Is This How You Remember Ronald Reagan? (Cartoon)

Editor’s note: Here’s a belated 100th birthday tribute to Ronald Reagan. I wanted to print this on his actual birthday, when there was so much adoring clamor, but first I had to buy rights to this 2004 cartoon by Kirk Anderson.

Connie Wanek: “Mysterious Neighbors”

American Life in Poetry: Column 308


Connie Wanek is one of my favorite poets. She lives in Duluth and has a keen eye for what goes on around her. Here’s a locked and loaded scene from rural America.

Mysterious Neighbors

Country people rise early
as their distant lights testify.
They don’t hold water in common. Each house
has a personal source, like a bank account,
a stone vault. Some share eggs,
some share expertise,
and some won’t even wave.
A walk for the mail elevates the heart rate.
Last November I saw a woman down the road
walk out to her mailbox dressed in blaze orange
cap to boot, a cautious soul.
Bullets can’t read her No Trespassing sign.
Strange to think they’re in the air
like lead bees with a fatal sting.
Our neighbor across the road sits in his kitchen
with his rifle handy and the window open.
You never know when. Once
he shot a trophy with his barrel resting on the sill.
He’s in his seventies, born here, joined the Navy,
came back. Hard work never hurt a man
until suddenly he was another broken tool.
His silhouette against the dawn
droops as though drought-stricken, each step
deliberate, down the driveway to his black mailbox,
prying it open. Checking a trap.

Power of Nonviolence: How a Martin Luther King Comic Book Helped Organize the Egyptian Uprising

Sam Graham Felsen wrote this eye-opening article for The Nation: “How Cyber-Pragmatism Brought Down Mubarak.”


Among the reasons for the remarkable non-violence of the protesters, he includes a “comic book from the 1950s that told Martin Luther King’s story.” Inspired by the success of King’s nonviolent tactics, Dalia Ziada, “long-time human rights activist and blogger … translated the book into Arabic and published it in print and online.”

“MLK was only 29 years old when he launched his campaign and motivated the whole Afro-American community,” Dalia told me. “When people learned about MLK and Gandhi success stories they realized they can do it here too. We have the power to turn our dreams into real tangible facts.” Ziada distributed thousands of print and digital copies of the comic book to her fellow organizers, who took not only inspiration but instruction from the persistence and tactical sophistication of the civil rights movement.

Over time, hundreds of thousands joined the “We Are All Khaled Said”  [Facebook] page, sharing stories of police abuse and posting inspirational YouTube videos and photos, while core organizers pushed them to attend a series of nonviolent “silent stand” protests in public. None of these protests, which took place in June and August of 2010, drew more than a few thousand people.

But in the wake of the Tunisia uprising—when activists saw that the nonviolent tactics of King and Gandhi had succeeded in a nearby country—Ghonim and his fellow organizers seized on the collective hope. Calling a protest on January 25, activists quickly began distributing downloadable flyers and detailed instruction manuals that included advice on how to counteract tear gas. To ensure greater numbers, organizers promised one another that they would each bring at least ten non-connected people they knew to the protests. They even agreed on messaging tactics in advance. In order to better succeed at recruiting poorer, less-educated Egyptians to join them, they focused on economic issues as a rallying cry, not torture. “We spoke their language,” said Dalia, “not our language as Internet users.”

Read the full article here.

Vested Rights Granted to Lehigh Cement in Santa Clara County

I’m still getting Google alerts on “vested rights” after following the Blue Lead Mine application for that right some months ago.

Aerial View of Lehigh Quarry -- Cupertino

Today’s alert points to an article describing a decision by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors (against the advice of its own staff) to grant vested rights to Lehigh Heidelberg Cement Group, which will now not have to apply for new land-use permits to quarry on 13 of 19 parcels it owns in unincorporated lands adjacent to the towns of Cupertino and Los Altos in the San Francisco Bay Area. Instead, it will be able to operate under the rules in place at the time mining first began on their property.

The Santa Clara County BOS was apparently very influenced by our own Nevada County Hansen case. In fact, the attorney in the Hansen case (Mark Harrison) also argued this case before the Santa Clara County Board (he was allowed 15 minutes to speak, but the main opposition group, No Toxic Air, was not accorded equal time).

County staff members had placed a boundary around the areas where they said they could show there had been mining, or intent to mine, which included portions of parcels.

The recommendation was to grant vested rights within those boundaries. Instead, supervisors granted rights to entire parcels.

It was a disappointing decision for Quarry No founder Bill Almon of Los Altos Hills.

“The impact of this is huge,” he said. “I don’t think (the supervisors) realize what they were giving up.”

Despite the assurances by staff that future activities will include reclamation plans and environmental reviews, Almon called those measures weak compared with land-use permits, which he claimed gives government more regulatory control.

Also disappointed was Cupertino Councilman Barry Chang, who led a protest outside of the county headquarters before the hearing and passionately addressed the board—to some low “boos” from Lehigh supporters in the audience.

Chang said he and his group, No Toxic Air, had asked that their attorneys be given the same amount of time to address the board as Lehigh’s attorney, 15 minutes. The request was denied, leaving members one minute apiece to speak.

Their goal, Chang said, was to point to other court cases that they believe allow government bodies to rule against vested rights when there is potential harm to the public involved. It was why members pointed over and over again to possible harm from mercury and other toxins emitted by the plant.

This part of the Peninsula is our old stomping ground. Los Altos, particularly the town of Los Altos Hills, is a very upscale area, nestled near the mostly beautiful foothills of the southern Peninsula.

Here’s a fascinating short YouTube video posted on one of the opposition websites, No Toxic Air, highlighting the toxic mercury risks of Lehigh’s quarry operations:

And here’s the Granicus video of the portion of the February 8th Santa Clara Board of Supervisors meeting in which the Lehigh issue was discussed (after video starts, click on Item #27)


More Resources

Quarry No

No Toxic Air

National Debt Half What it Was in 1946

Editor’s note: Economist James Galbraith debunks the latest effort by deficit hawks to raise fears about the debt and deficit, and to undermine Social Security and Medicare.

Deficit Hawks Down: The Misconstrued “Facts” Behind Their Hype

Cross-posted from the Roosevelt Institute’s New Deal 2.0 blog.

by James K. Galbraith
Economist James K. Galbraith attends a Pete Peterson-funded road show.

The Fiscal Solutions Tour is the latest Peter G. Peterson Foundation effort to rouse the public against deficits and the national debt — and in particular (though they manage to avoid saying so) to win support for measures that would impose drastic cuts on Social Security and Medicare. It features Robert Bixby of the Concord Coalition, former Comptroller General David Walker and the veteran economist Alice Rivlin, whose recent distinctions include serving on the Bowles-Simpson commission. They came to Austin on February 9 and (partly because Rivlin is an old friend) I went.

Mr. Bixby began by describing the public debt as “the defining issue of our time.” It is, he said, a question of “how big a debt we can have and what can we afford?” He did not explain why this is so. He did not, for instance, attempt to compare the debt to the financial crisis, to joblessness or foreclosures, nor to energy or climate change. Oddly none of those issues were actually mentioned by anyone, all evening long.

A notable feature of Bixby’s presentation were his charts. One of them showed clearly how the public deficit soared at the precise moment that the financial crisis struck in late 2008. The chart also shows how the Clinton surpluses had started to disappear in the recession of 2000. But Mr. Bixby seemed not to have noticed either event. Flashing this chart, he merely commented that “Congress took care” of the budget surplus. Still, the charts did show the facts — and in this respect they were the intellectual highpoint of the occasion.

A David Walker speech is always worth listening to with care, for Mr. Walker is a reliable and thorough enumerator of popular deficit-scare themes. Three of these in particular caught my attention on Wednesday.

Image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

To my surprise, Walker began on a disarming note: he acknowledged that the level of our national debt is not actually high. In relation to GDP, it is only a bit over half of what it was in 1946. And to give more credit, the number Walker used, 63 percent, refers to debt held by the public, which is the correct construct — not the 90+ percent figure for gross debt, commonly seen in press reports and in comparisons with other countries. The relevant number is today below where it was in the mid-1950s, and comparable to the early 1990s.

But Mr. Walker countered that fact with another, which I’d never heard mentioned before: in real terms he said — that is, after adjusting for inflation — per capita national debt is now twice what it was back then.

The problem is that real per capita national debt is a concept with no economic meaning or importance. (No government agency reports it, either.) Even in the private sector, debt levels matter only in relation to income and wealth: richer people can (and do) take on more debt. Real per capita national income is well over three times higher today than it was in 1946 — so how could it possibly matter that the “real per capita national debt” is twice as high?

Next, Mr. Walker made a comparison between the United States and Greece, with the implication being that this country might, some day soon, face that country’s interest costs. But of course this is nonsense. Greece is a small nation that has to borrow in a currency it cannot control. The United States is a large nation that pays up in a money it can print. There is no chance the markets will mistake the US for Greece, and of course they have not done so.

Finally, Mr. Walker warned that “foreign lenders… can’t dump their debt but can curb their appetite” for new US Treasury bonds. This was an oblique reference to the yellow peril. The idea, when you think about it, is that the Chinese central bank will acquire dollars — which it does when China runs an export surplus — and then fail to convert them into Treasury bonds, thereby choosing, voluntarily, to hold dollars in cash, which earns no interest, instead of as Treasury bills, which do.

Mr. Walker did not try to explain why this would appeal to the Chinese.

Walker closed by calling for action tied to an increase in the debt ceiling; specifically for a hard cap on the debt-to-GDP ratio with “enforcement mechanisms,” which could include pro rata cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits and tax surcharges. He did not specify whether the cap should apply to gross federal debt or only to that part of the debt held by the public (a number which the Federal Reserve can change, any time it wants, by buying or selling public debt). When pressed, in the question period, he would not even say what he thought the cap should be.

I waited for Ms. Rivlin to add something sensible. But she did not. Apart from some platitudes — she favors “serious tax reform” and “restructuring Medicare” — her interesting contribution was to restate Mr. Walker’s comment about “foreign lenders,” who might say “we’re not going to lend you any more money.” That this would amount to saying “we’re not going to sell you any more goods” seems — from a question-and-answer and brief exchange afterward — genuinely not to have crossed her mind.

The Fiscal Solutions Tour comes with a nice brochure, and even (in my case) with a flash drive containing Mr. Bixby’s powerpoints. But does Mr. Peterson think he’s getting his money’s worth? The President, in his State of the Union, mostly ignored him. The Bowles-Simpson effort (which he paid for in part) and the closely allied Rivlin-Domenici plan are fading from view. And as the House Republicans forge their own course, demanding radical spending cuts right now — for political rather than economic reasons, which they don’t even bother to explain — the tired and shabby arguments of these old deficit-worriers hardly seem connected, any more, to the battles at hand.

James K. Galbraith is a Vice President of Americans for Democratic Action. He is General Editor of “Galbraith: The Affluent Society and Other Writings, 1952-1967,” just published by Library of America. He teaches at the University of Texas at Austin.

No Dirty Gold: This Valentine’s Day, Say No to Gold That’s Mined at the Expense of the Environment and Workers

Originally published in Alternet.

By Payal Sampat and Scott Cardiff.

Communities affected by mining deserve meaningful changes that improve real conditions on the ground.

Thinking of giving your sweetheart gold jewelry for Valentine’s Day? You might want to first know what goes into making it. Extracting enough gold for one ring takes an average of two pounds of cyanide (a teaspoon will kill you). Processing the gold in one ring uses over 1,400 gallons of water, enough to meet the daily needs of 100 people. Left behind is a toxic sludge containing heavy metals, cyanide compounds, and arsenic. Each gold ring produces an average of 20 tons of waste – millions of tons over the life of a mine.

Producing gold can also come at great human cost. Mines are often imposed on communities that don’t want them, and cause communities to lose their lands and livelihoods. Human costs also include the use of child labor in mines in Mali, dangerous conditions in mines in Ghana, and armed violence and human rights violations that have been linked to gold mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Seven years ago, the No Dirty Gold campaign called on jewelers to stop using gold produced in irresponsible ways. The campaign focused on jewelry because it is the primary end use of gold, accounting for some 80 percent of the annual mine production. More than 100,000 people have since signed the No Dirty Gold pledge to demand that companies not sell gold produced at the expense of communities, workers, and the environment. Over 70 jewelers have signed on to the Golden Rules for responsible sourcing of gold and precious metals. By signing they have sent a clear message to their suppliers about their desire for more responsibly produced metals. They have committed to seeking out responsible sources and independent verification of sourcing claims, and to increasing their use of recycled gold.

Over 50 jewelers have also pledged to protect the world’s most valuable wild sockeye salmon fishery from an irresponsible mine project. At the request of the commercial fishing and indigenous communities of Bristol Bay, Alaska, they have promised not to use gold from the proposed Pebble mine. If built, Pebble would be the largest open-pit mine in North America, and would dump up to 10 billion tons of toxic waste at the headwaters of Bristol Bay.

Many jewelry companies have taken important steps in the right direction, but others, like Target, have turned a blind eye. Some jewelers have been so anxious to reassure their customers that they can shop without hurting their conscience that they have done so without any guarantee that the jewelry is actually being produced in more responsible ways.

Take Walmart. No Dirty Gold has commended Walmart for being the first Big Box retailer to sign the Golden Rules, and for taking steps to track its supply chain. But in its haste to launch a “green” jewelry line, Walmart made claims that were not accurate. Last month, an investigation for New Times by Jean Friedman-Rodovsky exposed the truth behind Walmart’s ‘Love, Earth’ line of jewelry, revealing that it comes at a great cost to workers in Bolivia and to the environment and communities around mines in the United States.

Another example of PR claims without meaningful change is the mining and jewelry industry-led Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC). This is a trade association ostensibly concerned about social and environmental issues throughout the gold and diamonds supply chain. But its members do not include affected communities, mining unions or public interest groups.

The system as it is currently structured doesn’t move us any closer to more responsible mining.

Communities and places affected by mining deserve meaningful changes that improve real conditions on the ground. One step in the right direction is the recent set of rules drafted by the Securities and Exchange Commission requiring companies traded on U.S. stock exchanges to determine if they are using gold from conflict mines in the Congo. An initiative to develop standards and an independent verification process for gold and other metals is now underway – and this effort, the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance or IRMA, includes both civil society and corporate participants.

Consumers care about their purchases and want to be assured that their gold jewelry or cell phone did not come at the cost of human rights or the environment. Jewelry companies should support transparency and truly independent verification of the metals supply chain, and insist that their suppliers provide them with cleaner alternatives to “dirty” gold. Now that’s an idea we could grow to love.

Payal Sampat is international campaign director and Scott Cardiff is international campaign coordinator for EARTHWORKS, an international mining reform organization.

NY Times: “Grass Valley has long since moved its economy away from mining”

Jesse McKinley, writing in the New York Times on February 10th (“Old Mines Reopen in a Revival of California’s Gold Rush“), notes the local community opposition to re-opening the Idaho-Maryland Mine and finds that, “like many other towns in the Mother Lode, Grass Valley has long since moved its economy away from mining.”

The Idaho-Maryland project is much further from being shovel-ready than the Lincoln Mine: pumping out more than 50 years of water will take time, after all, as does completing a variety of environmental impact reports and permitting processes. And the prospect of a newly opened mine has also been met with opposition from some local activists, whose worries are rooted in both the legacy of the first Gold Rush — including contaminated and sediment-filled rivers and hillsides denuded by hydraulic drills — and by more modern quality-of-life concerns like traffic, noise and water rights.

“We’d be looking at reopening a mine in the middle of a city,” said Ralph Silberstein, the president of a grass-roots group called Citizens Looking At the Impacts of Mining in Grass Valley (or CLAIM-GV). “Which is not a good idea.”

Indeed, like many of the other towns in the Mother Lode, Grass Valley has long since moved its economy away from mining toward things like software and tourism.

Read the full story here.

Amgen Stage 2 Detailed Map Shows Race on Outskirts of Grass Valley and Nevada City

The Amgen detailed Stage 2 map, now online, shows a route through the outskirts of both Nevada City and Grass Valley.

More details may prove parts of the following guess wrong, but — judging only by the online map, which is still somewhat crude — the route approaches (but misses) downtown Nevada City on Highway 20, then onto Nevada Street, to Sacramento Street, to Zion Street and onto to Ridge Road all the way to Grass Valley.

The race continues on Ridge Road, missing downtown Grass Valley proper, and on to Rough and Ready Highway, rejoining Highway 20 at Penn Valley, then continues on Highway 20 all the way to Beale AFB and beyond.

Here’s the relevant portion of the map (see the whole dynamic map here):

Here’s the Stage 2 video, just released:

FDR’s New Deal Still Alive Here in Nevada County

Editor’s note: The following speech by Gray Brechin, founder and project scholar of California’s Living New Deal Project, is among the finest I have had the pleasure of reprinting. Be sure to follow the link to the New Deal Map, and find the local New Deal projects in Nevada County, such as the Nevada City City Hall and the Nevada City Courthouse. Try also the map’s search function.

Cross-posted from New Deal 2.0, originally published Monday, 02/7/2011 – 9:37 am

Revisiting the WPA to Remind America of its Potential

In 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.

Nevada City City Hall -- A New Deal Project

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.

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.

Nevada City Courthouse -- A New Deal Project

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.

Nevada City Elementary School -- A New Deal Project

Grass Valley School -- A New Deal Project

Elsewhere in California (SF Bay Bridge) -- A New Deal Project

Will There Still Be a Lake Tahoe When There is No Longer a Snowpack?

A few months after his daughter was born, author Mark Hertsgaard had an epiphany. He was on assignment in England, seven weeks after Katrina, working on an article for Vanity Fair for its first green issue. He had just interviewed British science advisor David King:

“David King told me climate change had arrived one hundred years sooner than scientists had expected. And that wasn’t the worst of it. He went on to explain that the physical inertia of the climate system—the laws of physics and chemistry—guaranteed that average global temperatures would keep rising for another thirty to forty years, even if humanity somehow was to halt all greenhouse gas emissions overnight. The upshot was that our civilization was locked in to a large amount of future climate change no matter how many solar panels, electric cars, and other green technologies we eventually embraced.”

After the interview, walking across Westminster Bridge in London and hearing children playing, he suddenly realized that his daughter would have to live through that world.

He also made a conscious decision to not despair, as he explains to Michael Krasny in the audio interview below.

Even if the odds were 10 to 1 or 1000 to 1 against  him, he would do anything, he said, for his daughter’s sake.

Among the interesting questions asked by callers in this interview is: “Will there still be a Lake Tahoe when there is no longer a snowpack in fifty years?”

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