Friday, September 29, 2017

Don't scapegoat Trump entirely. Our collective betrayal of the New Deal, and our collective apathy, are much more to blame for the crisis in Puerto Rico.

"... your problems here on the island are very much the same kind of problems that we have in many other parts of the United States... With the help of our Government in Washington and with the splendid help of the Island Government and of the Governor, I am looking forward to the solving of these problems here in the island just as quickly as we shall solve them in the continental part of the United States."

--President Franklin Roosevelt, July 7, 1934, "Remarks in San Juan, Puerto Rico." Less than a year later, Roosevelt created the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration, which, along with the WPA, CCC, NYA, and other New Deal agencies, employed many thousands of Puerto Ricans and modernized the island's infrastructure.

Above: "Unemployed Worker," an etching on paper by Kalman Matyas Bela Kubinyi (1906-1974), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Puerto Rico has been plagued with high unemployment for many years. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Gibbes Museum of Art.

Scapegoating Trump for the Puerto Rico debacle vs. our collective and decades-long betrayal of the New Deal

President Trump and his administration have been taking a lot of flak for their response to the disaster in Puerto Rico (see, e.g., "Puerto Ricans Say the Trump Administration's Relief Efforts Are Failing Them," TIME, September 28, 2017). Some of the criticism is deserved, some of it is not. But whatever the level of blame that is justified, there is actually a much larger problem here: Our collective betrayal of the New Deal, and our collective apathy.

For many decades now, we have, through our actions, voting behavior, and indifference, said: "Forget about the New Deal, let's just rely on the holy free market and the magical investments of millionaires & billionaires."

For example, we've decided, very naively, that we don't need the unions the New Deal protected because owners, managers, and CEO's will look after us, out of the kindness of their hearts. The results of that decision? Stagnant wages, reduced benefits, and more precarious retirements. We've also decided, very stupidly, that we don't need to pay much attention to our infrastructure. The results of that decision? Millions of children drinking lead-contaminated water out of crumbling water mains, connection lines, and plumbing, and a quarter of a million water main breaks every year. We've also decided, very myopically, that a new and permanent WPA, CCC, and NYA are not necessary. Instead, tens of millions of us believe that private sector "entrepreneurs," "innovators," and "job creators" will employ everyone who wants a job; that there is no such thing as market failure, and that anyone who doesn't have a job must be a lazy S.O.B. The results of that decision and belief? Shattered finances, broken families, mass incarceration, and rising rates of suicide.

The betrayal of the New Deal is most clearly seen in our constant placement of Republicans, neoliberal Democrats, and other servants of plutocrats into high political office. And when, once in a while, a Bernie Sanders-type character comes along, with New Deal-style policy proposals, we say, "thanks, but no thanks. We want a Wall Street player, like Trump, or a Wall Street-funded player, like Clinton." And so today we have the very antithesis of the New Deal: A right-wing executive branch, managed by Goldman Sachs alumni; a right-wing Congress, managed by sociopathic billionaire donors; and a corporate ruling class, out to make both dynastic wealth and consumer debt permanent and ruthless.

Above: These young men are enrolled in the National Youth Administration (NYA), improving public schools in the area of Ponce, Puerto Rico, ca. 1935-1943. The NYA began as a WPA program, and employed millions of young jobless men and women across the United States and its territories. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Puerto Rico would have benefited from New Deal-style work programs

Puerto Rico has had unemployment problems for a very long time. For example, the island's youth unemployment rate ("ages 15-24 without work but available for and seeking employment") has varied between 20% and 34% for the last quarter-century, at least (see chart, "Youth Unemployment Rate for Puerto Rico," Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis). Puerto Rico's overall unemployment rate was 10.1% this past August. Official information on Puerto Rico's labor participation rate is a little difficult to obtain, but according to the website Trading Economics, it was 39.7% in July of this year. That sounds about right. 

If a new WPA, CCC, and NYA had been created for Puerto Rico, many of the unemployed could have obtained jobs repairing and modernizing the island's infrastructure - years and years before Hurricane Maria hit. And, just like the WPA, CCC, and NYA during the New Deal, they could have promptly responded to the storm's devastation (the WPA, particularly, had a well-managed and organized disaster response program, see here). And these programs would have responded much more effectively than the arriving soldiers, federal workers, and celebrity donations (although that type of help has a role to play too), because locals always know their homeland better than outsiders. For example, a WPA, CCC, and NYA "army" of Puerto Rican workers could have been sent out with chainsaws and/or handsaws to clear the island's roads of fallen trees, so that supplies could be moved quicker. They could have been sent out with walkie talkies and flares to let federal responders know where helicopters and supplies were needed the most (many Puerto Ricans in rural areas have said they haven't seen any federal assistance whatsoever - see the linked TIME article above).

Above: Puerto Rican youth in the New Deal's NYA received training, a modest paycheck, and helped improve the common good. These young Puerto Ricans are doing routine maintenance on a police motorcycle. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

NYA disaster response highlights what's possible when we clear our minds of free market radicalism

The following is from the Final Report of the National Youth Administration, 1936-1943, p. 142. Compare it to the needs and problems of post-storm Puerto Rico, for example, washed out bridges, no drinking water, lack of fuel, communication problems, etc.:

"Types of work done by NYA youth during such flood emergencies as the Ohio River flood in 1937 included rescue of families and stock from flood waters; evacuation of families from endangered areas; making and distributing clothing, hospital garments, and bedding for flood refugees; cooking, preparing, serving, and distributing food to refugees in emergency flood stations; assisting in emergency health stations, clinics and hospitals; assisting Red Cross, county and city health and welfare departments, and other agencies in clerical work; providing messenger service to community agencies engaged in relief work; recreational work in refugee centers [especially valuable for young, traumatized children]; repairing cars and boats used in flood relief; taking charge of registration in health clinics and commissaries; making boats; cleaning city streets and public buildings; repairing public records and public library books damaged by floods; transporting food, fuel, and clothing for refugees; cleaning and sterilizing quarters used by Red Cross and the refugees; constructing temporary offices, walks, roads, bridges; constructing and equipping refugee centers; assisting in cleaning and repairing water mains and emergency telephone lines."

Will we learn?

The situation in Puerto Rico, along with some of the recovery problems related to Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, are the canaries in the coal mine. As the oceans continue to warm, we can expect more and more damaging rain events. So, will we learn from all this? Will we shake off our apathy, turn off Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and pay closer attention to current events? Will we educate ourselves about public policy problems, and stop letting Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and the corporate media create our opinions for us? Will we learn that we can't keep pumping crap into the atmosphere? Will we re-learn the lessons of the New Deal, for example, the tremendous value of the WPA, CCC, and NYA?

Of course not. We'll just blame Trump. That doesn't require as much mental energy as learning about our history and public policy, and it also let's us get back to more pressing matters, like Kylie Jenner, Facebook, and the Rich Kids of Instagram.

Above: These young women in Puerto Rico are employed in the NYA and are copying old, crumbling municipal records, ca. 1935-1943. New Deal policymakers understood the concept of market failure, and understood that sometimes the government must intervene when such failures happen and provide jobs, regulation, debt relief, etc. Today, unfortunately, much of the citizenry has devolved, and no longer believes that the market can fail. Instead, they've bought into the idea of a magical and wondrous free market, flawless and perhaps even supervised & managed by God. The results of this free market fanaticism have been disastrous for millions of struggling Americans, like the people of Puerto Rico. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A Columbia University professor calls for a New Deal for Puerto Rico... but is anybody listening?

Above: A Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration work site, ca. 1937. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Yesterday, Ed Morales, an adjunct professor at Columbia University (also a journalist, author, and sometimes filmmaker and radio host) proposed what is, essentially, another New Deal for Puerto Rico:

"What Puerto Rico needs is the kind of massive public investment that Washington provided in the days of Franklin Roosevelt. Reacting to the deadly hurricanes that struck the island in 1928 and 1932, Roosevelt established the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration, which created jobs, built schools and medical facilities, expanded the university, and enhanced the electrical infrastructure" ("Puerto Rico Needs Massive Emergency Aid Now—and an End to Austerity," The Nation, September 27, 2017).

Morales also promoted debt relief for Puerto Rico, Bernie Sanders-style.

Morales is right in his analysis. Puerto Rico needs the same type of help it received during the New Deal - not just from the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration (PRRA), but also from the WPA, the CCC, etc. 

But is anybody listening? 

Of course not. Trump and his fellow Republican fools in the federal government aren't about to provide Puerto Rico with any significant debt relief or New Deal-type assistance, despite the fact that Trump has praised New Deal infrastructure work and has benefited from debt-relief numerous times himself. Instead Trump and the Republicans are laser-focused on tax cuts for the rich (disguised, of course, as tax cuts for hard-workin', God-fearin', middle-class folk!). 

The Democratic Establishment isn't listening either. They're much too busy chasing corporate dollars to be bothered with the notion of another New Deal. What about celebrities? Well, several have pledged financial assistance (which, unfortunately, only amounts to a few drops in the bucket of what Puerto Rico actually needs), but I haven't heard any celebrities talk about another New Deal. What about the general public? Nope, not them either. Too many Americans have been brainwashed into thinking that "government is the problem, not the solution." Or, in just as many cases, they simply don't care one way or the other. If Puerto Rico recovers, fine. If they don't, fine. "Where is Puerto Rico anyway? Somewhere in the South Pacific? Is it part of Australia??"

I haven't heard Puerto Rican officials call for another New Deal either. Have they heard of the New Deal? Are they aware of how it modernized and fundamentally transformed Puerto Rico? 

As a nation, we've mocked the very concept of government, preferring instead to kneel down and whimper before the millionaires & billionaires. And we've forgotten the accomplishments of the New Deal altogether. Unfortunately, there are heavy prices to be paid for all that ignorance, for example, children drinking lead, $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, record-breaking wildfires, stagnant wages, reduced job benefits, rising rates of suicide, inadequate disaster preparation & response, and an array of regressive taxes, tolls, fees, fines, and utility rates at the state & local level - to protect the rich at the federal level.

Call me silly, but I think those prices are way too steep.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

WPA disaster relief brought smiles to the distressed

Above: The description for this 1936 photograph reads: "Sharpsburg, Pa. - flood relief station. Refugees receive food and clothing - 6,000 people out of 8,270 population were supplied at the WPA station, set up in YMCA bldg." Disastrous floods hit Pittsburgh and surrounding areas in March 1936. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A closer look at the center of the photograph shows how grateful these flood survivors are for WPA assistance. It's not often that people smile so vibrantly after a disaster; but when the government is truly on your side, and not in Wall Street's back pocket, it must bring a great sense of relief. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

For a variety of reasons, the U.S. government's response to the disaster in Puerto Rico has been subpar. Days and days after Hurricane Maria left the island, drinking water is still in short supply, hospitals are overwhelmed, power is out over most of the territory, most cell towers are toppled over, other vital infrastructure has been destroyed, and people are even trying to use the San Juan Airport as a shelter from the surrounding chaos.

During the New Deal, the WPA had a thorough and well-managed disaster response program. The WPA used formerly-unemployed men & women to bring food, supplies, and manpower to people in distress. Today, we've been fed too many lies about the unemployed being useless, and told too many fairy tales about the magical power of the free market, to even begin to imagine what a full and fast government response could look like.

And so now, Puerto Rico is experiencing the worst of both worlds - an underfunded, unimaginative government, and a callous and often-times incompetent private sector.

There are many good people trying to help Puerto Rico, and there will be inspirational stories during the recovery, but the response is far short of what a WPA-type program could do.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

New Deal Art: "Flood Control"

Above: "Flood Control," a sculpture by Karl Lang (1897-1952), created while he was in the New Deal's Section of Fine Arts, 1942. This sculpture is at the F. Edward Hebert Federal Building in New Orleans. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and Carol M. Highsmith.

In the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card by the American Society of Civil Engineers, dams and related flood control systems received a "D". 

During the New Deal era, massive investments were put into dams, levees, flood walls, etc. We could do the same thing today, if we stopped cowering before the rich, like frightened mice, and taxed them more.

The super-wealthy have gobbled up more and more resources over the past few decades (thanks, in large part, to the the massive tax cuts we foolishly handed them) but they've done little-to-nothing to improve the nation - unless you think crumbling infrastructure, as well as boring jobs, stagnant wages, reduced benefits, and underfunded retirements are wonderful things.

It's well past time that we tax the hell out of the rich and fortify America's infrastructure.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Will America's financial vultures allow Puerto Rico to recover from Hurricane Maria? Will the big media outlets push aside their Trump & Kardashian addictions long enough to care?

Above: A lithograph of vultures perched in a tree, and flying over devastated land, by Dorothy Jenkins (1914-1995), created while she was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1936. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the University of Iowa Museum of Art.

America's financial attack on Puerto Rico, and the deadly results

America's financial vultures have been preying on Puerto Rico for many years now. And this year, the economically crippled island territory has filed for bankruptcy-type relief. But the financial vultures don't like that idea, so they're working hard to make sure that Puerto Ricans never escape debt, thereby creating another group of debt slaves that they can attach themselves to like leeches. Yes, they're trying to prevent Puerto Rico from getting bankruptcy relief, just like they've prevented financially-wrecked student loan debtors from getting bankruptcy relief on the mainland. 

Instead of debt relief or restructuring, the financial vultures want the Puerto Rican government to impose severe austerity on its citizens - which we know, in the modern world, means: Protections for the rich and regressive taxation and cuts in public services for everyone else. You see, America's financial elite can file for bankruptcy pretty much any time they want to (see, e.g., "Yep, Donald Trump's companies have declared bankruptcy...more than four times," PolitiFact, June 21, 2016) but they've worked very, very hard to limit bankruptcy protection for the middle-class and poor. And since the financial vultures control the federal government with their massive bribes campaign donations, they've been largely successful in instituting a two-tiered system of economic justice - just like they've instituted a two-tiered system of criminal justice (e.g., a bail system that favors the rich, a fine system that favors the rich, greater access to lawyers, and lesser or no punishment for financial crimes, even if such crimes destroy millions of lives).

The victimization of Puerto Ricans by America's financial vultures has had serious consequences. By putting them into a state of economic disability, in the hopes of squeezing out every last drop of profit, and also trying to force Puerto Rico to sell off its public goods to the financial vultures' private sector friends, the vultures have prevented Puerto Rico from properly repairing and upgrading its infrastructure. And so, the island's anemic infrastructure has just been battered by Hurricane Maria - knocking out power for perhaps months, hindering health care (e.g., the delivery of life-saving insulin to diabetic patients and the delivery of electricity to patients who need dialysis), and also flooding entire swaths of the island. The old Guajataca Dam, for example, has failed, sending huge amounts of water downstream, forcing the evacuation of 70,000 people, and it may collapse altogether. The dam was built around 1929.

The Associated Press reports that at least 7 Puerto Ricans have died from Hurricane Maria, "and the toll was likely to rise."

Above: A WPA poster, promoting travel to Puerto Rico. New Deal policymakers were very interested in building Puerto Rico up. Today's policymakers? Neh, not so much. For the most part, they're content to just sit back and let the financial vultures feast. And much of the American public is so distracted by celebrities and tech gadgetry, that they don't care much either. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Bernie Sanders and the FDR administration had much better ideas, and much greater empathy, than we do

A lot of the suffering and hardship in Puerto Rico is unnecessary, and made possible through a combination of New Deal amnesia, misplaced faith in the super-wealthy, and a cultural apathy so powerful it could swallow a black hole. We can do better. In June of last year, journalist Zach Carter of the Huffington Post reported the following about Bernie Sanders' plan to help Puerto Rico: "Sanders would cut vulture fund investors out of any benefits from a debt-reduction deal, while establishing a long-term infrastructure plan to fix the root problem of Puerto Rico's debt: a dysfunctional local economy."

To a lot of corporate Democrats and their supporters, this probably sounds like one of crazy ol' Bernie Sanders' pie-in-the-sky ideas. But, as Carter also reports (in the same article): "similarly ambitious initiatives have been successfully implemented in Puerto Rico. In the 1930s, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt supported an agency that pumped federal dollars into infrastructure investment in Puerto Rico, directed by local officials who understood the island's needs. Their plans helped eradicate malaria, tuberculosis and hookworm from the island, make electricity available to the island's interior and establish hurricane-proof construction using local manufacturing."

Carter is referring to the New Deal's Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration (PRRA). And Puerto Rico also received help from the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA), Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), Civil Works Administration (CWA), Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation (FSCC), Works Progress Administration (WPA), National Youth Administration (NYA), as well as other, older federal programs that were boosted by New Deal funding, like the Army Corps of Engineers. And, with the exception of the PRRA, these agencies were engaging in thousands upon thousands of public works projects across the rest of the country too.   

But, unfortunately, here is where the amnesia and apathy I mentioned earlier kicks in. Collectively speaking, we've forgotten about the accomplishments of the New Deal and, even worse, we have no interest in learning about it. There's just too many Kardashians to keep up with to be bothered with our nation's history (see, "How much U.S. history do Americans actually know? Less than you think," Smithsonian Magazine, May 28, 2015). So, over time, we've let our infrastructure and our critical thinking skills slowly crumble away, scratching our heads and wondering how those roads, bridges, and water mains even got there in the first place. "Gosh!! Do those water mains reproduce on their own?? I mean, like, are there male and female lines, and they roll in the hay once in awhile, and make little baby water mains?? Or do we actually have to replace them from time to time??" 

Because of the greed and sociopathy of America's financial vultures, and also because of societal amnesia, misplaced faith in the super-wealthy (i.e., trickle-down economics), and cultural apathy, I don't believe Puerto Rico will have a healthy recovery. There will be many inspiring stories, of course, especially in the beginning, but over time the troubles of Puerto Rico will be largely forgotten. Think about it: On the mainland, we've already prioritized tax cuts for the rich, and military adventures abroad, over infrastructure improvement - even as lead contaminated water systems poison millions of children and causes fetal death. Do you really think we're going to show any more concern for an island that we've willfully put out-of-sight, out-of-mind, for so long? Please.

Where's the media coverage of Puerto Rico?

Above: This is a screen grab of the homepage of, at about 3:07pm Eastern Time, on Saturday, September 23, 2017. You would think, with Puerto Rico's Guajataca Dam failing, 70,000 under evacuation, and the possibility of complete collapse and a large loss of life, that we'd get up-to-the-minute news, right at the top of the page. Nope... but we do get at least six stories about Trump. I've noticed that the mainstream media has (a) an addiction to Trump, and (b) a short attention span for Americans in need. Image used for educational and non-commercial purposes.

Above: Yay, Kylie's pregnant!!! Golly gee, I'm so happy now!!! This is a screen grab a little further down the homepage (same day and time as the previous screen grab). It appears that the goings-on of the Kardashian family is more newsworthy than the possible collapse of a dam that could cause a catastrophic loss of life in Puerto Rico. This is how the mainstream media fails us time and time again. You see, I want to know how my fellow American citizens in Puerto Rico are doing, not whether there's "A new Kardashian to keep up with" (to be fair, there was a story or two about Puerto Rico--but not the dam specifically--buried down near the bottom of the web page... I had to used my browser's "find "tool to locate them). Image used for educational and non-commercial purposes.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

WPA scrubbing

Above: "Woman Scrubbing," a painting by Elizabeth Terrell (1908-1993), created while she was in the WPA's art program, ca. 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Sheldon Museum of Art.

Above: "Scrub Woman," a ceramic sculpture by Gustave Hildebrand (1897-1950), created while he was in the WPA's art program, ca. 1935-1942. A description for this artwork states, "By recognizing and honoring her hard work, [Hildebrand] pays tribute to all working women. Hildebrand’s work coincides with President Franklin Roosevelt passing the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, a move that placed protective limits on hours and wages." Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and Carol M. Highsmith.

Above: Another piece titled "Scrub Woman," this one a lithograph by Isaac Soyer (1897-1981), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935. Do you ever wonder why housekeeping and domestic work pays so little? It's very hard work and it keeps us clean, which is important for disease prevention and good hygiene. Are these not valued things? It seems to me that these types of workers deserve very good wages and/or a much more generous earned income credit. Of course, the latter might require that super-wealthy Americans pay higher taxes, and many people (especially those on the political right) don't want the super-wealthy to pay higher taxes. They believe that it's better for the super-wealthy to have more money to throw on the Wall Street roulette wheel, wreck the economy, and send jobs overseas, and then pass along the ill-gotten profits to their lazy children in the form of dynastic wealth. Hmmm... call me old-fashioned, but scrubbing floors, keeping things clean, and hindering the spread of disease seems more valuable to society than that. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Sheldon Museum of Art.

Above: A woman scrubs the floor during a WPA housekeeping training program in Pittsburgh, 1936. Between 1935 and 1943, WPA housekeeping aides made 32 million visits to assist low-income Americans who were experiencing illness or emergency (Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1946, p. 69). Many housekeeping aides went on to secure private housekeeping employment after their time in the WPA. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Happy to graduate from a WPA housekeeping training course in Cleveland, Ohio, ca. 1935-1943. Many people claim, then and now, that the unemployed are lazy and don't want to work, or that so-called "low-skilled" workers don't deserve good pay and benefits. It's complete b.s. of course - just mean-spirited propaganda, used by the super-wealthy and their political, think tank, and talking head stooges to maintain America's vile caste system. Most people, like the formerly jobless Americans you see above, just want an opportunity to work and get fairly compensated for it. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

New Deal Art: "Big Dip"

Above: "Big Dip," a lithograph by Harold Faye (1910-1980), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1938. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

WPA Flowers

Above: The description for this photograph, ca. 1935-1943, reads, "A display of 300 exotic and rare Orchids for the public, in the Volunteer Park Conservatory at Seattle, was cultivated by ten needy [i.e., unemployed] women, like the worker in the photograph, on a project of the WPA." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: "Lincoln Park Conservatory," an oil painting by Reathel Keppen (1895-1945), created while she was in the WPA's art program, ca. 1935-1943. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: The description for this photograph reads, "For her training on a WPA project at the Public Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle, the worker in the picture [and] nine others will receive a certificate as a Gardener, with a specialty of Orchid culture. On this project, sponsored by the Parks Department, the women have raised 10,000 Orchids in addition to other rare plants." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: "Dahlias," an oil painting by Bumpei Usui (1898-1994), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1938. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: Two other WPA workers on the orchid and rare plant project at the Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle. The Volunteer Park Conservatory began in 1912 and still operates today. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: "Netherlands Still Life," an oil painting by Harold Bowler (1903-1965), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1939. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: The description for this 1939 photograph reads, "Wishing more than anything else to see an orchid, Mrs. Helen Stagier came from frozen Fairbanks, Alaska, to Seattle, last Christmas and got her wish. Washington State Administrator, Don G. Abel beside her in the photograph..." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A WPA poster promotes a flower show in Hinsdale, Illinois, ca. 1936-1939. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

New Deal Storm Art (5/5): Big Blow - A Drama of Hurricane Country by Theodore Pratt

Above: One of my favorite WPA posters, a promotion for the Federal Theatre Project's production of Big BlowImage courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Artist: The poster above was created by artist Richard Halls (1906-1976). According to the website Posters for the People, Halls' "early years were spent traveling through the U.S. and Europe with his father, a sculptor whose commissions included many public monuments... Halls joined the FAP from 1936 to 1939 where he created many posters for the Federal Theatre Project... Halls began to work as a freelance illustrator, but a part-time job as an instructor at City College of New York redirected him to a career in education. From 1952 to 1976 Halls taught advertising art and design on the faculty of the State University of New York at Farmingdale. He received his B.A. from Adelphi University in 1961."

The Play: The Big Blow appears to have been an entertaining and moderately successful melodrama set in Florida, where the playwright, Theodore Pratt, was living at the time. The Internet Broadway Database lists the play as running in New York, from October 1, 1938 to February 1939, while Halliie Flanagan, the director of the Federal Theatre Project, records it as running all the way to April 1939 (Arena, 1940, p. 381 - Flanagan also writes of Big Blow performances in Boston, p. 230). Some of the players in Big Blow appear to have enjoyed reasonably successful acting careers after the production of the play, including: Kendall Clark (1912-1983), who played Wade Barnett; Dorothy Raymond (1914-2008), who played Sarah Barnett; and George Mathews (1911-1984), who played "Deefy." Mathews went on to become a prolific character actor in shows like Have Gun Will Travel, Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

New Deal Storm Art (4/5): Thunder and Lightning

Above: "Thunder in the West," a watercolor painting by Lloyd Moylan (1893-1963), created while he was in the WPA's art program, 1942. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Arizona Museum of Art & Archive of Visual Arts.

Above: "Lightning," an oil panting by James Stovall Morris (1898-1973), created while he was in the WPA's art program, ca. 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the New Mexico Museum of Art.

Monday, September 11, 2017

New Deal Storm Art (3/5): "Marooned"

Above: "Marooned," a color woodcut print by Albert Abramovitz (1879-1963), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1939. According to the Brier Hill Gallery in Boston, Massachusetts, Abramovitz's "work was widely exhibited across the United States... and was distinctive both for his unusual technique and radical socio-political point of view... His works are in the collections of the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, the Spencer Museum of Art, the University of Michigan Museum of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Library of Congress. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

New Deal Storm Art (2/5): "The Gale"

Above: "The Gale," an oil painting by Charles Anton Kaeselau (1889-1972), created while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, 1934. According to askArt, Kaeselau was born in Stockholm, Sewden. Information on the Living New Deal, shows that Kaeselau painted murals at the post offices in Concord, Massachusetts, and Lebanon, New Hampshire. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and Stanley Staniski.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

New Deal Storm Art (1/5): "Before the Storm"

Above: "Before the Storm," an oil painting by James Floyd Clymer (1893-1982), created while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. Clymer was "known for his Regionalist style of land, sea and cityscapes, [and] created paintings with an emphasis on color and form. His works possess a clear and simple style, easily understood by the masses" ("James Floyd Clymer," Julie Heller Gallery). Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Financial hookworms, furious hurricanes, and forgotten history: The wrecking of Puerto Rico

Above: "Destruction," an etching by Edward Hagedorn (1902-1982), created while he was in the WPA's art program, ca. 1935-1943. Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Financial Hookworms

Healthline informs us that "Hookworms are parasites. This means they live off other living things... Humans contract hookworms through roundworm eggs and larvae found in dirt contaminated by feces." 

The hookworms that feed on us today, after they've incubated in corporate feces, are debt collectors and vulture funds that buy up debt on the cheap and try to extract as much money as possible from debtors, via threats, harassment, lawsuits, and lobbying against bankruptcy relief, but for austerity - austerity that disproportionately (or exclusively) harms the non-wealthy. This has happened to the people of Puerto Rico (see, e.g., "The ironic pillage of tax haven Puerto Rico by offshore hedge funds," Tax Justice Network, January 6, 2016).

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren has explained that Puerto Rico is not permitted to restructure its debt like other U.S. jurisdictions, and that vulture funds "want Puerto Rico to raise taxes [on the middle-class and poor], cut health care, fire teachers, cut pensions, sell off $4 billion worth of government buildings, privatize public ports, close neighborhood schools and cut support for the University of Puerto Rico, all so these vulture funds can squeeze out more profit."

(Also see, "Puerto Rico Declares a Form of Bankruptcy," New York Times, May 3, 2017, and "Hedge Fund Sues to Have Puerto Rico's Bankruptcy Case Thrown Out," New York Times, August 7, 2017.)

But it's not just the debt collectors and vulture funds that are to blame here, as financial analyst and professor of economics Michael Hudson explains: "A parasite cannot take anything from the host unless it takes over the brain. The brain in modern economies is the government, the educational system, and the way that governments and societies make their economic policy models... In nature, the parasite makes the host think that the free rider, the parasite, is its baby, part of its body, to convince the host to actually protect the parasite over itself." (Dr. Hudson wrote a book in 2015: Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy.)  

Financial hookworms have definitely taken over the minds of many, many Americans - especially conservatives (both Democrat and Republican). Millions have been brainwashed into believing that the super-wealthy, no matter how evil their actions might be, must be pampered with tax cuts, bail outs, and protection from law enforcement. After all, they're the holy "JOB CREATORS!" And sadly, as a nation, we've probably lost the critical thinking skills that we would need to break out of such brainwashing.

Above: "Benevolence," another WPA artwork by Edward Hagedorn. Some people in America use financial & political tools to prey on their fellow citizens and scavenge off economic misery & hopelessness. We hail them as "job creators," and "innovators," instead of recognizing them for what they truly are: vultures who terrorize for profit. Journalist Nick Shaxson, author of Treasure Islands: Uncovering the Damage of Offshore Banking and Tax Havens, highlights the corrupt practices of vulture funds and writes: "And these people are being lionized as the cream of high society." Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Puerto Rico is more vulnerable to natural disasters, thanks to the financial hookworms

Puerto Rico just got hit by Hurricane Irma. Thanks to its crumbling infrastructure, many hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans may be without power and running water for months. Why is their infrastructure so bad? Because they're infected with financial hookworms (a.k.a. debt collectors and vulture funds), and thus suffering from too much financial anemia to modernize it (see, e.g., "Puerto Rico's money woes 'dire' after Hurricane Irma, as Jose lurks," ABC News, September 7, 2017, and "Irma could leave Puerto Rico without electricity for months:The island's government is broke," Vox, September 6, 2017).

It doesn't have to be this way, of course. During the New Deal, huge infrastructure investments were made on the island through many programs, for example, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration (PRRA). With respect to the latter, a researcher at City University of New York recently concluded: "Designed by Puerto Rican engineers and built by Puerto Rican workers, PRRA public works projects made concrete contributions to the physical security of millions of Puerto Ricans through the construction of hurricane-proof houses, schools, hospitals, roads, sewers, waterworks, and rural electrification networks." Unfortunately, we've forgotten about all that and let it crumble away.

We could reverse course if we wanted to, adopt a better ethical system, and help millions of our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico with a new and even better New Deal. We could remove the financial hookworms from the body politic, we could build up the nation's infrastructure with public works programs for Puerto Rico's many unemployed citizens, and we could shake ourselves free from our apathy and remember our history. But we won't. Instead, we'll get even more drunk on free market rum, and keep worshiping financial hookworms as heroic job creators. I guarantee it.

Above: A work site for the New Deal's Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration (PRRA). New Deal policymakers wanted to build up and strengthen Puerto Rico - and so they did. Today's financial hookworms, on the other hand, want to suck every bit of life blood out of it. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

New Deal Art: "Cold Inferno"

Above: "Cold Inferno," a lithograph by Francis Bernard Shields (1908-1990), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1939. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Hurricane Harvey: Heroic rescue & relief efforts will be overpowered by merciless economics & anti-government zealotry

Above: "Hurricane #2," a lithograph by Eugene Morley (1909-1953), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1939. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

People in need vs. America's merciless economic system

Throughout the Hurricane Harvey disaster the mainstream media focused on stories of destruction and heroic rescue. With respect to the latter, we saw private citizens saving people from flooded homes, the Coast Guard plucking people from their roofs, trucks delivering donated water and, even days after the storm, roaming groups of volunteers helping homeowners pull away waterlogged drywall to preserve the structural integrity of their flood-damaged homes.

All of these efforts are fantastic, and highlight the brotherly & sisterly love that exists in millions of Americans.

But we are now beginning to see some cold economic and cultural realities set in. For example, many renters have been forced from their homes and their jobs--because of all the flooding and other damage--yet some landlords are still demanding rent payment. With so many Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck, and having little or no savings, this is a problem. Apparently, Texas law heavily favors landlords and, well, you can see where this is heading (see, "'We don't have anything': landlords demand rent on flooded Houston homes," The Guardian, September 4, 2017).

These types of situations will increase in frequency as America's merciless economic system begins to respond to the disaster. Volunteers, donations, and government aid will slowly give way to neglect, blaming the poor, predatory loans, ruined credit, lost jobs, debt collection harassment, and the simple fact that most Americans don't have the financial resources to help all the people who have been pummeled by Hurricane Harvey. As a pastor in an affected area said of a man cooking meals for those in need, "He's cooking the meals, and this guy is amazing. Local people like him, we have that. But he can't rebuild a hundred homes, or whatever it is out there on the river, or a thousand homes... These people have nothing" ("In Texas, Distrust of Washington Collides With Need for Federal Aid," New York Times, September 4, 2017). 

Anti-government zealotry will hinder long-term relief efforts and reconstruction

To make matters worse, America (and especially Texas) is now controlled by anti-government zealots at the federal, state, and local level. You see, Republicans are obsessed with demonizing government, repealing regulations, and giving gargantuan tax breaks to the rich - and that doesn't bode well for middle and low-income Americans needing assistance. It's true that Texas officials have asked for a lot of federal aid, but it's only a matter of time before their hatred of government, and their tendency to blame the poor, begins to hinder the overall disaster response. Soon, bottled water will be replaced with "pull yourself up by your bootstraps!!!"

Indeed, the anti-government zealotry of the political right ensures that these types of costly disasters will be recklessly repeated. For example, the Trump Administration, in its ongoing effort to wipe out President Obama's legacy (an effort that has them swinging wildly at anything that moves) recently scrapped a rule that required infrastructure projects utilizing federal funds to be built to withstand the new realities of global warming (for example, heavier rain events). And a Republican state senator in Texas recently said (as he was searching for flood survivors... and oblivious to the irony) that the government doesn't need to tell Texans what to do. 

These types of actions and statements indicate that little or nothing will be learned from Hurricane Harvey - specifically, the perils of continued fossil fuel emissions, lackadaisical zoning regulations, excessive development, outdated infrastructure, and the anemic utilization of government-sponsored flood insurance.

And we can be sure that middle and low-income Americans will pay the steepest price for the political right's "free market" radicalism, and its desire to drown the government (i.e., We the People) "in the bathtub."

Monday, September 4, 2017

Fire, smoke, and hepatitis! California needs a new CCC and WPA... ASAP.

Above: This brief video clip shows the "La Tuna Fire," burning in and around Los Angeles this past Saturday, September 2nd. YouTube link:


There are 19 large wildfires burning in California right now, including a wildfire "called the largest ever in Los Angeles" ("19 wildfires burning in California," USA Today, September 3, 2017). The fires have caused many evacuations, destroyed homes and property, injured firefighters, and are also threatening one of our national treasures - giant sequoia trees. The fires have been difficult to fight for a number of reasons, for example, the amount of fuel on the ground, such as dead, dry, or congested trees & vegetation (see video above, and also see "The Latest: California wildfire reaches giant sequoia grove," ABC News and The Associated Press, September 2, 2017).

Above: "Forest Fire," a wood engraving print by Paul Landacre (1893-1963), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project in Los Angeles, ca. 1935-1937. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.


All the smoke from the wildfires is causing unhealthy air quality in various parts of California and other western states (see, e.g., "Headaches and raspy voices as wildfire smoke chokes US West," ABC News, September 2, 2017). According to the American Lung Association, small particle pollutants in wildfire smoke can enter a person's lungs and cause "asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes - and can kill. Studies of children in California found that children who breathed the smoky air during wildfires had more coughing, wheezing, bronchitis, colds, and were more likely to have to go to the doctor or to the hospital for respiratory causes, especially from asthma" ("How Wildfires Affect Our Health," American Lung Association, January 2, 2016).

And this dangerous wildfire smoke is on top of the already bad air quality we live with day-to-day, thanks largely to fossil fuel emissions. In 2013, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reported that "Air pollution causes 200,000 early deaths each year in the U.S.," and that "California suffers the worst health impacts from air pollution, with about 21,000 early deaths annually, mostly attributed to road transportation and to commercial and residential emissions from heating and cooking."    

Above: "Tuberculosis Tests for Children," a lithograph by Elizabeth Olds (1896-1991), created while she was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Nebraska State Historical Society.


As if destructive & deadly wildfires and lung-clogging smoke weren't bad enough for Californians, San Diego County just "declared a public health emergency due to the spread of the liver disease hepatitis A." At least 15 people have died and hundreds have been hospitalized. And the homeless are suffering the most, of course ("San Diego County declares emergency amid hepatitis outbreak," ABC News and The Associated Press, September 1, 2017).

Homelessness is a public health hazard because of disease transmission in unsanitary, close quarters; and also because the homeless receive even less adequate medical care than other low-income Americans. Sadly, we're not likely to significantly address the problem of homelessness anytime soon because, after decades of free market fairy tales, much of the country believes that the unemployed, the poor, and the homeless are simply lazy people who get what they deserve. And no matter how much financial fraud is perpetrated on the American public, and no matter how many jobs are outsourced, and no matter how many people are struck down my medical emergencies they couldn't foresee, millions of Americans remain unshakable in their belief that "personal responsibility" is the overriding (if not only) factor that determines the outcome of one's life - unless something happens to them, of course, and then they want government aid.

One of these days, our neglect of the homeless and poor is going to come back and haunt us, on a massive scale. A disease will spread, unchecked, because the people who have it will try to ride it out (fearful of medical bills or medicines they can't afford) and pray it's just a really bad cold. And then the disease will spread to the middle-class, the rich, and the super-rich, and many of these people will scratch their heads and wonder what the heck happened (see "Hepatitis A scare: shame on city, county of San Diego," The San Diego Union-Tribune, September 1, 2017).

Above: The description for this 1933 photograph reads, "CCC cutting out dead wood, Sequoia National Park. Camp Wolverton, California." Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

A new CCC and WPA is needed

During the 1930s and 40s, millions of men in the CCC fought fires, removed dead trees & vegetation, made firebreaks, and planted new trees where they were needed. They also built many forest access roads to aid firefighting in remote areas.The WPA engaged in similar activities and also, among many other types of projects, ran immunization campaigns, built & staffed medical clinics, and sent nurses & housekeepers to the homes of ill Americans. Various New Deal programs (including the CCC and WPA) also provided housing and work opportunities for the homeless and near-homeless, in the form of CCC barracks, transient worker camps, and low-cost housing.

New Deal work programs were highly effective. For example, today we're still utilizing many of their creations - state parks, wildlife refuges, airports, bridges, and roads. The Living New Deal documents the many thousands of New Deal sites, structures, and works of art that we still use and enjoy today.

So, now that we've established that (a) there are serious environmental & public health problems in California (problems that are, of course, shared by the rest of the country, to one degree or another), and (b) that the CCC and WPA were effective programs that helped solve or mitigate these types of problems in the 1930s and 40s, we're going to create a new CCC and WPA, right? I mean, it's just common sense.

Nope, that's not how we do things today. Instead, Republicans, Tea Partiers, Libertarians, and other right-wing groups are trying to cut as much funding for government programs as possible, so that they can deliver more tax cuts to their wealthy gods & donors. The wealthy donors, in turn, will funnel a portion of that money back to their marionettes, in the form of political campaign contributions. It's a grand kick-back scheme, disguised as "job creation" and "fuel for economic growth." And millions will buy it, just as they did before, even though their jobs and retirements get crappier with each successive round of tax cuts for the rich, and even though the nation's economic growth remains pathetic compared to decades ago when taxes on the rich were much higher.

Yes, believe it or not, right-wingers want corporate tax cuts, even though "Corporations Are Raking In Record Profits, But Workers Aren’t Seeing Much of It." And right-wingers want top marginal and capital gains taxes cut for the super-rich, even though the super-rich are enjoying record wealth while millions of children drink lead out of old water mains, old connecting pipes, and old plumbing. And right-wingers want the estate tax--a tax that only affects the rich--eliminated altogether, so that our caste system and apartheid culture solidifies even more.

Make no mistake about it, we're living in illogical and rabid times - and paying a horrible price for it.

Friday, September 1, 2017

America's rejection of a new WPA made the devastation and misery in Texas worse; and our inability to process information ensures that we'll learn little-to-nothing from Harvey's wrath

"They need to stop patting each other on the back while these poor people are out here waiting to get rescued."

--Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honore (ret.), on the response of officials to Hurricane Harvey's destruction, August 30, 2017 (YouTube link)

Above: "After the Storm," a lithograph by Jack Markow (1905-1983), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1936. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

The role of human error in Hurricane Harvey's devastation & misery

We've heard and read many stories about the human errors that made Hurricane Harvey worse than it had to be, for example: lackadaisical zoning regulations & laissez faire development, which led to a great paving-over of water-absorbing land; the placement of housing developments next to old reservoirs and other dangerous water hazards (often, it appears, without mandatory flood insurance!); a rejection of climate change science, which has led to increasing sea temperatures (and thus greater evaporation, more air moisture, and larger rain events); neglected and crumbling infrastructure, more susceptible to extreme weather damage; a refusal to properly regulate chemical plants, leading to several explosions and toxins in the flood waters; a lack of personnel to respond to the emergency, causing a desperate plea for volunteers - thus putting untrained (but very brave and kind) Good Samaritans at risk; and much, much more.

The WPA's disaster preparation & response

Another problem, related to the list above, is America's rejection of a new and permanent WPA. Among the many hundreds of thousands of projects the WPA engaged in from 1935 to 1943 were disaster preparation and response activities. The Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43 (1946) explains just how extensive and useful these activities were:

"The WPA was of extraordinary value in meeting disaster emergencies. Its organization and methods made possible the quick assembling of men and materials; it had at its command adequate supervision, ample and suitable equipment, and transportation facilities; and it had the authority to supplement all these in meeting emergency situations... The projects were set up in advance [emphasis added] to provide for necessary emergency work when danger to life or grave risk of property was brought about by flood, thaw, storm, tornado, hurricane, earthquake, drought, or similar cause... The principle types of disaster emergency work included furnishing personnel and such equipment as was needed; construction of dykes and strengthening of levees; evacuation of persons and property from zones of danger; temporary reestablishment of water, sewer, gas, and electric services; temporary emergency repairs to bridges and streets; operations incident to cleaning up after disaster, for reasons of health; and employment of labor for shipment of foodstuffs, bedding, and clothing to affected areas" (pp. 54-55).

The Final Report then goes on to give some specific examples:

"In all disaster emergencies, large and small, during the existence of the WPA, it was usually the first organization to be on the scene with equipment, tools, and men. In many instances during the widespread Mississippi-Ohio flood, WPA engineering or other officials took immediate and decisive action... For example, a WPA engineer in one town which was partly above the flood level accomplished the removal of all persons in the lower part of the town to safety before their homes were flooded... The damage from hurricane and floods in New England in 1938 might have been much greater but for the preventive measures taken when flood dangers became imminent and for the flood control work of previous years" (p. 55).

Above: "WPA workers help fight fires and recover bodies it Gainesville, Georgia, after the city was destroyed by two massive tornadoes on April 6, 1936. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Why has America consistently rejected a new and permanent WPA?

As I've written on my blog many times before, America has routinely rejected the idea of a large public works program for the unemployed, even though the experience of the WPA shows us that it can be highly effective (for example, our continued use & enjoyment of many WPA projects - parks, airports, bridges, genealogy tools, artwork, etc.).

Most recently, during the recession years, when unemployment was destroying millions of people's lives, President Obama flatly refused to consider a new WPA, and a 2011 bill to create a new WPA was ignored in Congress until it died in committee. In 2012, Senate Republicans shot down legislation that would have created a public works program for unemployed veterans. Not only would the program have provided jobs for veterans in need, it would have addressed the multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog that exists in our national parks.

Given the WPA's track record of success (it was not without occasional fault too, of course), and given that a new WPA would help millions of people with jobs, infrastructure improvement, and disaster preparation & response, why is the idea consistently rejected (or not brought up at all)? Well, for many reasons. For example: apathy; historical amnesia; celebrity distraction; corporate control of the media; the preference of many politicians to use the poor & unemployed as political punching bags; political weakness (think Obama); a right-wing propaganda industry that constantly demonizes the unemployed; the political influence of the wealthy - a class of people who, collectively speaking, prefer the perpetual existence of a large pool of jobless and financially devastated workers (this keeps wages down and investment returns up); and, of course, the free market fairy tales we're constantly fed - fairy tales that convince us that millionaires & billionaires, through the power of the holy market, will make life better for us - all the evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. 

Intertwined with most of the reasons I've listed above, is the inability of tens of millions of Americans to think logically. We see the dots, but we can't connect them. That's why we're willing to pay more for health care, and die younger, than our counterparts in other developed countries. That's why we're willing to pay more for Internet service, even though it's slower and crappier, than citizens in other advanced nations. That's why we're about to let our politicians give massive tax breaks to the rich, even though the rich have proven, time and time again, that they're not going to improve our lives with their greater after-tax income; even right-wing icon Ann Coulter knows this, recently tweeting about the upcoming Republican tax cuts for the rich: "Bush cut taxes! Did it create millions of jobs? Nope. The rich pocketed their tax cut & sent jobs abroad, hired guest workers. F– them." 

For once, I agree with Coulter. F-- them. Why can't you be more lucid and rational all the time Ann?

Above: Survivors of the Gainesville double tornado event receive plenty of emergency food & clothing from a WPA supply station, April 1936. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

As a nation, do we have the capacity to learn from Hurricane Harvey?

Last year, Dr. Sophia McClennen of Penn State University wrote about the sorry state of our politics and our inability to think straight, and, inadvertently, also explained why Americans will learn little-to-nothing from the current devastation & misery in Texas: "It's not just that we don't have our facts straight. It's that we have collectively lost our ability to process information and make good judgments" ("I'm With Stupid: The Entire 2016 Election Has Been an Insult to Our Intelligence," Alternet, November 1, 2016).

Something dreadful has happened to the American citizenry. Our ability to diagnose and solve problems has been greatly diminished after years and years of hate radio, Reality TV, the scaling back of social studies in K-12 education, etc. We're in a very scary place in our nation's history; we watch our children drink lead from old pipes & plumbing, scratch our heads in confusion, and then vote for politicians who seek to fund infrastructure less, and pamper the wealthy more. It's an unbelievable, astonishing spectacle to witness. If I didn't see it with my own two eyes I wouldn't believe it.

Mark my words: We'll continue pumping filth into the atmosphere, believing it has no effect on anything; we'll continue ignoring our infrastructure, in order to give tax cuts to the rich; we'll continue demonizing government, safety regulations, planning, and the "liberal agenda"; and we'll never create a new WPA, no matter how needed or beneficial it would be.  

It's clear that Hurricane Harvey is just one of the many devastating rain events that we'll be dealing with again and again (these rain events have already increased in frequency, and they're going to be increasing even more soon).

It's also clear that these cataclysmic events are unstoppable... because of our lack of preparation, our creation of more and more evaporative fuel, and, most importantly, our post-event head-scratching - in other words, our collective inability to process information.

Above: The WPA was very proactive in its infrastructure work - it wasn't just about rescue and clean up, it was also about prevention. The flood walls you see above were built in Western Maryland, ca. 1936. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.