Monday, October 29, 2018

America needs an education and ethics rebellion, to reduce violence and bring the plutocrats to heel

Above: A WPA poster, highlighting the vital importance of informed opinions to a democracy. Many opinions in America today are not informed; instead, they're based on the right-wing propaganda of people like Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Donald Trump, as well as right-wing websites across the Internet. The American public, increasingly angry and uneducated, has become very susceptible to hate-fueled conspiracy theories. Image courtesy of George Mason University, used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

Right-wing propaganda + a lack of economic opportunity + a lack of critical thinking skills = fear, hate, and violence

In recent days, we've witnessed high profile attacks (or attempted attacks) against Democrats, African Americans, and Jews. In a highly polarized society--that is placing less and less value on public education, and has been sucked dry of legitimate economic opportunity--this is hardly surprising. And these high profile events, of course, are just part of the daily carnage that occurs across the United States (see, e.g., "74 people shot, 12 fatally, in Chicago over the weekend," Chicago Tribune, August 6, 2018).

Unfortunately, it is clear that there is a movement, among the upper echelons of society--not totally uncoordinated--to keep the American people misinformed and struggling, and angry and fearful of "the other." The latter, especially, keeps them distracted and oblivious to who is truly abusing them.

For decades now, good American jobs have been sent overseas to enrich wealthy CEOs and shareholders; tax breaks have been given to millionaires & billionaires (while the middle-class & poor have been saddled with more and more debt); bankruptcy relief has been savagely restricted for lower-income groups; our health has been the victim of constant political games; our wages have been stagnant and our retirements have been jeopardized; investment in public education and higher education has been curtailed; the tax burden has, and still is, being shifted from the rich, at the federal level, to the middle-class & poor at the state & local level; children from middle & low-income families are drinking lead; and the list of persecutions and neglect goes on and on and on.

Above: A WPA poster promoting adult education. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Beware the libtards!... and other bogeymen that distract us from the rigged economy...

At the same time that the middle-class & poor are being pounded into the ground, and at the same time that the rich are getting richer and richer and richer, right-wing propaganda (emanating from Fox News, hate radio, Donald Trump, political puppets, bought-and-paid for think tanks, and numerous "alt-right" websites) has convinced millions of Americans that their pain comes not from an economic system rigged to enrich the already-rich, but from migrants, Jews, inner-city youth, "libtards," and other convenient bogeymen. And, because millions of Americans don't know their nation's history, and don't have good critical thinking skills, they buy into it. As filmmaker and activist Michael Moore recently said:

"Rupert Murdoch's Fox News channel and right-wing radio have preyed upon those who've seen their American Dream go up in smoke. And they have helped to create a generation of angry and violent conspiracy theorists who will believe any lie that is perpetrated on those airwaves." (Also see, "Why Can't White Supremacists Confront the Fact That the Source of Their Economic Problems Is White Economic Elites?" Alternet, August 16, 2017.)

What America needs so, so desperately, is an education and ethics rebellion, to reduce the violence and bring the plutocrats to heel. We need a massive and wide-scale initiative to teach history and critical thinking. We need to facilitate informed opinion, so that uninformed opinion does not destroy us.

Above: A WPA poster advertising free, adult, WPA-supported classes in subjects like math, psychology, and social studies. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: WPA-employed adult education teachers, reviewing curriculum materials in Washington, DC, February, 1939. The Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43 (1947) tells us: "It was to meet the needs of people unable to pay for [additional education], and to provide work relief for unemployed teachers, that adult education projects were organized... There were no fees and the classes were held in public buildings" (p. 60). This was the central brilliance of New Deal work-relief programs - the hiring of people in need to help other people in need. Another great example is the WPA's sewing room program: Unemployed people hired to make clothes for low-income families. In America today, this concept is largely extinct. In its place, is ridicule, insult, humiliation, and scorn for those who struggle financially. Indeed, our pathetic president made the scorn official when he said that he wanted a "Goldman Sachs" executive to run the economy, not a "poor person" (CNBC, June 22, 2017 - also, see, "Goldman Sachs Finally Admits it Defrauded Investors During the Financial Crisis," Fortune, April 11, 2016). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Where are the wealthy liberals? What, on God's Green Earth, are they doing as America cozies up to fascism?

During the New Deal there was an investment in education, unparalleled in American history. Tens of thousands of projects to teach literacy, build new schools, deliver books to rural areas, and expand museum services, plus tens of thousands of distance learning courses, free art classes for children, trade programs for young adults, and much, much more. And with respect to ethics, President Franklin Roosevelt, and even more so his wife Eleanor and federal officials like Harry Hopkins and Harold Ickes were shining examples of a government of, by, and for the people. Though they weren't perfect people, and though they were limited by America's racism, plutocracy, and wartime fears, they made tremendous strides towards a more fair and inclusive society. 

Today, sadly, our political "leadership" has been corrupted by money, and much of the public has been rendered utterly clueless. This makes a new New Deal highly unlikely. Additionally, wealthy conservatives don't want another New Deal (since it would raise their taxes to enhance the common good); and our right-wing governments have no interest in an informed electorate; also, the middle-class & poor folks who do understand the value of another New Deal, and do understand the need for an education revolution, have been drained dry of resources and political representation - they simply can't make it happen.

It seems that there is only one group left to create a wide-scale public education initiative: wealthy liberals. Here again though, there are obstacles. Many wealthy liberals are loving all the tax cuts that the political right has delivered to them. Why promote public education? Why promote a new New Deal? Those things could put a dent in their finances. When's the last time you heard Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama call for a return to the tax rates of the 1930s-1950s?

Also, many wealthy liberals have cordoned themselves off from the public. They're hidden away in private compounds, insulated in guard-house-protected communities, sipping tea on private islands, or traveling the high seas on mega-yachts. They probably see the world around them crumbling but, God, life is great when you're bank account is overflowing! Why worry about public education and ethics when you can buy dresses worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, as Meghan Markle and Amal Clooney did? Who knows, maybe fascism won't be so bad for those living on Mt. Olympus... for those already looking down on us... for those criticizing Trump behind their rising stacks of money.

Further, many wealthy liberals don't seem to understand the causes of American rot. They're focusing their philanthropy on impeachment commercials, new tech gadgets for elementary schoolchildren, and STEM education. But, as I've written before, what good is an engineer who has no knowledge of history, no sense of civics, no empathy? What kind of citizen will he or she be?

We can either (a) have an education renaissance & rebellion, or (b) we can continue down the road of violence, mass incarceration, extreme income & wealth inequality, scapegoating minorities, and fascism.

Call me cynical, but I'm not holding my breath for Americans to choose option (a).

"We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. 'Necessitous men are not free men.' People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made... We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed. Among these are... The right to a good education."

--President Franklin Roosevelt, Second Bill of Right Speech, January 11, 1944. (FDR's words--though noble and accurate--have been flushed down the toilet by our modern, Ayn Rand-worshiping society.)

Friday, October 26, 2018

Republican trickle-down economics strikes again! Nearly two-thirds of Americans say their finances are stagnant or worse since Trump became president.

Above: "Illusions," a color etching by Vera Berdich (1915-2003), created while she was in the WPA, ca. 1935-1943. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The continuing failure of trickle-down economics

A recent survey indicates that 62% of Americans, nearly two-thirds, have seen little or no economic improvement since Donald Trump became president, thus disputing all the talk about a "hot economy" and an "economic miracle" - talk that spews forth daily from the Trump Administration, Trump Media (i.e., Fox News), Republicans, and neoliberal elites.

Not surprisingly, most upper-income groups have seen an improvement, while most lower-income groups have not. That's how trickle-down economics always works. Tax breaks are issued to high-earners, and then lower-income groups are told that it will benefit them greatly too. But it doesn't. That's why, "For most U.S. workers, real wages have barely budged in decades" (Pew Research Center, August 7, 2018).

Gutting the social safety net, to pay for the failure of trickle-down economics

Compounding the problem of little-or-no-economic-improvement, we know that Republicans will soon be attempting to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to pay for this year's tax-cuts-for-the-rich legislation (see, e.g., "Mitch McConnell calls for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid cuts after passing tax cuts, massive defense spending," Newsweek, October 16, 2018). Indeed, a large group of Republicans are already forcefully pushing for the Social Security and Medicare benefits age to be raised to 70.

Self-destructive voters... dragging the rest of us down with them

Here's the crazy thing: Tens of millions of middle & low-income Americans keep voting for this trickle-down garbage. They keep voting for Republicans who (a) hand out tax breaks to the rich and (b) try to gut programs that benefit the middle-class & poor. Or, just as bad, other millions of middle-class & poor Americans refuse to vote at all, thereby fueling the catastrophe of trickle-down economics just the same. Time after time, decade after decade we're seeing this - self-destructive voting, or no voting at all. It's like a mass economic death wish. And it's maddening to live through, because they're pulling the rest of us down with them. In my state, for example, DMV fees have almost doubled, to pay for road maintenance. Why? Because the federal government is reluctant to help more, thanks to their decades of tax cuts for the rich.

Thanks right-wingers. Thanks for vacuuming money out of my wallet, so that your precious millionaires & billionaires can get massive tax cuts, so that your precious millionaires & billionaires can pass more, more, and ever more money down to their idle, spoiled, and rotten children (estate tax cuts). Way to go. Smart move.

Yes, thanks to the blind adherence (or blind apathy) that tens of millions of middle-class & poor Americans have towards trickle-down economics, the rich get round after round of massive tax cuts at the federal level... and then the rest of us have to pay for it with regressive taxes, tolls, tuition, fees, fines, and utility rates. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy has highlighted, yet again, that "The vast majority of state tax systems are regressive, meaning lower-income people are taxed at higher rates than top-earning taxpayers" ("Who Pays? 6th Edition," October 2018, p. 3, emphasis added).

And here's another crazy thing: Tens of millions of Americans aren't paying any attention, at all, to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, just as their not paying any attention, at all, to the American Society of Civil Engineers, who have been telling us, for 20 years or so, that our infrastructure is crap (which is why American children are drinking lead). Instead, these tens of millions of people are just watching Fox News, or listening to the propaganda of Glenn Beck, Rush Limabaugh, and Sean Hannity.

The right-wing talking heads say, "Tax cuts for the rich are good for you," and the watchers and listeners simply nod their heads in agreement--as their wages stagnate and they fall deeper and deeper into debt--"Yes, tax breaks for the rich are good for me." Obi-Wan Kenobi, eat your heart out! Your Jedi mind tricks pale in comparison to the mind tricks of Fox, Beck, Limbaugh, and Hannity.

Lower-income groups, who know better, may have to start thinking about an exit plan, or face an old-age of poverty, sickness, and humiliation

If you value your financial and physical health, and you're not rich, you may want to start thinking about an exit plan - if not now, then at least for your retirement. Because the political right and their self-destructive followers are going to wipe out your wallet and wipe out your Social Security and Medicare. Where to go? I don't know. Learn to speak Norwegian perhaps? I've heard Costa Rica is a good place for American retirees who didn't have careers in high finance & fraud.

In his 1944 Second Bill of Rights speech, President Franklin Roosevelt promoted a "right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age." Earlier he had signed legislation creating Social Security, and also legislation protecting the right of unions to bargain for better pensions (among other worker benefits). But Americans, almost entirely unaware of their history, largely devoid of critical thinking skills, and just generally whacked out of their minds on right-wing propaganda, have completely ignored (or been oblivious to) FDR's advice.

And now they (and we) will pay the price.

"Based on current trends, we will soon be facing rates of elder poverty unseen since the Great Depression."

--MarketWatch, January 26, 2018

Monday, October 22, 2018

The rich will be the end of us

"Rich Americans live up to 15 years longer than poor peers, studies find"

--The Guardian, April 6, 2017

Above: "Little Man!," an etching by Edward Hagedorn (1902-1982), created while he was in the WPA, ca. 1935-1943. Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

The End of Us

Whether it's through their war or prison investments, the rich will be the end of us.

Whether it's through their fossil fuel industries or their health care rationing, the rich will be the end of us.

Whether it's by their toxins, like their cigarettes and their opioids, or by their resource & opportunity hoarding--leaving the rest of us clawing and bickering and hating in the economic void--the rich will be the end of us.

Whether it's by their political manipulations or their financial "innovations" (fraud!), the rich will be the end of us.

Whether it's through their tinpot dictator, their gerrymandered Congress, or their plutocratic, fascist, kangaroo court, the rich will be the end of us.

By their Goebbels Media, their soulless think tanks, and their selfish tax breaks, the rich will be the end of us.

In allegiance with their self-destructive disciples, whom they want nothing to do with, the rich will be the end of us.

Through their attention to policy and neglect of decency, the rich will be the end of us.

By their rapacious & insatiable gluttony--sowing the seeds of sadness, sickness, and suicide--the rich will be the end of us.

No virus, no parasite, no deadly plague... no flood, no fire, no Earth-shaking quake... can match the efficiency of the rich.

They will be the end of us.

"A new number one and a record-breaking year for America's richest people" while "Suicide rates rise sharply across the United States."

(Forbes, 10-3-2018, and The Washington Post, June 7, 2018)

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The death of the New Deal, the death of the American Dream, the death of economic opportunity. The greed of the super-wealthy is killing our youth.

"The suicide rate actually soared between 1929, when the stock market crashed, and 1932, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president... [but] we estimate that every $100 in New Deal spending per capita was associated with... a drop in suicides of 4 per 100,000 people."

--David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, "How Austerity Kills," New York Times, May 12, 2013 (note: "Austerity," in the modern sense, means tax cuts for the rich and cuts to wages and social programs that benefit the middle-class & poor. In other words, austerity is a national belt-tightening, but applied disproportionately, or even exclusively to lower-income groups.)

Above: "Death of an Idea," a lithograph by Grace Rivet Clements (1905-1969), created while she was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the University of Iowa Museum of Art.

Hope-destroyers disguised as job-creators

The super-wealthy have defrauded the American population. Casting themselves as "entrepreneurs," "innovators," and "job creators," they have, instead, sent jobs overseas, taken over the government with campaign and PAC donations, and shifted the revenue burden on to the heads of the middle-class & poor, in the form of regressive taxes, tolls, tuition, fees, fines, and utility rates at the state & local level. The rich have received decades of federal tax cuts, and we've paid for them.

In perhaps their most cold-blooded move of all, the super-wealthy fought for, and won, bankruptcy restrictions on lower-income groups in 2005. They've created a whole class of Americans "too broke to file for bankruptcy." This has had the effect of enslaving the poor to the rich, just as the rich have always wanted. I suppose it was inevitable that they'd find someway around emancipation and the 13th Amendment - an amendment that surely kept them up at night, in fits of rage. 

A gullible public buys the snake oil

The greedy & selfish actions of the super-wealthy have killed much of the New Deal, much of the American Dream, and most economic opportunity (see, e.g., "The shocking decline in American economic mobility," The Seattle Times, April 27, 2017). Simultaneously, Fox News made sure tens of millions of middle-class & poor Americans thought it was all to their benefit - even as their wages stagnated and their debt ballooned. With trigger words like, "God," "freedom," and "flag," and bogeymen like "Socialism," "immigrants," and "inner city youth," massive numbers of Americans have been duped into believing their economic downfall is their social liberation.

The neoliberal elite tell us the economy is great because the stock market is high and unemployment is low. But the stock market is irrelevant to most of us, and the jobs created are low-paid, benefit-deficient, soul-crushing, creativity-obliterating crap jobs.

The role of the super-wealthy in the death of our youth

In killing the New Deal, the American Dream, and economic opportunity, the super-wealthy are also killing young Americans. In New Hampshire, for example, "Youth suicide is a surging crisis," because teens and young adults are thinking, "I'm never going to go anywhere, I'm never going to get out of New Hampshire, there's no point in going to college. I'm just going to incur debt and it's not going to get me anywhere."

Youth suicide is also a problem in American Indian communities, where poverty and unemployment are perpetual problems. A leader of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (South Dakota) told Congress in 2015, "children carry the outlook that things may not get better for them."

Here are some other reports on youth suicide... highlighting our fine ol', God-fearin', "f&ck-everyone-but-me" form of capitalism.

"What’s behind the rise in youth suicides?" CBS News, November 21, 2017.

"Youth Suicidal Behavior Is on the Rise, Especially Among Girls," Wall Street Journal, May 25, 2018.

"Youth Suicide Linked With Economic Downturns," Journal of the American Medical Association, August 14, 2014.

"VA: Suicide rate for younger veterans increased by more than 10 percent," Military Times, September 26, 2018 (also see "Financial Instability: Suicide's Weapon of Choice," by Lieutenant Colonel Samuel R. Cook, U.S. Army Reserve, Army War College Strategy Research Project, March 2013).

"U.S. suicide rate on the rise, teens and young adults at greater risk... [factors include] "job problems and financial trouble... economic burdens...", Pekin Daily Times (Pekin, Illinois), September 24, 2018. 

Our Republican Congress, President Trump, and the super-wealthy don't care about our children dying from economically-driven despair

Unfortunately, and much like the problem of children drinking lead from crumbling infrastructure and plumbing, there is no sense of urgency in Congress to address the problem of youth suicide. Instead, Republican lawmakers are focused on cutting taxes for the rich (i.e., their donors) and cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid for the middle-class and poor. Surging youth suicide rates--frequently caused by financial distress--aren't even on their radar.

And when's the last time you heard Donald Trump talk about our national suicide crisis? Perhaps he's too busy telling the media, "I like money. I'm very greedy. I'm a greedy person. I shouldn't tell you that, I'm a greedy – I've always been greedy. I love money, right?"

I suspect that most super-wealthy Americans are quite aware of the social dysfunction they're creating by their wealth and opportunity hoarding. I also suspect they don't give a sh&t. And worse, through their political, media, and think tank puppets, they've convinced many of the rest of us not to give a sh&t either. We know (or maybe we don't, since we don't even know our own nation's history) what reduces suicide: Public investment in the common good (see quote at the beginning of this blog post). But we're so addicted to the ever-elusive possibility of becoming millionaires & billionaires, and so submissive to the directives of the super-wealthy, that we refuse to budge, even if it would save the lives of children, teens, and young adults. "No, no, no!" we collectively say, "I want money! The youth will have to fend for themselves! To hell with 'em!"

This sick phenomenon is the ultimate fulfillment of Ayn Rand's wish for us to be sociopaths, just like her. Congratulations America, you've done it. Never mind the bodies.

"I have moments of real terror when I think we might be losing this generation. We have got to bring these young people into the active life of the community and make them feel that they are necessary."

--Eleanor Roosevelt, in a statement that many Americans would now call "quaint," New York Times, 1934. Eleanor Roosevelt played a key role in the creation of the National Youth Administration (1935-1943), which provided jobs, paychecks, and training to millions of young men and women.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

It's started: The centrist elite have started to embrace Nikki Haley, a complete monster

"It is patently ridiculous for the United Nations to examine poverty in America."

--Nikki Haley, in a letter to Bernie Sanders, The Hill, June 22, 2018

"Most Americans Can't Afford A Minor Emergency"

--Huffington Post, January 29, 2018

"Homelessness in New York Public Schools Is at a Record High: 114,659 Students"

--New York Times, October 15, 2018

Above: "Sick Bed," a lithograph by Harold Anchel (1912-1980), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Did you know that the New Deal built hundreds of hospitals and clinics, and delivered immunizations and healthcare visits to low-income Americans? And did you know that Nikki Haley, as governor of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017, denied Medicaid coverage for a quarter of a million low-income Americans, which contributed to the closing of rural hospitals? Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Centrist praise for right-wing extremist Nikki Haley

Two nights ago, around 10:00pm, CNN hosts Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon were gushing over Nikki Haley, Trump's recently-resigned ambassador to the United Nations. They told us how Haley was liked by both the left and the right, how she stood up to the Trump Administration, and Lemon specifically told us how he had nothing but respect for her and how beautiful she looked at a recent event (an event where she was grooming herself for a presidential run).

Back in April, I wrote a blog post where I warned that liberal-minded folks might forget just how horrible of a person Nikki Haley is, especially in their wish to fulfill Hillary Clinton's proclamation that the "future is female." Well, it's starting to happen. You see, CNN, a bastion of centrist milquetoast liberalism, reflects the thinking of centrist, wealthy, elitist Americans. True, on social issues they're quite liberal... but on economic matters, CNN's wealthy executives, anchors, hosts, and advertisers want their tax cuts. They measure their fortune by the stock market; the wages of the lowly working class are a distant, hazy concern. That's why, every single day, they tell us how great the economy is... even as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us, month after month after month, that real earnings (wages compared to the cost of goods and services) are barely moving for most workers.

Haley's record of callousness and hypocrisy

Nikki Haley is not a wonderful person, she is a hideous monster. She has nothing but contempt for the poor. She refused Medicaid expansion when she was governor of South Carolina (even though the federal government would have paid most of the cost), leaving a quarter of a million people without health insurance and thus vulnerable to high medical bills, debt collectors, and bankruptcy or permanent insolvency (permanent insolvency is the state of perpetual debt slavery, thanks to super-wealthy Americans curtailing bankruptcy relief for the poor in 2005). And during the Great Recession, Haley was practically drooling to drug test the unemployed, stating, "I so want drug testing. I so want it." Yep, the financial shenanigans of the super-wealthy brought the Great Recession down upon our heads, and then the super-wealthy got bailed out with public money, but Haley wanted to drug test the unemployed to see what was "wrong" with them. What a despicable ghoul of a human being she is.

Nikki Haley is a former member of ALEC, a group that essentially denies climate change and thinks public policy should be geared towards making the rich richer. Haley has also enjoyed major funding from Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers, the poster children for far-right, fascist policies. And Haley is generally part of a movement that pooh poohs the idea of global warming and ignores the need for infrastructure improvements. When South Carolina was hit with historic flooding in 2015, then-Governor Haley didn't want to discuss her state's anemic infrastructure spending but did want plenty of federal money for the clean-up efforts. Typical Republican: Yelling for "limited government" until it's something they want or need.

Policy matters, genitals do not

A warning to liberal Americans: Do not judge a person by their genitals, judge them by their policies and track record. As I wrote before, the future should not be female, or male. It should be all of us working together for the common good. Haley may look elegant in a dress. She may seem awesome compared to Trump. But she is horrible. She worships the rich and frowns upon those who struggle, which is exactly what we don't need in this new, ruthless, and fascist gilded age. We need an Eleanor Roosevelt type of person, not a woman disguised as a diplomatic, level-headed, reach-across-the-aisle sort of gal.

Don't fall for Nikki Haley's calm, bi-partisan masquerade.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The New Deal Around DC: Jacob Baker's apartment

Above: Jacob Baker (1895-1967), at a theatre house in Washington, DC, December 1, 1936. Baker was an important administrator in the work & construction programs of the New Deal, especially with projects involving plays, music, writing, and art. He wrote in the New York Times: "It has been recognized that when an artist or musician is hungry he is just as hungry as a bricklayer and has the same right as a bricklayer has to be employed at his own trade. For the first time in our history, our government has become a patron of the arts, officially and quite unashamed" (November 11, 1934). Read Jacob Baker's biography on the website of the Living New Deal. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: According to the "New Deal Washington Walking Tour Guide" (Humanities Council of Washington, DC, 2009), Jacob Baker lived in apartment 903 at the "Park Central Apartments," 1900 F Street, NW (above). The building is now the "Mabel Nelson Thurston Hall," George Washington University. Photo by Brent McKee, September 2018.

Above: A closer look at the front of the building. The walking tour guide (see previous caption) notes "the fine Art Deco details over the front entrance of this building, constructed in 1930." Photo by Brent McKee, September 2018.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The New Deal Around DC: The White House and Executive Avenue

Above: Long before the White House became a den of corruption, deceit, and incompetence, and long before it became a branch office of Corporate America, it was the epicenter of profound and positive changes in America. With FDR in the White House, the New Deal created policies and programs that still benefit the middle-class & poor today, for example, Social Security to help senior citizens; unemployment insurance to help those who are laid-off; PWA and WPA projects to modernize our infrastructure; the CCC to create or improve state parks; the SEC to police stock market fraud; protections for unions; and much, much more. Photo by Brent McKee, September 2018.

Above: Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) boys removing snow from the White House area. The CCC provided jobs, paychecks, a strong work ethic, and the ability to get along well with others, to many young American men from 1933-1942. Photo by the Associated Press, scanned from personal copy, used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

Above: Past all the fences, trees, and shrubs, you can just barely see the White House's West Wing Executive Office Building. Much or all of this building was created with funding from the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA). Photo by Brent McKee, September 2018.

Above: The description for this photograph reads, "Enlarging the Executive Offices of the White House, Washington, DC. This work is being done with PWA funds." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Men working on the West Wing Executive Office Building, ca. 1933-1940. The PWA facilitated well-paid work for millions of Americans, on projects that still benefit us today. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: "A picture of the completed addition to the White House." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A view of the White House, from the south. Photo by Brent McKee, September 2018.

Above: Today, with all the threatening signs, Jersey barriers, fences, and heavily-armed law enforcement personnel and vehicles, the White House more closely resembles a military compound. It has a very uninviting, "stay away" feel to it. This is the price we pay (fear and paranoia) for starting military adventures all across the globe, and also for creating an angry and despondent citizenry. Our plutocratic government is now always looking over its shoulder for the next attack. Photo by Brent McKee, September 2018.

Above: The description for this photograph reads: "West Executive Avenue is re-surfaced in Washington, DC. The White House is in the background." This was either a PWA or (perhaps more likely) a WPA project, and the photo appears to have been taken before work began on the West Wing Executive Offices. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: West Executive Avenue today - closely guarded, public not allowed. Notice the Washington Monument in the background. Photo by Brent McKee, September 2018.

Above: Public architecture was much more important to our ancestors than it is to us. Heck, even street lights and lamp posts were very decorative back in the day. Today, with almost everything, we go with cheap and ugly. I'm convinced that when our current era is looked back upon, by historians and future generations, they will find us to be completely boring and unremarkable. Glued to our televisions and iPhones, and addicted to giving repeated tax breaks to people who don't need them, we are creating a shallow, forgettable legacy. If future Americans have any sense to them, any spirit, they'll smash down most of the buildings, bridges, and other eyesores that were made between about 1980 and today, and start anew. They'll build things that are inspiring and grand instead. Photo by Brent McKee, September 2018.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

New Deal Art: "The Washington Monument as Seen from the Pan American Union"

Above: "The Washington Monument as Seen from the Pan American Union," an oil painting by Mary P. E. Saltzman (1878-1974?), created while she was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, 1933. I couldn't find much information on Saltzman on the Internet, but it seems likely that she is the Mary Peyton Eskridge Saltzman who died in 1974, and lies at rest at Arlington National Cemetery with her husband Charles McKinley Saltzman (1871-1942). Charles was a major general in the U.S. Army. The couple seems to have had at least one child, Charles E. Saltzman, who also ended up being a general in the U.S. Army. The younger Charles had three children, so it's possible, if all of this information is accurate, that Mary P. E. Saltzman has grandchildren and great-grandchildren living today. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The right-wing "economic miracle" continues... in the form of more stagnant paychecks

Above: "'Receiving Paycheques,' 3,000 men building a reservoir, near Balboa Park, San Francisco, CWA projects - December 1933." This is a watercolor on paper by David Park (1911-1960), created while he was either in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project or the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1933-1935. Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

The latest Real Earnings Summary (earnings compared to the cost of goods and services), from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, came out today and it shows continued paycheck stagnation for most American workers. For example, "From September 2017 to September 2018, real average hourly earnings increased 0.4 percent" for production and nonsupervisory employees. (Also see, "For most U.S. workers, real wages have barely budged in decades," Pew Research Center, August 7, 2018). 

Wow! What are you going to do with your extra 0.4%?? A two-week vacation to the Figi Islands?? I'm going to buy a Porsche... either a 935 or a 718 Cayman... I haven't decided yet. Or, maybe I'll just retire early. Heck, with just one week of that 0.4%, I'll be ready to ditch the rat race and live the rest of my life in the lap of luxury.

Yep, the super-wealthy got trillions of tax cuts earlier this year... and we get a 0.4% extra value added to our hourly earnings. That's the political right's trickle-down "economic miracle." Forgive me if I'm not dancing in the street. And somehow, I don't think that 0.4% "miracle" is going to make a dent in the record debt load that Americans are suffocating under.

In any event... just shut down your mind, follow Fox News, and repeat after me: "The economy is great, the economy is great, more tax cuts for the rich, more tax cuts for the rich, debt is good for me, debt is good for me..."

Good... good... you see? Just close your eyes and dream, and everything will be fine...

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

A tax cheat nominates a liar to the Supreme Court, to persecute the middle-class & poor... and millions of middle-class & poor Americans cheer it on

Above: Part of a lithograph by Elizabeth Olds (1896-1991), called "The Middle Class," created during her time in the WPA's Federal Art Project (though not necessarily under the auspices of the WPA), ca. 1939. There's a lot going on in this scene, but you can see the rich sneaking off with bags of money while the masses are distracted by a fascist carnival barker. Look familiar? Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The silver-spooner is exposed

The New York Times has revealed (as if we didn't know it already) that Donald Trump is not a self-made man, and that he and others in his family have engaged in all sorts of tax avoidance and tax evasion. No wonder he wants his (more recent) tax returns kept secret!

All sorts of spin and obfuscation is going to be employed to cloud the findings of the New York Times investigation. Fox News, the Trump Administration, and Trump-Puppets across the nation will say it's a liberal conspiracy; they'll say that everything was legal and that people don't understand the difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion; and perhaps they'll even say that the victimized and struggling rich are taxed too much anyway... so, "good for him." And the IRS, after having its investigation abilities crippled by Republicans, is probably too powerless, pathetic, and uninterested to do anything about it.

Trump supporters don't care... even as more and more money is vacuumed from their wallets

As I've noted before, when the rich avoid or evade taxes, or have their taxes cut (as the political right has done for them time and time again), the revenue burden is shifted down towards the middle-class & poor, in the form of higher taxes, tolls, fees, fines, and utility rates at the state & local level. For example, higher property taxes, more toll roads, increased DMV fees, more aggressive law enforcement for parking & traffic violations, and ever-rising water bills.

When the federal government reduces taxes on the rich, the federal government becomes less willing & able to help states with infrastructure, education, and healthcare. This is why our water lines are breaking, our college graduates are mired in debt, and Americans are under constant threat of medical bankruptcy. So, not only do the middle-class & poor have to pay more to the public coffers, they must also pay more for things like car repairs, tuition, and health insurance.

Lack of critical thinking skills = self-destruction

Here's the key issue though, regarding tax avoidance & tax evasion by the rich: Tens of millions of Americans do not have the critical thinking skills to connect the dots of their misery. This was perfectly summed up by Trump-Puppet Kellyanne Conway. With respect to Trump's refusal to release his tax returns, she said: "We litigated this all through the election. People didn't care. They voted for him, and let me make this very clear: Most Americans are very focused on what their tax returns will look like while President Trump is in office, not what his look like" (emphasis added).

Conway is right, and it clearly shows that tens of millions of Americans do not understand the relationship between taxation on the rich and taxation on themselves; and that they do not understand how less federal revenue & spending equals more out-of-pocket costs for themselves. 

Tens of millions of Americans have been hoodwinked by the fraud of trickle-down economics. They continue to cling to the idiotic belief that the more we coddle the rich the better it is for the rest of us, even as their paychecks remain stagnant (for decades), even as they slide deeper and deeper into debt, and even as they become more depressed and suicidal.

And so now we have a situation where a tax cheat leads the nation, and has nominated a habitual liar to the Supreme Court (Brett "The Fibbing Frat Boy" Kavanaugh), to tell the middle-class & poor how to live their lives. And tens of millions of middle-class & poor Americans are cheering this insanity on, flapping their flippers to their own demise.

We are a lost people 

America is a lost and deeply disturbed nation. The rich have hoarded all the wealth and opportunity, and the masses can't critically think themselves out of a paper bag. And most wealthy liberals, by the way, aren't doing a damn thing about it. This country needs a wide-scale and well-funded Education Renaissance, to develop, among other things, the critical thinking skills of the masses, so they can understand how decades of neoliberal economic policies have devastated their lives. Instead, wealthy liberals are simply criticizing Trump from the safety of their private compounds, elitist communities, private islands, and seafaring yachts. Look at Barack Obama. Yes, he's become increasingly critical of Trump, but he's also "spending a lot of time goofing off with billionaire friends, writing a [lucrative] book, creating [lucrative] TV shows, and collecting vast sums in buckraking speeches" ("What on Earth Is Obama Doing?" Common Dreams, August 28, 2018).

Perhaps the worst part of all of this madness & bull$hit, is that the intellectually drowning masses are pulling the rest of us down with them. They're backing liars, ignoring climate science, and making the rest of us broke, indebted, and miserable.

The New York Times, and others, have shown Donald Trump to be a liar and a fraud. It doesn't matter though. Too many millions of Americans have been trained--by endless years propaganda and mythology about the "American Dream"--to turn off their brains and kneel before the rich... even when the rich engage in fraud and crime.

Fascism, ignorance, obeisance and apathy. This will be America's epitaph.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Senate Republicans, and Trump and his base, are directing the highly secretive FBI investigation into Kavanaugh. What could possibly go wrong?

Above: Part of "Justice Defeated," a mural in the Department of Justice Building in Washington, DC, created by Leon Kroll, while commissioned by the New Deal's Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture, 1935. Notice the hand over the woman's mouth and justice intentionally looking away. Look familiar? Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and Carol M. Highsmith.

The FBI investigation into Kavanaugh is being manipulated by his supporters

Yesterday, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that "Senate Republicans are going to lay out and dictate those terms" of the supplemental FBI investigation into Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

And a CNN report this morning indicates that President Trump, White House counsel Don McGahn, and Senate Republicans are conspiring to make the investigation "as narrow as possible," despite what they're telling the public about a good-faith investigation.

We also know that the majority of Republicans don't believe the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh; and further, even if the allegations are true, they believe it's not so bad to keep Kavanaugh off the highest court in the land. Yep, you heard right. Even if Kavanaugh attempted to rape a woman, they feel he should be confirmed anyway, as soon as possible, so he can begin to write case law that the rest of us are expected to read, then kneel down, bow our heads, and obey. This is what America has devolved into. A mass, willful, even gleeful submission to a man who likely attempted to rape a woman... and probably committed a whole bunch of other sexually inappropriate deeds during his alcohol-dazed time in high school and college. (See, "55% of GOP Say Sexual Assault Not Disqualifying for SCOTUS; What Is Wrong With Them?," Common Dreams, September 30, 2018).

And the people who aren't disturbed too much by an alleged or actual attempted rape (or Kavanaugh's ever-growing list of perjuries before Congress) are pressuring their Republican representatives to rush the FBI's investigation and jam Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court, so he can start rubber-stamping right-wing, extremist, and evangelical policies.

In sum, the very people who support Kavanaugh, and don't care about the alleged or actual sexual assaults in his past, are directing, manipulating, and hamstringing the FBI's investigation into the accusations against him. My God are we a lost people.

An artificially limited time-frame and a secretive FBI report that we won't be allowed to see

As if all of the above were not bad enough, the investigation will only last a week - and, excuse me, but I don't care what anybody says, even a law enforcement body as big as the FBI cannot adequately investigate all the current credible allegations against Kavanaugh in a week's time.

To pour salt into the wound, the FBI's report will first go to the White House (where perhaps some parts of it will be blacked out... just for "national security concerns" of course), and then forwarded to the Senate for a confidential, non-public review. Yes, even though this right-wing hack will be making judicial political decisions that affect all of us, we're not allowed to see the FBI's report. By the time we do see the report, if ever, Kavanaugh will be on the bench, laughing at us, and saying, "My oh my, are you liberal a$$holes going to get it now! You think you can mess with my family and get away with it?? You have no idea, no idea, what I'm about to do to you."

Plutocracy will facilitate this madness... our Constitution is much too weak to stop it

What we are witnessing today, is perhaps the greatest cover-up of the truth, the greatest obstruction of justice and morality in modern American history. It's happening, right now, before your very eyes. And, because we live in a plutocracy, there's likely nothing at all we can do about it. We can protest all we want (and protest is important), and they'll simply turn away and do it anyway. Just watch it happen. Because, here's the thing: The Founding Fathers were good, perhaps even brilliant... but they simply couldn't foresee or prepare us for Donald Trump and the Republican Party's embrace of fascism. Our Constitution can't handle it. All it's weaknesses, loopholes, and omissions are being laid bare (and exploited) by right-wing extremists.

Only hope left

Impeach Kavanaugh, or pack the court, or abolish the court, or disobey the court. Because the alternative is a court that will prematurely kill you, by dismantling the Affordable Care Act (bye bye folks with pre-existing conditions, you're back at the mercy of sociopath CEOs and shareholders), and perhaps even dismantling Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, by declaring them unconstitutional exercises of legislative power. And if you think they can't do it, you probably also thought Trump couldn't win the White House. And if you think they wouldn't do it, you probably also didn't think that America would separate migrant children from their parents (in some cases, we're coming to understand, permanently) as a method of deterrence. 

Underestimate the cold-blooded nature of these people at your own peril.