Sunday, November 30, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Reverse New Deal: Selling our public spaces, repressing our creativity, and transforming ourselves into low-paid corporate automatons for the 0.1%

(A beautiful, WPA-built school in Circleville, West Virginia. Photo by Brent McKee.)

(A new school in Keyser, West Virginia. The school is almost completely devoid of architectural creativity, and resembles a correctional facility. Photo by Brent McKee.)

Columnist Renee Loth had a great op-ed in the Boston Globe yesterday, observing the cultural degeneration that has occurred in America since the New Deal, with respect to our public spaces. She writes: "Sturdily made, architecturally significant, the New Deal’s public buildings project a sense of authority and even grandeur...They are artifacts of a time when government institutions — schools, courthouses, even waterworks — commanded a certain respect, and the quality of design and craftsmanship reflected that...We have traveled a long way from a time when public buildings were revered precisely because they belonged to everyone. Now public facilities from schools to swimming pools are being privatized. Corporations 'adopt' highways that the taxpayers won’t pay to maintain."

In my travels I have noticed that much of our newer public architecture is as bland as bland can be. Often, new public buildings are little more than brick cubes. I have also seen older, elaborately designed bridges replaced with bridges that look like normal roadway. It seems that trusses, columns, domes, cupolas, ornaments, arches, and anything else that displays human creativity has been banned from public architecture. Today, apparently, the cheapest and most uninspired design always wins the contract.

Meanwhile, as we're playing it cheap with our public architecture, and selling our history to private individuals who live in compounds and gated communities, the "job creators" reward our submission with mundane, low-paying, stingy-benefit, no-future jobs (or, perhaps no jobs at all). See, for example, "Wages and Salaries Still Lag as Corporate Profits Surge," and "Faces of part-time workers: food stamps and multiple low-paid jobs," and "The labor force participation rate is at a low point.")

Welcome to the Reverse New Deal: Selling our public spaces, repressing our creativity, and transforming ourselves into low-paid corporate automatons for the 0.1%.

Only when we return to New Deal policies and principles will this cultural (and labor market) degeneration stop.

Friday, November 28, 2014

700 water main breaks every year in Indianapolis. Instead of water rate increases, how about a New Deal?

(WPA workers building a water reservoir in Loudonville, New York, circa 1935-43. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)
A few days ago, a 66-year-old pipe broke in Broad Ripple, a district within Indianapolis, Indiana. A utility company worker said, "The age of the main and the pressure on the system is what caused the main to break. We have 700 water main breaks in Indianapolis every year."

Currently, there are about 22.5 million Americans who want a full-time job but can't find one, and the labor force participation rate is historically low. During the Great Depression, the New Deal hired millions of unemployed workers into the WPA, and these workers installed 16,000 miles of new water lines across the nation. Many of those water lines are still with us today, serving well beyond their life expectancy.

We could do the same today, were it not for (a) our lack of history awareness, (b) our never-ending & irrational fear of bogey-man "Socialism!," and (c) our perpetual worship of the holy "job creators" (as evidenced by our refusal to substantially increase their tax rates) even as the holy "job creators" have shown their incompetence (or indifference, take your pick) at creating good jobs.

(Another New Deal program--the Public Works Administration (PWA)--helped fund infrastructure work across the country. Above, we see workers--most likely private contractors--casting water pipes in San Francisco, circa 1934-38. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

So, if we're not going to create a new federally-funded WPA to modernize our infrastructure, what are we going to do? Well, one of two things. Some jurisdictions will do little or nothing, and continue to experience dozens, or even hundreds, of water main breaks every year. Other jurisdictions will raise taxes and/or rates on the middle-class & poor to pay for repairs and improvements. As the utility company worker in Indianapolis said, "...we’re talking about old infrastructure that needs to be either repaired or replaced and the only way that we can do that is if we ask for water rate increases." Yes, when we forget our nation's history, and when we tremble under our covers at night in fear of the bogeyman, the only way (the ONLY way) to modernize our infrastructure is by water rate increases that disproportionately burden the middle-class & poor. And so, the utility company did raise rates and more rate increases are likely.

We are living in amazing times. The super-wealthy keep getting wealthier, the political right tells us that we can't tax the super-wealthy because they're the holy "job creators," the holy "job creators" aren't creating good jobs, and the middle-class & poor--whose wages are stagnant--are being asked to shoulder a disproportionate (i.e, regressive) burden for our infrastructure repair & improvement. And, to pour salt into the wound, millions of Americans voted to put more Republicans into Congress, and these Republicans are already crafting plans to lower taxes on the super-wealthy and raise taxes on the middle-class & poor, just as they did in Kansas, wrecking that state's budget (but giving more after-tax income to its super-wealthy residents, thank you very much).

Weep for our infrastructure, weep for our wallets. Corporate America and the political right are having their way with us.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

WPA Farmers' Market

Above: The description for this 1938 photo reads, "A Farmer's Market built by the WPA. This market is used by farmers in the community to distribute their salable crops. The market is open for business as market-goers load up their truck." Photo taken in Valdosta, Georgia, and provided courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.
 Above: WPA workers on a Farm-to-Market road project in Prince George's County, Maryland, 1936. The WPA built many Farm-to-Market roads across the country, so farmers could get their goods to consumers, and so consumers could have access to more nutritious food. Photo provided courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.
Above: Be sure to include some fruit in your Thanksgiving eatings! WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

WPA Poster

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

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Reverse New Deal: A "Golden Era of White Collar Crime"

Above: William Douglas, left, was Chairman of the Securities & Exchange Commission from 1937-1939. Like other New Dealers, Douglas wasn't afraid of (or bought by) the Wall Street big wigs. He knew that the pervasive fraud on Wall Street had to be cleaned up. When a powerful Wall Street attorney realized that Douglas meant business, he said "When you take over the Exchange, I hope you'll remember we've been in business one hundred and fifty years. There may be some things you will like to ask us." Douglas responded: "There is one thing I'd like to ask...Where do you keep the paper and pencils." After his stint as SEC Chairman, Douglas went on to become the longest serving Supreme Court Justice in U.S. history. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Quote from "The New Deal: A Modern History," by Michael Hiltzik, New York: Free Press, 2011.

During the New Deal, policymakers took a dim view of white collar crime. They created, for example, the Securities & Exchange Commission to police fraud, and the Glass-Steagall Act to curb reckless financial gambling by the big banks. Heck, even the president of the New York Stock Exchange, Richard Whitney, ended up in Sing Sing Prison.

Today, the story is quite different. Both political parties take obscene amounts of money from corporations and the super-wealthy. Hence, they're not overly interested (or interested at all) in prosecuting the hand that feeds them. And this acceptance of white collar crime by our political "leaders" trickles downward and affects the entire criminal justice system. Today, many white collar criminals, especially those in big organizations, are immune from criminal prosecution. They simply pay fines--fines that are much less than the profits derived from the criminal activity--and then move on to the next fraud.

To make matters worse, a Federal Reserve official recently told U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, "We were not willing to find those firms guilty before, because we were worried that if we found them guilty, that could somehow potentially destabilize the financial system" ("The Fed Just Acknowledged Its Too Big To Jail Policy"). In other words, because they were members of large and powerful organizations, wealthy executives were not (and I would argue, are still not) answerable to the criminal justice system.

Above: In this June 22, 2012 Bill Moyers show, journalist and author Matt Taibbi describes, at 14:11, bid-rigging by American's big financial institutions: "...the story I just wrote about, which was about the systematic rigging of municipal bond auctions, which affected every community in every state in the country and all of the major banks were involved, including Chase. They were rigging the auctions...And this is not like something that the mafia does. This is what the mafia does. The mafia has historically, it's one of their staple businesses, bid rigging for construction or garbage or, you know, street cleaning services, whatever it is. They're doing exactly the same thing. The only thing that's different is there's no violence involved. But what their method of control is that they're ubiquitous. They have this incredible political power that the mafia never had."

Many Americans, duped by right-wing politicians, pundits, radio show hosts, and think-tank "researchers," blame public school teachers, unemployed workers, and unions for our nation's economic problems, instead of the white collar crooks running the frauds. This blame switcharoo is surely one of the most astounding developments of the 21st century. It seems that no amount of insider trading, money laundering, price fixing, interest rate rigging, mortgage & securities fraud, accounting fraud, illegal foreclosures on soldiers, bribery, pollution, tax evasion, and so on, will dissuade millions of people from blaming public school teachers and the homeless for our nation's economic woes, and also screaming at low-income Americans to "practice personal responsibility!"

Sam Antar, a man who ran a large financial fraud in the 1980s, recently said "We are in the golden era of white-collar crime. My biggest regret is I should've been a criminal today rather than 20 years ago" ("Crazy Eddie CFO: 'We are in the golden-era of white collar crime,'" CNN, November 17, 2014).

Mr. Antar is correct. This is arguably the best time in American history to be a white collar criminal.


1. Too Big To Jail: In addition to the Federal Reserve official's observation of "too-big-to-jail," that I noted above, Eric Holder, head of the Department of Justice, also implied that big financial institutions are immune from criminal prosecution because such prosecution could have a negative effect on the economy ("Eric Holder Admits Some Banks Are Just Too Big To Prosecute," Huffington Post, March 6, 2013).

2. A Scared SEC: When a prominent and well-respected attorney at the Securities & Exchange Commission recently retired, he asserted that "his bosses were too 'tentative and fearful' to bring many Wall Street leaders to heel after the 2008 credit crisis..." ("SEC Goldman Lawyer Says Agency Too Timid on Wall Street Misdeeds," Bloomberg, April 8, 2014).  William Douglas's they are not. 

3. Hush Money: Author and journalist Matt Taibbi, who has followed corporate crime like a hawk for many years now, recently wrote, "Holder's Justice Department struck a series of historic settlement deals with Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America. The root bargain in these deals was cash for secrecy. The banks paid big fines, without trials or even judges – only secret negotiations that typically ended with the public shown nothing but vague, quasi-official papers called 'statements of facts,' which were conveniently devoid of anything like actual facts. And now, with Holder about to leave office and his Justice Department reportedly wrapping up its final settlements, the state is effectively putting the finishing touches on what will amount to a sweeping, industrywide effort to bury the facts of a whole generation of Wall Street corruption" ("The $9 Billion Witness: Meet JP Morgan Chase's Worst Nightmare," Rolling Stone, November 6, 2014). 

Above: U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren--the woman who should be the next Democratic nominee for president (instead of Hillary Clinton)--asks various government officials if any big bank executives have been referred to the Justice Department for prosecution. At 4:12, Warren says, "Without criminal prosecution, the message to every Wall Street banker is loud and clear. If you break the law, you are not going to jail, but you might end up with a much bigger paycheck." Near the end of the clip, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, says that people should not be able to buy their way out of the criminal justice system and that he agrees with Senator Warren. A rare display of bipartisanship in our Congress.
4. A Devil-May-Care Attitude: In November of 2013, William Dudley, head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said that the big financial institutions in America had an "apparent lack of respect for law, regulation and the public trust" ("New York Fed Chief Levels Explosive Charge Against Big Banks," Huffington Post, November 7, 2013). 

5. Illicit Cash Becomes Campaign Cash: In discussing a PBS Frontline report, on the Obama Administration's failure to prosecute financial crimes, journalist David Sirota writes, "(The report) documents the rampant and calculated mortgage securities fraud perpetrated by the major Wall Street banks, who, not coincidentally, were using some of the profits they made to become among President Obama’s biggest campaign donors" ("Are banks too big to jail? PBS Frontline's stunning report shows how the Obama administration undermined the rule of law," Salon, January 23, 2013). 

6. Wall Street's Embrace of Crime: A 2012 survey indicated that "A quarter of Wall Street executives see wrongdoing as a key to success" ("Many Wall Street executives says wrongdoing is necessary: survey," Reuters, July 10, 2012). 

7. A Congress That Encourages Crime: When Republican politicians recently fought to protect wealthy tax evaders, Heather Lowe, of the organization Global Financial Integrity, said "It is mind-boggling that a major political party would even consider endorsing a resolution to facilitate tax evasion" ("Republicans bash U.S. law targeting offshore tax dodgers," Reuters, January 24, 2014).

Above: In this fascinating July 18, 2012, NPR segment of "On Point with Tom Ashbrook," the host asks, at 15:54, "When you look at this, is it a fair question now to ask, somehow, this sounds absurd, but has somehow the banking system become practically a criminal cartel?" One of his guests, Pulitzer-Prizing-winning reporter Jesse Eisinger, responds, "...I think it's beyond a doubt the banking system is completely out of control, that there's an ethical crisis."

Unfortunately, until more Americans become informed, and stop blaming the less fortunate for America's economic ills, the Golden Era of White Collar Crime will likely continue--and perhaps become even worse. Certainly, there is little sign of abatement (see, e.g., "Wall Street Banks Manipulated Commodity Prices At Consumers' Expense, Senate Report Finds," Associated Press, November 19, 2014).

Where's a William Douglas when you need one? Where's a New Deal when you need one?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

San Francisco "Power"

Above: A scene from the WPA's theatre production of "Power," in San Francisco, August 19, 1937. "Power" was a play that explored the issue of public vs. private control of energy. Photo provided courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: A poster advertising the performance of "Power," at the Alcazar Theatre in San Francisco, beginning August 12, 1937. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

***For more information and photos about the San Francisco production of "Power," see***

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

FDR, Harry Hopkins, and the Golden Age of Comics

Above: Even the most veteran FDR scholar may not be aware that President Roosevelt created the Justice Society of America (JSA). In the scene above, the Flash shares this historical tidbit with the Huntress.

Above: Harry Hopkins was probably one of the few government officials privy to FDR's interactions with the JSA, as this scene indicates.

Above: This comic book cover shows that FDR created the JSA to fight "For America and Democracy." Considering the sorry state of American democracy today (corporate cash, voter suppression laws, voter apathy, voting districts that have been racially gerrymandered, etc.), perhaps we need a new JSA.

During the 1930s and early 40s, a great number of comic book characters were created that are still popular today: Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Captain America, and many more. Even some of the lesser known comic book heroes of that era are experiencing something of a renaissance today. For example, the Spectre--a character created in 1940 and an original member of the JSA--will be a recurring character in NBC's new television series "Constantine."

According to Erin Clancy, a curator at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, "In the 1930s, the American Dream had become a nightmare, and I think comic books and superheroes in particular provided an escapist form of entertainment that allowed the American public to go into a fantasy world where all the ills of the world were righted by these larger-than-life heroes" ("Superheroes rise in tough times," CNN, March 20, 2009).

The American Dream turned into a nightmare? Escapism? Ills of the world righted? Hmmm, well, considering that we just learned that the number of homeless children in America has reached an all-time high--at the exact same time that the Forbes 400 has added $270 billion to their already-bloated wealth--I think I need to crack open a comic book.

In any event, add the JSA to the alphabet soup of programs & agencies created under FDR and his New Deal colleagues! 

(All images are from DC Comics, scanned from a personal collection, and provided for educational and non-commercial purposes.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Geography of the WPA in the Nation's Capital

Click on image to enlarge
(You can also right click on the image, save to your computer, and open an even larger version)
(Image from "Work: A Journal of Progress," by the District of Columbia Works Progress Administration, October 1936 edition.)

The image above details some of the work performed by WPA laborers in our nation's capital during the Great Depression. These projects included work at (or work on)...

...installing drains, Walter Reed Hospital beautification, building roads, repairing & grading highways, Takoma Recreation Center, Rock Creek Park Improvements, beautification of the U.S. Soldiers' Home, Banneker Recreation Center, D.C. Repair Shop, zoo improvements, sewers, school improvements, school lunch programs, parking lot construction, building a road for the National Training School for Girls, repairing buildings, park improvements, vocational training, music projects, public library projects, nursery schools, flood control, waterfront beautification, airport construction, mosquito control, Navy Yard improvements, sewing room projects, National Museum exhibits, filing records, building fences, hospital improvements, public pools, and more.

Some Republican and Tea Party politicians in our nation's capital would have us believe that the New Deal was a failure, a mistake. Further, they no doubt believe that WPA workers were probably lazy good-for-nothings, akin to the folks they call "takers" and "parasites" today.

Do you believe them? 

Or, do you believe Ronald Reagan (their icon) when he wrote 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."

(Today, Ronald Reagan's statue stands at National Airport in Washington, D.C. The airport is a large New Deal project and received plenty of WPA labor. Photo by Brent McKee.)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

20 years to fix a pothole in Macedonia, Ohio? A new WPA could do it right now.

(A WPA road improvement project in Kent County, Maryland, 1936. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

When a man in Macedonia, Ohio, showed pictures of a crumbling road to his city council recently, the response he received didn't exactly inspire him. He heard about a road maintenance schedule and said, "I know about this so-called road schedule. Does that mean that we're never going to fix potholes on Ledge Road until 20 years from now when Ledge Road comes up...You've got to do preventative maintenance."
The road problems in Macedonia, Ohio, are not unique to that area. For example, in 2013 the America Society of Civil Engineers reported that "32% of America’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, costing U.S. motorists who are traveling on deficient pavement $67 billion a year, or $324 per motorist, in additional repairs and operating costs...The ultimate cost of poor road conditions is significantly more over time than the cost to maintain those same roads in good condition. For example, after 25 years the cost per lane mile for reconstruction can be more than three times the cost of preservation treatments over the same time period, which can lead to a longer overall life span for the infrastructure."
During the 1930s and early 1940s, New Deal policymakers made monumental investments in our nation's arteries. The WPA, for example, created or improved 650,000 miles of roads, streets, and highways--enough roadwork to go around the planet 26 times. And these roads served as a foundation for our post-World War II economic expansion.

We could do the same today if we weren't locking our doors and hiding under our beds at night, in fear of the socialism bogeyman--and also if we weren't afraid of raising taxes on the "job creators" who, by the way, are doing a crappy job of creating good middle-class jobs (see, e.g., "Wages and Salaries Still Lag as Corporate Profits Surge," "Corporations Pay Historically Low Tax Rates While Lobbying To Make Them Even Lower," and "Banks Make a Billion Dollars A Year Helping Rich Shareholders Avoid Taxes").

Our roads, and our vehicles, need a new WPA.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The WPA and the Brooklyn Children's Museum

Above: Two visitors enjoying an exhibit at the Brooklyn Children's Museum in New York, circa 1935-39. The museum's website explains that the WPA brought "more than 200 docents, artists, carpenters, printers, and clerks to work at the Museum during the Depression." Across the nation, a significant amount of WPA projects were designed for children (nursery schools, recreation programs, art classes, and more). Photo courtesy of FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the New Deal Network.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

WPA Science Fiction

(A scene from the WPA opera "The Romance of Robot," New York City. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

(WPA poster promoting the operas "The Romance of Robot" and "La Serva Padrona." Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

In his book, All of this Music Belongs to the Nation, Dr. Kenneth Bindas of Kent State University explains that the opera The Romance of Robot "satirized a society where the modernist efficiency of logical decision making and organization replaced individual initiative and humanity...The story concerned a scientist/dictator of a future world where machines rule and humans serve their every need. The scientist, in an effort to detail the superiority of machines and, by extension, the superiority of his own mind, creates a perfect man in the Robot; yet, in doing so, he also sows the seeds for his society's destruction" (University of Tennessee Press, 1996, p. 50).

According to Bindas, production problems and an unusual music score caused The Romance of Robot to be less-than-successful. Also, the creativity & complexity of the story may have made it vulnerable to the type of scrutiny that so often came from the pseudo-patriotic blowhards of the day, i.e., that it was "un-American." Many conservative politicians of the 1930s (Republicans and Democrats) sought to achieve nationalistic machismo (and thus, votes) by bullying playwrights, actors, and other artists. Of course, we see the same type of foolishness today, where anything that doesn't line the pockets of the already-wealthy must be "evil socialism!"

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans Day and the choices we make

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)
According to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, about 250,000 unemployed veterans who were hit hard by the Great Depression were given job opportunities in the Civilian Conservation Corps. These men helped plant three billion trees and they also helped to create or improve hundreds of state parks (parks that we still enjoy today).

In 2012, Senate Republicans blocked legislation that would have created a CCC-type jobs program for unemployed veterans who were hit hard by the recession. Then, in 2014, "Senate Republicans derailed efforts to move forward with a $21 billion bill to enhance health care, education and job benefits for veterans."
Unemployment is a contributor to suicide. About "22 veterans kill themselves every day, according to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs" ("Suicide rate among veterans is 22 a day; Crisis hotline can provide support"). 
According to researchers from Oxford and Stanford universities, New Deal policies were "associated with reduced suicide rates" (David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills, p. 17, New York: Basic Books, 2013). 
We have choices to make in our politics and our policies. And those choices have consequences.

Monday, November 10, 2014

What would happen if we created a federal theatre program today?

(Children learning theatre in a WPA project in New York City, 1935. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the New Deal Network.)

Many conservative politicians of the 1930s--both Republicans and Democrats--weren't too happy about the existence of the WPA's theatre program. They thought it was a foolish waste of money and, very likely, a communist plot to destroy the nation.  Also, many didn't care for the racial mixing that occurred in some of the theatre productions and classes (see photo above). Senator Robert Reynolds of North Carolina said: "Through such material the cardinal keystone of communism--free love and racial equality--is being spread at the expense of the god-fearing, home-loving American taxpayer" (from the book Furious Improvisation, by Susan Quinn). Eventually, conservative politicians were successful in getting rid of the program, thereby saving millions of American children from the incalculable evils of theatre.

It's interesting to contemplate what would happen if we created a federal theatre program today, three-quarters of a century later. Certainly, most conservative politicians would scold it as a waste of money, just like before. More radical conservatives--like Ted Cruz and Joni Ernst--would declare the program to be socialist plot to undermine "wholesome family values"; again, just like before ( and the Koch brothers would probably pour millions of dollars into such messaging). With respect to racism, it would probably be more subtle. Perhaps a John Boehner or Paul Ryan-type figure would say something to the effect of, "There's an inner-city culture that maybe doesn't want to work, but maybe wants to be in a play instead." (See, e.g., "Code words for race: What’s really behind GOP’s poverty and welfare obsession," Salon, March 17, 2014). 

In some ways, it seems, our country hasn't changed very much.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

New Deal Film: The National Youth Administration and Aviation

Above: This 9-minute silent film was produced by the National Youth Administration, circa 1937, and is described by the National Archives in the following way: "Shows opportunities in aviation offered by the NYA. Boys at Camp DeSoto, Tampa, Fla., work on motors and in wood and metal shops and classrooms. College students study aeronautics and meteorology. A seaplane lands and takes off at Glen Cove, Long Island. NYA administrator A. W. Williams and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt witness the installation of a seaplane base at Poughkeepsie, N.Y."

According to the most recent jobs report, youth unemployment is still in the double-digits, where it's been for many years now.

In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America's aviation infrastructure a "D" letter grade, noting "an aviation system that was once the envy of the world is beginning to be overtaken by countries with ambitious investment programs for development of dozens of airports, and U.S. airports are no longer ranked among the world’s best by air travelers."

Earlier this year, Kevin M. Burke, president and CEO of Airports Council International North America, said "There's no question that U.S. airports suffer from an image problem globally, and the main culprit is our nation's lack of dedicated infrastructure investment, particularly in its aviation infrastructure. Many of our airports are operating well beyond the capacity for which they were originally intended several decades ago, and this is the reason why air travelers -- international and domestic -- experience crowded terminals and outdated facilities" ("U.S. airports are 'awful.' Here's the problem," CNN, April 3, 2014).

Here's an idea! Perhaps we can connect the dots--as we did during the New Deal (with, for example, the NYA & WPA)--and offer job opportunities to unemployed Americans to help create world-leading airports again! Yay!

Oh, wait.....that might threaten the tax evasion, the tax avoidance, the tax loopholes, the tax shelters, and the historically low tax rates that super-wealthy Americans are currently enjoying. Never mind. Sorry I brought it up. Let's just stick with crowded terminals, flight delays, air traffic congestion, and high youth unemployment.

Friday, November 7, 2014

WPA Adobe Bricks

Above: The description for this photo reads: "WPA workers make adobe bricks which are used in the construction of practically all residential and public buildings in New Mexico. The Native adobe earth is mixed with water and straw and after being pressed into shape by hand are sun dried for 24 to 30 days. Photo shows the WPA workers pressing the adobe bricks into shape and placing them in rows to be sun dried." Photo taken in Santa Fe, New Mexico, June 1940, and provided courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Reverse New Deal: More trickle-down economics

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

According to recent research by UNICEF, "In the United States, child poverty is 32 per cent." Yes, an astounding one third of American children live in poverty at the same time that the Forbes 400 has added $270 billion to their wealth.

Yesterday, either by voting for Republicans, or by not voting at all, citizens across the nation have facilitated more Republican "leadership," even though Republican "leadership" means more tax cuts for the super-wealthy (the "job creators") and more budget cuts for those one-third of American children living in poverty. It wouldn't be so bad if the "job creators" were actually creating lots of good middle-class jobs, but it's quite obvious that they haven't and, further, that they have no intention of ever doing so (see, e.g., "Wages and Salaries Still Lag as Corporate Profits Surge"). Indeed, the whole purpose of the corporate-fueled union-bashing of the last few decades was (and is) to keep wages low and to make executives & investors wealthier and wealthier and wealthier.

We also know what Republican "leadership" means with respect to revenue: The burden of revenue will continue to shift from those who can afford it the most (for example, those Forbes 400 folks) to those who can afford it the least. Taxes will be cut for the wealthy (see, e.g., "Kansas Governor Wants To Double Down On Massive Tax Cut That Tanked State Finances") while, at the same time, taxes that disproportionately burden the middle-class and poor, e.g., sales tax, fuel tax, and property tax, will be raised (not to mention continued increases in various regressive fees, fines, and tolls). As just one example, see "Infrastructure Cracks as Los Angeles Defers Repairs," where it is pointed out that federal aid has dropped for infrastructure improvements, while an increase in sales tax has been proposed by a conservative radio show host & public official to make up for it. This is the type of revenue burden shift that is occurring all across the country--pummeling those who have already been pummeled.

Of course, the Democrats didn't do themselves any favors with their never-ending weakness on so many issues. Today's Democratic Party has close-to-zero New Deal courage & strength, and so it's hard for an electorate to get fired up by candidates who are constantly watering down their words & agenda, out of fear for what Corporate America or right-wing extremists might think.

In any event, welcome to the Reverse New Deal. More trickle-down economics.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

WPA Poster: Ephrata Cloister

(WPA poster, by artist Katherine Milhous, created in Pennsylvania, between 1936 and 1941. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Monopolies on the one hand, and the Socialism Bogeyman on the other: Our Internet needs a New Deal

("Here Comes the Bogeyman," by Spanish painter Francisco Goya. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Recent research has found what we all could have guessed: Compared to other nations, Americans are paying more for their Internet service, and getting less value. This is what happens, of course, when a nation buys into all the anti-government rhetoric of right-wing politicians, pundits, and talk show hosts--Corporate America rolls in and extracts the most money it can for the least amount of service.

The problem here is two-pronged: First, Internet providers have monopolies in their respective business areas. Second, we're so afraid of government intervention--the "Socialism" Bogeyman--that we'd rather let corporations empty our wallets for sub-par service than fix the problem with a little We the People action.

(In the video above, listen to President Franklin Roosevelt state, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself--nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." Unfortunately, too many Americans today--of all political persuasions--have given into fear: Afraid to raise taxes on the super-wealthy, afraid to hold white collar criminals accountable for their frauds, afraid to create a new public works program for the jobless, afraid to invest in our infrastructure, and so on. Original YouTube link here.) 

Some local governments are taking matters into their own hands, creating their own Internet services, and facilitating lower prices (see "America Pays More For Internet, Gets Slower Speeds, Than Other Countries"). Other local governments can't, because their state lawmakers have been given cash by the Internet industry to prevent them from doing so (see "South Carolina Latest State To Restrict Rural Internet Projects"). So, I guess you could say that government is indeed the problem and not the solution--when it's taking bribes cash from Corporate America.

The issue with today's Internet is very similar to the issue of electricity in rural areas during the 1930s. Corporate America didn't want to provide too much service to rural areas, but neither did they want the government to do so. Fortunately for our country, New Deal policymakers had the courage to muscle through the corporate opposition to create, for example, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). And how is the TVA doing today? Well, it's doing very well; so good, in fact, that even conservatives are protective of it.

 (The WPA Theatre production of "Power" addressed the issue of public vs. private control of energy. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

America can learn lessons from FDR's "Fear Itself" speech & the success of the TVA, and give our Internet a New Deal boost. In other words, we could start paying less for more if we stopped trembling under our beds in fear of the Socialism Bogeyman.This doesn't mean that the private sector has no role to play, but it does mean that We the People should be more proactive when confronted with pathetic service or uncompetitive pricing.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

WPA Poster: Keep Your Fire Escapes Clear

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