Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Festival of American Dance

(WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

WPA Theatre: "Ready!...Aim!...Fire!"

Above: A scene from the WPA production of "Ready! Aim! Fire!" in Los Angeles, 1937. According to the book Furious Improvisation, by author Susan Quinn, "Ready! Aim! Fire!" was a "musical satire on dictatorship" and did very well at the box office. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Above: A WPA poster promoting "Ready! Aim! Fire!" Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Monday, December 29, 2014

How about a New Year's resolution to repair our nation's infrastructure?

Cumberland, Maryland, like thousands of other cities & towns across America, has some serious infrastructure issues. Here are some photos I took yesterday, all within a 200 foot area. Have you seen similar infrastructure problems in cities & towns near you?

Above: If you're in a tunnel, with thousands of tons rolling above you, you probably want the tunnel to be nice and firm, right?

Above: Parts of the tunnel are literally crumbling away...hopefully not onto cars below, but gravity does tend to pull things in one direction.

Above: A crack near one of the main tunnel supports.

Above: The sidewalk under the tunnel is faring no better. Watch your step! might be your last...

Above: A sidewalk, just up the street from the tunnel. Did you know that the WPA created or repaired thousands of sidewalks between 1935 and 1943?

Above: A curb near the sidewalk. Did you know that the WPA created or repaired thousands of curbs between 1935 and 1943?

Above: Alligator cracking on a road across the street from the crumbling sidewalk and curb. Did you know that the WPA created or repaired 650,000 miles of roadway between 1935 and 1943? That's enough roadwork to go around the planet 26 times.

Above: Two nice-sized potholes to blow your tire out, on the same street with the alligator cracking.

In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave American infrastructure a "D+" letter grade. Earlier this year, Republican national strategist Matthew Dowd wrote, "we need to have a well-paying jobs program tied to infrastructure improvements administered locally by cities, counties and states where people still trust government to get the job done. And this should be funded by tax policies at the federal level which put a much bigger burden on the wealthy in this country."

What do you think? Will the new Republican Congress push for heavy infrastructure investment? Or, will they push for more tax cuts for the super-wealthy, despite the fact that the super-wealthy have already accumulated more wealth than ever before?


See, "Senate GOP blocks $60B Obama infrastructure plan," USA Today, November 3, 2011.

...and see, "Paul Ryan's Budget Plan: More Big Tax Cuts for the Rich," Forbes, March 23, 2012.

...and see, "Ryan Proposes An Even Bigger Tax Cut For The Richest Americans," ThinkProgress, March 12, 2013.

...and see, "Another Ryan Budget Gives Millionaires Average Tax Cut of At Least $200,000," Citizens for Tax Justice, April 2, 2014.

So, while a New Year's resolution to repair our nation's infrastructure would be really nice....I think we can see what's going to happen instead.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs...and the WPA

(A scene from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," from a WPA marionette show in New Orleans, circa 1935-1939. Image courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

(A poster of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," by WPA artist Aida McKenzie, created between 1936 and 1941. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Thursday, December 25, 2014


(Eleanor Roosevelt and Santa Claus at a department store in Washington, D.C., 1934. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

(The description for this 1939 photograph reads, "President Franklin D. Roosevelt celebrates Christmas in the White House with his grandchildren Franklin D. Roosevelt III (left) and John R. Boettiger (right)." Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.)

(A WPA poster image I pieced together from 12 Library of Congress scans.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

WPA Christmas Toys

Above: This girl is donating one of her old toys so that it can be renovated by WPA workers and then given to a less fortunate child for Christmas. The photo was taken in Louisiana, circa 1935-1942. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

   Above: On this WPA project in St. Paul, Minnesota, a worker is repairing toys for Christmas distribution, circa 1935-1942. WPA toy projects gave jobless Americans work, recycled used toys, and provided toys for less fortunate children. It was a win-win-win situation. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Above: A WPA toy display in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, circa 1935-1942. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, "Play is the mechanism by which children learn—how they experience their world, practice new skills, and internalize new ideas—and is therefore the essential 'work of children.' Through this continuous and expanding process, early skills give rise to new ones and new experiences are integrated with previous ones. Through play, children learn about the world and engage in activities that encourage their cognitive, emotional, and social development" (citing Elkind, D. 2007. The Power of Play: Learning What Comes Naturally. Reading, MA: Da Capo Press; and Paley, V. 2004. A Child’s Work. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press). Article link here. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library & Museum and the New Deal Network.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The WPA helps Santa Claus

(The caption in this image reads, "...and the children are not forgotten. WPA is cooperating with the local agencies which are helping prevent the tragedy of the empty stocking." Image from "Work: A Journal of Progress," December 1936, a publication of the District of Columbia WPA Office.)

In December of 1940, an Associated Press article reported the following: "The WPA said today that some 2,000,000 toys would be distributed from its workshops to underprivileged children this Christmas. In nearly every large community, it said, there are toy-making and repair projects" ("WPA To Distribute Toys," Baltimore Sun, December 15, 1940, p. 11). 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Tampa's 30 busted water lines. Maybe Florida needs a New Deal?

(On a PWA-funded project in San Francisco, circa 1933-39, a worker welds together a water main reinforcement. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

A few days ago it was reported that Tampa "Water crews are working to repair 30 busted pipes throughout the city" ("Crews work to fix multiple water main breaks in Tampa," Fox 13 News, December 18, 2014).

The culprit? "...according to Public Works and Utilities Administrator Brad Baird...the pipes are old, and the ever-fluctuating temperature causes them to expand in the heat, contract in the cold and ultimately crack, break and leak. 'It's very difficult for pipes to handle that. Especially pipes that are 80 years old.'"

According to a 2013 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers, Florida needs $16.4 billion for its drinking water infrastructure over the next 20 years.

Maybe Florida needs a New Deal?

Between 1935 and 1943, the WPA alone installed 264 miles of new water lines in the Sunshine State (see page 136 in the Final Report on the WPA Program). Many of these lines are still (obviously) being used today, well past their intended lifespan.

There were also PWA infrastructure projects, CWA infrastructure projects, CCC infrastructure projects, and, well, you get the point. The New Deal was basically a cornucopia of infrastructure projects--projects that have served our country for three quarters of a century now (see the Living New Deal for thousands of still-existing sites, structures, and works of art from the New Deal era). However, with respect to New Deal water lines, sewer lines, storm drains, etc., c'mon folks, it's time to change them out already. These New Deal lines have served us from the time of the Model A to the time of the Mars Rover. I'd say they've done their bit for king and country. It's well past time to let them retire and have some younger pipes take over.

Of course, creating a new WPA would require a lot of time & effort from our Congressmen and women. And, unfortunately, they've been terribly busy working on other projects, like ensuring that big financial institutions can continue to engage in taxpayer-backed gambling & fraud, and also ensuring that super-wealthy Americans are able to give more campaign money than ever before to whichever politician will pamper them the most. So, yeah, I guess they just don't have time for silly things like, for example, our nation's crumbling infrastructure. And don't you dare question them on this either, otherwise you might be considered immature, or perhaps even "the devil."

Saturday, December 20, 2014

WPA Poster: Children's Festival

Above: The description for this WPA poster reads, "Poster for New York City WPA Art Project sponsored children's festival at the Community Square, Queensbridge Housing Project, 41st Avenue, Long Island City, showing two children playing in a housing project park." This poster was created by WPA artist Harry Herzog in 1940 and is from a time period when the U.S. government was very concerned about the well-being of children. Today, our federal government is less concerned about the well-being of children and more concerned about creating laws & policies that benefit their super-wealthy campaign donors--like the Koch brothers. To pour salt into the wound, many of these super-wealthy campaign donors are also disinterested in the well-being of the nation's children. This combined neglect & indifference is the key reason why we now have the highest number of homeless children in our nation's history, and why "Child poverty in the U.S. is among the worst in the developed world" (Washington Post, October 29, 2014). Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Reverse New Deal: Congress hands out favors to the rich...while our infrastructure falls apart, our children become homeless, and 22 veterans kill themselves every day

 (New Deal policymakers thought stable housing for children was important. WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

As super-wealthy Americans rake in more and more money, consider this:

1. America's infrastructure is deteriorating. In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave it a "D+" letter grade. 

2. The number of homeless children in America is at a record high.

3. An average of 22 veterans are killing themselves, every day.

You would think that any one of these three realities, let alone all three, would spur our Congress to focus all its might and energy on creating public policy to help those in need--in a strong and decisive manner. After all, isn't that what leaders are supposed to do? Address problems in strong and decisive ways?

But this type of policy-making isn't happening, not by a long shot. For example, when an old water main recently broke in Washington, D.C., a spokesman for DC Water said, "Replacing the infrastructure really falls to the rate payers. It’s not something that the city pays for. It’s not something that the federal government assists with" ("Hidden, aging infrastructure strikes D.C. commuters," WTOP, December 16, 2014, emphasis added). With respect to our epidemic of veteran suicides, we see that Republican "Tom Coburn Blocks Bill On Veterans' Suicide Prevention" (Associated Press, Huffington Post, December 15, 2014). As for homeless children, Congress is doing absolutely nothing about the massive income & wealth inequality and stagnant wages that are leaving parents less and less able to provide stable environments for their kids (see "U.S. Wealth Gap Hits Record High," Huffington Post, December 17, 2014, and "Wages and Salaries Still Lag as Corporate Profits Surge," New York Times, August 31, 2014).

(During the New Deal era, World War I veterans could find job opportunities in the Civilian Conservation Corps. This CCC enrollee (not necessarily a World War I veteran) is operating a snow plow at a CCC camp in Staatsburg, New York. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, unemployment is a risk factor for suicide. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the New Deal Network.)

So, if Congress is not focused heavily on infrastructure issues, homeless children, and veteran suicide, what are they focused on? Well, considering that they recently restored Wall Street's right to engage in taxpayer-backed gambling (which will inevitably lead to taxpayer-backed fraud), and expanded the ability of super-wealthy Americans to give Congressional politicians more bribery money campaign contributions, and delayed the Volcker rule, thus allowing the big banks to continue to place their interests over the interests of their clients, I think it's pretty obvious what they're focused on.   

It's seems that we've learned nothing from the financial collapse of 2007-2008. Indeed, we're going further into the territory where, if you speak out against corporate fraud & corruption, you're an evil person. For example, when U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren railed against the restoration of taxpayer-backed bank gambling, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said, "Don’t follow her lead. She’s the problem." Then, a Fox News host informed us, "And I can tell you from talking to people in the financial industry, in banking, on Wall Street, they think she is actually the devil. I mean, without question, Elizabeth Warren is the devil. So, they’re going to put any money they have behind Hillary Clinton..." Another host on the segment, clearly upset, said: "When they shine the light on this lady [Warren]...she's a radical leftist. And you're going to find out stuff about her...She's academia, Harvard, radical left." ("‘Without question, Elizabeth Warren is the devil’ and Wall Street will defeat her," Raw Story, December 16, 2014, with video).

Welcome to the Reverse New Deal: Congress hands out favors to the rich...while our infrastructure falls apart, our children become homeless, and 22 veterans kill themselves every day. And if you speak out against this risk being called a "radical," a "devil."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

WPA Circus!

Above: Workers getting tents ready for a WPA circus in New York City, 1935-1936. The circus was part of the WPA's theatre program. The driving force behind the circus, as well as other art & entertainment programs in the WPA, was the notion that unemployed actors and performers needed work just as much as other jobless Americans. Further, the WPA art programs offered opportunities for lower-income Americans to enjoy things that were frequently reserved for the well-to-do, for example, opera, art exhibitions, and symphonies. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the New Deal Network.

Above: The tents are ready! Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the New Deal Network.
Above: A clown car drums up interest for the circus. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the New Deal Network.
Above: Clowns entertain children at the circus. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the New Deal Network.
Above: Sledge hammers are no match for the Strongest Woman Alive! Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the New Deal Network.
 Above: Circus-goers enjoying the festivities. Note the WPA work sign to the right. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the New Deal Network.
Above: A WPA poster advertisement for a puppet circus. The large open space on the poster was probably intended for customized writing, e.g., different locations and times. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Above: The circus gives a special performance for disabled children at Bellevue Hospital, New York City. Sadly, conservatives in Congress were vehemently opposed to the circus and all the other WPA theatre programs. They thought it was a waste of money, prone to racial mixing, and a communist plot to destroy the nation (see, for example, Furious Improvisation: How the WPA and a Cast of Thousands Made High Art out of Desperate Times, by Susan Quinn, 2009). So, these conservative politicians shut the program down in 1939 and made sure that children, like the ones you see in the photo above, could no longer enjoy it. We have a similar type of Congress today--cynical of any government program designed for the less fortunate, and completely submissive to Corporate America. And that is why, today, low-income children are much more likely to be experiencing homelessness than experiencing a play, a symphony, or a circus. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A 1953 water main breaks in Washington, D.C. "Havoc" ensues.

(A water main broke in Washington, D.C., yesterday, on 12th Street NW. Photo by D.C. Water.)

A water main installed in 1953 broke in our nation's capital yesterday, causing many problems. The D.C. metro could not run on some of its tracks, commuters were late to work, and as people sought different routes a woman reported, “Everybody was nasty. It was awful. I got pushed into a gentleman, and he pushed me back” ("Crews work to fix 12-inch water main break in downtown D.C. that snarled commute," Washington Post, December 16, 2014).

The water main that broke was 61 years old, but a spokesman for D.C. Water said, "We have pipes dating to the 1860s, the Civil War. The median age of our pipes is 79 years old, which means more than half of them are older than this one." 

According to a 2013 American Society of Civil Engineers report, Washington, D.C. is having serious infrastructure issues. For example, almost all of the major roads are in poor condition, 21 bridges are structurally deficient, $1.6 billion is needed for its drinking water infrastructure, and $2.5 billion is needed for its wastewater infrastructure (see infrastructure graphic at "State Facts: District of Columbia").

(WPA workers in Washington, D.C., installing a sewer line. Between 1935 and 1943, WPA workers installed 56 miles of water lines, and 125 miles of sewer lines, in our nation's capital. Photo from "Work: A Journal of Progress," 1936.)

We could start putting major investments towards our nation's infrastructure, just as New Deal policymakers did, but our Republican-led Congress is focused on too many other things, such as returning us to the days of publicly-insured bank fraud, making sure that they get more money from the super-wealthy, and handing over Indian ancestral grounds to a mining company with a sketchy environmental record and ties to Iran. Democrats, for their part, are drooling for some corporate money too--so, outside of a few people like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, they're not protesting too much.

And that's too bad, because the water mains of Washington, D.C. could use a New Deal.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

WPA Theatre: Hell-Bent fer Heaven

Above: Hell-Bent fer Heaven is a play about love and jealousy. It was written by Hatcher Hughes and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1924. Above, we see an advertisement for a WPA production of the play. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Reverse New Deal - All all-out attack on the homeless (part 10 of 10): Making the homeless uncomfortable, with creativity

(Perhaps this could be a design for a new park bench? Image courtesy of

Since America does not want to put too much effort into building more shelters for the homeless, and since America is certainly not going to create work camps for the able-bodied homeless who want a job (after all, how would that help Wall Street bankers??), methods must be devised to shoo the homeless away. In other words, since positive policies are out of the question, negative policies must be developed. 

Apparently, a growing trend is to design public spaces to be very uncomfortable so that homeless people won't want to be there. Of course, this has the unfortunate side effect of making public spaces uncomfortable for everyone else too, but I guess a lot of people are willing to make that sacrifice if that's what it takes to make those people go away.

In a June 19, 2014 article in The Atlantic, you can see some of the park bench designs intended to make sure homeless people won't sleep on them or sit for too long ("How Cities Use Design to Drive Homeless People Away"). Over time, I'm sure we'll see bench designs become even more medieval in appearance, until you might not be able to distinguish a park bench from an iron maiden or a brazen bull.

In my 10-part blog series on the homeless I've highlighted how the homeless are routinely evicted from their forest encampments, how they're vulnerable to physical assault, how they're fined for sitting down, how they seek refuge in subterranean environments, how they're insulted by people who don't even know their story, how crowded homeless shelters can facilitate the spread of infectious diseases, how some homeless people freeze to death, how creative designs are being used to drive the homeless away, and how--in some areas--those who try to help the homeless risk prison time.

This is what happens when our culture drifts further and further away from the policies & principles of the New Deal, and instead embraces the policies & principles of Ayn Rand.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Reverse New Deal - An all-out attack on the homeless (part 9 of 10): Freezing and burning

(In this photo, WPA workers are helping to clear the streets of Washington, D.C., after a blizzard in February 1936. Photo from Work: A Journal of Progress, a publication of the District of Columbia WPA, September 1936.)

(WPA workers clearing snow in Baltimore, Maryland, February 1936--perhaps from the same blizzard as noted in the photo above. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

As most of us are celebrating the holidays, some of us will die from exposure. Since there are not enough shelters for homeless Americans, and since some existing shelters do not open until the temperatures are well below freezing, it's inevitable that some homeless people are going to freeze to death. 

When the vice mayor of Sunnyvale, California recently looked into opening a new cold weather shelter, he received a lot of mail from people who were vehemently opposed to the idea: "It was disgusting. People saying it would bring crime, their children would be raped. I got 127 emails saying 'Don't let those people come here.' It was the same stuff people were saying in the 1960s about race."

In Kansas, a homeless shelter was recently closed to ensure continued tax breaks for the wealthy ("Budget Cuts Force Homeless Shelter To Close As Tax Breaks Go To Wealthy Kansans").

When the town of Shawnee, Oklahoma recently tried to build a second cold weather shelter, the plans were quashed because some of the town's wealthy residents were concerned about the effect of such a shelter on their property values. And, in an effort to get rid of the homeless altogether, a citizen's group was formed to drive them out of town. One resident complained that a homeless person freezing to death could inconvenience her, "we as tax payers have to pay to bury them. Plus it makes a town or city look bad for not doing enough, when one of these bums die.” (See "Welcome to Shawnee, Oklahoma: The worst city in America to be homeless")

But the resident's concern about having to pay for the burial of a homeless person may be unfounded. In some parts of the country, efforts are made to make sure that such burials are as costless as possible. For example, in Washington, D.C., where two homeless people froze to death a few miles from the White House last year, the homeless are routinely burned and then placed in unmarked graves. (See "What Happens To The Homeless When They Die")   

As the photos at the top of this blog post show, New Deal policymakers had more compassionate and productive ideas for the treatment of Americans in need. Unemployed workers could find jobs--and sometimes shelter--in various work and construction programs, e.g., the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, and the Works Progress Administration. The New Deal set us on a path towards more care, and more rational thought, with respect to issues like poverty, unemployment, and homelessness. 

We have since strayed from the New Deal path, and have instead embraced economic philosophies (such as trickle-down economics, tax-breaks-for-the-wealthy, publicly-insured bank fraud, Ayn Rand) that cultivate feelings of outrage and violence towards people who are facing hard times, even when those hard times are through no fault of their own (e.g., layoffs, discrimination against the unemployed, health problems, economic recessions, corporate crime). Is that really the kind of culture we want? A culture that scolds the homeless, but provides insurance for financial fraud, bank gambling, and white collar crime? (Because, let's face it, that's the culture we're allowing to develop right now.)

Welcome to the Reverse New Deal: Freezing & burning the homeless, but telling financial fraudsters, "Sure, we'll insure your gambling & fraud with our tax dollars, no problem." 


Friday, December 12, 2014

The Reverse New Deal - An all-out attack on the homeless (part 8 of 10): Crowded shelters and tuberculosis

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

(Workers in the Civil Works Administration are building a tuberculosis care facility in Salisbury, Maryland, circa 1933-34. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "Among those affected [by tuberculosis], disproportionately higher rates of TB occur among high-risk populations, especially homeless persons." The CDC reports that drug use and HIV infection can make a person more susceptible to tuberculosis, as can "residence in crowded shelters." The CDC also notes that "Persons who are homeless often lack ready access to the medical care required to make an early diagnosis of TB" (see "Homelessness is a risk factor for TB").

(Also see, "Atlanta confronts tuberculosis outbreak in homeless shelters," Reuters, August 8, 2014, "Search on in Stockton for homeless man with tuberculosis," CBS, July 24, 2014, and "Indy officials battle TB in homeless population," The Indy Channel, September 18, 2014.)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Reverse New Deal - An all-out attack on the homeless (part 7 of 10): Insults

Above: In this video, a homeless man discusses his daily activities, explains the difficulty of finding work when you're homeless, and responds to the insults he receives.

Our words have power, and that power can lift someone up or tear them down. Insulting the less fortunate, and those who are different, has a long tradition in America (and probably just about every other nation). It starts heavily in our middle-schools, and then extends into the broadcast booths of talk radio hosts, onto the studio floors of media outlets like Fox News, and even into the halls of Congress. We call the homeless "bums," the unemployed "parasites," and we call various other low-income Americans "takers," "moochers," "welfare queens," "trailer park trash," and "lazy pigs."

The New Deal offered downtrodden Americans opportunities instead of insults. For example, unemployed Americans (which included the homeless and transients) could find job opportunities in the WPA. And what was the result of this policy choice?--the choice to offer opportunities instead of insults? Well, in 1943, a researcher at the Russell Sage Foundation noted: "Considered as a single unit, the total volume of WPA employment, during the first six years of its history, is sufficient to stagger even a wild imagination. By contrast, the estimated number of man-years required to build the pyramids of Egypt--which have long been symbolic of gigantic undertakings--seems small" (The WPA and Federal Relief Policy, Donald S. Howard, p. 531).

Regarding the physical accomplishments of WPA workers, journalist and free-lance writer Andrea Stone recently wrote for the Smithsonian, "...what those workers put up has never been matched" ("When America Invested in Infrastructure, These Beautiful Landmarks Were the Result," December 10, 2014).

So successful was the WPA that even limited government icon Ronald Reagan praised it in his autobiography. And speaking directly to the insults, Harry Hopkins, head of the WPA, said "The things they have actually accomplished all over America should be an inspiration to every reasonable person and an everlasting answer to all the grievous insults that have been heaped on the heads of the unemployed" (from the book American-Made, by Nick Taylor, citing the New Orleans newspapers Times-Picayune and Item-Tribune).

And if you're curious about the quality of the WPA's work, you can visit the Living New Deal and explore a map with thousands of WPA and other New Deal projects that we still enjoy & utilize today (and the Living New Deal has only scratched the surface of what's still out there).

It may be true that some of the homeless are lazy some of the time, but it's certainly true that our society has been perpetually lazy in addressing the overall problem. Because, compared to slack-brained insults, good policy--like a WPA--takes careful thought, hard work, and persistence. A lot of people don't have the energy or work ethic for they just say "Hey bum, get a job!"

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Reverse New Deal - An all-out attack on the homeless (part 6 of 10): Banished to the tunnels, to the storm drains, and to the undersides of bridges

Above: In this 2009 Nightline segment, Lisa Ling explores the storm drains running under Las Vegas, where hundreds of homeless people live. The problem continues today.   

Above: In this video, several homeless men discuss what it's like living under a bridge. Note at the beginning of the story that the reporter says that most of the men want to live under the bridge. But, with the exception of perhaps one man, this is not what the story indicates. One man states that it's hard to find a place to live and that he feels abandoned. Another says he was kicked out of his residence and joined his homeless girlfriend. And, in general, the men say that social services are confusing and unresponsive. Indeed, the journalist betrays her original statement by reporting, at the end, that the men are not happy with their current lives.

Homelessness is a complex problem. When I worked in Americorps, in the early 2000s, one of my job duties was giving assistance at a homeless shelter near Catonsville, Maryland. At the shelter, I met all types. There were two middle-school students who would meet their mother at the shelter every night at 7pm. There was a young couple with a baby who lived in their car until the shelter opened in the evening. There was at least one mentally ill person--a man who was constantly discussing how he had fought heavyweight boxing champions (it's not totally impossible that he was a boxer earlier in his life, but he had obvious mental health issues on display at the shelter). There was another man who worked as a baker, but spent most of his money on a drug habit. And then there were people who had lost jobs and simply ran out of money to pay for mortgage or rent. A common theme throughout most of the stories, however, was a lack of a good social network (friends, family, and other social connections).

One of the main obstacles to solving homelessness in the United States, is the propensity of many Americans to stereotype the homeless. In their view, every American is born with the same opportunities to succeed--and only those who fail to work hard, and fail to make the right decisions, will not succeed. This child-like, demonstrably false view of the world prevents us from addressing the problem of homelessness in a more comprehensive manner because the homeless are stereotyped as lazy drug-abusing criminals who want to be homeless.

There is no doubt that some homeless people really do want to live away from society, but I believe that they are the minority, and that the majority would prefer to have an apartment, home, or some other type of decent shelter that provides a basic level of privacy and stability. We should be helping these people more, even if they've made mistakes in their lives. As I wrote a few days ago, if incompetent or criminal mistakes on Wall Street have led to few consequences--and, in many cases, even enriched the perpetrators--then why should the mistakes of non-wealthy people be so perpetually damning? Simply because of their non-wealthy status? That doesn't sound like a just or fair thing in the land of supposed "equal opportunity." (See Robert Reich's op-ed "Why Donald Trump and Big Corporations Get Breaks that Ordinary People Don't: People with lots of money can avoid consequences of bad bets—not you and me")

New Deal policymakers understood that humans make mistakes, that they fall down from time to time, and that they also, sometimes, are stomped on through no fault of their own. They also understood that the Christian thing to do, the decent thing to do, was to help the fallen. Further, they were willing to help the fallen through government programs...if and when charity, philanthropy, and the "job creators" showed that they were not up to the task (as happened during the Great Depression). Isn't it ironic that so many of our political "leaders" today, who repeatedly tell us that America is a Christian nation, are not willing to do the same? They're not willing to expand government help--as the New Deal policymakers did--even as the number of homeless children has reached a record high, and even as charity, philanthropy, and the "job creators" have shown, yet again, that they are not up to the task, despite their enormous wealth (see, for example, "Wealth of Forbes 400 Billionaires Equals Wealth of All 41 Million African-Americans," Huffington Post, January 21, 2014, "Donor-advised funds: Where charity goes to wait," Boston Globe, December 1, 2013, and "The religious right is a fraud: Nothing Christian about Michele Bachmann’s values," Salon, October 15, 2013).

President Franklin Roosevelt said, "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" (from the book American-Made, by Nick Taylor).

Welcome to the Reverse New Deal: A government frozen in the ice of its own indifference....banishing the homeless to the tunnels, to the storm drains, and to the undersides of bridges.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Reverse New Deal - An all-out attack on the homeless (part 5 of 10): Fining them for sitting down

Above: In this video, posted in April 2014, police officers issue a man a citation for sitting down. Laws against sitting in public places are intended to punish the homeless and make them go away. Where will they go? Few people know, and even fewer care (see tomorrow's blog, "Banished to the tunnels, to the storm drains, and to the undersides of bridges").

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, "...over the past 25 years, cities across the country have penalized people who are forced to carryout out life-sustaining activities on the street and in public spaces; despite the fact these communities lack adequate affordable housing and shelter space. Ultimately, many of these measures are designed to move homeless persons out of sight, and at times out of a given city."

New Deal policymakers tried to lift people up. They created work programs for unemployed & destitute Americans, they distributed surplus food, they built resettlement communities for people whose livelihoods had been wiped out by the Depression (or by farmland that could not longer produce), and they gave shelter, food, and jobs to homeless young men (the Civilian Conservation Corps). Was it perfect? Of course not. But at least they tried and experienced some degree of success and, in some cases, a large degree of success.

Today, we aren't about to try a wide-scale work, food, and shelter program for the homeless. So, with positive alternatives ruled out, we arrest arrest people who feed the homeless, smash shopping carts in fits of anger, and ticket people for sitting down. Indeed, we're quite willing to limit our own freedoms (for example, the freedom to sit in public) if that's what it takes to punish the homeless and make them go away.

Isn't that amazing?

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Reverse New Deal - An all-out attack on the homeless (part 4 of 10): Sledge Hammer

Above: In this 2013 video we see Hawaii State Representative Tom Brower (Democrat, 23rd District) using a sledge hammer to destroy the shopping carts that homeless people use to carry their belongings in. Brower feigns concern about the theft of shopping carts but, we know of course, that he really just wants the homeless to go away. If he were so concerned about the theft of the shopping carts, would he really destroy the carts when he finds them (imagine a police detective finding your stolen car, and then smashing it with a sledge hammer)? In any event, what type of message does it send to children and teens when a community leader uses a sledge hammer to address the problem of homelessness? (See yesterday's blog post, "Violence")

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Reverse New Deal - An all-out attack on the homeless (part 3 of 10): Violence

When it comes to violence against the homeless, we can do better. In fact, we have...

Above: There have been some horrendous acts of police brutality over the past few years, including the unbelievably brutal and deadly 2011 beating of Kelly Thomas, a homeless man in Fullerton, California. But it doesn't have to be that way, as the video above shows.

Above (when you click on the video above, click on "Watch on YouTube"): When the ABC television show Primetime had actors play out a scene of harassment against a homeless person--as an experiment--many people tried to stop the harassing youths. This indicates that there are many people who believe that the homeless should be treated properly. Whether or not this translates into larger progressive beliefs--such as raising tax rates on the ultra-wealthy to fund shelters and programs for the homeless--is unclear (although, see "Polls show longtime support for tax hikes on rich").

Above: At a cemetery on Roanoke Island, a memorial stone reads, "These are the graves of homeless men who died in work camps while employed in the Department of the Interior, National Park Service, on beach erosion control work in the counties of Dare, Hyde, and Currituck, 1936-1941." Local information indicates that these men probably lived at a work camp in or near what is now Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. The men buried at this cemetery died with food, with shelter, and with the dignity of a job and a paycheck. I'm sure they wanted more for their lives, but at least it was better than sleeping on the streets, always wary of being victimized. The New Deal gave them a basic level of security and, I'm sure, some degree of hope. Photo by Brent McKee.


According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, assaults against the homeless rose in 2013 from 2012. ThinkProgress journalist Scott Keyes reports that "(2012's) victims included Carl Simon, a 50-year-old homeless man living in Las Vegas, who was killed because he couldn’t enjoy the safety that a permanent home affords. On August 12th, Simon was beaten, stabbed, and tortured by three middle-aged men. According to the report, 'When he still wouldn’t die’ they stuffed him in his suitcase and then put the suitcase in a bathtub.' Another homeless man in Nashville narrowly escaped harm when two attackers poured gasoline on a tent he occupied and lit it on fire. In November, a 28-year-old man stomped on the head of a homeless woman seven times as she slept because he 'was annoyed by the scent in the area.'"

Currently, San Francisco police are looking for three suspects who beat a 67-year-old homeless man to death. The victim was 5'5", weighed less than 100lbs, and needed crutches to walk. He was found with $1,000 on his body, indicating that the attackers killed him simply because they received pleasure from doing so (see "Brutal Beating Of Disabled, Sleeping Homeless Man In SF Was A ‘Thrill Kill,’" CBS, December 4, 2014). 

Much of the violence against the homeless is perpetrated by teens and young adults. 


A recent research study conducted by the University of North Carolina Charlotte showed that housing the homeless can be less expensive than leaving them on the streets.

In Los Angeles, homeless veterans were provided housing in the Guy Gabaldon Apartment Complex ("Once homeless, veterans find refuge in Eastside housing complex," Los Angeles Times, November 11, 2014). One of the newly-housed veterans said, "People ask me how I feel, and you know what I tell them? Resurrected." Another said he had been living in a tent and had to watch his back every night. Another said, "I would be dead by now if I wasn't here."

We know, from both past and present experience, that providing stable shelter for people in need works. Harry Hopkins, in his book Spending to Save, wrote of the homeless young men who roamed the country during the Great Depression looking for work: "The Civilian Conservation Corps gave to restless and discouraged young men, whose only previous recourse had been the road, a chance to help themselves and their families by useful work" (a large portion of the CCC boys' paychecks went back home to their families, while the boys themselves enjoyed food, shelter, education & recreation programs, work experience, camaraderie, medical care, and a small amount of money).


So, given our past and present experiences, why are we not housing the homeless on a much larger scale, and thus protecting them from physical violence? Though the problem of homelessness is complex, I suggest that there are five main reasons for their neglect:

(a) Mean-spirited political rhetoric that divides people into so-called "makers" and "takers" (which facilitates animosity towards low-income Americans).

(b) Cultural insults towards the less fortunate that are, over time, internalized by youth, such as "parasites," "moochers," and "bums" (when young people attack the homeless it is sometimes called "bum bashing").

(c) Stereotyping the homeless, e.g., "They're all drug addicts," or "They all want to live like that."

(d) An Ayn Rand economic philosophy that belittles the idea of helping people in need.

(e) Tax breaks, tax loopholes, tax shelters, tax deductions, tax avoidance, and offshore tax evading bank accounts--disproportionately enjoyed & utilized by the super-wealthy--that are causing the U.S. government to lose hundreds of billions of dollars (perhaps even more than a trillion) in revenue, every single year (see, for example, "Tax Avoidance On the Rise: It's Twice the Amount of Social Security and Medicare").

Lately, we've made some progress in sheltering the homeless. To finish the job, though, it's going to take a tremendous amount of courage--because there's an army of angry people who have mobilized to stop us (see, e.g., "Budget Cuts Force Homeless Shelter To Close As Tax Breaks Go To Wealthy Kansans," ThinkProgress, July 7, 2014).

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Reverse New Deal - An all-out attack on the homeless (part 2 of 10): Evicting the homeless; class warfare at its most ruthless

Above: A homeless encampment is bulldozed in Camden, New Jersey, May, 2014.

Above: In this video, a resident of The Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, California, watches her home get dismantled by the city on December 4, 2014. "We're not animals. We're not here by choice. We're here because we don't have a choice....We're looked at as animals, as lazy people. We're not even human to them." 

Unfortunately, she's 100% correct. Many people in America have completely bought into the philosophy that says "every bad thing that happens to you is a consequence of the bad decisions you've made in your life; your lack of personal responsibility." These mean-spirited critics do not believe in the existence of market failure, job outsourcing, layoffs, medical tragedies, stagnant wages, or corporate crime that runs an economy into the ground. To them, it is always the individual who is to blame. 

Yet, even when bad decisions are a part of a homeless person's background--which is admittedly true for many--why are we so intolerant? Big financial institutions have made numerous bad decisions, some criminal, and still maintain their great power. Why is it that the mistakes of a non-wealthy person have such damning consequences? Only the rich get to make mistakes? (See Robert Reich's op-ed "Why Donald Trump and Big Corporations Get Breaks that Ordinary People Don't: People with lots of money can avoid consequences of bad bets—not you and me.") 

With respect to the homeless lady's observation that society does not view her as a human being, she's right about that too. A Republican Lt. Governor in South Carolina said we shouldn't feed low-income children because they might breed, a Republican official in Arizona called low-income Americans "lazy pigs," and an army of Internet comment-makers routinely refer to the poor as "parasites." Just as Heirich Himmler did with the Jews, many people today try to subhumanize the poor; because, once you reduce a person to a subhuman level, it's easier to justify cruel policies and actions.

 Above: An interesting, longer look into the lives of the residents of The Jungle. This video was made about a year and a half ago. Since then, The Jungle has grown in size. Also, The Jungle is just one of about 100+ tent cities across the United States. And tent cities, of course, are just one type of refuge for homeless Americans; they also reside in alleys, abandoned store fronts, under bridges, in homeless shelters, and wherever else they can survive without freezing to death or being beaten by the people who get a thrill out of physically attacking them (see tomorrow's blog).

Pails of excrement!

In an Associated Press article on the eviction of homeless people from The Jungle, we read things like, "muddy souls," "treacherous community," "squalor," "rotten food," "pails of excrement," "dirty plastic bags," "filthy site," "ankle-deep sludge," "the slum," "Rats hopped through the muck," "polluted and dangerous," "tons of waste and debris," and "trash heap" (the journalist seems too have been very eager to utilize as many "mud" and "muck" descriptive words as possible). Of course, one person's "slum" is another person's "home," especially when you have no money. And one person's "debris" is another person's treasured belongings. As one resident of The Jungle said, "It's just junk to everyone else but to us, that's home. That's our stuff."

During the eviction of The Jungle's residents, and as their property was being destroyed or confiscated (a homeless person's Fourth Amendment rights are, well, less-than-clear), passing motorists rubber-necked the scene. A homeless person cried and said, "People drive by and look at us like we're circus animals."

Make things happy again!

One of the reasons given for the mass eviction was that The Jungle was dirty and dangerous. But, by that standard, shouldn't we start disassembling cities and towns all across the country? Well, we know that the "dirty and dangerous" excuse was just a subterfuge. The real reason that these people were evicted is because society just wants them to go away. Society wants the homeless out of sight, so it's not forced to ask itself serious questions. Society wants to gawk at Kim Kardashian's rear end without troubling distractions. Society wants to embrace happy words, like "innovation!" and "entrepreneurship!"--it does NOT want to see what happens when those happy words fail. So, an army of workers--some in hazmat suits, some driving tractors, some with guns--went into The Jungle to make things happy again, to make the problems go away.

Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!

In another article on the eviction, we learn that "The city is setting (a resident) up with a studio or one-bedroom unit that it has said would be paid for as long as she is working." Here, we see the harebrained "personal responsibility" philosophy pop up again--the idea that, as long she isn't lazy, he/she can have a place to stay. Again and again we see this ludicrous belief that the individual is completely responsible for their life situation; the ludicrous belief that layoffs, outsourcing, stagnant wages, medical problems, recessions, and economic downturns have utterly no impact on our lives--zero, zip, zilch. It's all on us, everything. We can simply pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, jump into the next job, and become a millionaire--if we just apply ourselves! 

Of course, the reality is quite different from the harebrained fantasy (a fantasy derived, by the way, from an immature fascination with "free markets" and "job creators"). As a community service worker in the area said, "If you don't have nonstop good income, it's a very fast fall from a two-bedroom apartment to a tent in the Jungle."

So, if the lady loses her job, and can't find another one because the "job creators" are too busy soaking in 24-karat gold bathtubs to worry about creating jobs, she's back on the streets.   

The New Deal did it differently

New Deal policymakers didn't treat the homeless like circus animals. They created common sense programs for them, and the programs worked. As Harry Hopkins noted in his book Spending to Save, "...some transients who stubbornly resisted the casework approach to rehabilitation emerged, under the more normal conditions of a work project, from sullen discouragement and inertia into highly effective workmen." And of the transient work camps set up during the early part of the New Deal, Hopkins wrote " pulled men and women by the hundreds of thousands from the despair of aimless wandering, misery, and the complete neglect of health, back into self-respect and their place in the world as working people."

Sadly, we have very few New Deal-type policymakers today. So, instead of work camps, or a WPA, or a CCC, we have bulldozers, guns, and eviction notices--evictions for people who don't even have a permanent residence. That's how low we've stooped. Yes, our solution to homelessness today is arresting World War II veterans (see yesterday's blog post) and telling the poorest of the poor, "Get out of here, or we're taking your stuff!"

Welcome to the Reverse New Deal: Class warfare at its most ruthless.

Above: New Deal policymakers thought that a stable, affordable home was important for children. Today, the number of homeless children in America is at a record high. WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Reverse New Deal - An all-out attack on the homeless (part 1 of 10): Jailing those who help them

Above: In this video, from November 2014, we see a 90-year-old World War II veteran being arrested for giving food to homeless people in Ft. Lauderdale. He faces up to two months of incarceration. As the comedian Russell Brand pointed out, he would have been safer--from a legal standpoint--carrying a gun instead of food. But there might be hope for the 90-year-old "criminal," as it was recently reported that "a Florida circuit court judge temporarily halted a controversial ordinance that restricts charities from feeding the homeless in public."

During the New Deal efforts were made to help the homeless. For example, many thousands of impoverished youth--who were riding (and living) on trains and looking for work--were given employment, food, and shelter, in the Civilian Conservation Corps. Today, such an idea would be shouted down as "godless communism!" So, with that avenue shut down, we craft other policies and actions to address homelessness--like arresting people for offering food to those in need.

Welcome to the Reverse New Deal: An all-out attack on the homeless.  

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Detroit needs a power upgrade. Detroit needs a New Deal.

(In rural America, during the New Deal, a woman happily looks at her new electric meter, provided by the Rural Electrification Administration. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the New Deal Network.)

As if dealing with a plutocratic water delivery system, and a municipal bankruptcy that reduced the income of its senior citizens, was not bad enough, Detroit just experienced a major power outage "that plunged Detroit's schools, fire stations, traffic signals and public buildings into darkness..." The cause? Yep, you guessed it: Aging infrastructure (see "Detroit power failure raises alarms across the country").

In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave our nation's energy infrastructure a letter grade of D+ and noted that "America relies on an aging electrical grid and pipeline distribution system, some of which originated in the 1880s."

During the New Deal, policymakers modernized and expanded much of the nation's energy infrastructure. For example, brushing aside anti-rural-energy lobbying from Corporate America, they created the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Wealthy corporate executives & investors had been rabidly opposed to the idea of bringing electricity to rural Americans, largely because they couldn't see how they could get rich from it. So, out of spite, they opposed (and in some cases hindered) the government's effort to bring power to rural America.

Ultimately, REA and TVA brought power to where it was needed and, indeed, the agencies were so wildly successful that their legacies live on today (see, for example, REA Energy Cooperative Inc. and Tennessee Valley Authority). Ironically, the TVA is so loved that even Republicans are protective of it (see "Obama Proposal to Sell TVA Blasted by Republicans").

In addition to REA and TVA, other New Deal programs brought power to the people too. For example, WPA workers (formerly unemployed) built 49 new electric power plants and put up 3,358 miles of new electric power lines.

Detroit needs a New Deal. But then, so do we all.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Titanic, Washington, D.C., and the WPA

Above: The Titanic, on April 10, 1912. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Above: The Titanic sunk on April 15, 1912, after hitting an iceberg. This depiction of the sinking was created by Willie Stower, shortly after the sinking. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Above: This Titanic memorial in Washington, DC, is located near Fourth and P streets, SW (it was originally located in Rock Creek Park, near New Hampshire Avenue). The memorial commemorates the lives of the male passengers of the Titanic who sacrificed their lives so that more women and children could be saved. The memorial was made possible largely through efforts of the women who survived the Titanic tragedy. The memorial is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia and used under the CCA-SA 3.0 license.

Above: This extremely well-made two and a half minute documentary tells the story of the Titanic Memorial in Washington, DC (and the narrator also reads the inscription on the statue's base). It was produced by Jerry Griffith, and the original YouTube address is

Above: In 1936, a flood hit Washington, D.C., and threatened the memorial. The memorial is towards the upper left, sitting on what appears to be an island. Photo from "Work: A Journal of Progress," a publication of the District of Columbia Works Progress Administration, September 1936.

Above: In this photo, WPA workers are repairing the flood-damaged setting around the statue. Photo from "Work: A Journal of Progress," a publication of the District of Columbia Works Progress Administration, September 1936.

Above: The completed job. The Titanic Memorial was one of 1,385 monuments and historic markers created, improved, or repaired by the WPA. Some people said (and still say today) that the WPA was a waste of money, and that the workers in the WPA were unworthy of help. Do you believe them? Photo from "Work: A Journal of Progress," a publication of the District of Columbia Works Progress Administration, September 1936. 

***Also see this web page, by the Great Lakes Titanic Society, for more photographs and information:***

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Our patchworked bridges, and our children, need a New Deal

(This is a bridge on route 301 on the eastern shore of Maryland. It's beginning to look more like a patchwork quilt than a bridge. Photo by Brent McKee, November 2014.)

 (WPA workers building a new bridge in Harford County, Maryland, 1936. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

In 2013, it was noted that the "investment backlog for the nation's bridges is estimated to be $121 billion..." Interestingly, the richest 400 Americans have added almost two and one-half times that amount to their personal wealth, in just the past year alone (while enjoying historically low tax rates and a Justice Department that will keep their tax-evading habits secret, should they choose to engage in illegal offshore banking). Of course, all this should come as no surprise since America has adopted an economic philosophy that values personal wealth over the common good and, indeed, over the rule of law. Under such an economic and legal philosophy, it's inevitable that problems like child homelessness and deteriorating infrastructure will worsen right alongside the increasing wealth of the wealthy (see, e.g., "Child Homelessness in U.S. Reaches Historic High, Report Says," Newsweek, November 17, 2014, and "Child poverty in the U.S. is among the worst in the developed world," Washington Post, October 29, 2014).

Our nation's infrastructure--and our nation's children--are on the losing side of an economy that, with every passing year, seems more and more like a zero-sum game (and a fraudulent one at that).

History shows us that it doesn't have to be like this. For example, workers employed in the New Deal's WPA performed 124,000 bridge and viaduct projects (including new constructions, repairs, and improvements). And the wages that these formerly unemployed workers earned helped keep their families intact. A woman who grew up during the Great Depression described the importance of her father's WPA employment, " father immediately got employed in this WPA. This was a godsend. This was the greatest thing. It meant food, you know. Survival, just survival" (Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression, by Studs Terkel, 1970). Another survivor of the Great Depression said, "With my family, we would have starved to death, because we had no other way to make any money. The New Deal for us, the WPA in particular, was just a lifesaver for us. Most of our neighbors felt that way" (The Dust Bowl, a documentary by Ken Burns, 2012).

So, we have choices to make: On the one hand, we have our infrastructure, our children, and our economic well-being. On the other hand, we have the personal wealth of a very few individuals who know how to work and game the system to their ultimate advantage. Sadly, it's pretty clear that we've chosen the latter. Hopefully, some future generation of Americans will choose differently--hopefully they'll choose a new and even stronger New Deal.