Thursday, March 31, 2016

Remembering Tamiris, Part 7: How Long, Brethren?

(A WPA poster promoting Tamiris's "Negro Spirituals," and also her production of How Long, Brethren?, 1937. Image courtesy of George Mason University, Special Collections & Archives.)

During her time as a WPA choreographer, Helen Tamiris's most successful dance production was How Long, Brethren? It ran from May 6 to July 4, 1937, at the Nora Bayes Theatre at 216 W. 44th Street; re-opened in July at the Maxine Elliot Theatre at 109 W. 39th Street; and, as you can see from the poster above, had a return engagement at the 49th Street Theatre in December. 

How Long, Brethren? was based on African American songs of protest, and told of "poverty, starvation, injustice, and death. The final song ended in a plea to change all this." The production included an African American chorus and a full orchestra. Tamiris's choreography and dancing stunned the audience: "The simple and honest movement and the eloquent design made the opening night audience stand up and cheer. In fact, the reaction was so whole-hearted and spontaneous that the show was interrupted many times by applause and shouts so loud the dancers could not hear the orchestra or the chorus in the pit" (Christina L. Schlundt, Helen Tamiris: A Chronicle of Her Dance Career, 1927-1955, New York Public Library, 1972, pp. 46 and 52-53).

On June 20, 1937, the following was reported in the New York Times: "Tamiris, director and premiere danseuse of the Federal Theatre dance drama, 'How Long, Brethren?' received the Dance Magazine's annual award of excellence in a formal presentation last night at the Nora Bayes Theatre, where the production is now running. Her direction of the group choreography in 'How Long, Brethren?' was termed the 'most brilliant for the year 1936-37.'"

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Remembering Tamiris, Part 6: Helen Tamiris, Walt Whitman, and the WPA

(A WPA poster promoting Tamiris's dance production of Salut au Monde. The poster was created by artist Richard Halls in 1936, and the dance production was based on Walt Whitman's poem of the same name. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

In the program for her WPA production of Salut au Monde, Helen Tamiris wrote:

"Salut au Monde, of all Whitman's poems, furnishes a prophetic insight into the problems of the American people and of the rest of mankind today. In it Whitman portrays Man the Individual, surrounded by nature and the environment created by his own efforts, struggling for his existence in the process of which he has created his crafts, his arts, his customs, his lands, his cities, his industries, his religions, his cultures and civilizations, his joys and sufferings - all that sustains man. And through all these innumerable forces and changes, he sees the divine right of the individual, regardless or race, sex, religion, country, social position, material wealth, or individual differences.

'Each of us inevitable,
Each of us limitless--each of us with his or her right upon the earth,
Each of us allow'd the eternal purports of the earth,
Each of us here as divinely as any is here.'

--Walt Whitman, 1881"    

Salut au Monde played from July 23, 1936 to August 5, 1936. It played at various locations, for example, the Henry Street Settlement on July 23 (New York Times, July 19, 1936) and the McMillin Academic Theatre at Columbia University on August 5 (New York Times, August 2, 1936).

(Tamiris's quote above is from: Christena L. Schlundt, Tamiris: A Chronicle of Her Dance Career, 1927-1955, New York Public Library, 1972, p. 51)   

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Remembering Tamiris, Part 5: A sense of social responsibility that was a perfect fit for the New Deal

(Helen Tamiris, 1927. Photo by Soichi Sunami, part of the New York Public Library's Dance Collection, used here for historical, educational, and non-commercial purposes. Image scanned from a personal copy.)

After Helen Tamiris passed away in 1966, the New York Times noted her sense of social responsibility: "As the nineteen-thirties unfolded Miss Tamiris's dancing and choreography showed a strong social and political involvement. The despair of the unemployed, the plight of the Southern Negro and the horrors of war all found expression in her work" (August 5, 1966).

Tamiris came from a low-income background and was aware of Jewish persecution through the centuries (her parents were Jewish immigrants from Russia). Add in the misery of the Great Depression, and this probably goes a long way towards explaining why she had sympathies for the downtrodden.
  
Tamiris's background and social concern were a perfect match for the New Deal. Specifically, both Tamiris and New Deal policymakers wanted to lift up those who had been excommunicated from society due to their unemployment, poverty, or race. Tamiris saw the WPA's Federal Threatre Project (from which she would help carve out the Federal Dance Project) as a way to give work to jobless performers, and also as a way to bring modern dance to lower-income Americans - Americans who could not normally afford such high-brow entertainment: "Fired by her sense of mission... She alone of all the major dancers working in the Thirties gave up her career, her [dancing] group, almost her very self for the sense of purpose she felt in the Project" (Christena L. Schlundt, Tamiris: A Chronicle of Her Dance Career, 1927-1955, New York Public Library, 1972, pp. 38-39).  

Monday, March 28, 2016

Remembering Tamiris, Part 4: A dance production to re-elect Roosevelt

(Helen Tamiris in the early 1950s. Photo from the New York City Public Library Dance Collection, used here for historical, educational, and non-commercial purposes.)

In 1944, several years after her days as a WPA choreographer, Helen Tamiris and her husband Daniel Nagrin created a dance production that was "part of a revue entitled The People's Bandwagon, put together for appearances in movie theatres for the purpose of reelecting Franklin D. Roosevelt..." The People's Bandwagon appeared in 25 cities. Tamiris later said, "The exciting thing about this tour was the knowledge that the dance could be part of something as important as helping to elect a president. We not only did some of our own concert dances but appeared in especially created material on the election." Other people appearing in the tour included folk singer Woody Guthrie and actor Will Geer (later famous for portraying "Grandpa" on the The Waltons) (Christena L. Schlundt, Tamiris: A Chronicle of Her Dance Career, 1927-1955, 1972, pp. 62 and 67). 

It was around this same time period that Tamiris's Broadway career was beginning to take off. Between 1943 and 1957, "she choreographed 18 musical comedies, fourteen of which had runs on Broadway, six of which were long runs..." (see previous note, p. 68). In 1950 she won a Tony Award for Best Choreography for the production Touch and Go.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Remembering Tamiris, Part 3: Tamiris as Cassandra

(A WPA poster promoting the dance production "Trojan Incident." Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

In the WPA's dance production of the Trojan Incident, Tamiris played Cassandra, who was the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba. In Greek mythology, Cassandra tried to warn the Trojans about the Greeks hiding in the Trojan Horse, but no one believed her.

Trojan Incident played at the St. James Theatre at 246 W. 44th St. in New York, from April 21 to May 21, 1938. The play, and Tamiris's performance, divided critics. For example, "Tamiris was accused of bringing such terrifying intensity to her movement both for herself and the group that it was claimed to be wearing on mind and spirit" (Christena L. Schlundt, Tamiris: A Chronicle of Her Dance Career, 1927-1955, 1972, p. 47). 

On the other hand, New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson, while noting that the production was "plagued by ineptitude," said the "the speed, precision and boldness of the dance imagery is frequently exciting..." (New York Times, April 22, 1938). John Martin, another New York Times reviewer, suggested that it was Tamiris's choreography and performance that saved the play:

"It would require a hardy soul indeed, to recommend attendance at the WPA production of 'Trojan Incident' at the St. James Theatre, for, truth to tell, it is only the dances of Tamiris, supported by the admirable musical score of  Wallingford Riegger, that keep it from transforming one of the world's greatest dramas into inadvertent farce" (New York Times, May 1, 1938).

But not everyone agreed with Atkinson and Martin's opinions that the play, as a whole, was problematic. One theatre-goer scolded the criticism of Trojan Incident as "uninformed derision" and described the play as "purposeful and interesting" (New York Times, May 15, 1938).

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Remembering Tamiris, Part 2: "Adelante"

(A WPA poster promoting Adelante, 1939. Image courtesy of George Mason University, Special Collections & Archives.)

In the WPA's dance theatre production of Adelante (which means "forward" in Spanish) Helen Tamiris played the girlfriend of a peasant soldier. The play was based on the Spanish Civil War, and the horrors of war more generally it would seem. One reviewer said of the production, "over it all hangs the air of the fantastic and the nightmarish." There were all sorts of political and religious aspects to the Spanish Civil War, and so Adelante went through a fairly rigorous editing process to stay within the content guidelines of federal funding. Hallie Flanagan, the director of the FTP, told Tamiris to focus on the tragedy of war, in a more general sense, as opposed to clearly supporting one side over the other. Tamiris's politics were left-wing and anti-fascist but, at the time, some American citizens, industrialists, and politicians held pro-fascist and even pro-Nazi views.

After a successful two-week run at Daly's 63rd Street Theatre, Adelante played at the 1939 New York World's Fair.

(See, Lisa Jackson-Schebetta, "Corporeal Disasters of War: Legibilities of 'Spain' and the Jewish Body in Helen Tamiris's Adelante!," in Elizabeth Reitz Mullenix (ed.), Theatre History Studies 2014, Vol 33: Theatres of War, University of Alabama Press, 2014, pp. 35-55.)

Friday, March 25, 2016

Remembering Tamiris, Part 1: Bringing modern dance to the people - through the WPA

(Helen Tamiris, center, with fellow dancers Augusta Gassner, Dvo Seron, Ailes Gilmour, Marion Appell, and Lulu Morris, 1937. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

As a choreographer and dancer in the WPA's Federal Dance Project (part of the larger Federal Theatre Project) from 1936 to 1939, Helen Tamiris achieved her goal of bringing modern dance to more people. In 1948, she wrote: "In the early days, in the Twenties, there were many times when I doubted that modern dance would ever reach a large audience.  But the years of the Great Depression and the experience of working as a choreographer for the Federal Theatre Project settled that doubt.  When Charles Weidman's Candide and my How Long, Brethren? and Adelante were presented to cheering audiences that had never seen a dance recital, I knew that the modern dance was not an esoteric passing phase of dance to be enjoyed only by the cognoscenti, but one that could reach large audiences" (Christena L. Schlundt, Tamiris: A Chronicle of Her Dance Career, 1927-1955, New York: New York Public Library, 1972, pp. 75-76)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Corrington Gill: Make the PWA and WPA permanent, for the health of the nation

(Assistant WPA Administrator Corrington Gill (left), at Capitol Hill, 1939. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

In his 1939 book, Wasted Manpower: The Challenge of Unemployment, Corrington Gill (1898-1946) highlighted the many obstacles to full and steady employment in America, e.g., droughts, machines replacing men, a smaller number of new investment opportunities, and the fact that changes in business investment frequently occur much faster than the labor market can adjust (new job training, new educational requirements, moving to new job-rich locations, etc.). Gill pointed out that these things occurred before the Great Depression, during the Great Depression, and would continue well into the future. Essentially, he was describing a nation with millions of people in a perpetual state of job insecurity, under constant threat of receiving a pink slip. History has shown that Gill was right. The recent economic recession is a high-profile example of this, but there has always been a significant percentage of the population struggling to find stable work.

Gill also pointed out that unemployment insurance is not enough to handle the problem of unemployment because benefits often don't cover the entire period of a person's joblessness ("Calls Loss Of Jobs 'Price' Of Machines," New York Times, April 27, 1940). Further, he noted that "unemployment not only affects the economic system adversely: it is a threat to the well-being and stability of society as a whole. Illness and disability frequently go hand in hand with joblessness. Worry, undernourishment, and poor housing all take their toll of the unemployed..." (Wasted Manpower, p. 16). 

Because of all these factors, as well as the benefit that private business derives from public investment (e.g., better roads, bridges, and airports for receiving and shipping goods), Gill said that New Deal work programs, specifically the PWA and WPA, should be made permanent: "I believe that a program of large public works ought to become a permanent part of our public investment program, complemented by an employment program of the WPA type" (Wasted Manpower, p. 272).

Gill's observations and recommendations make perfect sense of course (dare I say, "common sense"?). But, in a culture where super-wealthy investors call the shots and control our political process, and where they also benefit from unemployment, stagnant wages, and misery (lower labor cost = greater profit, and unemployment keeps people desperate, scared, and willing to work for extremely low wages), we are not likely to see a permanent public works program. Job insecurity--not public works for the unemployed--has been made permanent. And that is why you see high rates of joblessness for particular groups of Americans (e.g., younger veterans, American Indians, and African American youth), and why you also see children being poisoned by lead from old & filthy water systems that should have been replaced years ago.

We should have listened to Corrington Gill. Instead, we listened to people who value money over the well-being of their fellow citizens. And now we are paying the price for it, as we tally up the increasing numbers of homeless children, broken water mains, and suicides. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

10 ways the Clinton, Obama, and Wasserman Schultz Wrecking Crew are destroying the New Deal and the Democratic Party

Above: Henry Wallace, 1939. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In 1944, Vice President and former Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace said: "The New Deal is not dead. If it were dead the Democratic Party would be dead, and well dead" (John Culver and John Hyde, American Dreamer: A Life of Henry A. Wallace, W. W. Norton & Co., 2000, p. 321).

I would like to suggest that the New Deal is dying, the Democratic Party is dying, and politicians like President Obama, the Clintons, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz are responsible.  

Recently, in discussing his new book--Listen Liberal: Or, Whatever Happened to the Party of the People--historian and author Thomas Frank said this of Bill Clinton: "So he’s cracking down on poor people--you know, they passed the big omnibus crime law in 1994--cracking down on the poor, and at the same time letting Wall Street do whatever it wanted [deregulation]...These are Democrats that did this, it’s not Republicans. And they did it wholeheartedly."

That doesn't sound very "New Dealish" to me.

And Frank said this of Obama and white collar crime: "Even this guy, George W. Bush, knew that he had to get tough with [white collar criminals]. And he went and he prosecuted Enron. And a lot of those Enron officials went to prison. OK? And you look at Barack Obama, a Democrat, who we all, you know, we elected with great relief--George W. Bush is gone, this is fantastic, we’ve got this wonderful president--and how many bankers has he prosecuted? You know, there’s this long tradition in this country of prosecuting white-collar crime; you get to Barack Obama, and it just completely stops. All of a sudden, these wonderful professionals on Wall Street are above the law."

So, let's see, we have modern "Democrats" cracking down on the poor, but pampering the wealthy. This is the exact opposite of what the New Deal did. For example, New Deal policymakers created several public works programs and hired millions of unemployed Americans to fix roads, build bridges, paint murals, plant trees, and so on, so that they could earn a living while they were looking for regular job openings. At the same time, New Deal policymakers created the Securities and Exchange Commission to police Wall Street fraud. And, when a Wall Street lawyer offered advice on how to properly regulate Wall Street, a chairman of the SEC--New Dealer William Douglas--essentially said, "Um, no thanks, we'll take care of it from here."

Let me give you some more examples of how Obama, the Clintons, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz are destroying the New Deal and the Democratic Party. As you're considering these, you might ask yourself, "Is it any wonder that over the past several years the Democratic Party has lost 82 seats in Congress, 12 governor's mansions, and 910 state legislative seats?" (See, e.g., "How badly has the Obama era damaged the Democratic party?," Washington Post, November 4, 2015, and "Have Democrats lost 900 seats in state legislatures since Obama has been president?" Politifact, January 25, 2015).     

1. Social Security 

Bill Clinton wanted to privatize Social Security (so his Wall Street friends could have more money to gamble with), Hillary Clinton hesitated on expanding it, and President Obama has tried to cut it. That's our Democratic Party today.

The New Deal approach: Well, not much needs to be said here--since the New Deal created Social Security--but New Deal policymakers simply felt that, "Hey, if a lot of elderly Americans are poor, and private business doesn't give a rat's behind about the problem, and we can't count on Wall Street to be stable, maybe we ought to do something about it ourselves." And so they did.


Above: In this 3-minute video (which is Not Safe for Work, due to "colorful" language), George Carlin explains why so many benefits, including Social Security, are constantly being reduced or constantly under threat of reduction or privatization. YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5dBZDSSky0.

2. Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) 

President Obama wanted to sell this incredible New Deal creation. The idea was so utterly stupid, that even Republicans came to the rescue of Roosevelt's TVA.

The New Deal approach: Again, the New Deal created TVA, and TVA is still providing affordable power to millions of Americans today.

3. Free Trade Agreements (a.k.a. Let's Decimate American Workers Agreements) 

Bill Clinton signed off on NAFTA, President Obama negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in secret meetings with Corporate America (while shutting the public out), and who knows what the hell Hillary has in store for us. Free trade agreements are awful for unions, they're workers, and workers' wages. NAFTA has done nothing for middle-class incomes, outside of freezing them (so, just coincidentally of course, the super-wealthy can pocket all the extra profit from manufacturing things overseas). And the TPP will just double-down on this bad policy.

The New Deal approach: New Deal policymakers also had a fairly liberal trade policy. But, like virtually every other thing they did, they did it better than today's Democrats. As the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative highlights, New Deal trade policy "resulted in the conclusion of 19 new trade agreements between 1934 and 1939, strong growth in U.S. exports, and the recovery of the American economy" (emphasis added).

4. Health Insurance For All 

Once in office, Obama backed away from the public option to please his corporate backers. The resulting Affordable Care Act has been good, but far from what it should have been (and far more complex than what it needs to be). More recently, Hillary Clinton has told Bernie Sanders and his supporters that they're unrealistically fighting for single-payer health insurance (e.g., Medicare care for all).

The New Deal approach: New Deal policymakers were definitely pushing us towards greater and greater health care for all Americans. The WPA operated health clinics for people of modest or low income, the PWA funded many new hospitals, and the CCC provided medical services for its young forest army (most of whom came from low-income backgrounds). In 1944, during his Second Bill of Rights speech, FDR advocated for a right to adequate medical care.

Above: This WPA poster perfectly sums up the New Deal philosophy on health care. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

5. Glass-Steagall 

Bill Clinton signed off on the final repeal of Glass-Steagall (so his Wall Street friends could have more money to gamble with--are you seeing a pattern here?) and Hillary says she has no intentions of re-instating it, despite the fact that Glass-Steagall (and other common sense laws) stabilized American banking from the New Deal era to the Reagan era. Once deregulation started, surprise surprise, bank failures and bank scandals have increased.

The New Deal approach: New Deal policymakers created Glass-Steagall to regulate what money the banks could gamble with and what money they could not gamble with. They wanted to reduce the risk of financial calamities that would hurt the entire nation. In other words, they were shell-shocked by the recent incompetence and fraud in the banking sector and wanted to avoid Great Depression II. Well, it's no coincidence that the recent Great Recession occurred not too long after the repeal of Glass-Steagall (and other deregulation). For an interesting article on the impact of Glass-Steagall's repeal on the recent recession, see "Repeal of Glass-Steagall: Not a Cause, But a Multiplier," Washington Post, August 4, 2012.  

6. Taxes 

Though Obama, Bill, and Hillary are not as crazy as Republicans & Tea Partiers on the issue of tax-cuts-for-the-wealthy, they don't try to push for significantly higher taxes either, just a few percentage points maybe (which are offset, I'm sure, by backroom-brokered tax gifts).

The New Deal Approach: New Deal policymakers maintained and implemented steeply progressive tax rates: "When it came to taxes, Roosevelt simply believed that rich people should pay more than poor people. And in emergencies, they should pay a lot more" (Joseph J. Thorndike, Their Fair Share: Taxing the Rich in the Age of FDR, Urban Institute Press, 2013, p. 45).

7. Bankruptcy 

In 2001, Hillary voted to make bankruptcy more difficult for struggling Americans. Also, I haven't heard anything from her (or Obama) about trying to repeal the awful 2005 Bush-era bankruptcy reforms (bought and paid for by the financial industry, of course - the same industry that gives cash to Obama and Clinton). As is usual with Corporate Democrats, they watch a ruthless act become law, don't have the energy or inclination to revisit it, and eventually everyone forgets what life was like before the awful thing was passed.

The New Deal approach: I'm not aware of any New Deal effort to make personal bankruptcy more difficult. New Deal policymakers were interested in lowering the misery of impoverished Americans, not trapping them in it. For example, the Frazier-Lemke Farm Bankruptcy Act protected farmers from greedy creditors who wanted to quickly repossess their farms. Other New Deal policies helped struggling farmers get credit and lower the amount of their existing debt (see the program summaries at the Living New Deal).

8. Organized Money 

President Obama is currently campaigning for Hillary Clinton and recently told a bunch of his wealthy buddies--who paid thousands of dollars to attend a private (i.e., no middle-class or poor people allowed) event--that they should start shoveling money towards Hillary. And, of course, Hillary and Obama often hobnob with bank executives, hedge fund managers, and super-wealthy investors; many of whom have destroyed millions of people's lives, and want to destroy millions more if that's what it takes to get the next big dividend (See, e.g., "Clinton and Bush Promise Relief For Puerto Rico While Raking In Cash From Its Vulture Fund Creditors," ThinkProgress, September 4, 2015),

The New Deal approach: There's no doubt that Roosevelt had some wealthy backers, but he also tried to move us in a different direction - a direction where money would play a smaller and smaller role in our government.


Above: In this audio, FDR tells the nation what he thinks of organized money in government. Today, in a nation full of plutocrats, white collar criminals, and political puppets, I never grow tired of hearing Roosevelt's declaration, "I welcome their hatred!"

9. Public Jobs for the Unemployed

Neither President Obama nor Establishment Democrats supported the idea of a new WPA in 2011, even as millions of Americans were laid off, had their credit destroyed, faced hiring discrimination, and were losing hope. Obama and his fellow Corporate Democrats, instead, opted to support trickle-down economics, i.e., don't tax the super-wealthy too much, don't prosecute Wall Street, and bring plenty of Wall Street cronies into the White House Administration to "manage" the "recovery" (which, to this day, is nothing but a low-wage "recovery").

The New Deal Approach: New Deal policymakers hired millions of Americans into work-relief programs: The CCC, the CWA, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the WPA, and the NYA. Between 1935 and 1943, the WPA alone hired 8.5 million jobless Americans. I understand that such a program would have been difficult (or impossible) to get through Congress but, at the very least, Obama could have used the bully pulpit to make a case for a new WPA; and also to teach Americans about the history of the WPA, for example, "You know you're still using thousands of their roads, bridges, and water lines, right?" That's what a strong leader does. He/she doesn't just fight for what might be easier to get through the legislature, he/she also fights for what's right and what's accurate.

10. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

So, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Chair of the Democratic National Committee, is the Manager of Plutocracy in all this, a sort of ring-leader for the Democratic Elite. For example, she has ensured that Bernie Sanders' New Deal-type messages have received as little airtime as possible; protected loan sharks from lending oversight because they gave her money, and said this about the Democratic Party's undemocratic super-delegate system (a system that can, essentially, strip a candidate of a presidential nomination if the Democratic Establishment feels that he or she is not sufficiently obedient to Corporate America, e.g., a Bernie Sanders-type candidate): "Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists." That, folks, is plutocracy. But let's give her credit for being honest.

In sum, if the Democratic Elite can't get their favored nominee through the usual media distortion and opponent suppression, the rigged super-delegate system stands ready. This time, distortion and suppression worked just fine (as it usually does). Who knows what tomorrow will hold, however, if/when the public ever wakes up to what's been done to them over the past several decades.

Don't Give In

Near the end of his interview about Listen Liberal, Frank says: "And so you start to think that the game that the Clintons play with us, where we vote for them because we have nowhere else to go--you know, it’s a two-party system, it’s a duopoly, and there’s... a sort of political economics of how we the voter are manipulated in this situation, and they’re very, very good at playing that game. And so people like you and me, who are on the left, are captured, basically; we don’t have anywhere else to go, and they play us in a certain way. So in writing this book, I’m coming up against, I have a lot of friends who say well, you can’t criticize the Democrats, because you’ll just, you’ll weaken them and then the Republicans will get in. But I say that we can’t give up our critical faculties just because of the ugly historical situation that we’re currently in."

I agree 100%. We can't compromise our principles, yet again, because the Democratic Elite are giving us little or no choice. We have to stop voting for Clinton-type candidates because, "Well, the other Democratic hopeful doesn't seem electable," or because, "Well, the Republican candidate will be much worse." And so I make my plea again, like Constable Mike Anderson pleaded with the townspeople of Little Tall Island in the the Stephen King movie Storm of the Century (see clip below):


Above: A brief clip from the Stephen King Movie, Storm of the Century. See my blog post here for an explanation of how the dilemma in the movie is very similar to the dilemma we constantly face in presidential elections, i.e., selecting the lesser of two evils. And lately, with the Democratic Party's abandonment of the New Deal, and both parties bought by organized money, this "lesser of two evils" selection is more odious than ever. I, for one, will not participate in it anymore (yes Jill Stein, if Sanders loses you have my vote!). Until we have the guts to say "no more," plutocracy will continue to become more and more entrenched in our culture. Our wages will continue to stagnate, our personal debt will continue to rise, and our involvement in middle-eastern affairs will continue to grow. All this and more will ensure that our children will never fully know peace and prosperity.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

New Deal Art: "Quietude"

Above: "Quietude," an oil painting by Edward Firn (1909-1966), created while he was in the New Deal's Treasury Relief Art Project, 1935. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The New Deal: 355,000 projects to construct, repair, or improve public buildings

("The Builders," an oil painting by Charles F. Quest (1904-1993), created while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.)

Like the rest of America's infrastructure, public buildings are falling apart. Let's take schools, for example: There are failed heating systems in Baltimore, an unrepaired roof collapse in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, and toxic plumbing in hundreds of schools and day care centers across the country. In Detroit, teachers are suing the school system over the decrepit conditions they have to work in, including black mold (which causes respiratory and other ailments), bacteria problems, freezing temperatures, rodent and insect infestations, unusable playgrounds and gymnasiums, broken and rotting floors, mushrooms growing out of the walls, and windows that were shot out years ago. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, $270 billion is needed for school maintenance and modernization, but national spending on schools has dropped. 

Today, American public policy is very clear: Reduce infrastructure spending and hand out all manner of tax breaks, tax exemptions, tax deductions, tax credits, tax loopholes, and tax gimmicks to millionaires & billionaires. Further, protect the super-wealthy from law enforcement when they hide money in foreign bank accounts (see, e.g., here and here). This pro-rich, anti-infrastructure public policy has been very effective in distributing money upward. And so, as children are forced to drink neurotoxins (lead) from old & filthy plumbing, the rich are adding tens, even hundreds of billions of dollars to their personal fortunes, every single year.

Many people might not know it (since the teaching of history has been belittled in recent decades), but America's public policy was not always so demented and psychopathic. During the New Deal, massive investments were made in our nation's infrastructure. For example, the following six New Deal work agencies performed 355,000 projects to construct, repair, or improve public buildings.

Civil Works Administration (CWA): 60,500

(A CWA dairy barn project for an educational facility in Xenia, Ohio. During the New Deal, farm buildings were built for agricultural education & training. Photo from "America Fights the Depression: A Photographic Record of the Civil Works Administration," used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.)

"Of the 60,500 buildings repaired or constructed under the [CWA], over half were educational buildings" (Analysis of Civil Works Program Statistics, 1939, p. 10). Work-relief administrator Harry Hopkins wrote, "Long after the workers of CWA are dead and gone and these hard times forgotten, their effort will be remembered by permanent useful works in every county of every state. People will... attend schools they built... do their public business in courthouses and state capitols which workers from CWA rescued from disrepair..." (Spending to Save, 1936, p. 120).

Public Works Administration (PWA): 11,893    

(Fort Hill High School in Cumberland, Maryland was built with PWA funds, and still serves the community today, 80 years later. The football stadium you see in the foreground was carved out by WPA workers. Photo by Brent McKee.)

PWA funds were used to construct educational buildings, hospitals, post offices, and more. Generally speaking, the PWA funded the larger building projects of the 1930s. (Robert D. Leighninger, Jr., Long Range Public Investment: The Forgotten Legacy of the New Deal, 2007, p. 88)
   
Work Division of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA): 46,231 

(A new tuberculosis hospital in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, constructed with funding from FERA, ca. 1934. Photo from a FERA report.)

Public buildings constructed, repaired, or improved through FERA included firehouses, armories, city garages, and historical buildings. (The Emergency Work Relief Program of the FERA, April 1, 1934 - July 1, 1935, 1935, pp. 32-38)  

Works Progress Administration (WPA): 125,110

(Many of the WPA's structures are still with us today, like this town hall in Williamsport, Maryland. Photo by Brent McKee.)

Between 1935 and 1943, WPA workers built, repaired, or improved schools, libraries, health facilities, state capitols, warehouses, gymnasiums, museums, city halls, and much more. (Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1946, pp. 131 and 135) 

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC): 76,179

(A CCC-built lodge at Cacapon State Park in West Virginia. Photo by Brent McKee.)

In parks & forests across the nation, the CCC boys built cabins, shelters, bathhouses, barns, and more. Many of the CCC's structures are still used by the public today. A year or so ago, a man contacted me and asked me if he could use the photo above because he and his fiance were having their wedding in the building. I said "yes," of course. In keeping with the public spirit of the these buildings, anyone can feel free to use photos I take of New Deal sites and structures. (Federal Security Agency, Final Report of the Director of the Civilian Conservation Corps, April , 1933 through June 30, 1942, ca. 1943, p. 105)

National Youth Administration (NYA): 35,180

(An NYA-built faculty house at Bethune-Cookman College, Daytona Beach, Florida, 1943. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

Enrollees in the NYA engaged in the same types of building projects as the other New Deal agencies. And, like the CCC, these projects were meant not only for public use, but also to teach young Americans carpentry, masonry, plumbing, etc. Many people today would label these activities, "godless communism." But I would call it a very good way to engage our youth in productive activities, especially when you consider the unbelievably high rates of unemployment that young Americans must cope with. (Federal Security Agency, War Manpower Commission, Final Report of the National Youth Administration, Fiscal Years 1936 - 1943, 1944, pp. 139)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A plea to those who are planning to vote for Trump or Clinton: Please... please... don't do this

When I realize that my likely two choices for president are (a) Trump, a man supported by David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, or (b) Clinton, a woman supported by white collar criminals, it makes me feel like Constable Mike Anderson in the Stephen King movie, The Storm of the Century...


In The Storm of the Century, the townspeople of Little Tall Island, Maine, are confronted with a choice: Surrender one of their children to the wizard Linoge, or the whole town will be destroyed (or so the wizard threatens). This is similar to the "lesser of two evils" choice that today's political elite often present us with. For example, if Hillary wins the Democratic nomination, the political elite on the Democratic side will tell Bernie Sanders' supporters, "You better vote for Hillary, or something much worse will happen!"

I cannot, in good conscience, vote for a man (Trump) who calls women "bimbos," promotes the beating of protesters, and says he will tell the Chinese, "Listen, you motherf*&kers, we're going to tax you 25%." I also cannot, in good conscience, vote for a woman (Clinton) who is backed by people who have engaged in all manner of financial crimes - people who financially prey upon the poor and the weak, with glee, so that they can have lives of great luxury (big bank executives, hedge fund managers, predatory lenders, super-wealthy investors, etc.).

If confronted with these choices--choices that go against everything I believe in--I will write in "Sanders," vote for Jill Stein (the Green Party candidate), or not vote at all.

Bernie Sanders is offering us a chance that comes around very rarely, a chance to begin to get big money out of our political system. A chance to begin to get those who benefit off the misery of others out of our government. I emphasize "begin" because, contrary to economist Paul Krugman's ridiculous (and continuous) assertions, we are very aware that change will not occur overnight with a Sanders victory.

Ultimately, the townspeople of Little Tall Island voted to give up one of their children to Linoge. But whether Linoge could have carried out his threat to kill everyone is debatable, since one of his spells had failed earlier. Also, after the child was given away, the mother yelled out "You tricked us!" Linoge replied, "Perhaps you tricked yourselves."

Let's not make the same mistake as the townspeople of Little Tall Island. Let's stick to our basic principles: Let's not support bigotry, and let's not give white collar criminals a "get-out-of-jail-free" card - as Obama has done, and as Clinton will continue to do (to secure future campaign financing).

So again, I make the same plea as Constable Anderson: Don't do this. Please. Please.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Chomsky on Sanders: A "New Deal Democrat" who will focus on domestic problems

Above: A sewer line project funded by the New Deal's Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), ca. 1934-1935. All across America, water mains are breaking and sewage lines are leaking (see, e.g., "Fort Lauderdale's water mains rupturing at record pace," Sun Sentinel, March 4, 2016). Unlike today's policymakers (most of whom are guided by fear, anger, and slavish devotion to the rich), New Deal policymakers understood the importance of clean water and sanitation to the health of millions of citizens. For example, WPA workers installed 16,000 miles of new water lines, FERA & CWA workers installed about 5,000 miles of sewer lines, and the Public Works Administration funded more than 2,400 large waterworks projects (see my blog post here for sources). Photo from a FERA report.

Asked about Hillary Clinton's foreign policy, Dr. Noam Chomsky said: "Judging by the record, she is kind of hawkish - much more militant than the centrist democrats, including Obama." Asked the same question about Bernie Sanders, Chomsky said: "He is doing a lot better than I expected, but he doesn’t have much to say about foreign policy. He is a kind of New Deal Democrat and focuses primarily on domestic issues."

Considering that we have about a quarter-of-a-million water main breaks every year--causing an annual loss of about two trillion gallons of water--and considering that our nation's children are being routinely poisoned by an old & filthy water supply system, wouldn't it be great if we actually had a president who was more concerned about domestic problems than middle-eastern affairs? We don't have to be complete isolationists of course, but isn't spending 8 million dollars per hour for perpetual war a sign of cultural insanity?

Bernie Sanders is the only candidate who is offering a significant infrastructure plan, $1 trillion over 5 years. Hillary Clinton's plan is only about a quarter of this (Sanders' plan, by the way, is much more in line with estimated needs presented by the American Society of Civil Engineers). The Republican candidates, of course, don't even talk about infrastructure, let alone have a plan. I literally cannot find anything about infrastructure on the campaign websites of Trump, Cruz, Rubio, or Kasich (but I do see lots of advocacy for guns).

As I've written before, and as Chomsky highlights, if you want a New Deal-style agenda, support Sanders. If you want plutocracy, backbreaking debt, white collar crime, and perpetual war, support Clinton. Or, if Nazism and more guns & ammunition in the hands angry, crazed, and violent people is more your cup of tea, support one of the Republican candidates - they'll deliver. Their campaign websites (and their rhetoric) make their beliefs painfully clear: They feel that every American's "right" to a personal armory, regardless of past behavior, is more important than clean drinking water for children. 

The choices this election season are pretty straightforward.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Resident Training Centers of the National Youth Administration

(National Youth Administration workers at a Resident Training Center, ca. 1938. Photo from a WPA report.)
 
During the New Deal, the National Youth Administration (NYA) had several hundred Resident Training Centers, spread across nearly all the states. Thousands of unemployed young men & women lived and worked at these sites (for 3-6 months), and learned about agriculture, construction, hospital work, home nursing, home economics, auto mechanics, and more. Also, in addition to room & board, free training, and free classes, the resident-worker-trainees received about $8 per month for personal needs (about $136 today). One can also imagine the friendships, the networking, and the restoration of hope that occurred at these sites. (See, Works Progress Administration, Report on Progress of the WPA Program, June 30, 1938, pp. 63-64)
 
It would be hard to replicate the NYA Resident Training Centers today because, generally speaking, we do not possess the courage, creativity, and compassion that existed during the New Deal. Too many politicians, and too many of their supporters, simply point their fingers at others and say, "You're lazy!" - and that's the extent of their analyses of the problems of unemployment and poverty. When you have that kind of mentality shaping public policy, you're not going to get Resident Training Centers, at least not on a scale necessary to solve national problems, e.g., the extraordinarily high rate of unemployment for young Americans, especially young African Americans.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The New Deal: 18,796 Sculptures

Above: "Literature," a sculpture by Hugo Robus, created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1939. Image from the book, Frontiers of American Art, by the M.H. deYoung Memorial Museum, 1939. Used here for educational, non-profit purposes.

Above: WPA artist Vally Weiseltheir, working on one of her sculptures in New York City, ca. 1935-1939. Image courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

During the New Deal, many sculptures were made to decorate public places. These projects also gave work to many struggling artists. Here are some of the totals:

Public Works of Art Project (1933-1934): 647

Work Division of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (1934-1935): 94

Section of Fine Arts (1934-1943): 268

Treasury Relief Art Project (1935-1939): 43

Works Progress Administration (1935-1943): 17,744

Total New Deal Sculptures: 18,796

(To see some of the sources I used, see my blog post here, as well as the Living New Deal's program summaries.) 

Above: Some New Deal sculptures are still in public places today, such as this one in Greenbelt, Maryland. It's called "Mother and Child," and was created by Lenore Thomas. Photo by Brent McKee, 2011.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The New Deal: 215,000 Bridge Projects

(This bridge in West Virginia, connecting the towns of Nitro and St. Albans, was constructed in 1934 with funds from the Public Works Administration. It was replaced in 2013, after serving the public for over three-quarters of a century. Photo from a PWA report.)

During the New Deal, massive investments were made in America's infrastructure. Today, of course, the story is quite different - perpetual war and tax-breaks-for-the-wealthy have been deemed more important. But let's take a look at bridge projects during the New Deal - projects that consisted of new constructions, repairs, and improvements on vehicle bridges, foot bridges, viaducts, etc. 

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC): 57,424

Public Works Administration (PWA): 388

Civil Works Administration (CWA): 7,000

Work Division of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA): 16,590

Works Progress Administration (WPA): 124,011

National Youth Administration (NYA): 9,973

Total Bridge Projects: 215,386

Some of these projects might be counted twice because, for example, a bridge re-decking project started by FERA could have been completed by the WPA. On the other hand, I don't have complete statistics for other agencies, like the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration, and the final reports for the agencies listed above are not always 100% complete; so, I'm sticking by the 215,000 number. (To see sources for the statistics above, see my blog post here.)

      (This is usually how we do bridges today. To protect billionaires from higher tax rates, we just patch them. And then, a year or two later, we'll put more patches on top of the existing patches. Eventually, the structure looks more like a quilt than a bridge. Photo by Brent McKee.)

In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers noted: "Approximately 210 million trips are taken daily across deficient bridges in the nation’s 102 largest metropolitan regions." 

Do you think New Deal-style investment could reduce that number? Do you think that fixing bridges is more important than super-wealthy Americans having more money to buy private islands and private compounds to distance themselves from us? I do, but I might be in the minority.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The New Deal: 133,000 murals, frescoes, portraits, drawings, and oil & water color paintings

("Homeward Bound," an oil painting by E. Martin Hennings (1886-1956), created while he participated in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.)

A few days ago, Richard Brodhead, the president of Duke University, gave credit to the New Deal for laying the groundwork for the creation of the National Endowment for the Humanities by enhancing the role of the federal government: "There was no federal role in support of the humanities before this [New Deal] transformation. Without the conceptual transformation forged in the crucible of the Great Depression, it is inconceivable that a national commission could have envisioned a federal solution to the challenge of the humanities in 1964" ("The Fate and Fortunes of Public Goods: How the New Deal paved the way for the Great Society and the creation of a federal agency devoted to the humanities" Pacific Standard, March 4, 2016).

Brodhead's main argument is that the New Deal opened up the possibility of federal solutions to virtually any problem occurring in the country. I agree, and I would also add that the sheer volume of artwork produced--paintings, sculptures, wood carvings, silkscreen posters, reliefs, etc.--gave the nation an appetite for more art (and this appetite could only have increased with the many free art classes that were offered by the WPA).

So, let's take a look at just the painting and drawing totals--e.g., frescoes, murals, oil paintings, water color paintings, portraits--for the key New Deal art programs: 

Public Works of Art Project (1933-1934): 7,875 

Work Division of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (1934-1935): 3,676 

Section of Fine Arts (1934-1943): 1,047 

Treasury Relief Art Project (1935-1939): 10,089 

WPA art programs (1935-1943): 110,500 

Total paintings and drawings: 133,187 - the vast majority of which were for the decoration of public places, e.g., post offices, schools, hospitals, courthouses.

Some of the paintings above were overlaps, for example, a mural started by the Public Works of Art Project might be completed with funds from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. On the other hand, statistics that were used to create final reports were not always complete, sometimes missing a few states and sometimes missing a few years; so I'm sticking with the 133,000 figure. (If you're interested in learning more about New Deal art projects and/or what resources I used for the above numbers, see yesterday's blog post as well as the art program summaries of the Living New Deal.)

("Hill Orchards," an oil painting by Caroline Sehlmeyer, created while she was in the WPA's art program, ca. 1939-1943. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.)

Dr. Brodhead states: "Get enough economic and military superiority, and you are at best a muscled-up hegemon; add the humanities, and you could become an aspirational civilization. That's the opportunity before the United States, and seizing it is not guaranteed. How to assure this better outcome? What's needed is help advancing 'things of the spirit' - help on the artistic and humanistic side."

While I appreciate (and agree) with Brodhead's sentiments, there will be no humanities renaissance for any generation that exists today. There is little hope for significant funding increases for the humanities when the national priorities are firmly established in perpetual war and tax breaks for the wealthy. Or, to put it another way, if we are hesitant to fund projects that will prevent millions of American children from being poisoned by lead, are we really going to properly fund the humanities?

On the plus side, you can still find plenty of New Deal art. A lot of it still resides in our public places, and you can find hundreds of New Deal artworks on the website of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. These are your doorways into a different kind of America - an America where our respect for the humanities, as well as our sense of social responsibility towards one another, was heightened rather than diminished.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The New Deal: Two million miles of roadwork

("Road Builders," a lithograph on paper, by David P. Chun (1898-1989), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1943. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.)

New Deal Roadwork

New Deal workers built or improved roads, streets, and highways all across America. Here are some totals:

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC): 707,225 miles. This roadwork consisted of the creation or maintenance of truck trails and minor roads in our nation's forests and parks. Many of these roads were used to transport CCC workers to remote work sites where they could plant trees, fight fires, and build cabins. They are still used today for maintenance work and/or public access. (Source: Federal Security Agency, Final Report of the Director of the Civilian Conservation Corps, April , 1933 through June 30, 1942, ca. 1943, p. 105.) 

Public Works Administration (PWA): 36,628 miles. The PWA noted that "Building new arteries of transportation... has had a profound effect on national life... they open up markets to the farmers... roads mean better education to millions of young Americans... Hospitals too have been made more available to rural America because of roads." (Source: Public Works Administration, America Builds: The Record of PWA, 1939, pp. 184-185.)

Civil Works Administration (CWA): 244,000 miles. It was noted at the time that "This highway work gave employment to pretty nearly every type of skilled and unskilled labor - engineers, surveyors, draftsmen, stone masons, brick-layers, carpenters, blasting crews, mechanics, operators of rock-crushing and road-making machinery and common laborers." (Sources: Robert D. Leighninger, Jr., Long-Range Public Investment: The Forgotten Legacy of the New Deal, 2007, p. 51, and Henry G. Alsberg, America Fights the Depression: A Photographic Record of the Civil Works Administration, 1934, p. 17.)   

Work Division of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA): 253,920 miles. It was reported that FERA road work "has received the enthusiastic support of the whole rural and small-town population of farmers and business men, and the especial gratitude of physicians, school teachers and mail-carriers." (FERA, The Emergency Work Relief Program of the FERA, April 1, 1934 - July 1, 1935, 1935, pp. 39-40.)

Works Progress Administration (WPA): 651,087 miles. "These projects included work on highways, roads, bridges, culverts, and gutters; roadside drainage; and roadside landscaping." (Source: Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1946, pp. 53 and 135.)

National Youth Administration (NYA): 16,927 miles  "Roads were constructed and repaired, although work on concrete highways was not frequent, since WPA was engaged in this type of highway construction..."  (Source: Federal Security Agency, War Manpower Commission, Final Report of the National Youth Administration, Fiscal Years 1936 - 1943, 1944, pp. 136 and 140.)  

Total of these programs: 1,909,787 miles. However, total New Deal roadwork probably exceeded 2 million miles. The reports cited above did not always receive complete information from all the states. Also, there were other New Deal programs that engaged in roadwork, like the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration and the Federal Works Agency (which, for example, had its own brief work-relief program, post-WPA), that I have not included, but hope to at some future date. 

Anyway, in case you're interested, two million miles of roadwork is enough roadwork to go around the planet 80 times.

(WPA workers building Chinquapin Round Road in Annapolis, Maryland, 1938. Chinquapin Round Road has been heavily traveled for three-quarters of a century, connecting drivers to West Street and Forest Drive. I grew up near here and used the road too many times to count. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

Now, compare the above roadwork to today's right-wing approach to roadwork

Over the past many years, infrastructure spending has dropped in America (see, e.g., "The Stunning Collapse of Infrastructure Spending in One Chart," ThinkProgress, November 1, 2013). This drop was not an oversight, but a deliberate move by the political right (Republicans, Tea Partiers, and Corporate Democrats) to shift money from infrastructure to their millionaire & billionaire donors (tax breaks, tax loopholes, tax deductions, tax exemptions, and other tax gimmicks). With respect to the congressional Highway Bill, Republicans and Tea Partiers have resisted funding it, only showing an interest when they could pack it with favors to their Wall Street masters - favors that are completely unrelated to infrastructure. Even a top Republican in Congress has blamed his party for blocking infrastructure improvement. And states led by Republicans are often no better. For example, Republican governor of Kansas Sam Brownback has taken money from his state's highway funding to help pay for tax cuts for the rich.

There are three main consequences of the political right's obstruction to infrastructure improvement:

1. Poor road conditions: In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers warned us about our road conditions: "32% of America’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, costing U.S. motorists who are traveling on deficient pavement $67 billion a year... Additionally, current estimates show that 42% of America’s major urban highways are congested... [drivers] wasted 1.9 billion gallons of gasoline and an average of 34 hours in 2010 due to congestion, costing the U.S. economy $101 billion in wasted fuel."

2. Death: "The federal Department of Transportation estimates that obsolete road designs and poor road conditions are a factor in about 14,000 highway deaths each year." ("Human Cost Rises as Old Bridges, Dams and Roads Go Unrepaired," New York Times, November 5, 2015) 

3. Regressive taxation on the middle-class and poor: When the rich are constantly getting tax breaks, constantly evading & avoiding taxes, and constantly enjoying tax rates that are, by historic measure, quite low, the revenue burden--for infrastructure and a host of other things--is then shifted to the middle-class and poor at the state & local level. So, it should come as no surprise that "Virtually every state tax system is fundamentally unfair, taking a much greater share of income from low- and middle-income families than from wealthy families." And it's not just taxes. Other regressive revenue streams must also be increased to (try to) make up for the lack of federal assistance - bridge tolls, traffic fines, car registration fees, utility rates, etc. Not only is this unfair, it's impractical. The middle-class and poor are barely making ends meet, while the rich are getting richer. There's simply no way the former can compensate for the weasel-like avoidance of the latter. 

   (Some of the money shown here could have been used to fix America's roads. And don't get me started on the $8 million per hour we spend on perpetual war in the Middle-East - money that would be better used for domestic problems. Image courtesy of Demos.org)

We should all be outraged - but many of us are not. In fact, the most remarkable thing about all of the above is that tens of millions of Americans continue voting for politicians who will neglect our infrastructure but still raise (through direct or indirect means) our taxes, tolls, fees, fines, and utility rates. To put it another way, tens of millions of people are, in effect, voting to have their taxes raised, their vehicles damaged, and their lives put at greater risk. Meanwhile, the super-wealthy keep adding tens, even hundreds of billions of dollars to their already out-of-control wealth, every single year. Instead of life-saving infrastructure improvements, the ultra-rich will buy more private compounds, more private jets, more private islands, and more politicians to maintain this injustice.  

As I said, we should all be outraged.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

New Deal Art: "Maverick Road." And... what happened to Suzuki's mural?

Above: "Maverick Road," an oil painting by Sakari Suzuki (1899-1995), created while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, 1934. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: This 1936 photograph shows Suzuki painting a mural for the Willard Parker Hospital for Contagious Diseases (or an adjacent structure, continue reading), located at Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive and Fifteenth Street in New York City. The project was funded by the WPA and announced in a New York Times article: "A mural illustrating 'The Progress of Medicine' by Mr. Suzuki will be painted for the living room of the doctors' staff house at Willard Parker Hospital" ("WPA Murals Approved," December 16, 1935). Then, a series of New York Times articles in the early 1960s detailed the sale of the hospital to Consolidated Edison Company, a power company that still operates today. But... what happened to Suzuki's mural? Was the hospital demolished and, if so, was his mural saved? Was the building converted to a different use, does it still exist today, and, if so, is the mural still there? Or, was the doctors' staff house an entirely different structure... perhaps being used today as a company office building, or even a private residence? Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Reverse New Deal: The middle-class & poor have become a bait ball for America's financial predators

Above: Harry Hopkins delivering a radio speech, 1936. In 1938, when former president Herbert Hoover claimed that the New Deal was leading the nation towards fascism, Hopkins' reply highlighted the true spirit and intention of the New Deal: "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). Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: This brief video clip is a good representation of what has been done (and continues to be done) to the middle-class & poor. Every manner of financial predator has feasted on them, thriving on their misery: Abusive debt collectors, white collar criminals, payday lenders, private prisons that lobby for more incarceration, defense contractors that lobby for more war, hedge funds that profit from economic turmoil, police who target minorities to boost local revenue, judges who jail poor people because they can't afford hefty fines, state governments that have implemented regressive tax systems, wealthy investors who have suppressed wages, municipalities that feed their citizens contaminated water to pay for tax breaks for the rich, and the list goes on and on and on. Indeed, our entire society has been fully transformed into a culture of predation - where we look upon one another, not as people, but as financial transactions. And the worst part is... we keep putting politicians in office who are backed by the very people who are preying upon us.

Considering how Americans financially victimize each other, is it any wonder that the number of suicides--and the number of deaths of despair--keeps going up and up? Is it any wonder that about 9 million Americans had suicidal thoughts last year? During the New Deal, there was a greater focus on helping people, and the suicide rate went down.  

But we're not living in the New Deal, are we? So, welcome to the Reverse New Deal, where the middle-class & poor have become a bait ball for America's financial predators.

Note: No offense intended to the birds, sea lions dolphins, and sharks in the video above, by comparing them to America's financial predators.