Fresh Ideas For Spring: You're Invited to the Hamptons Institute April 16

Mar 17, 2011

Spring is here! And so are fresh debates about the issues you care most deeply about.

Spring is here! And so are fresh debates about the issues you care most deeply about.

The Roosevelt Institute is joining with Guild Hall in East Hampton once again to offer the 2011 Hamptons Institute weekend symposium, starting Saturday, April 16th. The ideas festival will begin with an 11:00 a.m. session, "America's Fiscal Fitness; Where Do We Go From Here?", which will feature Peter Orszag, former head of the Office of Management and Budget under President Obama, in conversation about fiscal austerity with 60 Minutes' Steve Croft. At 2:00 p.m., Paul Farmer, the renowned Harvard physician and social anthropologist currently serving as UN Deputy Special envoy in Haiti, will address global challenges in health and human rights in "Healing the World: Can We Succeed?"

Expect multiple perspectives and meaningful dialogue on the menu, plus the spectacular natural setting of East Hampton. The programs are open to the public, with tickets on sale through Guild Hall.

Last year's event was a huge success, with speakers including Elizabeth Warren, George Soros, Michael Greenberger, and others. You can check out full video from that event here. Watch the first panel:

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Memo to Chris Christie and Other Budget Cutters: Infrastructure Projects Benefit Everyone

Mar 8, 2011Mark LaFlaur

hudson-river-tunnelChris Christie might claim that he can't afford high-speed rail, but a recent panel explained why the country can't afford to miss out on it.

hudson-river-tunnelChris Christie might claim that he can't afford high-speed rail, but a recent panel explained why the country can't afford to miss out on it.

The Museum of the City of New York recently hosted a panel discussion titled "Roads to Nowhere: Public Works in a Time of Crisis," part of the museum's ongoing Urban Forum series on infrastructure in New York. The discussion focused on NYC and environs, but has implications for public works projects -- infrastructure and transportation -- around the nation. The same pressures affecting public works funding (or slashed funding) in New York hold for the U.S. generally.

About 150 transportation and public works geeks came to hear such eminent public works and transportation experts as Jeffrey M. Zupan, senior fellow for Transportation, Regional Plan Association; Denise M. Richardson, managing director, General Contractors Association of New York; Dr. Michael Horodniceanu, president of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Capital Construction Company; and Joan Byron, director, Sustainability and Environmental Justice Initiative at Pratt Institute. The discussion was intelligently moderated by New York Times transportation reporter Michael M. Grynbaum.

Hanging over the evening's discussion was a shocking, job-killing decision in October 2010 by New Jersey governor Chris Christie. Citing cost overruns, he pulled the state out of the ARC project -- a new train tunnel under the Hudson River that would have doubled commuter rail capacity between New Jersey and Manhattan, making room for an additional 25 New Jersey Transit trains per hour. Christie objected that his state had to pay more than originally budgeted and he refused to raise taxes to cover the costs. The ARC project was the nation's largest infrastructure project. Transportation secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Transit administrator Peter Rogoff went to Trenton to negotiate a compromise, but Christie rejected their offers.

Denise Richardson said that the ARC project would have provided public benefits for at least a century to come, not to mention easier commutes and less auto traffic. Christie's cancellation immediately cost about 6,000 direct jobs at a time when unemployment among contracting workers is already at 30%. (The blog 2nd Avenue Sagas says the cancellation means $478 million flushed down the drain for New Jersey alone.) Jeffrey Zupan noted wryly, "To say I was chagrined about Christie's decision is sugarcoating it." And Michael Grynbaum pointed out that Christie isn't alone in shooting down rail projects. Other Republican governors across the United States -- in Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida -- have also been rejecting federal appropriations for high-speed rail.

Meanwhile, Michael Horodniceanu pointed out that Christie would not have even been the one to cut the ribbon and it was merely a political decision to appear fiscally conservative. Joan Byron observed that Christie was largely elected by "south Jersey drivers," not by "north Jersey riders," so the only people inconvenienced would be those who hadn't voted for him in the first place. Byron stressed -- and other panel members agreed -- that supporters of the ARC project had not built a sufficient base of support so that its benefits would be clear even to those who would not actually be traveling through the tunnels. We must all make clear to our fellow citizens, she said, that such public works projects raise the property values of people in the areas served and raise the overall economy by making it easier to get to and from good-paying jobs.

The public does not want to have to pay any higher taxes, understandably, but often the benefits of the public works programs are not evident to already overstressed taxpayers, and thus support is lacking. The projects support the construction workers, the materials suppliers -- an entire ecosystem of benefits. The tax income gained by state and federal treasuries as a consequence of infrastructure development and the related industries and services they feed spreads the wealth around to the general population. Public works projects should be understood as investments that last for generations.

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And even though the common view in upstate New York is that only New York City benefits from the public works projects in the greater metropolitan area, in fact the city's health is a matter of survival for the entire state. Three-quarters of the state's tax income is received from the greater New York City area. That revenue feeds services in Buffalo, Syracuse, and so on; it's in those residents' interest to ensure that New York City and environs has a healthy, robust transportation infrastructure. The same is true, of course, of New Jersey, or Philadelphia, or any other metropolitan area. A vibrant capital nourishes the provinces, and vice versa.

But Horodniceanu pointed out that it is difficult to spread the view of public works as beneficial to the public generally amid the pervasive anti-government rhetoric used by conservative politicians. With gasoline prices already rising, tax increases to pay for public transportation -- as Europeans do as a matter of course -- would be politically unacceptable. He contrasted the widespread American view (and unwillingness to pay for public transportation) with the French readiness to embrace and pay for public works. He cited a field trip of a group of French students to see the building of the trans-English Channel tunnel, popularly known as the Chunnel, while across the Channel a group of British citizens were protesting the "eminent domain" taking of wheat fields to be used for the tunnel and rail line into London. The clear implication was that the American attitude is more akin to the British than the French.

Two important subjects the MCNY panel did not discuss -- they only had an hour, after all -- were the political dimension to the "time of crisis" and the environmental benefits of public transportation. Why are there budget shortfalls? Which political party is doing most of the canceling of projects, and why? What wouldn't be possible if the rich and corporations paid their fair share of taxes? And why aren't the President or congressional Democrats pushing anything like the WPA & CCC programs that rebuilt America and employed millions in the last big depression?

To be sure, President Obama does often speak of the importance of high-speed rail and has spoken of a $50 billion, ten-year National Infrastructure Bank. In a speech to the Chamber of Commerce on Feb. 7, the President said "I want to put more people to work rebuilding crumbling roads, rebuilding our bridges. That's why I've proposed connecting 80 percent of the country with ... high-speed rail." The President understands the importance, but he and Congress have to know (and be reminded repeatedly) that there is strong popular support for these projects.

There has been some other good news that was not mentioned by the panelists. In early February, Amtrak announced the Gateway Project, a $13.5 billion tunnel that will go approximately where ARC would have gone and will boost the capacity of the Northeast Corridor. The Infrastructurist reports that the Gateway Project "would triple the number of hourly Amtrak trains heading through New York (from four to 12) and, if Amtrak ever achieves its (true) high-speed hopes for the corridor, the new tunnel could service that too." It would be the first phase of a $117 billion master plan announced by the national rail service in October that has a target completion date of 2040.

On the other coast, a rather surprising development reported by The Infrastructurist and the California High-Speed Rail blog is that Japan's ambassador to the United States has said that his country might be willing to pay up to half of the costs of a bullet-train system in California. According to California High-Speed Rail, "Basically our Japanese allies are begging us for the chance to build our train because they know it's going to profitable."

At a time when the Republican party is driven by ax-wielding Tea Party activists and the president continues to seek common ground with the party that abhors him, we must take help where we can find it, with Japanese yen or other sources. We must also work to build consensus among our fellow Americans to demand investments here at home for the tax dollars we're paying to Washington. Is our contribution to the Treasury to be spent forever on foreign wars and military bases in 150+ nations, or is it going to be spent here at home? National security begins at home, and we cannot afford a WPA or CCC to work our way out of the current (unmentionable) great depression if a half-trillion dollars and rising is going to the Pentagon every year. And the U.S. certainly cannot afford the rebuilding it needs if its treasury is being starved by the wealthy and corporations unwilling to pay their fair share of taxes.

Mark LaFlaur is Founder of LeveesNotWar.org.

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Roosevelt Institute Campus Network Spring Policy Conferences

Mar 7, 2011

alert-button-150Join the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network this spring as we host a series of national policy conferences across the country, highlighting the w

alert-button-150Join the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network this spring as we host a series of national policy conferences across the country, highlighting the work of our student network.

Each conference will be hosted by one of our student policy centers and will focus on interactive, thematic programming that convenes progressive organizations from across the country with our network of student leaders. Partners will engage with our students; leading discussions and workshops, providing feedback on student projects, and working with students to create local (and potentially, national) implementation plans.

The events will also promote our recently released Blueprint for Millennial America, the Think2040 model of engagement, and our newest volume of the 10 ideas series.

The conference calendar is as follows:

March 26-27th: "Defense, Development, & Diplomacy" Conference hosted by our Defense and Diplomacy Policy Center at George Washington University in Washington, DC. Students will be presenting a progressive vision for America's 21st century grand strategy; using defense, development, and diplomacy as equal pillars of US foreign policy. Students will be making presentations on reforming foreign assistance, energy security, cyber security, nuclear non-proliferation, and more. Guest speakers include Larry Korb, Gen. Paul Eaton, and Will Davis, director of the United Nations Center. Click here for more information.

April 1-3rd: "Growing the Future" Conference hosted by our Energy and Environment Policy Center at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. Campus leaders will be guiding conference participants in an exploration of ASU's urban agriculture initiatives, and students from across the country will be making presentations on sustainable urban development, gulf oil spill restoration, and agricultural policy reform. The event will also serve as a springboard for choosing national energy and environment projects for the upcoming 2011-2012 academic year. Click here for more information.

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April 8-10th: "Serving the South" Conference hosted by our Health Care Policy Center at the Universities of Duke and North Carolina. Our students will be partnering with local community organizations to engage in a day of health service, provide trainings on effective grassroots policy making, and convene a community health town hall meeting. Click here for more information.

April 9th: "Rally for Rights" Conference hosted by our Equal Justice Policy Center at Northwestern University in Chicago. Our students will be presenting their policy projects based on human, civil, and consumer rights to a host of local and national organizations. Guest speakers include Gillian Sorenson, and representatives from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicaid. Click here for more information.

April 15-16th: "Defining a New Economic Reality" Conference hosted by our Economic Development Policy Center at Columbia University in New York City. Our students will be using the content from their projects to promote a new economic vision for Millennial America that stresses community development and capital stewardship. Students will also conduct an interactive workshop on financial literacy. Guest speakers include Rob Johnson, Bo Cutter, and Philippe Aghion. Click here for more information.

April 16th: "A Blueprint for Comprehensive Education Reform" Conference hosted by our Education Policy Center at UCLA in Los Angeles. The event will be co-sponsored by Teach For America and will highlight the work of our students on comprehensive education reform. The conference will also serve as a platform to highlight our Think2040 campaign and the release of our Blueprint for Millennial America. Click here for more information.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Reese Neader is the Roosevelt Campus Network’s Policy Director.

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Rolling Back the Clock in Wisconsin: Governor Walker’s Assault on the New Deal

Mar 1, 2011David B. Woolner

Unions helped boost productivity and wages during FDR's time -- shouldn't we learn that lesson?

Unions helped boost productivity and wages during FDR's time -- shouldn't we learn that lesson?

Late last week, President Obama accused Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker of unleashing "an assault on unions" in his drive to push through legislation that would strip away many of the collective bargaining rights currently held by public sector workers in that state. The President also said that while everyone will need to make some "adjustments" in the current fiscal climate, we should not forget the "enormous contributions" public employees make to our states and to our citizens.

The President is certainly correct when he says that the move by Governor Walker is an assault on the unions. But his hint that wage and benefit concessions (adjustments) might be necessary unfortunately plays into the hands of the deficit hawks who keep insisting that the only way for us to climb out of the Great Recession is through massive cuts to state and federal budgets.

As Robert Reich recently observed, nothing could be further from the truth. The real cause of these budget deficits is not excessive spending, but a dramatic fall in tax revenue perpetuated in part by the recession and in part by "tax giveaways to the rich."

Indeed, in our forty-year drive to provide a greater and greater share of our national income to those who need it the least -- the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans -- we have managed to expand their take of total national income from 9 percent to 20 percent. With more and more of the nation's wealth flowing to a smaller percentage of the population -- whose contributions to the national well-being has declined precipitously thanks to cuts in income, estate and other forms of taxation -- is it any wonder that the middle class has been severely hurt by this recession or that governments, thanks to declining wages and the loss of jobs among working Americans, are struggling to meet their obligations?

Under similar circumstances nearly 80 years ago, Franklin Roosevelt's response to the nation's worst economic crisis was not to strip away labor's right to bargain collectively or to slash government to the bone, but rather to use government and the legislative process to strengthen the ability of working Americans to secure fair wages and working conditions. As such, a key element of the New Deal was the passage of labor laws like the National Labor Relations Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act, two monumental pieces of legislation that set up a permanent National Labor Relations Board, granted private sector workers the right to form unions and to bargain collectively, established a national minimum wage, and guaranteed "time and a half" for overtime in certain jobs. In this vastly improved climate, union membership increased dramatically, from less than 3 million in 1933 to more than 14 million in 1945. So too did wages. By 1937, in fact, real weekly earnings were 30 percent higher than they had been when FDR first took office and fifteen percent higher than they were in 1929.

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Meanwhile, for those who had lost their jobs or were suffering in poverty in their old age, the Roosevelt Administration provided work building the nation's economic infrastructure through such federal programs as the Works Progress Administration (WPA). It also provided a measure of economic security through the passage of the Social Security Act with unemployment insurance and old age pensions. All of this required considerable spending on the part of government, spending that, much like today, ran into substantial opposition from fiscal conservatives and organizations like the American Liberty League, which accused the Roosevelt Administration of taking the country down the path of socialism. Hemmed in by this political opposition, and lacking experience in the new field of Keynesian economics, the Roosevelt Administration was not able to unleash the level of federal stimulus -- deficit spending -- that was needed to restore the economy until the security demands of World War II rendered the arguments of the deficit hawks irrelevant.

Led by a government committed to working with both management and labor to make the United States the most powerful nation on the planet, US wartime production exceeded all expectations and dwarfed our allies and enemies alike. Moreover, in the pro-labor climate of the time, union membership expanded at an ever more rapid pace. By 1945, it had reached a record 35 percent of the non-agricultural workforce, while over the same period wages increased by a healthy 65 percent.

Thanks to the willingness of the federal government to invest in the wartime economy (which included federal expenditures that reached a high point of 46.5 percent of total GDP in 1943), and to the wartime collaboration between the federal government, private enterprise and organized labor, the United States emerged from the war not only as the richest and most powerful nation on earth, but also the country poised to dominate the world's economy for generations to come. And all of this with a highly paid and highly unionized work force.

It is true that the labor legislation of the 1930s did not apply to public service employees, but it seems highly unlikely that once achieved FDR would support any effort, like the one currently underway in Wisconsin, to take away these rights. Indeed, when Franklin Roosevelt took office in midst of the despair of the Great Depression, he promised to "wage war" against the economic crisis. He also once remarked that "if ever I went to work in a factory, the first thing I'd do is join a union." Under his leadership, working Americans were not stripped of their rights, but were encouraged to organize for better wages, hours and working conditions. In doing so, they not only helped lift themselves out of the Great Depression, they also helped lift the nation out as a whole. Rather than follow the false promise of economic growth through ever more tax decreases for the rich, isn't it time we tried the opposite tack? Shouldn't we consider raising taxes on the wealthy and looking to expand the economy -- and state and federal revenue -- through increased wages and benefits for the millions of working Americans in Wisconsin and elsewhere who make up the backbone of this country?

David Woolner is a Senior Fellow and Hyde Park Resident Historian for the Roosevelt Institute.

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Oscar Winner 'The King's Speech' and George VI's Visit to America

Feb 28, 2011William vanden Heuvel

the-kings-speech-movie-posterFDR began an important relationship with the shy monarch who is the star of this year's Oscar-winning film.

the-kings-speech-movie-posterFDR began an important relationship with the shy monarch who is the star of this year's Oscar-winning film.

The visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to the United States in June 1939 was without precedent. Never before had a reigning British monarch set foot in America. President Franklin Roosevelt proposed the visit (the royal couple were going to be in Canada) and planned every detail of it personally. He saw it as an opportunity to confront the isolationist forces in this country, who insisted that the gathering storm in Europe was not our concern. FDR had no faith in the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, known for his policy of appeasement, but he thought the young King and Queen would touch the hearts of Americans and help them understand that our countries had to stand together to confront the Nazi threat. For several years, FDR had seen world war as inevitable.

In the masterful movie The King's Speech, Americans have been introduced to this gentle, shy sovereign. He had come to the throne reluctantly, reflecting the virtue of selfless devotion to public duty, when his elder brother, Edward VIII, abdicated in December 1936 to marry the woman he loved. For a time the House of Windsor looked bad, very bad. As it turned out, it would have looked a lot worse had Edward remained king. It is well known that Edward and his American wife, Wallis Simpson, consorted with Nazi sympathizers. In the fall of 1937, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor even made a trip to Germany as special guests of Hitler.

There were many reasons for FDR and King George to respect each other. Not least was that both had overcome a significant disability as they were called upon to lead their countries. The King had been a stutterer since childhood, who was to labor for decades to overcome his speech impediment. The President, ever since an attack of polio when he was 39, had been a paraplegic.

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On June 10, 1939, having been entertained at the White House the evening before, King George and Queen Elizabeth traveled to New York and visited the World's Fair, then motored to Hyde Park, FDR's family home. (FDR had written to King George VI, in November 1938: "If you could stay with us at Hyde Park for two or three days, the simplicity and naturalness of such a visit would produce a most excellent effect.") The crowds along the route were enormous. The Canadian Prime Minister, Mackenzie King, was traveling with them. He noted in his diary that the party sat down to dinner at 10 pm ("most enjoyable... a sort of family affair"), and then the ladies retired early and the three men had a frank and open discussion that went on until 1:30 am.

Mackenzie King, deeply impressed with FDR, wrote in his diary: "His whole conversation with the King was to the effect that every possible assistance short of actual participation in war could be given. He added that he hoped he might get freed of the Neutrality Act. Was not sure how long Congress might continue to delay its consideration..."

The King said that the Germans had been spying on England for years, and he believed that his German relatives had been used to wiring information from other members of the royal family. He said that his father, George V, had vowed never to shake hands with the German Ambassador again. Clearly he did not bring up his elder brother, the Duke of Windsor.

King George then spoke "very intimately" about Winston Churchill. He held him accountable for the tragic disaster of Gallipoli in World War I. The Canadian Prime Minister noted in his diary: "The King indicated he would never wish to appoint Churchill to any office unless it was absolutely necessary in time of war." The Prime Minister added: "I confess I was glad to hear him say that because I think Churchill is one of the most dangerous men I have ever known."

Less than three months later, World War II began. Winston Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty. Eleven months later, Churchill became Prime Minister. During the war, King George and Churchill became trusted comrades with deep respect for each other. Churchill and FDR needed each other and relied on each other. Churchill's wartime speeches record for all time the valiant courage of his leadership, which -- along with that of FDR -- helped save the western world from Nazi barbarism.

When the King died in February 1952, Winston Churchill was again Prime Minister, left with the solemn responsibility of welcoming a new Elizabethan Age. He and the King had become trusted comrades with deep respect for one another. Each had played their historic roles to perfection. Churchill described him in his eulogy as "Without ambition or want of self-confidence" when he assumed the heavy burden of the Crown. Winston Churchill became his most loyal minister.

As we all know, history could so easily have taken different turns.

Ambassador William vanden Heuvel has served as Deputy U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations and as U.S. Ambassador to the European Office of the U.N. He serves on the board of the Roosevelt Institute.

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When FDR Came to Wisconsin to Fight the Kochs and Walkers of 1934

Feb 24, 2011Harvey J. Kaye

fdrmain-150FDR didn't just stand up for workers, but he took a stand against the fat cats working against them.

fdrmain-150FDR didn't just stand up for workers, but he took a stand against the fat cats working against them.

This past Tuesday evening, nearly 1,000 unionists and their supporters gathered here in Green Bay, Wisconsin to register their appreciation for Senator Dave Hansen, one of the 14 Democrats who have absented themselves from the state to deter passage of Governor Scott Walker's Budget Repair Bill. The bill threatens to not only severely cut workers' incomes but also effectively eliminate their collective bargaining rights.

We also came together to consider what we were going to do next about that threat. Everyone -- from teachers and social workers to firefighters and snowplow drivers -- said they were ready to fight on against a governor who has insisted he will not negotiate. Most, though it pained them, said they were willing to sacrifice income to address the state's budget woes. And yet nobody was willing to give up their rights. Not only in "radical" Madison, but even here in supposedly conservative Green Bay, it seemed that Americans were ready to start making democratic history again -- not on the gridiron this time but in the struggle to win, and hold onto, the rights of democratic citizens and workers.

Listening to the speakers, I felt their enthusiasms and anxieties. But I also had questions and concerns. It angered me that union leaders were giving way on the dollar question when we all know that tax cuts and giveaways for corporations and the rich will continue. I wondered why nobody on the platform referred to the fact that the "class war from above" against labor and working people had been going on for more than thirty years now. It disappointed me that we were not discussing how we might address the hostility -- and plight -- of those private sector workers who believe public sector employees have it easy. And it bothered me that we were not talking about a movement to "take back America" from the likes of the billionaire Koch brothers and the Tea Party. But I stayed quiet -- recalling all too well how the efforts of some of us to organize Scholars, Artists, and Writers for Social Justice in support of the late 1990s revival of the labor movement had self-destructed in intellectual and political wrangling.

At the same time, I not only appreciated that my fellow citizens and unionists felt no less determined to defend themselves, their families, and their rights than I did. I also was pretty sure they had more experience in doing so than this tenured professor. And those thoughts led me to recall Franklin Roosevelt's visit to this city in the summer of 1934 to celebrate the tricentennial of the first settlement of the area by French "voyageurs."

The Great Depression continued to devastate American lives, but FDR's New Deal was giving Americans hope. It mobilized their energies and renewed labor's energies, which promised a mobilization of workers in favor of not only recovery and reconstruction but also real reform. Standing before a huge crowd at Bay Beach Park, the President spoke of what joined Americans together and of the struggles they had waged and were continuing to wage:

...Men everywhere throughout Europe -- your ancestors and mine -- had suffered from the imperfect and often unjust Governments of their home land, and they were driven by deep desire to find not alone security, but also enlarged opportunity for themselves and their children. It is true that the new population flowing into our new lands was a mixed population, differing often in language, in external customs and in habits of thought. But in one thing they were alike. They shared a deep purpose to rid themselves forever of the jealousies, the prejudices, the intrigues and the violence, whether internal or external, that disturbed their lives on the other side of the ocean.

Yes, they sought a life that was less fettered by the exploitations of selfish men, set up under Governments that were not free. They sought a wider opportunity for the average man.

Having achieved that initial adventure of migrating to new homes, they moved forward to the further adventure of establishing forms of government and methods of operating these forms of government that might assure them the things they sought. They believed that men, out of their intelligence and their self-discipline, could create and use forms of government that would not enslave the human spirit, but free it and nourish it throughout the generations. They did not fear government, because they knew that government in the new world was their own.

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I do not need to tell you that here in Wisconsin they built a State destined for extraordinary achievements. They set up institutions to enforce law and order, to care for the unfortunate, to promote the arts of industry and agriculture. They built a university and school system as enlightened as any that the world affords. They set up against all selfish private interests the organized authority of the people themselves through the State. They transformed utilities into public servants instead of private means of exploitation.

People know also that the average man in Wisconsin waged a long and bitter fight for his rights. Here, and in the Nation as a whole, in the Nation at large... man has been fighting... against those forces which disregard human cooperation and human rights in seeking that kind of individual profit which is gained at the expense of his fellows...

In the great national movement that culminated over a year ago [1933], people joined with enthusiasm. They lent hand and voice to the common cause, irrespective of many older political traditions. They saw the dawn of a new day. They were on the march; they were coming back into the possession of their own home land.

As the humble instruments of their vision and their power, those of us who were chosen to serve them in 1932 turned to the great task. In one year and five months, the people of the United States have received at least a partial answer to their demands for action; and neither the demand nor the action has reached the end of the road. But, my friends, action may be delayed by two types of individuals. Let me cite examples: First, there is the man whose objectives are wholly right and wholly progressive but who declines to cooperate or even to discuss methods of arriving at the objectives because he insists on his own methods and nobody else's.

The other type to which I refer is the kind of individual who demands some message to the people of the United States that will restore what he calls "confidence." When I hear this I cannot help but remember the pleas that were made by government and certain types of so-called "big business" all through the years 1930, 1931 and 1932, that the only thing lacking in the United States was confidence.

Before I left on my trip... I received two letters from important men, both of them pleading that I say something to restore confidence. To both of them I wrote identical answers: "What would you like to have me say?" From one of them I have received no reply at all in six weeks. I take it that he is still wondering how to answer. The other man wrote me frankly that in his judgment the way to restore confidence was for me to tell the people of the United States that all supervision by all forms of Government, Federal and State, over all forms of human activity called business should be forthwith abolished.

Now, my friends, in other words, that man was frank enough to imply that he would repeal all laws, State or national, which regulate business -- that a utility could henceforth charge any rate, unreasonable or otherwise; that the railroads could go back to rebates and other secret agreements; that the processors of food stuffs could disregard all rules of health and of good faith; that the unregulated wild-cat banking of a century ago could be restored; that fraudulent securities and watered stock could be palmed off on the public; that stock manipulation which caused panics and enriched insiders could go unchecked. In fact, my friends, if we were to listen to him and his type, the old law of the tooth and the claw would reign in our Nation once more.

The people of the United States will not restore that ancient order. There is no lack of confidence on the part of those business men, farmers and workers who clearly read the signs of the times. Sound economic improvement comes from the improved conditions of the whole population and not a small fraction thereof.

Those who would measure confidence in this country in the future must look first to the average citizen...

That's where I'm looking. And from what I can tell, the people are hurting, but their struggle to extend and deepen American freedom, equality, and democracy continues.

Harvey J. Kaye is the Ben & Joyce Rosenberg Professor of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the author of Thomas Paine and the Promise of America. A member of the National Writers Union/UAW who looks forward to becoming a member of a UW faculty union, he is currently writing The Four Freedoms and the Promise of America. Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/HarveyJKaye

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What do Natalie Portman, Aaron Rodgers, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Wisconsin Workers have in common?

Feb 21, 2011Brigid OFarrell

natalie-portmanCelebrities, just like ordinary folks, understand that the right to bargain collectively for their wages, benefits, and working conditions is fundamental to American freedom.

natalie-portmanCelebrities, just like ordinary folks, understand that the right to bargain collectively for their wages, benefits, and working conditions is fundamental to American freedom.

They all joined labor unions. Natalie Portman, Academy Award nominee for her role as a ballerina in "Black Swan," said at the Screen Actors Guild award ceremony, "I've been working since I was 11 years old and [SAG] has taken care of me. They made sure that I wasn't working too long and made sure that I got my education while I was working and I am so grateful to have this union protecting me everyday."

Aaron Rodgers, quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, is this year's Super Bowl MVP. He is also the Packers' team representative for the National Football Leagues Players Association. In the face of a lockout threat by the team owners in 2011, he told Green Bay fans "We all stand behind the NFLPA and we believe in them and that they're going to represent us the right way...We realize how much this means and affects not only us but the community." It's not surprising that his teammate Charles Woodson, the Green Bay defensive icon, is standing, along with many current and former teammates, with the Wisconsin protesters. Woodson recently issued this formal announcement:

"Last week I was proud when many of my current and former teammates announced their support for the working families fighting for their rights in Wisconsin. Today I am honored to join with them. Thousands of dedicated Wisconsin public workers provide vital services for Wisconsin citizens. They are the teachers, nurses and child care workers who take care of us and our families. These hard working people are under an unprecedented attack to take away their basic rights to have a voice and collectively bargain at work."

Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the most admired women in the world, was a member of the Newspaper Guild for over 25 years and a staunch advocate for unions, which she came to view as a "fundamental element of democracy."  She gave careful consideration to her positions, however. President Roosevelt was skeptical of public employee unions and his wife struggled in her newspaper column "My Day" with the issue.

Mrs. Roosevelt worried that the public employee unions could usurp government power and she feared for the safety of children in schools and the sick in hospitals if the teachers and nurses could strike. She favored a system of tripartite government, employer, and union committees, using mediation and arbitration as ways to resolve disputes. But she also carefully considered the position of the workers. She was shocked when a city police commissioner refused to meet with a workers' grievance committee. She acknowledged budget problems, but asked if "any workers should be kept at starvation wages?"

By the late 1950s, she concluded that unionization in the public sector was necessary because employers in the public sector were little different from those in the private sector, refusing to listen to workers and treat them fairly. "Employees who are quite evidently not receiving a living wage and are dissatisfied with their conditions of work," she wrote, "would simply be slaves if they were obliged to work on without being able to reach their employers with their complaints and demand negotiation."

When teachers went on strike in New York City in 1962, she wrote that there was no "method of complaint and adjustment that could take the place of collective bargaining with the ultimate possibility of a strike." She concluded that "Under the present set-up teachers have no other recourse but to strike to draw attention to their legitimate complaints."

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Eleanor Roosevelt's belief in labor unions as a critical part of our democratic process began in the tenements on the lower east side of Manhattan, where she first learned about children working in the sweatshops and helping with the piecework at home. She walked her first picket line in 1926 to support the box makers' strike. As First Lady she refused to cross a picket line, proudly joined a union, and told striking workers in 1941 that she felt it was important that "everyone who was a worker join a labor organization."

In 1947, Eleanor Roosevelt took her message to the world stage. As a delegate to the United Nations she helped guide the Universal Declaration of Human Rights through the newly formed United Nations. It is no accident that article 23.4 states that everyone has the right to form and join a trade union to protect their interests. Eleanor Roosevelt saw this as a fundamental human right and she worked with her friends in the labor movement to secure its inclusion in the declaration. She supported this right for all workers, public and private, profit and non-profit.

When asked where human rights begin, Roosevelt answered, "In small places close to home...the neighborhood...the school...the factory, farm and office...Unless they have meaning there they will have little meaning any where." Workers rights are human rights and the workers in Wisconsin are threatened with the loss of this basic human right in the name of a fiscal crisis created by a radical governor, greed on Wall Street, and tax cuts for the wealthy.

Natalie Portman and Aaron Rodgers belong to unions and they have the right to bargain collectively for their wages, benefits, and working conditions. The nurses, forest rangers, teachers, police officers, clerks, fire fighters, and many more people who make the cities and towns of Wisconsin run also exercise their basic human right to have a voice at work and bargain collectively for their wages, benefits, and working conditions.

Governor Scott Walker, however, thinks they have somehow caused the greatest recession since the Great Depression. If only public workers didn't have the right to a democratic voice at work, he seems to argue, the state of Wisconsin could solve its budget crisis. Rush Limbaugh says they are freeloaders. Would either man forgo seats at the Academy Awards or the Super Bowl because of the "freeloaders" being honored?

Wisconsin workers have said they will negotiate. Marty Beil, executive director of the 23,000 member Wisconsin State Employees Union, AFSCME Council 24, told the governor that they would accept his proposed changes in pension and health care costs, but only if they could maintain the right of collective bargaining. His members understand that everyone has to compromise in times of economic peril, no matter who caused the problem. But they have a basic human right to participate as equals with the governor in deciding the cuts and sacrifices.

Governor Walker turned them down. This is not about the money. As President Obama clearly stated, this is an "assault on unions." What is it about the democratic process that the governor doesn't understand? Perhaps he would benefit from a trip to Egypt.

Brigid O'Farrell is an independent scholar whose new book is She Was One of Us: Eleanor Roosevelt and the American Worker, Cornell University Press.

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Obama Can Revolutionize Rural America with Broadband, FDR-style

Feb 18, 2011David B. Woolner

FDR brought prosperity to rural America with the Rural Electrification Administration and the Tennessee Valley Authority. Obama can do the same with wireless internet.

FDR brought prosperity to rural America with the Rural Electrification Administration and the Tennessee Valley Authority. Obama can do the same with wireless internet.

In a speech delivered last week in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, President Obama unveiled his plan to bring high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of America. Such an initiative, he said, would spark "new innovation, new investment and new jobs," and, if successful, would connect "every corner of America to the digital age."

Investing federal dollars in bringing the benefits of high-speed wireless to rural America is not unlike the efforts Franklin Roosevelt launched more than 75 years ago to bring electricity to America's family farms. In Roosevelt's day, it is estimated that roughly nine out of ten farms in America lacked electricity. As such, most farm families still lived a life that was more reminiscent of the 19th century. With no electricity, there was no running water, and hence no indoor plumbing or bathrooms. Water had to be brought into the house from wells or a nearby stream and heat was provided by indoor stoves. No electricity also meant that most farms lacked the convenience of modern appliances and had no way to obtain entertainment or information over the radio.

Prior to FDR's administration, advocates of rural power had found private companies disinterested due to the high costs of extending lines into the countryside, so they turned to the federal government. But even though many of the ideas being floated at the time involved the development of rural access to electricity through public-private cooperation, such plans fell on deaf ears.

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All of this changed, however, with FDR's election to the White House. A strong believer in the need for the federal government to take the lead in the development of public power, FDR launched the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in 1933 (which remains America's largest public utility) and in 1935 established the Rural Electrification Administration, or REA. The REA was a new federal agency whose sole purpose was to bring the benefits of electricity to rural America.

In its initial efforts, the REA tried to extend electricity to rural areas by providing low-cost government loans to private utility companies who would then be tasked with the job of building a full-scale rural electrical grid. But the agency soon found that most private companies were still not willing to participate in the program. As an alternative, and with the strong support of progressive Republicans like Senator George Norris of Nebraska, the REA then turned to the farmers themselves, urging them to form themselves into electricity cooperatives. These cooperatives would then receive low-interest REA loans, which would be used to finance the construction of local generating and distributing facilities and the lines needed to take the power to individual farms. The rural electrification program flourished under this formula, and by the time FDR died in 1945, it is estimated that nine out of ten farms in the country had electricity -- the exact reverse of the situation when he assumed office.

As predicted, rural electrification revolutionized life on the farm and remains one of the most significant -- if largely forgotten -- legacies of the New Deal. It vastly improved farm life, bringing running water and refrigeration, for example, which improved health and sanitation, as well as the radio, which linked farm families to the rest of the nation. It also made it possible for new labor-saving appliances and technologies to be introduced not only on the farm, but also in rural villages and schools, all of which improved the rural economy and quality of life.

President Obama's National Wireless Initiative is not unlike rural electrification. Properly administered and executed, it too can improve rural America's quality of life and has the potential, as the President observed, to "accelerate breakthroughs in health, education, and transportation." It also provides us with another example of how the federal government, in the tradition of the New Deal, can and must take the lead in improving the economic infrastructure of the country -- even in a digital age.

**For more on how FDR changed life in rural America, and how we can do it again today, check out Lynn Parramore's October, 2010 talk on the subject here. She joined other experts to talk about the enduring legacy of the New Deal.

David Woolner is a Senior Fellow and Hyde Park Resident Historian for the Roosevelt Institute.

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Egypt's Protests: U.S. Public Opinion is on Democracy's Side

Feb 10, 2011David B. Woolner

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past.

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past.

Over the course of his first two terms in office, Franklin Roosevelt's freedom of action in foreign policy was severely hampered by American public opinion. Torn asunder by the devastating effects of the Great Depression and bitter about American involvement in World War I, the American people of the 1930s largely turned their backs on the rest of the world and disavowed their international responsibilities. In the absence of American support, the League of Nations foundered and the enemies of democracy flourished. Piece by piece, Hitler's Germany expanded at the expense of her neighbors, Italy invaded Abyssinia, Franco launched his fascist crusade in Spain, and the Japanese invaded China. Restrained by neutrality laws passed in the mid 1930s that did not distinguish between aggressor and victim, FDR could do little to assist the targets of aggression and by the end of the 1930s the United States found itself confronting a new world war.

Retrained by this "isolationist" sentiment, Roosevelt's response to the international dimension of the world crisis in many ways mirrored his response to the internal crisis. He periodically tested the limits of American isolationism by engaging in limited diplomacy during the 1930s. Once war broke out, he gradually increased America's support to those who opposed fascism until December 7, 1941, when America found itself under attack and in the war.

FDR pursued this course of action because he understood the critical need for his administration not to get too far out ahead of the public in the exercise of American foreign policy. He also spent a good deal of his time trying to educate the public about the dangers fascism and the need for the United States to do what it could to help preserve democracy, in part by setting an example for the rest of the world to follow.

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As far as U.S. policy toward the current crisis in Egypt is concerned, President Obama, unlike FDR, does not find himself nearly so constrained by public opinion. Recent polls show that a majority of Americans, though cautious, support the promotion of democracy in Egypt and are very sympathetic with the plight of the protesters. Moreover, an increasing number of Middle East policy analysts have come forward to criticize the Obama administration for its failure to act more decisively in support of the democracy movement. Then there is the reaction among the protesters themselves, where -- rightly or wrongly -- there is a growing sense that U.S. policy at best is contributing to the prolongation of the crisis and at worst is now helping prop up the Mubarak regime.

Given the volatile nature of the Middle East, one can sympathize with the Obama administration's fears about the risks involved in pursuing a more forward policy. But with such a strong consensus emerging both at home and abroad in favor of "real change" in Egypt, it runs a real risk of falling far behind public opinion on an issue of immense historic importance. This would be a tragic mistake that would not only reduce our long-term credibility in the Middle East, but would also damage our standing in other parts of the world -- not to mention the damage it might do to President Obama's stature at home.

Faced with this dilemma, the best solution may be for President Obama to embrace the public sentiment in favor of democracy while at the same time exercising the same sort of leadership that FDR exercised in the mid to late 1930s. In short, it is probably high time that he came out strongly and unequivocally for the forces of democracy. Doing so might anger those in power in the Middle East, but it would place the United States and U.S. policy where it rightly belongs -- on the side of the people.

Given the passion for democracy that has erupted in much of the Middle East, pursuing such a policy should not be viewed as risky idealism, but quite the contrary, as hard-headed realism. The people of Egypt have made their choice. It is time for the United States to do the same.

David Woolner is a Senior Fellow and Hyde Park Resident Historian for the Roosevelt Institute.

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Revisiting the WPA to Remind America of its Potential

Feb 7, 2011Gray Brechin

fdr-we-need-you-150In remarks at the FDR Library on the 75th anniversary of the WPA, Gray Brechin gave this speech reminding us of the multifaceted impact of this successful government program.

fdr-we-need-you-150In remarks at the FDR Library on the 75th anniversary of the WPA, Gray Brechin gave this speech reminding us of the multifaceted impact of this successful government program.

As you all know, we Americans have been marinated in a fundamentalist ideology for the last 30 years. You know the drill: government is so inefficient and corrupt that any taxes we pay for it are extortionate and wasted. There's a corollary to that so often repeated that it's become common wisdom despite the fact that it's flat-out wrong. It goes: "Everyone knows that the New Deal didn't end the Depression, the War did." The latter cliche has served to belittle stimulus initiatives undertaken by both Presidents Roosevelt and Obama. But it's also more generally used as argument-ending proof that government stimulus programs to create jobs and get the nation out of an economic crisis are futile or actually prolong the catastrophe. The implication is that only a good worldwide bloodbath can do that -- ironically enough when all limits are taken off of government spending. (In fact, as Amy Goodman reported, Argentine President Nestor Kirchner said that President Bush told him that "the best way to revitalize the economy is war and that the United States has grown stronger with war.")

These twin mantras are repeated by people who have no idea that they use the New Deal every day. They ride over New Deal roads, enjoy public parks, cross bridges and drive through tunnels, use airports, hospitals, and libraries, and some even send their kids to schools and colleges built by New Deal agencies. We take for granted the public health that comes with clean drinking water that my grandparents could not. The PWA totally rebuilt the Chicago waste water system so that Chicagoans no longer had to drink their sewage. Much of this was put in place 75 years ago in the depths of the Great Depression in order to get out of it. Contrary to what we're repeatedly told, those programs worked; they employed millions of men, women, and youth, collectively lifting the country rapidly out of the Depression. Moreover, post-war prosperity was largely built upon the back of New Deal public works, which were then new. They are seldom, if ever, acknowledged for contributing significantly to that prosperity.

About six years ago, I was looking for a project more uplifting than the kind of environmental writing I'd done before. I thought it would be fun to work with a photographer to document what the WPA had done in California. I knew a little about the CCC and nothing about the PWA, NYA, CWA, FERA, or the REA. What followed happens to everyone who undertakes this kind of research: it's as if you were walking through a dense overgrown jungle, where you discover a strange ruin. You begin to dig and find that it's an immense building, and then that there are other often magnificent buildings connected by roads and canals, stadiums. It's more than just a city or a network of cities: it's a whole civilization that we built just 75 years ago, then allowed to be buried and forgotten as if by a volcanic eruption.

But here's where the analogy falls apart: unlike a forgotten civilization, we use this vast cultural and physical infrastructure all the time without knowing it. If you mapped them, you would see that both New York and DC are largely New Deal cities, and the great cities of the Sunbelt such as Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, and Los Angeles were largely creations of the New Deal as well.

These are all things that I learned as I delved deeper. I quickly found that this huge legacy in one state alone couldn't be contained in a book, nor could uncovering it be done by just two people. So the book morphed into "California's Living New Deal Project" -- 'living' because millions of people and generations have benefited from the New Deal without knowing it, including strident critics of the Roosevelt administration. Indeed, they do not want to know it because to do so would fatally undermine that fundamentalist ideology I mentioned at the beginning.

With a seed grant from the Columbia Foundation and help from the Labor Institute at UC Berkeley, we built an interactive website now based at the Department of Geography, where I have an office. I work with others to map what the New Deal did for one state, relying upon a network of informants -- historians, historical societies, librarians, teachers, government employees, and just people interested in the New Deal, as well as research that I and my colleagues do. As the eminent California historian Kevin Starr said to me, it's just like a WPA project: a collaborative effort in which we are constantly learning from each other and seeing the landscape anew.

The WPA is best known of the public works agencies because it left plaques and markers, though nothing commensurate with what it achieved. The PWA left far fewer markers, the CCC and CWA none at all. Most New Deal projects are unmarked, so we are constantly being surprised. For example, we only recently discovered from records of the city park commission that the WPA planted 15,000 street trees in Berkeley, trees now in their maturity, overarching the streets and making the town extremely pleasant. WPA workers improved every park in San Francisco and, we suspect, the same is true across the country. You will sometimes find yourself in a forest, as I did in Georgia, where all the trees seem to be about the same age: 75 years. You could well be enjoying some of the 3 billion trees planted by the boys of the CCC, but none of this is marked. I have not yet figured out how to map the innumerable check dams and culverts built by the CCC to save our soil.

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Little of this is known, since the New Deal was interrupted and then killed by WWII. Because of that, the records that I thought I would rely on at the Library of Congress and National Archives are sketchy to nonexistent.

Last year, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities asked me to deliver the opening address at their annual conference in La Jolla. I put together a show of the immense expansion in federal aid to public education in all of its dimensions during a few years of the Great Depression, compared with the equally dramatic contraction of public enlightenment in our own time. The 200 college presidents were astounded when I showed them that New Deal agencies built thousands of schools, entire college campuses, magnificent academic buildings, public libraries and museums, zoos and aquariums, and teaching hospitals. Many of these buildings are embellished with murals and sculptures as well as uplifting inscriptions such as ENTER TO LEARN, GO FORTH TO SERVE or WHAT YOU WOULD HAVE IN THE LIFE OF A NATION YOU MUST FIRST PUT INTO ITS SCHOOLS.

The people responsible for building this invisible New Deal archipelago had a big idea: they believed they were building a civilization worthy of the name, a democratic civilization that would endure and be a beacon to the world then darkening with the fundamentalist ideologies of those times. They had no idea that we would let it fall into ruin because we were persuaded that we should not have to pay taxes, as, for example, the governor and university administrators are now doing at the University of California because (as they say) they have no alternative. The example of the New Deal shows that there is an alternative -- it's a matter of priorities.

Compare that munificent New Deal legacy with an amendment that Senator Tom Coburn attempted to tack on to the Obama stimulus package last year. Here it is: "None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, arts center, or highway beautification project..." With the exception of gambling establishments strategically placed at the beginning of that sentence, all of these projects are things that WPA workers built and that we enjoy today, and about half of them are educational.

Or ponder an inscription in cream-glazed terra cotta on a magnificent PWA-built high school in Salem, Oregon: ENTER TO GROW IN WISDOM. Compare that with a new advertising campaign by Diesel jeans. It advises teenagers BE STUPID. That is, in a nutshell, the public, as opposed to the private, interest.

This progressive dismantling of the social contract has created in its wake an immense demoralization across the nation. To paraphrase the president who successfully launched us on the course to this decay and discord, it's nightfall in America. Rediscovering New Deal sites is therefore not just an antiquarian exercise. In their high purpose, their fine materials, their superb craftsmanship, the New Deal sites reveal an ethical dimension that neoliberal expedience has largely killed. They teach us that we are all in this together, that we are a community. They give us our moral compass back. That, for me, is their chief value.

I recently took the train across the country to give a talk in Hyde Park; I recommend it if you want to see for yourself how we are letting our cities and our physical infrastructure literally rust away, how we have become a gaudy but empty piñata. But all across the country I could look out my window and see public schools, post offices, water towers, parks and athletic fields built by New Deal agencies and still in use. No small town was untouched by the New Deal: I suspect that taxes did not seem so onerous when you saw them coming back to your community in those useful public assets that Senator Coburn wanted excluded from the stimulus package. Few in the most Republican-voting states know that their most beloved parks date from the New Deal, or that farmers still deliver their produce on all-weather farm-to-market roads built by WPA or CCC workers. Few know, when they are inspired by patriotic images of the Statue of Liberty or the Washington Monument, that these were restored by the WPA and the PWA. Those agencies left no markers to remind us that they had been there.

It's time to change that: we at UC Berkeley Geography are seeking funding to expand our California Living New Deal into a National Living New Deal inventory that will involve thousands of Americans in a collective act of rediscovery. Doing so, both young and old will learn the pleasures of doing primary research, but we'll also learn to see our country -- and our responsibilities as adults -- with fresh eyes.

And finally, I hope that we will at last honor the ingenuity and compassion of those visionaries with whom Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt surrounded themselves -- people who believed it was their Christian and Jewish duty to help those less fortunate, that it is better for society to uplift rather than to punish people, and far cheaper to build schools rather than prisons and worldwide military bases. I hope we will also honor the hard work with which our parents and grandparents successfully dug out of the Depression. We hope that through our own work, we will remind Americans what we, at our best, can accomplish together. And we might just learn the meaning of that sentiment by the Roman poet Virgil over the door of the enormous WPA-built County Administration Building in San Diego: THE NOBLEST MOTIVE IS THE PUBLIC GOOD. For my money, that sentiment beats the command from the private sector to BE STUPID.

Gray Brechin is an historical geographer, visiting scholar in the U.C. Berkeley Department of Geography and founder and project scholar of California's Living New Deal Project.

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