Monday, January 30, 2017

The selective outrage of the super-rich: Extreme income & wealth inequality, and an indifference to the needs of suffering Americans, has brought us to this ugly place

Above: The description for this photograph (ca. 1935-1943) reads, "Future literates and future citizens. Adults of Spanish, Mexican, and Central American ancestry at Americanization Classes of WPA Education Program of the California Department of Education learning to read. This class is held in quarters donated by the Guadalupe Church (Spanish Catholic) in San Francisco and is composed of beginner, elementary, and advanced students. The advanced students are preparing for their citizenship papers." Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Above: PWA administrator and Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes speaks to a congressional committee about the Bonneville Dam in 1939. With respect to the issues of refugees and immigration, Ickes was one of the most progressive New Dealers. In 1938 he suggested that some European Jews could be settled in the Virgin Islands. When that idea didn't gain any traction, he pushed for a settlement in Alaska that would include both Jewish refugees and the unemployed. President Roosevelt appeared to be interested in the idea, and in 1939 encouraged Ickes to help create the necessary legislation. U.S. Senator Robert Wagner and others introduced the resulting bill, but it went nowhere. Too many Americans (politicians and voters) were fearful that a Jewish refugee settlement in Alaska would ultimately mean Jews coming down to the lower states (T.H. Watkins, Righteous Pilgrim: The Life and Times of Harold L. Ickes, 1874-1952, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1990, pp. 672-675). Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Silicon Valley and many celebrities are speaking out against the Trump administration's recent, clumsy, and cold-hearted immigration ban. Protest can be good, no matter who it comes from, but I can't help but wonder: "Where were these very wealthy people when so many Americans lost their jobs during the Great Recession?" And where is their outrage and concern, when it comes to student loan debt (which is nearing $1.5 trillion), rising suicides (many of which are tied to financial stress), and extreme income & wealth inequality (which they are on the winning side of)? It seems to me that many of these people are relatively content with problems that don't affect their wealth. As a journalist recently pointed out:

"Immigration issues are core values in the Silicon Valley ethos, not just ideologically, but economically. Immigrants make up much of the industry’s workforce and occupy roles in every tier, from entry-level to executive. For example, Google’s Pichai is an Indian native" ("Tech companies are worried about Trump’s executive orders on immigration," ThinkProgress, January 28, 2017, emphasis added).

Interestingly, some of these "noble" Silicon Valley Captains of Industry have, in the past, sought to wipe the homeless from their sight - even though they were partly responsible for making them homeless (see, e.g., "How Silicon Valley Created America's Largest Homeless Camp," The Atlantic, November 25, 2014, and "Wealthy San Francisco tech investors bankroll bid to ban homeless camps," The Guardian, October 12, 2016). 

I'm not the only one to question the sincerity of super-wealthy techies and celebrities. For example, in the comments section of a Huffington Post story about actor Ashton Kutcher's denouncement of Trump's immigration ban, you can read feedback like this: "It's hilarious that these millionaires are going to give us political opinions while living in gated communities and protected by armed security. Yes, walls and guns." And: "I love how all the Hollywood actors and actresses still think that their opinion matters. I don't really care what they think. They're all completely detached from reality. I support our president in protecting our country. It's about time!!"

Super-wealthy, supposedly liberal Americans haven't a clue about how their selective outrage has brought us to this ugly place. They have benefited from decades of tax-breaks-for-the-wealthy, their investment profits have ballooned as middle-class jobs have been exported to third-world labor markets, and when the idea of a new WPA was floated during the height of the recession, to help the unemployed, I heard not a single word from them. Why? Because those things don't concern them. But now, when the immigration ban might affect them personally, because of the impact on their friends, loved ones, and dividend income, they're mad as hell.

I don't support Trump and his greedy billionaire administration. But I also don't give much weight to the selective outrage of super-wealthy celebrities and tech investors- whose indifference to the needs of millions of struggling Americans brought us the Trump administration in the first place; as those struggling Americans were looking for somebody, anybody, to rescue them from their miserable existence... even a con man.

What we need is another, and even stronger New Deal. We need a public works program for the unemployed. We need to expand Social Security. We need a new Civilian Conservation Corps to address the multi-billion dollar maintenance back-log that exists within our national parks & forests. We need free public colleges and the elimination of all existing student loan debt (or, at the very least, the ability to discharge them through bankruptcy). We need to tax the rich more... a lot more. Yes, we need to soak the hell out of super-wealthy Americans (who have trillions in wealth) and then fix the dilapidated infrastructure that's putting brain-damaging lead in the bloodstreams of millions of children.

Only when we properly address the health & economic problems of tens of millions of struggling Americans--through another New Deal--will we begin to move away from this culture of anger, hatred, and fear that is enveloping and consuming us. Unfortunately, I see no sign of another New Deal on the horizon. I just see selective outrage coming from those who are privileged enough to pick & choose what concerns them. 

"We are going to make a country in which no one is left out."

--President Roosevelt, from Frances Perkins' 1946 book, The Roosevelt I Knew. In these words is the ethos of the New Deal - an ethos we abandoned a long time ago.

Friday, January 27, 2017

New Deal Baseball and Softball

Above: "Baseball at Night," an oil painting by Morris Kantor (1896-1974), created while he was in the Public Works of Art Project, 1934. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: A night baseball game in Perris Hill Ballpark, San Bernardino, California, ca. 1935-1943. The ballpark was one of many built by the WPA. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: The description for this photograph reads, "The playground programs in California operated by WPA Recreational Leadership offer activities such as this impromptu baseball game for interested adults." I've frequently wondered why, for the most part, we give up sports when we leave high school or college. I guess it's so ingrained in us that we have to join the 9-5 (or 9-9) rat race that we just leave all the fun behind. But perhaps our devotion to Corporate America is part of the reason we're so stressed, fat, and plagued with health problems, like Type II Diabetes. Maybe we should revive the WPA's recreational programs for adults. Pharmaceutical companies would lobby hard against it of course, since they're banking on our illness and lack of physical fitness, but I bet it would be quite beneficial for the nation. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: The description for this photograph, ca. 1935-1943, reads, "Softball, under WPA Recreation leadership, is a part of the Recreation program at the Waukesha Industrial School [Wisconsin]." Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Above: A game of stickball in the streets is fun, but it could be hazardous to people's windows too. One foul ball and that car's windshield is done for. And, when you're playing on asphalt, sliding into third base is probably a tad painful. So, New Deal work-relief programs built and improved thousands of baseball fields across the country for kids (and adults) to have safe places to play in. For example, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration constructed 619 baseball fields and improved 627 others (The Emergency Work Relief Program of the F.E.R.A., April 1, 1934 - July 1, 1935, p. 89). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: The description for this 1939 photograph reads, "WPA-constructed athletic field adjoining rear of school grounds of Flomaton High School [Alabama]. This field contains five acres with 500 feet of enclosing wooden fence and 100 square yards of grass planted by WPA. Sponsored by Escambia County Board of Education. Approximate cost $3,263." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: CCC boys had plenty of opportunities to participate in intramural sports. Here, we see a CCC playoff game at Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC, 1940 (the stadium was demolished in the 1960s). How amazing it must have been for these youth--who had just months or years earlier hitched rides on freight trains across the country, looking for (non-existent) work--to suddenly be working in the nation's parks & forests; receiving medical care; receiving training & education; and playing sports. Some cold-hearted people might label this "wasteful spending" by "big government." But considering that many CCC boys subsequently helped us win World War II, and considering that we're still hunting, fishing, hiking, boating, and camping in hundreds of their parks & forests today, I'd say that we got the better end of the deal. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A National Youth Administration (NYA) softball team in Phoenix, Arizona, 1936. Like the CCC boys, NYA youth had many opportunities for recreation. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

Above: The New Deal also created many opportunities for women and girls to play sports (see my previous blog post). In this newspaper article, from the June 15th, 1939 edition of the Arizona Republic, we read about a WPA-sponsored girls softball league. This image is from a larger scan, and is used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

Above: WPA workers (and perhaps also workers in the Federal Emergency Relief Administration) built Lamar Porter Field (Little Rock, Arkansas), one of many New Deal-built sports facilities. Hall of Fame third-baseman Brooks Robinson played in this ball park when he was a kid. Robinson won the American League MVP award in 1964, and captivated the nation during the 1970 World Series, where he led the Baltimore Orioles over the Cincinnati Reds by batting .429 (including 2 home runs, 2 doubles, and 6 runs batted in) and making several acrobatic plays at third base. How many other great sports players learned their trade on New Deal tennis courts, golf courses, baseball diamonds, basketball courts, and football fields? Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A night softball game at Lamar Porter Field, July 1938. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: The description for this WPA photograph, ca. 1935-1943, reads, "San Bernardino - California - Perris Hill Baseball Park [built by WPA] - practice game - Pirates vs. Cubs." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: "Franklin D. Roosevelt throwing out the first pitch at Griffith Stadium for the Boston Red Sox and Washington Senators baseball game," April 24, 1934. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

"You know how heartily I believe in the adequate provision of opportunities for recreation and how through the years I have cared for the work of the National Recreation Association. I rejoice in the growing public interest in this subject as evidenced by the fine facilities now being provided by the Government - Federal, state and local - for the enjoyment of the people."

--President Franklin Roosevelt, September 26, 1935, Letter on Recreational Facilities

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

New Deal Sports and Recreation for Girls and Women

Above: Young women in the National Youth Administration improving their tennis skills in Illinois, ca. 1936-1937. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the New Deal Network.

Above: The description for this photograph reads, "Casting activities at Anglers' Lodge in Golden Gate Park are not confined exclusively to the men. Miss Pat Krause, San Francisco High School girl, is considered one of the leading casters at the WPA-built pools. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: National Youth Administration youth leaders, at a NYA-run summer camp in Chepachet, Rhode Island, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: "Field event at NYA Summer Camp for under-privileged children, Chepachet, Rhode Island," ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Two young women enjoying A WPA-built swimming pool at the Davis Avenue Community Center in Mobile, Alabama, 1937. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: "Girls' Paddle Polo game at the Colorado Lagoon in Long Beach [California]," ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Practicing archery on a WPA recreation project in California, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: "The new Alabama State Training School for girls [Mobile] was built by the WPA from the ground up. Shot shows girls enjoying swimming in pool built for them by the WPA," 1938. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: This woman is getting ready to hit the slopes in northern California, after a WPA-worker prepares her skis with some wax, 1939. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A WPA music class in San Francisco, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: WPA artist Georgette Seabrooke (1916-2011) painting her mural "Recreation in Harlem," for the Harlem Hospital in New York City, 1936. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Above: Women playing volleyball in a WPA adult recreation program in San Francisco, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Several women (and perhaps one man) at the Arizona State Teachers College (Tempe) are practicing their golf skills, ca. 1933-1943. The Public Works Administration built the building you see here and/or a golf course for the students. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

New Deal Art: "Studio Interior"

Above: "Studio Interior," an oil painting by George Ault (1891-1948), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1938. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Betsy and Malia: Unearned jobs and dream internships for the elite, but no WPA or CCC for the rest of us. Welcome to plutocracy.

Above: These formerly-jobless women are employed on a WPA archaeological project in Alabama, ca. 1935-1943. Eight-and-a-half million struggling Americans found jobs in the WPA during the New Deal era. They created hundreds of thousands of public works, many of which we still enjoy and utilize today. Ironically, many Americans look down their noses at the unemployed, calling them "takers," while unknowingly using many projects created by the unemployed, like roads, bridges, water mains, airports, libraries, and parks. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Unearned jobs

During her confirmation hearing to become the new U.S. Secretary of Education, born-into-wealth Betsy DeVos, who has no experience as a student or administrator in America's public school system, was asked by Bernie Sanders, "Do you think, if you were not a multi-billionaire, if your family had not made hundreds of millions of dollars of contributions to the Republican Party, that you would be sitting here today?"

DeVos replied, "Senator, as a matter of fact, I do think that there would be that possibility." This, of course, is ludicrous. A middle-class or low-income Jane Schmo, with no real experience in the public schools, would not come within one billion light years of the U.S. Secretary of Education seat. DeVos is there because her rich buddies, and her political puppets, are rewarding her for the hundreds of millions of dollars her family has given to right-wing causes. If she was a modest-income Jane Schmo, Trump would have picked someone else. Indeed, he wouldn't even know who she was.

Dream internships... for the children of the elite, not you

In other recent news, we learned that Malia Obama has landed a prestigious internship--before she's even attended one day of college (which will be at Harvard, debt-free)--with the big-wig Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein: "Malia will reportedly work with the marketing or development teams in the New York office of the Weinstein Company in February. The Weinstein Company was founded by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who's a big supporter of the Democratic Party, has hosted fundraisers for the party, and is friendly with Barack and Michelle Obama" ("Malia Obama is going to intern with hotshot Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein," Business Insider, January 20, 2017).

Of course, these stories about DeVos and Obama are simply high-profile examples of what goes on everyday in plutocratic America. We are a culture of nepotism and cronyism. The elite circle their wagons around the best jobs and the most prestigious internships (which are often unpaid, to discourage the children of middle and low-income families from applying), and leave the rest of us with stagnant or dropping wages and $1.4 trillion in student loan debt (and growing, see Student Loan Debt Clock).

But the elite are even more sinister than that. You see, while they're securing the best jobs and internships for themselves, they're also blocking any effort create a new WPA or CCC for unemployed Americans who just need a helping hand between jobs, or just need a jump start out of school, training, or some other transitional situation, e.g., military service.

Above: Two students perform experiments at Howard University, Washington, DC, ca. 1935-1939. The building was funded by the New Deal's Public Works Administration. The New Deal created facilities all across the country for middle and low-income groups to have more educational, health, and job opportunities. This type of ethos is in short supply today. Today, nepotism, cronyism, privilege, and snobbery rule the day. Our elders and ancestors who lived during the 1930s and 40s are called the "Greatest Generation." What will we be called? Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

No WPA for the rest of us

In 2011, U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced legislation to create a new WPA. His idea was to give jobs to the unemployed fixing America's crumbling infrastructure. He received no support from Republicans, no support from Democrats, and no support from President Obama (so much for the "audacity of hope"). Hence the bill died a lonely death in committee. Joe Biden's economic adviser wrote: "There will be no WPA-type programs in our near future. There was no appetite for them in the Obama admin in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression and there’s a lot less now. The reasons for that are interesting and I’ll speak to them another day. But it ain’t happening." (As far as I know, we never got that follow-up explanation.)

Above: Nepotism and cronyism have always been a part of American government, even during the New Deal. But New Deal policymakers were much more focused on increasing job opportunities for those who might not otherwise have them, than coddling the wealthy. The photo above, taken in 1942, shows a young man in the National Youth Administration (which began as a WPA program) in the Virgin Islands. Millions of young and low-income men & women were hired into the NYA between 1935 and 1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.   

No CCC for the rest us

In 2012, when legislation was introduced to create a new CCC-like jobs program for unemployed veterans, Senate Republicans blocked it. We know that the suicide rate for young veterans, for a long time now, has been higher than it is for the rest of the population, and we know that unemployment and financial stress are factors that increase suicide rates. Interestingly, five Republican senators broke ranks with their sociopath colleagues and supported the legislation. One, Dean Heller of Nevada, said: "After everything our veterans have done for us, the least we can do is make sure they are afforded every opportunity to thrive here at home." Too bad more Republicans don't have that mindset.

Above: CCC boys constructing a building in Boise National Forest, Idaho, 1933. During the New Deal, millions of young, lower-income men received opportunities to earn a little money and learn some work skills. In return, America received hundreds of new or improved parks & forests that we still use today. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

The super-wealthy and their political puppets prefer us to be unemployed and financially devastated

A 2013 survey report, from researchers at Northwestern and Vanderbilt universities, indicated that only 8% of wealthy Americans support the following proposition: "The federal government should provide jobs for everyone able and willing to work who cannot find a job in private employment." So, it seems that about 92% of wealthy Americans are saying, "If you're not working for me, making me profit, then you should remain jobless and destitute. To hell with you."

But why are the wealthy so opposed to a WPA or CCC program? Answer: Because their investment returns depend on a steady pool of desperate, miserable, and financially devastated workers. Such misery keeps wages low and profits up. Whenever there are more workers than jobs, investors and CEOs salivate, "MORE PROFIT!!!"

What about politicians? Why won't they support a new WPA or CCC? Two reasons. First, they do the bidding of the super-wealthy since the super-wealthy finance their political campaigns. You don't want to upset your political sugar daddies. Second, the unemployed make great political punching bags. Politicians love to call them "parasites" and "takers," scoring quick political points with their heartless base. And so, if all the unemployed found jobs, that would be one less group for politicians to demonize for political gain.

The super-wealthy and their political puppets are not our friends

One would think, as a matter of basic fairness, that if the elite are going to hoard the best opportunities for themselves, they would at least have the decency to create a modest-paying WPA and/or CCC so that the rest of us could have some opportunities when we get laid-off, when the economy tanks, when our chosen careers become obsolete, etc. But nope, most of the super-wealthy don't roll that way. They feel, "I get the best opportunities, because of my wealth privilege. You get nothing but boot straps, screw you." They may not express this grotesque system of privilege & advantage so openly, but they definitely express it with the policies they pay legislators to create and impose on us, for example: student loan bankruptcy restrictions, regressive taxation at the state & local level, a bail system that favors the wealthy, constant assaults on the social safety net, and weak enforcement of financial crimes - crimes that defund the common good and rip-off the public.

Why so many tens of millions of American continue to believe that people like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are our friends, and will fix the economic problems that are crushing us, is beyond me (after all, it was them, and their corporate buddies, who created the problems). But I do know this: As long as we continue to put faith and hope in super-wealthy Americans, and their political puppets, we'll continue to fight for the insufficient scraps they leave behind - while they sit in their lofty towers of privilege, snickering at us and trading unearned jobs and dream internships amongst each other. 

As George Carlin said: "It's a big club, and you ain't in it."

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Drinking lead for the rich in a New Jersey hospital. When will these crimes end?

"Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure."

--The first leaflet of the White Rose, 1942-1943 (see full cite at end of blog post).

Above: The description for this photograph reads, "Set backs are effectively used in the Jersey City Medical Center to give patients light and air." This building was financed by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (which President Roosevelt strengthened) and/or the New Deal's Public Works Administration, ca. 1934-1936. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Going to the hospital to get sick

This week we learned that high levels of lead were found in the drinking water of Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in New Jersey. The CDC has warned us that no amount of lead in our bodies is safe, and that it "can seriously harm a child's health... increasing their risks for damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems (e.g., reduced IQ, ADHD, juvenile delinquency, and criminal behavior), and hearing and speech problems." Hence, the Englewood hospital "will test workers, patients and visitors who have been at the hospital since September 2015. The hospital is especially encouraging anyone who was pregnant and children under the age of six to get tested."

Imagine that. You go to the hospital to get better, and you end up drinking a neurotoxin.

We're poisoning our children through willful neglect

The problem of lead poisoning is not limited to the Englewood Hospital of course. The CDC has informed us that "Millions of children are being exposed to lead in their homes." We also know that Americans are drinking lead in schools, parks, and buildings. In Chicago, for example, nearly half the parks tested positive for high levels of lead. And a recent Reuters investigation found "thousands of U.S. locales where lead poisoning is worse than in Flint [Michigan]" (from all sources, not just water).

Old water mains, old connection lines, and old plumbing fixtures are poisoning adults and children all across the country. Why? Because over the past 30-40 years, instead of focusing on infrastructure needs, we have (a) focused on handing out massive tax breaks to the rich and (b) engaged in an endless stream of expensive military adventures across the globe, e.g., bombings, troop deployments, base constructions, and "regime change."

Folks, it doesn't have to be this way. During the New Deal, there was massive spending on domestic needs, and higher taxes on the wealthy. The WPA, for example, built 226 new hospitals, increased the size of another 156, and repaired or improved 2,168. They also installed 16,000 miles of new water lines. (Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1946, pp. 131 and 136).

Above: Between 1933 and 1939, the New Deal's Public Works Administration added tens of thousands of hospital beds for Americans in need. Graphic is from America Builds, 1939, p. 145.

Trump and the New Deal?

Our new president, Donald Trump, knows full well that the New Deal was the golden age of American infrastructure. In his 2015 book, Great Again: How To Fix Our Crippled America, he suggested that we should duplicate the New Deal's bold infrastructure program, writing "we can create the biggest economic boom in this country since the New Deal when our vast infrastructure was first put into place." But here's the problem: Trump and his Republican colleagues in Congress are planning to hand out enormous tax cuts to the wealthy. Republican state legislatures across the country, no doubt, want to do the same thing. Therefore, the only way that we can modernize our infrastructure--while increasing our already-massive military spending (a Republican priority)--is by taxing the middle-class and poor more - at the state & local level; going deeper into debt - which Republicans say they don't like; cutting our already-anemic social safety net - which might pay for a handful of bridges I suppose; or privatizing our infrastructure - which will inevitably lead to more toll roads, more toll bridges, and higher utility rates.

We can look to Kansas, among other places, to see what happens when you pass out tax breaks to the rich like candy. Kansas has been constantly raiding its highway funds, as well as other funds, to make up for the revenue shortfalls they created by handing out massive tax breaks for the rich. That doesn't bode well for infrastructure repair and improvement. Yet, astonishingly, right-wing voters & politicians want to replicate this disastrous Kansas experiment, on the the entire country. (See, e.g., "Kansas' experiment in voodoo economics is floundering. And spreading." St Louis-Post Dispatch, January 14, 2017)

When will we stop being suckers for the rich?

Only when Americans cease their slavish devotion to the super-wealthy will we fix our infrastructure problems. Until then, it will just be band-aid solutions (if any solutions at all). Unfortunately, Americans are showing no signs of ending their pitiful submission to the super-wealthy - as evidenced by their recent placement of even more super-wealthy sociopaths in our state and federal governments, e.g., Trump's billionaire cabinet and administrative picks. And make no mistake about it, American voters have put them there. Whether it was by misinformed voting, voting on social issues alone, failing to vote at all, failing to support Bernie Sanders (a sincere candidate for the people), etc., the American electorate put these psychopath billionaires in positions of authority. Just as the White Rose told German citizens--after the latter allowed Hitler to rise to power--the American electorate is "guilty, guilty, guilty!" (see longer quote below). 

Collectively, we've deluded ourselves into thinking that the people who are financially pounding us into the ground will make our lives better. And that's why American children will continue to incur brain damage from lead-contaminated water; and also why huge numbers of children across the planet will continue dying from air pollution. It seems that we're quite willing to sacrifice the health and lives of children, if that's what it takes to please billionaires. We dare not tax them more, these holy "JOB CREATORS," even as they continue hoarding record wealth while we fall deeper into debt, toxicity, and misery.

Isn't that amazing?

Above: Laborers in the New Deal's Civil Works Administration building a medical facility in Salisbury, Maryland, ca. 1933-1934. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.

The White Rose: A lesson for today?

The following is from the second leaflet of the White Rose (full citation at the end). When reading this quote, think of the increasingly fascist & plutocratic nature of American government, the apathetic behavior of many Americans, and the millions of children being poisoned by crumbling infrastructure - infrastructure that always takes a back seat to tax-cuts-for-the-wealthy and military spending:
"Why do the German people behave so apathetically in the face of all these abominable crimes... The German people slumber on in their dull, stupid sleep and encourage these fascist criminals; they give them the opportunity to carry on their depredations; and of course they do so."

"Is this a sign that the Germans are brutalized in their simplest human feelings, that no chord within them cries out at the sight of such deeds, that they have sunk into a fatal consciencenessless from which they will never, never awake? It seems to be so, and it will certainly be so, if the German does not at last start up out of his stupor, if he does not protest wherever and whenever he can against this clique of criminals, if he shows no sympathy for these hundreds of thousands of victims..."

"For through his apathetic behavior he gives these evil men the opportunity to act as they do... Indeed, he himself is to blame for the fact that it came about at all! Each man wants to be exonerated of a guilt... each one continues on his way with the most placid, and calmest conscience. But he cannot be exonerated; he is guilty, guilty, guilty!"

(Inge Scholl, The White Rose: Munich, 1942-1943, Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1983, pp. 78-79) 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

In Davos, the super-wealthy use "mindfulness" to distract us from death, mass poisoning, and the hideous income & wealth inequality they've created

"a constellation of egos involved in massive orgies of adulation"

--London Mayor Boris Johnson's description of the "World Economic Forum" in Davos, Switzerland ("From Goldie Hawn to Bill Gates: The most powerful people in the world are gathered in Davos to save the world and find their Zen," Yahoo Finance, January 22, 2014)

Above: President Roosevelt didn't need or use "mindfulness" to improve the lives of millions of Americans. He just signed the Social Security Act in 1935. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum

Yesterday, journalist Peter Goodman discussed the 2017 "World Economic Forum" in Davos, Switzerland, and wrote:

"... solutions that have currency seem calculated to spare corporations and the wealthiest people from having to make any sacrifices at all, as if there is a way to be found to tilt the balance of inequality while those at the top hang on to everything they have. More entrepreneurialism, mindfulness training, education focused on the modern ways of technology: These are the sorts of items that tend to get discussed here as the response to the plight of those left behind by globalization. That perhaps private equity overseers should not be paid 1,000 times as much as teachers while availing themselves of tax breaks is thinking that gets little airing here" ("Davos Elite Fret About Inequality Over Vintage Wine and Canapes," New York Times, January 18, 2017, emphasis added).

Davos is a yearly gathering of the financial elite. They meet to talk about solutions to global warming, after their private jets have spewed tons of filth into the atmosphere to get them there. They meet to talk about income inequality, while they giggle to themselves about the billions they've hidden in offshore bank accounts. They meet to talk about the problems of third world countries, after they've invested in companies that have poisoned and killed the residents of those countries (for example, the military-industrial complex and the fossil fuel industry).

Above: New Deal administrators like Harry Hopkins and Harold Ickes didn't need or use "mindfulness" to modernize American infrastructure, like this 1936 WPA waterworks project in Birmingham, Alabama. Indeed, these two no-nonsense administrators would probably have considered "mindfulness" for a moment or two, and then said, "Look, we've got work to do, we don't have time for that silliness." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

At the World Economic Forum (which only the tiniest sliver of the world is permitted to attend), they use happy words to distract us from their bad behavior, for example, "entrepreneurship!" "innovation!" "retooling the workforce!" and, of course, "mindfulness."

Here is a definition of mindfulness from Psychology Today: "Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience."

In other words, it doesn't really mean anything at all. It's just a neat-sounding word, like "innovation," that the super-wealthy can use to make themselves appear a little less monstrous that they actually are. A word they can use to avoid paying higher taxes or installing pollution control devices that might reduce their profits by an intolerable 1.3%.

Above: The young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps, shown here in northern California, didn't need or use "mindfulness" to create or improve our parks and forests, or to fight forest fires. They simply hopped in trucks, went to the work sites, and did the job. That's how they did things back then. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Since "mindfulness" has become the hip new thing (within the last 2 to 3 years I suppose), children are still being poisoned by lead-contaminated water, thanks to infrastructure neglect; hundreds of thousands of children are still dying from air-pollution, caused by the fossil fuel industry; the military-industrial complex is still gleefully bombing the hell of out of people, so that already-rich investors can become richer still; non-wealthy college graduates are still suffocating under a trillion+ debt, while their super-wealthy fellow students graduate debt-free and secure the choicest jobs within a network of well-heeled politicians and businessmen; and yes, despite the serene "mindfulness" of billionaires, the planet is still getting hotter - 2016 was the warmest on record. (Also see, "Corporate mindfulness is bullsh*t: Zen or no zen, you're working harder and being paid less," Salon, September 27, 2015)

And the reason these plagues continue unabated? Because the gobbledygook of "mindfulness" is a pathetic alternative to the New Deal. "Active, open attention to the present" is no replacement for strong unions. Observing "your thoughts and feelings from a distance" is not nearly as helpful as an expansion of Social Security would be. "Living in the moment and awakening to experience" doesn't help our national parks and forests - but a new Civilian Conservation Corps certainly would.

But alas, "mindfulness" doesn't cost any money - higher taxes would. So, the super-wealthy prefer the former. They prefer to mentally pleasure themselves into happiness and peace, instead of funding programs that would actually improve people's lives - like debt reduction, free public college, infrastructure repair, single-payer health insurance, work programs for the unemployed, higher wages for workers, expansion of Social Security, and so on.

The World Economic Forum in Davos should be shut down and discontinued. It is a foolish and impotent exercise, or, as Jeff Macke of Yahoo Finance described it, a "willfully oblivious mix of greed and altruism." Instead, the super-wealthy should be taxed more--much more--so that we have the revenue to improve the planet and lift people out of poverty. We've tried greed and low-wages. It hasn't worked. Let's return to, and improve, the New Deal.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

New Deal Story Hour

Above: The description for this photograph reads, "Story telling at Avondale Park [Birmingham, Alabama]. Sponsored by Park and Recreation Board 1936. Story hour held daily on 46 playgrounds throughout the City by WPA and NYA workers." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A WPA poster advertising a WPA "Story Hour Club." This poster was created in Illinois, by Shari Weisberg, between 1936 and 1939. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The New Deal's Civil Rights Movement

"The impact of her personality and its unwavering devotion to high principle and purpose cannot be contained in a single day or era."

--Martin Luther King, Jr., on Eleanor Roosevelt, after her death in 1962 (from "Eleanor Roosevelt and Civil Rights," George Washington University).

Above: The WPA's "Negro Advisory Board," July 1937. On July 11, 1936, WPA chief Harry Hopkins had issued an administrative order which held that "workers who are qualified by training and experience to be assigned to work projects and who are eligible as specifically provided by law and by these regulations shall not be discriminated against on any grounds whatever, such as race, religion, or political affiliation." The order echoed an Executive Order President Roosevelt had issued a year before (Donald S. Howard, The WPA and Federal Relief Policy, New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1943, p. 285, citing WPA Administrative Order No. 44). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: The Council of Negro Women, outside the Interior Department building in Washington, D.C., April, 1938. Mary McLeod Bethune (front row, center, with the flower on her jacket) founded this organization of women in 1935. Bethune was also a member of FDR's "Black Cabinet," an administrator in the National Youth Administration, and a founder of Bethune-Cookman University. There is a statue of her in Lincoln Park, in Washington, D.C. The National Council of Negro Women is still an active organization today. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A closer look at the left-hand side of the photo, with Bethune at lower right.

 Above: A closer look at the right-hand side of the photo.

There were many ways that the New Deal advanced civil rights and expanded opportunities for African Americans, as well as other minority groups. The above are just a few examples. Could FDR and his fellow New Deal administrators have done more to promote civil rights, opportunity, and integration? Perhaps. But the New Deal needed the support of southern Democrats, many of whom were open and ardent racists. Failure to compromise with them may have doomed many, or even most New Deal policies (policies that ultimately helped many minority Americans). Indeed, the exuberant integration shown in some WPA Federal Theatre performances almost certainly contributed to that program's demise via congressional defunding in 1939. Southern Democrats just didn't like the idea of whites and blacks acting, singing, and dancing together on stage (see, e.g., the Howard book cited above, pp. 294-295).

What the New Deal did for minority groups, especially African Americans, was revolutionary for the day. Viewed through a modern lens, it may seem like baby steps. But transport yourself back to America of the 1920s and 30s, which in many places resembled South Africa's apartheid, and you can appreciate some of the groundbreaking policies and actions of the New Deal. Make no mistake about it, the New Deal laid the groundwork for the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 60s. It also laid the groundwork for a more fair and just society, which has only recently been unraveling thanks to trickle-down economics, corporate greed, and the fear & anger-based politics of the political right.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

African American NYA Band. The New Deal makes music for the United States and South America.

Above: An African American band in the National Youth Administration (NYA), Mobile, Alabama, 1937. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Another picture of the African American NYA band in Mobile, Alabama. According to the Final Report of the National Youth Administration (1944), "NYA orchestras and choral groups were formed in a number of States... In organizing a NYA orchestra, the following steps were taken: Securing a sponsorship, usually the city; provision of NYA funds for scores, some instruments, and equipment such as stands; securing a conductor, either by a small payment for his services (about $125 a month) or by arrangement through the co-sponsor; payment of youth wages for rehearsals and performances... Performances were given at municipal parks and halls. In the fiscal years 1941 and 1942, NYA orchestras gave 3,976 performances... Often radio time was secured for broadcasts... a series of NYA musical broadcasts were given, featuring musical contributions of various racial groups. These programs were broadcast on a Nation-wide hook-up from a dozen different cities and short-waved to South America" (pp. 173-174). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

New Deal Art: "Winter Sports"

Above: "Winter Sports," a mural study by Paul Faulkner, created while he was in the New Deal's Section of Fine Arts. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: A closer look at the left-hand side of the painting.

Above: A closer look at the center of the painting.

Above: A closer look at the right-hand side of the painting. The finished mural, located in the Kewaunee, Wisconsion Post Office, has some significant changes from this mural study. It can be viewed on the website of the Living New Deal, here.

Above: The New Deal not only painted winter sports, it made winter sports, such as this WPA-built ski jump in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, ca. 1935-1943. Across the United States, WPA workers created 1,101 ice skating areas, 65 ski jumps, and 310 miles of ski trails (Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1946, p. 131). Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.