When Gray Brechin decided several years ago to develop a catalog of thousands of New Deal projects built in the 1930s, one of his goals was to show how government could help Americans when it embraced a humanitarian ethos.
At the time, Brechin, a UC Berkeley geographer, could not have known how much his effort would be relevant to the debate being waged in America today over the extent to which government should aid the least fortunate among us when a growing gap divides the top 1 percent and the rest of us.
With his website catalog, Brechin offers a spectacular gift: Accompanied by thousands of photos, the website chronicles the schools, hospitals, courthouses, city halls, post offices, bridges, water systems, art works and other projects across America that owed their existence in whole or in part to New Deal projects carried out during the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Brechin’s work is particularly powerful because most Americans, as academicians will tell you, tend to live very much in the now with only a minimal grasp of their country’s history and what it says about their nation’s future.
Ever since the New Deal’s National Youth Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and a brief flurry of public-spiritedness during the Kennedy years, America has minimized both expectations and opportunities for public service. Fewer Americans than at any time in our history — less than one half of 1 percent— are engaged in public service (including those serving in the military). Yet, the enormity of our country’s current challenges and chronic unemployment point to the need to give young people the chance to work helping their communities.
Here’s why we need a National Youth Service (NYS).
1. A NYS would be a job-creation program. Sure, it would be expensive, but 6.7 million young people between the ages of 18 and 24 who are out of work and out of school currently cost taxpayers $93 million per year.
2. A NYS would be an immediate and lasting stimulus to our economy. Requiring participants to send some of their pay home (as the CCC did of its recruits) would also help struggling families.
3. A NYS would have long-term benefits for both the individual and society. The youth would obtain marketable job skills through rebuilding infrastructure, installing green energy, restoring the environment and helping during natural disasters.
As a presidential contest between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush in 2016 appears ever more likely, it’s a good moment to ask what alternative exists to lying down and letting such a campaign drown the body politic.
Time is short. The queen of cynics, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, already has pronounced her gorgon’s judgment on the inevitability of Hillary versus Jeb. “The looming prospect of another Clinton–Bush race makes us feel fatigued,” yawns the perpetually bored Dowd, who, on the contrary, relishes a future of easy columns mocking America’s two leading political dynasties.
What about the rest of us? Is it inevitable that we swallow the nomination of the neo-liberal Clinton, whose support of Bush’s Iraq madness (not to mention Obama’s Afghan and Libyan stupidity) and her husband’s recklessly pro-“free trade,” pro-banker, pro-deregulation politics ought to send reasonable liberals fleeing? Is it predestined that principled conservatives accept the anointment of the thoroughly fraudulent Jeb, whose support of his brother’s interventionist folly, along with his own outrageous meddling as governor of Florida to “rescue” brain-dead Terri Schiavo, should give pause to even the greediest oil baron seeking patronage from a Republican administration?
An Anglican bishop has called on the government to pay mothers or fathers who stay at home and raise their families. The Rt Rev Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, said he had always found it “bizarre and unfortunate” that childcare was regarded as being “of less worth than standing on some assembly line”.
In an interview to be broadcast on the GMTV Sunday Programme, Bishop Chartres said he did not want to reverse “the gains that have been made, the liberation, the opening of the workplace to women”, but he said that “we need to realise that childcare, maternity care, does involve very considerable gifts and ought to be regarded as having an enormous worth, intrinsically and for society”.
Asked if the principle of paying someone to stay at home and care for their children applied to fathers as well, he said: “That’s very interesting and that’s what I was suggesting, yes.”
If you have to pay taxes for existing, you should be guaranteed a basic minimum income for surviving.
It wouldn’t amount to much, but guaranteeing every American citizen 18 and older $1,000 per month, or $12,000 a year, is the most reasonable, practical, and commonsense way to address the inequality crisis that everyone in the country and most of the world is talking about right now.
By “all” I mean everyone over age 18, regardless of their current job and income situation. It would be optional, so those who already have fulfilling careers or make sufficient income to not need the extra $1,000 a month don’t have to take it. Ideally, this basic guaranteed income for all would be adjusted for inflation, and would phase in gradually while unemployment compensation and food stamps phase out. Other staples of the safety net, like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, would still remain.
With the looming debt ceiling crisis roiling the country, I think it’s important that we all do our part and try to find ways to pitch in. I think I’ve found a bunch of money we could use to alleviate the debt and buy ourselves a bit more time.
First, since Congress is no longer functioning or doing its job, we can probably save some cash by not paying them until they do. There are 100 Senators and 433 Representatives in the House making a base annual salary of $174,000. I’m sure they’d hate to be paid for not working, so there’s $93 million we can set aside. We can leave aside the health and pension benefits from what we’re reclaiming -we’re not animals after all!
Originally appeared May 18, 2011 on the New York Review of Books NYR Blog.
All across the United States, large and small cities are closing public libraries or curtailing their hours of operations. Detroit, I read a few days ago, may close all of its branches and Denver half of its own: decisions that will undoubtedly put hundreds of its employees out of work. When you count the families all over this country who don’t have computers or can’t afford Internet connections and rely on the ones in libraries to look for jobs, the consequences will be even more dire. People everywhere are unhappy about these closings, and so are mayors making the hard decisions. But with roads and streets left in disrepair, teachers, policemen and firemen being laid off, and politicians in both parties pledging never to raise taxes, no matter what happens to our quality of life, the outlook is bleak. “The greatest nation on earth,” as we still call ourselves, no longer has the political will to arrest its visible and precipitous decline and save the institutions on which the workings of our democracy depend.
I don’t know of anything more disheartening than the sight of a shut down library. No matter how modest its building or its holdings, in many parts of this country a municipal library is often the only place where books in large number on every imaginable subject can be found, where both grownups and children are welcome to sit and read in peace, free of whatever distractions and aggravations await them outside. Like many other Americans of my generation, I owe much of my knowledge to thousands of books I withdrew from public libraries over a lifetime. I remember the sense of awe I felt as a teenager when I realized I could roam among the shelves, take down any book I wanted, examine it at my leisure at one of the library tables, and if it struck my fancy, bring it home. Not just some thriller or serious novel, but also big art books and recordings of everything from jazz to operas and symphonies.
In May 2013 shareholders voted to break up the Timken Company—a $5 billion Ohio manufacturer of tapered bearings, power transmissions, gears, and specialty steel—into two separate businesses. Their goal was to raise stock prices. The company, which makes complex and difficult products that cannot be easily outsourced, employs 20,000 people in the United States, China, and Romania. Ward “Tim” Timken, Jr., the Timken chairman whose family founded the business more than a hundred years ago, and James Griffith, Timken’s CEO, opposed the move.
The shareholders who supported the breakup hardly looked like the “barbarians at the gate” who forced the 1988 leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco. This time the attack came from the California State Teachers Retirement System pension fund, the second-largest public pension fund in the United States, together with Relational Investors LLC, an asset management firm. And Tim Timken was not, like the RJR Nabisco CEO, eagerly pursuing the breakup to raise his own take. But beneath these differences are the same financial pressures that have shaped corporate structure for thirty years.
It began to look as if the job of saving the United States would fall into the willing hands of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Early in June, 1932, the Republicans held a dull convention with their Old Guard in full control, wrote a dull and verbose platform, and nominated Herbert Hoover for re-election because they had to. Considering what was going on in the world, the general aspect of the Republican deliberations was ichthyosaurian.
When the Democrats went to Chicago for their convention–to a Chicago still reeling from a local panic in which nearly forty banks had gone under and the Dawes bank had been hard hit–Roosevelt had a long lead for the Democratic nomination. For his aides had been doing hard and effective work. Jim Farley–large, amiable, energetic, shrewd in the politics of friendships and favors–had been rushing about the country with glad hand outstretched and had been using to the utmost his incredible capacity for mass production of personal correspondence. He sometimes called in six stenographers at a time, spent eight consecutive hours signing letters in green ink; at night, when safe from interruption, he could sign at the rate of nearly two thousand letters an hour. While Farley commanded the Roosevelt forces in the field, the Roosevelt chief-of-staff was Louis McHenry Howe, a little wizened invalid with protruding eyes and unkempt clothes who worshipped Roosevelt and lived to further his career. Remaining in a shabby office in Madison Avenue, New York, sitting at a desk littered with newspapers and pamphlets, or lying on an old day bed when his chronic asthma exhausted him, Howe studied the political map and gave Farley sage advice. “Louis would sit in front of me in his favorite pose,” writes Farley, “his elbows resting on his knees, and his face cupped in his hands so that practically nothing was visible of his features except his eyes.” A masterly strategist of politics, Howe thought out the plan of campaign.
Obama is setting the record for the most deportations of any president in U.S. history. This is a legacy even more brutal than that of his predecessor, George W. Bush, who deported over two million immigrants (MotherJones.com, 4/4/2014).
Spending on immigration enforcement has outstripped all other aspects of federal law enforcement – $17.9 billion in fiscal year 2012 compared to $14.4 billion of combined spending for the FBI, DEA, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (Economist.com 2/8/2014).
Private Prison Profits
A big part of the spending goes to private companies profiteering off the misery of undocumented immigrants. For-profit prison operators hold “almost two-thirds of all immigrants detained each day in federally funded prisons as they face deportation” (Bloomberg.com, 9/23/2013).