Monday, October 30, 2017

Instead of a new WPA, we got opioids

Above: "Employed," an artwork by Nicholas Bervinchak (1903-1978), created while he was in the WPA's art program, 1940. During the 1930s and 40s, the WPA employed 8.5 million jobless Americans. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Free Library of Philadelphia.

In 2011, in the thick of the recession, the idea of a new WPA for jobless, financially devastated Americans was brought up. President Obama shot it down. Not interested. That same year, U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced legislation to create a new WPA. The corporate-controlled Democratic Establishment yawned. Not interested. During the 2016 presidential race, Bernie Sanders campaigned on the idea of creating millions of jobs to improve the nation's infrastructure, and candidate Jill Stein promoted a Green New Deal, which "would include a WPA-style public jobs program to secure the right to decent paid work through public jobs for the unemployed..." Unfortunately, Americans weren't interested, opting instead for plutocrats Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. 

And so today, there are still 17.5 million Americans looking for work, the labor force participation rate is still low, wages are still stagnant, and we have an epidemic of opioid deaths closely linked to unemployment and despair. Now, what comes first, unemployment or opioid abuse, is a sort of chicken and egg question, but it's probably a little of both: "The concern is that technology and globalization, which have led to the elimination of jobs for millions of low-skill workers, is creating a snowball effect of unemployment. Workers turn to drugs and then find themselves unemployable, or unable to maintain work, because of their substance abuse" ("The opioid crisis is draining America of workers," CNN, July 27, 2017). Why do some unemployed people turn to opioids? Because, "opioids have been shown to help relieve depressive symptoms" ("The Link Between Opioids and Unemployment," The Atlantic, April 18, 2017).

In other words, many Americans are in a state of despair because they can't find good-paying jobs (if any jobs at all), can't pay their bills, are hounded by blood-thirsty debt collectors, can't support their families (or start a family), and, deep down inside, probably know that the country, as a whole, doesn't care about them at all. So, they turn to opioids and other drugs to relieve their depression, stress, and anxiety. (See, "The Forces Driving Middle-Aged White People's 'Deaths Of Despair'," NPR, March 23, 2017.)

Above: In this video clip, from a July 2017 episode of The Big Picture, trial attorney Mike Papantonio discusses (at 1:55) how opioid distributors planned their marketing, "They said go to the white middle-class... in a declining economy. Let's go where they're losing jobs... where there isn't work, where there's despair."

Above: In this video clip, from a June 2017 episode of The Big Picture, Dr. Richard Wollff, from the University of Massachusetts, discusses the links between the loss of good-paying jobs, our collective dismissal of the unemployed, and drug abuse.

During the New Deal, millions of unemployed Americans were given job opportunities in the CCC, CWA, WPA, and other agencies. And these millions of Americans improved the common good, for example, infrastructure. We still benefit from their work today. In modern America, however, we have been trained by right-wing politicians, right-wing think tanks, right-wing news outlets, and right-wing millionaires & billionaires to despise the poor and the unemployed. Even when jobs are outsourced, or replaced by machines, or lost through white collar crime & fraud, we still blame the poor and jobless, scolding them for not taking "personal responsibility." And so, because of this collective foolishness, our infrastructure crumbles while millions can't find good-paying work (or any work at all); and also while tens of thousands die each year from opioid overdoses, and tens of thousands of others kill themselves by other, more intentional means.

But hey, no worries, because on top of all the dead bodies are the Forbes 400, who recently saw their collective, record wealth rise from $2.4 trillion to $2.7 trillion. Everything is fine and dandy for them.

Will we ever wise up and connect the dots? Not likely. You see, we've lost our energy, our compassion, and our critical thinking skills. And that doesn't bode well for problem-solving.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Children are still drinking lead for billionaires, this time in Oakland and San Francisco

Above: "CWA Workers at Patrick Henry School in 1934," a lithograph by Russell Limbach (1904-1971), created while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, 1934. All across the nation, New Deal relief workers built, repaired, or improved thousands of schools, utility plants, and water mains. All of this work meant clean water for America's children. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

While the super-wealthy are amassing record wealth, enjoying historically low tax rates, anticipating even more tax cuts, and, in some cases, keeping a good portion of their riches secreted away in offshore (and onshore) tax havens, America's children keep drinking lead-contaminated water from old water mains, old connection lines, and old plumbing.  

In just the past few days, for example, lead contaminated drinking water has been found in schools in Oakland and San Francisco. And they're just two areas "among a growing list of schools across [California] posting high levels of lead flowing out of faucets."

Lead is a neurotoxin, and causes both physical and mental damage. For example, in 2016 the CDC noted that lead poisoning increases the risk for "damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems (e.g., reduced IQ, ADHD, juvenile delinquency, and criminal behavior), and hearing and speech problems." Amazingly though, some areas of the country don't even bother testing for lead; and some that do test, and find positive results, keep the information to themselves "for months - without doing anything about it" ("No One Monitoring Lead In School Water, Lawmakers Told," News Channel 5 (Tennessee), October 25, 2017).

And so this is what happens when private fortune is glorified and the common good, e.g., infrastructure, is belittled - millions of children drink neurotoxins. Indeed, our right-wing and neoliberal governments have been so neglectful of the common good--letting millions be poisoned--that a young girl has had to step in and create a better lead-testing device ("Troubled By Flint Water Crisis, 11-Year-Old Girl Invents Lead-Detecting Device," NPR, October 20, 2017).

Yes, an 11-year-old child has had to step in and create a better poison-detecting device, because our plutocratic governments are too busy pampering the rich to be bothered with replacing crumbling, toxic infrastructure.

Isn't that amazing?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

To serve their wealthy donors (and their own wallets), Republicans & neoliberals are raising taxes, tolls, fees, fines, and utility rates on the middle-class & poor... and the middle-class & poor are going along with it

Above: A WPA poster, promoting tourism in the National Parks. Today, it's getting drastically more expensive to visit our national parks (see below). Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Republicans and neoliberals are raising our taxes, tolls, fees, fines, and utility rates

All across America, Republicans and neoliberals are raising (or have already raised) our taxes, tolls, fees, fines, and utility rates. By constantly serving their rich masters--e.g., cutting federal taxes on the rich, reducing federal spending & assistance, and turning a blind eye to tax evasion & avoidance by the rich--they're forcing the revenue burden down on everyone else. Even worse, the middle-class & poor seem to either (a) not have the necessary critical thinking skills to figure it out, or (b) they fully understand what's happening, but are too submissive or apathetic to resist.

Below are some examples of this foolishness I'm talking about. With a little Internet searching, you'll find that these increases are being replicated all across America. We're being nickel & dimed into stagnation, or even poverty, by Republicans and neoliberals... all so the Forbes 400 (and other super-rich people) can keep amassing record wealth.

Republicans and neoliberals are raising our National Park fees  

Recently, the National Park senior pass was raised by 700%. And now, the Trump Administration is proposing large increases in entrance fees for everyone else too. The Trump Administration is also hoping to cut federal spending on National Parks. Yes, instead of raising taxes on the super-wealthy, who are enjoying record wealth, the Trump Administration will raise fees on the middle-class & poor, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet. (See, "Trump Administration Eyes Steep Fee Hikes At America’s Busiest National Parks," Huffington Post, October 24, 2017).

National Park fees, by the way, are regressive - the less you make, the higher your burden.  

Republicans and neoliberals are raising our car registration fees

Recently, in West Virginia, car registration fees were just about doubled. And try this experiment: Do a Google search with the words "car registration increase" and see what pops up for areas all around the United States. I would tell you the results, but I don't want to spoil the fun. Who knows, you might even find that your own car registration fees have been doubled or tripled.

Car registration and other DMV fees, by the way, are regressive - the less you make, the higher your burden. 

Why are all these fees going up? To support tax cuts for the rich at the federal level. 

Republicans and neoliberals are raising our state & local taxes

Over these past many years, all across the country, regressive sales taxes, regressive property taxes, regressive state fuel taxes, and more have been increased. In fact, when measured as a percentage of income, middle & lower-income Americans pay double the state & local taxes that the rich pay, "the definition of regressive, upside-down tax policy" ("Fairness Matters: A Chart Book on Who Pays State and Local Taxes," Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, January 26, 2017).

Why are all these taxes being raised? To support tax cuts for the rich at the federal level.

Republicans and neoliberals are raising our road & bridge tolls (and even trying to add more toll booths) 

Above: These WPA workers are building a new road in Shenandoah County, Virginia, ca. 1935-1943. New Deal policymakers hired jobless Americans to improve the nation's infrastructure. WPA workers performed 650,000 miles of roadwork (new construction, repairs, or improvements). That's enough roadwork to go around the Earth 26 times. Today, Republican and neoliberal politicians are trying to give more of our public roads to millionaires & billionaires, so the millionaires & billionaires can restrict our freedom of movement with more tolls and fees. Millionaires & billionaires want more money, they don't care about your travel plans, and they don't care if they make your daily commute a traffic nightmare - after all, they won't be the ones stuck in a traffic jam; they'll be sitting at home in their pajamas, moving money (your toll money, thank you very much) around on the stock market. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Recently, tolls have been increased (or are being considered for increase), for the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the Golden Gate Bridge, California's 91 Freeway, Indiana's toll roads,  the SR 520 Bridge in Washington, and so on and so on. And these tolls are regressive - the less you make, the higher your burden.

I can't think of many acts that are more submissive, than the slavish willingness of middle-class & poor Americans to sit in traffic jams, waiting to pay tolls, so that the rich can enjoy low taxes and, in some cases, greater profit. For example, writing for the Wall Street Journal, Thomas Coyle says, "For most of us, a toll road is just another expense. But for a family with vast resources and a long investment horizon, it can be something quite different: a source of income... In growing numbers, rich families are investing in infrastructure..." (also see, "How Investors Can Profit From Toll Roads," Kiplinger, October 6, 2016).

Isn't that sweet? Republicans cut taxes for the rich, and scale back federal spending on infrastructure, and then the rich move in and privatize our infrastructure, forcing us to pay them back with interest. Less taxes for the rich, and more profit for the rich. Do you fully understand that? You're waiting in traffic, waiting in line to give your money to the rich. Millionaires & billionaires (and in some cases, foreign millionaires & billionaires) are actually stopping your vehicle and making you pay them.

Oh, that reminds me, here's a message the super-wealthy asked me to give to everyone: "Thanks suckers!" 

Interestingly, U.S. News & World Report recently noted that red state Texas is starting to get "toll fatigue" and actually eliminating some tolls. It seems that Republican-loving Texans are getting tired of stopping every so many miles to pay their "I-Love-The-Rich" fee. The article also reports that "Transportation experts say that a primary reason for a growing reliance on tolls is that for far too long Congress hasn't adequately funded the country's transportation needs." Hmmm... I wonder if that inadequate funding has coincided with Republican and neoliberal trickle-down economics?

Republicans and neoliberals are raising our utility rates

Like tolls, utility rates are regressive - the less you make, the higher your burden; and, like tolls, they're being raised to pamper the rich. Once again, our wallets are emptied so the rich can hoard more wealth (which, very conveniently, will allow them to buy more political puppets, and fund more "job creator" propaganda).

Republicans and neoliberals are raising fines

Of all the regressive revenue mechanisms designed to fleece the middle-class & poor, none are more sinister than fines. States like Georgia, and localities like Ferguson, Missouri have used fines, and ruthless, soulless criminal justice systems, to harass, fine, and jail their middle and (especially) lower-income residents. Americans are literally losing their freedom to ensure that millionaires & billionaires can avoid taxes and live in greater and greater luxury.

In a recent case, a judge in Mississippi forcibly separated a mother from her child until the mother could pay a court-imposed fine / fee (in regards to a misdemeanor violation). 

Will Americans ever learn?

Above: A WPA poster, urging Americans to become better-informed citizens. New Deal policymakers believed that democracy, education, civic engagement, and the common good were far more important than private fortune. Today's Republicans and neoliberals don't. Image courtesy of George Mason University.

Americans, for whatever reason(s), seem to have an awfully hard time learning from mistakes. We lag behind other developed countries in so many areas (Internet, healthcare, lifespan, education, infrastructure, financial regulation, etc.), but never seem to learn. We just keep putting our faith in millionaires & billionaires, even as they fail us year after year, defraud us decade after decade, and perpetually try to undermine our democracy. We are so devoted to them, that we'll even empty our wallets for them. 

About a year ago, Penn State Professor Sophia McClennen said of the nation, "we have collectively lost our ability to process information and make good judgments. To be truly stupid, you need to have poor reasoning skills. So our problem isn't just that we have lies substituted for facts; it is that we don't even know how to process information anymore."

If McClennen is right (and I think she is), there is no light at the end of the tunnel. If you can't process information, then you can't see how you're being taken to the cleaners in order to protect the mega-rich. Thus, you'll never learn, never change, never wake up. You'll just scratch your head stupidly, keep allowing yourself to get nickel & dimed, and drag everyone else down with you.

Think about it: We had Reagan's trickle-down economics and the national debt ballooned. We had Bush Jr.'s trickle-down economics and job growth was very poor. Trickle-down economics has failed so miserably (unless you're rich), that even right-wing superstar Ann Coulter has had enough, recently tweeting, "Bush cut taxes! Did it create millions of jobs? Nope. The rich pocketed their tax cut & sent jobs abroad, hired guest workers. F-- them." 

But it doesn't matter does it? Because soon, having learned nothing, we'll be implementing Donald Trump & Paul Ryan's trickle-down economics - Trickle-Down Economics 3.0. And when that ultimately fails, we'll cut taxes on the rich again... and again... and again... never learning... never waking up... but always, always willing (or perhaps completely oblivious to) paying more taxes, tolls, fees, fines and utility rates.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

New Deal Hard Times Art (10/10): "Boy Artist at Transient Shelter"

Above: "Boy Artist at Transient Shelter," a lithograph by Elizabeth Olds (1896-1991), created while she was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, 1934. How many children today sit in homeless shelters and dream of a better life? And how many realize, despite all the happy-talk to the contrary, that it's unlikely, because of the greed and selfishness of the American caste system? Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Nebraska State Historical Society.

As the super-rich keep hoarding wealth, evading taxes, and refusing to give American workers a significant raise, child homelessness remains a major problem in the United States. For example, in 2016 the U.S. Department of Housing and Human Services (DHHS) reported: "Homelessness is a reality for many families with young children in our country. In fact, infancy is the period of life when a person is at highest risk of living in a homeless shelter in the United States... Experiences of homelessness in early childhood are associated with poor early development and educational well-being" ("Early Childhood Homelessness in the United States: 50-State Profile," January 2016, available here).

Childhood homelessness occurs just about everywhere in America. In Kentucky, the DHHS report shows that 10.6% of children in Kentucky under the age of 6 experience homelessness. Meanwhile, "New York City remains in the midst of the worst crisis of homelessness since the Great Depression, with more than 62,000 men, women, and children sleeping in shelters each night. A chronic shortage of affordable housing and the potent combination of rising rents and stagnant wages have fueled a daunting and unabated 79 percent increase in the demand for shelter in the last decade... The City has made far too little progress for the 45,000 children staying in shelters each year. The number of children in shelters remains at record levels" ("State of the Homeless 2017," Coalition for the Homeless, available here).

The problem of child homelessness is so bad that it's developed its own lingo. For example, homeless high school students are sometimes referred to as "couch surfers or couch hoppers," because, lacking a permanent residency of their own, they stay at various shelters and friends' homes ("Number of homeless children and adults in America has increased," The Philadelphia Tribune, June 28, 2016).

How will our Republican federal government address child homelessness? Answer: They will give massive tax cuts to the super-rich. Not more affordable housing, not an increase in the earned income credit, not a public works program for the unemployed, but massive tax cuts... for the super-rich "job creators" who have failed so miserably at creating good-paying jobs. Republicans are working hard, for example, to repeal the estate tax (a tax paid only by the rich) so that even more dynastic wealth can be passed down from generation to generation. This will solidify America's developing caste system - those born into great wealth will live in great luxury and those born into poverty will remain in poverty, struggling all their lives with low wages and high debt (see, e.g., "Poor at 20, Poor for Life: A new study indicates that from the 1980s to the 2000s, it became less likely that a worker could move up the income ladder," The Atlantic, July 14, 2016).

In the Bible, Christ says we should avoid hoarding wealth and, instead, help the poor (see, e.g., Matthew 19: 20-24). But in America today, with the strong support of many evangelicals (who voted for Trump, a man who says, "I'm a very greedy person") we help the super-rich get richer and scold the poor - calling them "takers," "parasites," and "lazy good-for-nothings." And then, the political right (the group that facilitates most of this wealth-hoarding and name-calling) has the nerve to declare America "A Christian Nation!!"

Isn't that amazing? I mean... isn't that just jaw-dropping, eye-crossing, pull-your-hair-out amazing? Wow!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

New Deal Hard Times Art (9/10): "Forgotten Man"

Above: "Forgotten Man," an oil painting by Gustav Berk, created while he was in a New Deal art program, probably either the Public Works of Art Project or the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1934-1935. Not much is known about Berk, but according to the Nebraska State Historical Society, he was born in Germany and lived from about 1871-1937. He had a wife named Margaret and two children, so it's possible he has descendants living today - descendants who might not even be aware that he painted "Forgotten Man," an artwork based on one of Franklin Roosevelt's speeches. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Nebraska State Historical Society.

On April 7, 1932, in his Radio Address From Albany, New York: "The 'Forgotten Man' Speech", Franklin Roosevelt said: "In my calm judgment, the Nation faces today a more grave emergency than in 1917. It is said that Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo because he forgot his infantry - he staked too much upon the more spectacular but less substantial cavalry. The present administration in Washington provides a close parallel. It has either forgotten or it does not want to remember the infantry of our economic army. These unhappy times call for the building of plans that rest upon the forgotten, the unorganized but the indispensable units of economic power for plans like those of 1917 that build from the bottom up and not from the top down, that put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid."

Today, plutocracy has once again taken over the country. As everyday Americans face stagnant wages, crushing personal debt, rising rates of depression and anxiety, the political right is working hard to give massive tax cuts to the rich and also to cut the social safety net. We are forgotten again.

Monday, October 23, 2017

New Deal Hard Times Art (8/10): "Poverty"

Above: "Poverty," an aquatint by Dorothy Rutka (1907-1985), created while she was in the WPA's art program, ca. 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

A few days ago, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report highlighting America's looming retirement catastrophe ("Government report sounds alarm on retirement crisis," CNBC, October 19, 2017). This wide-scale, old-age poverty crisis will be due to a number of reasons (some are explained in the article, some are not), including: Stagnant wages; the exportation of good-paying jobs; decreased union participation; rising healthcare costs; the growing and pathetic "gig economy"; rising levels of personal debt; recent & cold-hearted limitations on bankruptcy relief; financial fraud; the replacement of fixed pension plans with inadequate 401k's (if anything at all); the refusal of right-wing politicians to expand Social Security; and the greed & selfishness of the super-wealthy.

If millions of voters keep electing Republican, Tea Party, and "centrist" (i.e., Republican-Light) politicians, and millions of others keep sitting on the sidelines in apathy, little or nothing will be done to address old-age poverty. We can expect even higher rates of suicide and other deaths of despair, while younger generations are trained by right-wing millionaires and billionaires--via think tank "researchers," political advertisements, and mainstream media talking heads--to blame impoverished senior citizens for their plight. "Personal responsibility!" they'll scream at the elderly. "Rugged individualism!" they'll admonish. "Tough sh&t!" they'll laugh, "You should have saved more!" And the fact that they couldn't have saved more because of pathetic wages, outsourced jobs, and crushing debt won't matter a bit to the right-wing boneheads who will be scolding them.

Free market fanaticism, and the refusal to accept the existence of market failure, breeds sociopathy - and that's going to cause a lot of suffering for older Americans in the very near future.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

New Deal Hard Times Art (7/10): "Money Magnet" and "1939 A.D."

Above: "Money Magnet," a lithograph by Don Freeman (1908-1978), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1936. Freeman went on to have a very successful art career after the WPA, but in a 1965 oral history interview, he said, "I think you have to give credit to - I do, give credit to the WPA, through that very difficult time. My wife, she wasn't on the project, it helped us to carry on so that we could paint. We were just painting all the time. So it helped us through a very difficult period." Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

This year, it's been reported that "Fifty-seven percent of Americans don't have enough cash to cover a $500 unexpected expense"; and "Data suggests that the typical working-class family wouldn't make it in most big U.S. cities without taking on debt"; and "Two-thirds of Americans would struggle to cover a $1000 emergency expense"; and "Americans are dying with an average of $62,000 of debt."

Meanwhile, the richest Americans are enjoying record wealth; and their political puppets (Republicans, Libertarians, and Tea Partiers) are working hard to give them even more tax cuts, while slashing social safety net programs that help the non-rich.

Is it any wonder that suicides and other deaths of despair are becoming more and more frequent? After decades of trickle-down economics, the American Dream is dead.

We are constantly bombarded with messages / propaganda like, "America number one!" and "America is the greatest country in the world." Further (and worse), if you don't agree it's considered unpatriotic. But to accept that America is the greatest country in the world, you have to accept, or be oblivious to, an awful lot of mental, physical, and financial suffering. You have to tune out misery, and immerse yourself in vanity.

In Franklin Roosevelt's 1936 speech accepting his renomination for president, he stated:

"An old English judge once said: 'Necessitous men are not free men.' Liberty requires opportunity to make a living—a living decent according to the standard of the time, a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for.

For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people's property, other people's money, other people's labor - other people's lives. For too many of us life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness.

Against economic tyranny such as this, the American citizen could appeal only to the organized power of Government. The collapse of 1929 showed up the despotism for what it was. The election of 1932 was the people's mandate to end it. Under that mandate it is being ended.

The royalists of the economic order have conceded that political freedom was the business of the Government, but they have maintained that economic slavery was nobody's business. They granted that the Government could protect the citizen in his right to vote, but they denied that the Government could do anything to protect the citizen in his right to work and his right to live.

Today we stand committed to the proposition that freedom is no half-and-half affair. If the average citizen is guaranteed equal opportunity in the polling place, he must have equal opportunity in the market place.

These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power. In vain they seek to hide behind the Flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the Flag and the Constitution stand for. Now, as always, they stand for democracy, not tyranny; for freedom, not subjection; and against a dictatorship by mob rule and the over-privileged alike."

Above: "1939 A.D.," a lithograph by Elizabeth Olds (1896-1991), created in 1939, probably during her time in the WPA. Notice the "Right To Work" sign in the crowd of marchers. Back then, "right to work" meant something along the lines of employment assurance. Today, of course, the slogan has been hi-jacked by anti-union forces, as a tool to trick Americans into working for lower wages. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

For a time, roughly 1933 to 1980, economic inequality, tyranny, and slavery was reduced. After that, however, America abandoned the New Deal and embraced trickle-down economics instead. And so now, we live in a time period where, on the one hand, student loan debt is approaching $1.5 trillion, wages are stagnant, infrastructure is crumbling, millions are incarcerated... while, on the other hand, a mere 400 people control $2.7 trillion in wealth. To add to the absurdity of the situation, tens of millions of middle and lower-income Americans keep voting for right-wing politicians who want to (a) cut or eliminate taxes on the wealthy and (b) do nothing at all about the debt that average Americans are being bludgeoned with.

Slavery still exists in America. It's been fine-tuned and adjusted, very ingeniously, so that the enslaved can't see their shackles or oppressors.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

New Deal Hard Times Art (6/10): "Eviction"

Above: "Eviction," a crayon aquatint by Dorothy Rutka (1907-1985), created while she was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Rutka graduated from the Cleveland School of Art in 1929, and worked "as a portrait painter, a writer and illustrator before joining the graphic arts project with the WPA in 1936." In 1985, she and her husband were murdered during a burglary of their home in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Kelvin Smith Library, Case Western Reserve University.

A new report on the 400 richest people in America shows that, once again, they're enjoying record wealth - $2.7 trillion, up from $2.4 trillion. And yesterday, the stock market hit a record high too, 23,328.

Sadly, the prosperity of the few isn't doing much for everyday Americans. For example, wages are still stagnant and evictions are running rampant. With respect to the latter, Harvard Professor Matthew Desmond recently said, "If you look at the numbers, city by city, they're just shocking. There are 40 evictions a day that happen in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and 60 marshal evictions a day in New York City. The last time we rolled out the American Housing Survey, we asked renters: 'do you think you'll be evicted soon?' and 2.8 million renting homes said 'yes' to that question... we're evicting people not in the tens and hundreds of thousands, but rather millions."

Just another painful lesson in the failure of trickle-down economics. But it doesn't matter. Tens of millions of Americans will continue to vote for right-wing politicians who, in turn, will continue to push for more tax cuts for the rich. And so the nightmarish loop of economic failure and soaring income & wealth inequality continues.

Friday, October 20, 2017

New Deal Hard Times Art (5/10): "God's Shadows"

Above: "God's Shadows," a wood engraving print by Todros Geller (1889-1949), created while he was in the WPA's art program, 1940. According to his Wikipedia page, Geller "regarded art as a tool for social reform... His work was commissioned for stained glass windows, bookplates, community centers and Yiddish and English books." Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

According to a recent brief by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, "On any given night, over 175,000 people are unsheltered, sleeping outside or in places not meant for human habitation. On a positive note, unsheltered homelessness has been declining nationally for several years, but some jurisdictions, particularly some large cities, report increases." The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported that "Despite money and effort, homelessness in SF as bad as ever," with area residents complaining about "tent encampments, needles and human feces." One San Franciscan in the article said:

"The Powell Street BART Station is basically a homeless shelter, and not a well-maintained one. There are homeless people sprawled all over the place, sometimes shooting up, sometimes with clothes not completely covering their backsides. Some people have seen people masturbating. There's the smell, the dirt. The needles, the human waste, the garbage. I just don't understand why we think it's OK."

Actually, of course, probably very few people think homelessness is okay, but our collective, rigid, and even religious devotion to "free markets" and "job creators"--coupled with the brainwashing we've been subjected to about the evils of "big government"--prevents us from effectively dealing with the problem. Rates of homelessness go up and down, depending on the number of band-aid solutions at any given time, but the core problems underlying homelessness, for example, lack of affordable housing, lack of good-paying jobs, income & wealth inequality, right-wing attacks on the social safety net, mental health problems, and so on, are likely to continue for many years to come.

During the New Deal, there were many policies and programs that effectively dealt with the homeless and the near-homeless, for example, more affordable housing opportunities; transient and homeless work camps for the willing & able-bodied; and a jobs program--the Civilian Conservation Corps--for young men who were wandering around the countryside, on trains or hitchhiking, in a fruitless search for work. We could do the same things today, if we had enough energy and empathy.

"Seeing who is walking into soup kitchens and who we're seeing when we do outreach, they're barely hanging on... they're recently released from the hospital with colostomy bags. There are people with cancer on the streets, severe diabetes, heart disease, a lot of really severe mental illness combined with addictive disorders."

--Jennifer Friedenbach, Director, Coalition of Homelessness, "Despite money and effort, homelessness in SF as bad as ever," San Francisco Chronicle, June 26, 2017 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

New Deal Hard Times Art (4/10): "Two on a Bench"

Above: "Two on a Bench," A lithograph by Eli Jacobi (1898-1984), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1939. According to the Asheville Art Museum, "Jacobi worked for the Graphic Arts Division of the WPA Federal Arts Project in New York. His specialty was block printing. Jacobi was also successful as a magazine and book illustrator. He was a contributing illustrator to Nation, Saturday Review, and Living Age magazines." Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Gibbes Museum of Art.

Many people, especially those on the political right, often praise capitalism for fostering competition. And in every competition, of course, there are winners and losers. So what do we do with the losers of capitalism? Well, many people, especially those on the political right, would have us neglect and shame them, by cutting back on social safety net programs and labeling the losers "takers," "parasites," and "lazy good-for-nothings." To me, it seems intellectually dishonest and/or very cruel to, on the one hand, praise competition; and then, on the other hand, pretend there are no losers in the competition or, if acknowledged, neglect and shame them.

If we are going to praise capitalism, and glorify the competition it creates, then we should at least have the honesty and compassion to help the losers of capitalism get back in the game - through more liberal debt relief, using the government as an employer of last resort, better access to health care & medicine, more free or even paid job training, and perhaps even a universal basic income. In other words, we need to give more life to the general welfare sections of the Constitution (the Preamble and Article I, Section 8), to counteract the inherent negligence of capitalism and competition.

But will we do so? Well, considering that intellectual honesty about capitalism and competition would ultimately require hard work (e.g., crafting legislation, creating programs, staffing programs, evaluating programs, etc.), whereas intellectual dishonesty requires little more than insulting the poor, self-righteous rhetoric, and dog whistles, I think we can safely assume that we're going to continue to ignore and pooh pooh the general welfare sections of the Constitution, even as our quality of life is continually whittled away by debt, stagnant wages, job outsourcing, and financial fraud by the financial elite.

"In its Preamble, the Constitution states that it was intended to form a more perfect Union and promote the general welfare; and the powers given to the Congress to carry out those purposes can be best described by saying that they were all the powers needed to meet each and every problem which then had a national character and which could not be met by merely local action."

--President Franklin Roosevelt, March 9, 1937, Fireside Chat

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

New Deal Hard Times Art (3/10): "Starving Woman"

Above: "Starving Woman," an artwork by Marjorie Eakins (1910-1974), probably created while she was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1939. According to AskArt, Eakins was  born in San Francisco, went to San Francisco State College and the California School of Fine Arts (today called the San Francisco Art Institute), studied under the muralist Diego Rivera, and "During the 1930s she produced lithographs for the WPA." There's little or no information on this artwork on the Internet, so it's hard to know exactly what the artist intended. For example, what is the woman starving for? Love? Hope? Well, judging by her gaunt face, the artist probably meant "starving" in the literal sense: not enough food, malnutrition. Today, as the wealthiest Americans keeping eating up more and more of the nation's wealth, and gleefully scavenging off the financial carcasses of the lower classes, and howling for more tax cuts, food insecurity is a persistent problem in the United States - and the food that is available (i.e., affordable) to lower income groups is often very high in sugar, salt, and fat - but low in vitamins and minerals (see, e.g., "Poverty, tight budgets foster food insecurity in West Las Vegas," Las Vegas Review-Journal, October 14, 2017. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Ackland Art Museum.

Above: A WPA poster promoting good nutrition. Through public information campaigns, recreation programs, surplus food distribution, garden projects, school lunches, expanded healthcare services, and more, the New Deal improved America's health and fitness. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

New Deal Hard Times Art (2/10): "One Third of a Nation"

Above: A WPA poster promoting the WPA's production of One Third of a Nation. In her 1940 book Arena, WPA Theatre Director Hallie Flanagan devotes an entire chapter to One Third of a Nation, "A play about people living in slums, about the historic development of slums and about their tragic effect on human lives" (p. 211). One Third of a Nation was perhaps the WPA's most successful theatre production (see, e.g., Susan Quinn, Furious Improvisation, 2008, pp. 225-228), but it also made enemies. Flanagan recalled one theatre owner who said, "Big money is going to fight this play... Big-monied people like landlords don't want people thinking about slum conditions" (Arena, p. 220). Image courtesy of George Mason University.

In his inaugural address to begin his second term as president, Franklin Roosevelt said: "I see millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day... 
I see millions denied education, recreation, and the opportunity to better their lot and the lot of their children... I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished... Government is competent when all who compose it work as trustees for the whole people. It can make constant progress when it keeps abreast of all the facts. It can obtain justified support and legitimate criticism when the people receive true information of all that government does... If I know aught of the will of our people, they will demand that these conditions of effective government shall be created and maintained. They will demand a nation uncorrupted by cancers of injustice..."

Roosevelt's heart was in the right place, but he was wrong about the American people demanding and maintaining good government. Through apathy, celebrity distraction, and a powerful lack of empathy, the American people have allowed their federal and state governments to be hi-jacked by the super-wealthy and their political marionettes. The government doesn't serve average Americans today - it threatens them with incarceration and poverty, places them in inescapable debt, and allows their livelihoods to be sent overseas. Today, the government doesn't tax record-breaking wealth more; instead, it places ruthless restrictions on debt relief for struggling Americans (e.g., student loan debtors and the entire territory of Puerto Rico). Today, the government doesn't ensure universal health care; instead, it allows pharmaceutical companies to overcharge and overdose us. Today, our government is not effective and just, as Roosevelt had hoped; instead, it is corrupt and foul-minded, neglecting those who are suffering and coddling those who are not.

"It is perverse and obscene. We are creating a generation of indentured people. It is mind-boggling that we would do this to a whole generation of young people."

--Daniel Austin, law professor, Northeastern University, on inescapable student loan debt ("Joe Biden Backed Bills To Make It Harder For Americans To Reduce Their Student Debt," International Business Times, September 15, 2015)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

New Deal Hard Times Art (1/10): "Buried Treasure"

Above: "Buried Treasure," a crayon lithograph by Mabel Dwight (1876-1955), created while she was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1939. According to the Brier Hill Art Gallery in Boston, Massachusetts, "During the Depression, Dwight produced a series of powerful anti-fascist works and, as a participant in the Federal Arts Project, she created twenty-five lithographs dealing with social matters." Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Above: During the New Deal, there were several initiatives to alleviate hunger: CCC boys got three square meals a day at their barracks and work sites; the WPA served hot lunches to underprivileged children; and the Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation (FSCC) distributed food & food items to those in need. The U.S. Food Stamp program also had its genesis in the New Deal, managed by the FSCC. The two stamps you see here were used in that program. Image scanned from personal collection.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

California's under-staffed fire prevention & response, and California's youth unemployment problems

Above: "At the Forest Fire," an undated painting by Sol Wilson (1896-1974). Wilson was a WPA artist, but it's not clear whether "At the Forest Fire" was funded by the WPA. It was given to the Smithsonian American Art Museum by the IRS and GSA, so it's possible that it was. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The many fires in northern California continue to cause havoc. About 23 people have died, and many more are injured or missing. 3,500 structures have been destroyed, and nearly 200,000 acres burned to a crisp. The property damage will be tens of billions.

Yesterday, the New York Times reported that "Almost 8,000 state and local firefighters battled the blazes, using more than 550 fire engines, 73 helicopters and more than 30 airplanes... with additional crews and 320 more fire engines en route from neighboring states and from federal agencies. But vast as the resources were, they clearly were not enough" (emphasis added).

This is a problem that has repeated itself many times over the past several years - not only in California but in many western states. Local resources are overwhelmed and have to wait for additional equipment and manpower from surrounding states to properly control the fires.

Interestingly, California (again, like many states) has had a persistent youth unemployment problem for many years (see, e.g., "Young adults: California's forgotten class," Orange County Register, April 29, 2017, "Youth unemployment in Sacramento region among highest in nation," Sacramento Business Journal, April 21, 2017, "The effect of California’s high youth unemployment on the economy," CA FWD, December 11, 2012," and "The 13 States With The Worst Youth Unemployment Problems - California," Business Insider, October 31, 2011).

Above: CCC boys in California, 1933. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

During the 1930s and 40s, the Roosevelt Administration hired about 125,000 men to plant trees, fight fires, and engage in wide-scale fire prevention projects in California, like the enormous Ponderosa Way Firebreak. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has described the CCC as the "single largest [wildfire] suppression force ever assembled in American history."  

In modern times, we have been collectively brainwashed into thinking that (a) the government (i.e., We the People) can do nothing right, (b) private sector "entrepreneurs," "innovators," and money-obsessed CEOs are our job-creating heroes (pay no attention, of course, to all their job exporting & outsourcing), and (c) all unemployed people are jobless by choice, just a bunch of lazy bums. This brainwashing--along with persistent tax cuts for the rich, endless & expensive military adventures across the globe, and the immense apathy that has plagued our country for so long--are why we have no CCC today.

The failure to think ahead and plan, and the failure to learn the lessons of history, are lethal and expensive. We're seeing that today, with the lost lives, with the vast property damage, and with the danger we're placing our firefighters in by under-staffing fire prevention & response efforts.

"I have thought over and over that we should have a program of that sort [NYA, CCC] 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 Treadwell (Dettner), California director for the New Deal's National Youth Administration (NYA), 1935-1939, oral history interview, 1994-1995, UC Berkeley Library.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Holy smokes! California needs a new CCC and WPA to handle its out-of-control wildfires, not tax cuts for its wealthiest residents!

Above: The town of Coffey Park, California, after a fire recently burned it to the ground. Photo courtesy of the California Highway Patrol.

California is on fire and breathing smoke

California is ablaze - a destructive fire near Los Angeles, several lethal fires in the north, and San Franciscans coughing in between. The fires in northern California have taken at least 11 lives, forced thousands to evacuate, and hundreds more have been injured or gone missing. About 2,000 structures have been destroyed and who-knows-how-many cars have been burned into empty metal shells, left sitting on their steel wheels or brake rotors (aluminum wheels melted away). In addition to the lost lives and lost property, are lost memories: Family photos, keepsakes, collections, etc. - all burned.

We don't know yet what started all the fires (downed power lines is one potential culprit), but we do know why the fire spread so rapidly - too much wildfire fuel on the ground, not enough manpower to contain the fires earlier, and global warming. An official for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) reported "that conditions were critically dry, given the lack of moisture in the air and the buildup of grass, brush and trees. 'Combined, that’s a recipe for disaster.'" The Napa County Fire Chief noted a lack of resources, and was waiting for more firefighters to arrive from other parts of California: "As of right now, with these conditions, we can't get in front of this fire and do anything about the forward progress." Another official with Cal Fire said "the fires were probably linked to a warming climate. 'It has been hotter, it has been drier, our fire seasons have been longer, fires are burning more intensely, which is a direct correlation to the climate changing.'"

Above: Another amazing photo of the damage to Coffey Park, California, this one taken by Jim Wilson for the New York Times. See: "'Everything was incinerated': Scenes From One Community Wrecked by the Santa Rosa Fire." Photo used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.

The CCC and WPA preparation & response... that could have been

A new CCC and WPA could have helped tremendously. During the 1930s and 40s these and other New Deal agencies cleared out wildfire fuel; constructed many thousands of miles of firebreaks; provided local manpower - ready to fight fires on short notice; and planted trees where needed (trees absorb carbon dioxide, one of the main causes of global warming). As Cal Fire has noted: "Because the CCC was expected to fight forest fires, they constituted the single largest wildland suppression force ever assembled in American history" and "the CCC-WPA programs had given the State of California a physical operating plant for the California Division of Forestry to carry out its wildland fire protection mission..."

Yes, contrary to the "unemployed-are-lazy" rhetoric that right-wing talking heads spew forth everyday, unemployed Americans had a significant and positive impact on the modernization of America - not only in fire protection, but also in education, health care, infrastructure, historic preservation, and much more. Hired into the CCC, WPA, and other work relief programs, formerly-jobless Americans transformed the country like no other federal agency or private employer ever has, before or since. You won't hear about this from the corporate-controlled media, and you won't get the full story in K-12 schools or colleges (history and social studies have been pooh-poohed to make room for more STEM courses), but if you do a little research--yes, actual research, not Sean Hannity and the boob tube--you'll find it's undeniably true.   

Sadly though, we're stuck in a new phase of American history, aren't we? - separate and opposite of the New Deal. Today, we address record-setting wildfires, catastrophic flooding, and continuous waves hurricanes and tropical storms with cuts to the the Forestry Service budget, repealing rules intended to fortify our infrastructure against increasingly large rain events, and pushing for massive tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. In other words, we're in the age of complete & utter stupidity, neglect, and denial - spearheaded by Republican, Tea Party, and Libertarian politicians... and the tens of millions of Americans who have gone along with it. Millions are drunk on right-wing fairy tales of mystical free markets, big bad government dragons, sword-wielding job creators, and the benevolent specter of Ayn Rand - a spirit leading us to private sector salvation on the John Galt Ranch, while also protecting us from the bureaucratic demons chasing after us with rules, regulations, and other dark magic!

The deadly price tag

Unfortunately, there's a price to be paid for losing touch with reality and being mesmerized by free market fairy tales. And that price is death & anguish (including a 100 and 98-year-old husband & wife killed in the northern California fires); hundreds of billions of dollars in property damage (think Houston and Hurricane Harvey, and Florida and Hurricane Irma); ever-rising homeowner's insurance rates (compare your bills to previous years); and growing social division and anger (many people in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands feel abandoned by the mainland after the destruction of their islands by hurricanes and the anemic federal response).

We desperately, desperately need a new and stronger New Deal. Unfortunately, if you ask the average American about it, their response would be, "The New Deal? What the hell is that? Never heard of it... don't care either. Now stop bothering me, I'm trying to keep up with the Kardashians!"

And so, we sit back and wait... hoping we're not the next victims of catastrophic apathy.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

WPA library services helped develop young minds

Above: This young child is exploring the world with a WPA-provided book in Athens County, Ohio, ca. 1935-1943. WPA workers brought millions of books to millions of children - and to adults too. The WPA staffed existing libraries, built new libraries, repaired books, wrote books, transcribed books into Braille, constructed talking books, held storytelling events, and delivered books by car, by truck, and by horse. Today, however, many libraries have to beg for government support - because the political right is forever trying to take money away from the common good in order to give tax cuts to millionaires & billionaires. Which approach do you think is better for America's children? Healthy funding for libraries, or tax cuts for the rich? Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The New Deal lithographs of Harold Anchel

The following lithographs were made by Harold Anchel (1912-1980), between 1935 and 1943, while he was in the WPA's art program.

Above: "Knitting." Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Above: "Cafeteria." Image courtesy of the Illinois State Museum.

Above: "City Playground." Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Above: "Woman." Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: "Horseshoe Pitching." Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Above: "Dance Hall." Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

New Deal men & women of action vs. today's men & women of inertia

Above: "The Challenge," an action-oriented artwork by Raymond Johnson (1891-1982), created while he was in one of the New Deal art programs (probably either the Public Works of Art Project or the Federal Art Project), ca. 1934-1935. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Nebraska State Historical Society.

Every hour in the United States about 11 people get shot, by themselves or others (see, e.g., "Do 100,000 people get shot every year in U.S.? Facebook post says yes," Politifact, July 23, 2012). That means, by the end of today, about 264 Americans will have been shot... and then 264 more tomorrow, 264 more on Thursday, and so on and so on.

These statistics, in addition to the recent Las Vegas massacre, the recent armed attack on members of Congress, the mass shooting of schoolchildren at Sandy Hook Elementary a few years back, and the countless other incidents of gun madness in America, highlight the need for a much, much greater regulation of guns in this country, for example: A ban on the private ownership of machine guns (as well as kits that turn semi-automatic weapons into fully-automatic weapons); registration of all firearms; licensing of all gun owners (with mandatory safety courses); closing all background check loopholes; limitations on the amount of guns and ammunition a person can buy or possess; and restrictions on the amount of new guns that can be manufactured (we don't need millions of guns produced and flooding into our neighborhoods, every single year).

Will these types of regulations stop all murders, suicides, and crime? Of course not, just as traffic laws don't stop all people from doing stupid things on the roadways. But they would mitigate the problem, just as speed limits, speed bumps, stop signs, and traffic cameras mitigate the problem of people driving recklessly through school zones or residential areas. 

I'm a gun owner, and I believe in the Second Amendment and right to self-defense, but I also believe in strong gun regulations. Why? Because, in addition to the criminal element, there are too many lunatics, as$holes, and other irresponsible people in this country. I have ZERO faith that Americans, without strong regulations, can collectively handle the responsibility of products that can so easily kill masses of people. Think of it like this: Why can't people own working anti-aircraft guns and install them in their front yards? Because some nut will try to shoot down a plane full of people, i.e., a mass killing. Well, under that (correct) logic, why are Americans allowed to own machine guns, or convert their semi-autos into full-autos? (Who knows, maybe under some bizarre law or loophole some private American citizens can own and operate anti-aircraft weapons.)  

Unfortunately, the only thing that we can be sure of in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre is that there will be absolutely no congressional action. Instead, we'll be persecuted with the same tired and moronic arguments and delusions that we've heard for decades now, for example: "Guns don't kill people, people kill people!" "Good guy with gun can stop bad guy with gun!" and "They want to confiscate our guns and put us in Marxist re-education camps!"

The federal government's inaction on guns is similar to its inaction on just about every other pressing matter in this country, for example: Crumbling infrastructure, which has our children drinking lead-contaminated water; global warming, which is causing more and more damaging rain events; a growing national debt (we're about to see even more tax cuts for the rich!); perpetual war (how many more decades are we going to be fighting in the Middle East?); pharmaceutical companies price gouging us; and so on. You name the issue, and you can bet that inertia is the current federal response. Federal policymakers rarely solve problems anymore, they just send their "thoughts and prayers." Corporate America has neutered them into impotency and apathy.

The policymakers of the New Deal--Roosevelt, his administration, and much of Congress--were men & women of action. For the unemployed, they created jobs. To address infrastructure shortcomings, they repaired, improved, or built anew - on a scale so colossal that most Americans today, even most scholars, can't even begin to comprehend. They taught many thousands to read & write, they fed the hungry, they clothed the needy, they improved the national defense, they brought electricity to rural America, they brought Wall Street to heel after Wall Street defrauded the public, and yes, they even implemented some gun regulations (see, e.g., "Franklin Roosevelt: The Father of Gun Control," New Republic, December 19, 2012).

In almost every area of national concern, New Deal policymakers were men & women of action. Today, on the other hand, most of our federal policymakers are men & women of inertia. And it's killing us.

"It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something."

--President Franklin Roosevelt, May 22, 1932, Address at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia.