Saturday, April 28, 2018

Paul Ryan and his fellow Republicans have sacked the House Chaplain, over the chaplain's failure to get God's blessing for tax cuts for the rich

Above: "Whom God Loveth," an etching by Manuel G. Silberger (1898-1968), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1937. When I was growing up, I was told that God and Jesus loved the downtrodden. Today, that teaching has been turned on its head. Now, thanks to conservative Christians, God and Jesus primarily love the rich. The poor? Well, they're poor because of their sinful ways. And Republican politicians, talking heads, and Internet babblers fortify this sentiment with their constant insults, calling the poor "lazy good-for-nothings," "parasites," and "takers." Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Republicans in Congress, concerned that their chaplain wasn't obtaining God's blessing for tax cuts for the rich, have forced him out. His last day will be May 24. 

Father Patrick Conroy had recently prayed, "May [congressional] efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans."

Uh oh. Right-wingers gave the majority of the tax cuts to the rich, as they always do.

So Republicans in Congress, who follow some sort of weird religious mix of Ayn Rand sociopathy and Prosperity Gospel, are very angry at the chaplain. 

The father was paid a visit by one of Paul Ryan's men, who warned him, "We are upset with this prayer; you are getting too political." And then Ryan had some "friendly" advice he delivered in person: "Padre, you just got to stay out of politics."

Eventually, Republicans decided to just get rid of the guy - forcing him to resign so they don't have to listen to any more of that Jesus stuff.

You see, Jesus once told a rich man to get rid of his wealth, and then told his followers that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven. However, in supposedly Christian America, that teaching has been thrown out the window with more glee and willful ignorance than any other. Indeed, that teaching must be gotten rid of... to make way for American greed, selfishness, extreme income & wealth inequality, policies that punish the poor (like harsh debt-relief restrictions), decades of tax cuts for the rich, and the election of the born-into-wealth billionaire Donald Trump, who bragged, "I'm very greedy. I'm a greedy person... I’ve always been greedy."

So, to make things safe for plutocracy, Father Conroy and Jesus had to be swept aside. I've heard rumors that Creflo Dollar and Mammon will replace them.

"There is something very ominous in this combination that has been forming within the Republican Party between the extreme reactionary and the extreme radical elements of this country... Those forces hate democracy and Christianity as two phases of the same civilization. They oppose democracy because it is Christian. They oppose Christianity because it preaches democracy."

--President Franklin Roosevelt, Campaign Address at Brooklyn, New York, November 1, 1940  

Thursday, April 26, 2018

National Youth Administration Carpentry: 4 million pieces of furniture made or repaired, 52 million board feet of lumber produced, 324 thousand cords of firewood cut

Above: National Youth Administration (NYA) workers on a carpentry project in Washington, D.C., ca. 1935-1943. NYA workers made or repaired over 4 million pieces of furniture for schools and other public buildings. They also produced 52 million board feet of lumber, cut 324 cords of firewood, and manufactured playground equipment, park benches, picnic tables, checkerboards, ping pong tables, desks, dressers, window frames, looms, and more. When America became more involved in World War II, young adults in NYA woodworking shops created "work benches, target frames, ammunition shipping cases, machine gun boxes, ammunition boxes, footlockers, and hospital chests" (Federal Security Agency, War Manpower Commission, Final Report of the National Youth Administration, Fiscal Years 1936-1943, 1944, pp. 153-154). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

With his job guarantee initiative, Bernie Sanders battles apathy and sadism, and channels Harry Hopkins

Above: "Unemployed Worker," an etching by Kalman Kubinyi (1906-1973), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Gibbes Museum of Art.

Above: An unemployed man watches construction activity in Washington, DC, 1936. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Bernie Sanders, FDR, and Harry Hopkins

Senator Bernie Sanders is working on a "job guarantee" plan that "would fund hundreds of projects throughout the United States aimed at addressing priorities such as infrastructure, care giving, the environment, education and other goals. Under the job guarantee, every American would be entitled to a job under one of these projects or receive job training to be able to do so, according to an early draft of the proposal" ("Bernie Sanders to announce plan to guarantee every American a job," Washington Post, April 23, 2018).

We are told that Sanders' idea goes back to President Franklin Roosevelt's 1944 Second Bill of Rights speech, where FDR advocated for the right of every American to have "a useful and remunerative job." However, with respect to FDR / New Deal history, the idea of a guaranteed job goes back even further. Around 1933-1935, Relief Administrator Harry Hopkins advocated for a job guarantee program and even wanted "employment assurance" to be part of the 1935 Social Security Act. (For an interesting discussion on this, see June Hopkins, Harry Hopkins: Sudden Hero, Brash Reformer, 1999, pp. 179-186).

FDR liked the idea of combining unemployment insurance with a job guarantee. With Hopkins stressing work-relief, and his Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins stressing unemployment insurance, the president said: "Well, I don't see why you can't combine both. Let's go ahead with the plan for unemployment insurance... Let a man have something definite by law for some weeks and then arrange it so he can have work relief afterward if unemployment continues and he is in need" (Frances Perkins, The Roosevelt I Knew, 1946, p. 189). 

Ultimately, of course, employment assurance did not make it into the final Social Security legislation. Congress took the provision out, apparently favoring short-term work-relief, before approving the rest of the Social Security Act, which FDR signed on August 14, 1935 (see June Hopkins' book above, p. 186). 

An electorate brainwashed to accept undeserved punishment

We know, of course, that Bernie Sanders' push for a job guarantee hasn't a snowball's chance in Hell of passing through Congress, or even getting out of committee. Congress is currently owned by Corporate America, and CEOs and shareholders will not tolerate anything that threatens their profits - profits that rely heavily on a consistent pool of unemployed, financially wrecked workers. Also, much of the American citizenry remains submissive to millionaire and billionaires. They've been trained by the super-wealthy to see their own possible financial destruction as a better outcome than any type of job guarantee. Another large swath of the American public is so apathetic that they don't care one way or the other, and thus can't be relied upon to provide any support whatsoever for a job guarantee initiative. These are the type of people who would watch you drown financially, with half-sympathetic eyes and some useless verbal encouragement, before returning to their texting and Twitter oblivion.

But how different would life be today, if we did have employment assurance? Currently, if you're laid off from your job, and having difficulty finding another job, you might have your credit score ruined (which makes it even harder to find a job), lose your house or apartment, lose your family (financial stress is a major reason for family break ups), and fall into a state of depression - perhaps making you more susceptible to drug or alcohol addiction, or even suicidal thoughts. Wouldn't it be nice to know, that if you're laid off from your job you can receive public employment while you search for another job? Isn't that better than being thrown under the bus, while your fellow citizens watch the spectacle?

The fact of the matter is, the plutocrats have us over a barrel. As they rake in more and more billions, their political, media, and think tank puppets have us brainwashed, angry at one another, financially terrorized, and unrepresented in Congress. And this doesn't bode well for a job guarantee program. In fact, it ensures that our current system of economic sadism will continue for many years.

Only when the people wake up, and realize that the super-wealthy are not their friends, will a job guarantee program--as well as other programs for the common good--gain significant traction.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

New Deal Art: "Sandy Acre"

Above: "Sandy Acre," a watercolor artwork by Amy Jones (1899-1992), created while she was in the New Deal's Section of Fine Arts, 1938. Jones was a very successful artist and painted murals for at least three post offices: Winstead, Connecticut; Painted Post, New York; and Scotia, New York. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Friday, April 20, 2018

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

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

Generalizations vs. the Common Good 

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

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

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

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

Substance or Gender?

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

Policy is more important than gender.

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

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

The Pseudo-Inspirationalism of Nikki Haley

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

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

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

The future should be us.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our forests, our fault, our loss.

Monday, April 16, 2018

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

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

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Permanent military intervention abroad; inadequate & contaminated water at home

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Billionaire Menace

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

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

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

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

Sunday, April 8, 2018

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

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

 Above: "Phases of the Moon"

Above: "Phases of the Sun"

Above: "Solar Eclipse"

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 6, 2018

New Deal Celestial Art (3/5): "The Drama of the Heavens" and "Gazing at the Stars"

Above: "The Drama of the Heavens," a WPA poster created in 1939. There was a planetarium construction craze in the United States during the 1930s and the Adler Planetarium was the first, opening in 1930. A 1937 newspaper article about a planned planetarium in Pittsburgh (the Buhl Planetarium) noted that "The Adler Planetarium in Chicago, first to be constructed in this country, has attracted millions... eager to see how the heavens looked when the Christ child was born and how it will look in the year 2036" ("Big Planetarium In Pittsburgh To Excel All In U.S.," The Courier (Waterloo, Iowa), May 11, 1937). I remember going on an elementary school field trip to the Maryland Science Center, and seeing a show in the Davis Planetarium. Millions of Americans across the U.S. probably have similar fond memories. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: "Gazing at the Stars," an etching by William Sanger (1873-1961), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1938. Americans looked to the stars more and more in the 1920s and 30s. According to several Wikipedia entries, science fiction began gaining real popularity in the 1920s, and the "Golden Age of Science Fiction" began around 1938. Characters like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers became well-known through comic strips and films of the day. Science fiction, planetariums, star-watching, and the possibility of space travel really captured the public's imagination. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

New Deal Celestial Art (2/5): "Constellation"

Above: "Constellation," an artwork by Georg Redlich (1918 or 1919, to 1941), created while he was in the WPA, ca. 1935-1941. "Constellation" is described as a "Brush and black wash on buff wove paper." There is little or no information about Redlich on the Internet, but it seems he died in a car accident, at age 22, just as his career was beginning to flourish ("Georg F. Redlich, Young Artist, Is Killed In Wreck," Chicago Tribune, December 22, 1941). The article reported that his "paintings hang in the Art Institute [of Chicago] and several other Chicago galleries." An earlier article noted that he was a "young scholarship student at the Art Institute" (Chicago Tribune, March 10, 1940). Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Monday, April 2, 2018

New Deal Celestial Art (1/5): "Meteor Falling to Earth" and "Zodical Light"

Above: "Meteor Falling to Earth," an oil painting by Chris Olson (1905-2000), created while he was in the WPA art program, 1940. In addition to being an artist, Olson became a strawberry farmer in Wisconsin and "supplied strawberries to many of the [Oshkosh] area grocery stores. His interest in strawberries led him to develop a new variety of everbearing strawberries. In 1975 his family successfully applied for a patent for the new variety" ("Christian Olson," The Oshkosh Northwestern, August 15, 2000). Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Oshkosh Public Museum.

Above: "Zodical Light," another oil painting Chris Olson made while he was in the WPA. Zodical, or "zodiacal," light is "A faint elongated cone of light sometimes seen in the night sky, extending from the horizon along the ecliptic. It is thought to be due to the reflection of sunlight from particles of ice and dust within the plane of the solar system" (Oxford Dictionary). Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Oshkosh Public Museum.