Friday, February 28, 2014

You might be living in a plutocracy if...(part 9 of 10)

 
Above: In his second inaugural address, President Franklin Roosevelt said "I see millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day...I see millions denied education, recreation, and the opportunity to better their lot and the lot of their children...I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished." Between FDR's speech and 1981 we made great progress. Thanks to New Deal policies and infrastructure the middle-class grew like never before or since. WPA poster image provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.  

You might be living in a plutocracy if...

...Bill Moyers says you are.

In a great op-ed titled, "The Great American Class War: Plutocracy Versus Democracy," Moyers writes:

"Why are record numbers of Americans on food stamps? Because record numbers of Americans are in poverty. Why are people falling through the cracks? Because there are cracks to fall through. It is simply astonishing that in this rich nation more than 21 million Americans are still in need of full-time work, many of them running out of jobless benefits, while our financial class pockets record profits, spends lavishly on campaigns to secure a political order that serves its own interests and demands that our political class push for further austerity. Meanwhile, roughly 46 million Americans live at or below the poverty line and, with the exception of Romania, no developed country has a higher percent of kids in poverty than we do. Yet a study by scholars at Northwestern University and Vanderbilt finds little support among the wealthiest Americans for policy reforms to reduce income inequality."  

(The study Moyers refers to can be found here: http://faculty.wcas.northwestern.edu/~jnd260/cab/CAB2012%20-%20Page1.pdf)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

You might be living in a plutocracy if...(part 8 of 10)


(MSNBC commentator Krystal Ball explains why Hillary Clinton is not a good candidate for president.)

You might be living in a plutocracy if...

...your fellow citizens would prefer a presidential candidate (Hillary Clinton) who is backed by the corrupt financial institutions that destroyed the American economy, over a candidate (Elizabeth Warren) who has consistently fought for the middle-class and poor .

Here are two recent amazing headlines:

"Study: Americans Still Angry With Big Banks," Reuters, February 24, 2014.

"Vast Majority Of Democrats Want Hillary Clinton To Run In 2016: Poll," Huffington Post, February 26, 2014, showing that far more Democrats support Hillary Clinton running for president, than support Elizabeth Warren running for president.

If these polls are accurate reflections of reality, then they indicate that American voters are, collectively,  either:

(a) Completely uninformed;

(b) Have a need for a royal bloodline in the White House (how many Bush and Clinton presidencies do we need?);

(c) Masochists ("A willingness or tendency to subject oneself to unpleasant or trying experiences." Free Dictionary); or

(d) Suffering from Stockholm Syndrome ("a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors..." Wikipedia)

Here is the basic problem/question: If Americans are angry at the big banks, than why are they more supportive of a presidential candidate that is backed by the big banks (Hillary Clinton) and less supportive of a candidate who has aggressively fought the big banks (Elizabeth Warren)?

(Our probable next president, Hillary Clinton. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.) 

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Hillary Clinton's major financial donors have included Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and Lehman Brothers--a who's who on the list of organizations involved in the financial wrongdoings that brought down the American economy and destroyed the livelihood of millions of Americans.

Here are two headlines that go together in a fun way:

"Goldman Sachs Will Settle Fraud Case for $550 Million"

"Hillary Clinton's Big Paydays From Goldman Sachs"

(U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Now, let's look at some of Elizabeth Warren's major financial donors: Moveon.org (a group dedicated to equal access to government for all income groups), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the League of Conservation Voters (a pro-environment group).

Here are two more interesting headlines:

"Elizabeth Warren challenges Obama to break up 'too-big-to-fail' Wall St banks"

"Wall Street’s nightmare: President Elizabeth Warren"

If there's anything more frightening than a plutocracy, it's voters who are so oblivious to reality that they simply cannot stop themselves from supporting that plutocracy (thus dragging the rest of us along for a perpetual ride on the Corporate Crime Crazy Train). A Hillary Clinton presidency would be the same as a George Bush or Barack Obama presidency--Polices and actions that favor the super-wealthy, but mostly offer lip-service to everyone else. (Consider President Obama's recent Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) efforts. He has welcomed corporations to work with him, but excluded the public. See, e.g., "Obama Seeks Trade Deals Sought by Biggest U.S. Companies" and "Obama Admin’s TPP Trade Officials Received Hefty Bonuses From Big Banks").


(Author Rick Shenkman discusses the research findings in his book "Just How Stupid Are We?: Facing the Truth About the American Voter.")

All this reminds me of why I switched from the Democratic Party to the Green Party. The Green Party may not be a viable party for high political office (in terms of voter support), but at least it's a sincere and ethical party that doesn't submit to fraudulent, corrupt, and democracy-destroying financial institutions. On the Green Party's website, they state: "The major financial institutions are draining our communities' equity and we all play a part if we bank in their institutions. By finding and supporting those banks in our own communities who reinvest in our community in a sustainable way we will complete the cycle of our money supporting us." You won't hear Hillary Clinton say anything like that, especially after Goldman Sachs bribed gave her hundreds of thousands of dollars to speak to them and to soothe their fears that justice may one day catch up to them.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

You might be living in a plutocracy if...(part 7 of 10)


(Watch Nick Hanauer, businessman and venture capitalist, and one of the original investors in Amazon.com, explain how the super-wealthy are not the true job creators. Hanauer argues, "If it was true that lower taxes for the rich and more wealth for the wealthy led to job creation, today we would be drowning in jobs. And yet, unemployment and underemployment is at record highs." Indeed, the labor force participation rate is at a 35-year low, 24 million Americans wish they had a full-time job but can't find one, and the main reason that the unemployment rate is dropping is because more unemployed Americans have given up looking for work, out of hopelessness, and are no longer counted as unemployed. Ironically, if every unemployed person gave up looking for work, the unemployment rate would be 0%.) 

You might be living in a plutocracy if...

...lies are piled on top of lies, to ensure that the most wealthy Americans get wealthier while the rest of America stagnates or falls behind.

For over three decades we have been deceived by the corporate & political rhetoric that claims (a) lowering taxes on the wealthy will create an abundance of good middle-class jobs, and (b) unions & regulations kill jobs. So, we've handed out colossal tax breaks to the wealthy, we've deregulated, we've demonized unions to the point where very few Americans are part of a union, and we've glorified the rich as some sort of job-creating meta-human gods....gods that we should willingly, even lovingly, become lapdogs for.

Result?

The lowest labor force participation rate in 35 years, backbreaking debt on the middle-class and poor, stagnant wages in the face of rising prices, a tidal wave of financial fraud coming out of Corporate America, environmental pollution (see next paragraph), extreme wealth & income inequality, a shrinking middle-class, the largest prison-industrial complex in the world, persistent efforts by the super-wealthy to evade taxes despite enjoying historically low tax rates (including historically low effective tax rates), and aggressive political lobbying from corporations to lower their tax rates despite enjoying their own historically low tax rates.

But even worse than all this, is that the corporate and congressional powers-that-be keep selling the same old snake oil year after year--"Job-creators!" "Evil unions!" "Deregulation!"--and millions of American voters continue to buy it, in wide-eyed delusion, even as their wages, benefits, and futures are worse than their parents and grandparents. For example, millions of Americans continue to vote for political candidates that praise deregulation, even as under-regulated companies (and products) spill chemicals & coal ash into their drinking water, cause their fish to become laden with mercury, and fill their atmosphere with so much filth that children and pregnant women are sometimes warned to stay indoors because the air may sicken them.

Plutocracy requires (a) lies on top of lies, and (b) an electorate willing to believe those lies and continue voting for whichever political candidates that Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and Bank of America nominate with their ill-gotten money. And, thus far, the strategy of the plutocrats has been wildly successful--for them. The already-wealthy are becoming wealthier, the middle-class is going nowhere but down, and the poor are constantly insulted as "takers" and "leeches," to distract us from the greed, fraud, and pollution that continuously flows out of Corporate America.


(Watch as news anchors at CNBC try to argue that bank regulations are ineffectual, and watch how U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren exposes their ignorance of history. Excellent commentary by Cenk Uygur.)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

You might be living in a plutocracy if...(part 6 of 10)


(President Franklin Roosevelt warned us about the evils of money controlling government, and said he welcomed the hatred he received from greedy corporate-types. Unfortunately, we did not take his warnings seriously enough and America is once again a plutocracy, with just enough democratic window-dressing to make us think otherwise.)

You might be living in a plutocracy if...

...Goldman Sachs, a company that helped bring down the world economy through greed, pays your president, pays your likely next president, pays right-wing legislators like Ted Cruz to shut down the government, supplies personnel for top government posts, makes frequent visits to the White House, receives $10 billion in government bailout money, and then says that the rest of America should get less government assistance.

See, for example:

"Goldman Sachs' 'Fraud' Explained: How They Pulled Off The Alleged Scheme"   

"Goldman Sachs Will Settle Fraud Case for $550 Million"

"Goldman Sachs was top Obama donor"

"Hillary Clinton's Big Paydays From Goldman Sachs"

"Here’s who pays the bills for Ted Cruz’s crusade"

"The Guys From ‘Government Sachs’"

"Obama's top funder also leads the nation in White House visits"

"After Taking A $10 Billion Bailout, Goldman Sachs Announces It Will Outsource 1,000 Jobs To Singapore"

"9 Greedy CEOs Trying to Shred the Safety Net While Pigging Out on Corporate Welfare"

This is plutocracy.

Monday, February 24, 2014

You might be living in a plutocracy if...(part 5 of 10)

 
(WPA workers building a school in Maryland. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

You might be living in a plutocracy if...

...Corporate America paid politicians to create the largest prison industrial complex in the world, and continues to pay them to keep it that way.

See, for example:

"This Is How Private Prison Companies Make Millions Even When Crime Rates Fall"

"Private Prisons Contribute Thousands To Oklahoma Political Campaigns"

"Private Prisons Spend $45 Million On Lobbying, Rake In $5.1 Billion For Immigrant Detention Alone"

"Private Prison Companies Want You Locked Up"

"Prisoners of Profit: Private Prison Empire Rises Despite Startling Record Of Juvenile Abuse"

"Private Prison Profits Skyrocket, As Executives Assure Investors Of ‘Growing Offender Population’"

"Pennsylvania Judges Get Kickbacks for Placing Youths in Privately Owned Jails"

"U.S. prison population dwarfs that of other nations"

New Deal policymakers were very interested in providing Americans with plenty of work, education, and training opportunities, and less interested in incarcerating them. For example, for every new detention facility the WPA built, it also built 32 new schools. Unfortunately, the story is quite different today. Corporate America pays our political "leaders" to keep incarceration rates high so that wealthy executives and investors can get even more wealthy.

This is plutocracy.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

You might be living in a plutocracy if...(part 4 of 10)

You might be living in a plutocracy if...

...your Congressmen & women made it harder to discharge student loan debt, through bankruptcy, than to discharge gambling debt and business debt....and Corporate America paid them to make it that way.

There have been efforts to make bankruptcy law more fair to low-income and unemployed college graduates, but as a commentator said of one such effort, "When considering the enormously powerful Wall Street banks — which combined to spend over $100 million lobbying Congress in just the first eight months of 2011 — this paints a portrait of a bill destined to die a quiet legislative death."

And it doesn't matter to Corporate America, or to our plutocratic Congress, if more people are killing themselves due to unemployment, debt, and other financial stress, they just want more money (i.e., corporate profits and political campaign contributions). And, if crushing people to the point of suicide is what it takes to get more money, that's what they're going to do (or, I should say, are doing). They could, of course, provide debt relief and public jobs for these people, but they don't see any profit or campaign contributions coming from that, so they don't.

Consider the following:

The Ones We've Lost: The Student Loan Debt Suicides (Huffington Post and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project)

American Association of Suicidology: "There is a clear and direct relationship between rates of unemployment and suicide...At the individual level, unemployed individuals have between two and four times the suicide rate of those employed. As well, economic strain and personal financial crises have been well documented as precipitating events in individual deaths by suicide."

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: Factors that increase suicide risk include "A highly stressful life event such as...financial loss (and) Prolonged stress due to adversities such as unemployment..." 

"The suicide rate continues to soar; or, how our dysfunctional economy is literally killing us" (Washington Monthly)

Centers for Disease Control: "CDC Study Finds Suicide Rates Rise and Fall with Economy"

Above: New Deal policymakers created many free education opportunities for Americans. Today, because of plutocracy, many Americans who seek an education must (a) take on enormous debt, (b) look for jobs in a pathetic labor market, and (c) become saddled with that debt whether they find good middle-class jobs or not. Corporate America and Congress (which are essentially the same entities) have made sure that people burdened by student loan debt can no longer get a fresh start through bankruptcy, and have also made sure that they cannot get public jobs, e.g., a new WPA, should they fail to find employment in the private sector. In sum, Corporate America and Congress have sentenced millions of Americans to low wages (or complete unemployment) and inescapable debt (especially with respect to private student loans). And they've done this so that fewer and fewer people can have more and more money (see, e.g., "Wealth of Forbes 400 Billionaires Equals Wealth of All 41 Million African-Americans"). This is plutocracy.

Friday, February 21, 2014

You might live in a plutocracy if...(part 3 of 10)

You might live in a plutocracy if...

...the median wealth of your Congressmen and women is $1 million, your president is a multimillionaire, but the median wealth of your citizenry is just $44,911.

(The median number is the point at which half of the group is above and half of the group is below. Figures from the 2013 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report and the articles "Members of Congress Richer Than Ever" and "How Wealthy are President Barack Obama and His Cabinet?.")

And you might live in a ruthless plutocracy if that very same Congress and president are always weaseling around trying to cut Social Security, cut Medicare, cut food assistance, cut unemployment benefits, cut funds for job training, and cut anything else that helps non-rich Americans.....while simultaneously turning a blind eye to white collar crime--crime that just so happens to generate money for their political campaigns. (Corporate America funds the campaigns our major political candidates, and Corporate America has made billions with fraudulent securities, insider trading, interest-rate rigging, collusion, illegal tax evasion, money laundering for drug cartels, cooking the books, bribery, and Lord knows what else. See, as just one example: "Are Banks Too Big To Jail: PBS Frontline's stunning report shows how the Obama administration undermined the rule of law.")


Above: Members of Congress have always been wealthier than the average American, but at least during the New Deal they weren't as cruel as they are today. For example, New Deal policymakers created work and training opportunities for unemployed Americans in the Civil Works Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration, and the National Youth Administration. But today's millionaire Congress has cut funding for job training, even though Americans are experiencing stagnant wages and high unemployment. WPA poster image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Thursday, February 20, 2014

You might live in a plutocracy if...(part 2 of 10)

You might live in a plutocracy if...

...your Congress permits the selling of addictive poison (cigarettes) that leads to the death of 480,000 Americans every year, but refuses to a create a WPA-style jobs program for the millions of Americans who can't find work--thereby satisfying the desires of the wealthy few, but not the needs of the many.

See, for example:

1. "Where there's smoke there's money: tobacco industry campaign contributions and U.S. Congressional voting" See how pro-tobacco votes are in line with campaign contributions from the tobacco industry.

2.  "Democracy and the Policy Preferences of the Wealthy" See Table 5 on page 57, showing research that indicates 53% of non-wealthy Americans agree with the proposition that "The federal government should provide jobs for everyone able and willing to work who cannot find a job in private employment," but only 8% of wealthy Americans agree.

3. "21st Century WPA Act" This bill died in committee because almost no one fought or showed support for it, not Democrats, not President Obama, and certainly not Republicans or Tea Partiers. Thus, the policy preference of the wealthy few ("no" to a public jobs program) crushed the policy preference of the non-wealthy majority ("yes" to a public jobs program, see #2 above). That's plutocracy.  

4. "GOP Senators Block Veterans Jobs Bill" Reporting how Senate Republicans blocked legislation that would have created a public works program for unemployed veterans, and thus highlighting how not even the men & women who served us in uniform--and in many cases received serious injuries--can escape the wrath of plutocracy.

Above: Unfortunately, money has always played a dominant role in American government. But New Deal policymakers tried to address the malignancy of plutocracy by steering the country in a more democratic direction. For example, President Franklin Roosevelt said: "We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob." And when New Deal policymakers saw millions of unemployed youth, they created the Civilian Conservation Corps. Today, unfortunately, we are back to full-blown plutocracy, allowing austerity, white collar crime, and extreme income & wealth inequality to devastate the lives of millions of Americans. WPA poster image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Annual Farm and Home Week, Illinois


Annual Farm and Home Week seems to have been a yearly event held in Illinois from about 1900-1962 (see, e.g., here and here). I couldn't find much information about it on the Internet, leading me to believe that it either ended, or it goes by an entirely different name today. But this WPA poster is yet another example of how New Deal artists promoted local events. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Trickle-Down Economics and Snake Salvation are very similar

(WPA artists made many posters promoting public health, such as this one asking the public to "Obey the Rules of Health." Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)  

The star of a National Geographic reality show called "Snake Salvation" has died from a poisonous snake bite. National Geographic released a statement saying, in part, "we were constantly struck by his devout religious convictions despite the health and legal peril he often faced. Those risks were always worth it to him and his congregants as a means to demonstrate their unwavering faith. We were honored to be allowed such unique access to Pastor Jamie and his congregation..."

It seems to me that a responsible statement would have offered, instead: "We are very sorry for the family's loss, but this incident should also serve as a message that handling venomous snakes is a very, very dangerous thing to do--a sure-fire way to make yourself sick or dead. Please don't do it." Instead, National Geographic's statement almost seems like a call for someone to fill the man's spot, so the reality show can go on.

And we know, of course, that people will continue handling rattlesnakes, cobras, and copperheads to show that their faith immunizes them from poison. Indeed, I would not be surprised if one day a group of people subjected themselves to shark attacks, by covering their bodies with whale blood, to prove that their faith would keep the sharks' teeth from penetrating their skin. (Perhaps some people are already doing this?)

(New Deal policymakers knew that good health was not something to be gambled with. WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)    

Snake salvation is a lot like trickle-down economics. Despite it's massive failure and despite the fact that it's literally killing people (see "Note" below), our political "leaders"--particularly Republicans and Tea Partiers--are still promoting trickle-down economics as the means to economic salvation.

To the Supply-Side Cult, it doesn't matter that 30+ years of trickle-down economics has created (1) an uber-wealthy class that keeps getting wealthier and (2) a middle-class class that has to settle for stagnant wages, less benefits, and an increasingly monotonous work life. It doesn't matter to them that the already-rich got richer, but didn't bother to hold up their end of the bargain by creating good-paying jobs for the rest of us.....as was promised when the already-rich received gargantuan tax breaks in the 1980s and 2000s. The only thing that matters to the Supply-Side Cult is faith. And it's killing people (again, see "Note" below).

 (New Deal policymakers understood that the ability to earn money was vitally important to the mental and physical health of Americans. So they created work programs that offered job opportunities to the millions of Americans who needed and wanted jobs, and they created art that promoted labor, occupational training, career paths, and more. New Deal policymakers took direct action. Today, on the other hand, our policymakers persecute us with trickle-down theories and free-market fantasies. WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Trickle-down economics and snake salvation are very similar. They both require you to push aside rational thought, act irresponsibly, and, if there are bad results, do it again. Both trickle-down economics and snake salvation are ideologies that play with poison.  

My fear is this: America needs a new and stronger New Deal but, instead, we're probably just going to get more trickle-down toxin.

Note:

To demonstrate how trickle-down economics and its siblings (plutocracy, austerity, and white collar crime) are killing people, consider this example: The rich have become much more wealthy over the past 30+ years, but tens of millions of Americans are still struggling with unemployment and low-paying jobs. Almost no one disputes this, although some--amazingly--would not blame trickle-down economics (even though it's the economic philosophy that has dominated our country for decades).

Further, we know that financial stress and unemployment can lead to suicide. And, indeed, we have had increased rates of suicide since the Great Recession began--see, e.g., here and here. In sum, trickle-down economics and its siblings cause financial devastation, and that financial devastation causes people to lose hope and take their lives. Oblivious to this (or simply unmoved by it), many Americans still preach about the wonders of greed, profit, selfishness, and trickle-down economics. I think that's pathetic, but perhaps I'm old-fashioned.

For information showing how financial stress and unemployment leads to increased rates of suicide, see here, here, and here.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Listening to the political right requires a willing suspension of disbelief



Above: Watch the first two minutes of Cathy McMorris Rodger's response to the 2014 State of the Union Address, if you can bear it, to hear some of the most absurd scripted foolishness you'll ever hear. It's an endless stream of talking points, coming from what appears to be an empty vessel. Rodgers is a Republican Congresswoman from Washington state. (I also thought Obama's speech was little more than talking points.)

Rodgers tells us that, in America, no dream is too big. Really? Is that why "It's An Exceptionally Bad Time To Be A Recent College Grad" and why "Recent Grads Have Lowered Their Expectations"? Because no dream is too big? 

Rodgers declares, with a serious look, "We want you to have a better life." Really? Is that why Republicans have worked so hard to reduce food & unemployment assistance to struggling Americans? Is that why they shut down the government, thereby delaying clinical trials for children with cancer? Is that why the man they voted to be president (Mitt Romney) scoffed at the idea that people have a right to healthcare and food and said it was NOT his job "to worry about those people"? Is that why Republican governors and legislatures have refused to extend Medicaid coverage to their low-income residents, even though it would cost them little or nothing to do so? Is that why Republicans killed legislation that would have created a public jobs program for unemployed veterans? Is that why they always resist an increase in America's pathetic minimum wage (one of the stingiest minimum wages in the developed world)? Because they want us to have a better life?

Rodgers says Republicans want to empower us, "not the government." But we are the government. Or at least we were, until Congress started sculpting a plutocracy by granting colossal tax breaks to the rich and then subsequently collecting the booty from that higher after-tax income (in the form of campaign contributions, lucrative jobs, gifts, bribes, etc., from the super-wealthy). 

At 1:22, Rodgers exclaims, in bizarre robot-like joy, that the Republicans' vision for America "champions free markets!!" Yes, Ms. Rodgers, we know all about your wondrous & deregulated free market. It unleashed a tidal wave of financial fraud on our country and, more recently, dumped poison in the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginians.

Rodgers tells us that the Republican vision "protects our most vulnerable." Is that why Republican politicians and voters have made a habit of calling our most vulnerable names like "leeches," "moochers," "takers," and "parasites"? Because they want to protect them?

Listening to the political right requires a willing suspension of disbelief, as Congresswoman Rodgers' delusional & deceitful speech shows. If you want to know what's wrong with America, and why the rich keep getting richer while everyone else is left behind, listen to Rodgers' lies about the compassionate Republican Party and the wonders of the holy free market.

And if you want to learn how to make America stronger, look to the New Deal--an era when government cared about all the people, not just those with deep pockets. An era when America focused on infrastructure, infrastructure that served as the backbone for America's post-World War II economic boom.

Friday, February 14, 2014

WPA Theatre: Big White Fog


"Big White Fog" was a WPA Theatre production about a black family torn between the ideas of black separatism and the "American Dream." To read a review of a modern performance of the play, click here. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.    

Thursday, February 13, 2014

CCC Camp



In the photo above we see a Civilian Conservation Corps camp buried in snow at Shenandoah National Park. Image courtesy of the National Park Service.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Political Right to the Rest of America: "Drink your 4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol and like it!"

(WPA workers cleaning a river in Worcester County, Maryland, 1937. Thousands of New Deal projects during the Great Depression gave work to the unemployed, while simultaneously improving our environment. It was a connecting of the dots that most of our current Congressmen and women can't even begin to contemplate, because their too busy soliciting campaign contributions from the corporations polluting our environment. Image courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)
 
Republicans, Tea Partiers, and certain strains of Libertarians are fond of telling us that if government just gets out of the way, and lets Corporate America do its thing, everything will be a-ok. Well, let's see how that's working out for us. Here's some interesting stories, most of them from just the past few months:  

"Toxic ash poisons North Carolina river, threatens drinking water"

"BP Oil Refinery Waste Stored At Koch Brothers-Owned Site Polluting Nearby Chicago Neighborhoods"

"West Virginia chemical spill leaves 300,000 without clean water"

"Derailed train leaks chemicals near New Augusta"

"Willard residents evacuated after dangerous chemical spill on CSX train tracks at North Main Street"

"Chemicals Found In Water At Fracking Sites Linked To Infertility, Cancer"

"More gunk spills in West Virginia, turning creek black"

"Toxic fog hits Utah: Pregnant women and children urged to stay indoors as pollution goes 'off the charts' in freezing weather"

So, what's the reaction to all this? Well, Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner recently said, in response to the spill of 4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol into West Virginia's drinking water, "We have enough regulations." And the political right is still, of course, on their never-ending crusade to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency and eliminate the Endangered Species Act. To them, it seems, clean air, clean water, and wildlife are annoying nuisances--obstacles to be eliminated, so the super-wealthy can get more money. To the rest of us, they have this message: "Drink your 4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol and like it!"

Is this the America you want?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Why is government assistance to the less fortunate labeled as "Nazism" or "Fascism"?

A Fox News commentator recently compared Progressives to Nazis. And, back in the day, Herbert Hoover compared the New Deal to Fascism.

Though political ideologies have complex histories we can say, in modern America, that Progressive, Liberal, and New Deal agendas are generally about health care for all Americans, less spending on military ventures, more political attention to domestic problems, a strong social safety net for those who are laid off from their jobs or hit with medical emergencies, more democracy (thus, less government control by wealthy individuals), racial equality, and so on.

(Modern Progressives & Liberals feel, and New Dealers felt, that health care should not be rationed out according to one's wealth. How is that Nazism or Fascism? And, by the way, many Republican-led states have refused to expand Medicaid coverage to their low-income residents (even though it would cost them next-to-nothing to do so), thereby sentencing their low-income residents to less-healthy and shorter lives. Now, who are the Nazis again?? WPA poster image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Nazi and Fascist movements, generally speaking, were (are) about using state power to crush opposition and to dominate other countries through military action. In sum, a philosophy of "might makes right" and violence is necessary or good.

So, why are comparisons between Progressivism and Nazism being made? How, is expanding Medicaid to more low-income Americans similar to the murder of six million Jews? How are calls for a public works program for the long-term unemployed similar to the unprovoked invasion of countries for the purpose of creating a racially "pure" world?

(If Progressives, Liberals, and New Dealers are Nazis and Fascists, then why did they make posters against Nazism and Fascism, like this WPA poster? Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Harry Hopkins, the first and most well-remembered director of the WPA, replied to Herbert Hoover's claim that the New Deal was leading America to Fascism by asking, "Is it dictatorship to try to operate a government for all the people and not just a few? Is it dictatorship to guarantee the deposits of small depositors, and keep phony stocks and bonds off the market? Is it dictatorship to save millions of homes from foreclosure? Is it dictatorship to give a measure of protection to millions who are economically insecure and jobs to other millions who can't find work? Is it dictatorship to try to put a floor under wages and a ceiling over working hours?" ("Hopkins denies relief waste in reply to Hoover on fascism," Washington Post, May 9, 1938.)

Above all, modern Progressivism is a political ideology that holds that government should serve all its citizens, not just the wealthy few; and that government should help its citizens when they fall down (in other words, "We the People" helping "We the People"). It's bizarre that some people think that this type of ideology is Nazi-like. But perhaps such a comparison makes sense, if you happen to be a person who wakes ups every morning wondering how you can make the rich & powerful more rich and more powerful.


(Harry Hopkins, right, couldn't understand how government assistance to the less fortunate was evil. Neither do I. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Monday, February 10, 2014

Post Offices: When the going gets rough, sell your heritage! Dumb-down your architecture!

This is how we used to make them!


And this is how we make (or rent) them now...
 

Historic Post Office buildings--many built during the New Deal--are under assault by weak leadership, greedy private business, and a Congress that will gladly auction off our nation's history in service to the 1%. Sadly, all the talk & reverence about the Founding Fathers (e.g., Benjamin Franklin, our Post Office Founding Father) is thrown out the window when the powers-that-be start drooling for more money.

Whenever the economy turns sour, many people--typically those who see no value in the common good--start developing and implementing their privatization fantasies. "Hey!" they tell us excitedly, "if we sell our shared history, and sell our public lands, to millionaires & billionaires who live in private compounds, we can balance the budget!" Hence, the Free-Market Utopians feel that anything that is public, or quasi-public, must be sold or "privatized." Schools, public lands, prisons, Post Offices, etc.

 (This is a close-up of the eagle artwork, on the first building pictured above. I don't see anything similar on the second building. Why not? And where is the cupola on the second building? Where are the nice window frames? Heck, where is any creativity whatsoever? Oh yeah, I forgot.....it's more important for the Fortune 400 to have over $1 trillion in wealth, so they can create lots of increasingly crappy jobs for us, than it is for hundreds of millions of citizens to have beautiful architecture and culture around them. Photo by Brent McKee.)

Here's a recent article about the sale of a historic Post Office building in the Bronx: "Protest Aside, Postal Service Is Taking Next Step to Sell Grand Property in the Bronx." One potential buyer wants to turn the building into a marketplace, and said, "We are enthusiastic about the Bronx and the potential to tap into the borough’s creative energy." Creative energy. These happy words remind me of the happy words we use to justify doing nothing to help Americans who are struggling financially: "Innovation" and "Entrepreneurship." Shut your eyes America! Don't worry about your history being sold off! Don't worry about stagnant wages and rising suicides! "Innovation," and "entrepreneurship," and "creative energy!" Yippee!

What's happening to the Post Office today is interesting because it highlights the decline of the common good, the subjugation of our national heritage to corporate profits, and the dumbing-down of public architecture. With respect to the latter, let's face it, most modern public architecture, compared to older  public architecture, looks like crap. Gone are the columns, the impressive stonework, the ornate window frames, the cupolas, the rounded stairs, the arches, and anything else that hints at creativity or the human spirit. Today, a new school building, or a new Post Office building, or any new public building, is likely to be a dull red brick cube. Slap some bars on the windows, lay some razor-wire around them, and you've got yourself buildings that are indistinguishable from prison buildings (ironically, even older prison architecture had much more creativity than the architecture of public buildings today).

I guess good public architecture requires a little more money.....perhaps a little more in the way of taxes from the super-wealthy.....but we can't have any of that, of course, because millionaires & billionaires need more investment money to create more low-wage jobs for us. Hey, it's innovation!

(This is a mural inside a Post Office building, celebrating our American heritage. Good luck finding something like this in a newer Post Office buildingPhoto by Brent McKee.)

The New Deal showed us an incredible strategy for handling rough economic times. It was a strategy of action and compassion. The unemployed were hired, beautiful buildings were constructed, infrastructure was modernized, art was created, history was preserved, three billion trees were planted, and so much more.

Today, however, the beauty of the New Deal has been replaced with the ugliness of austerity, plutocracy, and white collar crime. Instead of making & preserving beautiful things, we sell our beautiful things to Corporate America and the super-rich. And if we complain, we hear that never-ending cacophony from the political right: "Stop being envious! Stop punishing success! Work harder!" And this cacophonous nonsense brings us one step closer to the vapid culture that right-wing billionaires want us to live in--a culture where all the beauty and money is reserved for them, and where the only things left for the rest of us are cheap architecture and a perpetual fear of debt & poverty.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Reverse New Deal: Taking food away from children

(During the New Deal, WPA workers served over 1.2 billion school lunches. The WPA also had a summer lunch program for undernourished children. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

All across America, we are seeing an increasingly ruthless attitude towards children and their nutritional needs. In Utah, schoolchildren had their lunches thrown away when their parents fell behind on payments. In Texas, children were given less food than other children for the same reason. In South Carolina, a Republican Lieutenant Governor said we shouldn't feed children from low-income families because they might breed. A congressional Republican said low-income kids should sweep floors for their food. The Tea Party-orchestrated government shutdown caused 50,000 moms and their kids to lose food assistance in North Carolina. And, of course, Republicans and Tea Partiers in Congress are always looking for ways to cut off food assistance for children who benefit from the SNAP program (food stamps).

It doesn't have to be this way, but we are allowing it to be this way. Every time we vote in a right-wing politician who is funded by right-wing millionaires and billionaires we add a little more malignancy to our culture. And children are, increasingly, on the receiving end of that malignancy.

Welcome to the Reverse New Deal: Taking food away from children.

(The caption for this photo reads, "WPA Hot School Lunch Project--School lunches are prepared and distributed by trucks for undernourished children to schools in the Dist. Of Columbia. Photo shows two women in the Central Kitchen sorting and packing sandwiches for distribution to the various schools." The WPA school lunch program was a win-win situation. Unemployed Americans were given jobs and hungry kids were given food. Such a win-win situation is impossible today. Instead, right-wing politicians, and the people who fund them, are too busy thinking of ways to reduce assistance for those in need, and increase the wealth of the already-wealthy. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

Friday, February 7, 2014

Elizabeth Warren for President

(Elizabeth Warren, photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Time and time again, Elizabeth Warren has fought for the middle-class and poor. Whether the issue is unemployment, or Social Security, or health care, or stagnant wages, or the tidal wave of crime coming out of Wall Street & Corporate America, you can count on Elizabeth Warren to advocate for the 99%.

Our choices for the next president, unfortunately, are probably going to be Hillary Clinton and whatever crazy Republican the GOP/Tea Party throws out there (Bachmann? Cruz? Palin?). I think Hillary Clinton will be a lot like Obama--very corporate friendly, out of fear of appearing too "socialist," or too "populist." Thus, she won't fight hard for things that help the middle-class and poor. Like Obama, she'll call for minor changes around the fringes, changes that won't challenge the stranglehold that the 1% now have over our lives. In sum, Clinton will not challenge plutocracy, Warren will. 

By 2016, we'll have had 28 straight years of the Bush-Clinton-Obama dynasty of kowtowing to Corporate America. And look where it's gotten us: Stagnant wages, high unemployment (much higher than the main official number we see every month), the largest prison-industrial complex in the world, a looming old-age poverty crisis, 35,000+ suicides every year (caused in part by unemployment and financial stress), white collar crime that goes unpunished, and much more.

We need a fighter in the White House, not another Bush, Clinton, or Obama. We need an Elizabeth Warren.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Great Trickle-Down Bait & Switch


(Beginning at 2:45 in the video above, billionaire Sam Zell tell us how the super-wealthy--the 1%--"work harder" than the rest of us, and that we should try to emulate them.)

Modern day trickle-down economics began in the early 1980s, when President Reagan and Congress began slashing taxes on the super-wealthy. Since that time, income inequality has soared and wages for the middle-class have stagnated.

Trickle-down economics was sold to us as a way to "raise all boats." We were told (promised actually) that if we gave colossal tax breaks to the wealthy, the wealthy would use their increased after-tax income to invest in new business, which would then create tons of good-paying jobs. We would soon, surely, be living in the land of milk and honey!

Today, we can see that plutocrats and billionaires are switching their marketing tactics. Since it's clear that trickle-down economics didn't do what we were told it would do, the plutocrats and billionaires are now saying, in effect, "worship and emulate us." In other words, the rationale for trickle-down economics is no longer that it will create lots of good-paying jobs, the rationale is that we need a 1% super-wealthy class that sits on Mount Olympus and a poverty class that worships them and tries to emulate them. In effect, a feudal society.

But what America (and the world as a whole) needs is a new and stronger New Deal, not an arrogant class of people who think of themselves as gods for the rest of us to worship. And besides, why should everyone strive to be a billionaire? Is it now, suddenly, wrong to want to be a police officer, or a nurse, or a teacher, or an astronaut? We have to strive to be billionaires? We have to think about money above all else? What a frightening, morally bankrupt world the plutocrats are creating for us. Where's an FDR or a Harry Hopkins when you need one?    


(Listen to wealthy businessman Kevin O'Leary say "It's fantastic!" that the 85 richest people in the world have more money than the 3.5 billion poorest people. Like Sam Zell, O'Leary thinks the poor should look up to the rich and try to be like them.)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

New Deal environmentalism vs. the free-market fantasies that are poisoning our environment

(WPA poster promoting cleanliness. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

During the New Deal, there were strong efforts to conserve and improve our environment. For example, the Civilian Conservation Corps planted 3 billion trees and the WPA helped build scientific research facilities. Today, on the other hand, there are those on the political right who are unconcerned about environmental pollution, even if it happens on a massive scale. In 2010, Republican Congressman Joe Barton apologized to BP, after BP let loose millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Apparently, he felt is was wrong to hold BP accountable for BP's oil spill. 

More recently, after a massive spill of poison into West Virginia's drinking water, and a question as to whether containers of dangerous chemicals should be inspected more rigorously, Republican House Speaker John Boehner said dismissively, "We have enough regulations." (Subsequent to Boehner's flippant response, "Democrats and Republicans on a Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee agreed at a hearing Tuesday that the federal government needs to do more to protect the water supply from toxic chemicals." Article here.)

And, of course, we know that many on the political right deny man-made climate change, despise the Environmental Protection Agency, and think the Endangered Species Act is an unnecessary obstacle to "economic growth" (two words that have become code for: "The 1% wants more money"). Nothing fazes these people. Not record levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, not unsafe levels of mercury in fish, not flotillas of trash in the Pacific Ocean, not species extinction (like the beautiful Carolina Parakeet). And many of those who provide massive funding to the political right have polluted the environment themselves (see, e.g., "Koch Industries has pattern of violating ethics, environmental laws" & "BP Oil Refinery Waste Stored At Koch Brothers-Owned Site Polluting Nearby Chicago Neighborhoods"). 

 (WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

The political right demands that government "get out of the way," leave business alone, and let the "free-market" flourish--and then business pollutes our water, either intentionally or through incompetence. Then, to add to the insanity, the political right looks at the polluted water, stares back at us with a blank expression, and repeats their political mantra: "We don't need regulations, get government out of the way." What is the future of a world where a significant percentage of the population can look at poisoned drinking water and say, "hey, no big deal, don't worry about it"?

All of this foolishness comes from the rigid right-wing ideology that the "market" always knows best. That somehow, magically & miraculously, if we just get government out of the way, the wondrous & holy free-market will handle all of society's ills. It is an ideology that does not recognize the existence of market failures and denies (or is completely oblivious to) the extensive historical evidence of man's willingness to harm others for profit. So, when it comes to the air I breathe and the water I drink, the Free-Market Utopians will have to forgive me, because I'd prefer New Deal environmentalism to wide-eyed free-market fantasies.

 (WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

 (WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)
 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Pet Shows or Prisons?

(A pet show in Maryland, 1939, sponsored by the WPA and the local community. Image courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

Pet shows were one of the many types of recreational projects that the WPA assisted local communities with. I don't know too much about the recreational projects, but it seems that the general idea was to offer job opportunities to unemployed Americans who were not well-suited for infrastructure projects (because of their skill-set and employment histories) while at the same time creating activities to bring communities together. Thus, many of the organizers of these recreational projects were probably drawn from the ranks of the unemployed.
 
There can be little doubt that the WPA recreational projects caused anti-government types to scream "wasteful spending!!" And there can be little doubt that we would see the same anger today, if the federal government chose to help local communities and jobless Americans in such a manner. But I have noticed that the type of people who would be against such policies & programs are the same type of people who don't seem to mind that America has the largest prison-industrial complex in the world. Their philosophy seems to be that government should be a hesitant helper...but a very eager prosecutor. And, unfortunately, this mindset has controlled the direction of American government for a long time, as evidenced by (1) our government's refusal to consider a new WPA for millions of long-term unemployed Americans, and (2) our government's expansion of the penal system these past several decades.
 
So, which do you prefer? Pet shows that offer employment and community gatherings, or prisons that facilitate gang activity and generational poverty? Well, it may not matter which you prefer, because our increasingly right-wing government has made the choice for you: Prisons. 
 
But we can resist.    

(WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

WPA Poster

(A nice WPA poster, made between 1941 and 1943, by artist John McCrady. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)