Monday, September 29, 2014

Kansas could use another New Deal

(The Kansas state flag. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Republican Governor Sam Brownback said he was going to run an experiment on Kansas citizens. A trickle-down experiment, to be precise. So, he lowered taxes on the wealthy and raised taxes on the poor. The results haven't been too good. Job growth has been meager, the state lost a healthy budget surplus, a state-funded homeless shelter had to close, education funding was cut, and the state's credit rating was downgraded. But, as is the case with most trickle-down devotees, Brownback and his legislative allies aren't too concerned. Indeed, they plan to grant even more tax cuts to the wealthy (see, e.g,  "Kansas Governor Wants To Double Down On Massive Tax Cut That Tanked State Finances").

Back in 1932 and 1936, Kansas sided with Franklin Roosevelt. It turned out to be a good choice, because the New Deal was good for the Sunflower State. For example, WPA workers created 20,000 miles of new or improved roads, 1,500 new or improved bridges and viaducts, 100 new or improved schools, 525 miles of new water lines, and much, much more. Also, 38,000 young unemployed Kansan men found jobs in the CCC and planted 6 million trees. There was PWA funding for infrastructure improvements, new Post Office buildings, and the creation of public art that is admired today. For a small sampling of New Deal creations that Kansas still enjoys & utilizes, see the Living New Deal's Kansas web page

In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave infrastructure in Kansas a letter grade of "C-" and noted the following: "Bridges were awarded a D+, in part due to Kansas’s nearly 3,000 structurally deficient bridges. Only five states have more structurally deficient bridges than Kansas"; "Schools earned a C+. There was a huge expansion in the 1950s where the amount of schools in Kansas more than doubled. These buildings are now 60 years old and many are in need of major repair or replacement"; "Dams earned the lowest grade of a D-. With 6,087 dams, Kansas has the second most dams in the United States next only to Texas. Of the state’s dams, 230 are classified as high hazard, meaning failure would likely lead to loss of life and significant property damage."

It seems that Kansas could use another New Deal, instead of another round of tax cuts for its wealthiest citizens.

(WPA statistics from the Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, by the Federal Works Agency, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946. CCC statistics from Roosevelt's Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942, by Perry H. Merrill, Montpelier, VT, 1981).

Sunday, September 28, 2014

An Old Water Main Broke on Sunset Boulevard: A WPA could have prevented that!

(WPA workers on a water & sewer project in Prince George's County, Maryland, 1939. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

This past Friday, September 26, 2014, a 100-year-old water main broke and flooded Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, California, causing many disruptions. The break was just one of hundreds of water line breaks that occur every single day across the nation. One would think that such infrastructure problems would be a matter of urgent attention for our Congress--but they're not. For example, Republicans have made a habit of blocking legislation designed to improve America's crumbling infrastructure (see, e.g., here) and Democrats provided little or no support when one of the their colleagues introduced legislation to create a new WPA.

During the 1930s and 40s, New Deal policymakers offered job opportunities to the unemployed, in programs like the CCC and WPA. One of the main goals of the WPA was to repair and modernize America's water line and sewage infrastructure. For example, WPA laborers installed over 16,000 miles of new water lines. 

Isn't it a shame that we don't have a WPA today?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

WPA Poster: Before there was American Idol, there was Amateur Contest!

(WPA poster by artist Arlington Gregg, created in Illinois circa 1936-39. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Friday, September 26, 2014

A New Deal is needed to restore the American Dream

Above: WPA workers putting a new roof on a building in Baltimore. New Deal policymakers were interested in putting America back to work and improving the nation's infrastructure. Most of our policymakers today are concerned with pleasing corporate executives & billionaires who, in turn, are concerned with outsourcing jobs, downsizing workforces, and sending debt collectors after the workers they lay off. Maybe this is why most people think that the American Dream is dead. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives

According to a recent survey, "just 4 in 10 Americans say that the American Dream—the idea that if you work hard, you’ll get ahead—still holds true today." And, "A majority of survey respondents supported raising the minimum wage, increasing the tax rate on Americans earning more than $250,000 a year; requiring companies to provide all full-time employees with paid sick days; and doing more to reduce the gap between the rich and poor." (See "Broken Dreams: Amidst Economic Insecurity, Americans Can't Get Ahead")

It's easy to understand why the majority of Americans think working hard is not the key to improving one's quality of life. For example, wages have been stagnant even as worker productivity has increased (the wealthy have been pocketing all the economic gains). The reality of today's America is that many workers are working harder and harder for stagnant or lower wages, and for reduced or non-existent benefits. Their corporate overlords, however, are drinking wine by the pool and watching their investment income rise higher and higher--and then unleashing debt collectors and corporate attorneys to prey upon those who were destroyed by the recession and/or cannot find a decent-paying job in today's pathetic labor market.

Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said, "The American dream has become a myth...The belief in the American dream is not supported by the data." It would seem that the majority of Americans know this, perhaps more through experience than data. But until more Americans begin voting for politicians who support New Deal policies and principles, the destruction of the American Dream is likely to continue.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Inequality, class warfare, and the need to "rigorously fight back" to regain our democracy

Above: Listen to President Roosevelt talk about the danger of government control by the super-wealthy few

The following quote is from Dr. Jon Wisman, American University, and Dr. Aaron Pacitti, Siena College, (Exploding Inequality Is Threatening Our Democracy): 

"Throughout history until quite recently, a small elite controlled governments to protect their wealth and insure that they could capture any income beyond what the rest of the population required for survival...The birth and expansion of democracy was vehemently opposed by the rich elites who had always held and benefited from their monopoly control of government...The extraordinary hardship of the Great Depression significantly delegitimized the rich's contention that unbridled free-market capitalism was in everyone's interest. The consequence was that, between the 1930s and 1970s, workers were able to use the right to vote to create government measures that would tame the excesses of free markets, reduce inequality, and significantly improve the lives of most Americans."

"If democracy is to endure, it's time for the non-elites to recognize that class warfare is being waged against them and rigorously fight back. It isn't just their material well-being that's at stake, it is also their freedom and our democracy."

(Also, see "Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans" and "U.S. Policies Favor The Wealthy, Interest Groups, Study Shows")  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Trickle-Down Outcome: Rising wealth for the few, low-paying jobs for the many

(New Deal policymakers like Harry Hopkins (left) understood that government action was needed to address problems associated with extreme income inequality. During the 1930s, these problems included unemployment, low wages, poverty, inadequate infrastructure, and white collar crime. These same problems have revisited us today but, unfortunately, we have few New Deal-type policymakers to address them. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)
For the past 30+ years the American public has been sold on the idea that rising wealth for the few is good for the many. This is the core philosophy behind trickle-down economics. So, we've handed out colossal tax breaks to the super-wealthy, demonized unions, and kept the minimum wage low. Unfortunately, as the rich have become richer, the rest of us have been running in place or falling behind. As journalist Dave Gilson points out, "Since 1980, the average real income of the 1 percent has shot up more than 175 percent while the bottom 90 percent's real income didn't budge."

The latest evidence that we've been duped by the Great Trickle-Down Deception comes from a research note by two economists from Morgan Stanley. The economists report that America produces a higher percentage of low-paying jobs than any  country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Indeed, it's not even close.

Journalist Kevin Short reports that "The OECD recommends that all its members have a 'sensible' minimum wage, increase progressive taxation and 'scale up' in-work benefits to address income inequality." Of course, we know that an increase in the minimum wage and a more progressive tax code isn't going to happen anywhere Republicans or Tea Partiers are calling the shots, e.g., the U.S. House of Representatives (and probably soon, the U.S. Senate). And we also know that, by and large, Corporate America isn't going to increase any benefits for its workers. Largely because that sort of thing gets in the way of executive bonuses and shareholder profits.

After 30+ years of the Great Trickle-Down Deception, America desperately needs a new and even stronger New Deal. Unfortunately, if millions of people keep voting for bank-approved politicians, we will continue to work at low-paying jobs while private jets fly overhead with passengers who benefit from the proliferation of poverty. As billionaire investor Warren Buffet has noted, "Through the tax code, there has been class warfare waged, and my class has won. It's been a rout."

Sunday, September 21, 2014

WPA Poster: John Is Not Really Dull

(WPA poster, created circa 1936-37. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Reverse New Deal: Republican hypocrisy on unemployment rears its ugly head again

Above: WPA workers installing a sewer line in Maryland, 1937. New Deal policymakers--in collaboration with local governments and communities--did not spend their days thinking of new ways to insult the jobless. Nor did they wait for billionaire messiahs or free market fairy dust to create jobs. Instead, they grabbed the bull by the horns and created jobs themselves. What resulted was the greatest period of infrastructure improvement in American history. Image courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.

On Thursday, September 18, Speaker of the House John Boehner scolded jobless Americans: "this idea that has been born, maybe out of the economy over the last couple years, that you know, I really don't have to work. I don't really want to do this. I think I'd rather just sit around. This is a very sick idea for our country." Boehner's comments were made to the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank that caters to millionaires & billionaires who are hungry for the message that less fortunate Americans are surely lazy, unskilled, and probably immoral.

Yet, back on August 8th, Boehner expressed his displeasure with President Obama's record on job creation (see "Do Your Job, Mr. President").

This right-wing hypocrisy has been on full display for the past 5-6 years. When scolding Obama, right-wing politicians, pundits, and Internet comment-makers say "He's ruining the economy! Where are the jobs??" But when they turn their wrath towards the unemployed, they say "Get off the couch, there's plenty of jobs out there!!" 

Even worse than the hypocritical nature of this right-wing strategy, is that it surely makes life harder for jobless Americans. Some percentage of employers are going to internalize this "unemployed-are-lazy" message and refuse to hire them. And, indeed, empirical studies have shown that jobless Americans face significant hiring discrimination (see, e.g., "Companies won’t even look at resumes of the long-term unemployed"). 

During the New Deal, policymakers created millions of public job opportunities in the WPA, CCC, NYA, CWA, etc. What resulted was the greatest period of infrastructure improvement in American history. And we're still enjoying & utilizing thousands of New Deal sites, structures, and works of art today (see, e.g., the Living New Deal). Indeed, so successful was the WPA that even limited-government icon Ronald Reagan praised it in his autobiography.

Unfortunately, most Americans are not familiar with New Deal history. So, as Corporate America (a) refuses to give raises to workers, (b) constantly looks for ways to replace Americans with machines or foreign workers, and (c) engages in wide-scale corruption and fraud, millions will continue to point their fingers at the unemployed and say, "See, it's their fault!! They're lazy!!" 

Welcome to the Reverse New Deal.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

WPA Theatre: Volpone

Above: "Volpone" is a classic and comedic tale of greed, and was performed by the WPA Theatre program. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

WPA Poster: East Side - West Side

(WPA poster, by artist Anthony Velonis, created in New York City, 1938. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Monday, September 15, 2014

How the New Deal Helped Win World War II (part 10 of 10): Military Base Improvements that "Strengthened the Country to Bear the Burden of War"

(President Roosevelt said "(The WPA) has added to the national wealth, has repaired the wastage of depression, and has strengthened the country to bear the burden of war" (Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.)

(Both PWA funds and WPA labor were utilized to make a variety of improvements to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Photo by Brent McKee.)

From 1933 to 1943, New Deal work & construction programs improved military bases across the nation via the creation of new, expanded, and repaired facilities. For example, "Among the new buildings constructed (by WPA workers) were 480 barracks, 500 mess halls, 350 storage buildings, 200 garages, and 80 administrative buildings. More than 90 hospitals and infirmaries were constructed and improvements were made to about 320 others." Other projects included "the construction or improvement of about 180 utility plants--electric power, incinerator, heating, water and sewage treatment plants, and pumping stations" (Final Report, pp. 85-86).

In the May 16th, 1942 edition of the Army and Navy Register, it was reported that "In the years 1935 to 1939, when regular appropriations for the armed forces were so meager, it was the WPA worker who saved many army posts and naval stations from literal obsolescence."

(WPA workers at the U.S. Naval Academy, in July of 1936. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

The U.S. Naval Academy provides an example of New Deal attention to military bases. In the report, America Builds: The Record of PWA, it was reported that "At the Naval Academy, 36 PWA allotments totaling $5,324,057 provided new radio equipment, hospital facilities, a chapel extension, officers' quarters, and repairs to a number of services such as the power and heating plant, the mess hall, roads, and in cooperation with the civil authorities provided for a new sewage disposal plant. The famed snow white uniforms of the cadets will be kept clean in a new laundry" (p. 136, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1939). The WPA also contributed to many improvements at the Naval Academy (see, e.g., “Naval Academy Gaining By PWA-WPA Program,” Baltimore Sun, August 7, 1938).

In my 10-part blog series on the New Deal and World War II, I have shown how New Deal programs & policies were instrumental to the building of the atomic bomb, to the creation of strong air and naval defenses, to the quick mobilization of our soldiers, and much more. The lessons from history could not be more clear. When a strong democracy (which we don't have now) heavily invests in its people and its infrastructure (which we don't do now), great and significant things can happen, for example, better preparedness for struggles and tragedies.

World War II was a hideous waste of life and should never have happened. But it did happen and the New Deal helped us get through it.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

How the New Deal Helped Win World War II (part 9 of 10): WPA Mapmakers, Meteorologists, and Camouflage Artists

(In this photo, men in the WPA are working on an atlas for Baltimore City. Similar types of mapmaking work would prove useful to the war effort. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

An interesting bit of World War II history, from the Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946, p. 87):

"During the fiscal year 1943, WPA art project work was confined to the making of posters, maps, models, and other visual aids for the use of the military forces and defense councils. WPA workers on art projects had previously performed a variety of services for the Army and the Navy and other war agencies. For use in training members of the armed forces, they made working models of bridges, airports, guns, bombs, and tanks; various kinds of maps; and diagrammatic charts of airplane motors...The talents of these workers were used in experiments in camouflage...Other WPA workers collected essential weather statistics and tabulated vast numbers of observations for use in making climatic and weather information available to the armed forces."

Once again, we see how government care of, and investment in, the less fortunate--in this case, the unemployed who were hired into various WPA-funded programs--had positive results.

Friday, September 12, 2014

How the New Deal Helped Win World War II (part 8 of 10): The Recyclers

(WPA poster, made in California between 1941 and 1943, urging the public to get involved in salvaging activities. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Between April, 1942, and March, 1943, WPA workers collected "376,000 tons of scrap metal and 10,000 tons of rubber." WPA workers also constructed and improved facilities to process scrap materials. The laborers who engaged in this salvage work were often too old (according to the norms of the time) to engage in more strenuous defense work and military service.

The WPA also located and surveyed automobile junk yards across the nation, so that scrap metal and rubber could be more efficiently moved to areas where the U.S. War Production Board saw the need.

(Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, pp. 86-87, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946.)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

How the New Deal Helped Win World War II (part 7 of 10): Sewing for Victory

Above: A WPA poster created in New York City, between 1941 and 1943. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. 

 Above: A WPA sewing room project in Washington, D.C. Thousands of formerly unemployed workers across the nation produced 383 million items of clothing for Americans in need. These workers also contributed to the defense and early war efforts, as the Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43 highlights: "In the defense and war period, the War Department assigned to the WPA sewing room projects the work of reclamation of army clothing and equipage. In some areas, the WPA supplemented the reclamation work of established army facilities; in other areas, the WPA performed the whole reclamation job. Articles of clothing, including shoes, and tents, blankets, knapsacks, web belting, canteen covers and the like, were made usable, thereby saving many millions of dollars" (pp. 67-68). Photo courtesy of the National Archives and New Deal Network.

Above: Unemployed tailors also found work in the WPA. The description for this photo reads, "WPA Sewing Shop at 475 Tenth Avenue, New York City." Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Above: In this photo, we see a woman on a National Youth Administration sewing project in Minnesota. When the war hit, the National Youth Administration trained young women to operate industrial sewing machines "To meet the demands occasioned by the war" (see the 8-minute film "Training Women for War Production"). Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the New Deal Network.

Once again we see how unemployed Americans, when given opportunities instead of insults, made significant contributions to the nation. What a shame that this lesson from history has been largely forgotten and, even worse, replaced with an endless barrage of scorn and ridicule towards the jobless. Hopefully, someday, a future generation of Americans will cast aside the scorn and ridicule, and embrace New Deal optimism instead.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How the New Deal Helped Win World War II (part 6 of 10): A New Deal Air Force

(WPA poster, by artist Blanche L. Anish, created in Ohio, 1937. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Before and during World War II, New Deal policies & programs enhanced America's air power. These enhancements helped lead the nation to victory.


1. The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA):

BPA, headquartered in Portland, Oregon, is a federal energy agency with strong New Deal & FDR roots (see "Bonneville Power Administration, History," Northwest Power and Conservation Council,

According to BPA, "BPA employees energized the Northwest industries making planes and ships to help the Allies win World War II. The recently completed Bonneville and Grand Coulee Dams provided electrical power to support construction at wartime shipyards and at aluminum smelters making the raw material for Boeing’s B-17 and B-29 aircraft production...Federal power supplied by BPA was instrumental in the ramp up of the Northwest aluminum industry. BPA provided the energy for both aluminum smelters producing raw material as well as an aluminum rolling mill near Spokane that processed raw aluminum into the thin sheets used by aircraft factories...This aluminum was turned, by Boeing, into over 10,000 combat airplanes. The crews responsible for this massive production effort often personified the cultural icon of Rosie the Riveter ─ the American women who took the factory positions vacated by men serving in the military."

So significant was BPA's contribution to American victory that Harry Truman declared, "Without Grand Coulee and Bonneville dams it would have been almost impossible to win this war."

(For more information, see "BPA powered the industry that helped win World War II," Bonneville Power Administration,

(Logo courtesy of BPA.) 

2. Public Works Administration (PWA) Funding:

In the report, America Builds: The Record of PWA (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1939), the agency described its airport work: "As the volume of traffic by air increases, the need for airports and safety devices becomes more imperative. Allotments have been made for 354 Federal projects costing $14,773,008 to improve landing fields, for route lighting, radio beams and mapping, and for developing new safety devices and new techniques...On the shore of the historic Potomac River, a few miles from the White House, Federal agencies have undertaken the construction of a 750-acre air terminal, which is designed not only to serve the Capital with aviation transportation facilities for land and sea planes, but also as a model for the rest of the country. This new airport provides four paved runways, 150 to 200 feet wide and at least 5,000 feet long, with unobstructed approaches in eight directions at flight angles as flat as  1-to-40, together with necessary drainage, lighting, fencing, and other facilities. The plans made also include a large terminal building and at least one hangar with auxiliary service buildings." (This description refers to Washington National Airport, which is now called Reagan National Airport.)

Many airports constructed or improved by New Deal programs (a) facilitated military transportation within the U.S., (b) provided training grounds for pilots and new aircraft, and (c) stood ready to defend against invasion or air attack. Fortunately, an invasion or (significant) air attack never came to the U.S. mainland. Perhaps this was so, in part, because of the air defense (and naval) improvements facilitated by the New Deal.

(The statue of limited government icon Ronald Reagan stands watch at a big government airport in Washington, DC. Indeed, "Reagan National Airport," which used to be called "Washington National Airport," received plenty of PWA funding, plenty of WPA labor, and plenty of arm-twisting by FDR to get the project underway. Photo by Brent McKee.) 

3. Airport Construction Activities of the Works Progress Administration (WPA):

From 1935-1943, WPA laborers engaged in over 900 landing field projects (new constructions, repairs, and improvements). They also created 900 miles (or 4,762,884 linear feet) of new runways. Further, they performed over 4,000 projects to build, repair, or improve airport buildings, and many of these projects were certified as national defense projects. (Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, pp. 84-85, 136, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946.) 

General Michael F. Davis, of the U.S. Army Air Corps (and then a commander in the U.S. Air Force) once said of the WPA's contribution to the war effort: "The WPA did not enlist for this battle today. They have been fighting the Battle for America for six years. Much more than one-half of America's airport construction has been the work of the WPA. Runways have been laid; buildings have been erected; utilities have been reconditioned; drainage systems have been installed. Nests for America's warbirds have taken shape out of raw fields and meadows. Hamilton Field, whose fighter-planes guard the vital San Francisco Bay area, has felt the drive of the WPA. Projects, costing nearly $500,000, are under way at this air base. When the job is done, Hamilton Field will be a better field--a more efficient air bulwark for Pacific defense. The WPA man behind the shovel, behind the pick, and behind the wheel barrow is doing a job, is also 'Keeping 'Em Flying.' Hamilton Field dips its wings in tribute to the WPA." (Radio transcription, 1941, National Archives, Record Group 69, Records of the Work Projects Administration.) 

(WPA workers helped construct Baltimore Municipal Airport, later called "Harbor Field." During its lifetime, the airport served both civilian and military needs. For example, during World War II it briefly served as the headquarters for the Air Force's 353rd Fighter Group and, after the war, it was the home of the Maryland Air National Guard. Today, the airport is gone, replaced by the Dundalk Marine Terminal. For more information, see article here. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

4. The Aviation Work of the National Youth Administration (NYA):

The NYA trained unemployed young men & women in the aircraft trades, e.g., sheet metal work, engine mechanics, radio repair. These young Americans then took their newly-acquired skills into the war industry (see yesterday's blog post "How the New Deal Helped Win World War II (part 5 of 10): The National Youth Administration Strengthened the Defense Industry").

The NYA also engaged in aircraft landing projects. For example, in 1939 "NYA youth started to build a transcontinental chain of seaplane bases extending from Maine to Key West, and along the Gulf of Mexico to Louisiana. Other network of bases were established up the Pacific coast, in the Mississippi Valley, and in the Great Lakes region. These bases usually consisted of docks and pontoons." (Federal Security Agency, War Manpower Commission, Final Report of the National Youth Administration, Fiscal Years 1936-1943, p. 139, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1944.)

(The description for this photograph reads "Naval air base, Corpus Christi, Texas. Deep in the heart of Texas, young National Youth Administration (NYA) trainees for war jobs, watch the Navy planes they are learning to service. Wearing their regulation work clothes, these civil service apprentices of the naval air base in Corpus Christi, Texas, are in the vanguard of a large army of youths being trained as maintenance and repair workers at the military air station." Photo by Howard R. Hollem, from the Farm Security Administration--Office of War Information Photograph Collection, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Some Americans thought that the New Deal would lead us to fascism, and socialism, and communism, oh my! On top of that, they thought that the New Deal work programs and infrastructure investments were unnecessary and "wasteful." But, after considering the New Deal's role in enhancing the nation's air power, and the role that air power played in our victory at World War II, it would seem that history has proven them fantastically wrong.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

How the New Deal Helped Win World War II (part 5 of 10): The National Youth Administration Strengthened the Defense Industry

(An interesting 8-minute film, narrated by Eleanor Roosevelt, showing how women in the National Youth Administration contributed to the war effort. Original YouTube link:

(In this 1942 photograph, an NYA trainee is working on an airplane at the Naval Air Base in Corpus Christie, Texas. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

As the second world war threatened--and then dragged the nation in--the National Youth Administration (NYA) slowly evolved from an agency concerned with youth unemployment per se, to an agency that trained unemployed young workers for defense industry jobs. For example, according to the Texas State Historical Association, "After the beginning of World War II, in eleven resident training centers in Texas, young men and women received instruction in skills vital to the defense effort -- welding, sheet-metal work, woodwork, and radio repair. After their training they were sent all over the nation to jobs in private companies with defense contracts" ("National Youth Administration,"

The Final Report of the National Youth Administration, Fiscal Years 1936-1943, further details the type of defense industry training that NYA participants engaged in:

Aircraft sheet metal
Other sheet metal
Arc welding
Gas welding
Aircraft welding
Automotive mechanics
Aircraft mechanics
Aircraft engine mechanics
Aircraft woodwork
General woodwork
Industrial sewing
Mechanical drafting
Other shop activities
Clerical activities

(Federal Security Agency, War Manpower Commission, Final Report of the National Youth Administration Fiscal Years 1936-1943, p. 96, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1944)

 (NYA trainee Mildred Webb operates a cutting machine at the Naval Air Base in Corpus Christi, Texas, 1942. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Often, when there are economic down times--down times caused by things such as the Stock Market Crash of 1929 or housing bubbles exacerbated by fraudulent mortgages & securities--many will choose to ignore the real causes and instead target the weak & poor for condemnation. For example, they'll declare that the unemployed are lazy, unskilled, and not worthy of help. So, it's interesting to see some of the testimonies of private sector employers who hired young (and formerly unemployed) men who went through the NYA program:

"Our records indicate that these men (NYA) have come to us well qualified for shipyard work, and they have proven themselves to be excellent employees. We hope your training program is to continue during the coming year and that we shall be able to count on additional men..."
--California Shipbuilding Corporation, Wilmington, California

"We have found that NYA trained boys generally have excellent background in work experience and in citizenship...They appear to adapt themselves very easily to our training activities, evidently because of their previous training."
--Carnegie Steel Corporation, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

"After observing our records, we find that your boys have without exception been above the average...There is no doubt that Lockheed is indebted to you and your organization for the work you have done in aid of national defense."
--Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, Burbank, California

"To date we have in our employ 50 boys who have had some previous shop training under NYA instruction...By placing some with our more experienced workers and machinists, we have been able to partially fill a gap caused by our inability to obtain more experienced help."
--The Remington Arms Company, Bridgeport, Connecticut

"We wish to advise that we have employed several young men in our plant who have had pre-employment training, such as conducted by your administration, and find that they have a distinct advantage over young men without this training."
--The Trow Engine & Machine Company, Troy, Pennsylvania

(p. 162 of the Final Report, see full cite above)  

(The description for this photo reads "...a group of patterns made in the NYA national defense pattern-making shop in Chickasha (Oklahoma). Defense industries want well trained pattern makers and the NYA in Oklahoma is training 45 in this national defense department." Photo taken circa 1940-43, courtesy of the National Archives and New Deal Network.)

When President Roosevelt created the NYA by executive order, he said: "I have determined that we shall do something for the Nation's unemployed youth because we can ill afford to lose the skill and energy of these young men and women" (Final Report, p. 23). What do you think? Did the nation--and young Americans--benefit from the creation of work & training opportunities in the NYA? Or would the nation have been better off if the unemployed had been condemned as "lazy good-for-nothings," unworthy of help, as so many politicians, pundits, radio show hosts, and Internet comment makers have done today?

Monday, September 8, 2014

How the New Deal Helped Win World War II (part 4 of 10): WPA Posters--Art to Inform & Rally the Nation

(WPA poster by artist Charlotte Angus, made in Pennsylvania between 1941 and 1943. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

During the war years, WPA artists designed many posters to inform and rally the nation. Some posters urged Americans to refrain from talking about war-related activities, while others encouraged Americans to support the war effort by purchasing war stamps and war bonds. There were other posters that asked for volunteers, requested material donations, promoted salvage activities, urged water conservation, and much more.

Every American could participate in the war effort, whether overseas in uniform or at home in civvies. WPA artists did their part by creating a wide variety of public information posters. Here are just a few examples (all images courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division):

(Artist: Edward T. Grigware)

(Artist: Unknown)

(Artist: William B. Finley)

(Artist: Edward T. Grigware)

(Artist: Unknown)

(Artist: Glenn Stuart Pearce)

(Artist: Unknown)

(Artist: Thomas A. Byrne)

(Artist: Glenn Stuart Pearce)

(Artist: Unknown)

(Artist: Unknown)

(Artist: Unknown)

(Artist: Phil Von Phul)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

How the New Deal Helped Win World War II (part 3 of 10): The CCC Helped Mobilize the Nation

(WPA poster by artist Albert M. Bender, made in Chicago, 1941. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

In the American Experience/ PBS documentary The Civilian Conservation Corps (2009), veteran Houston Pritchett described how his experience in the CCC prepared him for military service: "Nobody had to tell you how to make a bed, and how it should be done. How to clean your clothes. And they didn't have to tell you that if the man tell you to go do something, you didn't ask questions, you do it. The CCC made me a man. Made me respect discipline, and how to work and get along with people."

(FDR and some of his New Deal colleagues are surrounded by FDR's forest army--the Civilian Conservation Corps. This photo was taken in Virginia, 1933. Provided courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.)

In an interesting journal article (citation below), military historian and author Charles E. Heller (Ph.D. University of Massachusetts-Amherst / Col. Ret. U.S. Army Reserve) wrote, "...the CCC better prepared the U.S. Army for the challenge of mobilizing for war by providing [a] pretrained officer and NCO leadership base that helped to win the Second World War."

Heller explains that the U.S. Army was only the seventeenth largest in the world before the war, but was able to expand from 187 thousand to 8 million "in a relatively short time." Heller's research describes why men who went through the CCC program were often quickly promoted to sergeants in the Army. In sum, the physical fitness, education, work ethic, interpersonal skills, discipline, and leadership skills that the men acquired in the CCC set them apart from other draftees and volunteers. Hence, the CCC veterans were able to help the Army mobilize because they were, in very short order, ready to assume leadership positions.

Heller quotes General Mark Clark, the commander of the Allied Fifth Army during World War II: "To my way of thinking the CCC...became a potent factor in enabling us to win WW-II...though we did not realize it at the time, we were training Non-Commissioned Officers."

Heller also points out that CCC veterans who did not serve in the armed forces often took their enhanced work ethic & skills into the defense industries (thereby still improving America's war-readiness). Further, the CCC gave Army Reserve officers (men who volunteered to lead CCC camps) experience that helped them later on. For example, after serving as a commander in the CCC, Captain Burdwell H. Shipe volunteered for active duty in 1940 and was assigned to Fort Meade (Maryland). Shipe was ordered to prepare 150 new Army inductees: "I knew exactly what to do and where to go to get what I needed because of my CCC experience."

(Charles E. Heller, "The U.S. Army, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and Leadership for World War II, 1933-1942," Armed Forces & Society, April 2010, vol. 36, no. 3, 439-453.)                 

(A nice 7-minute presentation on the Civilian Conservation Corps, from Iowa Public Television. Includes lots of interesting old footage, as well as recollections from CCC veterans. You can adjust the resolution by using the gear tool in the lower right-hand corner of the video player. Original YouTube link: 

In Perry H. Merrill's book Roosevelt's Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps (1981), many CCC veterans explained how their time in the CCC prepared them for military service. Here are a few of the recollections:

"When I left there in 1940, I felt that the 3C's had done more for me than I could have learned in a good trade. Soon I joined the Army and came out as a technical sergeant."
--Arlington Kane

"I would not take anything for the experience and help that I received during my five years as a member. I feel that I benefited from it when I went into the service."
--Unnamed CCC veteran from Oklahoma

"There was a 3/4 ton Bay City Shovel...I learned how to run heavy equipment...When I got in the army, I worked at the Boston shipyard running a crane, so that is where that little Bay City Shovel started me in the CCC."
--Robert Hartwell

"I credit my experience in the CCC with my fast promotions when I suddenly found myself in the U.S. Army in 1941. Because of my camp life experiences I was made barracks leader my first day in the army, acting corporal all during basic training and promoted to First Sergeant on the thirteenth month. I stayed in the army for a total of 22 years and retired in 1962 in the grade of Major of Engineers."
--J.D. English, Jr.

(CCC enrollees not only worked in the forests, but also worked in shops and gained skills operating machinery. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.) 

Will we learn from the history of the CCC, forests & parks, and World War II? 

In his article about the Army, the CCC, and leadership, Heller wrote of the CCC boys: "They represented a full spectrum of American youth ranging from college students to boys who had not completed high school...The one thing they had in common was unemployment." In the American Experience/PBS documentary The Civilian Conservation Corps, journalist & author Jonathan Alter said, "The CCC Corps members came from very different backgrounds...The only thing they had in common was that they were poor."

Unemployed and poor.

Today, the unemployed and poor have been labeled by many politicians, political commentators, and radio show hosts as "takers," "free loaders," "lazy pigs," and people "who do not know how to do a day's work." (And when we tried to create a new CCC-type program for unemployed veterans, Republicans blocked it.)

The same type of insults were leveled against the poor and unemployed during the Great Depression. Many of those with jobs simply could not understand how those without jobs could have possibly ended up in that situation. "It must have been their lazy, immoral, or unskilled characteristics!" (Like today, many people chose to blame the individuals rather than the structural problems within the economy. Today, structural problems include job outsourcing, machines replacing workers, wide-scale corporate lawlessness, and discrimination against the long-term unemployed.)

A great thing happened when FDR and his New Deal colleagues created the CCC and gave the unemployed opportunities instead of insults: Three billion trees were planted, large areas of forest were protected from fire, 800 state parks were developed (that we still enjoy today, by the way), and the men of the CCC helped us win the war by filling important leadership roles and, in many cases, sacrificing their lives.

So, what are your thoughts? Is it more productive to cast the unemployed as "parasites," or is it more productive to give them work opportunities? This is an important question, because unemployment rates for young adults are still in the double-digits.

Friday, September 5, 2014

How the New Deal Helped Win World War II (part 2 of 10): New Deal Ships

 Above: According to Dr. William M. McBride, professor of history at the U.S. Naval Academy, "The battleships North Carolina (shown above) and Washington were the first capital ships to fall under the control of New Deal legislation" ("The Unstable Dynamics of a Strategic Technology: Disarmament, Unemployment, and the Interwar Battleship," Technology and Culture Vol. 38, No. 2 (Apr., 1997), pp. 386-423, 417). The North Carolina's construction began in 1937, commissioning occurred in 1941, and she was decommissioned in 1947. The North Carolina became a museum/memorial ship in 1962, and can be visited today in Wilmington, North Carolina. According to the Historic Naval Ships Association, "North Carolina is the most decorated U.S. battleship of World War II with 15 battle stars, having participated in every major naval offensive in the Pacific from Guadalcanal to Tokyo Bay. She is also credited with kills of 24 aircraft, a merchantman and the bombardment of nine Imperial Japanese strongholds." Image courtesy of Doc Searls and Wikipedia, used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Above: The U.S.S. Enterprise, built with PWA funding, played a critical role in America's victory in the Pacific. For example, "In June 1942, Enterprise played a vital role in the Battle of Midway, in which her planes sank or helped sink three Japanese aircraft carriers and a cruiser" (link). The Enterprise was decommissioned in 1947. Above, we see the Enterprise heading towards the Panama Canal in October of 1945. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

Above: A WPA poster, created by artist Robert Muchley, in Pennsylvania, between 1941 and 1943. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Dr. Daniel Goure, of the somewhat right-leaning Lexington Institute, wrote "Both organizations (the WPA and PWA), but primarily the PWA, turned out to play major roles in the American victory in World War Two. It was the PWA that funded construction of the aircraft carriers Yorktown and Enterprise whose aircraft were responsible for sinking the four Japanese aircraft carriers...In addition, the PWA funded the construction of four cruisers, four heavy destroyers, many light destroyers, submarines, planes, engines, and instruments...The PWA and the WPA helped mitigate the effects of the Great Depression while also making the world safer for democracy."

In his book Long-Range Public Investment: The Forgotten Legacy of the New Deal (University of South Carolina Press, 2007), Dr. Robert D. Leighninger, Jr., highlights some of the PWA funding for the Coast Guard and Navy: "An allotment of $1.5 million to the Coast Guard built several kinds of airplanes for patrol and rescue operations. Another $2.8 million produced five 165-foot Coast Guard cutters. Most impressive was what PWA did for the Navy. It might surprise most people to learn that the aircraft carrier Yorktown, sunk in the Battle of Midway, was a New Deal public works project. In addition to the Yorktown, PWA funded the carriers Ranger and Enterprise, seven heavy cruisers, four light cruisers, five submarines, and thirty-two destroyers." 

Some people say that the New Deal was just a giant boondoggle, and that we would have been better off without it. What do you think?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

How the New Deal Helped Win World War II (part 1 of 10): TVA Power

(In this interesting 3-minute video, we see the TVA constructing Norris Dam in Tennessee, circa 1933-36. The video appears to have been made, in part, to highlight the durability of Chevrolet trucks. This is interesting, because it shows how government infrastructure initiatives can spur the growth of private sector business. Original YouTube link here:

In the early 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal colleagues created the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to produce power for Tennessee and surrounding areas. The TVA has been a success for over three-quarters of a century--so much of a success, in fact, that even today's Republican politicians protect it from privatization proposals (see "Obama Proposal To Sell TVA Blasted By Republicans"). And, in addition to providing much needed energy to American homes and businesses, TVA played a critical role during World War II, as was highlighted in an excellent 2008 documentary:  

"The United States learned of Germany's plans to build an atomic bomb. To win the war, the U.S. had to build the bomb first. The site for the atomic laboratory required two things: Secrecy and power. Tennessee was the answer. It had rugged mountains and, most importantly, TVA" (Built for the People: The Story of TVA, a Documentary Channel and Fine Films production).

The quote above refers to the testing & development facilities at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. It was at Oak Ridge that the Hiroshima bomb was built. The bomb caused a massive loss of life but also helped end World War II.

There were other TVA war activities:

"TVA made a number of key contributions to the war effort. Its mapping department, based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, used aerial reconnaissance and techniques perfected in the course of mapping the TVA region to make crucial maps of Europe for Allied aviators. Its nitrate plants in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, supplied the raw material for thousands of tons of munitions, as well as fertilizer to help grow food in beleaguered Allied countries. But TVA’s main contribution lay in producing enormous amounts of electric power...For all its accomplishments before and since, TVA’s star may never have shone brighter than when it helped win America’s biggest war." (To learn more, see "TVA Goes to War," Tennessee Valley Authority,

Some say the New Deal was nothing but wasteful spending. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

New Deal Nutrition vs. Trickle-Down Nutrition

(WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)
A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine finds that "Low-income people’s diets have gotten worse over the past decade as richer people’s nutrition has been improving." 

So here we have yet another bad result from the soaring income & wealth inequality that trickle-down economics has inflicted on us for the past 30+ years (see, e.g., "Study Says America's Income Gap Widest Since Great Depression"). Over the past several years--as we have watched corporate profits rise--we have seen median household income drop, the middle-class shrink, the American Dream become a myth, and our nutritional needs remain unfulfilled.

(The description for this photo reads, "Three WPA gardening projects in Denver, Pueblo and Greeley will produce approximately 665 tons of vegetables for distribution to indigent families receiving direct relief. A million cans of vegetables grown and processed by WPA workers will be distributed in these three cities under the supervision of the State Department of Public Welfare and county government. Shot shows beans being shelled." Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)
During the New Deal, policymakers worked very hard to address the nutritional needs of all Americans. There was a WPA school lunch program; young men in the CCC were well-fed; there was a surplus commodities program to deliver food to those in need; community gardening programs were set up so that people could get more fresh fruits & vegetables; thousands of miles of new water lines were installed, along with hundreds of thousands of consumer water connections; farm-to-market roads were created to bring fresh farm goods to more Americans; and much, much more.
Our diets today could really use a New Deal. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Reverse New Deal: Los Angeles crumbles, federal aid dries up, regressive taxation is proposed, and tax evasion & avoidance runs rampant

(In the photo above, WPA workers are building a sidewalk in Allegany County, Maryland. In Los Angeles, "More than 4,000 of the 10,750 miles of sidewalks are in severe disrepair." Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

The New York Times ran an interesting article yesterday, "Infrastructure Cracks as Los Angeles Defers Repairs." In the article, we learn that Los Angeles has serious problems with its roads, sidewalks, and water lines--problems that have caused massive water loss, lawsuits, and expensive auto repairs for its citizens.

To me, the most interesting aspect of this story is that it highlights how Republican policies shift the revenue burden away from millionaires & billionaires (who can afford it), towards the middle-class & poor (who are struggling to make ends meet). In the article, we learn that (a) Los Angeles's infrastructure problem "is exacerbated by cutbacks in federal spending on public works" and (b) conservative talk show host and public official Kevin James is calling for a sales tax increase--a tax increase that would disproportionately affect the middle-class and poor (sales taxes are highly regressive).

This same phenomenon is happening all across the country. Instead of increased federal aid for infrastructure (such increases are routinely blocked by Republican and Tea Party politicians) we see increased & regressive taxes, tolls, fees, and fines at the state & local level. In my home state of Maryland, for example, the toll to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge went from $2.50 to $6.00 in just 2-3 years--a 140% increase (bridge tolls, like sales taxes, are highly regressive). 

Federal aid could be increased, of course, by raising tax rates on the super-wealthy (tax rates that are now historically low), and also by cracking down on super-wealthy tax cheats (we lose about $300 billion--per year--due to tax evasion, practiced largely by the super-wealthy--see here and here). But Republican and Tea Party politicians are actively working to protect the super-wealthy from paying more, with a two-pronged strategy: First, as we all know, they work hard keep tax rates low on the super-wealthy. And second, they work hard to protect super-wealthy tax evaders from law enforcement. See, for example: "Republicans bash U.S. law targeting offshore tax dodgers" and "Policing Tax Evasion Could Save Billions, But Republicans Won't Fund Enforcement." As Heather Lowe of Global Financial Integrity said, "It is mind-boggling that a major political party would even consider endorsing a resolution to facilitate tax evasion."

(In the photo above, WPA workers are on a road project in Baltimore, Maryland. In Los Angeles, "The average car owner here spends $832 a year for repairs related to the bad roads..." Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

During the 1930s and 40s, New Deal policymakers funded massive infrastructure improvements. For example, the CCC developed hundreds of state and national parks, the PWA funded the work of private contractors, and the WPA hired the unemployed to build or improve thousands of bridges, buildings, airports, and more. A researcher at the time noted, "So vast have the WPA's achievements been that attempts to present them in quantitative terms only stagger the imagination" (Donald Howard, The WPA and Federal Relief Policy, p. 126, New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1943).

Middle and low-income Americans, who have seen their household income drop as corporate profits have soared, desperately need a new and even stronger New Deal. Unfortunately, as our country descends further and further into plutocracy, all they're going to get are increased taxes, tolls, fees, and fines.

Welcome to the Reverse New Deal.