was in the WPA, ca. 1935-1943. This artwork seems to show the Great Depression's effect on different income & wealth groups. Notice that the women in the foreground, presumably from the upper crust of society, have sunken and starved faces too. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Sheldon Museum of Art.

Above: A close-up view of the most dispirited character in Millman's "The Fair Sex."

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Suicide rates since 1900: Indifference, progress, and now back to indifference

Above: "Gone," a wood engraving by Albert Abramowitz (1879-1963), created while he was in the WPA, ca. 1935-1943. Today, in our age of sadistic capitalism, suicides and other deaths of despair are becoming more frequent. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Suicides and other deaths of despair rising in the United States

According to recent data from the CDC, "More than 150,000 Americans--a record number--died due to alcohol, drugs and suicide in 2017" (New York Post, March 5, 2019).

Suicides and other deaths of despair have been going up for a number of years now. This should come as no surprise, of course, because the ruling elite have pounded the middle-class and the poor into the ground with merciless, neoliberal, winner-take-all capitalism over the past several decades. Wages have stagnated to please shareholders; citizens have been loaded-up with debt while Congress severely restricted their debt relief options; unions have been demonized and union participation has dropped (thereby replacing steady fixed pensions with roulette wheel 401Ks), and so on.

Here are two charts from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, covering suicides and drug overdoses from 1999-2017. Look at the staggering increases in raw numbers and rates per 100,000:


Drug Overdoses:

And here are America's suicide rates, per 100,000 people, since 1900:

1900: 10.2
1901: 10.4
1902: 10.3
1903: 11.3
1904: 12.2
1905: 13.5
1906: 12.8
1907: 14.5
1908: 16.8
1909: 16.0

1910: 15.3
1911: 16.0
1912: 15.6
1913: 15.4
1914: 16.1
1915: 16.2
1916: 13.7
1917: 13.0
1918: 12.3
1919: 11.5

1920: 10.2
1921: 12.4
1922: 11.7
1923: 11.5
1924: 11.9
1925: 12.0
1926: 12.6
1927: 13.2
1928: 13.5
1929: 13.9

1930: 15.6
1931: 16.8
1932: 17.4
1933: 15.9
1934: 14.9
1935: 14.3
1936: 14.3
1937: 15.0
1938: 15.3
1939: 14.1

1940: 14.4
1941: 12.8
1942: 12.0
1943: 10.2
1944: 10.0
1945: 11.2
1946: 11.5
1947: 11.5
1948: 11.2
1949: 11.4

1950: 11.4
1951: 10.4
1952: 10.0
1953: 10.1
1954: 10.1
1955: 10.2
1956: 10.0
1957: 9.8
1958: 10.7
1959: 10.6

1960: 10.6
1961: 10.4
1962: 10.9
1963: 11.0
1964: 10.8
1965: 11.1
1966: 10.9
1967: 10.8
1968: 10.7
1969: 11.1

1970: 11.8
1971: 11.7
1972: 12.0
1973: 12.0
1974: 12.1
1975: 12.7
1976: 12.5
1977: 13.3
1978: 12.6
1979: 12.4

1980: 11.9
1981: 12.0
1982: 12.2
1983: 12.1
1984: 12.4
1985: 12.4
1986: 12.9
1987: 12.7
1988: 12.4
1989: 12.3

1990: 12.4
1991: 12.2
1992: 11.9
1993: 12.0
1994: 11.8
1995: 11.8
1996: 11.5
1997: 11.2
1998: 11.1
1999: 10.5

2000: 10.4
2001: 10.8
2002: 11.0
2003: 10.9
2004: 11.1
2005: 11.0
2006: 11.2
2007: 11.5
2008: 11.9
2009: 12.0
2010: 12.4

2011: 12.7
2012: 12.9
2013: 13.0
2014: 13.4
2015: 13.8
2016: 13.9
2017: 14.5

Data from: (1) Federal Security Agency, U.S. Public Health Service, "Vital Statistics Rates in the United States, 1900-1940," Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1947; (2) U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Public Health Service, "Vital Statistics Rates in the United States, 1940-1960," Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1968; (3) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Vital Statistics in the United States, 1939-1964," accessed March 6, 2019; (4) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Vital Statistics in the United States, 1965-1979," accessed March 6, 2019; (5) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Vital Statistics in the United States, 1980-2003," accessed March 6, 2019; (6) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Fatal Injury Reports, National, Regional and State, 1981-2017," accessed March 6, 2019.   

The New Deal helped prevent suicides and continues to do so today

As you can see from the data, suicides spiked to record rates after the Stock Market Crash of 1929, reaching a record high of 17.4 per 100,000 in 1932. The New Deal began to lower those rates immediately. Social scientist David Stuckler and epidemiologist Sanjay Basu credit this to increased government spending to help the people ("How Austerity Kills," New York Times, May 12, 2013).

Suicide rates dropped further again from about 1943 through 1971, never reaching 12 per 100,000. Even from 1972 through 2012, the rate only went above 13 once. Over the last several years though, it's been routinely over 13, and it was 14.5 in 2017, the highest it's been in three-quarters of a century.

Since economics, finances, and employment (or lack thereof) are significant factors in the overall suicide rate, it makes sense that New Deal policies prevented the type of suicide explosions that Americans witnessed from 1907-1915 and from 1929-1932. Over time, federal policies like FDIC, unemployment insurance, and protections for unions, stabilized American life. And recent research indicates that Social Security may be an effective barrier against suicide spikes too (see, e.g., "Social Security: Suicide Prevention Tool," Pacific Standard, March 17, 2017).

But it seems like the more we move away from the New Deal, replacing it with tax cuts for the rich, deregulation, funding neglect, and Ayn Rand-style sociopathy, the more miserable we are. So, the question is: Is it worth it? Is the constant pursuit of private fortune, above all else, worth watching our fellow citizens kill themselves in ever-greater numbers? I think a lot of Americans have answered this question with a verbal silence and an internal "Yes." And if I'm right, that is truly terrifying.

"Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort."

--President Franklin Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933

Monday, March 4, 2019

AOC's Green New Deal and FDR's Green New Deal

FDR: "A forest is not solely so many thousand board feet of lumber to be logged when market conditions make it profitable. It is an integral part of our natural land covering, and the most potent factor in maintaining Nature's delicate balance in the organic and inorganic worlds. In his struggle for selfish gain, man has often needlessly tipped the scales so that Nature's balance has been destroyed, and the public welfare has usually been on the short-weighted side."

--"Statement on being awarded the Schlich Forestry Medal," January 29, 1935.

Above: A work crew on the New Deal's Withlacoochee Land Use Project, Florida, 1937. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: A sign at the Withlacoochee Land Use Project. The Resettlement Administration was a New Deal program that addressed "soil erosion, stream pollution, seacoast erosion, reforestation, forestation, and flood control" (see "Resettlement Administration," Living New Deal). Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

AOC's Green New Deal is inspiring, not terrifying

On February 7, 2019, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC, D-NY) introduced House Resolution 109, "Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal." AOC's ideas have sent the political right into a teeth-gnashing frenzy of fear, anger, and disbelief. Some are afraid that the Green New Deal will be the end of all modern technology and force them, perhaps under threat of imprisonment, to trade in their cars for bicycles. They're afraid that airlines will be replaced by stagecoach lines.

The reactions to AOC's Green New Deal are unhinged and absurd, to say the least. For example, with respect to the fear that we will no longer have modern modes of transportation, the Green New Deal promotes "overhauling transportation systems in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as is technologically feasible, including through investment in (i) zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing; (ii) clean, affordable, and accessible public transit; and (iii) high-speed rail" (emphasis added).

The irrational fear that our cars will be taken, is the same type of irrational fear that makes some on the right fear that our guns will be confiscated if we allow, for example, more comprehensive background checks. Wealthy Republican donors, politicians, and talk show hosts prey on this fear, whipping up as much hysteria as they can in order to win elections and power, and to avoid being taxed more. They want their followers to live in perpetual fear of progress. FDR called it the "gospel of fear" and warned: "This policy of seeking to win by fear of ruin is selfish in its motive, brutal in its method and false in its promise."

The fact is, AOC's proposals are not that extreme (especially in light of our repeated climate science findings & warnings) and much of the Green New Deal is similar to FDR's (Green) New Deal. In other words - many of the proposals have already been done before, to greater or lesser degrees. For example...

Better Public Works:

Above: The Green New Deal resolves to "to invest in the infrastructure and industry of the United States to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century." Above we see a bridge in Chicago, built by the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA), ca. 1935-1940. Most Americans don't know that business, the middle-class, and the economy expanded after World War II along New Deal roads, across New Deal bridges, and out of New Deal airports. New Deal infrastructure met the needs of the 20th century. We can do the same today, for the 21st century, if we put fear aside. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

More Efficient Buildings:

Above: The Green New Deal resolves to upgrade "all existing buildings in the United States and [build] new buildings to achieve maximum energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability..." The description for the photograph above, taken in 1938, reads, "Montgomery, Alabama. Roof of State Highway Building, showing how water is used to insulate against heat. Building constructed by WPA." Many New Deal-constructed buildings were innovative and aesthetically pleasing. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Healthy Food For All:

Above: The Green New Deal resolves to build "a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food." The description for the photograph above, taken in 1938, reads, "August, Ga. - WPA garden project - Produce raised here is used for school lunches and surplus commodities." WPA school lunches brought healthy food to undernourished children, and New Deal surplus commodities brought food and goods to struggling Americans (see "Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation," Living New Deal). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Climate Science:

Above: The Green New Deal resolves to promote "the international exchange of technology, expertise, products, funding, and services, with the aim of making the United States the international leader on climate action, and to help other countries achieve a Green New Deal." In the photo above, a woman and a man work with climate data on the WPA's Ocean Climate Survey Project in New Orleans, Louisiana, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Respect for American Indians:

Above: The Green New Deal resolves to obtain "the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples for all decisions that affect indigenous peoples and their traditional territories, honoring all treaties and agreements with indigenous peoples, and protecting and enforcing the sovereignty and land rights of indigenous peoples." In a multitude of ways, for example, jobs in the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, the New Deal restored and improved American Indian land, provided jobs and economic hope, and facilitated a degree of sovereignty through self-government. In the photo above, taken in Washington state, ca. 1935-1940, Charlie Edwards of the Swinomish Tribe works on a totem pole to recognize the assistance provided by President Roosevelt. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Protecting Biodiversity:

Above: The Green New Deal resolves to restore and protect "threatened, endangered, and fragile ecosystems through locally appropriate and science-based projects that enhance biodiversity and support climate resiliency." In the photo above, taken in 2011, we see the Merriam Laboratory building at the Patuxent Research Refuge (PRR) in Maryland. PRR was built by the WPA and CCC, and in subsequent years scientists at PRR conducted extensive research on the effects of DDT and lead shot on birds and waterfowl, resulting in protective legislation. Photo by Brent McKee.


Above: The Green New Deal resolves to "remov[e] greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and reduc[e] pollution by restoring natural ecosystems through proven low-tech solutions that increase soil carbon storage, such as land preservation and afforestation [new forest creation]." In the photo above, CCC boys perform tree surgery at Fort Hunt Park in Fairfax County, Virgnia, just south of Washington, DC, ca. 1933-1942. The CCC planted billions of trees, worked on sick trees, removed dead trees, fought wildfires, and built cabins and campgrounds that we still use today. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Clean Water:

Above: The Green New Deal resolves to guarantee "universal access to clean water." This is important because today our water supplies and delivery systems are frequently compromised by contaminants, not the least of which is lead. To ensure our water is clean, drinking water must be kept affordable and free of pollutants, sewage must be properly handled and treated, waterways must be kept clean, and Americans must be able to afford plumbing upgrades in and around their homes. In the photo above, workers are laying new, PWA-funded sewer lines in Goshen, Indiana, ca. 1935-1940. Many thousands of miles of new water and sewer lines were installed by New Deal work programs; hundreds of new utility plants were constructed; and rivers and streams were cleaned of trash. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Cleaner and more efficient transportation:

Above: The Green New Deal resolves to invest in "clean, affordable, and accessible public transit; and high-speed rail." The description for the photo above, taken in New Jersey, ca. 1935-1940, reads, "High speed line (Camden-Philadelphia) view of train and station. PWA financed this work." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.


Above: The Green New Deal resolves to partner with labor unions, create "high-quality union jobs," and strengthen & protect "the right of all workers to organize, unionize, and collectively bargain free of coercion, intimidation, and harassment." The description for the photo above, taken in 1936, reads, "A Workers Education group discussing the American Labor Movement. This group is comprised of members of a Philadelphia Garment Union in cooperation with WPA." The New Deal also protected collective bargaining through the Wagner ActPhoto courtesy of the National Archives.

Economic Security:

Above: The Green New Deal promotes economic security in several ways, for example, "guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States" (this is reminiscent of FDR's Second Bill of Rights). In the photo above, we see WPA Administrator Harry Hopkins (left) and Assistant Administrator Corrington Gill arriving at the White House for a meeting with President Roosevelt, March 13, 1936. Both men were advocates of some type of job guarantee. For example, Gill wrote: "I believe that a program of large public works ought to become a permanent part of our public investment program, complemented by an employment program of the WPA type" (Corrington Gill, Wasted Manpower: The Challenge of Unemployment, 1939, p. 272). Photo by Acme News Pictures, scanned from personal copy and used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.

Progress or unjustified terror?

Make no mistake about it, we can do all of the things that the Green New Deal resolves to do... if we ignore the merchants of fear, i.e., wealthy conservative donors; Republican politicians; President Trump; the mouthy and well-funded talking heads who peddle "limited government" (in other words, limits on We the People); as well as the centrist Democrats who whine, "we can't afford it!"; and the right-wing, multi-millionaire talk show hosts who try to brainwash us into voting against our own economic well-being (thereby, and just coincidentally of course, preserving their own economic well-being... and dominance).

As the merchants of fear repeatedly try to scare us with their bogeyman cries of "Socialism!"--when all we really seek (in our traditional and long-standing mixed economy) is a better balance between social programs and private profit--and as they repeatedly try to convince us that we can't afford anything but tax breaks for the rich and perpetual war, we would do well to remember FDR's thoughts about fear, spoken at the very beginning of the New Deal:

"[T]he only thing we have to fear is fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." (First inaugural address, March 4, 1933)

FDR was able to get the nation to overcome its fear, and then implement ambitious, nationwide programs that we still enjoy today - Social Security; new and improved state and national parks; financial regulations to stabilize the markets; unemployment insurance; restrictions on child labor; wide-ranging public works; and more.

The accomplishments and legacy of FDR's Green New Deal prove that AOC's Green New Deal is sensible and achievable. So let's move forward with courage... and let the merchants of fear retreat under their beds, blabbering to themselves about the horrors of clean water.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

New Deal Art: "Resurrection"

Above: "Resurrection," an oil painting by George Henry Melcher (1881-1957), created while he was in the WPA, ca. 1939-1940. Melcher painted several nice landscapes while in the WPA. "A master of color, composition and technique, he captured on canvas the beauty of southern California and the timelessness of nature" (George Stern Fine Arts). Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Long Beach Museum of Art.

Monday, February 25, 2019

New Deal Art: "Village in the Smokies"

Above: "Village in the Smokies," a watercolor painting by Richard H. Jansen (1910-1988), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1938. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Trump, the GOP, and the Democratic Establishment are rolling coal on us

Above: Part of "Heritage of Smoke," an aquatint by Frank Daniel Fousek (1913-1979), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and Case Western Reserve University.

Our "leaders" are rolling coal on us

"Rolling Coal" is a phenomenon where people modify their diesel trucks to belch out as much black smoke as possible. Many of the people who do this like to "smoke out" pedestrians, bicycle riders, hybrid vehicles, or anything they view as environmentally friendly. Some of them feel that this is a rebellion against Obama and the "libtards," and also a good expression of American-style freedom (although, subjecting someone to cancer-causing smoke, against their will, doesn't seem like freedom to me).

In Washington, DC, President Trump, the GOP, and the Democratic Establishment have their own versions of rolling coal. For example, in the latest in a long line of efforts to increase the level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere (we already have a record amount), the Trump Administration wants America to hang on to its "energy-guzzling," and electric-bill-ballooning, incandescent light bulbs for as long as possible ("The Republicans dumbest idea yet," Alternet, February 23, 2019). As we know, Trump wants to repeal as many clean energy regulations as possible, in order to curry favor with campaign donors -  and also, of course, to destroy Obama's legacy.

The GOP is almost entirely aligned with Trump on the issue of dirty, inefficient energy. For example, Congressman David McKinley (R-WV) says, "Natural gas and oil are very important to the economy of West Virginia and the rest of the country. They both need to play an important role in our nation's energy future. The safe exploration and aggressive drilling for these two fuels should be encouraged" (emphasis added).

The Democratic Establishment is also rolling coal. For example, U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), one of the top bosses of the Corporate Democrats, and a recipient of fossil fuel campaign cash, recently ridiculed children and teens seeking support for the Green New Deal, saying, "There’s no way to pay for it. That resolution will not pass the Senate, and you can take that back to whoever sent you here." Yep, Feinstein rolled coal on kids! Eat your heart out Koch Brothers.

Above: There are reasons why sanitation and a clean environment are important. For example, the description for this photograph, taken ca. 1935-1943, reads, "This open toilet [is] typical of the unsanitary devices which serve an estimated 10,500 residents of San Antonio's West Side. Dysentery, diarrhea, enteritis [intestinal inflammation], and typhoid flourish in such places." It's interesting to note, that after years and years of Reaganism (an ideology that includes a willful neglect of public works and the common good), there has been a resurgence of hook worm in certain parts of the United States. Hook worm results from poor sanitation (see, e.g., "Life-threatening hookworm, believed eradicated from US, resurfaces in Alabama," Fox News [of all places], November 21, 2018). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A few of the thousands of new & better sanitary privies for residents of San Antonio, built and installed by the WPA, ca. 1935-1943. New Deal efforts to improve sanitation, which also included new sewer lines and disposal plants, helped reduce disease. Some people called these projects "boondoggles." However, people with brains called them "common sense." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Why stop at rolling coal and deregulation? Why not bathe in used, dirty motor oil?

Rolling coal and deregulation may be funny and lucrative for some... but giggles and campaign cash are not legitimate reasons to gamble with our children's future. Do these people really think that we can pump as much greenhouse gas into the air as we want, and there will be no consequences? And does the same hold true for water? Can we throw as much garbage as we want into lakes, rivers, and streams, and there will be no consequences? And if pollution and foulness are not problems, why not pee in our drinks, poop in our beds, blow our noses in our dinners, fry our chicken in pesticide, bathe in used motor oil, run gasoline generators in our bedrooms while we sleep, connect our sewer lines directly to our kitchen faucets, and bring wild skunks into our homes and chase them around with paddles? After all, no consequences, right?

Gross and silly, I know... but so are the reckless attitudes and policies so prevalent in America today.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

After rigging the primaries against him, and insincerely accepting a good portion of his agenda, the liberal elite are telling Bernie Sanders and his supporters to go away. We won't.

Above: "Pugnacity," an artwork by Raphael Soyer (1899-1987), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Some voters think Bernie Sanders is too old, or too "pie in the sky," or too white, or too male. They think Bernie and his supporters should just give up and go away. But we're not going to. There's too much plutocracy to fight. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and University of Michigan Museum of Art.

The "no he can't" buzz-killers

The anti-Bernie crowd has come roaring back: The Corporate Democrats; their wealthy donors; the smirking, neoliberal talking heads; the celebrities who don't want their taxes going up; the "misogyny" accusers; the op-ed writers who tell us that even the smallest of policy changes takes centuries to occur; the mainstream media that spends only 15 seconds covering Bernie's amazing first-day fundraising, before scurrying back to Trump-coverage; the Internet news article commenters, convinced that (a) every Bernie supporter is a Russian bot, and (b) Bernie is simply not electable - despite every poll showing he's the most popular politician in America; and, of course, Jeff Bezos's very loyal journalists & columnists at the Washington-Bezos Post.

Indeed, two of Bezos's "don't-tax-my-boss" propagandists were on the job Tuesday, when Bernie announced his candidacy, with one writing "Bernie Sanders is probably just another one hit wonder," and the other writing, "Bernie, your moment has come - and gone." (Thankfully, Bernie was having none of it, raising nearly $6 million-- from a quarter-of-a-million of his supporters--within the first 24 hours of his candidacy - far more than any other presidential hopeful.)

This reminds me of when, in 2016, the Washington-Bezos Post ran 16 anti-Bernie hit pieces in just 16 hours. That's how much the Establishment feels threatened by Bernie's "of, by, and for the people" agenda.

Yes, there is something sinister about this anti-Bernie crowd. Many of them, for example, participated in rigging the primaries against Sanders. And it's not just the "Bernie Bros" who know this. Elizabeth Warren knows it; Tulsi Gabbard knows it; Harry Reid knows it; and even former DNC chairwoman Donna Brazile knows it. Republicans know it too, even Trump. It seems the only people who don't know this are the Hillary and Obama types.

Other anti-Bernie zealots scolded us like broken records, endlessly repeating, "It's not possible... it's not possible... it's not possible... pie in the sky... pie in the sky... pie in the sky." Well, those "no he can't" folks are, unfortunately, back.

And still others swore up and down, left and right, that Bernie had no chance to beat Trump (even though polls consistently showed him having a much better chance to win than Hillary); while, at the same time, exclaiming, "Only Hillary can beat Trump!!!" - after which, of course, Hillary promptly lost. These folks are back too.

Are the rest of the Democratic candidates really, truly, going to fight for progressive policies?

Some (not all) Democratic candidates are appropriating Bernie ideas, and then corporatizing them. For  example, declaring: "Yeah, I'm for Medicare-for-All, and so what I'll do is expand Medicare for a few people, and then do a bunch private sector stuff." (!)

And let's be clear, when they say they're for Medicare-for-All, we know full-well that they're not really going to fight for it in a full-throated way. They'll say the words alright, to get the progressive vote, but then they'll toss the idea into the public policy garbage bin, apologizing, "well, hey, we have to reach across the aisle and come to some sort of bipartisan solution." This tactic--appeal to progressives, then dismiss them, then pretend to be the "adult in the room"--is straight out of the Obama playbook.

(Special note: Elizabeth Warren, and probably Tulsi Gabbard too, will fight for progressive policies. The others? I'm not convinced. Support is one thing, but fight is another.)

"I want to help people too!!.. but I ain't payin' for it..."  

So, what gives with all this rabid, anti-Bernie negativity?

Well, what most of these shameless demoralizers have in common, I suspect, is that they're financially secure, if not well-off. And so, they look at the policy agenda of Bernie Sanders, most of which is geared towards helping struggling Americans, and are either puzzled by it or disgusted by it. You see, one the biggest secrets in American politics today is that many (and probably most) liberal elites don't want their taxes raised to help build-up the common good. The common good means no more to them than it does to the Koch Brothers - at least, not if they have to pay for it.

Now, the liberal elite may support, in theory, equal opportunity for different genders and races; but they're not in favor of equal opportunity for the poor--the poor of any group--because that sort of thing would require them to pay higher taxes. No, when they think about equal opportunity, they're thinking about the African American kid down the street, in their gated community, "Oh yeah, Michael; he's good kid. He should have a fair college admissions process."

This sort of economically-deaf egalitarianism is why you see so many centrist Democrats looking at Bernie's proposals, like free public college (which would help lower-income groups of all genders and races), like deer caught in the headlights. "Good Lord," they utter in an astonished, dumbfounded way, "How the heck will we pay for that??" - which, of course, is code for, "I don't want to pay for that... and don't you dare touch my multi-million dollar estate for that!" Of course, they frame their reluctance as, "oh, that's just pie in the sky!" Or, as Amy Klobuchar put it: "If I was a magic genie and could give [free public college] to everyone and we could afford it, I would." (Meanwhile, of course, the uber-wealthy and the Pentagon keep pouring billions and billions into their respective treasure chests. We can't afford it? Bullsh*t.)

We're not going away

The liberal elite are telling us to go away. The plutocrats are telling us to be quiet. The op-ed writers want us to doubt ourselves. Corporate America wants us to give up. The scolds of political correctness demand that we be ashamed of ourselves, forever, at the first mistake.

We will not do any of those things. We will fight. As long as the financial predators of this country are running the show, with their campaign & Super PAC cash, we will fight.

Above: Bernie's first 2020 campaign video. Youtube link:

Monday, February 18, 2019

The New Deal lifted farmers up; Trump and the GOP are bankrupting them

"The relation between the farmer and the New Deal is the essence of democracy, the people and their government working out their problems together."

--U.S. Senator Sherman Minton (D-Indiana), in The Hancock Democrat (Greenfield, Indiana), October 20, 1938. 

Above: "Haying," an oil painting by Emily Poirius, created while she was in the WPA, ca. 1935-1943. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.

Trump and the GOP are driving farmers into bankruptcy

American farmers are declaring bankruptcy more frequently and "The Wall Street Journal points to Trump's trade war with countries like China and Mexico as a key driver in the rising rate... Soybean and hog prices fell after those countries imposed retaliatory tariffs on the United States in response to Trump's steel and import tariffs..." (See, "Midwest farmers going broke at record rates thanks to Trump's trade war: Bankruptcies have doubled in the biggest farm states, with falling prices and the trade war largely to blame," Salon, February 13, 2019.)

Trump's trade war, of course, is just one policy in a long list of callous, bumbling, and give-everything-to-the-rich policies that Republicans (and Corporate Democrats) have implemented over the past many decades. These policies have weakened not only farmers, but also middle & low-income Americans in almost every other profession.

The New Deal and the American farmer

During the New Deal, there were many actions performed, policies enacted, and agencies created to help farmers. The Living New Deal has summaries for many of these programs, for example, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the Rural Electrification Administration, the Soil Conservation Service, the Farm Credit Act, and the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act.

These New Deal policies & programs saved many farmers from financial catastrophe. For example, in early 1940, the Bureau of Agricultural Economics--today's Economic Research Service (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture)--reported that farmer bankruptcies dropped, from 1,799 for fiscal year 1938, to 1,422 for fiscal year 1939. "The decrease was a continuation of the decline which has been apparent since 1933, when 5,917 farmer bankruptcies were reported" ("Farmers Hold Bankruptcies to 18-Year Low," The Anniston-Star (Anniston, Alabama), April 14, 1940).

In 1938, U.S. Senator Sherman Minton (D-Indiana), highlighted many of the New Deal benefits enjoyed by farmers: greater independence from monopoly forces; increased farm income and purchasing power; increased farm exports; fewer foreclosures and bankruptcies; better soil; more electricity; and, in Indiana specifically, farm family debt was "scaled down 83.3 per cent by the Farm Security Administration" ("New Deal For Farmer," The Hancock Democrat (Greenfield, Indiana), October 20, 1938). (The Farm Security Administration was another New Deal creation, beginning its life as the Resettlement Administration.)

Minton closed by declaring, "The New Deal's agricultural record is a testament of faith in the destiny of the American farmer. With the New Deal, the farmer will continue to go forward to increased security and income and a more stable market."

But today, unfortunately, we might also add that "without the New Deal, the farmer is more likely to be crushed by debt, as well as falling prices, poorly thought-out trade wars, increased depression and suicide, and crop-destroying climate and water-supply changes."

Above: Many tenant farmers (renters) suffered greatly during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. This woman's husband, a former tenant farmer, found a job in the WPA, in Webber Falls, Oklahoma, 1939. Sons of farmers often found jobs in the CCC, and were required to send most of their pay back to their impoverished families. There was also the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act (1937), which helped some tenant farmers by providing low-interest loans. Photo by Russell Lee of the Farm Security Administration, provided courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: Using an Allis-Chalmers tractor to tow a Caterpillar grader, the CCC and the Soil Conservation Service create a terrace to prevent erosion gullying on this farm in Vernon County, Wisconsin, 1939. Wind and water erosion were severe problems for farmers during the 1930s. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

New Deal art by Lawrence Holmberg: "The Black Sun," "The Eldorado," and a "Mystical Landscape"

Above: "The Black Sun," a watercolor painting by Lawrence E. Holmberg (1910-1958), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. There isn't much information available on Holmberg, but according to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, he was born in Oregon, 1910, and "maintained a studio in the Montgomery Block in San Francisco in 1935-45." Find A Grave indicates he is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, a veteran of World War II. Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Above: "The Eldorado," another WPA watercolor by Holmberg, ca. 1935-1943. The description for this painting reads: "Illustration of the Edgar Allen Poe story, shows a figure in armor with a lance crossing a wooden bridge, on the far side of which is a covered crucifix and a small adobe church. Fog shrouds pine trees in the background." Image & description courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Above: This watercolor by Holmberg, also created while he was in the WPA, ca. 1935-1943, does not have a title (or the title has been lost to history), but is described as a "Mystical Landscape," with a "robed figure standing in a desert with a bird of prey; in the background a stone circle (like Stonehenge), trees and hills. Dark, overcast sky." Image & description courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.