Thursday, February 21, 2019

After rigging the primaries against him, and insincerely accepting a good portion of his agenda, the liberal elite are telling Bernie Sanders and his supporters to go away. We won't.

Above: "Pugnacity," an artwork by Raphael Soyer (1899-1987), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Some voters think Bernie Sanders is too old, or too "pie in the sky," or too white, or too male. They think Bernie and his supporters should just give up and go away. But we're not going to. There's too much plutocracy to fight. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and University of Michigan Museum of Art.

The "no he can't" buzz-killers

The anti-Bernie crowd has come roaring back: The Corporate Democrats; their wealthy donors; the smirking, neoliberal talking heads; the celebrities who don't want their taxes going up; the "misogyny" accusers; the op-ed writers who tell us that even the smallest of policy changes takes centuries to occur; the mainstream media that spends only 15 seconds covering Bernie's amazing first-day fundraising, before scurrying back to Trump-coverage; the Internet news article commenters, convinced that (a) every Bernie supporter is a Russian bot, and (b) Bernie is simply not electable - despite every poll showing he's the most popular politician in America; and, of course, Jeff Bezos's very loyal journalists & columnists at the Washington-Bezos Post.

Indeed, two of Bezos's "don't-tax-my-boss" propagandists were on the job Monday, when Bernie announced his candidacy, with one writing "Bernie Sanders is probably just another one hit wonder," and the other writing, "Bernie, your moment has come - and gone." (Thankfully, Bernie was having none of it, raising nearly $6 million-- from a quarter-of-a-million of his supporters--within the first 24 hours of his candidacy - far more than any other presidential hopeful.)

This reminds me of when, in 2016, the Washington-Bezos Post ran 16 anti-Bernie hit pieces in just 16 hours. That's how much the Establishment feels threatened by Bernie's "of, by, and for the people" agenda.

Yes, there is something sinister about this anti-Bernie crowd. Many of them, for example, participated in rigging the primaries against Sanders. And it's not just the "Bernie Bros" who know this. Elizabeth Warren knows it; Tulsi Gabbard knows it; Harry Reid knows it; and even former DNC chairwoman Donna Brazile knows it. Republicans know it too, even Trump. It seems the only people who don't know this are the Hillary and Obama types.

Other anti-Bernie zealots scolded us like broken records, endlessly repeating, "It's not possible... it's not possible... it's not possible... pie in the sky... pie in the sky... pie in the sky." Well, those "no he can't" folks are, unfortunately, back.

And still others swore up and down, left and right, that Bernie had no chance to beat Trump (even though polls consistently showed him having a much better chance to win than Hillary); while, at the same time, exclaiming, "Only Hillary can beat Trump!!!" - after which, of course, Hillary promptly lost. These folks are back too.

Are the rest of the Democratic candidates really, truly, going to fight for progressive policies?

Some (not all) Democratic candidates are appropriating Bernie ideas, and then corporatizing them. For  example, declaring: "Yeah, I'm for Medicare-for-All, and so what I'll do is expand Medicare for a few people, and then do a bunch private sector stuff." (!)

And let's be clear, when they say they're for Medicare-for-All, we know full-well that they're not really going to fight for it in a full-throated way. They'll say the words alright, to get the progressive vote, but then they'll toss the idea into the public policy garbage bin, apologizing, "well, hey, we have to reach across the aisle and come to some sort of bipartisan solution." This tactic--appeal to progressives, then dismiss them, then pretend to be the "adult in the room"--is straight out of the Obama playbook.

(Special note: Elizabeth Warren, and probably Tulsi Gabbard too, will fight for progressive policies. The others? I'm not convinced. Support is one thing, but fight is another.)

"I want to help people too!!.. but I ain't payin' for it..."  

So, what gives with all this rabid, anti-Bernie negativity?

Well, what most of these shameless demoralizers have in common, I suspect, is that they're financially secure, if not well-off. And so, they look at the policy agenda of Bernie Sanders, most of which is geared towards helping struggling Americans, and are either puzzled by it or disgusted by it. You see, one the biggest secrets in American politics today is that many (and probably most) liberal elites don't want their taxes raised to help build-up the common good. The common good means no more to them than it does to the Koch Brothers - at least, not if they have to pay for it.

Now, the liberal elite may support, in theory, equal opportunity for different genders and races; but they're not in favor of equal opportunity for the poor--the poor of any group--because that sort of thing would require them to pay higher taxes. No, when they think about equal opportunity, they're thinking about the African American kid down the street, in their gated community, "Oh yeah, Michael; he's good kid. He should have a fair college admissions process."

This sort of economically-deaf egalitarianism is why you see so many centrist Democrats looking at Bernie's proposals, like free public college (which would help lower-income groups of all genders and races), like deer caught in the headlights. "Good Lord," they utter in an astonished, dumbfounded way, "How the heck will we pay for that??" - which, of course, is code for, "I don't want to pay for that... and don't you dare touch my multi-million dollar estate for that!" Of course, they frame their reluctance as, "oh, that's just pie in the sky!" Or, as Amy Klobuchar put it: "If I was a magic genie and could give [free public college] to everyone and we could afford it, I would." (Meanwhile, of course, the uber-wealthy and the Pentagon keep pouring billions and billions into their respective treasure chests. We can't afford it? Bullsh*t.)

We're not going away

The liberal elite are telling us to go away. The plutocrats are telling us to be quiet. The op-ed writers want us to doubt ourselves. Corporate America wants us to give up. The scolds of political correctness demand that we be ashamed of ourselves, forever, at the first mistake.

We will not do any of those things. We will fight. As long as the financial predators of this country are running the show, with their campaign & Super PAC cash, we will fight.

Above: Bernie's first 2020 campaign video. Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgJagAiHimk.

Monday, February 18, 2019

The New Deal lifted farmers up; Trump and the GOP are bankrupting them

"The relation between the farmer and the New Deal is the essence of democracy, the people and their government working out their problems together."

--U.S. Senator Sherman Minton (D-Indiana), in The Hancock Democrat (Greenfield, Indiana), October 20, 1938. 

Above: "Haying," an oil painting by Emily Poirius, created while she was in the WPA, ca. 1935-1943. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.

Trump and the GOP are driving farmers into bankruptcy

American farmers are declaring bankruptcy more frequently and "The Wall Street Journal points to Trump's trade war with countries like China and Mexico as a key driver in the rising rate... Soybean and hog prices fell after those countries imposed retaliatory tariffs on the United States in response to Trump's steel and import tariffs..." (See, "Midwest farmers going broke at record rates thanks to Trump's trade war: Bankruptcies have doubled in the biggest farm states, with falling prices and the trade war largely to blame," Salon, February 13, 2019.)

Trump's trade war, of course, is just one policy in a long list of callous, bumbling, and give-everything-to-the-rich policies that Republicans (and Corporate Democrats) have implemented over the past many decades. These policies have weakened not only farmers, but also middle & low-income Americans in almost every other profession.

The New Deal and the American farmer

During the New Deal, there were many actions performed, policies enacted, and agencies created to help farmers. The Living New Deal has summaries for many of these programs, for example, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the Rural Electrification Administration, the Soil Conservation Service, the Farm Credit Act, and the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act.

These New Deal policies & programs saved many farmers from financial catastrophe. For example, in early 1940, the Bureau of Agricultural Economics--today's Economic Research Service (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture)--reported that farmer bankruptcies dropped, from 1,799 for fiscal year 1938, to 1,422 for fiscal year 1939. "The decrease was a continuation of the decline which has been apparent since 1933, when 5,917 farmer bankruptcies were reported" ("Farmers Hold Bankruptcies to 18-Year Low," The Anniston-Star (Anniston, Alabama), April 14, 1940).

In 1938, U.S. Senator Sherman Minton (D-Indiana), highlighted many of the New Deal benefits enjoyed by farmers: greater independence from monopoly forces; increased farm income and purchasing power; increased farm exports; fewer foreclosures and bankruptcies; better soil; more electricity; and, in Indiana specifically, farm family debt was "scaled down 83.3 per cent by the Farm Security Administration" ("New Deal For Farmer," The Hancock Democrat (Greenfield, Indiana), October 20, 1938). (The Farm Security Administration was another New Deal creation, beginning its life as the Resettlement Administration.)

Minton closed by declaring, "The New Deal's agricultural record is a testament of faith in the destiny of the American farmer. With the New Deal, the farmer will continue to go forward to increased security and income and a more stable market."

But today, unfortunately, we might also add that "without the New Deal, the farmer is more likely to be crushed by debt, as well as falling prices, poorly thought-out trade wars, increased depression and suicide, and crop-destroying climate and water-supply changes."

Above: Many tenant farmers (renters) suffered greatly during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. This woman's husband, a former tenant farmer, found a job in the WPA, in Webber Falls, Oklahoma, 1939. Sons of farmers often found jobs in the CCC, and were required to send most of their pay back to their impoverished families. There was also the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act (1937), which helped some tenant farmers by providing low-interest loans. Photo by Russell Lee of the Farm Security Administration, provided courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: Using an Allis-Chalmers tractor to tow a Caterpillar grader, the CCC and the Soil Conservation Service create a terrace to prevent erosion gullying on this farm in Vernon County, Wisconsin, 1939. Wind and water erosion were severe problems for farmers during the 1930s. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

New Deal art by Lawrence Holmberg: "The Black Sun," "The Eldorado," and a "Mystical Landscape"

Above: "The Black Sun," a watercolor painting by Lawrence E. Holmberg (1910-1958), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. There isn't much information available on Holmberg, but according to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, he was born in Oregon, 1910, and "maintained a studio in the Montgomery Block in San Francisco in 1935-45." Find A Grave indicates he is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, a veteran of World War II. Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Above: "The Eldorado," another WPA watercolor by Holmberg, ca. 1935-1943. The description for this painting reads: "Illustration of the Edgar Allen Poe story, shows a figure in armor with a lance crossing a wooden bridge, on the far side of which is a covered crucifix and a small adobe church. Fog shrouds pine trees in the background." Image & description courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Above: This watercolor by Holmberg, also created while he was in the WPA, ca. 1935-1943, does not have a title (or the title has been lost to history), but is described as a "Mystical Landscape," with a "robed figure standing in a desert with a bird of prey; in the background a stone circle (like Stonehenge), trees and hills. Dark, overcast sky." Image & description courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

New Deal Art: "Breakdown"

Above: "Breakdown," a lithograph by Paul Weller (1912-2000), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1936-1939. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

How many Americans experienced the above scenario during the Great Depression, as they roamed about the country looking for work? And today, perhaps things haven't changed as much as we'd like to think. For example, in our increasingly unstable gig economy, where worker mobility is essential, "63% of adult Americans... don't have the savings to pay for a $500 car repair," (Business Insider, January 19, 2016). 

Indeed, many working-class people can be devastated with a serious car breakdown, like a failed transmission or a broken timing belt that damages internal engine parts; but if you're born into wealth, auto repairs (or even car payments) will never be a concern. 

Middle & low-income college students also face more stress about transportation than their wealthier counterparts. The children of the wealthy are, quite simply, immune from financially-debilitating auto repairs - and they also don't have to worry about rent or student loan debt. They can attend their courses, study for tests, and take unpaid internships at prestigious organizations with far less stress. When progressives talk about economic injustice, these are the types of things they're talking about. A lot of this caste system nonsense could be eliminated with progressive solutions, for example, free public college, more debt relief, and a higher estate tax.

Until economic injustice in America is adequately addressed, millions of Americans will continue to be crushed by automobile--as well as physical and mental--breakdowns... thereby setting the stage for wealthy charlatan buffoons to seize power with simple-minded slogans, like "Make America Great Again." Unfortunately, these slogans won't pay for your new $3,000 transmission.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

In Upstate New York, Ulysses Grant-era water lines need replaced... but Republicans are giving tax breaks to the rich instead

Above: WPA workers constructing a reservoir in Loudonville, New York, May 1936. Today, the reservoir still provides millions of gallons of drinking water for New Yorkers. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A closer view of the lower left-hand portion of the photograph. Note the WPA work sign on the back of the power shovel.  During the New Deal, federally-funded WPA workers upgraded New York's infrastructure on a massive scale, for example, 1,224 miles of new water lines (Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1947, p. 136). We could do the same today... if we stopped being wimps for the rich.

In today's edition of the Observer-Dispatch (Utica, New York), the editors express dismay over Upstate New York's deteriorating infrastructure. For example, many of the water lines in the Mohawk Valley Water Authority (MVWA) system are 150 years old, installed around 1869 (during the presidencies of Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant). These prehistoric water lines lose about half the water they carry between their origin and destination points. Water line breaks are common, of course, especially in cold weather. And the editors report that, at current pace, it will take 350 years to replace old MVWA lines. However, at the end of that 350 years, presumably, the first of those new lines will then be 350 years old. ("Our View: Upstate infrastructure must be a priority," Observer-Dispatch, February 10, 2019.)

The crumbling public works of Upstate New York are hardly unique; they are a common problem throughout the United States. Our water mains, pipes, and plumbing are old, children are drinking lead from them, they're breaking at a rate of about 240,000 times per year, and we lose about 2 trillion gallons of water annually.

A lot of American voters don't seem to care though. Instead of demanding more federal investment in our public works--to help places like Upstate New York--they just keep voting for politicians who keep giving tax breaks to the richest Americans. The Trump-GOP tax cuts for the rich, for example, facilitated an orgy of stock buybacks, bank profits, and wealth hoarding. It did nothing for our woeful infrastructure. As so, the super-rich keep adding to their record fortunes, while the rest of us keep trading the remaining & shrinking scraps back and forth, maintaining the delusional belief that we're actually getting somewhere - when, in fact, economic mobility has "declined substantially" since the 1970s; essentially, since right-wing trickle-down economics became the law of the land.

As long as a good chunk of the American electorate keeps putting the desires of the rich ahead of the needs of the public, there isn't much hope for the water lines of Upstate New York.

Friday, February 8, 2019

New Deal Art: "Flynn's Barn"

Above: "Flynn's Barn," a color lithograph by Russell T. Limbach (1904-1971), created while he was in the WPA, 1939. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The New Deal helped American Indians dance again

Above: "Eagle Dance," an artwork by Manville Chapman (1903-1978), created while he was in the WPA, ca. 1935-1943. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the New Mexico Museum of Art.

From at least the 1870s to the early 1930s, the U.S. government tried to curtail or eliminate American Indian culture, and "Missionaries, reformers, and philanthropists alike joined the chorus, placing their combined influence behind policies designed to destroy every ritual, ceremony, and dance that reinforced Indianness and thus stood in opposition to federal aims" (Renee Critcher Lyons, The Revival of Banned Dances: A Worldwide Study, McFarland & Company, 2012, p. 45, citing "Ellis 548").

These efforts were called "assimilation" - an attempt to persuade American Indians, by law and force if necessary, to abandon their lifestyle and traditions, and become absorbed into white culture. For some reformers, it was well-intentioned (though still wrong); and for others, it was a way to open up Indian land to white homesteaders and mining interests.

Many white Christians viewed Indian dancing as sexually immoral and savage, and so they tried to make such dancing illegal. For example, in the early 1920s, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Charles Burke issued "Circular 1665," and a supplement, with the aim to ban most native dancing (see, e.g., Margaret D. Jacobs, "Making Savages of Us All: White Women, Pueblo Indians, and the Controversy over Indian Dances in the 1920s," Digital Commons, University of Nebraska - Lincoln, December 1996).

In 1934, as part of the overall "Indian New Deal"--largely embodied in the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (IRA)--President Franklin Roosevelt's head of Indian Affairs, John Collier, lifted the ban on dancing (see, e.g., "The Flagstaff All-Indian Pow-Wow," Cline Library, Nothern Arizona University). Truth be told, many American Indians had already been finding ways around the ban, but Collier's action ended the official policy - and was part of a broad New Deal effort to let American Indians be themselves. In 2011, the president of the National Congress of American Indians told the U.S. Congress:

"Kill the Indian and save the man was the slogan of that [pre-New Deal] era. The Federal Government did everything it could to disband our tribes, break up our families and suppress our culture. Over 90 million acres of tribal land held under treaties were taken, more than two-thirds of the tribal land base... In 1934, Congress rejected allotment and assimilation and passed the IRA."

Relations between American Indians and the federal government have never been perfect. Indeed, today the federal government largely ignores the severe problems of poverty, unemployment, and suicide on American Indian reservations. But the New Deal was a bright spot. In addition to the IRA (which promoted business, education, and self-government on reservations), and Collier's administrative actions, New Deal work & construction programs helped improve native lands. For example, over 80,000 American Indians enrolled in the Civilian Conservation Corps, and thousands more found jobs in the WPA, improving Indian infrastructure, farmland, morale, etc. Their work was chronicled in many editions of Indians at Work, a publication of the Office of Indian Affairs (today called the Bureau of Indian Affairs).

Imagine if America had never abandoned the New Deal but, instead, built on it; for example, a job guarantee for all Americans. What could another New Deal do for our fellow citizens on reservations? (See, "Where U.S. Unemployment Is Still Sky-High: Indian Reservations," Bloomberg, April 5, 2018.)

Above: A WPA poster showing Pueblo Turtle Dancers. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: Part of a nearly-completed mural in the U.S. Department of Interior Building, painted by American Indian artist James Auchiah (1906-1974), created while he was in the New Deal's Section of Fine Arts. This black and white photo was taken, ca. 1939. What a monumental shift in ideology this mural symbolizes. Instead of trying to ban Indian dancing, the New Deal embraced it. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.