Friday, April 20, 2018

The future should not be female, or male. It should be all of us working together for the common good.

Above: Women and men, blacks and whites, in A WPA-supported workers education program in Topeka, Kansas, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Generalizations vs. the Common Good 

In a recent article about Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, we learn that Richards "believes that now, more than ever, women are the most important political force in America. 'We have enormous power to change the direction of this country, and its time to use it'" ("Women Are the Most Important Political Force in America," Alternet, April 19, 2018). It is the latest of many such articles and statements.

In 2017, Hillary Clinton said, "The future is female." If that is true, let us pray that it is not an Ayn Rand future, because we see how Rand has infected our culture with her twisted glorification of sociopathy. And late last year, Barack Obama said we should put more women in power "because men seem to be having some problems these days. Not to generalize but women seem to have a better capacity than men do, partly because of their socialization." But Margaret Thatcher, former right-wing prime minister of Great Britain, famously said, "There is no such thing as society."

I believe that women should have equal representation in government. I also believe that we should encourage young women to get involved in politics, that we need more women leaders, and that we are well past time for a female president. I also hope that women do indeed help this nation move in a more positive direction. That said, I also fear that politics of identity and exclusion are actually overpowering the idea of the common good. 

Above: Michele Fiore (blonde hair with riot gun pointing to the ground) wishes everyone a Merry Christmas - apparently a Christmas filled with happiness, eggnog, presents, and guns to blow people away if need be. At the time this holiday card was made, Fiore was a Republican state legislator in Nevada. Photo from the CNN article, "Nevada politician wishes you a Merry Christmas -- with guns" (December 6, 2015). Image used for educational, non-commercial purposes.

Substance or Gender?

During the 2016 presidential campaign, those who supported Bernie Sanders, because they thought his policy proposals were more in line with the common good than Hillary's proposals, were frequently scolded as misogynists, in an attempt to guilt them into supporting Hillary. The idea seemed to be: Electing the first woman president is more important than Bernie's inspirational policy proposals for the common good. I disagreed then, and I disagree now.

Policy is more important than gender.

Give me a Tulsi Gabbard, or a Lynn Stuart Parramore, or an Eleanor Roosevelt, or a Mary McLeod Bethune, or a Tammy Duckworth, or any of the other countless forward-thinking women like them, and you'll almost certainly have my vote. But give me Nikki Haley, Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Laura Ingraham, Tomi Lahren, Michele Bachmann, Liz Cheney, Betsy DeVos, Katrina Pierson, Michele Fiore, Dana Loesch, Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and their ilk, and I will recoil in horror, just as quickly as I recoil from the likes of Donald Trump and Paul Ryan.

Above: "Promote the General Welfare," a bas relief by Lenore Thomas (1909-1988), created for the New Deal's Resettlement Administration community of Greenbelt, Maryland, ca. 1937. This and other panels adorn Greenbelt's community building. Photo by Brent McKee.

The Pseudo-Inspirationalism of Nikki Haley

I've recently heard talk of a Mike Pence / Nikki Haley Republican ticket in 2020. Apparently, even some liberal folks are really inspired by Haley's recent standing-up to the Trump Administration, where she said, "With all due respect, I don't get confused." But, putting her Rambo-esque statement aside, let's not forget that Haley salivated over the opportunity to drug test the unemployed - "I so want drug testing. I so want it," she said. I fear that many liberal-minded people will forget that, simply to fulfill Hillary's declaration that the future is female. 

For my part, I don't care what is between someone's legs, or whether they are black or white, or purple and polka dot. I don't care whether a person likes the opposite sex or the same sex. I don't care if you're a man who feels more like a woman, or a woman who feels more like a man, or if you're just fine with the equipment you have. I don't care whether you pray to God, Buddha, Zenar from the planet XG-243, or nobody at all. I only care what is in your heart and mind. What are the policies you're promoting? If you're promoting the common good--e.g., better infrastructure, Social Security expansion, free or income-based public college, Medicare for all, more access to debt relief, holding white collar criminals more accountable--than you have my support. And if you don't feel that we should be sticking our military noses in every country on the planet, all the better.

Give me the common good, just the common good, and nothing but the common good. It can come via testosterone, estrogen, or any mix of the two, but just give me the common good. 

The future should be us.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

77,000 miles of New Deal firebreaks vs. endless miles of neoliberal apathy

Above: "Your Forests - Your Fault - Your Loss!" an oil painting by James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960). The Smithsonian American Art Museum describes this as a New Deal painting, ca. 1935-1943. It's probably a WPA or Section of Fine Arts piece. Flagg is the artist who created the famous Uncle Sam "I Want You" poster. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

There are two large wildfires burning Oklahoma to the ground. One is classified as a "megafire" by the National Interagency Fire Center. At least two people have been killed. Wildfire fuel on the ground (dry vegetation) has helped the fires grow (see "Southwest fire threat called ‘extreme to historic’ amid brutally hot and dry conditions," Washington Post, April 17, 2018, and "Oklahoma wildfires kill 2 people, threat continues," Associated Press, KOCO 5 News, April 16, 2018).

For years, I--as well as people with far larger audiences and some degree of influence--have been highlighting the need for more fire prevention and firefighting resources. Unfortunately, under our modern, neoliberal, right-wing federal government, tax-breaks-for-the-rich trumps environmental protection. And so, our forests are burned, in record-setting fashion, and people die (see, e.g., "California wildfires have killed 40 people; dozens still missing as firefighters make progress," Los Angeles Times, October 15, 2017).

During the New Deal, there were massive efforts to properly manage our nation's forests and parks. For example, unemployed Americans hired into the Civilian Conservation Corps, WPA, and National Youth Administration created 77,000 miles of new firebreaks, and improved or maintained another 58,000 miles (figures are from the final reports of those agencies). That's enough firebreak work to go around the planet five times. These workers also removed wildfire fuel, created forest roads to reach remote areas, and fought fires directly.

We could do the same today - after all, the labor force participation rate is still historically low (see, e.g., "Automation has hurt labor-force participation, and it’s going to get worse, IMF finds," MarketWatch, April 9, 2018). But, of course, we won't do the same - no matter how successful New Deal forest and park management was. Republican hatred of the poor and unemployed, Republican worship of the rich, and milquetoast liberalism ensures that we do little or nothing beyond the status quo.

Our forests, our fault, our loss.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The National Youth Administration: 130,000 cars, trucks, and tractors repaired

Above: A city mechanic (standing on the vehicle's running board) helps train James DeSoto, an enrollee in the New Deal's National Youth Administration (NYA), Fresno, California, 1940. Among their many achievements, young Americans employed in the NYA repaired over 130,000 cars, trucks, and tractors (Federal Security Agency, War Manpower Commission, Final Report of the National Youth Administration, Fiscal Years 1936-1943, 1944, p. 157). Workers like DeSoto learned every aspect of car repair, including "removal and installation of motors... bearings and cylinder work... piston rings... front and rear axle... transmission... electrical system... brakes... frame and fender repair..." (Final Report, p. 161). Along the way these young adults earned modest paychecks, which they needed immediately, and also acquired skills they could use for the rest of their lives. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Permanent military intervention abroad; inadequate & contaminated water at home

Above: "The Quality of Mercy," an etching by Edward Hagedorn (1902-1982), created while he was in the WPA's art program, ca. 1935-1943. Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

The U.S. sent a salvo of missiles into Syria yesterday, in its continuing commitment to intervene in as many foreign affairs as possible. 

The president made the decision himself (no need to consult with We the People); Congress is providing record-setting funds for as many military adventures as Trump would like to engage in; wealthy American CEOs and shareholders--securely tucked away in their gated communities and private compounds--are salivating for the next series of bomb & missile contracts (the fireworks we shot off must be replaced); yet many Americans still feel safe & comfy, hugging their smart-phone-security-blankets, and texting & twittering each other about various, meaningless, nonsense.

Meanwhile, as we're buying more stock in Middle East chaos, tens of millions of Americans can't get clean drinking water. For example, a recent CNN article tells us that many Chicago homes are being supplied with lead-contaminated water. But don't worry, we're told, the levels are low and people can simply switch to bottled water. Problem is, no amount of lead is safe for ingestion and your bottled water probably has plastic particles in it. Oops. Lead poisoning aside, there is also contamination in our water from fracking, routine chemical spills and, when conditions & neglect are just right, Legionella bacteria and brain-eating amoebas.

Some people can't get any water service at all, because of deteriorating infrastructure... or, because they're too poor to pay their ballooning utility bills. Yes, that's right - some citizens aren't getting adequate and reliable water, even as two trillion gallons of water wastefully spill out of America's crumbling water lines every year.

But not all hope is lost; because super-wealthy Americans recently received their latest round of gargantuan tax cuts, and soon--we are told--they'll be trickling down on us. Maybe we can drink that?

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Billionaire Menace

Above: "Baleful Influence," an etching by Edward Hagedorn (1902-1982), created while he was in the WPA's art program, ca. 1935-1943. Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Global warming, crumbling infrastructure, current and looming wars, White House scandals, rising suicide rates, dropping life expectancy, perpetual tax breaks for the rich, inescapable debt, inescapable poverty, depression and stress, regressive taxation in our states, counties, and towns, media oligopolies, underfunded schools, underpaid teachers, healthcare chaos, mass shootings, record-setting wildfires, meaningless jobs, retirements at risk, and white nationalists blaming low-income minorities for problems caused by wealthy whites.

All of these social ills, and more, are largely caused by the billionaire menace - a few very wealthy people vacuuming up all the world's resources, and then paying their political puppets and media marionettes to maintain their vile status quo. The rest of the world is left in a state of never-ending financial anxiety, pointing vengeful fingers at one another in a desperate, misguided attempt to make sense of what's been done to them. While the billionaire-class chuckles, the rest of the world chokes and fights for breath, waiting for their eviction notices, waiting for their water to be shut off, waiting for their unpayable medical bills, waiting for the debt collectors' threats of more financial ruin if they don't cough up what they don't have.

We can either have a peaceful and prosperous world, or we can have billionaires... but we can't have both.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

New Deal Celestial Art (5/5): "The Comet" and "The Big Dipper"

Above: "The Comet," a linoleum artwork by Edward Hagedorn (1902-1982), created while he was in the WPA, ca. 1935-1943. Hagedorn was a lifelong San Francisco Bay Area resident. A colleague once said: "Ed was an outsider, a loner, a tall thin man who walked down the street looking like a question-mark; he had no use for success." And it's been noted that "after much early success the eccentric and idealistic Hagedorn, troubled by personal shyness, ceased to exhibit his work publicly in the late 1930s." Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Above: "The Big Dipper," another linoleum WPA artwork by Edward Hagedorn. In addition to artworks like "The Comet" and "The Big Dipper," many of Hagedorn's pieces depict war, and also large skeletal or menacing creatures crushing smaller people. Though Hagedorn may not have intended it, I find them to be fantastic representations of American plutocracy and American-style capitalism (i.e., financial bullying and brutality). It's been suggested that "The spirit went out of much of his work from about 1940, and although Hagedorn continued to make art throughout most of his life, it often devolved into trivializing depictions of the female nude." That might be an oversimplification; but even if just partly true, that's a shame, because he clearly had something to say in his early works. Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

New Deal Celestial Art (4/5): The lunar and solar art of George Harding

The following three artworks are located in the U.S. Custom House in Philadelphia. They were painted by George Harding (1883-1959), while he was in the New Deal's Section of Fine Arts, 1938. The images are courtesy of the General Services Administration and Carol M. Highsmith.

 Above: "Phases of the Moon"

Above: "Phases of the Sun"

Above: "Solar Eclipse"

These are just 3 of the 31 paintings that Harding made for the U.S. Custom House. He was paid $12,766 by the Section of Fine Arts - probably somewhere in the neighborhood $200,000 today (Final Report, Section of Fine Arts, p. 25). This amount paid from the public coffers, to decorate a building, might surprise many; but it must be remembered that art and the common good were much more valued during the New Deal than they are today. 

In modern times, we've been trained, like seals flapping our flippers for Lonesome Rhodes, to believe that if something isn't good for millionaires & billionaires then it isn't good at all, and so, not worth doing. This is why so much public and quasi-public architecture is so bland and dreary today - public schools that look like penitentiaries; bridges that look like regular roadway (e.g., no arches, trusses, sidewall designs, or statues); art-free post offices; courthouses with no sculptures; featureless and seemingly prefabricated state park buildings (as opposed to the older CCC-built log cabins & pavilions); and so on. Inspiring art and creative architecture is being eradicated, in order to protect (and secure more) tax breaks for the rich. On the other hand, many millions of Americans have no problem opening up the public purse for a new billion-dollar sports stadium. Why? Because it's good for the millionaire players and the billionaire owners.

Instead of flapping our flippers for the super-wealthy, how about if we invest more in the arts and the common good?

Above: The bold and triumphant architecture of the U.S. Custom House in Philadelphia. This is how they did it back then. According to Professor of History Charlene Mires, the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA) contributed $4 million towards its construction - about $77 million in today's dollars (Independence Hall in American Memory, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013, p. 187). Photo courtesy of Carol M. Highsmith.