New Deal-Era Public Cannery in Virginia

Dan Charles/NPR

NPR’s All Things Considered featured a story about a public cannery in Prince Edward County, Virginia. A relic of the New Deal era, the public cannery allows members of the pubic to “walk in with bags of produce from their garden and walk out with preserved food.” During the New Deal and World War II, there were hundreds of public canneries across the country. Read or listen to the full story here.

Fort Lee, NJ Murals to Be Restored

Four murals documenting Fort Lee’s history will be restored and exhibited in Fort Lee, New Jersey.  The murals were painted by Henry Schnakenberg and displayed in the city’s post office, shortly after its 1938 construction.  The post office, however, will soon be demolished and replaced with a new post office.  The city will preserve the murals, restore them, and exhibit them either in the new post office or an alternative public space.  Click here for the details and a video about the project.

Book review – A Third Term for FDR: The Election of 1940

Brent McKee, The Living New Deal’s Project Historian, reviewed John W. Jeffries’ A Third Term for FDR: The Election of 1940 (University Press of Kansas, 2017):

Anyone who thought the 2016 presidential race was uniquely bizarre and nasty should check out John Jeffries’ new book, A Third Term for FDR: The Election of 1940. There are several interesting similarities between the 1940 battle and the one that, mercifully, just ended. For example, Wendell Wilkie, Roosevelt’s Republican challenger, once said, “I’m the cockiest fellow you ever saw. If you want to vote for me fine. If you don’t go jump in the lake and I’m still for you.” Journalist Arthur Krock explained that Wilkie was “a novelty, a sparkling political prism and a thrilling entertainment. He appears to say anything he really thinks.” Hmmm… sound familiar?

As for the nastiness of the race, Wilkie and his wife were the targets of many projectiles, including “eggs, tomatoes, rocks, oranges, and in Detroit a cantaloupe and a wastebasket…” And political literature was distributed (by anonymous sources) portraying Wilkie as a Nazi sympathizer and Roosevelt as a communist who was too friendly with minority groups.

Even the intraparty squabbles of the Democratic Party were similar to the tensions between the Bernie camp and the Hillary camp in 2016. Roosevelt, it seems, was not interested in milquetoast liberalism; he wanted the New Deal continued with bold progressive policies. And similar to Bernie Sanders’ numerous warnings to the Democratic Party about its ineffective centrism, Roosevelt said in August 1939: “The Democratic Party will not survive as an effective force in the nation if the voters have to choose between a Republican Tweedle Dum and a Democratic Tweetle Dummer… if we nominate conservative candidates, or lip-service candidates, on a straddle bug platform… [it would be] an unfortunate suicide of the old Democratic Party.”

One of Jeffries’ most interesting findings is that voter satisfaction with the New Deal was still high enough in 1940 to have a significant impact on the election and help secure a third victory for FDR. This counters what we frequently hear from those on the political right—and even many in the political center or left—that America was, by the end of the 1930s, weary of the New Deal. Also interesting were the voting results by income. Jeffries highlights a postelection Gallup survey, showing “Roosevelt won some 28 percent of the upper-income vote, 53 percent of the middle-income, and 69 percent of the lower-income.” It seems Roosevelt’s consistent push for higher taxes on the wealthy and more assistance programs for the middle-class and poor had the outcome one would expect.

A Third Term for FDR has the right mix of interesting, often humorous stories, and academic & statistical analysis. Scholars, professional historians, and policy wonks will find it to be a great resource, and others, such as history buffs and political junkies, will appreciate its brisk pace, logical flow, and stunning relevancy to today’s current events and political fights. So, for more fascinating information on the above and more, pick up a copy of A Third Term for FDR.

Public Investment in Puerto Rico in the Wake of Hurricane Maria

Canovanas, Puerto Rico on September 26, 2017., 2017
Canovanas, Puerto Rico on September 26, 2017. (Reuters / Carlos Garcia Rawlins)  Source
Photo Credit: Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Over a month after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Puerto Rico remains devastated from the damage inflicted, with much of the island still without power.  In the aftermath of the storms, there has been some discussion of implementing significant public investment in Puerto Rico, in the spirit of the New Deal programs.

An article in The Nation, written by Ed Morales, advocates for an investment akin to the aid Roosevelt provided after the island’s deadly hurricanes in 1928 and 1932.  After those storms, “Roosevelt established the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration, which created jobs, built schools and medical facilities, expanded the university, and enhanced the electoral infrastructure.  Today’s monumental debt, an outgrowth of neoliberal excess, should be resolved with some version of the plan proposed by Bernie Sanders in his 2016 campaign: The Federal Reserve should buy back the debt from bondholders and deny the vulture funds a profit, imposing the kind of severe ‘haircuts’ that the current Title III bankruptcy proceedings are unlikely to require.”

Another article in In These Times, written by Kate Aronoff, notes that the 1928 and 1932 hurricanes decimated Puerto Rico, killing more than 300 residents, and leaving 500,000 homeless.  The Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration (“PRRA”), which lasted until 1955, “sought to address longer-term issues like infrastructure development and entrenched poverty.”  As a result, “[b]y the late 1930s, Puerto Rico had the highest rate of school enrollment in its history,” and “[f]or some parts of the commonwealth, the schools constructed by the PRRA were the first ever.”  To prepare for future storms, “the PRRA worked with architects and engineers to construct thousands of concrete houses that could withstand hurricane-force winds—as many did just recently during Maria.”  Perhaps most importantly, “the PRRA created massive numbers of jobs. Unemployment in 1934 had swelled to around 350,000 people, affecting an estimated three-quarters of the island. Four years later, the number of people unemployed had dropped to 150,000, with the program directly having put tends of thousands of people to work each year. In September 1936, there were 51,749 people working on PRRA projects.”

Source: Morales, Ed. “Puerto Rico Needs Massive Emergency Aid Now – and An End to Austerity.”  The Nation, September 29, 2017.

Source: Aronoff, Kate. “How Puerto Rico Recovered Before.” In These Times, September 26, 2017.

Restoration of Eleanor Roosevelt’s Childhood Home

An effort is underway to restore Eleanor Roosevelt’s childhood home in Clermont, New York.  Eleanor Roosevelt’s grandfather built the home in 1872 and she spent much of her youth there.  After decades of neglect, Van Lamprou, a co-founder of Dolce Vita Footwear, purchased the property and is leading its restoration.  Van Lamprou plans to use the space for civil engagement, including hosting veterans’ groups, farmers’ organizations, conservation groups, educators and others at the home.  “I feel like we’re at a bit of a loss for some core values and I think this home can stand for some simple core values that are important to me, that I believe were important to why Eleanor Roosevelt became Eleanor Roosevelt,” Mr. Lamprou said.

Source: Shannon, William. “Restoring Eleanor Roosevelt’s Childhood Home on the Hudson.”  The New York Times, September 17, 2017.

Photos source: Brooks, Nathaniel. “Restoring Eleanor Roosevelt’s Childhood Home on the Hudson.”  The New York Times, September 17, 2017.

Bernie Sanders and Co-Sponsors Introduce “Medicare for All,” Echoing Roosevelt’s Goal of Universal Health Care

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and 16 of his Democratic colleagues introduced legislation on September 13, 2017 to guarantee health care to every American by expanding and improving Medicare.  The Medicare for All Act of 2017 would establish a national health insurance program called the Universal Medicare Program. Under this legislation, every resident of the United States would receive health insurance through an expanded Medicare program with improved and comprehensive benefits.

Over 80 years ago, Roosevelt too viewed universal health care as a critical goal.  In fact he had originally sought to include national health insurance in his Social Security legislation, but decided that it was too ambitious an agenda at the time.  Nevertheless, his administration actively pursued the issue.

Even after the nation entered World War II, Roosevelt continued to advocate for universal health care, “propos[ing] that Social Security be expanded to include hospital insurance, as well as temporary and permanent disability benefits. Though the country was still emerging from the Great Depression and drastically increasing spending on the military, FDR told Congress that guaranteed, universal health care was unquestionably affordable:

‘Our resources are such that even with the projected huge war expenditures we can maintain a standard of living more than adequate to support the health and productivity of our people.’

In his Jan. 6, 1945 State of the Union Address, as the end of the war was in sight, he indicated he was ready to enact universal health care:

‘In considering the State of the Union, the war and the peace that is to follow are naturally uppermost in the minds of all of us … An expanded social security program, and adequate health and education programs, must play essential roles in a program designed to support individual productivity and mass purchasing power. I shall communicate further with the Congress on these subjects at a later date.'”

Roosevelt died just three months later.

Source: Altman, Nancy. “Medicare for All: The Next Step in the New Deal.”  Huffington Post, September 12, 2017.