Saturday, September 23, 2017

Will America's financial vultures allow Puerto Rico to recover from Hurricane Maria? Will the big media outlets push aside their Trump & Kardashian addictions long enough to care?

Above: A lithograph of vultures perched in a tree, and flying over devastated land, by Dorothy Jenkins (1914-1995), created while she was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1936. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the University of Iowa Museum of Art.

America's financial attack on Puerto Rico, and the deadly results

America's financial vultures have been preying on Puerto Rico for many years now. And this year, the economically crippled island territory has filed for bankruptcy-type relief. But the financial vultures don't like that idea, so they're working hard to make sure that Puerto Ricans never escape debt, thereby creating another group of debt slaves that they can attach themselves to like leeches. Yes, they're trying to prevent Puerto Rico from getting bankruptcy relief, just like they've prevented financially-wrecked student loan debtors from getting bankruptcy relief on the mainland. 

Instead of debt relief or restructuring, the financial vultures want the Puerto Rican government to impose severe austerity on its citizens - which we know, in the modern world, means: Protections for the rich and regressive taxation and cuts in public services for everyone else. You see, America's financial elite can file for bankruptcy pretty much any time they want to (see, e.g., "Yep, Donald Trump's companies have declared bankruptcy...more than four times," PolitiFact, June 21, 2016) but they've worked very, very hard to limit bankruptcy protection for the middle-class and poor. And since the financial vultures control the federal government with their massive bribes campaign donations, they've been largely successful in instituting a two-tiered system of economic justice - just like they've instituted a two-tiered system of criminal justice (e.g., a bail system that favors the rich, a fine system that favors the rich, greater access to lawyers, and lesser or no punishment for financial crimes, even if such crimes destroy millions of lives).

The victimization of Puerto Ricans by America's financial vultures has had serious consequences. By putting them into a state of economic disability, in the hopes of squeezing out every last drop of profit, and also trying to force Puerto Rico to sell off its public goods to the financial vultures' private sector friends, the vultures have prevented Puerto Rico from properly repairing and upgrading its infrastructure. And so, the island's anemic infrastructure has just been battered by Hurricane Maria - knocking out power for perhaps months, hindering health care (e.g., the delivery of life-saving insulin to diabetic patients and the delivery of electricity to patients who need dialysis), and also flooding entire swaths of the island. The old Guajataca Dam, for example, has failed, sending huge amounts of water downstream, forcing the evacuation of 70,000 people, and it may collapse altogether. The dam was built around 1929.

The Associated Press reports that at least 7 Puerto Ricans have died from Hurricane Maria, "and the toll was likely to rise."

Above: A WPA poster, promoting travel to Puerto Rico. New Deal policymakers were very interested in building Puerto Rico up. Today's policymakers? Neh, not so much. For the most part, they're content to just sit back and let the financial vultures feast. And much of the American public is so distracted by celebrities and tech gadgetry, that they don't care much either. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Bernie Sanders and the FDR administration had much better ideas, and much greater empathy, than we do

A lot of the suffering and hardship in Puerto Rico is unnecessary, and made possible through a combination of New Deal amnesia, misplaced faith in the super-wealthy, and a cultural apathy so powerful it could swallow a black hole. We can do better. In June of last year, journalist Zach Carter of the Huffington Post reported the following about Bernie Sanders' plan to help Puerto Rico: "Sanders would cut vulture fund investors out of any benefits from a debt-reduction deal, while establishing a long-term infrastructure plan to fix the root problem of Puerto Rico's debt: a dysfunctional local economy."

To a lot of corporate Democrats and their supporters, this probably sounds like one of crazy ol' Bernie Sanders' pie-in-the-sky ideas. But, as Carter also reports (in the same article): "similarly ambitious initiatives have been successfully implemented in Puerto Rico. In the 1930s, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt supported an agency that pumped federal dollars into infrastructure investment in Puerto Rico, directed by local officials who understood the island's needs. Their plans helped eradicate malaria, tuberculosis and hookworm from the island, make electricity available to the island's interior and establish hurricane-proof construction using local manufacturing."

Carter is referring to the New Deal's Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration (PRRA). And Puerto Rico also received help from the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA), Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), Civil Works Administration (CWA), Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation (FSCC), Works Progress Administration (WPA), National Youth Administration (NYA), as well as other, older federal programs that were boosted by New Deal funding, like the Army Corps of Engineers. And, with the exception of the PRRA, these agencies were engaging in thousands upon thousands of public works projects across the rest of the country too.   

But, unfortunately, here is where the amnesia and apathy I mentioned earlier kicks in. Collectively speaking, we've forgotten about the accomplishments of the New Deal and, even worse, we have no interest in learning about it. There's just too many Kardashians to keep up with to be bothered with our nation's history (see, "How much U.S. history do Americans actually know? Less than you think," Smithsonian Magazine, May 28, 2015). So, over time, we've let our infrastructure and our critical thinking skills slowly crumble away, scratching our heads and wondering how those roads, bridges, and water mains even got there in the first place. "Gosh!! Do those water mains reproduce on their own?? I mean, like, are there male and female lines, and they roll in the hay once in awhile, and make little baby water mains?? Or do we actually have to replace them from time to time??" 

Because of the greed and sociopathy of America's financial vultures, and also because of societal amnesia, misplaced faith in the super-wealthy (i.e., trickle-down economics), and cultural apathy, I don't believe Puerto Rico will have a healthy recovery. There will be many inspiring stories, of course, especially in the beginning, but over time the troubles of Puerto Rico will be largely forgotten. Think about it: On the mainland, we've already prioritized tax cuts for the rich, and military adventures abroad, over infrastructure improvement - even as lead contaminated water systems poison millions of children and causes fetal death. Do you really think we're going to show any more concern for an island that we've willfully put out-of-sight, out-of-mind, for so long? Please.

Where's the media coverage of Puerto Rico?

Above: This is a screen grab of the homepage of, at about 3:07pm Eastern Time, on Saturday, September 23, 2017. You would think, with Puerto Rico's Guajataca Dam failing, 70,000 under evacuation, and the possibility of complete collapse and a large loss of life, that we'd get up-to-the-minute news, right at the top of the page. Nope... but we do get at least six stories about Trump. I've noticed that the mainstream media has (a) an addiction to Trump, and (b) a short attention span for Americans in need. Image used for educational and non-commercial purposes.

Above: Yay, Kylie's pregnant!!! Golly gee, I'm so happy now!!! This is a screen grab a little further down the homepage (same day and time as the previous screen grab). It appears that the goings-on of the Kardashian family is more newsworthy than the possible collapse of a dam that could cause a catastrophic loss of life in Puerto Rico. This is how the mainstream media fails us time and time again. You see, I want to know how my fellow American citizens in Puerto Rico are doing, not whether there's "A new Kardashian to keep up with" (to be fair, there was a story or two about Puerto Rico--but not the dam specifically--buried down near the bottom of the web page... I had to used my browser's "find "tool to locate them). Image used for educational and non-commercial purposes.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

WPA scrubbing

Above: "Woman Scrubbing," a painting by Elizabeth Terrell (1908-1993), created while she was in the WPA's art program, ca. 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Sheldon Museum of Art.

Above: "Scrub Woman," a ceramic sculpture by Gustave Hildebrand (1897-1950), created while he was in the WPA's art program, ca. 1935-1942. A description for this artwork states, "By recognizing and honoring her hard work, [Hildebrand] pays tribute to all working women. Hildebrand’s work coincides with President Franklin Roosevelt passing the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, a move that placed protective limits on hours and wages." Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and Carol M. Highsmith.

Above: Another piece titled "Scrub Woman," this one a lithograph by Isaac Soyer (1897-1981), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935. Do you ever wonder why housekeeping and domestic work pays so little? It's very hard work and it keeps us clean, which is important for disease prevention and good hygiene. Are these not valued things? It seems to me that these types of workers deserve very good wages and/or a much more generous earned income credit. Of course, the latter might require that super-wealthy Americans pay higher taxes, and many people (especially those on the political right) don't want the super-wealthy to pay higher taxes. They believe that it's better for the super-wealthy to have more money to throw on the Wall Street roulette wheel, wreck the economy, and send jobs overseas, and then pass along the ill-gotten profits to their lazy children in the form of dynastic wealth. Hmmm... call me old-fashioned, but scrubbing floors, keeping things clean, and hindering the spread of disease seems more valuable to society than that. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Sheldon Museum of Art.

Above: A woman scrubs the floor during a WPA housekeeping training program in Pittsburgh, 1936. Between 1935 and 1943, WPA housekeeping aides made 32 million visits to assist low-income Americans who were experiencing illness or emergency (Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1946, p. 69). Many housekeeping aides went on to secure private housekeeping employment after their time in the WPA. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Happy to graduate from a WPA housekeeping training course in Cleveland, Ohio, ca. 1935-1943. Many people claim, then and now, that the unemployed are lazy and don't want to work, or that so-called "low-skilled" workers don't deserve good pay and benefits. It's complete b.s. of course - just mean-spirited propaganda, used by the super-wealthy and their political, think tank, and talking head stooges to maintain America's vile caste system. Most people, like the formerly jobless Americans you see above, just want an opportunity to work and get fairly compensated for it. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

New Deal Art: "Big Dip"

Above: "Big Dip," a lithograph by Harold Faye (1910-1980), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1938. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

WPA Flowers

Above: The description for this photograph, ca. 1935-1943, reads, "A display of 300 exotic and rare Orchids for the public, in the Volunteer Park Conservatory at Seattle, was cultivated by ten needy [i.e., unemployed] women, like the worker in the photograph, on a project of the WPA." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: "Lincoln Park Conservatory," an oil painting by Reathel Keppen (1895-1945), created while she was in the WPA's art program, ca. 1935-1943. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: The description for this photograph reads, "For her training on a WPA project at the Public Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle, the worker in the picture [and] nine others will receive a certificate as a Gardener, with a specialty of Orchid culture. On this project, sponsored by the Parks Department, the women have raised 10,000 Orchids in addition to other rare plants." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: "Dahlias," an oil painting by Bumpei Usui (1898-1994), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1938. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: Two other WPA workers on the orchid and rare plant project at the Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle. The Volunteer Park Conservatory began in 1912 and still operates today. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: "Netherlands Still Life," an oil painting by Harold Bowler (1903-1965), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1939. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: The description for this 1939 photograph reads, "Wishing more than anything else to see an orchid, Mrs. Helen Stagier came from frozen Fairbanks, Alaska, to Seattle, last Christmas and got her wish. Washington State Administrator, Don G. Abel beside her in the photograph..." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A WPA poster promotes a flower show in Hinsdale, Illinois, ca. 1936-1939. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

New Deal Storm Art (5/5): Big Blow - A Drama of Hurricane Country by Theodore Pratt

Above: One of my favorite WPA posters, a promotion for the Federal Theatre Project's production of Big BlowImage courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Artist: The poster above was created by artist Richard Halls (1906-1976). According to the website Posters for the People, Halls' "early years were spent traveling through the U.S. and Europe with his father, a sculptor whose commissions included many public monuments... Halls joined the FAP from 1936 to 1939 where he created many posters for the Federal Theatre Project... Halls began to work as a freelance illustrator, but a part-time job as an instructor at City College of New York redirected him to a career in education. From 1952 to 1976 Halls taught advertising art and design on the faculty of the State University of New York at Farmingdale. He received his B.A. from Adelphi University in 1961."

The Play: The Big Blow appears to have been an entertaining and moderately successful melodrama set in Florida, where the playwright, Theodore Pratt, was living at the time. The Internet Broadway Database lists the play as running in New York, from October 1, 1938 to February 1939, while Halliie Flanagan, the director of the Federal Theatre Project, records it as running all the way to April 1939 (Arena, 1940, p. 381 - Flanagan also writes of Big Blow performances in Boston, p. 230). Some of the players in Big Blow appear to have enjoyed reasonably successful acting careers after the production of the play, including: Kendall Clark (1912-1983), who played Wade Barnett; Dorothy Raymond (1914-2008), who played Sarah Barnett; and George Mathews (1911-1984), who played "Deefy." Mathews went on to become a prolific character actor in shows like Have Gun Will Travel, Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

New Deal Storm Art (4/5): Thunder and Lightning

Above: "Thunder in the West," a watercolor painting by Lloyd Moylan (1893-1963), created while he was in the WPA's art program, 1942. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Arizona Museum of Art & Archive of Visual Arts.

Above: "Lightning," an oil panting by James Stovall Morris (1898-1973), created while he was in the WPA's art program, ca. 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the New Mexico Museum of Art.

Monday, September 11, 2017

New Deal Storm Art (3/5): "Marooned"

Above: "Marooned," a color woodcut print by Albert Abramovitz (1879-1963), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1939. According to the Brier Hill Gallery in Boston, Massachusetts, Abramovitz's "work was widely exhibited across the United States... and was distinctive both for his unusual technique and radical socio-political point of view... His works are in the collections of the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, the Spencer Museum of Art, the University of Michigan Museum of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Library of Congress. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.