Sunday, August 31, 2014

WPA Poster: "Chalk Dust"

 Above: WPA poster by artist Blanche L. Anish; made in Ohio, 1936. "Chalk Dust" was a WPA theatre play about school reform. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

WPA Machines & Tractors

 (WPA workers on a road project in front of Fort Hill High School, in Cumberland, Maryland, 1937. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.) 

WPA projects would often shun machinery and heavy equipment, so that lots of unemployed laborers could find jobs at a particular work site. In other words, better to have 50 men with picks & shovels than 10 men and two tractors. While not the most efficient way to complete a project, it did bring paychecks, hope, and a sense of belonging to more unemployed workers.

Still, there were many times when machinery and tractors were used. For example, perhaps there were not enough unemployed workers to get the job done in a reasonable time. Perhaps one of the unemployed workers had experience with heavy equipment and the foreman was able to secure funds to rent a tractor. Perhaps private contractors were working on part of the project. Each WPA project had its own "personality" and thus the construction methods and strategies varied.

Take a look at some of the interesting machinery used at WPA work sites around Maryland, between 1935 and 1943. All photos courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Victory Concerts: Free to the Public

(WPA poster by artist Byron Browne. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

657 Water Line Breaks Per Day: Businesses flooded, traffic disrupted, schools closed, water wasted, and roads ruined. A new WPA could help with that.

(In the CNN video above, we see the enormous water main break near the UCLA campus on July 30, 2014.)

Some water main breaks... from just the past three days:

August 26: In the midst of a drought, a water line broke in San Francisco. A resident said, "At a time like this it's kind of unfortunate to have all of this water being wasted. So I actually grabbed some buckets and tried to capture as much as I could of it." A public utilities spokesperson said, "Right now there are still old pipes in the system and this is what happens. They last a long time but sooner or later they do actually fail due to age" (article). 

August 26: In Kansas City, Missouri, a water main break knocked out service for some businesses. It was reported that "Kansas City had 77 water main breaks so far this August, and is on pace for 99. The city had 100 water main breaks last August. The record number of breaks in August is 316" (article).  

August 26: In Bloomfield, Connecticut, a water line installed in 1933 broke and a "water wagon" had to be dispatched to bring water to affected residents (article). 

August 26: In Echo Park, California, a water line installed over a century ago broke and flooded several businesses and, amazingly,  "The same pipe burst last year and flooded the same businesses" (article).

August 27: In Boulder, Colorado, a Department of Motor Vehicles office was closed due to a water main break (article). 

August 27: In Missouri, a state university was forced to close because of a "break in Cape Girardeau's water system that feeds the main campus" (article).

August 27: In Honolulu, a water main break shut off water to area businesses (article).

August 27: In Geneseo, Illinois, officials told residents to boil their water after a line broke (article).

August 28: In Pittsburgh, "a massive water main break" broke a hole in a road and disrupted traffic (article).

August 28: In Oklahoma, "A 16-inch water main break has flooded a Tulsa street and is expected to significantly impact morning traffic" (article).

August 28: In Harrison, Ohio, a water main break disrupted traffic (article).

August 28: In Mitchell, Indiana, schools are being forced to delay their start times due to a water main break (article).

The above breaks are just the tip of the iceberg. According to statistics from the American Society of Civil Engineers, the U.S. averages 657 water main breaks per day.

(Poster created by WPA artist Earl Kerkam, between 1941 and 1943. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

During the New Deal, a tremendous amount of time and money was invested in America's infrastructure. For example, the WPA paid unemployed Americans to install 16,000 miles of new water lines, construct 276 new water treatment plants, dig 4,000 new water wells, and build 3,000 new water tanks & reservoirs. Even "limited-government" icon Ronald Reagan was impressed with the WPA's accomplishments, writing: "The WPA was one of the most productive elements of FDR's alphabet soup of agencies because it put people to work building roads, bridges, and other gave men and women a chance to make some money along with the satisfaction of knowing they earned it" (see Reagan's autobiography, Ronald Reagan: An American Life). 

Unfortunately, even as 23.5 million Americans can't find full-time work, and even as youth unemployment remains in the double-digits, and even as we experience hundreds of water line breaks every single day, we're not about to create a new WPA. Instead, we'll let the lines break, shut off water to low-income Americans, block infrastructure bills, let the un- and under-employed continue to be financially devastated and, all the while, watch 18-wheelers truck in nice fresh water for the super-wealthy as those around them must learn to do without.

Isn't that amazing?

(WPA workers building a reservoir in Frederick County, Maryland. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

New Deal Utility Plants

(Lake Ashburton Pumping Station. Photo by Brent McKee.)

During the 1930s & 40s, New Deal policymakers invested a great deal of time and money into America's infrastructure. For example, the Public Works Administration funded many utility plants, like the Lake Ashburton Pumping Station shown above. This pumping station has been providing drinking water to Baltimore-area residents for three-quarters of a century. Meanwhile, WPA laborers also contributed to upgrading America's energy and water systems by, among other things, working on over 4,000 utility plant projects across the U.S. (new constructions and improvements to existing facilities).

We would be wise to emulate New Deal policies on infrastructure, especially since the American Society of Civil Engineers recently issued a "D" letter grade to our water lines, a "D+" to our energy infrastructure, and a "D" to our wastewater systems. (See "2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure").

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

FDR on Private Power, Democracy, and Fascism

(President Roosevelt, photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.)

Many American corporations are making record profits, paying low effective tax rates, not hiring, not giving pay raises to their workers (despite increased worker productivity), and, of course, pumping millions of dollars into our electoral & political processes in an effort to acquire legal favors and/or have the government treat them lightly if they engage in fraud (see, e.g., "Actually, Corporations That Lobby and Make Campaign Contributions Get Special Benefits"). In other words, many American corporations are doing quite well, albeit at the expense of democracy, the middle-class, and the rule-of-law.

We also know that the richest 400 individuals in America have as much wealth as the entire African-American population of the United States. In other words, the super-wealthy are doing quite well, albeit without the job creation we were promised when our government gave them colossal tax cuts.

All this reminds me of a speech FDR gave to Congress on April 29, 1938, where he said:

"...the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism—ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power...Among us today a concentration of private power without equal in history is growing...No people, least of all a democratic people, will be content to go without work or to accept some standard of living which obviously and woefully falls short of their capacity to produce. No people, least of all a people with our traditions of personal liberty, will endure the slow erosion of opportunity for the common man, the oppressive sense of helplessness under the domination of a few, which are overshadowing our whole economic life...We must find practical controls over blind economic forces as well as over blindly selfish men."

For awhile, we heeded FDR's words. For example, we kept a close eye on monopolies, implemented common sense regulations on big financial institutions, kept taxes fairly high on the super-wealthy, and had strong union participation. Result? The middle-class grew like never before or since. Over the past 30+ years, however, we've turned away from New Deal policies & principles and have, instead, adopted the philosophies of Ayn Rand (regulations are bad!) and Arthur Laffer (taxes on the wealthy are bad!). Result? Wages have stagnated for decades, the middle-class has recently shrunk, and we've endured one of the worst periods of corporate fraud in American history.

Perhaps, in the not-too-distant future, we will once again listen to FDR's words about the dangers of concentrated power in private hands. And perhaps, on that day, we will once again pick democracy over plutocracy.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A WPA could help our veterans

(Image courtesy of the National Archives.)

A veteran who has experienced many bouts of un- and under-employment recently asked, "Why can't there be some type of program to help us out? We didn’t do anything wrong. We come out of the military, next thing you know we're left to fend for ourselves and you just can't make it" (see "Hungry Heroes: 25 Percent of Military Families Seek Food Aid").

A public jobs program, along the lines of a WPA or a CCC could help veterans who struggle with un- and under-employment. And there was actually an effort to create such a program a few years ago, but conservatives blocked it (see "Senate GOP blocks veterans jobs bill").
Isn't it amazing that executives of corporations that have engaged in wide-scale fraud, illegal tax evasion, money laundering, insider trading, interest rate rigging, etc., have made millions (and received billion-dollar government bailouts), but hundreds of thousands of veterans can't find decent paying jobs, or any jobs at all? And what does it say about the ethical foundation of a nation, when we tell people, "Go fight for us," and then, when their service is over, we say: "Sorry, we can't afford to help you"?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

WPA Poster: Defense!

(Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Empathy, policy, and income & wealth inequality

(WPA workers in Brunswick, Maryland, 1937. New Deal policymakers had empathy towards their fellow citizens, so they created work opportunities for the unemployed. The situation is quite different today, as the nation embraces plutocracy more and more every year. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)
"As inequality grows, the rich become more powerful than the rest of the population, enabling them to veto any policy that impedes their one-sided enrichment. They also become less empathetic toward the rest of the population, whose lives seem less similar to their own with each passing year."

--Anthony W. Orlando, lecturer at California State University, "Income inequality trap still dominates country," August 22, 2014.

(Also see the study "Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans" by researchers at Northwestern and Vanderbilt Universities, and the article, "A Study in Plutocracy: Rich Americans Wield Political Influence, the Rest of Us Don’t.")

Friday, August 22, 2014

The success of the New Deal, the failure of trickle-down economics, and our refusal to heed the lessons of history

(President Franklin Roosevelt, photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)
President Franklin Roosevelt, in his 1933 inaugural address, said "unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return...The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit."

Subsequent to Roosevelt's speech, he and his New Deal colleagues gave us policies & infrastructure that served as the backbone for our post-World War II economic expansion, causing the middle-class to grow like never before or since. 

In the past 30-40 years, however, we have turned away from New Deal policies & principles and have, instead, embraced trickle-down economics. 

The result?

Today, there are 23.5 million Americans who wish they had a full-time job but can't find one, wages are stagnant or declining, and the middle-class is shrinking. But amazingly, millions of Americans are clamoring for more trickle-down economics by, for example, standing ready to hand our entire Congress over to Republican and Tea Party politicians (see "Republican takeover of Senate appears more and more assured").

What a shame that, today, we have few policymakers cut from the same cloth as New Deal policymakers. And what a shame and that we are rejecting (or are oblivious to) historical lessons.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

WPA Poster: Punch & Judy

Above: A WPA poster created in Iowa, 1940. Punch & Judy is a famous puppet show, and one of many puppet shows performed in the WPA program. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Residents & businesses in Chicopee, Massachusetts lose their water supply. A WPA could have kept that from happening.

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

An 80-year-old pipe (perhaps older) burst in Chicopee, Massachusetts on Monday, August 18th. Three-hundred homes & businesses were left without water. According to journalist Jeanette DeForge, "The city has 274 miles of water mains and most are 50 to 100-years-old. Some are even older than 100" (see "Chicopee water main break leaves 200-300 homes and businesses without water"). 
Not only did the water main break deprive the area of water, it also ruined a brand new paving job on the road above it. And even though this is the second recent break of the old water line, the city does not currently plan to replace it. According to DeForge, "The problem is funding the project, since the department is also planning a major project to replace some of the oldest pipes in Chicopee Center soon."
The problem in Chicopee is a problem shared by thousands of cities & towns across the nation. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, "At the dawn of the 21st century, much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life. There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States" (see here).
If we had a new WPA, this aging pipe could have been replaced long before it caused so much damage. Unfortunately, America is in the grips of an anti-government hysteria so strong that we'd rather let our infrastructure deteriorate and wreak havoc on our lives, than offer jobs to the unemployed to modernize our infrastructure (as we did during the New Deal era). Isn't that amazing?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

WPA Poster: Youth Forums

Above: A WPA poster created in Iowa, 1937. Note that the questions asked in the forums are the same types of questions we ask today. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Monday, August 18, 2014

K-12 students shipped to four different schools, because there's not enough money to fix theirs. A WPA could have prevented that.

(WPA workers repairing a school near Salisbury, Maryland, in April of 1936. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

A school in Randolph County, West Virginia--the Harman School--needs a new ceiling, after part of it fell. Unfortunately, there isn't enough money to do the job. The local community raised $200,000, but $700,000 more is needed. So, the school will remain in a state of disrepair as the kids are dispersed to different schools across the county--some of which will be dangerous to get to during the winter, due to a journey that is likely to take them over several mountains during periods of harsh weather. Moreover, some teachers will have to routinely travel to different schools to find and teach their exiled students. (See, "Repairs force students at W.Va. school elsewhere")

Perhaps some millionaires & billionaires, or some huge multi-national corporations, will come to the rescue, but most likely they won't. During the New Deal era, however, this would have been the type of job that the WPA would have routinely engaged in. The WPA was prolific at constructing new schools--5,908 of them--and even more prolific at repairing or improving schools, performing over 30,000 such projects.

Recall that the community around the damaged school raised $200,000. During the Depression, the WPA usually required that local communities raise a certain portion of the money needed before they would kick in the rest. In this case, the $200,000 would have been more than enough for the WPA to fill in the gap with the remaining $700,000.

And if you're wondering about the quality of work performed by the WPA, you can find thousands of still-existing WPA projects on the map of the Living New Deal--an effort that has only just begun to highlight the New Deal projects that we still enjoy & utilize today (WPA, PWA, CCC, NYA, etc.).

(The Living New Deal map, showing New Deal sites across the country that we still enjoy & utilize today.)
If the WPA existed today, this school would be repaired, the children would remain in their community, and unemployed workers would be given a chance to learn new (or retain existing) skills--and earn some money to boot. This is precisely the type of win-win situation that motivated Ronald Reagan to write in his autobiography: "The WPA was one of the most productive elements of FDR's alphabet soup of agencies because it put people to work building roads, bridges, and other gave men and women a chance to make some money along with the satisfaction of knowing they earned it."

Isn't it a shame that we don't have a WPA today? The politics & principles of the New Deal, based on hope and optimism, have been replaced with a political cynicism that lets our infrastructure deteriorate and causes public officials to insult the less fortunate, for example, when a Republican school official in Arizona called low-income Americans "lazy pigs" and when a Republican Lt. Governor in South Carolina advised us not to feed low-income school children because they might breed.

We need a new, and even stronger New Deal. Unfortunately, all we're likely to get are deteriorating schools and continued political scorn for the less fortunate.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A water main break almost wipes out the entire water supply of New London, Connecticut. A WPA could have prevented that.

(WPA workers building a water reservoir in Elkton, Maryland, 1935. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

On Thursday, August 14, "A massive water main break...threatened the drinking water supply in New London and Waterford (Connecticut)..." The water main break caused the loss of 8,000 gallons of water--per minute--and "Had the leak continued, it could have collapsed New London's entire water system." According to New London Public Utilities Director Joseph Lanzafame, "This was nearly a catastrophic system failure. If it had taken us an hour or an hour and a half longer to locate the break, we would have reached a point of no return. Residents and businesses throughout New London would have been without clean water for the next month." Lanzafame suspects that the age of the water line--more than 50 years--played a role in the break...(see "New London Water Main Break Contained, State Of Emergency Lifted").

These types of age-related breaks are occurring all across the country. The American Society of Civil Engineers has informed us that "There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States." For two interesting and recent stories see "Serious water main break creates problems at UCLA" and "Water main break prompts boil water advisory for section of Prince George's County."

We could create a new WPA to modernize our infrastructure. After all, between 1935 and 1943, the WPA installed 16,000 miles of new water lines, and much of it is still in use today (long past its intended lifespan). Unfortunately, many conservatives today would consider this type work & construction program to be "godless communism," and a "handout" to the unemployed. And the fact that their icon, Ronald Reagan, praised the WPA in his autobiography probably wouldn't change their opinion a bit. Others would cry out, "We can't afford it!!"--even though (a) tax rates on the super-wealthy are historically low, (b) we spend more on our military than almost every other nation combined, (c) the total bill for our involvement in Iraq will likely exceed $6 trillion, and (d) we lose hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue--every single year--due to tax evasion by many super-wealthy Americans and due to tax avoidance by Corporate America.

So, our irrational fear of raising taxes on the wealthy, our refusal to consider the unemployed as anything but lazy and unskilled parasites, and our unwillingness to crackdown on wealthy tax evaders & tax avoiders, means that our drinking water infrastructure is likely to get worse--much worse. It seems that we're willing to sacrifice the cleanliness of our drinking water, if that's what it takes to serve the almighty "Job Creators." Isn't that amazing?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Democracy is a challenge: When voters aren't paying attention

(WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)
In the state of Kansas, Governor Sam Brownback and Republican legislators have cuts taxes for the rich, raised them on the poor, and cut funding for education. A Republican who voted for Brownback was surprised by all these actions. The Washington Post reported that she is now supporting Brownback's Democratic opponent, "because, she said, Brownback pursued a hefty tax cut for the rich that deprived schools of needed resources. 'I am shocked by what’s happened...I find it personally a very extreme stance.'"
How, in this day and age, can a person not know that the political right's modus operandi is to give tax breaks to the rich and cut services for everyone else? Unfortunately, this voter is not alone. There are millions like her, voting against their own economic interests--either because they focus on social issues alone or because they are oblivious to the policy preferences of the political right and the right-wing millionaires & billionaires who fund the political right.

American democracy, while not perfect, seems to have been much stronger during the 1930s and 40s, when Americans--realizing that New Deal policymakers were creating policies that were beneficial for them (e.g., Social Security, FDIC, the Wagner Act, minimum wage, the WPA, and much more)--elected FDR four times.
In the 21st century, if voters don't wake up to the true motives of the political right (and they show few signs of doing so), we will continue to see the rich get richer while the quality of life for the rest of us deteriorates even more (see, e.g., "The numbers don’t lie – childhood poverty reaching record highs in Kansas," "Poor job growth still afflicts Kansas despite Sam Brownback’s tax cuts," "Budget Cuts Force Homeless Shelter To Close As Tax Breaks Go To Wealthy Kansans," "Kansas’ Ruinous Tax Cuts," and "What’s the Matter With Kansas’ Schools?").

Democracy is a challenge, especially when voters aren't paying attention.

Friday, August 15, 2014

WPA Theatre: The Milky Way

Above: The WPA Theatre production "The Milky Way" was written by Lynn Root and Harry Clork. The play appeared on Broadway before the existence of the WPA, and had also been made into a movie--starring silent film legend Harold Lloyd as milkman-turned-boxer Burleigh Sullivan. Image courtesy of the the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Infrastructure Crumbling: 20 million gallons of water lost in Bay City, Michigan, and Maryland residents told to boil their water after another water line break in Prince George's County

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

Between Saturday, August 9, and Monday, August 11, 2014, Bay City, Michigan lost about 15-20 million gallons of water from a broken water main. City crews had a hard time finding the leak, and discovered that the offending pipe "wasn't registered in the city's list of infrastructure." David Harran, the Bay City Public Works director, said, "It must be something that's very old" ("From search to discovery: Bay County water emergency solved with community effort").

And yesterday (Wednesday, August 13), Maryland residents & businesses in parts of Prince George's County were told to start boiling their water, for fear of contamination, after a 44-year-old water line broke ("WSSC issues boil-water advisory for southern Prince George’s after main break"). And this occurred only about a week and a half after another water main break in Prince George's County, where the rupture of a 73-year-old water line caused the loss of 6 million gallons of water ("Huge water main break floods major Hyattsville road with 6 million gallons").

(Between 1935 and 1943, the WPA made many infrastructure improvements across the nation. Here, WPA laborers are constructing a new storm water drain in Baltimore, Maryland, in June of 1936. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

America's infrastructure is falling apart and, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, "There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States." But don't expect any solutions, because (1) Republicans have made a habit of blocking legislation to improve infrastructure in an effort to protect super-wealthy Americans from tax increases (see, e.g., "Senate GOP Blocks Obama's $60 Billion Infrastructure Plan"), (2) the right-wing Koch brothers are now extending their financial & political influence into local affairs and thwarting bills aimed at municipal improvements (see, e.g., "How The Koch Brothers Are Organizing Against Your Local Zoo, Transit And School Board"), and (3) many American corporations have little or no interest in the health of America's infrastructure, as the Urban Land Institute has correctly highlighted: "A short-term focus on immediate shareholder returns and lowering corporate tax burdens apparently takes precedence over ensuring the country has adequate transport systems, energy networks and logistics facilities for businesses to compete effectively in the decades to come" ("How the U.S. Is Turning Into a Banana Republic").

During the New Deal, America's infrastructure was repaired, improved, and expanded on a scale not seen before or since. For example, the WPA alone installed 16,000 miles of new water lines. And this New Deal infrastructure served as the backbone for America's post-World War II economic boom. The economy expanded along New Deal roads, across New Deal bridges, and out of New Deal airports.

What a shame that we're moving away from the principles of the New Deal, and instead convincing ourselves that we just can't afford to improve our nation's infrastructure (as we simultaneously lose hundreds of billions of dollars in tax revenue--every single year--via tax evasion, tax avoidance, and historically low tax rates on the super-wealthy).

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

College students & college graduates need a New Deal

(A WPA poster advertising free education. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)
In 2012, we learned that half of college graduates were jobless or underemployed.

In 2013, we learned that half of college graduates were working at jobs that did not require a college degree.

In 2014, we've learned that half of college graduates have to rely on their parents for money, half of African American graduates are underemployed, and half of federal student loan borrowers are not making their payments on time.

 (A WPA poster advertising free education. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Our higher education system is a mess, and if New Deal policymakers were alive today they'd be horrified. But they're not alive today, so don't expect any changes to the status quo. For most of our political "leaders" today-- as long as they keep getting campaign cash from millionaires & billionaires--the issue of college graduate underemployment and crushing student loan debt is irrelevant. It is quite clear that they do not consider college graduates from middle & lower-income families to be their constituents. They consider the super-wealthy to be their constituents and the super-wealthy have little fear of joblessness or debt.

Our college students & our college graduates need a New Deal. Unfortunately, all they're going to get is an oligarchic culture of low wages, high debt, and public scorn.

(A WPA poster advertising free education. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Wildfires: Oregon could use a new Civilian Conservation Corps

(State flag of Oregon, image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Currently, Oregon is playing whack-a-mole with several wildfires. Worse, it's doing it with a shortage of firefighting crew members (see "Shortage of crews, approaching storms challenge efforts to corral Oregon wildfires").
During the New Deal era, policymakers created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to, among other things, fight wildfires. In Oregon, 25,000 of its unemployed citizens (as well as 2,800 Indians and thousands of non-residents) were enrolled. These men provided 680,000 man-days of firefighting work, and planted nearly 50 million trees (Roosevelt's Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, by Perry H. Merrill, 1981, p. 166). The WPA also engaged in many firefighting activities across the nation.

We could do the same today, if so many of our political "leaders," and policy "think tanks," weren't so focused on suing President Obama, impeaching President Obama, and drawing & quartering President Obama (see "Think Tank ‘Analyst’ Says ‘Being Hung, Drawn, And Quartered Is Probably Too Good’ For Obama"). In other words, if it weren't for all this political foolishness, we could actually have some common sense policies put in place, like a new CCC and a new WPA.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Six Trillion Dollar Policeman: Iraq war money could have been used for a new WPA, a new CCC, debt relief, and more

(America's political "leaders" just can't resist being the world's policemen--no matter what the cost--even as millions of their own constituents sink further and further into financial despair. WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)
In 2013, a study from Brown University indicated that the ultimate cost of the Iraq War could top $6 trillion (see "Iraq war cost: $6 trillion. What else could have been done?"). Now that we've been sucked back into the violence there, and are likely to get sucked back repeatedly for decades to come, $6 trillion may be a low estimate.

The money spent on the Iraq War--at present and in the future (e.g., veteran health care)--could have funded a new WPA to modernize our infrastructure, a new CCC to repair our environment, and it could have wiped out all the student loan debt that Americans are struggling with today. It could have done all those things and much more.

We were told that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, that they were planning to use them against us, that we would be welcomed with open arms, that oil would pay for the war, and that the post-invasion management of Iraq would be a cakewalk. Well, they didn't, they weren't, we weren't, it isn't, and it's not. Every step of the way was a lie or a miscalculation (you choose which). Instead of investing in our own people, and our own infrastructure, we invested in the destabilization of a country. And, as one might expect, Iraq is now in a state of chaos.

America's middle-class and poor desperately need a new and stronger New Deal. We need better jobs, more opportunities, and relief from crushing and usurious debt. Unfortunately, very few of the financial & political powers-that-be (people who don't need job opportunities or debt relief) are willing to consider another New Deal. Indeed, many of them are too busy cursing the poor and planning the next foreign boondoggle.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Golf Courses, Bobby Jones, and the WPA

(Golfer Bobby Jones, circa 1921. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

In the April 28, 1936 edition of the Washington Herald newspaper, the following was reported:

"Officials of the Works Progress Administration yesterday called in Bobby Jones for suggestions on the golf course projects for which that agency has allotted funds. The scope of the projects, which include improvements on or construction of some 600 public golf courses throughout the country surprised America's ace golfer. Emerging from the conference with Administrator (Harry) Hopkins and Assistant Administrator (Lawrence) Westbrook, Jones said: 'I had no idea their program was so extensive. It will help to bring the game within reach of people who want to play but can't afford membership in the private clubs. I'm going to New York to look over some of the courses on which they are working. Though I won't be connected officially with the Administration, I'll be glad to give them any suggestions I can to help the program.'"

 (This golf course in Oakland, Maryland began as a nine-hole course, constructed with the help of WPA labor. Photo by Brent McKee.)

Friday, August 8, 2014

WPA Poster: Exhibition of Graphic Arts

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

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Great Moon Hoax of 1835 and the Great Trickle-Down Hoax of 1981

(The Great Moon Hoax of 1835. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

In 1835, the New York Sun newspaper printed a series of articles about a scientist claiming to have discovered a wondrous variety of life on the moon. A good portion of the public willingly believed it (see "The Great Moon Hoax of 1835"). But, as the History Channel points out, "On September 16, 1835, the Sun admitted the articles had been a hoax."

Trickle-down economics is very similar to the Great Moon Hoax of 1835. A great number of economic charlatans and shysters, like Arthur Laffer (the father of trickle-down economics), have convinced a large portion of the American public that if you just keep giving millionaires & billionaires huge tax breaks, they'll use that money to invest in the economy in such a way that good middle-class jobs will fall on us like manna from Heaven. Further, they say that tax revenue will actually increase, as the tax base is "broadened."

Some "experts," like Harry Binswanger of the Ayn Rand Institute, go even further, telling us we should bow in submission, kiss the feet of the rich, and grant them tax immunity. Binswager writes: "Anyone who earns a million dollars or more should be exempt from all income an annual public ceremony, the year’s top earner should be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor." 
So, for the past 30+ years we've bought into the Great Trickle-Down Hoax of 1981, hook, line, and sinker (1981 is the year President Reagan and his right-wing buddies began to aggressively market & implement gargantuan tax-cuts-for-the-rich). But, instead of good middle-class jobs, we've received the following: Stagnant wages; reduced job benefits; a replacement of well-paying jobs with low-wage service jobs; colossal income & wealth inequality; the largest prison-industrial complex in the world; a huge national debt; crushing consumer debt; sinking tax revenue (when measured as a % of GDP); and an array of regressive taxes, tolls, fees, and fines that middle-class and poor Americans must pay to subsidize tax-cuts-for-the-rich.

Despite their similarities, there is one major difference between the Great Moon Hoax of 1835 and the Great Trickle-Down Hoax of 1981. The peddlers of the Great Moon Hoax of 1835 did not let their joke linger on for too long. The peddlers of the Great Trickle-Down Hoax of 1981, however, are doubling-down on their prank, even after 30+ years of damage (see, e.g., "Kansas Governor Wants To Double Down On Massive Tax Cut That Tanked State Finances").

  (The Great Trickle-Down Hoax of 1981.)

Monday, August 4, 2014

One-third of a nation preyed upon by debt collectors, and one-third of their wealth vaporized

 ("One-Third of a Nation" was a WPA theatre play about poor housing conditions for low-income Americans. WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Here are two interesting findings from recent research:

1. "More than 35 percent of Americans have debts and unpaid bills that have been reported to collection agencies, according to a study released Tuesday by the Urban Institute...The Urban Institute's (Caroline) Ratcliffe said that stagnant incomes are key to why some parts of the country are struggling to repay their debt." (See "Americans in Debt," July 29, 2014)

2. Recent research from the Russell Sage Foundation indicates that ordinary Americans lost at least a third of their wealth between the years 2003 and 2013. (See "Wealth Levels, Wealth Inequality, and the Great Recession" and "What Recovery? You Probably Became Poorer In the Last 10 Years")

The big American financial institutions that engaged in massive and wide-scale civil & criminal wrongdoing got bailed out by the government in the early years of the recession. But for Americans who were laid off through no fault of their own (indeed, they were laid off because of the corporate massacre of the economy) there was, and is, no such bailout. Quite the contrary, the federal government is standing idly by while Corporate America sends the debt collection vultures to feed upon the financial carcasses of broke Americans. To make matters worse, in 2005 the federal government actually made it harder for people to declare bankruptcy, thus allowing Corporate America to scrape even more money off devastated Americans (see "Too broke to go bankrupt").

You would think, as a matter of basic fairness, that if Congress gives hundreds of  billions of dollars to banks, to bail them out from their own misdeeds, that it would also consider backtracking the 2005 bankruptcy reform law, so that American citizens harmed by the banks' misdeeds could get some relief. Did our congressional "leaders" do that? Nope. And that's probably because they know that they can't get campaign cash from people going through bankruptcy, but they can get it from the big banks. Indeed, the bank bailout money was a cash investment in their own political careers. 

So, let's sum this up: People who engaged in crime & fraud got bailed out. People who were hurt by that crime & fraud are getting punished. That's like giving a reward to a person who robs a house, and then throwing the homeowners in jail. And that's what plutocracy does. It turns justice upside-down. White collar crooks and greedy sociopaths give millions to political candidates, who will then pervert justice once they're elected. This is why, for example, 22,000 wealthy Americans can engage in illegal tax evasion and the government agrees to keep their names secret (see "Big Credit Suisse’s Sweetheart Deal" and "SEC Goldman Lawyer Says Agency Too Timid on Wall Street Misdeeds"). And this is why, for example, right-wing politicians in Kansas--home of the Koch brothers--can lower tax rates for rich families, and raise tax rates on low-income families (see, e.g., "How Tea Party tax cuts are turning Kansas into a smoking ruin," where journalist/author Michael Hiltzik correctly reports that legislative "changes will cut the taxes of the wealthiest 1% of Kansans by 2.2% (but) The poorest 20% of Kansans will see their taxes rise by 1.3%.").

Billionaire investor Warren Buffet famously said, "There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning." And, unfortunately, as long as millions of Americans continue to vote for political candidates who are funded by the big banks, like George Bush, Mitt Romney, and Hillary Clinton, and as long as we have leaders who tread lightly around Corporate America, like President Obama, the rich class will continue to engage in war against us, and continue to win.

Hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, we will decide that corporate greed, corruption, and crime is unacceptable, and opt instead for a new and stronger New Deal.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

California burns, and the CCC and WPA remain in the past

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

California has been pummeled by numerous wildfires in recent years. And, on Saturday, August 2, 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency due to the wildfires burning in the northern part of his state.

Despite widespread drought, record-setting wildfires, climate change, and high youth unemployment (currently 11.3% for adults aged 20-24), Congress has not seen fit to revive the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). That highly successful program remains firmly sealed in the past. Many of our Congressmen and women are way too busy seeking campaign cash from millionaires & billionaires to be concerned with the burning of our natural areas. Indeed, as part of a broad strategy to keep taxes low on the super-wealthy, Congress has actually cut funding for fire prevention and firefighting (see, e.g., "California Wildfires and BLM Budget Cuts" and "Wildfire Budget Cuts: Federal Firefighting Spending Trimmed Due To Sequestration").

(WPA workers build a fire lookout tower in Cecil County, Maryland, during the Great Depression. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

The CCC's fire prevention and firefighting activities are legendary. But many people might not be aware that the WPA was also very active in this area. For example, WPA workers built fire lookout towers, fought fires directly, and created 6,300 miles of new firebreaks.

Some people might say, "Well, that was fine then, but it's not feasible today because of modern firefighting methods." But the error of that argument is highlighted by the fact that we currently train and use prisoners to fight wildfires (see "Thousands Of Inmates Serve Time Fighting The West's Forest Fires"). There's no reason we can't train some percentage of our current unemployed population to do the same (either clearing out dead vegetation, building firebreaks, fighting fires directly, or filling support roles). 

Unfortunately, we are living in such politically toxic times, that many politicians are more interested in using the unemployed as punching bags to score political points--gleefully casting them as lazy "parasites" and "takers." Indeed, when we tried to create a new CCC-type program for our unemployed veterans, Senate Republicans quickly blocked the legislation, perhaps fearing that their unemployed punching bags were going to be taken away from them and given useful work, and that their "unemployed-are-lazy" talking point would be proven wrong. And maybe this vulgar political gamesmanship is why Congress has record low approval ratings.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

WPA Poster: This is your Air Raid Protection

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

Friday, August 1, 2014

Maryland Water Main Break: Six million gallons of water that WPA workers could have saved

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

Just two days after the massive July 29 UCLA water main break--costing that area 8-10 million gallons of water--a large water main break occurred in Hyattsville, Maryland (see "6 million gallons of water flow onto Hyattsville, Md. roadway after huge water main break"). The Hyattsville water main was installed around 1942 (perhaps by WPA crews) and has far outlived its life expectancy. The UCLA water main was installed around 1921.

Just these two breaks have caused a loss of about 14-16 million gallons of water.  And, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), "There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States" (see the ASCE Infrastructure Report Card here).

The WPA installed 16,000 miles of new water lines between 1935 and 1943. Why can't we create a new WPA to modernize our infrastructure, and give the long-term unemployed work opportunities, just like the old WPA did? Well, probably because Republican and Tea Party politicians are too busy preparing to sue President Obama--in an effort to sabotage the Affordable Care Act and thus deprive low-income Americans of health insurance--to spend very much time thinking about our deteriorating infrastructure.