The Blog of the Frances Perkins Center

Archive for December, 2009|Monthly archive page

Civilian Conservation Corps’ projects still enhance quality of life in America

In Biography on December 31, 2009 at 10:06 am

The magazine of the Appalachian Mountain Club, amc outdoors, has an interesting article, “Ski in History’s Tracks: FDR’s cross-country legacy,” about some Northeastern parks built by the CCC under FDR and Frances Perkins, whom FDR put in charge implementing the CCC.

As we await a major snowstorm to blow in the New Year here in Maine, it’s fun to read about places nearby where we might enjoy some great outdoor activity in the new snow, thanks to those visionary New Dealers.

Here’s a quote from “Ski in History’s Tracks”:

Nearly seven decades after the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built its last bridge and blazed its last trail, recreation enthusiasts are still benefitting. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program, aimed to put unemployed men to work, had a lasting impact on recreation. The downhill ski industry in New England was practically created by the CCC (read “Thunder Struck”) and the trails and roads built in parks and forests created cross-country ski destinations that are popular to this day.

Thank you

In General on December 30, 2009 at 9:27 am

Here’s to a productive and effective New Year — working together for social justice and economic fairness!

Wreath on The Brick House woodshed door (photo: Christopher Rice)

It’s been a great first year for the Frances Perkins Center, thanks to the participation of so many wonderful people and organizations. Here’s a quick rundown of some of our activities:

In January, publication of Adam Cohen’s book, Nothing to Fear, started things off with its strong focus on Frances Perkins’s contribution to FDR’s first 100 days; in February we held several of our popular “Fireside Chats” at the Center; in March, Center board member Kirstin Downey hit the spotlight with her monumental biography, The Woman Behind the New Deal; we held a national “launch” celebration in April in the Great Hall at the Department of Labor in Washington, followed by a reception at the historic Women’s National Democratic Club; in May, many progressive organizations joined us for our conference, “The New New Deal: Building an Economy That Works for All of Us,” in Belfast, Maine; our Garden Party in June at the Center brought many to see the gardens and meet our six Frances Perkins honorees–women who’ve carried on her spirit in Maine–on one of the few sunny days that month; we were introduced to a wider audience in July by our appearance on Maine Public Television’s “Maine Watch”; in August our wonderful intern from Mount Holyoke College, Sichu Mali, concluded her three-month effort cataloguing photos, letters, and articles at the Center; in September we put together our first Senior College course on Frances Perkins; in October we started making plans for 2010 (more about that later); and in November we were thrilled to view the opening of the exhibit of Frances Perkins’s papers at the Butler Library at Columbia University in New York. In December we began working with a coalition of more than 40 national organizations fighting an attempt to cut Social Security and Medicare, launching a petition opposing the attack.

Today we’re stopping to catch our breath and look back over the year and say, “THANK YOU!” to all of you who have participated in one way or another. We’ve made so many new friends and pressed so many old friends into service, the Frances Perkins Center is becoming a remarkable community.

We have an exciting plan for 2010 and important work to do, as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of Social Security, which Frances Perkins called her greatest achievement. The anniversary coincides with yet another attempt to diminish Social Security, which makes our highlighting the program’s significance that much more important. We’re kicking it all off with a conference and film premiere on January 14th in New York; for more information or to register, go to There are more events and activities to come after that, but we don’t want to spoil the surprise now…

In the meantime, here’s a gentle reminder that there are only a few days left in 2009 in which to make a contribution to the Frances Perkins Center. As a fledgling organization, every dollar makes a difference. Any size contribution you make will be greatly appreciated. To make a contribution, go to

Thank you for all the ways you’ve participated in our mission this year. We look forward to having you on our team in 2010.

Two month reprieve on fast-track commission

In Legislation Today, Political world on December 16, 2009 at 4:21 pm

Looks like the House has raised the debt ceiling temporarily for the next two months, thus avoiding the Conrad-Gregg fast-track “deficit” commission that threatened to make cuts to Social Security and Medicare in the name of reducing the deficit. (See this previous post, and this, and this.) A group of Senators has vowed to hold up an increase in the debt ceiling unless such a commission is put in place. (Funny, why didn’t they try to do that when the previous administration was racking up such huge deficits?)

However, the pressure for some sort of cost-cutting commission is intense. On Monday, a coalition consisting of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, Pew Trust, and Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget held a press conference at the National Press Club to release the report of what they called the “Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform.” The Peterson Foundation was founded in 2008 with an endowment of $1 billion by its namesake, who made his money as a co-founder of the Blackstone Group, a huge multinational investment firm. With that kind of money (Peterson & Pew) behind the call for the fast-track commission, it’s hard to ignore.

Yet, a large coalition of nonprofit groups — more than 40 — has sent a letter to Congress urging it to resist the suggestion that a fast-track commission that starts off with a predisposition to cut social benefits is the right way to work on the deficit. In addition, thousands of individuals have signed a petition that we initiated urging President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and Majority Leader Reid to say no to such a commission.

And in a new wrinkle, CNN reported today that the Obama Administration is considering an executive order to create a similar commission. This would be preferable to the commission proposed by Conrad and Gregg:

If Obama signed an executive order to create the commission, however, it would not have the full force of law and thus the outside commission could not mandate that Congress vote up-or-down on the recommendations. This would also give the president more wiggle room to ignore the recommendations if the commission suggests, for example, raising taxes on people earning less than $250,000 a year, which would break an Obama campaign promise.

So, we have the next two months to fight the undemocratic fast-track commission idea. That’s better news than we might have expected…

Celebrate Frances Perkins & the 75th Anniversary of Social Security in film, discussion, art, and conversation

In Events on December 13, 2009 at 6:01 pm

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

4:00 PM – 8:30 PM

Harvard Club of New York City
35 West 44th Street
(Discounted parking at Hippodrome Garage across the street)

The kick-off event in our yearlong celebration of what Frances Perkins called her greatest achievement, Social Security.


Please join an exciting group of authors, historians, journalists, artists, and policy experts.

4:00 – 6:30 PM — Two panel discussions: “The Birth of Social Security and the Transformation of America” & “Social Security in the 21st Century”

6:30 – 7:30 PM — Reception with cash bar; unveiling of the new portrait of Frances Perkins by artist Robert Shetterly

7:30 – 8:30 PM — Premiere of documentary, “Lighting the Way: Frances Perkins,” by Karenna Gore Schiff and Catherine Corman, with an introduction by the filmmakers


Host Committee – $150

Registration – $50 ($10 for students with ID)

To register:

For more information:


Co-sponsoring organizations include:

Mount Holyoke Club of New York

Women’s City Club of New York

Harvard Club of New York City

Roosevelt Institute

WaPo writer calls for “New Deal Feminism” today

In Economics on December 12, 2009 at 10:23 am

Dorothy Sue Cobble, a professor of history and labor studies at Rutgers and author of The Other Women’s Movement: Workplace Justice and Social Rights in Modern America and The Sex of Class: Women Transforming American Labor, has written an interesting piece for tomorrow’s Washington Post, “It’s time for New Deal feminism.”

In it, Cobble asks women’s rights advocates to

concentrate on the economy and the workplace — and on the huge transformations that are needed there to get greater equality and security. These are issues that can unite women across class and culture and allow feminism to speak to the fears and concerns of everyone.

She compares this focus to the attention paid to abortion rights, and states

The next women’s movement should look a lot more like the one in the 1930s than the one in the late 1960s.

Citing women leaders such as Esther Peterson, Addie Wyatt, Caroline Dawson Davis, and of course, Frances Perkins, Cobble says this:

They wanted neither the dole nor make-work. Rather, they wanted more good jobs. Good jobs meant, first and foremost, higher pay. What better way to prime the economic pump than to put money in the pockets of workers, who after all are consumers? Female workers in particular needed a raise. They too supported families, they too provided essential services, even if the results were more intangible than in traditional men’s work: a child who could read, a sick patient comforted…

You can read her thought-provoking piece and then participate in an online discussion with her on Monday at 11:00 am.

AARP joins the protest against a “deficit commission”

In Legislation Today, Political world on December 11, 2009 at 2:14 pm

This note just in from Roger Hickey of America’s Future:

“The AARP just released the attached 2-page letter from Nancy LeaMond, AARP Executive VP outlining their serious concerns about a Budget Commission.  Great work by one of America’s most powerful citizen organizations.    Here’s how it ends:

Given the significance of these programs to the well-being of nearly all Americans, AARP believes a full and open debate is essential to ensuring the development of equitable solutions.  As such, we oppose legislation that would bypass or short circuit the protections afforded by regular order.

Read the entire letter here: AARP Fiscal Taskforce Letter

Don’t let them harm Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Unemployment Compensation, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), Supplemental Security Income, school meals and other programs crucial to struggling lower income and middle-income people

In Political world on December 7, 2009 at 3:30 pm

Add your name to the list of people opposing a fast-track commission. Say “No Way!” to trying to cut the deficit by cutting your benefits — now or in the future.

Please tell our leaders: don’t steal from Social Security and Medicare!

WillieSutton A few days ago, Ben Bernanke encouraged Congress to act like bank robber Willie Sutton (left) and raid Social Security and Medicare, saying, “That’s where the money is.” In his re-appointment hearing on December 3rd, Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke called for cuts in Medicare and Social Security, reminding Congress that it could even repeal Social Security and Medicare. “It’s only mandatory until Congress says it’s not mandatory,” he stated.

What’s going on? A conservative group of Democrats and Republicans in Congress are trying to scare us into thinking that the only way to reduce the budget deficit is by cutting Social Security and Medicare. These fear-mongerers are telling us that those programs must be cut now — not in the open by elected officials who are accountable to us, but behind closed doors by an unelected commission. As with the “weapons of mass destruction” fiasco, they’re hoping that in fear we’ll agree to give away more of our American rights and privileges — in this case, social programs. Senators Kent Conrad and Judd Gregg, along with a group of colleagues, say that they’ll hold the budget hostage until their fast-track commission is appointed, a commission that’s hostile to Social Security and Medicare.

We need to get word to Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and Barack Obama that cutting social programs is the WRONG way to cut the deficit. A fast-track commission that limits debate and allows only an up-or-down vote on its proposals is undemocratic and anti-American.

Sign the petition today!

Robert Kuttner said this1 in the Huffington Post on November 30th about the Conrad-Gregg proposal for a fast-track commission:

“We do need to reduce the ratio of debt to GDP. But we need to do it after the economy is back in recovery. And we need to do it using the normal legislative process. And above all we need to use progressive taxation rather than program cuts.”

FACT: Social Security is not contributing to the deficit. The 2009 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees stated that Social Security ran a surplus of $180 billion last year with a reserve of $2.4 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office, in its August 2009 forecast, said that full benefits can continue to be paid until 2043.

FACT: There is ample time for Congress to review options for adjusting the Social Security system through the usual legislative process. Congress should do its job, not hide behind an unelected, unaccountable commission.

FACT: Such a hasty and undemocratic procedure would be unprecedented. Since 1935, Social Security legislation has always had the benefit of full hearings before the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, executive sessions giving all members a chance to offer amendments, and unlimited debate and opportunity for amendments in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

FACT: More than 52 million people are depending on monthly benefits this year. Wounded soldiers and their spouses and children receive Social Security benefits, as well as the families of soldiers who have died for their country. Social Security continues to provide benefits to the families of those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks, and millions of others whose families have met unthinkable calamity.

FACT: The solution to Medicare and Medicaid’s rising costs can be found by cutting the cost of health care and fixing our broken system, not by cutting services. The bills under consideration in Congress, though not perfect, would help do that.

FACT: The projected deficit–which seems like a huge number–isn’t that huge. As pointed out by Paul Krugman on his blog2, our debt-service burden is about the same as that of 1992 under President H.W. Bush.

FACT: There are and always have been politicians who oppose Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, and would like nothing better than to see these programs cut to shreds.3 There are also many corporate titans who’d like to see all those dollars invested with their Wall Street firms (remember George Bush’s privatization?).

FACT: There are many ways to cut the deficit. Why are these Senators so eager to cut social programs but so reluctant to raise taxes on billionaires and corporations?

Don’t let the alarmists frighten us into cutting the very programs that have kept our people healthy and our communities solvent in these dire financial times.

Derail the fast-track commission! Add your name to the petition.

Can you help to get more signatures for this important petition? For an easy way to forward this request to your like-minded friends, please use this link.


1Kuttner, Robert, “Recovery And Debt: Squaring The Circle,” November 30, 2009, The Huffington Post.

2Krugman, Paul, “The Dogbert theory of the debt,” November 30, 2009, The Conscience of a Liberal (New York Times).

3Baker, Dean, “‘Commission’ is WashingtonSpeak for Cutting Social Security and Medicare.” December 1, 2009, TPMCafe.

Frances Perkins must be rolling over in her grave

In Political world, Programs on December 3, 2009 at 8:54 pm

Just a quick note to draw attention to the comments of Ben Bernanke at his re-appointment hearing today. As reported by Ryan Grim in Huffington Post (and pointed out to me by Nancy Altman), Bernanke actually said this about Congress repealing Social Security and Medicare:

“It’s only mandatory until Congress says it’s not mandatory. And we have no option but to address those costs at some point or else we will have an unsustainable situation.”

If you’re feeling apoplectic about that–coming from a high official in the Administration–well, so was Senator Sanders, who has placed a hold on the Bernanke nomination:

“The CEOs and top people on Wall Street make huge bonuses, and what? We’re going to cut back on Social Security and Medicare? That’s what we’re going to do?”

If Frances Perkins were alive, she’d be in the thick of this battle. But today, unfortunately, those who would defend Social Security, at least the vast majority of those in high places at the Social Security Administration, were put in place by the Bush Administration. And we know what their plan was — privatize. Why do you think they were so keen to privatize Social Security? Because, like Bernanke and Willie Sutton, they know that’s where the money is!

Phantom Menace and this “turkey of an economy”

In Economics on December 1, 2009 at 5:12 pm

Teresa Ghilarducci, who spoke at our May conference, had a great post, “The Second Thanksgiving of the Great Recession,” in the Brainstorm blog on The Chronicle of Higher Education web site. In it, she points to the fact that people seem more worried about the deficit than about the fact that a huge number of people are currently unemployed.

But at least in my admittedly unscientific sample, people’s legitimate anxieties about losing their homes, or jobs, or retirement savings were focused in the wrong place. Instead of calls for continued job creation, I’m hearing a lot of misplaced fear about inflation and the growing federal debt — what Paul Krugman correctly calls the phantom menace.

So, in the spirit of having vigorous family discussions, if your Aunt Teresa the economist had been at your dinner table, here’s what I would have said.
Shouldn’t the Government balance its budget? Sure, over the long term, but no, not now. If the economy was booming, the government should be shrinking  the debt. That is what the Clinton Administration did during its eight years in office, cutting it to zero, and actually leaving a surplus.  And that is what George W. Bush didn’t do, increasing spending on prescription drugs, wars, and unnecessary tax cuts for the wealthy, while not paying for any of it.

Paul Krugman, as Teresa mentions, has also been bemoaning this focus on the deficit in his blog:

When I was on This Week yesterday, George Will tried his hand at the debt scare thing, saying that we’re in terrible shape because by 2019 the interest on the debt will be SEVEN HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS. (That should be read in the voice of Dr. Evil). I get that a lot — people who talk about the big numbers which are supposed to imply that things are terrible, impossible, we’re doomed, etc.

The point, of course, is that everything about the United States is big. So you have to interpret numbers accordingly. As the graphic above shows — it’s taken from an article that managed to maintain a grim tone while reporting numbers that actually weren’t all that grim — what we’re talking about is a debt-service burden roughly comparable to that under the first President Bush. How many of the people now warning about the impossible burden of currently projected debt were issuing similar warnings back in 1992? Not many, I’d guess.

How cynical are you? Do you believe that this focus on the BIG BAD DEFICIT might serve those who’d like to cut Social Security and Medicare? Need I remind you that fear worked very well in the recent past, when politicians wanted the American public to swallow something they otherwise would have rejected (9/11, 9/11, 9/11; weapons of mass destruction, weapons of mass destruction, weapons of mass destruction).

Don’t let the fear-mongerers win again.

This is a good time to remember Frances Perkins’s words from 1935:

We must devise plans that will not merely alleviate the ills of today, but will prevent their recurrence in the future. The task of recovery is inseparable from the fundamental task of social reconstruction.

I’ll end with another quote from Teresa’s post:

Aunt Teresa reminds you that economic policy makers respond to particular historical and economic situations. Inflexible theology does not help. Our situation now calls for continued government deficit spending, keeping interest rates virtually at zero, and doing everything possible to create jobs. When the economy begins to recover, then we should fight inflation.

When an overweight patient with high blood pressure and high cholesterol has a heart attack, there are lots of things that should be done over time to make the patient healthy — better diet, exercise, proper medication. But first you have to save their life and deal with the heart attack. That’s our economy now — we need to save the patient, and then do the long-term rehab (deficit reduction, stricter regulation of the financial sector, stronger government guarantees for retirement savings) to stave off future crises.

I hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving weekend, and that this turkey of an economy is better by next year.