Thursday, November 29, 2018

Suicide rates soar again. Blame America's trickle-down death machine.

Above: Part of "Contemporary Justice & Child," a mural in the Department of Justice Building in Washington, DC, created by Symeon Shimin (1902-1984) while he was in the New Deal's Section of Fine Arts, 1940. The misery that American children endured in the early part of the 20th century has come back, although in different forms and for different reasons. For example, suicide rates have increased not only for adults, but for children and teens too. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and Carol M. Highsmith.

Americans keep killing themselves, and in ever greater numbers

Today we learned that the suicide rate in America has increased again, and this time more dramatically than usual - rising to 14 suicides per 100,000 people in 2017, up from 13.5 in 2016.  In raw numbers, we lost 47,173 last year, up from 44,965 in 2016 (see chart below). Every day now, about 129 people kill themselves. At the end of a typical week, 900 Americans have committed suicide.

People kill themselves for all sorts of reasons, but we know that financial struggles, for example, debt, low wages, and unemployment, are significant factors in the overall suicide rate (see various reports online, from universities, government agencies, and advocacy groups). Even child suicide rates are affected by financial turmoil, as I've highlighted in previous blog posts.

And it's not only suicide rates that have consistently increased, but also depression, anxiety, and deaths of despair (for example, from alcohol-induced liver disease). 

Above: The suicide rate in America soared last year, as it has almost every year. Chart from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

As the wealth of millionaires & billionaires goes up, so do the suicides of the middle-class & poor. Not just a positive correlation, but a causal relationship too. Yes my friend, a zero-sum world.

Two other things have risen alongside suicide: The wealth of billionaires, and bank profits. Do you think it's a mere coincidence? Well then, I have some land on Mars I'd like to sell you.

We live in a zero-sum world, economic blathering notwithstanding. In a world of limited resources, the more wealth that millionaires & billionaires hoard--and boy oh boy have they been hoarding it--the less there is for everyone else. This has devastating consequences.

Of course, many people deny the zero-sum reality. They'll snort & grunt about economic growth, jibber-jabber about a rising tide that lifts all boats, and babble about transactions that make all parties happy, and so on and so on - anything to get you to look away from the carnage of America's blood-thirsty, winner-take-all capitalism.

Far too many of us fall for it, thus allowing suicides to rise and rise and rise.

Above: "Women of Flint," a painting by Jospeh Vavak (1891-1969), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Despair affects everyone. For example, a man who commits suicide leaves behind a grieving mother. A woman who commits suicide leaves behind a grieving brother. A parent who commits suicide leaves behind a grieving child. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Men kill themselves more often, women try more often

What happens when a man doesn't earn much money, as is so often the case in our rigged economy?

Clinical psychologist Vinita Mehta informs us that "research shows that when it comes to short-term dating, both women and men emphasize good looks. But when it comes to long-term dating, women tend to prefer men with a healthy income and high status" ("Are Women Shallow? A woman's desire for a wealthy man may have an evolutionary basis," Psychology Today, July 19, 2012). And Princeton University researchers Anne Case and Angus Deaton report that "many more men are finding themselves in a much more hostile labor market with lower wages, lower quality and less permanent jobs. That's made it harder for them to get married. They don't get to know their own kids. There's a lot of social dysfunction building up over time. There's a sense that these people have lost this sense of status and belonging. And these are classic preconditions for suicide" ("The Forces Driving Middle-Aged White People's 'Deaths Of Despair'," NPR, March 23, 2017).

In other words: Men are still expected to be breadwinners; they're increasingly unable to fulfill that role; so they're rejected; they're depressed; they're lonely; they're suicidal; they're called "losers"; and, increasingly, they're dead.  

But if you think women have it easy in our economically and socially-rigged world (where their unrealistic role is to be pretty & sexy 100% the time), know that "Suicide ranks as the number one cause of mortality in young girls between the ages 15 and 19 years globally [and] One of the most consistent findings in suicide research is that women make more suicide attempts than men" [though "men are more likely to die in their attempts than women"] (Lakshmi Vijayakumar, "Suicide in Women," Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 2015, on the website of the U.S. National Institutes of Health).

In the United States specifically, suicide rates have been rising more sharply for women (a rate change of over 50% since 1999) than for men, but women still have a long way to go in terms of raw numbers and overall frequency. The pile of dead men is still much higher. But, if we continue down the road of fascism, plutocracy, depression, anxiety, stress, and the like, I'm sure women will continue to make great suicidal "progress."

Why don't we stop all this madness? Why don't we create a new & even better New Deal for men, for women, for children? Social scientist David Stuckler and epidemiologist Sanjay Basu have concluded that "every $100 in New Deal spending per capita was associated with a... drop in suicides of 4 per 100,000 people" ("How Austerity Kills," New York Times, May 12, 2013).

Do you want to know why we don't create another New Deal? Because we're stuck in this insane cycle of voting for politicians who reward their rich donors with massive tax cuts, thereby undercutting the common good and making life more miserable for the rest of us. How pathetic is that?

Expect 50,000 suicides for 2018. After all, we've done nothing to stop it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Innovating us to salvation?

Above: "Wisdom," a linocut 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.

Happy-words to keep us dumb & struggling

Ever since the Great Recession, and all during the (ongoing) Great Stagnant Wage "Recovery," I have noticed that the political, financial, media, and tech elites have relied more and more on a handful of happy-words to keep us submissive & stupid, for example, "entrepreneurship," "audacity," "hope & change," "I'm with her," "Make America Great Again" and, my all time favorite, "Innovation!" And, of course, "Job Creators" is probably the most prolific idiot-producing word in the history of mankind. Even the great Roman Empire probably had nothing as awesomely pacifying as "Job Creators!"

In fact, the powers-that-be aren't really doing anything serious about today's problems, they're just blabbering. 

In response to the recent federal report about the devastating impacts of global heating, one Republican congressman said, "I think if we're going to move away from fossil fuels, it's got to be done through innovation." And another said we need to "participate in a long-term conversation about how you get to innovation" ("GOP Shrugs Off Bombshell Climate Report," Huffington Post, November 25, 2018).

But here's the truth: "Innovation" is code for: "What is the best way to keep shareholders wealthy, workers underpaid, and the electorate ignorant?"

Above: The interplay between the elite, their pain-relieving happy-words, and the electorate, reminds me of a circus; and, in case you're wondering, the clown above represents us, the electorate. Image courtesy of George Mason University, used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.

Are we pea-brains now?

Professor Elisabetta Matelli of Catholic University, Milan, recently said that "our contemporary culture has somehow lowered the level of wisdom, so all we require is for someone popular to say a phrase that's catchy and lots of people will repeat it." And Professor Sophia McClennen of Penn State University has argued that in America "we have collectively lost our ability to process information and make good judgments. To be truly stupid, you need to have poor reasoning skills. So our problem isn't just that we have lies substituted for facts; it is that we don't even know how to process information anymore."

Hmmm, yes, that is what we have today alright - catchy phrases thrown on top of a citizenry that can no longer handle anything more complex. The electorate gets scared or angry and someone popular says, "Innovation!", and the electorate calms down for a little bit. Then the electorate gets scared or angry again, and someone says, "Lock her up! Make America Great Again!" and they are soothed once more.

The "New Deal" was a catchy phrase too, but as Professor Matelli points out, "slogans used to be used to heighten speech and tie together an argument with a persuasive punch" (see paraphrase in hyperlinked article above). Also, President Franklin Roosevelt explained his policies to the public, in great detail, during his many Fireside Chats. The New Deal was a creation & collection of many different policies for the benefit of the people, and the people understood. The New Deal was more than just "Innovation!" - it was Social Security; it was unemployment insurance; it was insurance for our bank deposits; it was infrastructure modernization; it was tens of thousands of new artworks in public places; it was millions employed by the WPA and the CCC; it was job training & paychecks for millions of young men & women in the National Youth Administration; it was real and it was productive

We couldn't have Fireside Chats today, because our "leaders" have little-or-nothing useful to say; and even if they did, we wouldn't understand them. We can only analyze cute, short little phrases now, nothing too taxing. Yes, just a tweet please. Our shrunken heads can handle no more. A Fireside Chat today would be mistaken for an alien transmission, "Oh my God! We've finally been contacted!!"  

Instead, today, we rely on our regular injections of happy-words, like "Innovation!", and also happy binky-books like "Becoming" and "The Audacity of Hope" - books to bring millions in cash to the authors and a little narcotic-high for the rest of us, just enough to dull the pain of the next medical bill, pink slip, or harassing collection call. Yes, today we're happy-word junkies - "Please, please, just say 'innovation' for me one... more... time!"

Back during the FDR era, they had a New--real & tangible--Deal. In other words, jobs, bridges, airports, post office murals, protected forests, new state parks, new hospitals, new schools, higher wages, etc., and they had a government that didn't hide and obfuscate behind happy-words and binky-books.

I envy FDR's electorate.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Not so long ago, we weren't so fat

Above: A swim class at Grant Union High School in Sacramento, California, ca. 1933-1941. Both the high school and swimming pool were constructed with funds from the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA). Contrary to the fit bodies you see above, it was recently reported that "childhood obesity, now at epidemic levels in the United States, may affect school performance and coping skills for challenging situations" (Science Daily, November 2, 2018, emphasis added). Today, things like gym and recess are frequently pooh-poohed, so that kids can spend more time in technology and math classes. After all, super-wealthy CEOs and shareholders will soon require a new generation of automatons - fat or fit, doesn't matter to them. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Folk dancing in Attala County, Mississippi, ca. 1935-1943, put together by the WPA's recreation program. Today, the American Medical Association reports that "The nation's obesity rate is approaching 40 percent after holding around 34–35 percent between 2005 and 2012... No state has had a statistically significant drop in its obesity rate in the past five years." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: An archery project in Grand Rapids, Michigan, ca. 1935-1943, supported by the WPA's recreation program. In modern America, we are often told that we should be more accepting of fat bodies. Though I understand the sentiment, and though it's certainly not right to body-shame people, I sometimes wonder if "fat acceptance" is simply submitting to Corporate America's demand that we work so hard and so long--mostly for the benefit of idle millionaires & billionaires--that we have no time or energy left to keep ourselves in shape. Also, is fat acceptance healthy? Obesity has been linked to a wide array of health problems - health problems that, just coincidentally of course, Corporate America cashes in on with overpriced prescription medicines. Here's the dirty little secret: Corporate America wants us fat and unhealthy. It's very profitable. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A woman enjoys a WPA-built ski facility in Bridgton, Maine, ca. 1935-1943. In his 1944 Second Bill of Rights speech, President Roosevelt said that every American should have the right "to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A WPA poster, advertising a WPA-sponsored hiking event. In the Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-1943 (1947), we are told that the WPA sought "year-round operation of a varied and well-balanced recreation program, including social, cultural, and physical activities, for adults as well as young people." The WPA not only sponsored and supervised recreational activities, but also built thousands of recreational facilities, for example, tennis courts, handball courts, swimming pools, baseball fields, golf courses, ice skating rinks, ski trails, and much more. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Today, Americans need a New Deal for their bodies - more exercise, more recreation, and more moving around. Corporate America has us overworked, and also doped-up on sedentary tech activities. Our minds and our bodies are suffering as a result. We're getting fatter and more depressed, and our life expectancy is dropping

Will we get a New Deal for our bodies? Of course not. Now get to job #1, then get to job #2, eat a quick hamburger when you get home, pass out from exhaustion, and then wake up in the morning and do it all over again. The idle millionaires & billionaires are relying on you.

Friday, November 23, 2018

All across America, we're still drinking lead for the rich

Above: A worker on a water main project in Torrance, California, funded by the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA), ca. 1933-1940. During the New Deal there were massive efforts to improve America's drinking water, for example, hundreds of new water treatment plants, tens of thousands of miles of new water mains, and hundreds of thousands of new water connections for consumers. But today? Well, for the most part, we just give tax breaks to the rich and hope for the best. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

A broken people

Over the past month or so, a lot of reports have come out about lead-contaminated drinking water in homes, elementary schools, and other places. Reports have come from New Orleans; Charlotte, North Carolina (where one cafeteria drinking fountain tested at 658 parts per billion, well above the EPA's recommended limit of 15 ppb); Newark, New Jersey; San Diego; and Baltimore; to name just a few.

Isn't it amazing that we're still dealing with this problem, 4 years after the debacle in Flint, Michigan (see, "In echo of Flint, Mich., water crisis now hits Newark," New York Times, October 30, 2018). Isn't it amazing that millions of American children have been drinking lead, a dangerous neurotoxin, for so long and still there is no national sense of urgency to replace all of the nation's leaded water mains, connection lines, and plumbing?

Why is this? Why would we have such a laissez-faire attitude toward the health of our children? Answer: Because, collectively, we are so submissive to the super-wealthy, and so hoodwinked by trickle-down economics, that we'd rather give more tax cuts to the rich than fund infrastructure needs. Need proof? Simple: Tax-cuts-for-the-rich legislation was created and passed, and wide-scale federal infrastructure legislation is nowhere to be seen. Thus, old water pipes are "being replaced at an average rate of 0.5% percent a year - at that pace it would take roughly two centuries to renew the whole system" ("Lead in America's water systems is a national problem," CBS News, November 21, 2018).

Americans are a broken people. They're letting their planet heat up (risking wide-scale devastation); letting wildfires run amok; letting their children drink lead and other contaminants; letting themselves get buried in debt; letting their wages stagnate or drop; letting their healthcare get kicked around as a political football; watching their neighbors kill themselves in ever-increasing rates; watching as their life expectancy drops; letting their Social Security and Medicare get constantly attacked by right-wingers funded by greedy, mean-spirited billionaires; but still, STILL, showering the super-wealthy with more and more tax cuts - still watching the super-wealthy enjoy greater and greater wealth, and enjoying all manner of vanity and luxury... while their own lives deteriorate. Yes, they willfully vote for politicians who give round after round of tax cuts to the rich, or they don't vote at all, facilitating those tax cuts just the same. 

As I said, a broken people.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

As Republicans try to pump more filth into the atmosphere, and help Kim Kardashian buy a private fire department, and threaten to cut off federal aid to the public, they tell "radicals" and "sinners" in California to rake more leaves

Above: "Dry Trees," a block print by Manville Chapman (1903-1978), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1938. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the New Mexico Museum of Art.

Private fire departments for the rich & famous, leaf rakes for the middle-class & poor

In response to the deadly wildfires in California, the Trump Administration has blamed "radical environmentalists" and a "gross mismanagement of the forests"... and it's also threatened to cut off federal assistance. And a high-ranking Republican official in Ohio blamed taxes, regulations, and the liberal sinners of California for stirring up God's wildfire wrath. Still, President Trump did offer some helpful advice: He recommended that Californians start raking leaves more often (Trump must have a lot of shares in the yard & garden tool industry). 

A year ago, the Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans handed out massive tax breaks to the rich & famous - tax breaks that helped millionaires & billionaires purchase private fire departments (offered through high-end insurance policies). Yes, the rich & famous, like Kim Kardashian, get private firefighters... who apparently are trained to ignore human suffering in order to hurry up and get to the next mansion (see this Wall Street Journal video, starting at 4:09); but unfortunately, Californians without deep pockets must make do with public fire departments that are short on crews and equipment (see, e.g., here, here, here, here, and here), or perhaps they'll only be assisted by inmate firefighters who earn $1 per hour

To add fuel to the wildfire, the Trump Administration is consistently trying to weaken greenhouse gas emission rules (see, e.g., here, here, here, here, and here), in order to spew more pollution into the atmosphere - even though we're already experiencing (among other things) record levels of CO2. In other words, they want to heat the planet faster. I guess the Trump Administration's next move will be to pour melted lead into water mains, to address the problem of lead in drinking water. Makes perfect sense, right?

Above: "Fighting Forest Fire," a mural by Ernest Fiene (1894-1965), located in the Department of Interior Building, Washington, DC, created while he was in the New Deal's Section of Fine Arts, ca. 1938-1940. During the New Deal, the CCC, WPA, and other work programs engaged in large and successful projects to curtail wildfires. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress and Carol M. Highsmith.

The deterioration of the common good, the deterioration of our minds

From about 1933 to 1980, New Deal public policy was the overarching set of government principles we followed, and we were making steady, albeit bumpy progress. From 1981 to 2016, the New Deal was replaced with fascism and plutocracy (a.k.a. neoliberalism). Wages ceased to grow, prisons filled up, debt was piled onto college students, infrastructure fell apart, suicide rates spiked, wildfires grew larger and more deadly, etc., etc., etc., but the rich became "wealthier than ever" ("Inside The 2016 Forbes 400: Facts And Figures About America's Richest People," Forbes, October 4, 2016). And from 2017 to the present, batsh&t crazy right-wing extremism has reigned supreme; and the super-wealthy have fed off this insanity to create even more wealth for their exclusive enjoyment. And thus, we now have political leaders who cry out, with crazed eyes, disheveled hair, and a foaming mouth: "The liberal sinners of California have conjured up the wildfires of Hell!!!"

Even worse, much the of the American public has rolled over and submitted, too busy texting & twittering to worry about the fate of their forests & finances. 

Yep, New Deal to fascism to batsh&t crazy. God help us, what's next? What new and more dysfunctional form of government will Tea Partiers and milquetoast liberals create during the next decade?

Friday, November 16, 2018

Bay Area residents breathe in the toxic smoke of trickle-down economics

Above: "New Species," 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.

Relax, close your eyes, focus on something pleasant... and then take a deep breath of those burned-up shrubs, branches, furniture, wires, tires, and dashboards

More and more frequently, residents of the Bay Area of California (San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Napa, San Jose, etc.) are breathing in the toxic smoke of wildfires. In a new article on Salon and Alternet--"Californians are now lab rats for the long-term effects of toxic wildfire smoke"--we learn that "the long-term effects of exposure to this kind of dense smoke--a mix of burned matter from trees, grasses, houses and cars--remain unclear."

Hmmm, it may be unclear, but I'm pretty sure that breathing in someone's burned-up sofa isn't very good for you. And the American Lung Association tells us, "Wildfire smoke can be extremely harmful to the lungs" ("How wildfires affect our health," January 2, 2016).

But why so many wildfires, and why so much toxic air? Answer: Our old friend, Mr. Trickle-Down Economics.

Trickle-down economics leads to a hotter, polluted environment

Trickle-down economics dictates that everything in society be geared towards making the wealthy wealthier. Not just round after round of tax cuts--which allows the rich to purchase private firefighters (while the rest of us don't have enough revenue to adequately maintain our forests and other natural areas)--but also an obedience to the investment and deregulation wishes of the wealthy. If the uber-rich want to invest heavily in fossil fuels, and want to send even more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, well, we'll do our best to accommodate them, our lungs be damned (see, e.g., "Trump Administration Wants to Make It Easier to Release Methane Into Air," New York Times, September 10, 2018).

Also, trickle-down economics, when mixed with our current system of political contributions, ensures that the wealthy have plenty of money to buy politicians who will maintain the status quo of fossil fuel dominance, extreme income & wealth inequality, and a dysfunctional federal government.

So today, Bay Area residents are breathing in toxic smoke, just like many residents of China and India are. But it won't be long before the rest of us join them. But don't worry, the uber-rich will be okay. Once they destroy the United States with their greed and contempt for the common good, they'll fly off to places like New Zealand, where they'll be working night and day to destroy those societies too. New Zealanders: Kiss your forests goodbye and have your air masks ready - the billionaires are coming. (See, "The Super Rich of Silicon Valley Have a Doomsday Escape Plan," Bloomberg, September 5, 2018).

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The continuing saga of Trump's economic "miracle": Real wages drop

Above: "Daedelus & Icarus," a screenprint by Mildred Waltrip (1911-2004), created while she was in the WPA, 1941. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

-0.1... +0.5... time to celebrate?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics came out with their latest "Real Earnings Summary" today, and it shows that American workers experienced a drop in hourly real wages (wages compared to the cost of goods and services), of 0.1% from September to October. And for production and nonsupervisory employees, their weekly earnings are down too.

But there is some good news: Hourly real wages, for most workers, are up 0.5% from October 2017 to October 2018. That means, essentially (it's a little complicated), if you were making $20 per hour this time last year, you're now making $20.10.

oh my god... Oh My God... OH MY GOD! I just had a financial orgasm! 10 cents!!! Woo hoo! Dance like you've never danced before!

Above: With their one-half of one percent real hourly earnings increase from this time last year, American workers can now, easily, buy high-end cars like the BMW i8. Happy days are here again! Photo courtesy of Wikipedia and Vauxford, used here under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

The billionaires have NOTHING on us!

Forget about the billions and billions of tax breaks that millionaires, billionaires, and Corporate America received from Trump and the GOP. Forget about the fact that the richest 400 Americans are now enjoying a record-breaking $2.9 trillion in wealth. With our extra 10 cents per hour, we put those fools to shame.

What are you planning to do with your extra 10 cents per hour?? I'm partying... I'm getting a BMW i8 Roadster... I'm buying a cottage in the Figi Islands... I'm buying a private, freakin' island!! 

No more restraint, let's take that extra 10 cents and live life to the fullest! Pay off that student loan debt! Pay off those credit cards! Take that vacation you've been waiting 10 years to take! Holy smokes, send the kids to Harvard!!

Wow, when the anchors, pundits, and other talking heads on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox tell us that the economy is hot, they're not kidding! hot... Hot... HOT! 

C'mon, say it with me: 10... yes... 10 MORE CENTS PER HOUR!!! Scream it to the Heavens! Let your neighbors hear you!!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Dying to avoid the New Deal

Above: "Street Accident," a lithograph by Boris Gorelick (1912-1984), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Death on America's roads

According to AAA, there were over 37,000 motor vehicle deaths in the United States in 2017 (a rising figure). Further--and as seems to be the case with almost every indicator of cultural health & vibrancy--the U.S. ranks poorly compared to the other 31 developed nations of the world: second to last, "with 11.59 traffic fatalities a year per 100,000 population. By comparison, Norway has the safest roads in the world, with a rate of just 2.59 traffic fatalities per 100,000 population." The economic costs of all the deaths and injuries on America's roadways are in the hundreds of billions per year ("Infrastructure improvements could reduce highway crashes," AAA Motorist, November / December 2018, p. 26).

AAA has recommended several changes / improvements to significantly reduce vehicle deaths and injuries: turning some intersections into roundabouts; putting up roadside and median barriers; constructing sidewalks and special pedestrian crossings; installing more rumble strips; and "Paving and widening shoulders" (see previous cite).

Interestingly, New Deal work programs performed this kind of work on hundreds of thousands of miles of roads between 1933 and 1943. For example, WPA workers installed over 23,000 miles of sidewalks, 25,000 miles of curbs, 3,300 miles of guardrails & guard walls; put up nearly a million traffic signs; and much, much more (Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1947, p. 131). Today, however, a lot of this New Deal roadwork has been allowed to crumble away.

Above: The description for this photograph, taken in Cleveland, Ohio, ca. 1935-1943, reads: "Wooden safety leaders made by the WPA for the protection of schoolchildren crossing main thoroughfares." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Ignoring warnings, resisting solutions

For years and years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has warned us about our deficient roadways (and other public works) in their Infrastructure Report Cards. In the most recent report card, they issued a "D" letter grade to our roads and noted: "America's roads are often crowded, frequently in poor condition, chronically underfunded, and are becoming more dangerous."

Yet, as persistent as the ASCE has been to warn us, we (both the Congress and the electorate) have been even more persistent in ignoring them. For example, there is no effort, or even consideration, to emulate New Deal work programs, despite their success in modernizing the nation's infrastructure.

Isn't it funny (in a sick sort of way) how we're going to such great lengths to avoid New Deal solutions? We're either failing to learn our history or, if learned, choosing free market fantasies instead - believing, for example, that decades of tax cuts for the rich (i.e., contributing to their ever-growing, gluttonous wealth) will generate magical investments and wondrous philanthropy that will greatly improve our quality of life. And it seems we're quite willing to die for this belief, even if it repeatedly fails us.

"United States Drops 21 Spots in Global Life Expectancy Rankings," Smithsonian Magazine, October 19, 2018.


Dying, or taking serious blows, to avoid a New Deal

You see, it's not just vehicle deaths that highlight our ignorance. You show me a social malady, and I'll show you a New Deal solution that we're dismissive of, or completely oblivious to. Wildfire deaths worsened by manpower & equipment shortages? The Civilian Conservation Corps. Vanity and idleness caused by extreme income & wealth inequality? Estate tax increases. Rural hospitals closing? PWA and WPA hospital and clinic construction (and staffing). Suicide rates rising? New Deal investments in the common good reduced suicides. Disease-causing sanitation problems? Thousands of miles of New Deal-installed water and sewer lines. Old age poverty? Social Security (which we could expand if we stopped being submissive to the wealthy and changing their diapers). Firearm misuse? The National Firearms Act of 1934. Infrastructure neglect in rural areas (think Internet)? The Tennessee Valley Authority and the Rural Electrification Administration. And the list goes on and on.

I am stuck somewhere between sadness and revulsion: Sad that so many people are dying in wildfires, homicides, suicides, car crashes; but revolted by the realization that tens of millions of Americans seem quite willing to risk death, serious injury, long-term anxiety, and financial calamity--to themselves and to others--if that's what it takes to avoid another New Deal; if that's what it takes to protect America's under-performing, cold-blooded version of the "free" market.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The rich are running from the flames in California, unaware that their excessive wealth is the most combustible wildfire fuel

Above: "Fire," a screenprint by Elizabeth Olds (1896-1991), created in 1940. Olds was a prolific artist in the WPA from 1935-1940, but it's not clear whether "Fire" was created while she was on the WPA clock. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Tax cuts and wealth: Highly flammable materials

Many wealthy celebrities in California are evacuating their communities due to encroaching wildfires, for example, Alyssa Milano, Kim Kardashian, Lady Gaga, and Guillermo del Toro. It's just the latest example of wealthy Americans experiencing the effects of natural disasters (recall Oprah Winfrey walking in ankle-deep mud in her backyard, earlier this year, due to a wildfire-caused landslide).

Questions: Do the super-rich know that their wealth is the most potent wildfire fuel? Do they understand that their private fortunes deprive America of the resources it needs to effectively prevent and fight these wildfires? 

For decades now, we've showered the rich with tax cuts - Reagan tax cuts for the rich, G.W. Bush tax cuts for the rich, and Trump tax cuts for the rich. We were told that throwing extra money at the already-wealthy would lift all boats; that their magical investments and whimsical philanthropy would make America awesome for everyone. It was a lie. (See, for example, "For most U.S. workers, real wages have barely budged in decades," Pew Research Center, August 7, 2018.)

Instead of making the country better, the wealthy have simply piled more money on top of their already-bloated fortunes. And now, thanks to estate tax cuts for the rich, more and more of that wealth can be passed down to their children - children who will become the next generation of aristocrats to control us through debt, through the courts, through political manipulation, and through repeated cycles of job creation & destruction. And tens of millions of Americans stupidly and slavishly go along with this madness, even cheering it on as "innovation!" 

The zero-sum reality: More private wealth = fewer resources for firefighting and forest management

When more and more of the nation's wealth is held by fewer and fewer people, and when the nation becomes addicted to cutting taxes for the rich, the federal government becomes less willing and able to devote resources towards the common good. This is clearly seen in our wildfire epidemic: As wildfires have become larger and more deadly, the federal government has repeatedly sought to reduce funding for forest management (see, e.g., "Senate committee questions proposed USFS 2019 budget cuts," The Wildlife Society, May 1, 2018). This illogical public policy is the natural product of trickle-down economics - an economic system that values private fortune over the public good.

With respect to the current wildfires burning in California, it is interesting to see how the rich are fleeing while the "Weary firefighters... struggled with a shortage of equipment. The crews, trucks and other equipment that would normally come to Southern California to join the firefight were tied up at the Camp fire in Butte County" ("Woolsey fire destroys scores of homes, forcing 200,000 to evacuate; flames get closer to Pepperdine," Los Angeles Times, November 10, 2018). And if you've followed the news of the record-breaking wildfires these past several years, then you know that this is a recurring problem; there is a shortage of equipment & manpower to remove wildfire fuel and to contain wildfires before they get out of control. This is why, for example, firefighters are often called in from neighboring states, or even from other countries. The needed manpower is simply not in place; not ready-to-go.

Above: A WPA-built fire station in San Diego, ca. 1935-1943. Across the country, WPA workers built 325 new firehouses, and repaired or improved another 2,384 (Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1947, p. 131). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Let's do what worked before! Nah, that makes too much sense.

We could, of course, create a new Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and a new Works Progress Administration (WPA) to assist dangerously overworked firefighters, to remove wildfire fuel, and to help manage our forests - just like these programs successfully did during the 1930s and 40s. But we won't, because the rich have demanded & received tax cut after tax cut after tax cut; running up the national debt and deteriorating the common good. And their next tax cut is certainly looming in the not-too-distant future, waiting to deprive the U.S. Treasury of even more revenue.

As she was running from the wildfire, Kim Kardashian said "Pray for Calabasas," her home. Though I don't want to see anyone get hurt, I'm not going to pray for Calabasas. Instead, I'm going to pray that Americans wake up and stop putting the vanities and comforts of the rich over the needs of the public. That will save far more lives.

"Largely through the fire control improvements and facilities constructed by the CCC it has been possible for the state foresters of the southern region to provide fire control for millions of acres of privately owned timber lands that otherwise would have continued to suffer severe damage annually."

"California Region - San Francisco... There was easier access to forest fire control over the 7,900 miles of CCC built roads."

--Statements by the U.S. Forest Service, in Perry H. Merrill, Roosevelt's Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942, 1981, pp. 50-51.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

It begins: After fundraising and inspiring voters, Pelosi and Obama are trying to lure us back into the corporate-friendly, losing world of milquetoast liberalism


Above: In this video clip, starting at about 1:55, Cenk Uygar of The Young Turks rips apart, quite accurately, Nancy Pelosi's weak, milquetoast, corporate-friendly behavior and policies. Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PBsJ8EryK_4.

Fool us once, shame on milquetoast liberals. Fool us twice, shame on us

Nancy Pelosi raked in tens of millions of dollars for the Democratic Party's quest to take back the House. Barack Obama gave his signature inspiring speeches to rally the voters (I'm starting to believe that Obama has multiple personality disorder: a fiery progressive on the campaign trail, a robotic stuffed shirt in office, and a money-seeking huckster in his free time).

After victory, and very predictably, Pelosi and Obama are slinking back to their default, neoliberal positions: Serve the corporate donors, brush aside progressive voices, and try to be friendly with the radical right. For example, shortly after the election victories, Pelosi said, "We have a bipartisan marketplace of ideas that makes our democracy strong. We have all had enough with division," and Obama said, "I'm hopeful that going forward, we'll begin a return to the values we expect in our public life - honesty, decency, compromise, and standing up for one another as Americans, not separated by our differences, but bound together by one common creed" (emphasis added).

Pelosi and Obama are idiots.

Pelosi and Obama's corporate-friendly, milquetoast liberalism is a major reason why the Democratic Party lost 1,000 political seats in recent years, and why we ended up with an autocratic president with the mentality of a 14-year-old, who says, "I'm very greedy. I'm a greedy person. I shouldn't tell you that, I'm a greedy - I've always been greedy." And now they want us to try their submissive approach again??

Have you ever heard the saying, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me"? Well, if we get suckered back into Pelosi and Obama's loser liberalism again, then it's shame on us. If we can't tell that neoliberal, Third Way snake oil isn't working--after all these losses and all these years--then we're just as delusional as the Koch-hypnotized Tea Party.

There should be no compromise with the radical right

Over the past several decades, the Republican Party has become increasingly radical. They're no longer interested in public works or the common good. They hand out tax breaks to the rich like a drunken sailor, deficit and debt be damned. They've separated migrant children from their parents, as a form of revenge, deterrence, and entertainment. They consider the press--if it's not saying good things about their Lord & Savior Trump--to be an enemy of the people. They're accepting, or turning a blind-eye to the notion of white supremacy. They oppose all gun regulations (in obeisance to the NRA) even as mass shootings become a regular occurrence (including a mass shooting today). They deny that humans are causing rapid global warming; and even loosen or eliminate regulations, so that even more greenhouse gases can be pumped into the atmosphere. They want to cut our Social Security and Medicare, so that the Forbes 400 can pass down even more money to their gilded children. And the list of idiotic and rabid actions and policies goes on and on and on.

And Pelosi and Obama want to compromise with that?... and think Americans are bound together under "one common creed"??  HOLY CRAP!

Democrats should be calling out the public policy of the political right for the garbage and nonsense that it is. They should be explaining, every single day, how the Republican Party has run up the national debt and neglected our infrastructure, for decades, in order to lavish the super-wealthy with round after round of tax cuts. They should explain to the American people that that is why their children are drinking lead. They should introduce bills, every single week, to lift up the middle-class & poor, and then mercilessly rake Republicans across the coals when they block them.

But they won't, because corporate donors have a stranglehold on our milquetoast Democratic "leaders." The corporate donors hand down their edict, "Do nothing that threatens the profits of our CEOs and shareholders!" and the Democratic Establishment drops to its knees, bows its head, and whimpers, "yes sir... yes mam... but please... I beg of you... grant me a job, or a multi-million-dollar speaking gig, or a book deal once I leave office... please... please... I'll bring you slippers, I'll sell out the working class... anything you want..."

Democratic voters, Independents, Progressives, and other forward-thinking people must reject Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and their ilk, before it's too late, before Americans play footsie with fascism again. These people did help win back the House (on the coattails of Trump-disgust in the suburbs), and we should give them credit for that, but they must now retire. It's time for them to go away. Let a new crop of leaders, a more progressive crop of leaders take over. Let these fiery new advocates push for Medicare-for-All, a policy position that even a majority of Republicans now favor (but Pelosi won't favor it, just you watch).

Dear Corporate Democrats: For the good of the nation, move aside. Let progressive leaders reinvigorate justice, empathy, and the American Dream. Let them pry these things away from the cold, dead hands of Ayn Rand - the woman who stole them from us and crushed them in her evil grip.

You see, we need inspiration every day, not just on the campaign trail.

"The Democratic Party will not survive as an effective force in the nation if the voters have to choose between a Republican Tweedle Dum and a Democratic Tweedle Dummer... If we nominate conservative candidates, or lip-service candidates, on a straddle-bug platform... [it would be] an unfortunate suicide of the old Democratic Party."

--President Franklin Roosevelt, 1939, quote in John W. Jeffries, A Third Term for FDR: The Election of 1940, University Press of Kansas, 2017, p. 93.   

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A very good night for Democrats, but many rural Americans are still embracing fascism, and still demanding that their Social Security and healthcare be cut

Above: "Election Night, Times Square," a lithograph by Don Freeman (1908-1978) created while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, 1934. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Defrocking Tea Party loons & Trump stooges

The Democrats didn't do well in U.S. Senate races, and didn't win as many governor seats as they would have liked, but it was still a very good night for them. They took back control of the House, and sent quite a few Tea Party loons & Trump stooges packing, for example, Wisconsin Governor and anti-union zealot Scott Walker, minority-vote-suppression-specialist Kris Kobach (Kansas governor race), Tea Party Congressman David Brat (Virginia), and liberal-bashing, Senate-hopeful Patrick Morrisey (West Virginia). Good riddance to them, and others. Let's pray that we never see them again.

The U.S. House of Representatives can now (presumably) serve as a blockade against the harsh Republican agenda of rewarding the rich and punishing the middle-class & poor. And Democrats can (if they have the spine) go after President Trump's corrupt activities and behavior.   

There were also successful ballot measures to expand Medicaid, give ex-felons the right to vote, raise the minimum wage, and more.

It wasn't the blue tidal wave that many were hoping for, but it was still a respectable wave. During these dark days, where millions of Americans are smiling favorably at the prospects of fascism and white nationalism, we can enjoy this rare victory. 

Self-destructive voting & apathy continues

In addition to granting Republicans more Senate seats--which will, among other things, facilitate the continued theocratic and plutocratic evolution of our federal court system--rural voters continue to vote in ways that will potentially harm us. West Virginia is a good example. In its 3rd congressional district, millionaire Republican Carol Miller beat tough-as-nails veteran and Democratic challenger Richard Ojeda. Millionaire Miller wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act (bye bye people with pre-existing conditions), while Ojeda wants people to have the ability to buy into Medicare (see, "Candidates in WV's 3rd District race discuss policy issues," Charleston Gazette-Mail, June 23, 2018). 

And in West Virginia's 1st congressional district, Republican incumbent David McKinley beat Democratic challenger Kendra Fershee, despite McKinley's membership in the Republican Study Committee, a group that is fighting hard to increase the Social Security & Medicare benefits age to 70, an action that would devastate hundreds of thousands of West Virginians and tens of millions of Americans.

The decision of middle-class & poor West Virginians (by voting or not voting) to cut their Social Security and healthcare is bewildering. Are they voting this way (or not voting at all) because they think Wall Street will come to the rescue and give them great retirements and healthcare (and thus Social Security and Medicare are not needed)? Are they voting this way (or not voting at all) because they don't know the positions of the people they're supporting, and just want to get back at the "libtard"? Are they voting this way (or not voting at all) because they're quite willing to have their finances and healthcare obliterated, if that's what it takes to punish "the other"? Again, bewildering.

In sum, it was a very good election night... but this nation still has a long, long way to go in waking-up & educating its citizenry. For now though, let's breathe a sigh of relief that the sociopath-agenda of the Trump Administration and the Republican Party was dealt a significant blow.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Trump and his supporters are trying to scare us out of our Social Security and healthcare

"The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself."

--President Franklin Roosevelt, inaugural address, March 4, 1933

Above: A scare ad I received in 2017, from the "Mountaineers Are Always Free" political action committee, in support of Patrick Morrisey's campaign for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate (West Virginia). The ad is intended to scare people into accepting Morrisey's extreme pro-gun policies. Morrisey won the primary and will be facing Democrat Joe Manchin this coming Tuesday. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the "Mountaineers Are Always Free" PAC has spent tens of thousands of dollars in support of Donald Trump and other Republicans. Image scanned from personal copy, used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

Scaring us stupid

The ad above is just one in a very long list of political scare tactics used throughout American history. And lately, Donald Trump, Trump supporters, and other Republicans have ramped-up their fear & anger strategy, for example, creating a highly controversial TV commercial blaming Democrats for two murders committed by an illegal immigrant, and also casting all migrants as violent and mob-like.

At the same time that Trump and his supporters are trying to scare the hell out of everyone, they're working hard to cut Social Security, cut Medicare, cut Medicaid, and cut healthcare for people who have pre-existing conditions. For example, on Patrick Morrisey's campaign website, he writes: "While it’s important to consider reforms [Republican code for "cuts"] to keep Social Security and Medicare solvent for future generations, we should not make any changes that would negatively impact retirees or those nearing retirement."

This is a very familiar Republican strategy: Don't touch Social Security and Medicare for older Americans, because they vote, but cut it for younger folks (i.e., their future benefits), since they tend not to vote and since they don't fully understand how their retirements are jeopardized by such cuts.

Another West Virginia Trump supporter, and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, David McKinley, is part of a very large group of Republicans trying to raise the Social Security and Medicare age to 70 (see Republican Study Committee, "The Republican Study Committee’s Fiscal Year 2019 Budget"). This will be disastrous for millions of Americans who find themselves ill and unable to work in their 60s. They will have little or no income and no health insurance (the health insurance "free market" doesn't work for older people, unless they can afford extraordinarily high monthly premiums).

We also know that U.S. Senate leader Mitch McConnell is eyeing cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to pay for tax cuts for the rich (see, "Mitch McConnell calls for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid cuts after passing tax cuts, massive defense spending," Newsweek, October 16, 2018). And, of course, Republicans still have wet dreams about repealing the Affordable Care Act (they've already dismantled much of it), which will kick people with pre-existing conditions off their health insurance.   

The craziest thing about all this, is that tens of millions of Americans who rely on, or will rely on, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the ACA's protections for people with pre-existing conditions, will vote for Republicans trying to take these programs away from them (and a lot of people won't vote at all). For example, David McKinley is heavily favored to beat his progressive challenger, despite McKinley's wish to severely cut Social Security and Medicare.

Suckers

What an amazing case study this is, in how half a population can be tricked and scared into voting for their own economic and healthcare demise... all so that the richest few Americans can accumulate and pass down dynastic fortunes.

You see, as Republicans cry, yell, and whine "we can't afford Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, we can't afford to insure people with pre-existing conditions!" we learn that "the 400 wealthiest Americans delivered yet another record-breaking year... The group's total net worth rose to $2.9 trillion, a record high and 7% more than in 2017" ("Forbes 400 2018: A New Number One And A Record-Breaking Year For America's Richest People," Forbes, October 3, 2018).

And tens of millions of Americans buy into this "can't afford it" garbage, this undiluted horsesh&t. Isn't that amazing! wow, Wow, WOW! The stupidity and slavish devotion to billionaires and nonsense is just utterly jaw-dropping.