Put 15 Million Back to Work Fixing $2.2 Trillion in Infrastructure: the Works Progress Administration
Perhaps all is not lost for the republic's economic future, even as its leaders let this nation hurtle toward the abyss of the Great Depression II. An immensely successful, sensible and practical solution is being signaled by increasingly thunderous shout-outs from prominent people: pundits Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert, Rich Lowry, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, filmmaker Michael Moore and two new web sites - not to mention millions of voters with long memories and the friends and families of the nation's 15,000,000 unemployed.
Their solution? Resurrect the phenomenally successful Works Progress Administration (WPA) of 1935-1943. It put food on the table, kept a roof overhead and put spending money in the pockets of nearly nine million jobless. They built everything from roads, bridges, dams and utility systems to schools and hospitals. They staffed libraries and taught more than a million adults and 90,000 draftees how to read.
Also see: "The President's Jobs Plan (Not)"
Why not a WPA-II? We do have that civilian army of 15,000,000 unemployed, which could tackle the $2.2 trillion dollars of vital work needed by 2014 on our ramshackle infrastructure system.
Unlike the untold billions spent today - almost unquestioningly - on foreign wars and occupations and economic aid and infrastructure, the WPA's annual $2 billion budget was scrutinized by bitter enemies in Congress for every nickel it squeezed from the Treasury and for any whiff of abuse. But today, 72 percent of Americans are demanding the US get out of Afghanistan altogether and 84 percent oppose getting further into the conflict in Libya. The US Conference of Mayors voted on June 20 to stop funding wars and "bring war dollars home" to meet crucial domestic needs such as infrastructure. If the administration and Congress wants to win in 2012 - and obey these anti-war, anti-empire-building commands - charity could finally begin at home.
Because President Obama could scarcely ignore the eye-popping 10.2 percent unemployment rate back in 2009, he did what every nervous, overwhelmed leader does to either stall a politically dangerous action or look blameless if that action goes awry: he appointed a blue-ribbon group to study the problem.
His White House Jobs Summit was a "listening" session for ideas from 130 distinguished invitees: corporate and small-business owners, four big-city mayors, union leaders and academics. They were promised he would "immediately" push the best suggestions. One of the six recommendations was for instant pump-priming by hiring the jobless to fix infrastructure. Obama ignored it, proving to House black leaders, progressives, national columnists and millions of unemployed that the Summit was a "publicity stunt" and his soaring, seemingly sincere words were hot air.
In other calamitous eras, Roman emperors warded off unemployment riots by conscripting youth and sending them to far-off, endless, foreign wars and by providing grain and bloody circuses, to keep the jobless diverted from life's unspeakable realities. These leaders had no compunctions about dipping deep into the treasury to fund monumental public-works programs to save their thrones. Their senates might have grumbled, but most wanted to retain power and money - and their lives.
America now stands on the same brink Rome's emperors and senators did, but its president and political leaders are fiddling away the solution that could prevent the nation from plummeting over the edge. And they are doing so thanks to the same kind of financial cabal that counseled President Herbert Hoover that "prosperity was just around the corner" - right up to the Crash of 1929 and Hoover's 1932 defeat by Roosevelt.
Worse for Obama's overly optimistic re-election plans are his rote, fatuous statements that only private industry and small businesses - given grants or a few tax incentives - can solve America's unemployment crisis. His theatrical earnestness has become as unbelievable as his June 13 declaration to workers at a North Carolina lightbulb factory, where he called joblessness the nation's "single most serious economic problem" - and then continued, with a straight face:
I won't be satisfied until working families feel like they're moving forward again, that they're progressing again. That's what drives me every day when I walk down to the Oval Office - you, your families, your jobs, your dreams and everything it takes to reach those dreams.
Reich called it "fluff:" "Doesn't the White House get it? The President has to have a bold jobs plan, with specifics ... a WPA ..."
The president, however, could retort that he was trying. He'd set up yet another blue-ribbon group, the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. He said it had a board of "leaders who have decades of experience in running some of America's best businesses," plus union leaders and academics. None were from the ranks of the jobless or staff from unemployment offices.
Interestingly, it's entirely possible that one of the sticking points in Obama's pallid July drawdown from Afghanistan of 5,000 troops - instead of the expected 100,000 - has been concern that any reduction of the military anywhere will only add thousands to the unemployment lines. Too many people remember 1975, when unemployment was at 8.5 percent - almost 8 million people. Or 1983, when it was 9.7 percent, or over 10.7 million workers. Thousands of Vietnam veterans were in those lines, either because they couldn't find work or were emotionally unfit for the workplace.
Today, thousands of civilians are in the same physical and emotional shape as those despondent Vietnam and Gulf War veterans - and entertaining deadly remedies (alcohol, drug addiction, suicide, violence) as they become the latest statistics from the Bureau of Labor.
Nearly 14 million Americans are unemployed and 8.5 million are desperately clinging to part-time work. The worst hit, accounting for 822,00 people, are in their 40s and 50s. After fruitlessly pursuing any kind of job for over two years, they have given up on looking - and on any future.
Most can't spare dwindling savings for trade schools or college to change fields or upgrade skills and they know that even recent graduates can't find jobs. Those deciding to start a business have been unable to get small start-up loans because banks are either hoarding reserves or fearing inexperienced, first-time entrepreneurs may cost them collateral if they fail.
Fortunately for Obama and law-enforcement legions, nobody has begun to organize the army of unemployed into overthrowing an unresponsive government, as was beginning to happen when Roosevelt became president in 1932. Nor have the unemployed turned ugly individually, perhaps because they're told to be perpetual optimists, or because of learned helplessness about "fighting the system."
While unemployment was earning ho-hums from Obama and political leaders within and outside Congress, so was the nation's rapidly disintegrating infrastructure. It seemed the problem would continue to be ignored unless the very floors of the White House or the Capitol collapsed or the runways at Washington's airports cracked.
The latest report from the nation's premier engineering experts, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), estimated that such Congressional disinterest has caused damaging consequences so extensive that $2.2 trillion will be required by 2014 just to meet current demands. That estimate was prior to the June tornado that tore up an estimated $75 million worth of roads, bridges and public structures in Joplin, Missouri and the rampaging Mississippi and Missouri rivers wracking up $4 billion to $9 billion in repair work. Communities affected by Katrina and the BP oil catastrophes still await billions for infrastructure work - and this year's hurricane season has just started.
The ASCE gave the nation's infrastructure an overall grade of "D." Its report cited cracking levees, a quarter of the nation's existing bridges sagging, leaking pipes losing billions of gallons of drinking water per day, aging sewers releasing human waste into rivers and lakes, horrendous traffic congestion and air and water pollution. Paramount among the report's five major solutions was increasing federal leadership in infrastructure.
Obama and most of Congress have ignored the report, even though ASCE furnishes much of the structural engineering expertise for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Worse, Congress is actually mulling a long-term, 31 percent cut to infrastructure appropriations. The terrible irony is that billions could be available to cover that $2.2 trillion for infrastructure without depending on the political whims of a president or Congress.
For years, billions have been lavished on foreign econ . . . .
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