Monday, February 27, 2017

The Anti-New Deal Democratic Establishment just threw two more pies in the face of Progressives

Above: This short video clip, from an episode of Our Gang, reminds me of what the Democratic Establishment has been doing to Progressives for a long time now.

Over the weekend, Clinton-supporter Tom Perez beat Sanders-supporter (and Progressive) Keith Ellison for leadership of the DNC. Barack Obama, who was a major supporter of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former (and corrupt) DNC chair, was no doubt pleased with the outcome, since his former aides and operatives were instrumental in getting Perez to run against Ellison in the first place. With a Perez victory, Obama and his corporate pals know that the financial industry will continue to control the democratic party. This was the first pie-in-the-face. The DNC also voted to continue taking corporate campaign cash (bribes), despite Progressive opposition. This was the second pie-in-the-face. (See, "The Bernie Wing Is Starting To Make Peace With Tom Perez: DNC members poked Berniecrats in the eye. Do they care?", Huffington Post, February 26, 2017).

Yes, Progressives have been played for suckers - again. They had two more pies thrown in their face, courtesy of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and all the other corporate Democrats who still control the party. Perez made an empty peace offering to Progressives, by naming Ellison as his deputy chair - a position with zero power and, we can be sure, zero influence. This was similar to Chuck Schumer naming Bernie Sanders as director of outreach, or whatever the position is called. It's the equivalent of putting someone in charge of a remote desert outpost, while all the action is going on back home.

But all of this is nothing new of course. Progressives have been punked for decades now by the anti-New Deal Democratic Party leadership and their corporate donors. Here are some of the anti-Progressive things that Corporate Democrats have voted for, caused, supported, or enabled (click on links for details):

5. Social Security reduction and privatization.
10. A Republican take-over of federal and state governments, and a high probability that there will be a right-wing led constitutional convention within the next few years.

Above: In this video clip, from a February 2017 episode of Thom Hartmann's show "The Big Picture," activist Eleanor Goldfield says that "the left needs to divorce itself from the Democrats; it's been an abusive relationship that's been going on for far too long. And the Democrats are not going to reform, they're un-reformable..." I agree. You can find the full discussion at

The arrogant and elite Corporate Democrats have made a habit of rubbing the noses of Progressives in the dung of their corporate-friendly policies. Whether it's Obama backing away from the public option, or Hillary snickering at the idea of a political revolution, the democratic establishment LOVES making Progressives look like wide-eyed fools. Heck, right after Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned from her post at the DNC, for her role in rigging the primaries, Hillary Clinton made her the "honorary chair" of her campaign. This was essentially telling Bernie Sanders and his supporters, "Ha ha, I'm hiring the woman who tilted the tables against your candidate! And you dummies are still going to vote for me because you don't have anywhere else to go. Who are you going to vote for, Trump?? Suckers!" 

Many Progressives are still trying to change the Democratic Party. While the efforts are well-intended, they're also foolish and dangerous. They're foolish because the Clintons and Obamas of the Democratic Party are not going to let go, or even get out of the way. They've lost 1,000 political offices across the nation these past several years and they won't rest until the Democratic Party is completely destroyed. And trying to change the Democratic Party is dangerous because we end up wasting precious time. A Progressive Party could take full advantage of all of Trump's blunders. Instead, we're letting Corporate Democrats sap our energy with intra-party fighting. This heightens the possibility of Trump winning a second term, and Republicans gobbling up even more state legislatures.

Here's a prediction: Donald Trump will serve two terms, and there will be a right-wing-led constitutional convention within the next few years that will fundamentally change the way we live (and not for the better, unless you're a fan of theocracy and children carrying guns) – because (a) the Democratic Establishment is owned by Corporate America, and (b) Progressives don’t have the gumption, or the organization skills, to form their own political party. With respect to the latter, there are hundreds of little Progressive protests, media organizations, think thanks, advocacy groups, etc. But they don't communicate or coordinate with each other very well (if at all), and thus end up operating like a hundred little echo chambers.  

I hope I'm wrong but, with everything I'm seeing, I'm afraid my prediction will be 100% accurate.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

New Deal Circus, Carnival, Festival, Fair, Vaudeville and Varieties Art

Above: "Children at Play and Sport II," an oil painting by Moses Soyer (1899-1974), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1938. Soyer went on to become a very prominent artist, and his works are held in galleries across the United States. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: "Circus People Resting," an oil painting by Bernice Cross (1912-1996), created while she was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. Cross was born in Iowa, but spent most of her professional career in Washington, DC. Her works are held in several galleries today. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: "The Very Strong Man," a sculpture by Eugenie Gershoy (1901-1986), created while she was in the WPA's art program, ca. 1936-1940. According to an exhibit label, "During the late 1930s, Eugenie Gershoy began working for the Works Progress Administration in New York. A friend of hers, the artist Max Spivak, was designing a series of murals for a children’s library in Astoria, Long Island. Gershoy decided to create colorful figurines to go along with Spivak’s paintings... The library was so pleased with the work of Gershoy and Spivak, they rebuilt the space into an oval to emphasize the circus setting." Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: A WPA poster created in California, ca. 1936-1941. Griffith Park is in Los Angeles. The WPA's Federal Theatre Project not only performed classic drama, but also presented "marionette shows, circuses, musical comedies, light operas, Negro theater productions... foreign language productions" and more (Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-1943, 1946, p. 65). Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: "Trapeze Girl," a color lithograph by Russell T. Limbach (1904-1971), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1935. According to the Brier Hill Gallery in Boston, Massachusetts, Limbach, "was the recipient of numerous awards" and "His works are held in the collections of numerous libraries and museums including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Los Angeles Museum of Art." Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: "Clown Elephants," a watercolor by Fuji Nakamizo (1889-1950), created while he was in the New Deal's Section of Fine Arts, 1940. According to the New England Art Exchange, "Born in Japan, Nakamizo worked and exhibited widely in the United States until his death in 1950." Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: "Russian Fair," a wood engraving on paper by Charles Surendorf (1906-1979), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1939. According to, Surendorf was born in Indiana, studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, moved to San Francisco, and taught at Mills College in Oakland. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: "Side Show Ticket Taker," another oil painting by Bernice Cross (see second image in this blog post), created while she was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: A WPA poster by artist Charles Verschuuren, promoting a water carnival in New York, 1936. According to his Wikipedia page, Verschuuren was a Dutch painter who moved to the United States in 1922, and served in the U.S. Army during World War II as an illustrator. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: "Amusement Park," a lithograph by Ann Nooney (1900-1964), created while she was in WPA's art program, ca. 1935-1941. According to the International Fine Print Dealers Association, "Twenty-two of [Ann Nooney's] prints are in the Works Progress Administration collection of the New York Public Library print room. Three of her prints appear as illustrations in the 'WPA Guide to New York City, 1939.'" Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: "Italians in Jefferson Park," an oil painting by Jerome Myers (1867-1940), created while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, 1934. Thomas Jefferson Park is in New York City. According to his Wikipedia page, a 1923 magazine quoted Myers about his interest in depicting city life: "All my life I had lived, worked and played in the poorest streets of American cities. I knew them and their population and was one of them. Others saw ugliness and degradation there, I saw poetry and beauty..." Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: "Festival," an oil painting by Daniel Celentano (1902-1980), created while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, 1934. An exhibition label explains, "Such street festivals, or festa, were vital social events that helped the Italian American Catholic communities of New York survive the stresses of the Depression as they had endured previous decades of poverty and oppression." Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: A WPA poster, created in Massachusetts, 1938. Vaudeville was a popular form of entertainment in the late 1800s and early 1900s. But Vaudeville-like shows still exist today. For example, jugglers, magicians, comedians, sword-swallowers, and theatre performers entertain crowds at Renaissance Festivals all across the country. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: A WPA poster, created in New York City, 1937. The Federal Theatre was scorned by conservatives as a "waste of taxpayer money," but millions of middle and low-income Americans enjoyed the shows for a modest fee, or even free. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: "Festival at Hamburg," a mural study for the Hamburg, Iowa Post Office, by William Edward Lewis Bunn (1910-2009), created while he was in the New Deal's Section of Fine Arts, 1941. According to SNAC, a collaborative enterprise that includes the National Archives and the University of California, "Wiliam Edward Lewis Bunn was a designer, muralist, and painter in Muscatine, Iowa and Ojai, Calif... During the 1930s he won commissions from the Federal Department of Fine Arts [the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Works Agency] to paint murals in public buildings throughout the Midwest. He also worked as an industrial designer for Shaeffer Pen and Cuckler Steel." Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: A closer look at the left-hand side of "Festival at Hamburg."

Above: A closer look at the right-hand side of "Festival at Hamburg."

Thursday, February 23, 2017

While its infrastructure falls apart, Kansas continues giving tax breaks to the wealthy... and then asks the federal government for a bailout

Above: On November 1, 1935 WPA Administrator Harry Hopkins tells reporters that Kansas Governor Alf Landon "balanced his budget in Kansas by taking money out of the hides of the needy." Today, with Sam Brownback in charge, things are even worse for Kansas. The state has taken money out of the hides of needy, handed out tax breaks to the wealthy, implemented regressive taxation on the middle-class & poor, and still has not balanced its budget. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

The state of Kansas, like the rest of the nation, has poor infrastructure. In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the state's infrastructure a letter grade of "C-". It received especially bad grades for its bridges (D+) and its dams (D-). See 2013 Report Card For Kansas' Infrastructure

The poor grades haven't stopped Governor Sam Brownback and his Republican colleagues in Kansas from continuing their years-long policy of massive tax breaks for the rich. And they've tried every trick in the book to get their hands on some cash while maintaining those tax breaks for the rich. They've raided their highway funds, they've raided their reserve funds, they've implemented regressive taxes on the middle-class and poor (e.g., sales and cigarette taxes), they've cut education funding (and they're about to cut it some more), and so on and so on. 

More recently, Kansas has been having problems with lead-contaminated water lines and plumbing, which can cause irreparable brain damage in children. See, e.g., "Report: Nearly 70 Kansas water systems violate EPA lead rules," Kansas Health Institute, June 29, 2016.

So, with all their infrastructure problems, and with their trickle-down economics experiment a proven failure (they have a huge revenue shortfall and they've had their credit rating downgraded multiple times), they've decided to end tax breaks for the rich, right? Nope, they're going to continue on. They just voted to continue coddling the super-wealthy, and make everyone else suffer for it. Whatever it takes to please their rich donors is what they intend to do. Cut education? Check. Neglect infrastructure? Check. Impose more regressive taxation on the middle-class and poor? Check.

But here's the really funny thing (funny as in sick): "Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is hoping the federal government can rescue several critical infrastructure projects that the state can no longer afford. The Brownback administration recently sent what amounts to a wish list to President Donald Trump for inclusion in his planned infrastructure initiative. It includes... $240 million in highway and bridge projects delayed or abandoned because of the state's ongoing budget problems... [i.e., because of the state's ongoing tax breaks for the rich]," ("Brownback Asks Trump To Save Some Kansas Highway Projects," KCUR, January 26, 2017). But how is Trump going to pay for infrastructure, when he too is planning to give massive tax cuts to the wealthy?  

That's right, folks. Brownback and his fellow trickle-down tricksters wrecked their budget with gargantuan tax breaks for the rich... and now they want the rest of the country (that means YOU) to pay for the infrastructure work that they can't (or won't). Imagine the gall it takes to (a) give your rich donors massive tax cuts, (b) raid your highway fund to pay for it, and then (c) ask non-Kansans to give you cash for your highways.

wow! Wow!! WOW!!!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

New Deal Art: "Market"

Above: "Market," a watercolor by Robert Franklin Gates (1906-1982), created while he was in the New Deal's Treasury Relief Art Project, 1936. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

New Deal Golf Courses: 1,419+ Projects

Above: "Aspects of Suburban Life: Golf," an oil painting by Paul Cadmus (1904-1999), created while he was in the New Deal's Treasury Relief Art Project, 1936. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: The description for this 1937 photograph, taken in Hartford, Connecticut, reads in part, "The Goodwin Park Golf Course - WPA has added an extra nine holes... and completed other renovations..." The Goodwin Park Golf Course is still in operation today. Between 1935 and 1943, the WPA worked on 632 golf course projects (Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1946, p. 131). And the WPA was not the only New Deal agency to work on golf courses. For example, jobless Americans funded through the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) worked on 345 golf course projects; and young Americans in the National Youth Administration worked on 442 golf course projects (statistics from their respective final reports). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: An information display at the Oakland Municipal Golf Course (Maryland). Some golf courses recognize and display their New Deal history, but I suspect that most do not. Photo by Brent McKee.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Americans didn't fight for Bernie Sanders... but he's still fighting for them, trying to strengthen and expand Social Security

Above: Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail, at Rutgers University in New Jersey, May 2016. Photo by Paige Bollman, provided courtesy of Wikipedia, and used here under the CCA-2.0 license.

Bernie Sanders drew large crowds during his 2016 run for the presidency; but it wasn't enough to overcome America's addiction to electing super-wealthy Americans into high political office. Instead of fighting for Bernie Sanders--a man who is laser-focused on helping the middle-class & poor--the middle-class & poor ended up supporting two plutocrats with deep ties to the banks that swindled the middle-class & poor just a few years before. This bizarre phenomenon was correctly and crudely summed up by comedian George Carlin years ago: "Good honest hard-working people, white collar, blue collar, doesn't matter what color shirt you have on, good honest hard-working people continue--these are people of modest means--continue to elect these rich c&cksuckers who don't give a f&ck about them. They don't give a f&ck about you... they don't care about you, at all."

It's hard to understand why Americans keep supporting people like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I suppose it's a mixture of apathy, misinformation, and Stockholm Syndrome, as well as a resignation to the idea that we'll always have to chose the lesser of two evils - the idea that says "nobody else can possibly win, so I don't want to throw my vote away."

Whatever the case may be, it's pathetic. To continue supporting and voting for the super-wealthy, as they keep getting richer and we go nowhere (or even lose ground), is the height of cultural insanity. When will Americans break out of their cycle of self-destructive voting behavior? When will they stop being suckers for the rich? 

Above: In the 1950s, Republican President Eisenhower, and the Republican-controlled 83rd Congress, expanded Social Security. But in the modern era, Republicans (and corporate Democrats too) have been trying to cut and privatize Social Security, as a favor to their super-rich donors. This is one of the major differences between the democracy that existed back then and the plutocracy that exists now. Unfortunately, most Americans don't know their own history, and thus have no idea of the changed, perverted approach to Social Security that exists today. And the super-wealthy want to take full advantage of this ignorance - knowing full-well that they can make a lot of money from it (for example, by having Social Security privatized and then running a fraud on the American public). Image from personal collection.

Even though Americans failed to fight for Bernie Sanders the way they should have, he's still fighting for them. He recently introduced legislation to strengthen and expand Social Security so that middle-class & poor Americans can retire with a little peace of mind. Sanders' legislation would remove the cap on taxable income subject to Social Security withholding (currently at $127,200) for "ordinary earnings... as well as to unearned income, like capital gains and dividends..."

Sanders said: "We can expand benefits, we can extend the life of Social Security, if we have the guts to tell the millionaires and billionaires, yes, they are going to have to pay a bit more in taxes" ("Bernie Sanders Unveils Social Security Expansion Bill On The Day Millionaires Stop Paying," Huffington Post, February 16, 2017). Indeed, in this day and age, when the richest 400 Americans are enjoying record wealth, and Social Security needs more funding, and private pensions are going the way of the Dodo bird to sate the greed of super-wealthy sociopaths, it makes no sense for a person making $127,200 to pay the same amount into Social Security as a person making $3 billion.

Interestingly, in contrast to Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton hesitated on expanding Social Security (and her husband Bill wanted to privatize Social Security; and he also set the stage for Social Security benefits to be garnished for student loan debt). President Trump, for his part, and despite his campaign pledge to protect Social Security, has just chosen a man who thinks Social Security is a Ponzi Scheme to be in charge of his budget office.

Most Americans don't want Social Security to be cut. Unfortunately, their voting behavior (or lack thereof) is at direct odds with their wishes. And, as long as that's the case, the super-wealthy will continue to snicker at us - and continue to look for ways to use our ignorance for profit. Because, at the end of the day, they don't care about us... at all.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The WPA and Norfolk Botanical Gardens

(All photos by Brent McKee, 2016.)

Above: A historic marker at the entrance to the Norfolk Botanical Gardens in Norfolk, Virginia. The marker explains how the Gardens began as a WPA project in 1938.

Above: As you drive into the Gardens, one of the first things you will see, to your right, is this statue, standing at the end of a large open field.

Above: The statue is called "Breaking Ground" and commemorates the African American workers (mostly women) who created this small bit of paradise for the public to enjoy.

Above: A few cobwebs need to be dusted away, but you can still see the sculptor's great attention to detail. Look closely at the life-like ear and facial features, and the texture of the shovel handle. As far as I know, this is the only large statue of a WPA worker in the United States. And it's incredible that there's only this one, given that there were 8.5 million WPA workers who built hundreds and thousands of roads, parks, airports, water mains, dams, etc., that we still use & enjoy today. To me, it seems kind of ungrateful to not commemorate their work more. But that's the way it is in America sometimes: here today, forgotten tomorrow.

Above: A closer look at the statue's information plaque.

Above: Near the statue is another information plaque, with a list of the known names of the 200 African American women (and 20 African American men - cheers to the men too!) who created the Garden.

Above: There is a walking trail around the lake at the WPA Garden. I'm envious of the people who live near the Garden; it's a great place to walk for exercise.

Above: The WPA Garden not only benefits people, but wildlife too. This little fella is catching some rays.

Above: The WPA section of Norfolk Botanical Gardens is known for its Azaleas. Unfortunately, they were not in bloom at the time I visited.

Above: This photo, from an information display at the Gardens, shows you the bright colors to expect when the Azaleas are in bloom.

Above: There are many information displays at the Gardens highlighting its WPA history. (I had to take photos of the displays at an angle because of the glare from the glossy surfaces.)

Above: A close-up of a photo on one of the information displays, showing some of the WPA workers in 1938.

Above: A surprise on the trail around the WPA Garden lake - a Redwood tree! I'm not sure if the WPA workers planted this.

Above: Sequoia sempervirens.

Above: A place to rest and enjoy some peace & tranquility at the WPA Garden. The WPA section of the Norfolk Botanical Gardens sits right next to an airport. For some, this might take away from the peace & tranquility. I actually found it kind of "neat," because it emphasizes the Garden's refuge from civilization & technology - a sort of oasis feeling (and airport sounds don't bother me that much anyway, so...).

Above: A colorful garden arrangement at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens' visitor center. I highly recommend visiting the Norfolk Botanical Garden, not just for the WPA section, but for the many other gardens and events they offer (see their website here).

Monday, February 13, 2017

New Deal Art: Valley

Above: This oil painting of a valley scene, was made by Roland Mousseau (1899-1980), while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1935. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: A closer look at the truck scene, showing men pushing the lead vehicle.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Drinking lead to please billionaires: The week in review

Above: A waterworks project in Torrance, California, ca. 1933-1943, funded by the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA). New Deal policymakers facilitated tens of thousands of waterworks projects across the United States through their various work programs. Why? Because, unlike many of our policymakers today, they felt that clean & reliable drinking water was more important than giving tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

As is always the case in America, it was an eventful week for drinking lead (especially for children)...

Monday, February 6, 2017:

New Jersey: "Maud Abrams [Elementary] School was found to have lead levels higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard [of 15 parts per billion]... test results ranged from one faucet that recorded 16.9 parts per billion... to another outdoor faucet that recorded 470 parts per billion." Cape May County Herald.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017:

Pittsburgh: "Of the 3,057 homes that were tested [in Pittsburgh communities], 43.4 percent had some level of detectable lead; 11.3 percent had levels over the EPA’s 15 ppb action limit; 70 of those came in at 30 ppb or above. The 15 ppb limit is not a threshold for public health and no amount of lead is safe for human consumption." NEXT Pittsburgh.

Butler, Pennsylvania: "The Butler Area School District put Summit Elementary School students at serious risk by concealing for months that its water supply contained dangerous amounts of lead, according to a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday." Tribune-Review.

Arizona: "Water at Killip Elementary School in Flagstaff tests above lead threshold," Arizona Daily Sun.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017:

California: "Drinking water shut off at San Ysidro schools due to high lead, copper, bacteria," ABC 10 News.

New York: "Water lead levels in Bronx school 'higher than Flint, Michigan'," RT.

Thursday, February 9, 2017:

Wisconsin: A Republican state senator has introduced legislation that will put the financial burden of replacing lead-contaminated water pipes on the middle-class & poor (Water Online). This is typical of Republican policymakers. Instead of taxing the super-wealthy more, they push for regressive revenue systems, e.g., higher utility rates and higher sales taxes (see my recent blog post, "Right-wing economics meets infrastructure. Result: Crumbling roads & bridges, as well as higher costs for the middle-class & poor").

Friday, February 10, 2017:

New Jersey: "Lead level over 6 times limit found in Camden County school water" (

Milwaukee: This Wisconsin city has instituted a plan to force homeowners to shoulder the cost of replacing lead water lines and, if they're too poor to do so, they may be fined. "The owners pay a maximum of $1600, and can spread those payments over 10 years, on their property tax bills... The new city ordinance contains a fine for unresponsive homeowners..." (Milwaukee Public Radio). Once again, we see the punishment the middle-class & poor must endure, after decades of tax-breaks-for-the-rich and trickle-down economics has left our infrastructure in tatters. But billionaires? Oh, they're having a good laugh over all this, especially since they're enjoying record wealth. And the fact that 160 million Americans don't have enough money to "treat a broken arm" (Business Insider), doesn't faze them a bit. In fact, it makes them laugh even harder: "Make the little people pay for it anyway" they giggle to their political marionettes in legislatures across the nation.


Given that millions of children are drinking lead-contaminated water, we really needed another New Deal. But instead of rallying around Bernie Sanders, who has been pushing for more infrastructure spending for years now, Americans elected even more Republicans into high political office. These Republicans are far more interested in tax-breaks-for-the-wealthy than they are in modernizing our roads, bridges, public schools, airports, and water lines.

When it comes to infrastructure, Americans seem to be lost - fumbling around in the dark, unaware of what worked in the past, unaware of how they're being nickel-and-dimed to subsidize tax-breaks-for-the-rich, and deathly afraid to irritate the holy "JOB CREATORS." 

And our children are paying the price for all this foolishness - in some cases, with permanent brain damage (lead is a neurotoxin).

Thursday, February 9, 2017

FDR's New Deal for Antarctica, and today's Roosevelt Island Climate Evolution Project

"This undertaking is one which necessarily attracts the attention of the world, and I am sure that you leave the shores of the United States with the heartfelt wishes of our people for the success of the enterprise, and the safe return of yourself and your companions."

--President Franklin Roosevelt to Admiral Richard Byrd, United States Navy, on the beginning of a new expedition to Antarctica, November 25, 1939 ("Establishment of the United States Antarctic service for exploration and scientific studies," University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries, accessed January 8, 2017).

Above: President Roosevelt shakes the hand of Admiral Richard Byrd in 1935, who had just returned from a 2-year research expedition to Antarctica. In 1939, Roosevelt put Byrd in charge of the U.S. Antarctic Service, "Because of your experience and brilliant achievements in polar exploration and because of the confidence which the people of the United States have in you and in your qualities of leadership" ("Establishment of the United States Antarctic service for exploration and scientific studies," University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries, accessed January 8, 2017.). Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

FDR's New Deal for Antarctica: The U.S. Antarctic Service (1939-1941)

The most famous period of antarctic exploration occurred in the early 1900s, with the likes of Robert Scott, Roald Amundsen, and Ernest Shackleton. But a few decades later, President Franklin Roosevelt would also play an important role in opening up the continent for further exploration and science. According to Dr. Tim Baughman, professor of history, "The United States Antarctic Service (1939-1941) grew out of two separate plans for exploration, one by [Richard] Byrd and the other by Richard B. Black and Finn Ronne. Franklin D. Roosevelt urged the two efforts be combined and funded by the federal government, thus heralding the emergence of big government expeditions" (Tim Baughman (ed.), Ice: The Antarctic Diary of Charles F. Passel, Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press, 1995, p. ix).

Congress followed Roosevelt's lead and supplied $350,000 for the expedition - about $6.1 million in today's dollars (private funding also helped, and government agencies were able to assist in other ways, e.g., equipment loans).

Roosevelt's support for antarctic exploration helped set the stage for today's U.S. Antarctic Program, which operates McMurdo Station, Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, and Palmer Station. And research that occurs in Antarctica today is very important, especially in relation to global warming and sea ice melt (more on that later). As with other forward-thinking Roosevelt & New Deal initiatives, for example, the Tennessee Valley Authority, Social Security, and massive infrastructure investments, we continue to benefit today.

Above: The North Star, one of the U.S. Antarctic Service's expedition vessels, 1939. Photo by A.J. Carroll, U.S. Navy, provided courtesy of the National Archives.

The U.S. Antarctic Service was short-lived, thanks to World War II, but it still gathered valuable information. According to Joseph Lynch, Jr., of the American Society of Polar Philatelists, "The U.S.A.S.E. was the largest expedition to go to Antarctica up to that time and its scientific and exploratory programs were the most successful of any expedition. Virtually all planned work was carried out." But, "Due to its hasty termination and the evacuation of both bases in 1941 because of threatening war, the U.S.A.S.E. is probably the most poorly reported large expedition in history" ("A Philatelic Introduction to B.A.E. III, United States Antarctic Service Expedition 1939-41," accessed February 7, 2017; also see the subsection "Legacy" near the end of this blog post).

A review of the records of the U.S. Antarctic Service (located within Record Group 126 of the National Archives) shows that the expedition's accomplishments included extensive aerial & photographic surveys of the continent's geography; the construction of a meteorological outpost which made twice-daily weather reports; measurements of how high ice shelves were above sea level; analysis of magnetic readings; aerial "cosmic ray observation"; examination of volcanic rock; and the study and gathering of biological samples. With respect to the latter, the U.S. National Museum (the Smithsonian) wrote a letter on July 8, 1941 acknowledging receipt of many specimens, including "103 birds, 3 fishes, a collection of plants (mostly lower cryptogams), 1 octopus and 1 lot of shrimp..." The expedition also attempted to bring back live specimens, for the National Zoo, but I'm not sure how successful they were. For example, they took aboard crab-eater seals for the return voyage but the animals wouldn't eat and became extremely foul-tempered. Most or all of them seem to have died.

In 1942, the Department of Interior reported that "Approximately 2,000 miles of continental coastline was discovered and mapped on aerial and dog-sled thrusts into previously unknown areas..." by the U.S. Antarctic Service (Annual Report of the Department of the Interior, fiscal year 1941, p. 474).    

Above: "East Base" was one of two bases constructed by the U.S. Antarctic Service in 1940. Today, it is a protected historic site (Historic Site / Monument no. 55). This photo was taken in 2007, is used here under the CCA-SA 3.0 license, and is provided courtesy of "Geoffrey" and Wikipedia.

The Snow Cruiser

"The Executive Committee [of the United States Antarctic Service] has authorized, under certain conditions, the operation and control by the Service of a privately constructed snow cruiser."

--President Franklin Roosevelt to Admiral Richard Byrd, November 25, 1939 ("Establishment of the United States Antarctic service for exploration and scientific studies," University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries, accessed January 8, 2017).

Above: The Snow Cruiser in Boston, waiting to be put on board the North Star expedition ship, November 13, 1939. The Snow Cruiser was built specifically for the U.S. Antarctic Service expedition (but with private funds) by the Armour Institute of Technology, one of the organizations which eventually formed today's Illinois Institute of Technology. Photo by A.J. Carroll, U.S. Navy, provided courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: The Snow Cruiser in action in Antarctica, ca. 1940. The Cruiser seems to have had mild success in the early days of the expedition, and also provided good accommodations and radio service for the expedition, but ultimately it didn't live up to expectations as it didn't move too well on many areas of the antarctic surface. It was left in Antarctica and, over the decades, became lost. Today, amazingly, no one is exactly sure where it is. Leading theories are (a) buried under ice and snow, and (b) drifted off on an ice sheet that eventually melted and sent the cruiser to the bottom of the ocean. Photo by A.J. Carroll, U.S. Navy, provided courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A cutaway drawing of the Snow Cruiser, showing the different living and work areas. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Above: Dr. Thomas Poulter (left), lead designer of the Cruiser, is visited by Admiral Byrd in the Snow Cruiser's living area, as the two travel to Antarctica aboard the North Star, 1939. Photo by A.J. Carroll, U.S. Navy, provided courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: In this footage, put together by Extreme World, we see a series of black & white and color video segments of the Snow Cruiser, including its unloading in Antarctica, which almost ended in catastrophe. This video shows the true size of this enormous vehicle. YouTube link:

New Deal Connections to Antarctic Exploration

It doesn't appear that any of the purely New Deal agencies (WPA, CCC, etc.) played a large role in the 1939-1941 expedition to Antarctica. However, there are several interesting loose connections to the expedition, as well as to antarctic exploration generally.

1. WPA Labor:

Above: The U.S. Antarctic Service, "Unloading housing panels at East Base," in January 1940. WPA workers did not go to Antarctica; but did they contribute to the design of the buildings used by the U.S. Antarctic Service? Photo by Ennis C. Helm, provided courtesy of the National Archives.

One of the scientists in the U.S. Antarctic Service was Charles F. Passel (1915-2002). He wrote the following in his diary, while at the Philadelphia Navy Yard (on his way to Antarctica), November 18, 1939:

"Worked during the morning trying to find something to do. There are so many WPA fellows, Navy Yard employes on hand that we fellows of the expedition are having a tough time finding work" (Tim Baughman, Ice: The Antarctic Diary of Charles F. Passel, Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press, 1995, p. 2).

This would seem to indicate that WPA workers help load supplies and equipment onto Passel's ship, the North Star. This could have been a planned project, or it could have been more of a spur-of-the-moment job. Sometimes, WPA workers would be diverted from their regular jobs to assist on other projects, for example, search & rescue, flood control, or firefighting, if there was a pressing need.

It is also possible that the WPA played a role in the lumber and pre-fabricated buildings that were taken on the expedition, but I haven't found conclusive evidence of that yet. The buildings were designed by Major Andre Leonard Violante of the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps, and constructed by the Putnam Lumber company in Shamrock, Florida (see, e.g., "Byrd's Antarctic Expedition Takes Already-Built Houses," Abilene Reporter-News, November 19, 1939, p. 23). The Quartermaster Corps was one of the biggest employers of WPA workers. For example, during fiscal year 1940 it employed 26,500 of them (Federal Works Agency, Report on Progress of the WPA Program, June 30, 1940, p. 44). We also know that the WPA employed all types of unemployed Americans, including architects. Is it possible that a WPA architect (or other WPA workers in the Quartermaster Corps' architectural division) assisted Major Violante in some way?  

2. The Indian Arts and Crafts Board:

"One of the characteristics of the American Indian is his outstanding ability as a craftsman."

--U.S. Department of the Interior, 1937 annual report, p. 224

In congressional hearings on the 1939-1941 antarctic expedition, the following was noted:

"The sum of $10,000 will be needed to supply a quantity of fur clothing and sleeping bags for the personnel
at each continental base who will go on the trail or participate in airplane flights. This estimate has been discussed with a representative of the Indian Arts and Crafts Section of the Office of Indian Affairs and orders have been placed with this service in Alaska, subject to telegraphic confirmation ("Expedition to the Antarctic Regions, Hearings Before the Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, House of Representatives, Seventy-Sixth Congress," p. 4). Later, in the 1940 annual report of the Department of Interior, it was reported that "native craftsmen sold $7,300 worth of mittens, caps, mukluks, parkas, trousers, and robes to the Byrd Antarctic Expedition" (p. 398).

The "Indian Arts and Crafts Section" or, more appropriately, the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, was created when President Roosevelt signed the Indian Arts and Crafts Act into law on August 27, 1935. This law was part of the overall "Indian New Deal," facilitated by John Collier (Commissioner of Indian Affairs) and the Department of the Interior. The goal was (and still is today) to enhance the market for genuine American Indian arts and crafts.

3. WPA Data Work:

The WPA assisted in compiling and publishing (and perhaps analyzing too) meteorological data from Admiral Byrd's first two missions to Antarctica (1928-1930 and 1933-1935). The lead author of the 377-page report, George Grimminger, wrote:

"Since, owing to the demands of his other duties, Haines [Grimminger's colleague] found it impossible to devote any time to the work, I then agreed to carry it on alone; after working alone some time, it became apparent that unless assistance could be obtained, the task would be a long and arduous one, and it is indeed fortunate that I was able to obtain assistance provided by the Works Progress Administration, assistance which I gratefully acknowledge and without which the completion of the present volume would have been considerably delayed."

(G. Grimminger and W.C. Haines, "Meteorological Results of the Byrd Antarctic Expeditions, 1928-30, 1933-35: Tables," Monthly Weather Review, United States Department of Agriculture Weather Bureau, Supplement No. 41, October 1939, p. iii, accessed January 9, 2017, emphasis added).

4. WPA Polar Bibliography

In 1937, in conjunction with New York City and the Explorers Club of America, the WPA put together a few polar bibliographies, with book & article titles such as "The Polar Regions: A Physical and Economic Geography of the Arctic and Antarctic" and "Scottish National Antarctic Expedition, 1902-1904" (see, e.g., "Annotated Bibliography of the Polar Regions, Series B, Selected List of Bibliographies on the Polar Regions, Part I, accessed February 9, 2017).


Above: Some of the members of the U.S. Antarctic Service, ca. 1939-1941. Photo by A.J. Carroll, U.S. Navy, provided courtesy of the National Archives.

As noted earlier, the U.S. Antarctic Service expedition set the stage for numerous government-funded research trips to Antarctica. While speaking to Congress in 1939, Admiral Byrd said: "On account of the fact that there is an ice age in Antarctica, it is a great weather maker for the Southern Hemisphere, and it indirectly affects the weather of the whole world. It is very important, I think, that we have weather posts... It would represent a permanent occupation by the Weather Bureau, and other nations certainly will join in with us on the weather end of it. Of course, there are other scientific organizations, like the Geological Survey, the Biological Survey, Hydrographic Office and so forth, that will be interested" ("Expedition to the Antarctic Regions, Hearings Before the Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, House of Representatives, Seventy-Sixth Congress," pp. 10-11).  

Byrd's ideas about the importance of scientific study in Antarctica were very prophetic. Today, much research is occurring on the continent. For example, Roosevelt Island (named after FDR in 1934, and located on the Ross Ice Shelf) is the site of the current Roosevelt Island Climate Evolution Project (RICE): "The RICE project, a 9 nation collaboration [including the U.S.], aims to determine the stability of the Ross Ice Shelf in a warming world, thus improving estimates of contributions of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet to future sea level rise" ("Roosevelt Island Climate Evolution (RICE) Project").

Above: The description for this photograph reads, in part, "Iceberg crosses path of U. S. Antarctic Expedition [of 1946-1947]. The USS Yancy (left center) and the USS Merrick (right center) follow the US Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind through icefloes and past huge tabular icebergs in an Antarctic Sea. The U.S. Navy Antarctic Expedition consists of 12 ships carrying 4,000 naval and civilian personnel, the latter including scientists, dog-sled drivers and press and radio correspondents. The primary aims of the expedition are to train personnel and test men and equipment under sub-zero conditions, amplify scientific data on the South Polar area and consolidate and develop the results of the U.S. Antarctic Service Expedition of 1939-1941. Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, who has made three previous trips to the Antarctic, is commander-in-chief of the expedition. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

Above: America's McMurdo Station in Antarctica, 2003. McMurdo is the largest station on the continent. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Above: This video describes the climate science work that is being done on Roosevelt Island, Antarctica, for example, core drilling and ice core analysis. YouTube link:

Antarctica is a key area for studying climate change and, thanks to science and exploration set in motion by President Roosevelt, Congress, Admiral Byrd, and the U.S. Antarctic Service, we have infrastructure and personnel in place to perform such work. And that's a good thing, because many of our policymakers today see little value in scientific studies or exploration (unless it's being used to find more oil). And while they might allow current U.S. studies to continue (but don't bet on it), there is no way on Earth that they would have allowed an antarctic program to begin in the first place. "Wasteful spending!" they'd scream. "Big government" they'd mournfully cry. "That's an awful lot of money that we could use to bomb countries and give tax breaks to the wealthy!" they'd explain.

Let's hope that Roosevelt's forward-thinking on science... overcomes today's backward-thinking on science.