We need a new WPA to rebuild America

In the dreadful days of the Depression, the administration of Franklin Roosevelt tried something new: a massive public-works program designed to put Americans back to work while building the infrastructure the nation desperately needed. The Works Progress Administration was the largest single element of the New Deal — and it’s an idea whose time has come again.

Today, we don’t face the same conditions as the nation confronted in 1935, when the WPA began. Unemployment is not nearly so high, and it’s a recession we’re in — or will soon be in — not a Great Depression.

A clear anti-Clinton bias in the media

For a brief period last week, earnest members of my chosen profession, the press, did a little soul-searching and asked if we have been, and are, biased against Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The conclusion: Of course, we are. Any journalist who denies this fact is unable to recognize objectivity if it were branded on his eyeballs.

‘Mr. Clean’ governor likes high-priced prostitutes

Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s political career teetered on the brink of collapse Monday after the corruption-fighting politician once known as “Mr. Clean” was accused of paying for a four-hour romp with a high-priced call girl.

The scandal drew immediate calls for the Democrat to step down. At a news conference before about 100 reporters, a glassy-eyed Spitzer, his shellshocked wife at his side, apologized to his family and the people of New York.

“I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself,” said the 48-year-old father of three teenage girls. “I must now dedicate some time to regain the trust of my family.”

He did not discuss his political future and ignored shouted questions about whether he would resign. And he gave no details of what he was apologizing for.

The cost of war: $12 billion a month

The flow of blood may be ebbing, but the flood of money into the Iraq war is steadily rising, new analyses show. In 2008, its sixth year, the war will cost approximately $12 billion a month, triple the “burn” rate of its earliest years, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and co-author Linda J. Bilmes report in a new book.

The Great Wall of the United States

In the current flap over building a wall between Mexico and the United States, it would be well to keep in mind Robert Frost’s injunction: “something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” That “something” is that a wall is a barrier.

In the case of a “wall” between the United States and Mexico, a wall is a manifestation of conflict, just as the Berlin Wall was a manifestation of conflict. A wall between the United States and Mexico will only escalate the enmity between the two countries.

Who’s watching the watchers?

Given the power to snoop on their citizens, governments will snoop. Given limits on snooping, governments will inevitably exceed them, barring oversight by an independent watchdog. That’s just the way governments work.

The USA Patriot Act greatly expanded the use of national-security letters, administrative subpoenas that do not need a judge’s approval, that allow government agents to collect, generally secretly, extensive amounts of personal information — bank and credit records, Internet use, telephone records.

Taxpayers will pay for greed of others

As home foreclosures mount and Washington struggles to find a solution to a dilemma that threatens to drag the nation into full-fledged recession, one thing seems inescapable: Ultimately, the taxpayers will be assessed for the greed of lenders and the self-indulgence of a couple of generations of Americans who want everything without struggle.

The cost of protecting our troops

One of the more controversial moments of Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure as secretary of Defense occurred when he responded to a question by an Army sergeant about why U.S. units in Iraq were forced to improvise armored protection for their vehicles.

Rumsfeld’s answer included the unfortunate line, “As you know, you go to war with the Army you have.” Given the circumstances, the line was unnecessarily flippant. Except for the tone, however, he was simply stating a truism about war.

Big Brother is listening and I’m glad

Are you outraged? You’re supposed to be. According to Peter Eliasberg, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, “everybody in the country” may have had their phone calls “combed through” for terrorist connections and, if that happened, he told The Washington Post, “lots of people will be outraged.”

Would you be among them? Or would you, like me, be relieved to know that on at least this occasion, the government did its job?

Do obituraries make the man (or woman)?

Have you ever noticed in the newspaper death notices that the dead people pictured are always smiling? I find this encouraging. It suggests that they know something the rest of us do not.

At this time of year, I need some encouragement. With the funereal nature of the weather — periods of gloom with an 80 percent chance of depression — mortality weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep, as the poet has written.