Thursday, June 22, 2017

New Deal Magnificence in Nebraska

In this dark age of bland architecture, infrastructure neglect, and Republican tax cuts for the nation's super-wealthy money-hoarders, it's nice to look back at a time when policymakers actually cared about the country as a whole. Look at some of these splendid buildings & structures in Nebraska, built by the New Deal between 1933 and 1943, for the people. You're highly unlikely to see anything like these built today, as the modern emphasis is on cheap and boring (if anything at all) - I mean, let's face it, our rich CEOs & celebrities MUST have their private compounds, private islands, and private jets, and we MUST plutocratize nations around the world with our endless & highly expensive military adventures. And so, after all that, there just isn't much left for the common good. (All photos courtesy of the National Archives.)

 Above: A New Deal bandstand in Kearney, Nebraska, for the people.

Above: A New Deal auditorium in Freemont, Nebraska, for the people.

Above: A New Deal swimming pool facility in Kearney, Nebraska, for the people.

Above: A New Deal building for the University of Nebraska, in Omaha, for the people.

Above: A New Deal powerhouse and surge tank in North Platte, Nebraska, for the people.

Above: A New Deal bridge in Omaha, Nebraska, for the people.

Above: A New Deal airport hangar in Grand Island, Nebraska, for the people.

Above: A New Deal bandstand in Stanton, Nebraska, for the people.

Above: A New Deal war memorial at Antelope Park, in Lincoln, Nebraska, for the people.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

In their worship of the rich, and adherence to so-called "limited government," conservative voters are raising our taxes, tolls, fees, fines, and utility rates

Above: President Franklin Roosevelt had a "moral commitment to progressive taxation. When it came to taxes, Roosevelt simply believed that rich people should pay more than poor people" (Joseph J. Thorndike, Their Fair Share: Taxing the Rich in the Age of FDR, Washington, DC: The Urban Institute Press, 2013, p. 45). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Conservative voters are directly raising your taxes

In 2010, conservative voters in Kansas elected Republican Sam Brownback to be governor, and they've elected other Republicans to lead them in the Kansas legislature. As a result, taxes were cut for the rich and increased on the middle-class and poor (see, e.g., "After cutting taxes on the rich, Kansas will raise taxes on the poor to pay for it," ThinkProgress, June 16, 2015).

In 2014, a conservative talk-show host and public works board member pushed for a sales tax increase to pay for infrastructure in Los Angeles. Sales taxes are regressive: lower income people, who are least able to bear the burden, must pay a higher percentage of their income to satisfy the tax than rich people who are better able to bear the burden.

In 2014, conservative voters in Illinois elected Republican Bruce Rauner to be governor, and they've elected other Republicans to lead them in the Illinois legislature. As a result, taxes were cut for the rich (including a $750,000 yearly tax break for Governor Rauner - a mere coincidence I'm sure). And, to "fix" the budget, Illinois Republicans are now proposing regressive taxes on the middle-class and poor, for example, laundry taxes, Netflix taxes, and higher property taxes, even though Illinoisans "already pay the highest property taxes in the country" ("7 Reason the Illinois Republicans' Budget Plan Fails Taxpayers," Illinois Policy, June 16, 2017).

By worshiping and pampering the wealthy, conservative voters are also indirectly raising your taxes, tolls, fees, fines, and utility rates

Conservative voters keep putting Republicans into high political office. In turn, Republican politicians keep cutting (or trying to to cut) taxes on the rich. They want to reduce top marginal taxes, corporate taxes, capital gains taxes, and they want to fully repeal the estate tax (a tax which only applies to the super-rich). Yes, after decades of trickle-down economics wreaking havoc on our nation (e.g., crumbling infrastructure and a ballooning national debt), conservative voters want to double-down on these disastrous tax policies.

When taxes are cut for the rich, at the federal level, the nation's revenue burden inevitably falls on the middle-class and poor, in the form of increased taxes, tolls, fees, fines, and utility rates at the state & local level. Why is this the case? Because when the federal government is taking in less money than it otherwise would, it is less willing and able to assist the states. And the states are loathe to increase taxes on their rich residents, for fear of scaring them off to competing states. This drives the revenue burden down, in a crushing blow, on top the heads of the middle-class and poor. And the middle-class and poor are largely captive populations; they can't easily move. They're tied to their jobs, or retired on a fixed income where the financial burden of moving is a major deterrent. (By contrast, the super-wealthy can get up and move more easily because they don't live paycheck-to-paycheck or, in many cases, don't work at all - they can sip martinis by the pool, and whimsically move investment money around, just as easily in Florida as in Wyoming).

And so what's the result of our decades-long tax-cuts-for-the-rich experiment at the federal level, promulgated by conservative voters? According to a 2015 report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, "Virtually every state tax system is fundamentally unfair, taking a much greater share of income from low- and middle-income families than from wealthy families... The lower one's income, the higher one's overall effective state and local tax rate. Combining all state and local income, property, sales and excise taxes that Americans pay, the nationwide average effective state and local tax rates by income group are 10.9 percent for the poorest... 9.4 percent for the middle... and 5.4 percent for the top 1 percent."

That was the 2015 finding, and the trend is showing no sign of slowing down. Consider the following stories (all are from 2017, except for the commentary about law enforcement fines), and realize that they are being replicated hundreds, even thousands of times across the country, every year.

Higher Bridge Tolls: In the San Francisco Bay Area, large bridge toll increases are being considered. Note: Bridge tolls are regressive, disproportionately burdening the middle-class and poor

More Expensive Toll Roads: In the nation's heartland, "Many Indiana Toll Road Drivers Seeing Big Rate Increase." And in the Republican headquarters of Texas, "The North Texas Tollway Authority announced Thursday that it will increase toll rates for TollTag users from 17.06 cents to 18.01 cents per mile, effective July 1. That adds up to about $40 more per year for people who travel about 20 miles round trip to work. The change is part of a toll rate schedule that calls for increases every other year." Note: Road tolls are regressive, disproportionately burdening the middle-class and poor. (They're also a pain in the ass.) 

Emergency Service Fee Increases: In Mineral County, West Virginia, 9-1-1 emergency call fees are being increased. (Many West Virginia counties also have aggressive personal property taxes, e.g., taxing your dog, and also taxing your lawn mowers, trailers, golf carts, and car, every single year). Note: Emergency fees are regressive, disproportionately burdening the middle-class and poor.

Revenue Generation Through More Aggressive and Menacing Law Enforcement (Fines, Arrests, Court Fees ): When state and local governments need money, they're reluctant to tax the rich, many of whom they're politically indebted to. Instead, they often go after the people who can't easily afford legal protection - the middle-class and poor. This was recently and prominently seen in Ferguson, Missouri, where the U.S. Department of Justice found that "the Missouri municipality funded itself by harassing and fining its residents for trivial offenses." Note: Criminal justice fines are regressive, disproportionately burdening the middle-class and poor.

Water Rate Increases: In High Bridge, New Jersey, the town council voted to make huge increases to the town's water bills, as much as doubling one resident's bill. The increases were needed, it was said, to maintain the water lines. Note: Water charges are usually regressive, disproportionately burdening the middle-class and poor

Sewage Rate Increases: In Jefferson County, Kentucky, sewer rates may go up by about 24%. Yes, not only is the water being taxed more as we drink it, but it's also being taxed more when we pee it out - taxes in, taxes out. Note: Sewer rates are usually regressive, disproportionately burdening the middle-class and poor.

Car and Fuel Tax Increases: In California, fuel taxes and car registration fees are going up to pay for infrastructure improvements. Note: Fuel taxes (despite hand-wringing to the contrary) are regressive, disproportionately burdening the middle-class and poor. DMV fees are also regressive, disproportionately burdening the middle-class and poor.

Above: In this short video clip (with colorful language), George Carlin says we shouldn't blame politicians. Though I don't agree with his entire bit, he makes some good points. At 0:47 he says, "If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you're gonna get selfish ignorant leaders." Youtube link:

Super-wealthy Americans are laughing at our stupidity

As we're being nickel-and-dimed to death, with endless tax increases, toll increases, fee increases, fine increases, and utility rate increases, the super-wealthy are enjoying record wealth. And they will soon (thanks to conservative voters) receive another round of gargantuan federal tax cuts. And we can be sure that these tax-cuts-for-the-rich will be marketed as tax cuts for the middle-class, i.e., "tax cuts for hard-working', God-fearin' families!" Unfortunately, most conservative voters will fall for it, hook, line, and sinker - as they always have, and probably always will. Americans have become, as liberal commentator Thom Hartmann is fond of saying, the "village idiots." We pay more for health care than people in other developed countries, but die younger. We pay more for Internet service than people in other developed countries, but receive slower service. And when politicians give massive tax cuts to the wealthy, we smile goofily and think, "surely, it was for us!"

The New Deal points to a better way

Instead of handing out tax cuts to the rich like candy, and instead of blocking and cutting infrastructure funding (as Republican love to do), there is, believe it or not, a better way. During the New Deal, taxes were significantly raised on the wealthy, and an enormous amount of infrastructure work was done, putting millions of American back to work - many hundreds of thousands miles of roadwork, tens of thousands of bridge projects, thousands of water, sewer, and utility projects, and much more. We're still utilizing many of these infrastructure projects today, as documented by the Living New Deal.

How was this done? Well, let's take the WPA for example. During the 1930s and early 40s, local governments assessed their infrastructure needs and submitted construction plans to federal WPA officials. If the plans were sound, and if the local government could raise about 20% of the needed funds, the WPA would kick-in the rest. To put it simply, the federal government gave massive infrastructure assistance to local communities during the New Deal era. Doesn't that sound better than higher bridge tolls, higher property taxes, higher sales taxes, traffic-congesting toll booths, and the police bearing down on you more and more for revenue-generating fines?

We could do another New Deal, of course, if conservative voters stopped worshiping the rich, if they stopped making empty-headed calls for "limited government" (when it's really good government, and a government for the people, that we truly need), and if they stopped raising our taxes, tolls, fees, fines, and utility rates with their peculiar and self-defeating voting habits.

And maybe, just maybe, the Democratic Establishment could do its part by rediscovering its New Deal roots, challenging its corporate donors, and giving at least some of the nation's conservative voters a better choice next time - a choice that doesn't include a big bank marionette like Barack Obama or a military-industrial puppet like Hillary Clinton. Never forget - many rural areas, like West Virginia, were Roosevelt Democrats before they were Trump Republicans.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

After wrecking the Democratic Party, and helping elect Donald Trump & Goldman Sachs, Barack Obama is cashing in - big time

Above: In this short video clip, from Inside Edition, we see former President Obama kitesurfing with billionaire Richard Branson in February 2017. Youtube link:

In 2009, President Obama entered office on a wave of populism. The American people were hungry for change. They were sick and tired of the banks and the super-wealthy rigging the economy with all manner of greed, fraud, and white-collar crime. By the time Obama left office, however, his uninspiring, weak-kneed, and corporate-submissive approach to public policy helped leave the Democratic Party in shambles. The White House was lost, the Congress was lost, the Supreme Court was lost, and about 1,000 state-level positions were lost (e.g., governors, state senators). It wasn't all his fault, of course, but his role in the devastation was substantial (see my blog post, "15 reasons why pseudo-progressive Barack Obama is the worst president in U.S. history," for many of the reasons he left progressives, independents, and liberal Democrats in a state of disillusion).

Make no mistake about it, President Obama and his neoliberal mindset helped set the stage for what we have today: a maniacal Donald Trump & Goldman Sachs presidency; a mean-spirited Republican Congress; an increasingly backwards Supreme Court; and a shift in state-level politics that is putting our Constitution at risk of being re-written into a radical right-wing manifesto that may, among other things, see the general welfare clause and the separation of church and state removed. If you're not frightened, you should be. If things keep going the way they've been going, you may soon be forced to take an oath of fealty to the likes of Jim Bakker, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Jay Sekulow, and other arrogant, obnoxious, and overbearing religious radicals. You think Trump is bad? You ain't seen nothin' yet if right-wing extremists open up a constitutional convention (see, "A Billionaire-Backed 'Movement' Is Dangerously Close to Calling a Constitutional Convention," Alternet, June 14, 2017).

But all of this matters little to former President Obama. He's been cashing in - big time. And, short of a nuclear war, he'll suffer not a bit under right-wing rule. In fact, right-wing voters and politicians who say they don't like Obama are almost certainly going to lavish him with massive tax breaks.

President Obama receives a luxurious $200,000+ yearly pension. He's also, very predictably, going on the infamous Wall Street speaking circuit, collecting even more cash (see, e.g., "Obama’s $400,000 Wall Street Speech Is Completely In Character: Ask all the bankers he jailed for fraud." Huffington Post, April 26, 2017). But that's chump change. You see, he and Michelle recently inked record-setting book deals worth $60 million. And this, we can be sure, is just the beginning of the Obamas' post-presidential lottery haul.

So, let's get this straight: Obama kitesurfs with billionaire Richard Branson (see video above); schmoozes with billionaire David Geffen (as well as Oprah Winfrey, Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Hanks) on Geffen's half-a-billion dollar yacht; and is collecting large sums of cash from the public coffers, and also from his post-presidential deal-making, while the rest of us are left to be persecuted by corporations and governments--federal, state, and local--who want to keep our wages low and shred our social safety net. In sum, the Obamas cash in and we suffer.

Does that seem right to you? Is that the outcome you were hoping for, from an Obama presidency?

Instead of cronyism, nepotism, economic elitism, and post-presidential "lotteryism," wouldn't it be great if we had another, even stronger New Deal for everyday Americans? Wouldn't true progressivism, as opposed to pseudo-progressivism, be better?

(By the way, President Franklin Roosevelt--also very rich--was so committed to greater economic equality that he gave his beloved home in Hyde Park, New York, to the American people. I'll be holding my breath, waiting for Barack Obama to do the same with his book proceeds, or for Donald Trump to do the same with Trump Tower.)

Saturday, June 17, 2017

New Deal Fairy Tale, Nursery Rhyme, and Story Art (10/10): "Goldilocks and the Three Bears"

Above: "Goldilocks," a ceramic sculpture by Emilie Scrivens, created while she was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1938. Image courtesy of the Cleveland Public Library.

Above: "Three Bears," another ceramic sculpture by WPA artist Emilie Scrivens. There is hardly any information about Scrivens on the Internet, or in newspaper archives, but according to one art vendor, Scrivens "began an intensive study of pottery, sculpture, and mold-making as a WPA artist in the Federal Art Project of Cleveland, under Edris Eckhardt [see my blog post here]. Over time, her skills improved sufficiently that she won awards from the annual May Show of the Cleveland Museum of Art." Image courtesy of the Cleveland Public Library.

Above: A National Youth Administration (NYA) worker reads a story to nursery school kids in Los Angeles, 1941. During the New Deal, the NYA hired millions of teens and young adults to do useful public work. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Friday, June 16, 2017

New Deal Fairy Tale, Nursery Rhyme, and Story Art (9/10): WPA posters, WPA theatre

Unless otherwise noted, the images below are from the George Mason University Library, used here for educational, non-commercial purposes. The production information comes from the 1940 book Arena, by WPA Theatre Director Hallie Flanagan.

Above: A WPA poster for Treasure Island. The WPA performed Treasure Island in New Jersey from November 11 through December 30, 1937; put on a puppet show in Miami on March 10, 1939; and another puppet show in New York City from July 12, 1935 through March 26, 1936.

 Above: A WPA poster for Jack and the Beanstalk. This WPA performance ran from August 17, 1937 through March 10, 1938.

Above: A costume design for the WPA production of Aladdin. The WPA performed Aladdin in Los Angeles, from March 11 through July 22, 1938.

Above: A WPA poster for Robin Hood. This WPA musical played at the Emery Theatre in Cincinnati from December 27, 1937 through January 8, 1938.

Above: A WPA poster for Pinocchio. In addition to this production in Boston, the WPA performed Pinocchio in Los Angeles from June 3, 1937 through December 3, 1938.

Above: A set design for the WPA production of Robinson Crusoe. The WPA performed Robinson Crusoe in Gary, Indiana, from May 22 through August 18, 1937.

Above: A WPA poster for Alice in Wonderland. The WPA performed this puppet show from April 9 through April 20, 1938. Also, WPA actors performed Alice in Wonderland in Portland, Oregon, from December 26, 1938 through January 14, 1939, and in New Haven, Connecticut from March 16 through April 28, 1936.

Above: A WPA poster for Revolt of the Beavers. The WPA performed Revolt of the Beavers in New York City from May 20 through June 17, 1937. Revolt of the Beavers was written in 1936 by Oscar Saul and Louis Lantz and caused a controversy when it was performed by the WPA in 1937 (see next caption).

Above: A scene from the WPA production Revolt of the Beavers. In her 2008 book, Furious Improvisation: How the WPA and a Cast of Thousands Made High Art Out of Desperate Times, writer Susan Quinn explained how the play created a brouhaha: "Revolt was a fairy tale with a message: It told the story of a cruel beaver chief who keeps the underling beavers busy turning bark into products but shares none of the proceeds from their labor. A hero beaver named Oakleaf organizes the beavers and leads them in a revolt. They shoot down the company's police, using revolvers and machine guns concealed in their lunch boxes, then gleefully send their oppressors into exile" (p. 160). Children loved the play, especially the parts where the actors moved around on roller skates. However, political conservatives were less-than-happy. Revolt of the Beavers added to their suspicion that the WPA Theatre was spreading subversive communist thought, and was a dangerous challenge to plutocracy, economic hoarding, and institutionalized oppression. (Also see, Brooks Atkinson, "'The Revolt of the Beavers,' or Mother Goose Marx,  Under WPA Auspices," New York Times, May 21, 1937). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.


In addition to the stories above, the WPA Theatre also performed drama or puppet shows of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Tom Sawyer, Beauty and the Beast, Cricket on the Hearth, The Emperor's New Clothes, Rip Van Winkle, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and more.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

New Deal Fairy Tale, Nursery Rhyme, and Story Art (8/10): The Mother Goose mural that children saved, but cultural apathy lost

Above: This grainy black & white photo of Bernice Cross's color WPA mural (see discussion below) is from the December 2nd, 1937 edition of the McComb Enterprise-Journal newspaper (Mississippi). It may be the only photo of Cross's mural, and was featured in many newspapers across the country, after a government official insulted it in 1937. (The photo is used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.)

The WPA mural that was called grotesque, saved by children, and then lost by cultural apathy

WPA artist Bernice Cross (1912-1996) painted the above Mother Goose mural--featuring Old King Cole, Humpty Dumpty, and other nursery rhyme characters--for the children's ward at the Glenn Dale Hospital (Prince George's County, Maryland), ca. 1935-1937. The mural caused a national sensation in 1937 when a Washington, D.C. health official called it "grotesque" and ordered its destruction. However, in response to the condemnation, a jury of six children was formed to judge the mural and determine its fate. 

The first child-juror brought in to judge the mural was asked, "Are you interested in this?" to which she replied, "Yes, it's very pretty." An African American child, whose eyes were transfixed on "the king about to eat a blackbird pie" said, "I think it is very nice." The other children agreed and the mural was saved (see, e.g., "Jury Of Children Saves Mural On Mother Goose," The Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware), November 25, 1937). 

Unfortunately, Cross's mural was later lost, as explained in a Maryland Historical Trust form: "The mural was described as being located on the left side of the lobby as one entered the children's hospital building, covering the whole wall above the wainscoting. It is no longer there and it is not known if it was painted over or removed" ("Glenn Dale Hospital," Individual Property/District, Maryland Historical Trust Internal NR-Eligibility Review Form, 1997, section 8, p. 7).

Cross's Mother Goose mural is not the only New Deal artwork to be lost or forgotten. Many thousands are unaccounted for, and many others are not on display. However, there are quite a few organizations, e.g., the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Living New Deal, and the federal government's General Services Administration, that are trying to find, inventory, display, or preserve these national treasures. Hopefully, a large New Deal Museum will one day house and display New Deal paintings, sculptures, wood carvings, lithographs, and more.

Above: The Mother Goose mural in this WPA photograph (taken at a children's hospital in Portland, Maine, ca. 1935-1939) was most likely painted by a WPA artist (see, e.g., "Children's Hospital Mural - Portland ME," Living New Deal, accessed June 15, 2017). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A closer look at the mural, showing Mother Goose, Little Bo Peep, and others. The idea behind these murals was to provide a more cheerful atmosphere for convalescing children. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: "Little Jack Horner," a ceramic sculpture by Edris Eckhardt (1905-1988), created while she was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. Little Jack Horner is a famous Mother Goose nursery rhyme (however, the fictitious boy apparently dates back to the 1700s). The rhyme goes like this: "Little Jack Horner sat in the corner, eating a Christmas pie; He put in his thumb and pulled out a plumb, and said "What a good boy am I!." Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Public Library.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

New Deal Fairy Tale, Nursery Rhyme, and Story Art (7/10): Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox

Above: "Clearing Tacoma Flats," a linocut by Richard V. Correll (1904-1990), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1940. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Sheldon Museum of Art.

Above: "Making San Juan Island," another WPA linocut by Richard V. Correll, 1940. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Sheldon Museum of Art.

Above: "Paul Bunyan Sleeping," another WPA linocut by Richard V. Correll, 1940. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Sheldon Museum of Art.

Above: A mural at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, showing Paul Bunyan, Babe the Blue Ox, and two workers. This mural, part of a larger set, was created by James Watrous (1908-1999), while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. Image courtesy of the University of Wisconsin.

Above: A stained glass mural of Paul Bunyan and Babe, at the Timberline Lodge in Oregon, created in 1938 by WPA artist Virginia Darce. The mural was restored in 2011, after suffering water damage ("Hillsboro mural artist assists with historic Timberline project," The Oregonian, January 4, 2011). Photo courtesy of Carol M. Highsmith and the Library of Congress.

Above: A statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe - see information below. Image courtesy of the University of Oregon Libraries, used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

A Mysterious Paul Bunyan and Babe Statue

The Paul Bunyan and Babe statue you see above is a bit of a mystery, but it might very well be a New Deal art project. It was sculpted by Oilver L. Barrett (1892-1943), a professor at the University of Oregon, ca. 1935. Piecing together various sources of information, it appears this sculpture may have been part a years-long ambition of Barrett's to create a larger version, and have it placed at a public venue. 

Barrett is listed on the Wikipedia page "List of Federal Art Project artists." He also participated in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project (see, Public Works of Art Project, Report of the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury to Federal Emergency Relief  Administrator, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1934, p. 85). Additionally, on February 19, 1937, The Eugene Guard newspaper reported that a Federal Art Project official visited the University of Oregon and, among other things, praised Barrett's statue "Paul Bunyan and the Blue Ox," and recommended it be placed somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, to attract worldwide visitors. Does this mean that, by 1937, a full-scale version of the statue had been completed? It's unclear, but on March 1, 1945, in an article about an exhibition of Barrett's work, a journalist for The Eugene Guard wrote: "Although Barrett's sudden death prevented his realizing his greatest ambition--to depict the figure of Paul Bunyan, hero of the logging industry--his work, nevertheless, was shown in an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City before his death" ("Barrett Sculpture Exhibited"). Presumably, the journalist meant: "to depict the figure of Paul Bunyan" in a prominent public place.

Professor Barrett died a sudden death in 1943, at the age of 50. In a tribute to his life, it was noted that he was an animal lover, and his art studio was always filled with homeless cats and dogs ("Oliver Laurence Barrett," The Eugene Guard, August 9, 1943, p. 3).