Monday, May 30, 2016

The WPA and Annapolis National Cemetery

(The national cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland was established in 1862. Photo by Brent McKee.)

(During the 1930s, WPA workers engaged in many projects at the cemetery, for example, realigning headstones. Photo by Brent McKee.)

(WPA workers built this utility building in 1936. Photo by Brent McKee.)

Friday, May 27, 2016

10 Outrageous Ways the Democratic Establishment Has Betrayed Their 2008 Party Platform (and thus, their recent olive branch to Bernie Sanders is withered and meaningless)

Above: In the 2008 Democratic Party Platform, the Democratic Establishment wrote: "We will start by renewing the American Dream for a new era - with the same new hope and new ideas that propelled Franklin Delano Roosevelt towards the New Deal..." Have you seen many New Deal-type policies being offered by the Democratic Elite lately? I haven't. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Recently, in an attempt to trick progressives into voting for their center-right candidate Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Establishment has given Bernie Sanders 5 selections to the 15-member drafting committee of Democratic Party Platform. However, there's a big problem with this: The Democratic Party has a strong, recent history of ignoring the progressive sections of their platform.

Let's take a look at 10 ideas from the 2008 platform, and see how the Democratic Establishment has ultimately ignored or betrayed those ideas.

1. Social Security

The Platform: “We believe that every American… should have the chance to… retire with dignity and security… We will… protect Social Security… We will fulfill our obligation to strengthen Social Security… We will safeguard Social Security.”

The Reality: Hillary Clinton has hesitated on expanding Social Security, and President Obama has offered to cut Social Security.

2. Health Insurance and the Public Option

The Platform: “Families and individuals should have the option of keeping the coverage they have or choosing from a wide array of health insurance plans, including many private health insurance options and a public plan.”

The Reality: To please Corporate America, President Obama refused to back the Public Option during health care reform.

3. Job programs to help the unemployed 

The Platform: “We will develop innovative transitional job programs that place unemployed people into temporary jobs and train them for permanent ones.”

The Reality: In 2011, when U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) drafted legislation to create a new WPA for unemployed Americans, President Obama offered little or no support, and most Democrats in Congress offered little or no support. The bill died in committee.

4. Infrastructure and the Tennessee Valley Authority

The Platform: "Americans [have] called on their government to 'invest back' in them and their country... That's what Franklin Delano Roosevelt did in creating the Tennessee Valley Authority, electrifying rural America and investing in an Arsenal of Democracy. That's the kind of leadership we intend to provide."

The Reality: Since the Party Platform was written, President Obama has tried to get rid of the Tennessee Valley Authority multiple times (see, e.g., here).

5. College Education

The Platform: "The Democratic Party firmly believes that... the opportunity to succeed in college must be the birthright of every child–not the privilege of the few."

The Reality: College Graduates from non-wealthy families have $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, and the Obama Administration has misled the public about student loan fraud. Meanwhile, rich Democrats can afford to put their kids through college, debt-free, and Hillary Clinton and her supporters have mocked Bernie Sanders' proposal for free public colleges (even though other industrialized countries do it). 

6. Trade Policy

The Platform: “We need tougher negotiators on our side of the table–to strike bargains that are good not just for Wall Street, but also for Main Street.”

The Reality: President Obama shut the public out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement negotiations, while seeking the advice and consent of corporations.  Hillary Clinton went along with this approach (but eventually, under pressure, did not support the TPP).

7. Predatory Lending

The Platform: “We will crack down on predatory lenders…”

The Reality: The chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, protects predatory lenders from regulatory oversight in exchange for campaign cash.

8. Illegal Surveillance

The Platform: “We support constitutional protections and judicial oversight on any surveillance program involving Americans. We will review the current Administration's warrantless wiretapping program. We reject illegal wiretapping of American citizens, wherever they live.”

The Reality: For the past several years, Edward Snowden has been on the run from the Obama Administration for exposing wide-scale illegal wiretapping of American citizens.

9. Puerto Rico and Democracy

The Platform: “We believe that the people of Puerto Rico have the right to the political status of their choice, obtained through a fair, neutral, and democratic process of self-determination.”

The Reality: Hillary Clinton, the Obama Administration, and many other Democrats recently threw their support behind a plan to create an un-democratic and Republican-controlled oversight board to impose austerity on struggling Puerto Ricans (see, e.g., here). Somehow, this doesn't seem to square with the idea of giving Puerto Rico a high degree of self-determination. For example, how can Puerto Rico gain statehood or independence (if that's what they choose) with a right-wing oversight board controlling their financial system for the benefit of Wall Street? Answer: They can't - they'll be treated like a colony until vulture capitalists have squeezed every last penny from them (and then a portion of this ill-gotten gain will be given to the politicians who helped make it happen; this is America's routine system of legalized bribery).

10. The Influence of Special Interests and Campaign Finance Reform

The Platform: “We have let the special interests put their thumbs on the economic scales… A Barack Obama Administration will make it clear to the special interests that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over… because in America, everyone's voice matters in the political process… We support campaign finance reform to reduce the influence of moneyed special interests, including public financing of campaigns… We will have the wisdom to put the public interest above special interests.”

The Reality: Once in office, President Obama and the Democratic Establishment did little, if anything, to follow through on this part of the platform.  The Democratic Establishment still takes gobs of money from Wall Street and puts the needs of special interests over the needs of the people.  With respect to “everyone’s voice matters in the political process,” recent research shows that ordinary Americans, as compared to Corporate America and the super-wealthy, have virtually no influence on public policy.

Further, President Obama has worked very hard to increase the influence of Wall Street, by nominating and appointing many Wall Street cronies into important government positions. And when Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders did create (or enhance) a movement to reduce the influence of corporate money on our government (his presidential campaign), he was widely mocked by the Democratic Establishment, by op-ed writers who had previously railed against corporate influence (e.g., Paul Krugman), by mainstream media outlets who routinely give money to Hillary Clinton, and by many (not all) of Hillary Clinton's supporters. Ooops, so much for this section of the party’s platform!

Conclusion: Corporate Cash (i.e., Bribery) Has Completely Corrupted the Democratic Party 

So, why does the Democratic Establishment routinely ignore or betray its own platform? Answer: Because they want more campaign cash from Corporate America, as well as more campaign cash from millionaires and billionaires. And to get that cash, they know that they have to hurt non-wealthy Americans. They realize that the interests of the rich are usually diametrically opposed to the interests of the non-rich. Take Puerto Rico for example. The Democratic Establishment expresses sympathy for Puerto Rico, but they also realize that many super-wealthy Americans--Americans they want more cash from--want to crush Puerto Rico, for fun and profit (call it "financial orgasm through economic sadism"). So, the Democratic Establishment says, in effect, "Sorry Puerto Rico, we'd like to help, but, our corporate supervisors say 'hell no!'"

In sum, giving Sanders five picks to the drafting committee is a withered, meaningless olive branch from the corrupt Democratic Establishment. Progressives shouldn't fall for it.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

New Deal Art: "Rocky Coast"

Above: "Rocky Coast," an oil painting by Joseph De Martini (1896-1984), created while he was in the WPA's art program, ca. 1939-1940. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Anti-New Deal Hillary Clinton sides with the Tea Party, and supports a minimum wage DECREASE for young Puerto Rican workers. This is an early sign of how she will govern the nation, if elected president.

Above: Shortly before the New Deal, two large hurricanes hit Puerto Rico and caused widespread devastation. During the New Deal, policymakers made massive investments in the island's infrastructure, through the CCC, WPA, PWA and other work & construction programs. In the above photograph, we see houses in Tras Talleres, Puerto Rico, that were raised up by workers in the Civil Works Administration, ca. 1933-1934, to keep them clear of flood waters. Today, the policy approach is quite different. Instead of large amounts of assistance, the federal government says, in effect, "If you're hurting, we'll hurt you some more." Photo from the book, America Fights the Depression: A Photographic Record of the Civil Works Administration. Used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.

Anti-New Dealer Hillary Clinton has recently thrown her support behind right-wing legislative efforts to address Puerto Rico's debt crisis - efforts that include the establishment of an undemocratic oversight board and a decrease in the minimum wage for young Puerto Rican workers (see, e.g., the "PROMESA" bill summary here). 

These legislative efforts are also supported by the Tea Party group, "Tea Party Forward" (see, e.g., here, p. 6). This puts Clinton in partnership with the Tea Party, and is an early sign of how she will govern the nation if she makes it to the White House. She will consistently cave to the right, and cater to her Wall Street backers, just as her predecessor and political doppelganger, President Obama, has done. They call it "necessary compromise." Further, since Bill Clinton tried to privatize Social Security, and Obama offered to cut it, and Hillary hesitated on expanding it, we can be fairly certain that Social Security will be at great risk under a Hillary Clinton administration. She may very well offer it up as a sacrificial compromise to Republicans and Tea Partiers.

This is what Hillary said about the legislation involving Puerto Rico: "While I have serious concerns about several provisions in this bill, including the creation of an oversight board that would exert substantial control over Puerto Rico, I believe that we must move forward with this legislation." This is the style of language that Obama has used, over and over again, when caving to the right, and the style of language that Hillary will use, over and over again, when she caves to the right.

Why do politicians like Obama and Clinton consistently cave to the right? Because (a) they're conservative politicians, (b) they have no fight in them, even for the few progressive policies that they might be sympathetic towards, and (c) austerity has no negative effect on them personally, because they're multi-millionaires - the Clintons, for example, don't make minimum wage or struggle financially; they make millions of dollars giving worshipful speeches to banksters, Wall Street groups, and other financial fraudsters. As for President Obama, he can afford to send his kids to exclusive private schools and Ivy League colleges. In sum, their experience with the current state of poverty in America is extremely limited; and their empathy is even more limited.        

New Dealer Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, rightly condemns the Puerto Rico legislation as another round of foolish austerity: "We have an important choice to make. Do we stand with the working people of Puerto Rico or do we stand with Wall Street and the Tea Party? The choice could not be clearer."

Hillary Clinton has made her choice, standing with Wall Street and the Tea Party. And yet, many Democratic voters declare "I'm with her!" and claim she's a great progressive, and will fight hard for working families.

Isn't that amazing?

Saturday, May 21, 2016

New Horizons

("New Horizons," by WPA artist Harry Francis Mack. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Nevada's Democratic Convention and America's Mainstream Media: Joseph Goebbels, eat your heart out!

"Success is the important thing. Propaganda is not a matter for average minds, but rather a matter for practitioners. It is not supposed to be lovely or theoretically correct... Propaganda should be popular, not intellectually pleasing. It is not the task of propaganda to discover intellectual truths... I do not enter the meeting hall to discover intellectual truths, but to persuade others of what I think to be right."

--Joseph Goebbels, future Reich Minister of Propaganda, Nazi Party, 1928 (link)

(Is this how the Democratic Establishment will protects its rigged nomination process at the National Convention in July? Photo by Angie Morelli, at the Democratic Convention in Nevada. Used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.)

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

It appears that a series of rules were broken or bent at the state Democratic Convention in Nevada (breaks and bends that conveniently benefited the Clinton Campaign - see videos below, as well as the link at the end of this blog post). However, the mainstream media has framed the incident as an example of crazy Bernie Sanders' supporters being sore (and violent) losers. For example, I was watching CNN the other day and anchor Brooke Baldwin interviewed Nevada's Democratic Chairwoman Roberta Lange about the death threats that Lange is receiving, and whether she wants an apology from Sanders. But she did not ask (or probe too deeply at least) the allegations of rule-breaking at the convention. Why not? Because the owners of CNN are big financial donors for Hillary Clinton (that's why they're often called the Clinton News Network). And this conflict of interest (supporting a candidate vs. reporting the news in a fair and objective way) is now the norm in America's mainstream media. And that's why trust in media is on a downward spiral. More and more people realize that it's not raining, but that someone is peeing on their legs.

The death threats are, of course, ridiculous, morally wrong, counter-productive, and should stop immediately. People who don't liked the rigged nomination process, or don't like the fact that the anti-New Deal Democratic Establishment is in bed with Wall Street and financial fraudsters, should leave the Democratic Party and refuse to vote for Hillary Clinton. They should devote their energies towards making a viable and real progressive party, not towards death threats.

(In this excellent video--produced by someone who has far more objective reporting skills than our mainstream media--we see some of the "funny business" that was going on at the Nevada Convention. For example, a voice vote that was impossible to discern, should have prompted a vote of standing division. It did not. Instead, the ruling was favorable to Clinton.) 

The mainstream media's propaganda techniques seem to be having the desired effect. I'm seeing op-eds pop-up everywhere, ridiculing Sanders' supporters and/or urging him to drop out of the race. In an op-ed on Alternet, titled "Sorry, Bernie: I Love You, but This Is Over—and Getting Embarrassing," Edwin Lyngar of Salon, writes: "Hillary won Nevada, and she won the state convention. She has won more states and votes than my guy. It’s sad, but I’m not a poor loser. Nevada Bernie supporters are furious they weren’t able to wrest more delegates from a state that Sanders lost." And in an op-ed on the Huffington Post, titled "An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders Supporters," Andy Ostroy writes:

"Enough with the 'rigged system' claims. Please. The system is not rigged. Or corrupt. Or disenfranchising any of you... there’s simply not enough of you. That’s it. No vast left wing conspiracies [this statement makes no sense, of course, since Bernie Sanders is on the left-hand side of the political spectrum, while the Democratic Establishment is center or center-right]. No back-room shenanigans. No covert mission by DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to keep your guy from winning. Bernie’s losing for one reason and one reason alone: he hasn’t convinced enough of you to vote for him. And it’s because his message hasn’t resonated as well as Hillary Clinton’s. Period."

Ostroy seems oblivious to the fact that Debbie Wasserman Schultz (a strong supporter of predatory lenders) has admitted that the Democratic Party's super-delegate system exists specifically to keep someone like Bernie Sanders from winning, explaining: "Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists." What part of this statement does Ostroy, and others, not understand?

(In this video, Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks--who has been giving far more accurate reporting of the Democratic primaries than the pro-Clinton mainstream media--tells us what happened at the confusing and convoluted Nevada Convention, e.g., the absurd voice voting.)

I believe that if Joseph Goebbels were alive today, he would be quite impressed with America's mainstream media, as well as the anti-New Deal Democratic Establishment. I believe he would say something like, "So, the owners of the major media outlets fund their preferred candidates, and then craft new stories to manipulate the public into disliking the opposition? And the party rigs the delegate system with so-called "Super Delegates"? Excellent! Brilliant strategies! Not lovely, not intellectually true... but very effective. Now, that is propaganda!"

(Also see Kevin Gosztola's excellent piece, "How Democrats Manipulated Nevada State Party Convention Then Blamed Sanders For Chaos," Common Dreams, May 18, 2016.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Unwilling to create a new CCC for our unemployed youth, the government is about to start begging Corporate America for cash for our National Park System

(CCC workers at Sequoia National Park, 1933. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.)

According to a recent article on Alternet, the National Park Service is about to beg for corporate cash to address its multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog. In return for the money, Corporate America will be allowed to advertise in the parks. So, bridges built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) might soon have Goldman Sachs logos plastered on them. Or, perhaps a rustic CCC-built pavilion will be renamed "Bank of America Pavilion."

Instead of creating a work program for our nation's chronically unemployed and underemployed youth (see, e.g., here and here), as FDR did with the CCC--to create or improve state and national parks across the country--America is preparing to crawl to Wall Street, head bowed in submission, holding out a tin cup.

So, if this happens, it will only be a matter of time before Corporate America begins calling all the shots in our park system, demanding that we allow wide-scale fracking and strip mining, casinos, strip malls, amusement parks, suburban development, and also demanding that we not bother them about their pollution. "After all," they'll say, "you want continued funding, don't you??" 

And why is corporate funding even needed? Because (a) we've handed out gargantuan tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires over the past many decades, (b) we spend gargantuan amounts of money on military adventures, every single year, and (c) Republican politicians don't give a crap about our national parks (even though millions of citizens do).

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

New Deal Art: "Dismissal"

Above: "Dismissal," an oil painting by Howard Taft Lorenz (1906-1956), created while he was in the WPA's art program, 1940. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Monday, May 16, 2016

New Deal Art: "Family Picnic"

Above: "Family Picnic," an oil painting by Howard Taft Lorenz (1906-1956), created while he was in the WPA's art program, ca. 1935-1943. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

(A closer look at the upper left-hand section of the painting.)

(A closer look at a right-hand section of the painting.)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

At the same time that they're ridiculing progressives, the Democratic Party is enlisting conservatives and right-wing donors to host their national convention

Above: In the first half of this video clip from Thom Hartmann's show, The Big Picture, Hartman highlights the corporate and right-wing figures who are hosting this year's Democratic National Convention. These are people who, to one degree or another, promote fracking, promote the TPP, promote the elimination of the Affordable Care Act, and promote the privatization (i.e., dismantling) of Medicare and Social Security. Hartmann's guest, trial lawyer Mike Papantonio, says, "Progressives no longer have a place in the Democratic Party... If you're a Democrat right now, change your registration." YouTube link:  

2016 should be forever remembered as the year the Democratic Party fully embraced it's shift to the right side of the political spectrum. As they've solicited campaign cash from Wall Street, Republicans donors, corporate lobbyists, etc., they've mocked progressives. For example, anyone who is even half-paying attention to Hillary Clinton and her supporters is aware that they've been poo-pooing the idea of free public college and universal health coverage (even though it's done in other developed countries); that they've labeled Bernie Sanders and his supporters "pie-in-the sky dreamers" who don't now how the government works; and that they've frequently implied that Bernie Sanders' supporters are misogynists.

If you're a progressive, or a liberal Democrat, or an Independent who believes that public policy can promote the common good, and you're supporting Hillary Clinton, I think you need to ask yourself, "Why am I supporting a woman who is backed by financial fraudsters, backed by donors who support right-wing causes, and backed by corporate lobbyists who value investor profits over the economic security of tens of millions of workers?"

Voting for the Democratic Establishment is positive reinforcement for bad behavior. It's like giving your dog a treat every time it poops on your carpet.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Why won't Debbie Wasserman Schultz debate New Dealer Tim Canova?

Above: In this video clip, watch DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz awkwardly evade questions as to whether she will debate her congressional challenger Tim Canova. This is just the latest in a string of happenings, that makes me ask: How can anyone in their right mind vote for her? YouTube link:

Tim Canova is running to oust DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz from her congressional office. In an interview with journalist Glenn Greenwald, Canova said, "I believe in the New Deal. I believe in bottom-up economics." This puts him squarely at odds with Wasserman Schultz, who is far more interested in securing corporate cash, and rigging the Democratic nomination process in favor of Clinton (see my last blog post), than she is in the New Deal, which, I would bet, she knows little or nothing about - and doesn't care to know anything about. As Greenwald writes, "In general, Wasserman Schultz is the living, breathing embodiment of everything rotted and corrupt about the Democratic Party: a corporatist who overwhelmingly relies on corporate money to keep her job, a hawk who supports the most bellicose aspects of U.S. foreign policy..."

So far, Canova has sent three letters to Wasserman Schultz, requesting a debate, and she's ignored all three. So, he tried another method: "I tried to hand her a copy of the letter, but she wouldn't take it from me and told me to hand it to an aide. She was not very pleasant." One of Canova's supporters also tried to ask Wasserman Schultz whether she would have a debate with Canova, and Wasserman Schultz ultimately turned her back on the questioner and replied, "Have a nice day" (see the video of that encounter here).

If I was a political office holder, and I had a legitimate challenger like Canova (see his credentials at his campaign website here), and I was asked for a debate, I would, at the very least, respond, "I think it's something we should try to do, yes." Why? Because Americans should be able to hear their candidates talk about the issues. Why is Wasserman Schultz so afraid of that? Is it because she thinks she'll be exposed as a corporate hack, or as a career politician with very little vision, a history of bad decisions, and a great desire for money and power?

Wasserman Schultz is the ring-leader of a Democratic aristocracy that has devastated the Democratic Party through their slavish devotion to Wall Street, Corporate America, and financial fraudsters. She and her plutocratic buddies have lost of over 1,000 political offices across the country these past several years - and then they have the gall to say, "Hey, if you don't rally around our rigged and corporate candidate, Hillary Clinton, you're going to hurt the party!"

Yes, the Democratic Party is rotted and corrupt. And, until we un-throne the likes of Wasserman Schultz and Clinton, it will stay rotted and corrupt. We must open our eyes and see that these opportunistic politicians have taken the party of Roosevelt, and perverted it into an tool for financial predators.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Sanders wins every county in West Virginia!! But splits the delegates evenly with Hillary Clinton.

Do you see a problem with this picture?

(Image from Huffington Post, used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.)

In the graphic above, we see that Sanders has won, or is leading in every county in West Virginia. And, with 97% of the precincts reporting, I feel confident in saying that he has, indeed, won every county. And he received far more overall votes than Clinton. Yet, so far, they've split the delegates evenly, 17 and 17. This is because of the Democratic Party's rigged and fraudulent nomination process, a large part of which is the super-delegate system.

Now, there are all sorts of issues with the super-delegate system, e.g., is the media reporting it correctly and does it mislead voters into thinking Clinton can't lose. But just look at the image above, and ask yourself, "Does this pass the smell test?" 

There is also a whole array of talking heads telling us all manner of soothing things about the super-delegate system. Don't believe any of it. The chair of the Democratic National Committee has been very forthright in why the super-delegate system exists: "Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists" ("Un-Democratic Party: DNC chair says superdelegates ensure elites don’t have to run 'against grassroots activists,'" Salon, February 13, 2016). 

But the real question, for me, is: Why are so many Democratic Party voters (in other states) going along with this? Is it because they don't know? Is it because they don't care? Is it because they feel they have no choice, i.e., "Well, if we don't vote for her, Trump will be in the White House!" (which is a bit of an odd fear, since Sanders is consistently polling better than Clinton against Trump).

See, this is why I, and many others, have left the Democratic Party. Not only do they frequently seem wimpy against Republicans, and bought by Wall Street, but they play mind games with their voters. They seem to say, "Yeah, we've rigged the nomination process. Yeah, we're in bed with financial fraudsters. Yeah, we constantly cave to the political right, and bargain with them in a corporate-friendly way. But you'll vote for us anyway, because, ha ha hee hee, what choice do you have??"

As much as I'd hate to see Trump and his xenophobism in the Oval Office, part of me hopes that the Democratic Party, after ramming Hillary Clinton down our throats, gets pulverized in November.

What an awful election system we have. It's not based on hope, bold ideas, or democracy, but on fear, money, and trickery.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

New Deal Art: A Patriotic Montage

Above: According to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, this patriotic montage was painted by Walter Beach Humphrey (1892-1966), while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project. The dates given are ca. 1933-1943, but we know that the Federal Art Project did not begin until the latter part of 1935. Also, the plane shown is a B-24 Liberator, which apparently entered service around 1940. So, it's likely that the painting was made while Humphrey was in the "WPA Art Program," the office that coordinated art projects after the Federal Art Project was terminated in 1939; or perhaps even the New Deal's Section of Fine Arts (which had its genesis in the U.S. Treasury in 1934, and ended up in the Public Buildings Administration, 1939-1943). In any event, it's certainly an elaborate piece. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Hillary Clinton says, "America never stopped being great." If that’s the case, then why do over 9 million Americans think about killing themselves every year?

Above: "Weary," a painting by Edward Millman (1907-1964), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Donald Trump's campaign slogan is "Make America Great Again." Hillary Clinton has repeatedly attacked that slogan by saying, "America never stopped being great." President Obama seconded that notion, by saying "America's pretty darn great right now." 

But if America never stopped being great, why have 1.1 million Americans killed themselves since 1981, more than the number of Americans who died during World War I, World War II, and Vietnam combined? (Statistics from the CDC's Fatal Injury Reports, 1981-1998 and 1999-2014). And why do more than 9 million Americans think about killing themselves, every year? And why have suicides and deaths of despair greatly increased in recent years? Does that sound "pretty darn great" to you?

The truth is, the American economy and the American labor market are absolutely pathetic right now, as they have been for the past 8 years. Yes, the unemployment rate is down, but it is down thanks to a plethora of low-wage jobs - jobs with few if any benefits and no future for advancement. The rate is also down, to some degree, because a lot of people have given up looking for work and are no longer counted in the main unemployment figure.

 Above: "Despair," a lithograph by Nan Lurie (1910-1985). Lurie was an artist in the WPA, c. 1935-1942, but the exact date of "Despair" is unknown. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

In 2014, the Pew Research Center reported "For most workers, real wages have barely budged for decades." And there is a link between economic despair and suicides. For example, a suicide prevention coordinator in Montana, discussing his state's rising number of self-inflicted deaths, said "Probably the biggest reason is socio-economic. We have about 150,000 people in our state that don’t have access to any type of healthcare, which is a major issue. We have a lot of people living in poverty. Wages are not going up at the same pace as rising health costs, rising cost of living and inflation" ("Financial despair, addiction and the rise of suicide in white America," The Guardian, February 7, 2016). 

America has a number of other problems of course, like child homelessness, child obesity, and millions of children drinking lead-poisoned water from crumbing infrastructure. So, in light of all this--the suicides, the suicidal thoughts, the poisoned children, etc.--why do Clinton and Obama say, "America never stopped being great" and "America's pretty darn great right now"? There's a very simple answer: Because they're wealthy - and so are the people they hobnob with. If they lived in poverty, or if their children had been poisoned by lead, I doubt they would say, "Wow, America is awesome!!"

With wealth comes insulation. Insulation from all the things that tear people down, for example, expensive car repairs, student loan debt, debt collection harassment, regressive taxation, inadequate vacation time, mind-numbing jobs, and so on. Author Thomas Frank has accurately described the economic and political situation, with respect to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Establishment:

"Median household income has still not recovered the levels of 2007. Wages are going nowhere. Elite bankers are probably never going to be held accountable for what they did. America is burning. Listening to the leading figures of the Democratic Party establishment, however, you’d never know it. Cool contentment is the governing emotion in these circles. What they have in mind for 2016 is what we might call a campaign of militant complacency. They are dissociated from the mood of the nation, and they do not care... Hillary Clinton is more or less openly offering herself as the complacency candidate. The least inspiring frontrunner in many years, she is a dynastic heir who stands to receive the Democratic nomination largely because it’s her turn..."

Frank then summed up the Democratic Establishment as a "party of the high-achieving professional class that is always looking for a way to dismiss the economic concerns of ordinary people."

Greta Van Susteren of Fox News made a similar comment about the main stream media (much of which has been biased in favor of Clinton, essentially campaigning for her):

"The media didn’t 'get' the Donald Trump or Senator Bernie Sanders phenomena because so many in the media are way out of touch with the American people. They look at politics through their own eyes, and the eyes of their media colleagues and not the eyes of the American people... Add into the equation that for many in the media things are good. Wages are not stagnant, and, in TV, we get paid well... While America is busy thinking 'I am worried about paying my rent... I can’t make my car payment... I think my job is moving overseas... I need a job... my child is sick... my water heater needs to be replaced and I have no savings, etc.,' what is the media thinking about? In some instances, and I will leave out the names, I think they are too busy thinking about themselves."

So, for rich Americans like Clinton, Obama, and their wealthy friends and backers, and the media that shills for them, yes, America is great. But for those tens of millions of people who will never achieve the American Dream because some financial shackle is holding them in place, or dragging them down further, America is a living hell - a hell they often think about escaping, sometimes at end of a barrel.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

FDR's preference for government action over philanthropy

(Franklin Roosevelt, 1932. Also pictured is Anna Roosevelt, FDR's daughter, and Francis Carr, a prominent California Democrat. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.)

During a 1932 speech in Detroit, FDR said, "Now, my friends, the philosophy of social justice that I am going to talk about this Sabbath day, the philosophy of social justice through social action, calls definitely, plainly, for the reduction of poverty. And what do we mean when we talk about the reduction of poverty? We mean the reduction of the causes of poverty."

He then highlighted unemployment as a cause of poverty and said, "Some leaders have wisely declared for a system of unemployment insurance throughout this broad land of ours; and we are going to come to it." But FDR also called for the provision of public jobs for the unemployed: "The followers of the philosophy of 'social action for the prevention of poverty' maintain that if we set up a system of justice we shall have small need for the exercise of mere philanthropy. Justice, after all, is the first goal we seek. We believe that when justice has been done individualism will have a greater security to devote the best that individualism itself can give. In other words, my friends, our long-range objective is not a dole, but a job" (emphasis added).

FDR then described the role of government: "And so the State should step in to equalize the burden by providing for a large portion of the care of the victims of poverty and by providing assistance and guidance for local communities. Above and beyond that duty of the States the national Government has a responsibility."

At the time of this speech, FDR was the governor of New York, and he had implemented a work-relief program there (with the assistance of funds made possible, in part, by President Herbert Hoover). Once in the White House, FDR--along with his fellow New Deal policymakers--greatly expanded work-relief, with the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the Civil Works Administration, the Works Progress Administration, and the National Youth Administration. Collectively, these programs hired about 20 million jobless Americans.

Today, when people lose their jobs, our society first refers them to unemployment insurance (assuming they're eligible, not everyone is), and then to the wealthy, to beg for their whimsical philanthropy or their magical "job-creating powers." Missing from the picture is a large government work-relief program, like the WPA, where workers can preserve their skills and earn a small amount of money until they find something better (while also improving the nation's infrastructure, preserving our history, providing social services, etc.). 

One of the main causes of poverty in America today is the absence of work-relief. Those who cry out, in wide-eyed wonder, "free market!" and "personal responsibility!" are utterly ignorant about a key and constant goal of business - the reduction of labor cost, i.e., the reduction of employees. Business men and women, who the free-marketeers worship as "job creators," are always looking for ways to get rid of workers or, at the very least, keep the number of employees as low as possible. Why? Because it's a drain on profits. Therefore, we need to counterbalance that with a work-relief program, so people can have a poverty-free transition from one job to another. FDR mostly understood this. Some of his advisers and administrators during the New Deal, like Harry Hopkins, Louis Howe, Raymond Moley, and Corrington Gill, fully understood it.

Our society today? No, we don't understand it. And we pay dearly for that lack of understanding, in the form of soul-crushing unemployment, homelessness, ruined credit, debt collection harassment, lost homes, and so much more. Unfortunately, we've submitted to the idiots who wring their hands in joy and squeal about the wonders of the holy "free market." Hopefully, a future generation will wake up and fight back.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

FDR on trickle-down economics

(Franklin Roosevelt, photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

In 1932, Franklin Roosevelt said "there are two theories of prosperity and of well-being: The first theory is that if we make the rich richer, somehow they will let a part of their prosperity trickle down to the rest of us."

He then explained the second theory: "if we make the average of mankind comfortable and secure, their prosperity will rise upward..."

Next, he described what was wrong with the first theory--trickle-down economics--by quoting from various Christian groups and leaders of the day: 

"the wealthy are overpaid in sharp contrast with the underpaid masses of the people. The concentration of wealth carries with it a dangerous concentration of power. It leads to conflict and violence... Economists now call attention to the fact that the present distribution of wealth and income, which is so unbrotherly in the light of Christian ethics, is also unscientific in that it does not furnish purchasing power to the masses to balance consumption and production in our machine age."

"It is patent in our days that not alone is wealth accumulated, but immense power and despotic economic domination are concentrated in the hands of a few... This concentration of power has led to a three-fold struggle for domination: First, there is the struggle for dictatorship in the economic sphere itself; then the fierce battle to acquire control of the Government, so that its resources and authority may be abused in the economic struggle, and, finally, the clash between the Governments themselves." (World War II, of course, would soon begin - a war provoked, in part, by poverty, unemployment, and mass income & wealth inequality. 60 million people died in that conflict, perhaps more.)

"We talk of the stabilization of business. What we need is the stabilization of human justice and happiness and the permanent employment of economic policies which will enable us to preserve the essential human values of life amid all the changing aspects of the economic order... We so easily forget. Once the cry of so-called prosperity is heard in the land, we all become so stampeded by the spirit of the god Mammon, that we cannot serve the dictates of social conscience..."

Sunday, May 1, 2016

New Deal Art: "Young Cat Sleeping"

Above: "Young Cat Sleeping," a lithograph on paper by Mabel Wellington Jack (1899-1975), created while she was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.