Thursday, August 31, 2017

New Deal Tugboat Art (5/5): "Beginning of the Day"

Above: "Beginning of the Day," a drypoint on paper by Louis Lozowick (1892-1973), created while he was in the WPA's art program, 1940. After his death, Lozowick's wife said, "He always did what he wanted to do. He didn't care about prevalent styles, nor about the market. He was doing abstractions when others were doing realist work, and when others were doing abstract things, he was doing realist pieces" ("The Urban Legacy of Louis Lozowick," New York Times, November 15, 1981). Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

New Deal Tugboat Art (4/5): "Tugboats, Pier 17 East River"

Above: "Tugboats, Pier 17 East River," a photograph by Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Abbott took this photograph while preparing for the 1939 book Changing New York, a work sponsored by the WPA's Federal Art Project. Photo courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Ackland Art Museum.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

New Deal Tugboat Art (3/5): "Tug Boat" by Max Kahn

Above: "Tug Boat," a crayon, brush, and tusche lithograph, by Max Kahn (1902-2005), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Max Kahn met his future wife Eleanor Coen (1916-2010) while the two were at the Art Institute of Chicago and also while they worked in the WPA. They married in 1942 and went on to become two of the world's most renown lithographers. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Monday, August 28, 2017

New Deal Tugboat Art (2/5): "Tug Boats" by Shizu Utsunomiya

Above: "Tug Boats," a watercolor by Shizu Utsunomiya, created while the artist was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1938. I didn't find any information on Utsunomiya on the Internet, however a December 3rd, 1939 edition of the Ogden Standard-Examiner newspaper (Ogden, Utah) discussed an exhibit of art at the Utah Art Center in Salt Lake City, consisting of watercolor paintings and photographs, called "Scenes of San Francisco." One of Shizu Utsunomiya's paintings of San Francisco, "Cityscape," was part of the exhibit. Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

New Deal Tugboat Art (1/5): "B-20, Tugboats in San Francisco Bay"

Above: "B-20, Tugboats in San Francisco Bay," a watercolor by Dong Kingman (1911-2000) created while he was in the WPA's art program, ca. 1942. While studying art and improving his skills in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Kingman "worked at various jobs, from factory work to employment as a houseboy for a San Francisco family." The WPA offered Kingman one of his earliest opportunities to excel, and he went on to become a prolific artist. His work was eventually sought out by Hollywood and popular magazines (see Kingman's biography here). Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Thanks to trickle-down economics, senior citizens will now pay 700% more for a lifetime national park pass

Above: "Grand Canyon," an oil painting by George Peter (1859-1950), created while he was in one of the New Deal art programs, ca. 1933-1942. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and Page Conservation, Inc.

Our plutocratic federal government, based on the principles of trickle-down economics, punches grandpa and grandma in the gut

This Monday, August 28, the cost of a senior citizen lifetime pass to our national parks will jump from $10 to $80 - a 700% increase. The fee increase will go towards our national parks' maintenance backlog which, as of 2015, was about twelve thousand million dollars.

We could increase taxes on the super-wealthy, create a new Civilian Conservation Corps and/or Works Progress Administration, and handle the maintenance backlog that way... but no, we'll just make grandpa and grandma pay more. And since fees are regressive, the less grandpa and grandma make, the higher percentage of their income we'll take! Yippee! That's some good ol' fashion plutocratic morality for ya! 

Of course, fee increases are not bad per se, but why did this park fee have have to go up so dramatically? Why not a more reasonable increase, for example, from $10 to $20 (that would still be a 100% increase)? 

The Culprit: Trickle-down economics.

Trickle-down economics, promoted or facilitated by Republicans, Libertarians, Tea Partiers, Corporate Democrats, and other conservatives, has a very simple philosophy: Transfer burdens, e.g., revenue and pollution costs, from the rich to the middle-class & poor. The rich, in turn (we are told), will then be free to use their magical investment powers to create an endless fountain of great jobs.

Above: WPA poster. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

A short history of America's trickle-down con job... and the disastrous results

Trickle-down economics started, modestly, under JFK and his declaration that a rising tide lifts all boats. It then accelerated dramatically under Ronald Reagan, when he convinced millions of Americans that governments (i.e, We the People) are the problem, and private sector heroes (i.e., millionaires & billionaires) are the solution. The masses bought it, hook, line, and sinker. And so we looked on stupidly, as Reaganomics handed out gargantuan tax cuts to the people who needed them the least - and then we waited, like giddy schoolchildren, for the jobs to flow down upon us.

Not a whole lot happened though, unless you think credit card-based economic growth, tech-only jobs, and a ballooning national debt are wonderful things... so millions of Americans were told again, under the Bush Jr. administration, that, "Hey, you know what, we need another round of tax cuts for the rich; and then, their magical investments will... well... you know the rest!" And the American people bought it again, hook, line, and sinker.

And so here we are today, and what do we have to show for decades of trickle-down economics? Stagnant wages, outsourced jobs, worse jobs, a huge national debt, a colossal student loan debt, children drinking lead out of crumbling infrastructure & plumbing, more precarious retirements, mass incarceration, tax evasion & avoidance by the rich, and a never-ending series of regressive taxes, tolls, fees, fines, and utility rates being imposed on us, at the state & local level, so that now, "Virtually every state tax system is fundamentally unfair, taking a much greater share of income from low- and middle-income families than from wealthy families" ("Who Pays, 5th Edition," Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, January 2015). 

But the con job on the American people isn't over yet. Republicans are preparing us for yet another round of tax cuts for the rich, falsely marketed as tax cuts for "hard workin', God-fearin', American families - Hallelujah!!" Conservatives want top-marginal and capital gains taxes reduced, and they want the estate tax eliminated altogether. And when they do this, watch, yet again, as your sales taxes go up, your road & bridge tolls increase, your DMV fees double and triple (see my recent blog post, "West Virginia votes right-wing... and gets duly clobbered at the Department of Motor Vehicles (among other places)"), your police officers pull you over more often, and your water bill skyrockets.

And all the while, the super-wealthy, who are already enjoying record wealth, will rake in more, and more, and more. 

And the rich will, understandably, laugh at us, giggling to each other with wide eyes, "Oh my God, they just made their grandparents pay 700% more to get into the national parks, so we could have billions more to buy private islands, artwork, $15,000 outfits, and gold bathtubs! What a bunch of freakin' IDIOTS!"

Will the middle-class and poor be upset about being fleeced, and being made fun of again? Some will. But others will probably just keep chanting, "Trump, Trump, Trump!" And still others will throw up their hands in surrender and refuse to vote or get involved at all.

Will we ever learn, or are we destined to be the village idiots forever?

So, when will the people learn? Well, after throwing so much support behind two of the nation's most prominent plutocrats--Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump--and shunning Bernie Sanders' advocacy for more economic opportunity & fairness, the answer is, quite obviously, probably not for decades, and perhaps never.

You see, the wealthy--as well as their media, think tank, and political marionettes--have learned that all they have to do is cast a little "job creator" or "taxes are theft" bait out there, and millions will bite into it, completely unable to see that it will lead to their own financial demise (as it already has for so many).

And so now we have a situation where fixed-income grandpa and grandma have to pay 700% more for their park passes, so that the billionaire Koch brothers can pay less. Yes, that's the "wisdom" that guides America's public policy today.

But let's give credit where credit is due: Trickle-down tricksters have proven themselves to be master brain-washers. They market, fail to deliver, market again, fail to deliver, and still the people want more of their snake oil. Wow! Eat your heart out Jim Jones!

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

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

U.S. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin promotes tax cuts for the rich, his wife brags about her $13,000 outfit, and millions of Americans can't afford diapers for their children. Welcome to plutocracy.

Above: These two girls are wearing clothes made on a WPA sewing project in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, ca. 1935-1943. Though the quality was perhaps not as good as Roland Mouret, Hermes, Tom Ford, and Valentino attire (see below), WPA clothes were well made and helped a lot of struggling, low-income families. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Tax cuts for the super-wealthy, rich braggarts, and the little people

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who made a bundle of money kicking middle and low-income Americans out of their homes during the recession years, was in Kentucky recently to push for more tax cuts for the rich, for example, himself. He's worth several hundred million dollars, but that just isn't enough - he wants more cash for himself and his super-wealthy friends.  

And while Mnuchin was contemplating the best way to secure himself a tax cut, his wife, Louise Linton, decided to give the world a little taste of how rich she is. During the trip, Linton, who was born into wealth and grew up in a castle, put a photo on Instagram showing her and her husband stepping down from a U.S. government plane. She was decked out in the latest fashions, and tagged her Instagram post to highlight her Roland Mouret pants, Tom Ford sunglasses, Hermes scarf, and Valentino heels (no mention of her blouse though... perhaps that was just Fruit of the Loom?). Her entire costume for the day was probably worth about $13,000.

When a woman criticized Linton's post, Linton got upset, reviewed the woman's Instagram account, and made sure the plebeian got a diamond-encrusted tongue-lashing. Linton wrote: "Have you given more to the economy than me and my husband?... I’m pretty sure we paid more taxes toward our day 'trip' than you did... You're adorably out of touch... Your kids look very cute. Your life looks cute... Sending me passive aggressive Instagram comments isn't going to make life feel better..."

I plugged Linton's comments into a translator I have (it translates silver spoon language to commoner language) and the translation came back as: "You don't get to talk to me like that, you low-income little sh&t! My purse costs as much as your house! My husband's socks have a better life than you! I'm wearing Valentino heels!!!"

But we shouldn't be too hard on Linton. After all, she only verbalized what most super-wealthy people are thinking anyway, which is, "I'm superior to you, and you're lucky to be on the same planet as me." And every once in a while, the contempt for the commoners accidentally spills out, for example, when Reese Witherspoon asked a police officer, during a traffic stop, "Do you know my name? You're about to find out who I am," or when Donald Trump said, "I just don't want a poor person" running the economy (which means, of course, anyone who isn't a multi-millionaire), or when Leona Helmsley famously said, "Only the little people pay taxes."

Above: A mother in New Orleans uses bathing skills taught by a WPA nurse to make sure her infant is thoroughly clean, ca. 1935-1943. During the New Deal, there was an intense effort to improve the lives of infants and children, through better hygiene, better medical care, better nutrition, and better clothing. Today, we've abandoned a lot of that, in favor of tax cuts for the 1% - so the 1% can have Hermes scarves and Valentino heels for every day of the month; anything less than that would be a tragedy. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Why do so many Americans have trouble affording diapers? Where are the job creators? Where are their charitable foundations? 

While all this snobbery and wealth-hoarding is going on among the 1%, millions of Americans are having a hard time buying enough diapers for their kids, thanks to all the pathetic jobs that the holy "JOB CREATORS" (like Trump and Mnuchin) have provided us since their last round of gargantuan tax cuts (see "Almost all the US jobs created since 2005 are temporary," Quartz, December 5, 2016), and also thanks to decades of Republican and neoliberal attacks on the social safety net (see, "Bad Jobs And No Welfare Give Rise To A New Type Of Charity: The Diaper Bank: A network of diaper banks now alleviates some of the suffering caused by the 1996 gutting of welfare," Huffington Post, August 20, 2017).

During the New Deal, WPA sewing room workers produced 29 million diapers for low-income families. Tax hikes on the rich helped pay for it. We could do the same today, of course (and more), but we won't because born-into-wealth brats need their Roland Mouret pants - like this pair for $1,365.00 (but don't worry... shipping is free!) - and also because millions of Americans let them get away with it, bowing in submission and mindlessly repeating the talking points they've been fed by the rich for decades: "taxes are theft," "other people's money," "we can't tax the job creators."  

Louise Linton eventually apologized for her comments, saying: "I apologize for my post on social media yesterday as well as my response. It was inappropriate and highly insensitive." Fair enough; but it's not just her post that was inappropriate and highly insensitive - her entire lifestyle is inappropriate and highly insensitive, as are the lifestyles of all those like her. The super-wealthy are hoarding and flaunting wealth, while their investments are funding unnecessary mass incarceration and perpetual war. Their political bribes and tax evasion are causing children to drink leaded water through deteriorating infrastructure and plumbing. Their purposeful failure to create well-paying jobs (focusing instead on stock buybacks and vanity purchases) is fueling poverty, hatred, crime, racism, and higher rates of suicide. Their impotent charitable foundations fortify their god fantasies, but do little to mitigate the constant financial terror they impose on the middle-class & poor through usury, fraud, shipping jobs overseas, and blitzkriegs against the social safety net.

Billionaire hedge fund manager Tom Steyer recently said, "There is an absolute, unspoken war between corporate interests and the American people... We're seeing a deliberate attempt to take away [working families'] future by really rich people."

Indeed. Welcome to plutocratic America... your life looks cute.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Wildfires and violence: Instead of bombs and free market fairy tales, the world needs a CCC

"Instead of giving these countries more munitions and weapons we should help subsidize programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps... the world would be better for it."

--Manuel Gomez, CCC veteran, 1981, in Roosevelt's Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942, by Perry H. Merrill, p. 56.

Above: "Fire on Backbone Mountain, Garrett County, Maryland," a drypoint artwork by Aaron Sopher (1905-1972), created while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, 1934. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Above: "Street Fight," described as a "Crayon and brush and tusche lithograph with scraping," by Theodore C. Polis (1901-1976), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1938. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Much of the world, and especially the United States, seems to be dominated by philosophies of bombs and free market fairy tales or, to put it another way, the notion that things can be made better by beatings, killings, and bullets, followed by an economic rapture where millionaires & billionaires create a private sector utopia for us - and we, in turn, worship and serve them.

These philosophies can be seen, for example, in the Middle-East, where the U.S. has established a permanent military presence to reshape places like Iraq and Afghanistan in our own capitalistic image, and also here at home, where there is a perpetual push for tax-cuts-for-the-rich, even after decades of dismal results (unless, of course, you consider boring & pointless jobs, with stagnant wages, and fewer benefits than our parents and grandparents had, to be signs of "success").

There are many prices to be paid when we put our faith in bombs and free market fairy tales. With respect to the latter, wildfires have greatly increased in recent years, thanks in large part to our obeisance to the millionaires & billionaires of the fossil fuel industry. These super-wealthy executives and investors have asked us, in a threatening tone, "Do you want jobs?" to which we've replied, with sad puppy dog eyes and our tails tucked between our legs, "Yes sir." "Good," they sneer back, "then don't bother us about the sh&t we're pumping into the atmosphere!"  

Today, a "state of calamity" has been declared in Portugal, where thousands of wildfires have ripped the country apart; a wildfire is also burning in normally wildfire-free Greenland; and a month-old wildfire in Montana is causing many people to flee. These are just a few of the wildfires wreaking havoc across the globe. And the trend of increasingly frequent wildfires is expected to continue until about 2050, when there won't be enough trees left to fuel large fires ("Climate Change Blamed for Half of Increased Forest Fire Danger," New York Times, October 10, 2016).    

According to NASA, "Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities." And, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, "The effects of global warming on temperature, precipitation levels, and soil moisture are turning many of our forests into kindling during wildfire season."

But does any of this scientific evidence matter, when so many millions of people have been mesmerized by free market fairy tales?

Humanity is in desperate need of a new and worldwide Civilian Conservation Corps (as well as other New Deal-type work programs). A new CCC would reduce social unrest, alleviate poverty, and improve the environment - just like it did in America during the 1930s. The only thing that stands in our way are the super-wealthy... and the poor souls they've beguiled with their mythical tales of big government dragons, free market pixies, and heroic, sword-swinging job creators.

 Above: "Fighting Forest Fire," and oil painting by Ernest Fiene (1894-1965), created while he was in the New Deal's Section of Fine Arts, 1938. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and Carol M. Highsmith.

"I have thought over and over that we should have a [CCC or National Youth Administration] during this current period when youngsters are joining gangs and buying guns and all this sort of thing. There was nothing like that in those days. I mean, youngsters didn't feel they were totally abandoned or that nobody gave a thought to what they did with their lives... I think they were extremely valuable programs. And I think we should have them in any situation where the social condition is deteriorated."

-Anne Dettner, director of the New Deal's National Youth Administration in California, 1935-1939, oral history interview, University of California Berkeley Library, 1994-1995.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

West Virginia votes right-wing... and gets duly clobbered at the Department of Motor Vehicles (among other places)

Above: New Deal federal funds helped create the Kanawha Boulevard in Charleston, West Virginia, 1940. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Self-flagellation: Middle-class & poor West Virginians opt to pay more, so the rich can pay less

West Virginians have gone solidly right-wing: they voted for Trump; four of the their five members in Congress are Republicans (and the fifth, Joe Manchin, is a lukewarm Democrat); both houses of their state legislature are controlled by Republicans; and their governor, Jim Justice, recently switched back to the Republican Party, after a short, two-year stint as a billionaire corporate Democrat.

But there's a price to be paid for voting right-wing, and West Virginians are now paying that price. This year, right-wing politicians in West Virginia raised a number of taxes and fees. For example, the vehicle registration fee went from $28.50 to $50 per year, a 75% increase. The vehicle sales tax went from 5% to 6%, a 20% increase. The state fuel tax was raised by about 3.5 cents per gallon.  And vehicle inspection stickers have gone from $5 to $10, a 100% increase. Further, the West Virginia Legislature has set the stage for increased usage of toll roads. And these are just a few of the many increased state & local taxes, tolls, fees, fines, and utility rates that West Virginians must now pay. The increases vary by location, but higher water rates and higher 9-1-1 emergency call fees are some other examples of how West Virginians are now paying more. (See, "Justice signs bill to increase gas tax, DMV fees," The Herald-Dispatch, June 23, 2017.)

All of these tax & fee increases are regressive, meaning, the less you make the more you pay. To put it another way, suppose Governor Jim Justice and a poor West Virginian go to the DMV together to renew their respective car registrations. The poor resident will have a much higher percentage of his or her income taken by the state to satisfy the fee than will be taken from Justice.    

Meanwhile, as right-wing politicians are busy imposing more regressive taxes, tolls, fees, fines, and utility rates on West Virginia's middle-class & poor, they're also working to eliminate the state's income tax - which will disproportionately benefit the state's super-wealthy residents, like Governor Justice, and almost certainly require another round of regressive increases on the non-wealthy. To make matters worse, right-wing politicians at the federal level are also feverishly trying to reduce taxes on the super-wealthy, by scaling back health care for the poor, by reducing top marginal and capital gains taxes, and by completely eliminating the estate tax. The latter will fortify America's caste system, ensuring that descendants of the wealthy will always be served by descendants of the non-wealthy.

Above: A mural study of a West Virginia mining village, created by Stevan Dohanos (1907-1994) while he was in the New Deal's Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture, 1937. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Tax breaks for the rich, and the downward-shifting revenue burden

I (and many others) have tried to explain, for years, that when taxes are cut for the rich at the federal level--as has been done for the last 40+ years--the federal government becomes less willing & able to help states, cities, and towns with their needs (e.g., infrastructure), than if it was bringing in more revenue. And when this happens, the revenue burden shifts downward, forcing middle-class and poor Americans to pay more regressive taxes, tolls, fees, fines, and utility rates at the state & local level. It's true that state & local taxes could be raised on wealthy residents too, but may politicians are hesitant to do so, either out of ideology ("oh my God, we can't tax the job-creators!") or because they fear that their super-wealthy residents may move to another state - a much less likely scenario for middle-class and poor residents, since the middle-class and poor are usually tied to their jobs and/or can't afford all the costs associated with moving - in effect, they are a captive population, much less able to escape burdensome and regressive revenue increases.

During the New Deal West Virginia received massive federal assistance, thanks, in part, to increased taxes on the wealthy. The Civilian Conservation Corps developed its parks, the Works Progress Administration improved its infrastructure, the National Youth Administration offered education & training opportunities to its young men and women, and much more. Today, right-wingers have taken over and their philosophy is quite a bit different - cut taxes on the rich, and make the middle-class and poor make up the difference with a bewildering array of revenue mechanisms at the state & local level. Amazingly, West Virginians (and most other states) have fallen for it, hook, line, and sinker. And now money is flying out of their wallets while the richest Americans are enjoying record wealth, rolling on the floor in laughter, pointing at the middle-class and poor, and gasping between giggles: "Wow! What a bunch of idiots and suckers!"     

When will West Virginians wake up? Perhaps never. I suspect, for years to come, they'll keep voting for right-wing politicians who express, in one way or another, disdain for minorities, gays, and Muslims. Right-wing politicians are experts at reeling in voters with social issues, and then battering their finances. Many other West Virginians--like tens of millions of their fellow residents across the United States--won't vote at all, and are completely uninterested in the political happenings and current events that are siphoning money out of their bank accounts. After all, there's an awful lot of reality TV programming to watch, and voting and learning about public policy would seriously interfere with that.

Sadly, the Democratic Establishment isn't helping matters any. Instead of offering West Virginians plenty of good Bernie Sanders-type choices (Bernie Sanders won every West Virginia county during the Democratic primaries), they consistently offer up corporate Democrats, like Hillary Clinton, who mouth-off about the middle-class & poor while sipping Martinis and shaping public policy with the donor class.

But hopefully, someday--perhaps when the Democrat Establishment gets its head out of its ass--West Virginia will return to its FDR roots... and stop voting to be taxed more.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

How the super-wealthy are fostering a world of racism and hatred... and how New Deal-style work programs would oppose their malice

"Left unchecked, growing inequality threatens to pull our societies apart. It increases crime and insecurity, and undermines the fight to end poverty. It leaves more people living in fear and fewer in hope... The huge fortunes we see at the very top of the wealth and income spectrum are clear evidence of the inequality crisis and are hindering the fight to end extreme poverty. But the super-rich are not just benign recipients of the increasing concentration of wealth. They are actively perpetuating it."

Above: A Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp in California, 1933. Many CCC enrollees learned how to work with, and respect, people who were different from them. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

Above: WPA workers making furniture for use in state parks in Iowa, 1938. In 2016, conservative columnist David Brooks lamented the lack of solidarity in the United States, and wrote: "Over the course of American history, national projects like the railroad legislation, the W.P.A. and the NASA project have bound this diverse nation. Of course, such projects can happen again - maybe through a national service program, or something else." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: The description for this 1942 photograph reads, "Naval air base, Corpus Christi, Texas. Now an expert mechanic, Mary Josephine Farley shows an National Youth Administration (NYA) trainee the tricks of a Wright Whirlwind Motor. He will act as her helper for about eight weeks; then he'll be qualified to work on motors for the naval air base at Corpus Christi, Texas." When people of different gender and ethnicity learn & work together, they often feel more sympathy and respect for one another. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: This photograph (date and location unknown) comes from a "Miscellaneous lot of photographs by Barbara Wright. National Youth Administration (NYA), Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)." My guess is that it's from an NYA training workshop. NYA workshops, work sites, and resident training centers often brought youth from different backgrounds together. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: This photograph shows a subway project in Chicago, funded by the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA), 1940. When people have good-paying jobs, and when they can start and support families, intergroup tensions are eased and even eliminated. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

The super-wealthy are creating a world of extreme income inequality, financial insecurity, and emotional turmoil

In 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt told us that "government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob." More recently, billionaire hedge fund manager Tom Steyer said: "There is an absolute, unspoken war between corporate interests and the American people... We're seeing a deliberate attempt to take away [working families'] future by really rich people. Until we address that, I don't think we're dealing with the reality Americans are facing today."

A few months ago, an editor with The Nation magazine put it more succinctly: "We live in the age of rich bullies."

The super-wealthy have created an economic hell for many Americans over the past 3-4 decades, for example, stagnant wages, reduced job benefits, suffocating and often-times inescapable debt, and pharmaceutical price gouging. The super-wealthy have effected this economic bullying through a myriad of strategies, such as enormous campaign contributions (bribes); lobbying; shipping good-paying jobs to third world labor markets; usury and financial fraud; spreading misinformation through think tanks; limiting news & information through the control of mass media; and the demonization of unions, the social safety net, and the very concept of government.

The results have been devastating: Suicides have been rising every year; deaths of despair (which include alcohol & drug abuse deaths) have been rising; millions are coping with depression and anxiety; and most Americans can't afford a $500 emergency expense. All the while, the super-rich are accumulating record wealth, indifferent to the death & destruction around them. Indeed, some might even be happy about it, since it diverts attention away from their gluttony.

The economic inequality created by the super-wealthy creates a fertile ground for crime, racism, hatred, terrorism, and gangs

The super-wealthy keep vacuuming up more and more wealth for their exclusive control and enjoyment, leaving the rest of us fighting for the left-overs and getting angry at one another.

When people are under extreme financial stress and/or don't feel that they are a part of the larger society, they may seek out other groups or ideas, and they may behave in anti-social ways. As the monster in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein said, "I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine, and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other."

Economic stress and inequality can lead people to join gangs, terror groups, and racist organizations, or follow mean-spirited leaders. In the early 1930s, for example, the German people were suffering through great economic turmoil, caused by World War I reparations, the Great Depression, and other problems. Hitler offered a solution to their desperation, albeit a bad one... and the rest is history. 

In addition to economic inequality, lack of interaction with other races and religions can create fear and hatred

Many people have negative views towards other races and religions because they've had very limited, if any, interaction, with them. And so, if all you know about other groups is what you see on the news, when the news is almost always focused on negative stories, then you can easily develop a fear or hatred towards those other groups - especially when the political right and hate groups are offering political and economic explanations for today's problems that exploit that lack of interaction (and thus, knowledge) with the "other."

(See, "White people become less racist just by moving to more diverse areas, study finds," The Independent, March 3, 2014, and "5 Key Psychological Traits All Trump Supporters Seem To Share," Alternet, August 4, 2017 - see number 4, "Intergroup Contact.")

How New Deal-style work programs would reduce racism, hatred and violence

New Deal-style work programs would help reverse the trend of racism, hatred, and violence in America by (a) improving people's economic situation, and (b) bringing different races and religions together to work for the common good, for example, on infrastructure, historic preservation, and environmental conservation. Let's look at the experience of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942, for example. Here is what some of the CCC boys--most of whom had come from low-income and/or troubled backgrounds--had to say about their time in the Corps:

"We lived with boys from farms, cities and small towns; every nationality and most religious denominations were represented in our camp... We had blacks in our camp - this was before integration was accepted in our country... I got to know these boys in work and play and realized that discrimination had no place in our world." (Manuel Gomez).

"You learned how to get along with people. I think it shaped my life." (Frank G. Schmidt)

"During [World War II], the CCC boys had a jump on the other boys. We had discipline, the experience of living in barracks, getting along with others." (George Beam)

"As for the benefits derived from the CCC, I believe the following... taught boys how to get along with people..." (CCC veteran in Kansas)

"Our camp had a mixture of Latins, colored and a company of enrollees from Boston, a real hodgepodge. I am over 62 and consider the CCC the happiest period of my life... We were disciplined and worked hard... and our free time was a happy association with fine youths." (Manuel R. Martinez)

"I was very anti-social at the time, but you cannot live with a whole bunch of fellows in a barracks without getting along. It can get painful. I credit the CCC with starting me out of my anti-social habit." (Robert Hartwell)

"To me, the experience in the CCC was the opening of my world, which, until that time had been limited and poor in so many ways." (Arnold M. Rennie)

"My personal opinion is that the CCC provided a lot for boys and their families... It taught some of what responsibility meant and how to associate with others. Although many were from different backgrounds, we soon became a family." (William H. Oliver)

(From: Perry H. Merrill, Roosevelt's Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942, 1981, pp. 56-105, emphasis added.)

In 1942, the final report on the CCC noted that "Enrollees lived two hundred in a camp. Living together in barracks with other young men taught enrollees to respect the rights of others and to be tolerant of their ideas and beliefs... The funds expended to divert the energies of idle youth to useful work in the public interest paid the Nation enormous dividends" (Federal Security Agency, Final Report of the Director of the Civilian Conservation Corps, April, 1933 through June 30, 1942, pp. 81 and 88, emphasis added).

So, why don't we have a new CCC today? Or a new WPA, PWA, or NYA?

As long as the super-wealthy control our government, New Deal-type work programs will not be created - despite their history of infrastructure improvement and character-building. The super-wealthy, as a group (there are exceptions of course), are much less interested in the common good than they are in their own personal fortunes - indeed, that's why they ship so many good-paying jobs to third world labor markets, why they crush people with debt, and why they demand tax breaks even as the nation's infrastructure falls apart. You see, as long as societal chaos remains largely on the streets of places like Charlottesville, Virginia, and not in their gated communities, or private compounds, or private islands, most of the super-wealthy are content to let things play out. They're content to let the rest of us deal with the violence and hatred they facilitate, as they rake in more and more profit.

In a 2013 study titled, "Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans," researchers at Northwestern and Vanderbilt universities found that only 8% of wealthy Americans agreed with the proposition that "The federal government should provide jobs for everyone able and willing to work who cannot find a job in private employment" (table 5, p. 57). It seems that the vast majority of wealthy Americans would rather a person be unemployed if they can't find a private sector job. And they probably feel this way because they know that poverty and unemployment (i.e., a desperate pool of people willing to work for peanuts) keeps wages down, thus increasing their investment returns and making them richer.

The super-wealthy have also made clear their distaste for public works programs through their political puppets, i.e., corporate Democrats and Republicans. In 2011, when unemployment was crushing so many millions of Americans, Barack Obama let it be known that he would not support a new WPA. And in 2012, in the midst of a veteran unemployment and suicide crisis, Republicans let it be known that they would not support a new CCC-type program to provide jobs for unemployed veterans in our national parks - even though our national parks have a multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog.

Recently, the think tank for the corporate Democrats, the Center for American Progress, advocated for the creation of a new WPA-type program. However, their initial ideas are seriously flawed; the corporate media won't discuss the idea (since it would interfere with their 24-7 coverage of President Trump's tweets), and the wealthy Americans who fund corporate Democrats would almost certainly shut down any such program when it showed even the slightest possibility of negatively affecting their bloated investment returns (for a more thorough discussion on this, see my blog post, "The Democratic Establishment calls for a new WPA-type program. Sincere or subterfuge?")  

The quicksand of "private sector" lies we're stuck in - created by the super-wealthy, and their political marionettes, talking-head stooges, and think tank "researchers"

Instead of a public works program for those who fall through the cracks of capitalism, many super-wealthy Americans have inundated us with free market fairy tales and shamed us for our supposed lack of skills. They've admonished us to be rugged individuals and demanded that we practice "personal responsibility" - even as such personal responsibility is utterly crushed by Wall Street fraud, job outsourcing, and a myriad of government policies that rig the economy for the rich. The super-wealthy have convinced tens of millions of us that there's no such thing as market failure... and if we would just stop being so lazy; and just get a job at McDonald's; and work harder, Harder, HARDER; and give them tax breaks - BIG tax breaks; and let them pollute the environment like it's their personal toilet.. well then, everything will be a-okay!

It's all, of course, a bunch of horse crap - super-wealthy horse crap intended to send us wandering around blindly, while they keep monopolizing business, attacking unions, keeping our wages low, reducing retirement benefits, and pitting us against one another with layoffs, job outsourcing, and merciless debt.  

Make no mistake about it - the super-wealthy have planted the seeds of hatred and division by economically bullying and destroying so many of us. And until we confront them, stop them, and get their money out of our government, they'll continue planting more seeds... and then force us to eat their toxic harvest. They are the Johnny Appleseeds of conflict.


"[Donald Trump has] loudly embraced a brand of toxic racial politics while quietly creating a narrow winner's circle of C-suite executive and inheritors of vast fortunes. And it's the loyalty of the business class, not of neo-Nazi street brawlers, that ultimately ensures Trump's position of power and is in turn receiving its due rewards."

"If the white marchers want to blame someone, they ought to point their fingers at the wealthy whites on Wall Street and in Washington."

Monday, August 14, 2017

New Deal Farm and Seafood Markets

Above: All across the United States, New Deal workers built or improved markets to connect farmers & seafood workers to consumers. The "City Market House" above, in Austin, Texas, was built with funding from the Public Works Administration (PWA), ca. 1933-1941. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A worker cleans peaches for sale at a farmer's market in Washington, DC, 1939. This photograph was taken by Marjory Collins while she was in the New Deal's Farm Security Administration. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: A farmer's market building, constructed by WPA workers in Valdosta, Georgia, 1938. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Above: WPA workers also repaired existing market buildings. The description for this photograph reads, "The market modernization program which began in November 1938, has resulted in the construction, reconstruction and remodeling of a number of markets by WPA. This is an exterior shot of the St. Roch Market [New Orleans], more than 100 years old, which has been completely reconditioned and is now in use." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: The PWA was also active in New Orleans. The description for this photograph, ca. 1933-1942, reads, "The modern French Market which was constructed by PWA at New Orleans, LA." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: "Vegetable booths in the new French Market in New Orleans." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: "Fish and game, from which New Orleans chefs concoct world famous dishes, are proudly displayed in the New French Market, constructed by PWA, at New Orleans, Louisiana." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: "Wharf Markets," an egg tempera painting by Victor Hugo Basinet (1889-1956), depicting the seafood markets of Monterey, California, and created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1936. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: "Manhattan Fulton Fish Market," a wood engraving print by Hendrik J. Glitenkamp (1887-1946), created while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, 1934. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

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

Above: "The Market," a tempera painting by Virginia Darce (1910-1985), created while she was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1938. Image courtesy of the Portland Art Museum, and used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

Above: "Produce Market District in Chicago," described as a "Woodcut in brown on thin cream Japanese paper," created by Adrian Troy (1901-1977) while he was in the WPA, ca. 1935-1943. Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago, and used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

Above: New Deal workers not only built and improved market buildings, but they also built many farm-to-market roads. For example, in 1941, the following was reported: "In the course of six years, ending with June 1941, WPA workers completed the construction or improvement of more than 600,000 miles of roads. The greater part of this mileage represents work on roads in rural areas. Many of these are farm-to-market roads giving farmers all-weather access to markets, schools, and shopping centers" (Federal Works Agency, Report on Progress of the WPA Program, June 30, 1941, p. 4). The scene above shows WPA workers building a farm-to-market road in Iowa, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

New Deal Therapy

Above: "Happy Days," a watercolor by Abraham Mark Datz (1889-1969), created while he was in the New Deal's Section of Fine Arts, 1940. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Stagnant wages for American workers... crushing student loan debt for college graduates... children drinking lead all across the country... perpetual war in Afghanistan and Iraq... suicide rates rising every year... white nationalists battling counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia... Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un waving their nukes at one another... and a wealthy, ruling elite--in American business and government--that happily kills & injures us for profit, with cigarettes, hyper-marketing of opioids, private prisons, huge investments in missiles & bombs, and other manifestations of their psychopathy.

Sometimes, it's just too much. Fortunately, many New Deal artworks offer therapy for these troubled times by providing immersion into beautiful landscapes, peaceful nature, and the simplicity of childhood. A respite from the madness. 

Above: "Swans in the Land of the Sky Blue Water," a watercolor by Floyd Thornton Martin (1884-1956), created while he was in the New Deal's Section of Fine Arts, 1940. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: "Quietude," an oil painting by Edward Firn (1909-1966), created while he was in the New Deal's Treasury Relief Art Project, 1935. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: "Rifka Telling a Story," a watercolor by Rifka Angel (1899-1988), created while she was in the New Deal's Section of Fine Arts, 1939. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: "Winter in the Catskill Mountains," an oil painting by John W. Bentley (1880-1951), created while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, 1934. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

New Deal Art: "A Nickel's Worth of Moonlight"

Above: "A Nickel's Worth of Moonlight," a color crayon, brush, and tusche lithograph by Raymond White Skolfield (1909-1996), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Monday, August 7, 2017

New Deal trains & railroads: A photo & art story of jobs, infrastructure investment, and transportation improvement

Above: "Locomotive Standing," a lithograph by Harold Faye (1910-1980), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Program, 1939. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Gibbes Museum of Art.

One of the few bright spots in the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card is America's rail system. While our nation's infrastructure, as a whole, received a D+, our rail system received a B. But the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) notes that there's still a lot of room for improvement: "Through both public and private investment, funding for freight and passenger rail has been growing over the past five years. But despite this increase in funding, the amount needed to maintain, modernize, and expand capacity has not been met."

Under the Trump Administration, and the Republican Congress, we should not expect comprehensive funding to happen. For example, in keeping with the central principle of the conservative movement (i.e., cut or eliminate domestic programs to fund military adventures and tax breaks for the rich), the Trump budget is calling for massive cuts to our rail systems (see, e.g., "Trump budget slashes federal aid for rail, long-distance Amtrak routes," Washington Post, May 23, 2017, "Trump budget cuts funding for security at train stations, rail networks," Wall Street Journal, May 25, 2017, and "Trump budget to cut rail services to hundreds of rural communities," The Independent, April 7, 2017). Yes, Republicans, Tea Partiers, and the plutocratic-Goldman-Sachs-Trump-Administration want to dim one of the few bright spots in the ASCE's report card.

The philosophy was quite different during the New Deal. Massive investments were made in America's trains and railroads. And the results were improved infrastructure, improved service, new jobs, and the maintenance of existing jobs. WPA workers, for example, built railroad tunnels, laid down new tracks, salvaged old tracks, and helped improve the Alaska Railroad.

(For more information on the WPA's work, see: Federal Works Agency, Report on Progress of the WPA Program, June 30, 1939, pp. 124, 127; Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, pp. 34, 47, 53, 85, 86-87, 93, 118, and 131; and Annual Report of the Governor of Alaska to the Secretary of the Interior, fiscal year 1939, p. 6).

Above: "Railroad Crossing," a lithograph by Blendon Reed Campbell (1872-1969), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1939. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Sheldon Museum of Art.

Of all the New Deal programs, the Public Works Administration (PWA, not WPA) probably played the largest role in (a) improving America's rail infrastructure and (b) maintaining rail jobs. In its 1939 report, America Builds, the PWA highlighted the hard times the railroads were experiencing during the Great Depression, and explained its role in alleviating those hard times: 

"PWA sought to help the railroads out. Being private corporations, they were not eligible for grants, but PWA made loans totaling upward of $200,000,000 to 32 railroads for improvements [about 3.6 billion in today's dollars]... The outstanding allotment was the $31,900,000 loan to the Pennsylvania Railroad for completion of electrification of its lines between New York and Washington, and $6,290,000 for purchasing electric locomotives, bringing the two cities 1 hour closer to each other. On many another railroad, the Diesel-powered, lightweight streamlined trains, such as the Rebel of the Gulf, Mobile & Northern Railroad in the South, and the Flying Yankee in New England, that daily flash thousands of people from city to city, are the results of PWA loans. Still other railroads used PWA funds to iron 'kinks' out of roadbeds, improve rights-of-way. These allotments, made in the early days of PWA, enabled the railroads, normally one of the Nation's great employers, to recall many men to their jobs. In July 1934 nearly 70,000 men were working in on-the-site employment in work financed by PWA railroad loans" (p. 189).

The following images and quoted captions, unless otherwise noted, were created by the PWA and/or the WPA (ca. 1933-1940), are provided courtesy of the National Archives, and show PWA-funded projects:

  Above: "Car construction crew put to work with PWA funds at the Baltimore and Ohio shops at Keyser, West Virginia."

Above: "A new high speed electric locomotive ready to start its run between Washington and New York. PWA funds financed the purchase of this train."

Above: "Workmen bring an old type steam locomotive up-to-date in the Pennsyvania shops. This work was financed by PWA funds."

Above: "The Rebel, crack streamliner of the Gulf, Mobile and Northern Railroad, slides out of the yards. PWA funds financed the construction of this train."

Above: "Assembling car frames in the shops. PWA funds financed this work."

Above: "Head-on view of one of Pennsylvania Railroad's new electric locomotives. The purchase of this locomotive was financed with PWA funds."

Above: "Scene on the Pennsylvania Railroad." (New Deal investment in trains and railroads meant better service for passengers.)

Above: "Long Island Railroad," an oil painting by Earl John Colville (1878-1970), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and Gregory Halpern.

Above: "This streamline steam locomotive pulls the crack train of the Milwaukee Road - the Hiawatha. This train was purchased with PWA funds."

Above: The Flying Yankee, one of New England's crack streamliners. PWA funds financed the purchase of this train." (Recently, the Flying Yankee was restored, with hopes of public viewing).

Above: "Scene on the Pennsylvania Railroad line." 

Above: "Railroad Retirement," a sculpture by Robert Kittredge (1910-2003), created while he was in the New Deal's Section of Fine Arts, 1941. This sculpture, and other New Deal art, is located in the Mary E. Switzer Memorial Building (formerly the Railroad Retirement Board Building) at 330 C Street, SW, Washington, DC. Trains and railroads provide many good jobs that can't be sent overseas - conductors, switch operators, engineers, car attendants, construction workers, inspectors, mechanics, machinists, cooks, and more. Many of these jobs provide good wages and benefits. Given this, shouldn't we be investing and promoting America's rail industry more, instead of less? What is the Trump Administration thinking? Well, considering that it's packed full of born-into-wealth plutocrats, Koch-funded Tea Partiers, Goldman Sachs alumni, and the like, it's quite clear that they're thinking more about tax breaks for the rich (i.e., themselves), and less about good American jobs that support healthy middle-class lives and sound retirements. As Trump would say, or rather, tweet: "Sad!" Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and Kristen Fusselle.