Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Royal Wedding: A crass display of privilege and dominance; a grotesque celebration of inequality

"There are two ways of viewing the Government's duty in matters affecting economic and social life. The first sees to it that a favored few are helped and hopes that some of their prosperity will leak through, sift through, to labor, to the farmer, to the small business man. That theory belongs to the party of Toryism, and I had hoped that most of the Tories left this country in 1776."

--President Franklin Roosevelt, 1932 (link)

Above: "Striker's Wife," an artwork by Dorothy Rutka (1907-1985), created while she was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1939. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and Case Western Reserve University.

Where others see beauty, I see ugliness

The royal wedding took place today. Wealthy Prince Harry married the wealthy American, Meghan Markle, and a sea of wealthy people were in attendance - including neoliberal idols Oprah Winfrey and George Clooney. The wedding probably cost about $30-$40 million, with the lion's share going towards security - security that was paid for with public funds, to keep the public at arm's length. You see, the wealthy royalty and the wealthy celebrities want nothing to do with the lowly commoners ("just buy tickets to our movies, buy the products we endorse, work for the companies we invest in... and then stay away!").

Many Americans are mesmerized by the royal wedding. But in an age of extreme income & wealth inequality, and with so much poverty in the world, I find their wedding to be pompous and vulgar. A Royal Elopement would have been much better. 

Marriage is much harder if you're not royalty

Prince Harry was born into extreme wealth - the royal family is worth about $88 billion. Meghan Markle, though not quite so wealthy, had the good fortune of having a father in show business. This opened the door to a lucrative acting career, which in turn opened the door to meeting a wealthy prince. There will certainly be no money problems in this high-society marriage. 

Unfortunately, for billions of other people on the planet, marriage will not come so easy. And for many, it will not come at all. They simply won't be able to afford a family. Because of this, many will live in regret and some will kill themselves in despair. For example, according to scholars Anne Case and Angus Deaton, who study deaths of despair, "more men [in America] 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."

Also, recent government statistics show that fertility rates for American women are dropping. A researcher at the Brookings Institution responded: "What really hit me with these new numbers is the sustained decline for women in their twenties. Millennial women have been the most affected by the economy, putting their lives on hold... they also have something other generations haven't had: college debt."

To make matters worse, wealthy Americans have ruthlessly restricted access to debt-relief for those beneath them on the economic ladder. The wealthy have put millions of Americans into a state of permanent insolvency, in order to prop up their own fortunes. They've created multiple generations of debt slaves, and thus cleverly skirted the spirit of the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution ("Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.")

Royal philanthropy doesn't impress me

Prince Harry and (Princess? Duchess?) Meghan Markle have given their time and money to charity - just as many other extremely wealthy people have, for centuries. And yet, poverty, starvation, despair, and extreme income & wealthy inequality rage on and on. In America, for example, nearly half the population can't afford basic necessities, and two-thirds are experiencing financial anxiety.

At some point we have to face the fact that philanthropy from the rich, at least in terms of human needs, ranges from a drop in the bucket to largely impotent. And it is also likely that their philanthropy has the effect (if not intent) of keeping people in poverty. The rich, collectively, have made it clear that they don't want to pay taxes for government programs that lift people up, like Social Security, Medicare-for-all, or work-relief, but instead want to feed their pet ideas with whimsical, guilt-absolving charitable donations.

I believe that philanthropy for human needs is, sometimes, little more than disguised malice. You see, as the rich put dimes in our tin cups, they are also hoarding wealth and opportunity and paying politicians to implement public policies that favor them and punish us - for example, tax breaks for the rich, debt-relief restrictions for the poor, usury, and the conversion of publicly-funded colleges into debt-based colleges. They also own, or invest in, companies that keep wages low and benefits crappy; and further, they evade or avoid taxes in order to shift the revenue burden onto those less able to pay (i.e., the middle-class and poor). Does that sound egalitarian or altruistic to you?

On CNN, political commentator Sally Kohn highlights the irony of a gilded royal wedding, funded in part by public money, while "Britain has responded to tough economic times by resorting to fiscal austerity" that has put schools in a "fragile state."

Hmmm... who do you think is behind such austerity policies? Who controls the levers of government to force such policies? Whose wealth is protected by austerity? (Austerity, in the modern age at least, is the act of protecting the vast fortunes of the rich while cutting programs than benefit the middle-class and poor, e.g., schools, healthcare, and infrastructure.)

The royalty of the world need to reflect on their role in mass economic terror

When the royal newlyweds and royal American celebrities return home from their crass affair, perhaps they should reflect on a recent observation by the Pope, about the state of the world: "At stake is the authentic well-being of a majority of the men and women of our planet who are at risk of being excluded and marginalized from development and true well-being while a minority, indifferent to the condition of the majority, exploits and reserves for itself substantial resources and wealth."

Dear Royals of the world: I don't want your poverty-prolonging charity... I want you taxed.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Welcome to "Tax the Rich More 101," with Professor Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Above: "The Middle Class," a lithograph by Elizabeth Olds (1896-1991), created ca. 1939. Olds was a prolific WPA lithographer, but it's not clear if this particular piece was done under the auspices of the WPA. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: A closer look at the right-hand section of Olds' lithograph.

America needs a tax lesson

After Republicans have recently cut taxes on large inheritances (again), in order to enrich the families of their wealthy donors, enrich their own families, and fortify the American caste system; and after Republicans have recently granted large corporate tax breaks (again), which are largely being used to enrich CEOs and wealthy shareholders (as opposed to job creation and wage increases); and after Republicans have recently reduced top marginal tax rates for the highest earners (again), earners who are already doing phenomenally better than 90% or more of the people in the United States, it is clear that America needs a tax lesson from Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

And knowing that our infrastructure is crumbling; student loan debt is over $1.5 trillion; suicides are increasing; wages have been stagnant; most Americans can't afford a minor emergency; retirements are being compromised; the national debt continues to soar; regressive taxation is being imposed on the middle-class & poor; and knowing that the super-wealthy are celebrating their record-breaking wealth despite all this--yes, it would be very beneficial to revisit the tax lessons of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

12 tax lessons from Professor Roosevelt

Lesson #1: Progressive taxation

"[T]axation according to income is the most effective instrument yet devised to obtain just contribution from those best able to bear it and to avoid placing onerous burdens upon the mass of our people." (FDR, 1935, link)

Lesson #2: Un-American dynastic wealth

"The transmission from generation to generation of vast fortunes by will, inheritance, or gift is not consistent with the ideals and sentiments of the American people... I recommend, therefore, that in addition to the present estate taxes, there should be levied an inheritance, succession, and legacy tax in respect to all very large amounts received by any one legatee or beneficiary; and to prevent, so far as possible, evasions of this tax, I recommend further the imposition of gift taxes suited to this end... I strongly urge that the proceeds of this tax should be specifically segregated and applied, as they accrue, to the reduction of the national debt. By so doing, we shall progressively lighten the tax burden of the average taxpayer, and, incidentally, assist in our approach to a balanced budget." (FDR, 1935, link)

Lesson #3: Make the rich pay more for wars [that they benefit from]

"I urge the Congress to levy a special war supertax on [large incomes]." (FDR, 1943, link)

Lesson #4: Tax evasion by the rich shifts the burden (even more) to the middle-class & poor 

"The Secretary of the Treasury has given me a report of a preliminary study of income tax returns for the calendar year 1936. This report reveals efforts at avoidance and evasion of tax liability, so widespread and so amazing both in their boldness and their ingenuity... Mr. Justice Holmes said 'Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.' Too many individuals, however, want the civilization at a discount... Methods of escape or intended escape from tax liability are many... All are alike in that failure to pay results in shifting the tax load to the shoulders of others less able to pay [the middle-class & poor]... " (FDR, 1937, link)

Lesson #5: Taxes pay for things we need

"Taxes, after all, are the dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society." (link)

Lesson #6: Progressive taxation, emphasized

"Here is my principle: Taxes shall be levied according to ability to pay. That is the only American principle." (FDR, 1936, link)

Lesson #7: Many politicians are more concerned with paying off their political sugar daddies than with the needs of the nation 

"Those taxes [to pay off World War I debt] had been levied according to ability to pay. But the succeeding Republican Administration did not believe in that principle. There was a reason. They had political debts to those who sat at their elbows. To pay those political debts, they reduced the taxes of their friends in the higher brackets and left the national debt to be paid by later generations. Because they evaded their obligation, because they regarded the political debt as more important than the national debt, the depression in 1929 started with a sixteen-billion-dollar handicap on us and our children." (FDR, 1936, link)

Lesson #8: Rich people can survive higher taxes

"You would think, to hear some people talk, that those good people who live at the top of our economic pyramid are being taxed into rags and tatters [by New Deal tax increases]. What is the fact? The fact is that they are much farther away from the poorhouse than they were in 1932. You and I know that as a matter of personal observation." (FDR, 1936, link)

Lesson #9: Regressive taxation is oppression

"One more word on recent history. I inherited from the previous [Republican] Administration a tax structure which not only imposed an unfair income tax burden on the low-income groups of this country, but also imposed an unfair burden upon the average American by a long list of taxes on purchases and consumption- hidden taxes... In 1933 when we came into office, fifty-eight cents out of every dollar of Federal revenue came from hidden taxes. Leaving out of account the liquor tax--for liquor was illegal in 1933--we have reduced these indirect taxes to thirty-eight cents out of every dollar." (FDR, 1936, link)

Lesson #10: Democracy is better than special privilege

"Once more this year we must choose between democracy in taxation and special privilege in taxation. Are you willing to turn the control of the Nation's taxes back to special privilege?" (FDR, 1936, link)

Lesson #11: The Social Security tax is a great deal for workers

"I want to say a word also to the wage earners who are finding propaganda about the [Social Security] tax in their pay envelopes. I want to remind them that the new social security law was designed for them, for the greater safety of their homes and their families. The fund necessary to provide that security is not collected solely from workers. The employer, too, pays an equal share. And both shares--yours and the employer's--are being held for the sole benefit of the worker himself." (FDR, 1936, link)

Lesson #12: A summary of New Deal tax policy

"How else have we improved and Americanized the tax structure? First, we gave a credit to earned income--that is, income from personal work or service--thus substantially reducing taxes paid by the working citizen. Wasn't that the American thing to do? Second, we decreased the tax rates on small corporations. Wasn't that the American thing to do? Third, we increased the taxes paid by individuals in the higher brackets - those of incomes over $50,000 a year. Wasn't that the American thing to do? Fourth, we increased still further the taxes paid by individuals in the highest brackets - those with incomes over one million dollars a year. Wasn't that the American thing to do? Fifth, we increased the tax on very large estates. Wasn't that the American thing to do?" (FDR, 1936, link)

*****

Interestingly, most Americans seem to agree, whether they know it or not, with Roosevelt's tax lessons. Poll after poll, year after year, shows that the great majority of Americans want higher taxes on the wealthy and big corporations (see, e.g., here and here). Yet, amazingly, decade after decade, Americans keep electing (by voting or not voting) Republicans who do exactly the opposite (think Reagan, Bush Jr., Trump, Paul Ryan, and hordes of Tea Party legislators, to name just a few). It's an amazing phenomenon: Republican politicians grant round after round of tax breaks to the rich--which causes regressive taxes, tolls, fees, fines, and utility rates to be imposed on the middle-class & poor at the state & local level (as well as the destruction of the common good)--and yet, tens of millions of middle-class and poor Americans continue to elect (again, by voting or not voting) more and more rich Republicans... backed by more and more rich donors... to hand out more and more tax breaks for the rich.

Is it Stockholm Syndrome... or mass delusion... or a methamphetamine-like addiction? What explains the madness of ordinary folks voting to make the super-wealthy even more super-wealthy... even as the super-wealthy ship our jobs overseas and attack the institutions and safety nets that we rely on from time to time? Some of it probably has to do with racism of course. For example, Donald Trump has quite effectively directed the anger of the masses at immigrants and Muslims... even as people like Trump hoard the nation's wealth and opportunities. It's a great (albeit sick) strategy that the rich have used for millennia, "Wow, look over there!!! [... while I pick your pocket]."

In any event, the tax lessons of Professor Roosevelt are as valid now as they were 80 years ago. We should follow them.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Super-wealthy Americans are preparing to escape the societal collapse they're creating

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.

Making their fortunes off the public, and then abandoning the public

Super-rich Americans have made their fortunes off the public, either through taxpayer-started technology, like the Internet, or by selling the public's private information (advertising), or by taking the public's money in exchange for good and services. They've also benefited immensely from government-created roads, buildings, airports, courts, etc., as well as from workers educated and trained in public schools and universities.

Many wealthy people also subscribe (ironically and hypocritically) to the idea of "limited government" (limited, I suppose, to their needs). For example, Silicon Valley millionaires & billionaires are known for their affection for Ayn Rand and her philosophy about the virtue of selfishness. They no doubt believe themselves to be superior to the little people, the expendable people - just as John Galt felt in Rand's comic book novel, Atlas Shrugged

Unfortunately, profiting from the public while eschewing the public causes problems. Not the least of which is this: Many super-wealthy Americans don't want to be taxed, yet their philanthropy is erratic and, with respect to human needs, largely impotent. We're seeing an interesting example of this play out right now with Jeff Bezos and his Amazon empire. Amazon wants more facilities in Seattle, but apparently doesn't like a new business tax just enacted to help ease homelessness in the area - homelessness "due in no small part to the influx of highly paid workers employed by Amazon and other area tech companies" (i.e., skyrocketing housing and rental costs). So now, it seems, Amazon is hesitating about future business with Seattle.

Bezos and his Amazon empire have done some good things for the homeless, and they probably feel that that's sufficient. It's a philanthropic arrogance shared by many wealthy Americans - a feeling that, "I can do better than the government, with my God-like allocations of charity." The problem is, the wealthy don't know what it's like to be poor - either because they were never poor themselves or because they've forgotten what it's like (call it, "luxury-induced amnesia"). Hence they don't understand the needs of the poor, or the level of giving it would take to make a significant impact. That is why, for example, Medicare was necessary - because the rich had no idea, or intention, to pay the full cost of insuring the elderly, even though there was great need and suffering.

Profiting from the public while eschewing the public causes another problem: Social unrest due to severe income & wealthy inequality. When a population suffers it is more likely to rebel, support fascist leaders, and hate one another. We're seeing this in America today: Decades of policies that have catered to the every need of super-wealthy Americans--for example, job outsourcing and defunding the common good in order to facilitate tax breaks for the rich--have created a destitute underclass working for pathetic wages & benefits (if working at all), mired in debt, and facing a retirement of poverty and hardship. Eventually, the lid is going to blow, either through an organized rebellion or, more likely, a plague of ever-increasing individual acts violence (suicides, mass shootings, acts of terror).

The rich are taking notice, and they're making preparations to leave us behind. Whether buying property in faraway places like New Zealand, or buying luxury underground apartments in former missile silos, the super-rich are preparing to escape the boiling cauldron of hatred that they've been cooking up for us.

Rich Americans are learning martial arts, stockpiling weapons, and hiring snipers to take us out when the going gets rough

Above: "Barricade," an artwork by Mac Raboy (1914-1967), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1939. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

About a year and half ago, an amazing article appeared in The New Yorker magazine, "Doomsday Prep for the Super-Rich." Award-winning journalist Evan Osnos explored the bizarre and dystopian world of super-wealthy people making preparations for End Times-type chaos. Many of these people seem to know that extreme income & wealth inequality is causing serious cultural problems, but they also seem oblivious to their role in it. For example, instead of saying, "Y'know, we need better government programs to ensure Americans have more economic opportunities, and that means more taxes on us," they seem to be saying, "Well, I've made my fortune and now I'm ready to get the hell out of here. Too bad for everyone else." There is no patriotism, no empathy. They're ready to see the country go to pot and fly off to New Zealand if need be.

Not only is there a willingness to let America fall apart while they fly away with their cash and jewelry, but there is also a readiness to shoot it out with the poor, should the poor find their private compounds or airstrips while searching for food, water, and shelter. One rich person said, "I have a bunch of guns and ammo... I can hole up in my house for some amount of time." Another has bought some property on an island and thousands of rounds of ammunition. But he knows that might not be enough, "No, you're going to need to form a local militia." Imagine that: Groups of former CEO's, dressed in suits and toting AR-15s and AK-47s to protect their gold and investment portfolios.

Another rich person, apparently not liking guns, said, "I have a lot of other weaponry." What does he mean? Hand grenades? Land mines? He also adds, "I took classes in archery." Well, that's good. He'll be able to take out some low-income people without the sound of gunshots attracting more low-income people to the area. And a man who builds underground fortifications for the rich boasts of an armor-plated extraction vehicle (to rescue rich people from encroaching indigents I suppose) and a sniper's post. Good stuff, good stuff. The children of the wealthy can play with their Matchbox cars in the underground missile silo, all safe and comfy, while snipers pick off the starving, low-income hordes outside.

In another interesting article, "Self-Defense for Senior Executives" (Forbes, January 28, 2015), written by a guy who declares, "I write about the creation and management of exceptional wealth," the author argues that, when careful planning and "close protection personnel" fails, wealthy senior executives need to learn how to take someone out with a karate chop. He writes, "Any physical conflict between a criminal and a senior executive has to end quickly." Hmmm, so I guess a physical conflict between a criminal and a lower-level executive can go on for quite a bit longer? The author concludes:

"The senior executive market for this type of short-term, intense level of self-defense training is growing as personal wealth further bifurcates. It will further garner interest as international travel and domestic situations become more dangerous." 

As "personal wealth further bifurcates." Well, that's certainly an interesting way of phrasing extreme income & wealth inequality in America. And again we see no sense of personal responsibility towards the larger society. There is no, "Let's prevent further 'bifurcation,' and let's make the country a better place for everyone"... there is just a martial arts kick to the throats of those making less than $100,000. "Back... back! you low-income demons!!"

Low taxes on the rich is the problem, not the solution


Above: In this brief audio, we hear President Franklin Roosevelt tell us that he welcomes the hatred of rich people who seek to have the government cater to their every whim and desire. Only when we realize, as FDR did, that the wealthy must be taxed more, will we solve our many domestic problems. But we must have courage, as FDR did, to stand strong against the threats of the wealthy, i.e., "If you tax me more, I'll take all my money and go to another country!!" I have never understood this fear that many have - that the rich will abandon America if they are asked to contribute more to the common good. If they are that selfish, then we should be happy to see them go (and we should hit them with a hefty departure tax on their way out the door). Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmR9b56GOac.
  
If there was ever a good reason to tax the rich more heavily, it is their plans to abandon us when the going gets rough. This mentality shows that they have no desire to be the holy "JOB CREATORS," that the political right makes them out to be. They simply want to hoard as much wealth as possible; and then, if that happens to create an economic End Times, well then, they're going to climb aboard their planes and head to another country. "To hell with this place, we're getting the f&ck outta here!!" (And woe to the next countries that welcome and pamper these nation-destroyers.)

Of course, not all wealthy people are so selfish. For example, the Patriotic Millionaires support more taxes on themselves. And in Osnos's article about the wealthy doomsday preppers, Max Levchin, one of the founders of PayPal says, "It’s one of the few things about Silicon Valley that I actively dislike - the sense that we are superior giants who move the needle and, even if it's our own failure, must be spared... I typically ask people, 'So you’re worried about the pitchforks. How much money have you donated to your local homeless shelter?'" And another rich person in the article promotes higher taxes on inheritance (Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans just cut taxes on inheritance, in order further enrich the families of their super-wealthy donors, as well as their own families, thus fortifying America's despicable, opportunity-crushing caste system.)

We need much higher taxes on the wealthy (and less military spending), in order to better fund the common good, for example, better infrastructure, expanded Social Security, free or income-based college, Medicare for all, and more debt-relief options. Higher taxes on the wealthy worked very well under FDR, Truman, and Eisenhower. Higher taxes on the wealthy helped end the Depression, win World War II, and build up the middle-class. It's only when we started to grovel at the feet of the rich & powerful--baking them cupcakes, fetching their slippers, giving them manicures, and granting them round after round of gargantuan tax breaks--that our national and personal finances started to crumble.

"A number of my friends who belong in these very high upper brackets have suggested to me, more in sorrow than in anger, that if I am reelected they will have to move to some other Nation because of high taxes here. I shall miss them very much..."

--FDR, October 21, 1936, Worcester, Massachusetts 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

New Deal Art: "Mother and Child"... and the art snobbery that the New Deal pushed aside

Above: "Mother and Child," an artwork by Edgar Britton (1901-1982), created while he was in the WPA, ca. 1935-1939. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Sheldon Museum of Art.

Britton's murals and the xenophobic, elitist, hyper-patriotic critics of his day

Edgar Britton painted several WPA murals for Lane Tech High School (Chicago) around 1937 that were severely criticized by Harry Engle, an art expert and self-appointed judge of Americanism. Engle described Britton's paintings, and other WPA murals at the school, as "un-American," "in bad taste," and "Russianized," and he said one painted figure was a "moronic, foreign type." One of Engle's fellow critics concluded, "This is not American art - it's not any kind of art. It's an aping of second or third rate foreign painters" ("Alien influence, bad art seen in WPA paintings," Chicago Tribune, December 20, 1940).

This criticism is interesting for a few reasons. 

First, you see the same type of childish patriotic grandstanding today, where Americans try to outdo each other, sticking their tongues out and declaring, "I'm more of an American than you are, doo-doo head!" For example, every so often there is some sort of controversy about politicians who don't wear an American flag pin on their lapel. Apparently, every politician must wear one; and, if they don't, it means they're a communist, or perhaps even the Anti-Christ. (See, e.g., "An updated history of lapel pin politics," Observer, July 28, 2016). 

Second, the criticism of Britton's work was part of a larger hysterical reaction to the federal art projects. The political right considered them to be a waste of taxpayer money, a dangerous mixing of the races (in the case of the WPA's Federal Theatre Project), and communistic.

Third, the elitism of Britton's critics was one of the reasons why the WPA's art project was so important and revolutionary. New Deal policymakers thought that art, both the creation and appreciation of it, should be open to anyone, not just the well-to-do. Holger Cahill, the director of the WPA's Federal Art Project, wrote:

"We have subordinated art to our desire to pile up personal possessions, to our interest in conspicuous display and conspicuous waste. We have subordinated art to our consuming passion for commercial success, to our materialistic will-to-power. We have subordinated art to our love of rivalry, our passion to outdo others in competitive activity and we have subjected it further to the whims of social snobbery, the erratic interests of dilettantism, to arbitrary judgments and irresponsible criticism. And in doing so we have helped to push art from its honorable place as a vital necessity of everyday life and have made of it a luxury product intended for the casual enjoyment of jaded wealth" ("Federal Aid Held Vital To Spur Art,” New York Times, December 19, 1937).

And when President Franklin Roosevelt talked about New Deal art programs in 1941, at the dedication of the National Gallery of Art, he explained that the American people, "within the last few years... have discovered that they have a part. They have seen in their own towns, in their own villages, in schoolhouses, in post offices, in the back rooms of shops and stores, pictures painted by their sons, their neighbors - people they have known and lived beside and talked to. They have seen, across these last few years, rooms full of painting and sculpture by Americans, walls covered with painting by Americans - some of it good, some of it not so good, but all of it native, human, eager, and alive - all of it painted by their own kind in their own country, and painted about things that they know and look at often and have touched and loved."

The New Deal was a great expansion of art to the people. Some small remnant of that idea still exists today, but it's being systematically wiped out to make room for more STEM workers. Corporate America wants dull and obedient laborers--to increase CEO compensation and shareholder returns--not citizen-sculptors, creative writers, evening & weekend thespians, or any other artistic people who might begin think about things a little too much.

Obedience is good... thinking is dangerous.

Friday, May 11, 2018

New Deal Art: "Country Barn"

Above: "Country Barn," a color lithograph by Betty Waldo Parish (1908-1986), created while she was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1938. According to a 1968 newspaper article, Parish was "a descendant of Ralph Waldo Emerson" ("Art Exhibits," The Dispatch (Moline, Illinois), March 9, 1968). Parish married Richard Comyn Eames in 1942 and it seems that they had two children. At least one of them followed in their mother's artistic footsteps, Dickon Eames (1945-1997), and Dickon's son, Matthew C. Eames, wrote a book about his father in 2009, "Dickon Eames: An American Sculptor in France." Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Franklin Roosevelt Pyramid, the Ayn Rand Pyramid, and the inability of millions of workers to see the roots of their persecution

Above: "Labor," an artwork by Manuel G. Silberger (1898-1968), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1939. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and Case Western Reserve University.

FDR's Pyramid

In a radio address on April 7, 1932, Franklin Roosevelt said: "These unhappy times call for the building of plans that rest upon the forgotten, the unorganized but the indispensable units of economic power... [plans] that build from the bottom up and not from the top down, that put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid."

Ayn Rand's Pyramid

In the novel Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand had the opposite idea, and channeled her notion of a "pyramid of ability" through the character John Galt: "The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him, but gets nothing except his material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others to add to the value of his time. The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all of their brains."

Results

Franklin Roosevelt viewed workers as indispensable, while Ayn Rand viewed them as incompetent fools. After the policies of FDR and the New Deal, the American middle-class flourished (American business expanded along New Deal roads, across New Deal bridges, and out of New Deal airports). But since Ayn Rand's demented philosophies began to take over the country--through the likes of Ronald Reagan, Alan Greenspan, Donald Trump, and Paul Ryan--the middle-class has been pulverized. Wages have been stagnant, benefits crappy, and retirements doubtful. We're deeply unhappy, immersed in self-destructive behavior, and suicidal. And all the while, super-wealthy Americans have been enjoying record wealth, as well as gargantuan and repeated tax breaks.

Unfortunately, millions of American workers cannot see the roots of their persecution - and many don't care either, throwing up their hands in surrender and just taking life as its given to them by the distant and disconnected wealthy who profit off their pain, misery, and meagerly-compensated labor. Others are oh-so-happy to toil away for their masters, in the vain hope that they too will be millionaires or billionaires someday. After all, it's America! We're NUMBER ONE dammit! Everyone can be a millionaire, right?? Just work hard and God will bless you with great wealth!

A great need for education, but wealthy liberals remain clueless and elusive

Some American workers are having second thoughts about voting for Trump, realizing that perhaps he's not going to do much for them (see, for example, "Democrats target union workers who regret Trump vote," Reuters, May 4, 2018). But why did workers vote for Trump and other Republicans in the first place?

Part of the reason is that Hillary Clinton ran an awful campaign. Another reason is that many Democrats are two-faced, saying pretty things to the working class while pocketing huge sums of cash from Corporate America (payments that will require policies (favors) that help CEOs and shareholders at the expense of workers). But I think another reason is that most Americans don't understand the links between Trump, his fellow Republicans, Ayn Rand, and Rand's contempt for the working class. In other words, they don't realize that they're voting for people who despise them. 

Americans are in desperate need of a social studies education and enlightenment. But I don't see wealthy liberals coming together to make it happen. I see their campaign donations to Corporate Democrats. I see their impeachment commercials. I see their efforts to make sure every man, woman, and child has plenty of tech gadgetry - "a smartphone in every pot and an app in every garage!" But I don't see great efforts to improve the population's critical thinking skills or history knowledge. There's wide-ranging emphasis on STEM, but what good are workers who are proficient in science, technology, engineering, and math, if they have little or no sense of history, civics, and critical thinking? How will they use their knowledge, with little or no grounding in the humanities? How will they use their skills, with no sense of social responsibility and no history-informed conscience?

Wealthy liberals may achieve victory in the short-term (in the approaching elections), but without an educated citizenry, and without progressive policies that lift people up, they and their political puppets are only setting us up for more fascism in the future. A cycle keeps repeating itself: Uninspiring & ineffective centrism, and then a shift to the right - then, more uninspiring & ineffective centrism and an even harder shift to the right. And, of course, this horrifying cycle keeps pushing the center rightward, so that today's center was yesterday's right.

So, wealthy liberals... are you going to help educate and enlighten the public? Or are you just going to sit by the pool, count your cash, and call Trump a buffoon?

Monday, May 7, 2018

As the elites tell us everything is great, a large number of homeless people are dying. Then, their bodies are dissected, incinerated, thrown into the sea, or placed in unmarked graves.

Above: "Give," a lithograph by Joseph Vavak (1891-1969), created while he was in the WPA, ca. 1935-1943. Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Piles of money on top of piles of bodies

President Donald Trump recently said, "There has never been a better time to start living the American Dream." During the 2016 presidential race, Hillary Clinton said, "America has never stopped being great," and Barack Obama said, "America is already great." And professional analysts and talking heads frequently tell us that things are really wonderful - informing us that so many thousands of jobs have been added or that wages have gone up by 2.16%. What these and other elites have in common, of course, is high income, high wealth, and a wallet-fattening stock market to shield them from economic pain. For them, America is indeed great.

Unfortunately, as the elites are watching the cash flow into their bank accounts, and trying to persuade everyone else that things are just fine & dandy for them too, more and more homeless people are dying. Consider just a few examples:

Nashville, Tennessee: "Highest Number Of Homeless Deaths Recorded In 2017," News Channel 5, December 16, 2017.

King County, Washington: "A record number of homeless people died in King County in 2017," The Seattle Times, March 9, 2018. 

Denver Colorado: "Homeless deaths in Denver in 2017 at record number, advocacy group says at vigil," The Denver Post, December 21, 2017.

New York City: "Homeless deaths in New York City increased in FY 2016," Politico, January 15, 2017.

Santa Cruz County, California: "Santa Cruz County homeless deaths rose in 2017," Santa Cruz Sentinel, December 19, 2017.

How do they die?

A review of the above and other stories tells us how the homeless die. Some are shot while they sleep and others are beaten to death (these thrill killings complement our general cultural apathy). Some die from alcohol and drug-related illness. Some freeze to death. Others are hit by cars or, lacking any hope, commit suicide. And of course, others die from things that any of us could succumb to one day, such as heart failure - except their heart failure occurs in a cardboard shack, not with family nearby.

Some homeless people die when they are children or infants. In those cases, perhaps we'll never know the exact cause of death.

Above: In this WPA transient camp in Omaha, Nebraska, 1936, wandering and homeless men are given good meals and job training. New Deal work programs provided jobs, food, shelter, and hope for many people wandering the countryside in search of scarce jobs. Today, our neoliberal, billionaire-driven federal government is uninterested in doing any of this - it would interfere with tax cuts for the rich. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

What's done with the bodies?

What happens when a homeless person dies? Well, there are efforts to locate family (not out of a sense of altruism, mind you, but to find someone to stick the bill with), but, failing that, the bodies of the homeless are often incinerated, buried in unmarked graves or sometimes, in the case of children, buried in trenches with hundreds of others (see, for example, here, here, and here). In other cases, the homeless are even thrown in the sea, presumably for sharks or bottom feeders to tear them apart and consume them - thus reducing taxpayer cost.

In Maryland, as of 2014 at least, the bodies of the homeless are often dissected for medical science. A chaplain at the University of Maryland explained: "There were those that chose to donate their bodies. Others are donors by circumstance, for whom no loved ones came forward. We honor them too, for their gift is no less important." Um, excuse me, but that's not a gift, that's the use of a body without consent. The society that had no use for the homeless in life, seems more than happy to utilize them in death.

Of course, there are respectful ways to be cremated, buried at sea, or donated to science; but let's be honest, this is not that. This is simply the disposing of corpses at the cheapest possible cost. It is the elimination of a burden, after America has collectively groaned, "What, another body?!?"

This is how the evidence of our cultural neglect and hatred of the poor is hidden away - out of sight, out of mind. Not only has the homeless person's life ended, but now any indication of their existence is wiped away. Their childhood, their hopes and dreams, their loves, their hobbies, their joys - all of it obliterated.

It's almost like an assembly line of elimination, isn't it? A person can be spit out by an economy that prioritizes greed and ridicules sympathy; ignored by voters who are highly irritated at the idea of a social safety net; shot in the head by a sociopath (perhaps with the implicit approval of the larger society?); and then torched or thrown out to sea to keep financial burdens and social awareness to a minimum. Then, soulless eyes scan over the remaining survivors, waiting for the next victim to drop.

And so now, with the evidence of plutocracy's failure destroyed, and with a big sigh of relief, everything is great again.