Friday, July 28, 2017

WPA artists of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Area, part 4: Bernice Cross

Above: Bernice Cross was born in Iowa City, Iowa, in 1912. In 1937, she painted a mural for the children's section of the Glenn Dale Hospital in Prince George's County, Maryland, depicting various nursery rhyme scenes. In the photograph above (and the photos that follow), Cross can be seen working on the mural. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: According to her 1996 obituary in the Washington Post (click here and scroll down), Cross "operated an art studio [during the 1930s] on the 1500 block of H Street NW [Washington, DC], where she held painting classes for adults and sketch classes for children." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Cross's obituary also reports that "She was a member of a group of young artists associated with the former Studio House, which was run in connection with the Phillips Gallery in Washington during the 1940s. Over the years, she had solo exhibitions at the Studio House Gallery, the Little Gallery and the Phillips Memorial Gallery." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: According to Professor of Art Keith Anthony Morrison (Temple University), Bernice Cross taught art at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, and American University in Washington, DC. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: According to Cross's Wikipedia page, she participated in art exhibitions from 1933 to 1988. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: According to her Wikipedia page, Cross married James McLaughlin, a curator at the Phillips Collection art gallery, in 1937. They had no children and divorced "sometime in the 1950s." Her obituary states that she passed away on July 23, 1996, at Bethesda Manor Care, at the age of 84. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Bernice Cross's nursery rhyme mural, nearing completion. About a month and a half ago, I wrote a blog post about the interesting story behind this mural. After its completion, a health official called it "grotesque" and wanted it removed. A jury of children was formed to determine the mural's fate (recall that the mural was painted for the children's section of the hospital). The jury unanimously decided that the mural should stay, and so it did. Unfortunately, cultural neglect was not so kind. The mural seems to have been lost or destroyed (Glenn Dale Hospital, now closed, has been the target of frequent vandalism over the past several decades). However, notice that there is a mural study in the above photograph. If that painting still exists, it would be a great piece of art history. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Bernice Cross created other New Deal artworks, for example, "Georgetown Corner in the Rain," an oil painting she made while in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: "Seaside," an oil painting Cross made in 1943 (this could be a WPA artwork, but most likely it was created after she left the WPA program). In her obituary, it was reported that "Art critics called her a painter of fantasy whose work had the unpredictable quality of children's drawing, indicating a spontaneous interpretation of actual events." More of Cross's artwork can be seen on the website of the Phillips Collection here (be sure to scroll down from the top image). Notice that "Georgetown in the Rain" is a more "traditional" style painting than her hospital mural and her later work, perhaps indicating that she was really striving for her own unique style. Image courtesy of the Phillips Collection, used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

WPA artists of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Area, part 3: Louisiana Small, Nelson Rosenberg, and William Calfee

Above: Louisiana Small lived on 25th Street, NW, Washington, DC, while she worked as a teacher in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1939. I wasn't able to find any information on Small's life, but see the caption for the next image, discussing art instruction and exhibition in Washington, DC, during this time period. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A WPA poster promoting free art instruction for children, by the "Art Teaching Division" of the WPA's Federal Art Project. WPA art instructors, like Louisiana Small, not only taught art classes to children and adults, but probably also participated in the exhibition of that art. For example, in 1937 the following was reported in the nation's Capital: "So seriously is juvenile art taken by the Federal Arts Project that the Children's Gallery, a museum for children, soon will be opened in the District WPA Professional Building, 816 Independence Avenue, southwest." It was also reported that "More than 2,000 children per week, both white and colored, are studying art under WPA teachers in settlement houses, community houses and other centers in Washington" ("WPA to Open Children's Art Museum Here," Washington Post, October 25, 1937). Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: Nelson Rosenberg lived on O Street, NW, Washington, DC, while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1939. A few years ago, during renovations of Theodore Roosevelt High School (4301 13th Street Northwest, Washington, DC), two large murals were discovered under layers of paint, and attributed to Rosenberg and the New Deal, 1934 (see "Rough Ride," Washington City Paper, January 31, 2014, and "High School Rehab Uncovers 1934 Frescoes," NBC News, August 9, 2014). Few details were given as to how the information was obtained, but Rosenberg was indeed listed in the 1934 final report of the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project (p. 47) -  living on 21st Street, NW, Washington, DC. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: "Engines and Landscape," a watercolor painting by Nelson Rosenberg, created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1936. There doesn't seem to be much information about Rosenberg's life, but the Smithsonian American Art Museum reports that he was born in Baltimore, 1908 and died in Washington, DC, 1988. I also came across an old newspaper article, "Nelson Rosenberg's Water Colors and Oils On View at Studio Gallery [at George Washington University] Until February 24" (Washington Post, February 11, 1940, p. E9). Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: William Calfee lived on U Street, Washington, DC, while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1936-1939. In addition to his time in the WPA, Calfee won several commissions with the New Deal's Treasury Section of Fine Arts, painting murals in a courthouse and many post offices (see, e.g., "Artist: William H. Calfee," Living New Deal). After his New Deal days were over, Calfee founded the art department at American University (Washington, DC) in 1945, served as its chair until 1954, and retired in 1977 ("William Calfee Dies," Washington Post, December 7, 1995). About a year before he died, Calfee recalled one of his Treasury commissions: "I won one of those Section of Fine Arts murals which was 20 feet long - this must have been in about '36... I had to find a place to do it. And I finally found a space over a garage in the rear of 1420 U [Street]... And I paid $30 a month for this, and I lived in it" ("Oral history interview with Adele S. Brown and William H. Calfee, 1995 January 11," Smithsonian Archives of American Art). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

WPA artists of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Area, part 2: Lenore Thomas, Hugh Collins, and Joseph Goethe

Above: From left to right - Lenore Thomas, Hugh Collins, Joseph Goethe, and a fourth man whose name I don't know (he might be Carmelo Aruto, a local craftsman). These artists are working on a WPA project - a set of concrete animals to be placed at the Langston Terrace public housing development playground, in Washington, DC. The photo was taken in 1940, and provided courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Another shot of the four artists at work. A Washington Post article described this project as a commission and "a result of a competition held among artists employed by the District Art Unit of the WPA. The selections were made by a jury composed of officials of the WPA and the [United States Housing Authority]" ("WPA Artists Completing Langston Sculptures," September 1, 1940). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: This picture, in the community building of Greenbelt, Maryland, shows Lenore Thomas sculpting one of her several bas reliefs on the building, ca. 1937. The reliefs depict various parts of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. A nearby exhibit label reads, "Lenore Thomas sculpted the friezes on the front of the Center Elementary School, now the Greenbelt Community Center. Given complete freedom to choose her subject matter, she chose the preamble to the constitution. She believed that American school children needed to learn about the foundations of their country and political system." Lenore Thomas lived in Accokeek, Maryland (Prince George's County) during this time period. Photo by Brent McKee, 2011.

Above: Lenore Thomas's bas relief, "Insure Domestic Tranquility," as it appears today. Notice that Thomas removed the trucks and cows from her final product. Photo by Brent McKee, 2011.

Above: Hugh Collins lived on Naylor Road, SE, Washington, D.C., while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1939. On February 16, 1936, the Washington Post reported: "Watercolors by Hugh Collins are being shown in the Public Library on New York Avenue until February 29. Washington and scenic spots in Maine are the subjects of Collins' paintings" ("Notes on Current Art Exhibitions," p. AA5). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Joseph Goethe lived in Washington, D.C. while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1939-1940. After the New Deal years, Goethe moved to California and became a prominent sculptor (he was featured in California newspapers throughout the 1940s, 50, and 60s). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: The finished sculptures of Thomas, Collins, and Goethe, at Langston Terrace playground. This photo is from documents on file at the National Register of Historic Places and was probably taken in the 1980s. As the project was nearing completion in 1940, the children of Langston Terrace immediately took to their new playground sculptures / climbing toys, as Hugh Collins noted: "The kids didn't have to be told what the animals were for. We had to pull them off in order to finish our work" ("WPA Artists Completing Langston Sculptures," Washington Post, September 1, 1940, p. A7).

Sunday, July 23, 2017

WPA artists of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Area, part 1: William Dintaman, Ann Rosenbloth, and Velma Buckner

Above: William Dintaman lived on 3rd Street, NW, Washington, D.C., while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1937. This appears to be the same William Dintaman who engraved many postage stamps while employed at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing from 1947 to 1974 (see, for example, "Arthur William Dintaman," Find A Grave, accessed July 22, 2017). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Ann Rosenbloth lived on 28th Street, NW, Washington, D.C., while she was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1937. She seems to be the same Ann Rosenbloth who is discussed in the Washington Post obituaries on December 21, 1996. It appears she worked as a WPA artist and instructor in both New York City and Washington, D.C. and, like Dintaman, worked at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (1942-1953). Perhaps they knew each other, and perhaps they even had water cooler conversations about the good ol' days in the WPA. Rosenbloth then moved on to work for the U.S. Information Agency from 1953-1966. After she retired from the federal government she worked in the advertising office of Hecht's department store from 1966 to 1970, and then "began her own company, Art Mart Show & Sell, and produced sidewalk art shows throughout the area. She also taught arts and crafts for a number of years with the D.C. Department of Recreation." I wonder if older residents of D.C. remember Ann Rosenbloth and her sidewalk art shows. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Velma Buckner lived on Fairmont Street, NW, Washington, D.C., while she was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1936-1937. Buckner was a graduate of Dunbar High School, Howard University, and Columbia University. In 1936, while in the WPA, Buckner painted a portrait of Washington, D.C.'s Recorder of Deeds John F. Costello. It was one of 12 portraits of former recorders of deeds (see "Deed Recorder Portrait Series To Be Unveiled," Washington Post, December 13, 1936, p. M9). What happened to Buckner after this time period is a bit of a mystery; I wasn't able to find out anything about her through Internet searches or through newspaper archives. Hopefully someone who knew her will run across this blog post and let me know more about her life. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: This information plaque is on the outside of the old Washington, D.C. Recorder of Deeds Building, at 515 D Street, NW (the Recorder of Deeds is now located at 1101 4th Street, SW). If nothing has been moved since this plaque was put on the building then, as you can see, Velma Buckner's painting is still inside. Indeed, the building seems to be a cornucopia of New Deal art - paintings, sculptures, murals, and even a bronze relief of FDR. The mural shown on the information plaque above, Shaw at Fort Wagner (a New Deal Treasury-commissioned artwork), depicts the same story told in the 1989 movie Glory, with Matthew Broderick and Denzel Washington. Photo by Brent McKee, 2017.

Above: This cornerstone shows that the DC Recorder of Deeds Building was built in (or around) 1941. It was funded by the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA). Before 1941, the Recorder of Deeds was located in City Hall at Judiciary Square (which is very close to this building). The 1941 building is currently locked up, hopefully undergoing restoration. The building is very important to New Deal history, and the story behind the Recorder of Deeds is very important to the history of African Americans. For more information, see (1) "D.C. Recorder of Deeds moving but fate of murals unclear," Washington Post, March 11, 2010; (2) Recorder of Deeds Building, "Application for Historic Landmark or Historic District Designation," Government of the District of Columbia, Historic Preservation Office, August 4, 2011; and (3) "Location: Recorder of Deeds Building - Washington DC," The Living New Deal (all accessed July 23, 2017). Photo by Brent McKee, 2017.

Friday, July 21, 2017

New Deal Recycling and Refuse Art (5/5): "Beach Cleaners"

Above: "Beach Cleaners," a color lithograph by Hyman J. Warsager (1909-1974), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Warsager practiced other forms of art too, for example, color wood cut prints, and recalled, "I think the whole interest [in color wood cut prints] in the United States, that exists even today, very much came from the Federal Art Project - the graphic group. We had an opportunity to experiment. We had the printers. We had the lithographers. We had the man to print wood cuts. We had the men to print etchings - all of them, very fine printers which is so important to the making of a good print." (A recent art exhibition by Georgetown University Library backs up Warsager's claim - see "Color in Relief: Wood Block Prints from Origins to Abstraction). Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

New Deal Recycling and Refuse Art (4/5): "Junk Yard"

Above: "Junk Yard," an oil painting by Aaron Bohrod (1907-1992), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1939. In 1984, Bohrod recalled the tough times of the Great Depression: "my wife, in the thick of Depression, wasn't being paid by the Chicago Board of Education, but she got what was called scrip, which means that they would pay at a future date." Fortunately, the WPA gave him a job: "And I felt it was a great job. It didn’t pay as much money as I got when I was a worker for the Fair Department Store, but it paid something like $24 a week." Bohrod also won three commissions with the New Deal's Treasury Section of Fine Arts and painted murals for the post offices in Clinton, Galesburg, and Vandalia, Illinois (see "Artists: Aaron Bohrod," Living New Deal). During World War II, Bohrod was sent to combat zones by the Army and by magazines (e.g., LIFE) to paint what he observed, and later said: "As wars go, it was a good war. It was a war that had to be fought; it was a war that had to be won... and that was of course the last good war." Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

New Deal Recycling and Refuse Art (3/5): "Ash Heap"

Above: "Ash Heap," a wood engraving by Charles E. Pont (1898-1971), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1939. According to the Rochester Institute of Technology, Pont was born in France, raised in New York City, and became "a painter, printmaker, magazine/book illustrator, educator, author, and clergyman." Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Monday, July 17, 2017

New Deal Recycling and Refuse Art (2/5): "Scrap Iron"

Above: "Scrap Iron," a lithograph by Herman R. Volz (1904-1990), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1939. Volz was in a non-relief, supervisory position in the WPA, and recalled that time period in a 1964 interview with the Smithsonian: "We had a wonderful cohesion with us really. I would think that the period when we were on the WPA was one of the nicest periods I have spent in America with artists. There was a friendship there, there was a kind of a direction everybody went, you know. I think it was a very decent period... our period in America of the WPA was a glorious period." When asked about a new WPA-type program for artists, Volz suggested a cabinet-level position in the White House, "because in a Cabinet post you can directly appeal to the public, you know, and making it on a Federal basis is very, very important. And put a certain amount of money aside for a cultural development subsidy, millions of it." A year after Volz's interview, Congress created the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Interestingly, the Trump Administration wants to eliminate the NEA, despite the NEA's strong 50-year support for state & local art programs. But Congress has rejected that part of Trump's budget proposal, and recently increased funding for the arts. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

New Deal Recycling and Refuse Art (1/5): "Collection Day"

Above: "Collection Day," an oil painting by Criss Glasell (1898-1971), created while she was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. According to her page on AskArt, Glasell was born Christine Albertina, in Austria; came to the United States with her family around 1910; graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago; and met her husband, Don Glasell, while working as an artist making hand-painted lamp shades. In addition to the painting above, she also painted a mural for the post office in Leon, Iowa, in 1938, while in the New Deal's Treasury Section of Fine Arts. She also won a first place award in the landscape-still life oil division of the 1939 Iowa State Fair art competition. Her winning piece was called "Winding Road." ("Artist Repeats State Fair Triumph," The Des Moines Register, August 23, 1939, p. 3). Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the University of Iowa Museum of Art.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Thanks to tax cuts for the rich... there are now brain-eating amoebas in our drinking water

Above: A water tower and purification system in Mandeville, Louisiana, built by the WPA, 1936-1937. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A closer look at the WPA-built water purification system at the base of the tower. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

New Dealers understood the value of clean drinking water

Between 1935 and 1943, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) installed thousands of miles of new water lines and built or repaired hundreds of water treatment plants. Harold Ickes and his Public Works Administration (PWA) funded many large waterworks projects across America too, during that same general time frame, and warned us to always be careful with our drinking water:

"Water is life. Apparently this fundamental fact must be learned on the battlefront of experience again and again. When this lesson is forgotten, even for a moment, the consequences are immediate and disastrous. A brief lapse in maintaining the purity of a water supply occurred in 1928 in Olean, N.Y., a town with a population of 21,000. Typhoid germs rode into the Olean homes through the water pipes. Two hundred and thirty-eight cases of the disease resulted. Twenty-one people died... To prevent similar disasters, engineers everywhere to whom the Nation has entrusted the purity of its water supply must be eternally vigilant" (America Builds: The Record of PWA, 1939, pp. 169-170).

We didn't listen... as the children of Flint, Michigan, and millions of other children across the United States can attest to, after they've consumed lead-contaminated water for years.

Above: "Water Carrier," a lithograph by Nina Ullberg (1901-1993), created while she was in a New Deal art program (probably the WPA's Federal Art Project), 1937. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and David Wood.

Brain-eating amoebas, and other contaminants, in Louisiana's deteriorating and under-maintained drinking water infrastructure

Recently, we've heard that there is a brain-eating amoeba in some of Louisiana's drinking water. But hey, don't worry, as long as you don't get any in your nose, you'll be a-okay! Question: What happens if you're drinking some water, and someone tells a joke, and you laugh so hard the water comes out your nose? Well, I guess you'll be laughing yourself to death. Or what if you're taking a shower, and some water accidentally splashes in your nose? Ooops. ("Brain-Eating Amoeba Found In Louisiana Tap Water; People Warned To Avoid Water In Nose," Huffington Post, July 2, 2017)

Louisiana has been warned about its drinking water. In 2012, the American Society of Civil Engineers said that Louisiana's "aging and deteriorating water supply and treatment and distribution systems are not capable of providing potable water for future, and in some cases, current demands. Better planning and more funding are key elements to providing Louisiana with a safe supply of drinking water in the future" (emphasis added). Louisiana does not seem to have taken the ASCE's recommendations too seriously, as the following news reports highlight:


August 2014: "Brain-eating amoeba now in Louisiana drinking water," Washington Post.


December 2016: "Louisiana Declares Public Health Emergency Surrounding Small Town’s Drinking Water," (lead contamination) KTLA 5 News.  

Indeed, instead of taking the ASCE's recommendations seriously, Louisiana policymakers seems to have doubled-down on neglect. In 2017, the ASCE downgraded Louisiana's drinking water system from a C- to a D-, noting: "some areas struggle to meet potable water demands due to aging and deteriorating water systems, as well as threats to water quality... Approximately 58% of water systems in Louisiana are over 50 years old, creating potential for more frequent system breakdowns and need for repair and replacement of components. In serious cases, deteriorating systems can result in public safety issues such as those in the rural town of St. Joseph, LA [where lead and copper contamination was found]. It's critical for the state of Louisiana to increase funding and raise the grade of its drinking water infrastructure" (emphasis added).

Question: Given America's now world-famous neglect of its infrastructure and public health (see, e.g., "Metro Draws Global Sympathy: Transit agency's woes serve as cautionary tale on the international stage," Express [sub-publication of the Washington Post], June 5, 2017), do we really think Louisiana's drinking water system is the only system where the brain-eating amoeba has taken up residence?

Above: "Drinking Boy," a sculpture by William Zorach (1887-1966), created while he was in the WPA, ca. 1935-1942. On the issues of clean water, infrastructure, and the various New Deal work programs, President Franklin Roosevelt said, "Unprecedented advances in cleaning up our streams have been made possible by the public works and work-relief programs during the past six years... more progress has been made in abatement of municipal waste during that period than during the entire twenty-five years preceding, chiefly as a result of Federal financial stimulation... great improvement in the Nation's basic assets of water has been incident to the fight against unemployment." Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Colorado University Art Museum.

Voting against our own health

Three months ago, Louisiana journalist Mark Ballard wrote about the state's wide-ranging drinking water problems. He explained that the main issue is funding, and the inability of Louisianans to afford maintenance and improvements. A microbiologist he interviewed said, "the real issue is in the municipal/community water systems that simply don't have the resources. As many as 300 communities cannot afford to maintain and improve their water systems" ("Across Louisiana, crumbling infrastructure threatens small town water supplies," The Advocate, April 8, 2017).

But here's the curious thing: Louisianans elected Republican Bobby Jindal to be their governor from 2008 to 2016. Jindal, like most Republicans, handed out tax breaks to the rich like candy (see, e.g., "Bobby Jindal’s Anti-Tax Fervor May Have Destroyed Louisiana," ThinkProgress, May 7, 2016). Louisianans also backed Donald Trump, and now President Trump's budget calls for cuts to infrastructure funding for rural areas (like much of Louisiana), including cuts to drinking water infrastructure (see, e.g., "Heavy cuts to rural development and infrastructure in latest Trump budget," Washington Post, May 23, 2017.) 

Louisiana is also a red state, which means they generally favor Republicans. And their two Republican U.S. Senators, and their five Republican Representatives (they only have one Democratic congressman, U.S. Representative Cedric Richmond, 2nd District), are working hard to scale back Medicaid in order to give tax breaks to the wealthy. And we can be sure that these seven men will also be working hard to give even more tax breaks to the wealthy when the issue of "tax reform" comes up later this year. No matter how devastating those cuts will be to the nation's infrastructure, they won't be able to stop themselves from doing it, because (a) they're beholden to their wealthy donors, (b) Louisiana voters won't hold them accountable, and (c) it's in their nature.

As if all this were not bad enough, in 2013 it was reported that "The poor in Louisiana pay twice as much of their income in state and local taxes as do the rich." This type of problem is exacerbated by right-wing policies. When Republicans cut taxes for the rich at the federal level, the revenue burden will inevitably fall on the middle-class and poor at the state & local level, in the form of regressive taxes, tolls, fees, fines, and utility rates (see my blog post here for a more in-depth discussion on this phenomenon.) 

Drowning Government (i.e., We the People) in the Bathtub vs. Investing in Infrastructure and Public Health

Above: "Construction Workers," an etching and aquatint by Hugh P. Botts (1903-1964), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1939. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and Baltimore Museum of Art.

Grover Norquist, America's preeminent tax cut nut, and the man who famously declared, "My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub," recently said that newly proposed tax increases on super-wealthy Americans was, "a cruel joke on middle income people." His rationale was that tax increases would cause the the rich to kill jobs for the middle-class. It seems Norquist has been insulated in his billionaire-funded office for so long, that he can't see what's happened all across America over the past many decades. 

You see, the rich have received tax gifts from their political & policy puppets (like Norquist) for a very long time now - in the form of tax rate cuts; preferential treatment for their investment (i.e., unearned) income; generous mortgage interest tax deductions, for up to two homes; tax loopholes; tax shelters; tax credits; tax deductions; tax gimmicks; and secretive offshore tax havens that our corporate-bought federal government doesn't seem overly concerned about. Thanks to these and other public policies the rich are now enjoying record wealth.

And so, what have the rich done with all those tax favors and all that record wealth? Created millions of awesome jobs, like manna from Heaven? Sadly, no. They've shipped jobs overseas; stagnated wages here at home; cut back on job benefits; engaged in relentless attacks on the social safety net (so that the workers they lay off will have tremendous difficulty receiving adequate help); committed record-setting fraud; and mired their fellow Americans in merciless debt.

If Norquist believes that tax-cuts-for-the-rich, and greater wealth for the rich, has aided America's working class, he's either a man who's completely oblivious to reality... or a lunatic.  

In any event, there's another way - a way that worked: During the 1930s and early 1940s, the New Deal funded thousands of infrastructure and service projects across America. For example, in Louisiana, the WPA performed 4,500 miles of road work, 2,000 bridge projects, 1,800 public building projects, over 200 park, playground, and athletic field projects, nearly 800 miles of water and sewer lines, and much more (Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946, pp. 134-136).

Doesn't that sound better than tax cuts for the rich, crumbling infrastructure, and brain-eating amoebas in our drinking water?

And how do we know it worked? Because thousands of New Deal projects are still in use today, 80 years later (often well past their intended lifespan), as documented by the Living New Deal.

Oh, and by the way, the New Deal was funded, in part, by higher taxes on the wealthy. 

Unfortunately, the voting habits of Louisiana and other red states, as well as the modern Democratic Party's enslavement to Corporate America, ensures that there will not be another New Deal, and thus no major infrastructure improvements, during our lifetime. Instead, expect more children to ingest lead (a neurotoxin), more children to die from brain-eating amoebas, more people to die from Legionnaires' disease, more water main breaks, and so on. The American public has made its decision (through voting or apathy) and the verdict is in: Tax breaks for the wealthy (to be used to purchase more private jets, more private compounds, and more private islands) is more important than American infrastructure and public health.

Isn't that amazing?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Ayn Rand profited from WPA "collectivism"

Above: A WPA poster, promoting the WPA's performance of The Night of January 16th, a play by Ayn Rand. Image courtesy of George Mason University, used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

Ayn Rand was no fan of the New Deal, writing in 1936: "My feeling for the New Deal is growing colder and colder. In fact, it's growing so cold that it's coming to the boiling point of hatred" (Jennifer Burns, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, New York: Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 38). 

Rand, it seems, could not come to terms with the concept of a government that was truly of the people, by the people, and for the people. Perhaps due to her traumatic experience during the Russian Revolution and/or her privileged upbringing, Rand appears to have considered the New Deal to be another wrongful taking of wealth from the "heroic" upper-class, to give to the "undeserving" lower classes. We see the same type of anxiety in right-wing politics today, for example, when U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan (an Ayn Rand discipledivides the country into "makers" vs. "takers."

But Rand's cold feelings towards the New Deal did not prevent her from making a buck off it. According to author, journalist, and professor of literature Anne Heller, "Although by 1936 Rand strongly disapproved of Roosevelt and his New Deal programs, the WPA provided her with royalties of ten dollars per performance [for The Night of January 16th], a small fortune, throughout the later 1930s" (Ayn Rand and the World She Made, New York: Random House, 2009, p. 95). Rand wrote The Night of January 16th, a courtroom drama, around 1934, and it enjoyed commercial success for a few years before the WPA, and other theater programs across the country, picked it up.

Now someone might say, "It was Ayn Rand's brilliance that benefited the WPA!" But one of the main goals of the WPA's Federal Theatre Project was to bring theatre to people who might not otherwise see it, e.g., lower-income groups. Hence, the WPA probably broadened Ayn Rand's audience, which perhaps contributed to the eventual Hollywood film version of her play, from which she also profited.

This wasn't the last time Rand would benefit from the New Deal and similar "collectivism." It is now legendary, of course, that she collected Social Security and Medicare benefits when she needed them. (Why didn't she just use her John Galt superpowers to gather the needed funds? Why did she rely on the "nanny state" to see her through tough times?). And in the early-to-mid 1940s, when Rand was sitting comfortably at home, developing her goofy ideology, many lower-income Americans who had been in the CCC or WPA (the type of people and programs that Rand despised) were working collectively in the defense industries, or fighting and dying collectively in Europe and the Pacific... for her freedom to sip iced tea, take amphetamines, and write about the superiority of all the wealthy businessmen who populated her dreams.

And I wonder how many New Deal roads, bridges, airports, and parks Ayn Rand made use of. We'll never know for sure, but you can bet it was plenty. But Rand, like so many others on the political right (then and now), seemed to be oblivious to the collective work of the labor class, and how their work benefited her on a daily basis, in terms of freedom, transportation & infrastructure, recreation, public health, public education, and overall social stability.

Ayn Rand and her imaginary friend John Galt had the freedom and tools to become successful because of the collective work and sacrifice of millions of people; specifically, the very people they had contempt for.

The Narcissistic and Willfully Ignorant Philosophy of Ayn Rand and Her Disciples:

"'The community' never gave anyone anything... It is 'the community' that should give back to the wealth-creators. It turns out that the 99% get far more benefit from the 1% than vice-versa. Ayn Rand developed the idea of 'the pyramid of ability,' which John Galt sets forth in Atlas Shrugged... 'The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him, but gets nothing except his material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others to add to the value of his time. The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all of their brains.'"

--Harry Binswanger, Ayn Rand devotee, in "Give Back? Yes, It's Time For The 99% To Give Back To The 1%," Forbes, September 17, 2013

Note: Harry Binswanger seems to have benefited from collectivism quite nicely too. According to his Wikipedia page, he "is a scion of Binswanger Glass Co., founded in 1872 by Samuel Binswanger." The Binswanger company's website explains that "After the Depression, the company began to grow again, and in 1947, Binswanger Mirror was established to meet the increasing demands of a post-war customer base and take advantage of the building boom that followed World War II... Today, Binswanger Glass has 65 locations in 15 states and continues to expand." 

Well, golly gee, why was there a "building boom" after World War II? Because, in large part, the economy was able to expand along New Deal roads, across New Deal bridges, and out of New Deal airports. And the "customer base" was stronger, in part, because of Social Security and higher, union-obtained wages (the New Deal helped strengthen unions) - both of these things, and more, increased the ability of Americans to buy goods and services. Even Republicans understood the economic value of the New Deal, espousing several of its policies in their 1956 party platform. I wonder if Mr. Binswanger knows this... or perhaps he thinks Ayn Rand and John Galt built all the roads & bridges that brought the new customers to his family's business.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

WPA Vaudeville in San Francisco

Above: A WPA poster, promoting a WPA vaudeville show at San Francisco's Alcazar Theatre, May 1938.  Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The photos below are from WPA vaudeville performances in San Francisco. Most or all of the photos were taken in September 1936. Vaudeville is a type of theatre, showcasing variety acts, for example, juggling, tight rope walking, and music. Vaudeville was very popular in the early 1900s, and you can still get a taste of vaudeville today, for example, at Renaissance Festivals that feature comedy skits, sword swallowing, magic acts, and so on. Between 1935 and 1939, the WPA offered many work opportunities for struggling vaudeville performers, theatre designers, stage hands, etc. All photos courtesy of the National Archives:










Thursday, July 6, 2017

The WPA, The Bat, and The Batman

Above: A WPA poster promoting the WPA's performance of the The Bat, a play originally produced by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood in 1920. The play tells the story of a criminal who dresses like a bat and, according to Wikipedia's page for The Bat, it was a commercial success and led to three films (1926, 1930, and 1959). The WPA performed the play at least twice, in Los Angeles, from June 30 through July 11, 1936, and in New York on December 10, 11, and 12, 1936. Image courtesy of George Mason University, used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

Above: A WPA poster promoting the WPA's performance of Dracula. The WPA performed the play in Los Angeles, from February 15 through February 27, 1938. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The comic book character Batman was created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, and first appeared in Detective Comics #27, May 1939. According to a May 6, 2014 article in The Atlantic, "Batman's Traumatic Origins," by Professor of Psychiatry Richard A. Warshak, Kane was inspired by Rinehart and Hopwood's The Bat, specifically the 1930 movie version of it, as well as the fictional characters Zorro and Dracula, and even one of Leonardo Da Vinci's flying machine drawings. I don't have any information that the WPA's performance of The Bat had any influence on Kane or Finger, but it seems both of them were living in New York City at the time of the WPA's production. Perhaps they saw it. We'll probably never know for sure, but the loose relationship between all of the events is interesting. The late 1930s and early 1940s brought into being many other comic book characters that are still very popular today: Superman (1938), Wonder Woman (1941), Green Lantern (1940), and the Flash (1940), to name just a few.