Saturday, March 25, 2017

New Deal Art: "Finishing the Cathedral of Learning"

Above: "Finishing the Cathedral of Learning," an oil painting by Harry Scheuch (1906-1978), created while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, 1934. The Cathedral of Learning is part of the University of Pittsburgh campus. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: A closer look at the workers in the painting. The figures depict laborers from the New Deal's Civil Works Administration. Two exhibit labels describe the scene: "Workers scurry like busy ants to complete the University of Pittsburgh’s lofty Cathedral of Learning. The men and trucks trample the winter's snow into mud as they labor through the frigid winter of 1933-1934 to house much-needed new classrooms... Scheuch emphasized the dramatic scale of the cathedral against the tiny workers to show what can be achieved when people work together."

Above: A photo of the Cathedral of Learning, ca. 1933-1934, from the book, America Fights the Depression: A Photographic Record of the Civil Works Administration, New York: Coward McCann, 1934, p. 37. Used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.

According to historian Kenneth J. Heineman, John Bowman, the chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, was a critic of the New Deal but, "Once Roosevelt established the Civil Works Administration in 1933 to provide temporary work to the unemployed, Bowman stood in line for federal aid" (Catholic New Deal: Religion and Reform in Depression Pittsburgh, Penn State University Press, 2005, p. 64). This is a phenomenon that we frequently see today too, where some people feel that government programs that help other people are "wasteful spending," but programs that help them are okay. And it's a phenomenon that work-relief administrator Harry Hopkins explained in his 1936 book Spending to Save: "There is a curious thing about these [New Deal] operations which have been dotting the landscape of the United States for the past three years. Although they are attacked constantly in newspapers, people who visit them report that workers, public officials and citizens alike exhibit strong pride in them. Derision is reserved for projects elsewhere that they have never seen" (p. 169).

Thursday, March 23, 2017

For Republicans, punishing the poor and securing tax breaks for the rich are much higher priorities than investigating potential treason

"I have seen a lot in my lifetime. But I have never seen anything like this."

--Dan Rather, on the "chaos and confusion" surrounding the Trump Administration, as well as Congressman Devin Nunes tipping off President Trump about intelligence investigations, instead of conferring with his fellow members on the House Intelligence Committee. (Dan Rather, Facebook post, March 22, 2017)


Above: In this video clip, Carl Bernstein, one of the main journalists during the Watergate scandal, argues that there is a cover-up going on in the White House, with respect to contacts between the Trump presidential campaign and Russian operatives. He also highlights how Republicans in Congress appear to be unconcerned about these potentially treasonous activities. YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tz7c7ajfuDI.

If you've been paying attention to the news lately, you know that there are all sorts of strange activities that have occurred, and are continuing to occur, with respect to Trump operatives, Russian operatives, bizarre allegations of Obama and the United Kingdom spying on Trump, claims by Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway that microwave ovens sometimes turn into cameras, and so on. Though it's not been proven yet, there appears to have been collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian hackers to release emails damaging to the Hillary Clinton campaign.

To add another layer of intrigue, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Devin Nunes, appears to be working openly (and perhaps secretly too) for Donald Trump. He shared investigative information with Donald Trump before he shared it with with his fellow intelligence committee members. This is a brazen breach of the fundamental American concepts of separation of powers and checks and balances. And it also raises the question: Is he secretly sharing any other information with the Trump Administration? How can we trust him, or the Intelligence Committee, after this?

But perhaps these things are not so surprising after all, when you consider that Republicans recently voted to keep Donald Trump's tax returns secret from the public, which also hinders investigations into just what the heck is going on between actors in our government and actors in the Russian government.

Above: A new hospital building in Jamestown, North Dakota, funded by the New Deal's Public Works Administration, ca. 1933-1943. New Deal policymakers & workers engaged in tens of thousands of projects to improve the health of all Americans - regardless of their income & wealth. That's quite a different philosophy from today's Republican Party, which strictly adheres to the principal that wealth should determine your access to care. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
  
What's really interesting to me, is that all this possible wide-scale treasonous activity seems to be having zero effect on the Republican party's rabid determination to kick low-income Americans off Medicaid in order to give massive tax cuts to the their super-wealthy campaign donors. Huffington Post reporters Jeffrey Young and Sam Stein explain the Republican frenzy to repeal the Affordable Care Act:

"Something extraordinary is on the cusp of taking place in Washington on Thursday. An unpopular president and a House Republican leadership team with a seemingly weak grasp of its own members' priorities is preparing to rush through legislation that would trade 24 million people's health coverage for a huge tax cut on wealthy households and health care corporations... The Republican health care reform bill polls poorly, has sparked protests across the country, and would have disproportionately harmful effects on the older, poorer and rural voters [who voted for Trump]... House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will ask his majority to vote for this bill despite all this..." ("Everything About This Republican Obamacare Repeal Vote Is Nuts," March 23, 2017).

And here's something really eye-catching with regard to Nunes tipping off Trump about intelligence investigations: Politico reported that "Nunes said he briefed House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on the information on Wednesday morning before heading to the White House to brief the president." First off, Ryan is not a member of the House Intelligence Committee, so why is Nunes conferring with him, but not his fellow Intelligence Committee members? And second, can you imagine the conversation between the two? Here's how I picture it:

Nunes (knocking on Ryan's office door): "Paul, you got a minute?"

Ryan (annoyed): "Devin, I'm very busy here. I'm trying to kick poor people off Medicaid, raise insurance premiums on seniors, and get billions in tax breaks for our political sugar daddies. I need to get this done, and quickly, to make sure we get our campaign donations."

Nunes: "It'll only take a minute."

Ryan (acquiescing with a sigh): "Alright, come on in."

Nunes explains the investigation materials he wants to secret off to Trump. Ryan seems only half-interested, distracted.

Nunes: "So... are you okay with all this."

Ryan: "Dude, whatevers. It's hard for me to focus right now. I've been dreaming about kicking poor people off Medicaid ever since I got smashed at a keg party back in college." (His empty blue eyes drift off, and a sinister smile appears on his face as he remembers those days... but then he quickly snaps back to the present) So yeah, sure, fine, go tip off the Don... I mean, um, brief him. I've got work to do."

Though my skit is in jest (but perhaps closer to the truth than we know), it's clear to me that punishing the poor and securing tax breaks for the rich is so vitally important to Republicans, that they're willing to suppress, deceive, downplay, and obstruct investigations into possible treasonous activities. And this is what happens in a plutocracy. This is what happens in a political system manipulated by big money. Justice and truth get thrown out the window, as if they were garbage.

"This is a bizarre situation. I'm calling for a select committee because I think this back-and-forth shows that [the Republican-led] Congress no longer has the credibility handle this alone."

--Republican U.S. Senator John McCain, after Nunes's strange visit to the White House ("'This is a bizarre situation': John McCain says Congress no longer has 'credibility' to conduct Trump-Russia probe alone," Business Insider, March 22, 2017).

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

As the richest 400 Americans are vacuuming up record wealth, children in California are being poisoned by lead

Above: A WPA exhibit, displayed in Washington, DC, January 1940. New Deal policymakers cared more about children's health than they cared about the fortunes of the super-wealthy. So, they taxed the super-wealthy more to help pay for the common good. Image courtesy of the National Archives.

Times are great for super-wealthy Americans. As Forbes magazine pointed out a few months ago, "The country's 400 richest are wealthier than ever, with a combined net worth of $2.4 trillion and an average net worth of $6 billion, both record highs." Plus, the super-wealthy are paying historically low tax rates; can engage in tax avoidance and tax evasion with little fear of discovery or scrutiny; can take advantage of all manner of tax shelters, loopholes, deductions, credits, deferrals, and other gimmicks; and their friends on Wall Street, for example, several Goldman Sachs alumni, are once again controlling the levers of power in the federal government... thanks, of course, to Donald Trump. Yes, times are very, very good for super-wealthy Americans. And, as long as they keep the campaign cash flowing to the politicians, and the advertising cash flowing to the corporate media (which dutifully keeps the public stupid for them), the good times will continue to roll.

$2.4 trillion in wealth, in case you're wondering, is equal to two thousand four hundred billion dollars. And just one, just one of those two thousand four hundred parts, is equal to one thousand million dollars. You need to read that again, very slowly, and very carefully, because it can be difficult to comprehend those kind of numbers. And that gargantuan amount of wealth is for just 400 people. Yes, my, my, my, life is good!!  

Except, however, if you're a middle-class or poor child. Because millions of them are being poisoned by lead, thanks to America's crumbling infrastructure - old homes, old schools, old hospitals, old water mains, old plumbing, and so on. And that lead-poisoning causes permanent brain damage. Today, for example, it was reported that many children in California are being poisoned by lead:

"In one central Fresno zip code, 13.6 percent of blood tests on children under six years old came back high for lead. That compares to 5 percent across the city of Flint during its recent water contamination crisis. In all, Reuters found at least 29 Golden State neighborhoods where children had elevated lead tests at rates at least as high as in Flint."

And this is just one of an endless stream of stories that we've seen over the past few years, from all across the country, about children (and adults) drinking lead.

But don't worry, our faithful & heroic public servants, Donald Trump and Paul Ryan, are on the job! They're responding to this health & infrastructure crisis by (a) forcefully trying to cut Medicaid, so that low-income children can receive less care (and the wealthy can receive more tax breaks), and (b) cutting the budget for infrastructure, so we can have more money for more military adventures!

You see, by reducing health care for low-income children, giving tax breaks to the rich, neglecting infrastructure, and focusing primarily on the affairs of other countries, we can solve our lead-contamination problems here at home! Isn't that awesome!! I mean, it's just pure and simple logic. Well, pure and simple right-wing logic, if you want to quibble over details. Understand?

*****

"It's the worst transportation bill I've ever seen during 35 years of public service."

--U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a Republican, on a Republican infrastructure bill, "LaHood: GOP highway bill 'the worst'," Politico, February 2, 2012

"The problem with this [Highway] bill is really more Republicans than Democrats... If you remember the 27-month bill, we had a hard time with all these Republicans... We had a bunch of demagogues down there, Republicans who were trying to say, 'Oh, we can't do this. We can't spend all this money on it.' I thought that's not right."

--U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe, a Republican, "Top GOP Senator Blames His Party For Lack Of Highway Funding," Huffington Post, May 19, 2015

"Republicans say nice things about infrastructure but haven't shown any interest in paying for it. As a result, the nation has failed to take advantage of historically low interest rates to invest more in our overcrowded airports, outdated railways and flimsy bridges."

--Michael Grunwald, Senior National Correspondent for Time Magazine, "The Huge Obama Transportation Bill You Heard Nothing About," Time, April 30, 2014

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Drug-testing struggling Americans... while subsidizing heroin purchases by the rich. If you're a middle-class or poor person, you should be outraged.

Above: WPA workers in Tuskegee, Alabama, April 1936. During the New Deal, millions of unemployed Americans were given jobs to repair & modernize our infrastructure. We're still reaping the benefits of that work today, 80 years later. And if Republicans and their super-wealthy donors weren't so busy insulting and demonizing the unemployed today, we could create another WPA to help repair & modernize our crumbling infrastructure again. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Paul Ryan Targets Struggling Americans, Again

While everyone is mesmerized and distracted by the daily lunacy of Donald Trump's presidency--as well as the ties between his election campaign team and the Russian government--U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) is pushing forward legislative changes to make it easier for states to drug-test unemployed Americans before they can receive unemployment insurance benefits.

Why is Ryan doing this? Well, beside the fact that he is one of the biggest assholes in Congress (see, e.g., my blog post, "Meet the Republican Flim-Flam Man..."), the rationale is obvious: Most Republican politicians, and their super-wealthy donors, believe (a) something must be wrong with you if you're unemployed or poor, most likely a character flaw or a moral deficiency, (b) there is a high probability that you're a drug addict, and (c) they don't want you to use public money to support that drug habit (unemployment insurance benefits are funded by unemployment taxes on employers).

Why Is Paul Ryan So Hell-Bent On Persecuting The Less Fortunate?

This isn't the first time that Ryan has thought about punishing those who are struggling to get by. He's pretty much dedicated his life to it. For example, it was recently revealed that Ryan has fantasized about kicking people off Medicaid ever since he was at a keg party in college. Plus, he's a big Ayn Rand fan; and we know that Ayn Rand fans get off on demonizing and persecuting the poor, whom they consider to be genetically inferior. For example, Charles Murray, one of the most prominent thought leaders of the political right, and a fan of Ayn Rand, wrote: "when we know the complete genetic story, it will turn out that the population below the poverty line in the United States has a configuration of the relevant genetic makeup that is significantly different from the configuration of the population above the poverty line."

Who Will Be Targeted For Testing? 

Interestingly, most people receiving unemployment insurance benefits were laid-off through no fault of their own. In other words, most chronically unemployed people aren't even eligible for benefits (see, e.g., "A Lot Fewer Americans Get Unemployment Benefits Than You Think," Huffington Post, March 13, 2015). This means that Americans with steady work-histories will be subjected to more drug-testing than those with less-steady work-histories.

For example, consider this scenario: You work for 20 years, and then get laid off because the company you worked for sent your job overseas (in order to increase bonuses for executives and profits for shareholders), an now you must submit to a drug test, thereby broadcasting your unemployed and criminally-suspect status to a receptionist at a medical clinic, or anyone within earshot of the receptionist, or a nurse. Perhaps one of these people is your neighbor. Isn't that lovely? "Hi Linda, I'm here to get tested for illegal drugs, because I'm jobless." And maybe Linda will say to her co-workers during lunch break, "Guess who I saw today." And this humiliating scenario will occur because super-wealthy executives and shareholders decided your job would profit them more if it were shipped to a foreign country, or eliminated altogether.

To add insult to injury, the right-wing millionaires & billionaires who are funding these cruel Republican policies will never have to face this shaming ritual themselves. Why? Because they're past the point of working for a living (if they were ever there in the first place). They "earn" their money through investments and interest. And, if that isn't bad enough, the U.S. government actually subsidizes illegal drug purchases by the rich.

How The U.S. Government Subsidizes Heroin Purchases For The Rich

Many rich people use illegal drugs, and heroin is one of their favorites (see, e.g., "Heroin use rising among women and wealthy," CBS News, July 7, 2015). The Michigan drug-treatment clinic Best Drug Rehabilitation, a member of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers, informs us that "The most obvious reason wealthy people get involved with drugs and alcohol is the easy access to money. Drug addiction can be very expensive. Because money is not a problem for the wealthy, they are able to buy plenty." Other reasons for illegal drug use by the wealthy include guilt issues, a sense of entitlement, and feelings of being above the law.

The U.S. government subsidizes illegal drug purchases by super-wealthy Americans by, among other things, granting them a generous mortgage interest tax deduction. The deduction can be up to $1.1 million, and can include a second home. The extra after-tax income that the deduction facilitates can be used to purchase heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and other black market drugs. But, amazingly, we don't drug-test wealthy people who take advantage of the mortgage interest tax deduction. Why not? Why are we bestowing on them a public benefit, in the form of a gargantuan tax deduction (which enables them to buy more illegal drugs), but not testing their urine to see if they're on anything?

Now, if you're thinking, "But not every rich person is on drugs!", fair enough, but then, neither is every unemployed person. So why should the latter have to produce bodily fluids for the state, but not the former, when both are receiving a public benefit?

You see, this is what happens in a plutocracy. The rich, through their campaign cash, can force YOU to be drug-tested and shamed, but THEY can avoid it. And frankly, you should be outraged.

If you have a Republican political representative, you should write to them and ask:  Why should working-class Americans be subject to drug-testing when they hit hard-times (hard-times that are, by the way, often caused by criminal activities on Wall Street) while heroin purchases by the rich are being subsidized by the federal government? There is no justice-based answer to that question and, if you're representative is honest with you, he or she will reply, "Because we live in a plutocracy, and I'm paid by the rich to give them special favors and privileges. I'm paid to protect them from the criminal justice system, and also to shield them from governmental intrusions into their privacy and habits."

Monday, March 20, 2017

New Deal Art: "Spring Plowing"

Above: "Spring Plowing," an oil painting by Helen Dickson, created while she was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

New Deal Art: "California Farm"

Above: "California Farm," a water color and pencil on paper by Alexander Nepote (1913-1986) created while he was in the New Deal's Treasury Section of Fine Arts, 1939. According to the Bodega Bay Heritage Gallery, Nepote was born in California's Central Valley and, after World War II, taught at the California College of Arts and Crafts and also at California State University in San Francisco. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Trump Administration wants to cut funding for infrastructure in rural areas

Above: The description for this photo, taken in May 1938, reads, "Water supply dam and system. WPA constructed this dam and ran 10" conduit, 5 miles down mountain. Supplies town of 2,000 people [Bryson City, North Carolina] with water." Across the nation, various New Deal agencies provided funds and labor for tens of thousands of waterworks projects. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

As Republicans seek to increase military spending and give tax breaks to the rich, the Trump administration "plans to eliminate its water and waste-disposal loan and grant program, which helps with rural water and waste infrastructure, for a savings of nearly $500 million." The rationale: "Rural communities can be served by private sector financing or other Federal investments in rural water infrastructure, such as the Environmental Protection Agency's State Revolving Funds." (See "Trump seeks $4.7 billion in cuts to USDA discretionary spending," Washington Post, March 16, 2016)

We also know that many Republicans, for example, Trump, want to drastically cut the EPA's budget. So, it's more likely than not that rural areas (that supported Trump) will have to rely more and more on private sector financing - and that means higher interest rates, or higher utility bills, or more regressive taxation on the middle-class and poor, or all of the above. After all, CEO's and wealthy shareholders have to make their millions.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recently came out with their new Infrastructure Report Card. America's drinking water infrastructure received a "D" letter grade and its wastewater infrastructure received a "D+" letter grade. Among other things, the ASCE noted that there are about a quarter-of-a-million water main breaks in the United States, every single year, and that "sewer overflows are a leading source of water pollution in the U.S." Given these facts, not to mention the problems we've had with lead-contaminated drinking water, why would the Trump administration propose cutting an infrastructure program to assist rural Americans? Could it be that Trump and other Republicans really don't give a crap about rural Americans? Nooooo.... couldn't be!

Above: A new sewage disposal plant in Carbon Hill, Alabama, constructed by WPA workers in 1937. Across Alabama, WPA workers installed 386 miles of new sewer lines and built or improved 40 utility plants (Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1946, p. 136). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

On November 2, 2015, the USDA announced that 88 projects had been approved for funding through its Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program. It also noted that "Since 2009, USDA has helped provide improved water and wastewater services to nearly 18 million rural residents by investing $12.3 billion in 5,174 projects." As an example, it highlighted Sparta, Tennessee, where "antiquated equipment could not handle rainwater runoff, causing sewage to spill out of drains. In 2011, USDA provided $2.9 million to Sparta to build a new wastewater system, ending the major sewage problem." ("USDA Provides $314 Million in Water and Waste Infrastructure Improvements in Rural Communities Nationwide," USDA, Press Release No. 0304.15)

At a time when the richest 400 Americans are enjoying record wealth ($2.4 trillion and growing); and at a time when the Walmart heirs have more wealth that the bottom 40% of the population; and at a time when our nation's infrastructure is falling apart and poisoning our children, shouldn't federal programs to improve our infrastructure be enhanced rather than eliminated? Especially when more and more Americans are having trouble affording their utility bills, and are being nickel-and-dimed left and right with increasing taxes, tolls, fees, and fines at the state & local level?

All of the above is an example of how many (not all) rural Americans vote against their own economic and health interests by voting for Republicans. Of course, the corrupt Democratic Establishment isn't helping the matter by talking out of both sides of its mouth (i.e., trying to be champions of the middle-class while bowing down to corporate interests). You see, if the Democratic Establishment is going to be two-faced, then it's hard to make the case to rural Americans that, "hey, you should have voted for Hillary Clinton."

We need a New Deal for our infrastructure - not budget cuts, not "Third Way" Democrats, not trickle-down economics, and not "Make America Great Again" hats made in China or Vietnam. We need another, even stronger New Deal. Unfortunately, I don't suspect Americans will understand this any time soon. So, in the meantime, open up that wallet and pay more to your utility company... pay higher road & bridge tolls too... and pay some higher sales taxes... oh yeah, and pay a little more to register your vehicle... pay, pay, pay while the rich get richer and snicker at you. Yes, pay, pay, pay, it's the Republican way!