Friday, June 29, 2018

New Deal Art, "Robert Louis Stevenson," and the WPA's celebration of poetry

Above: "Robert Louis Stevenson," a lithograph by Douglas Crane, while Crane was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Robert Louis Stevenson is perhaps most-remembered for some of his novels, like Treasure Island, but his book of poetry, A Child's Garden of Verses, has been widely published too, loved by many generations. Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Above: California author Lauren Coodley (Upton Sinclair: California Socialist, Celebrity Intellectual; Napa Valley Chronicles; California: A Multicultural Documentary History; and others) has long enjoyed the poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson, and recently published her own book of poetry, The Same River Twice (Sugartown Publishing, 2018). In her poem, "Aunt Evelyn," about a lively and unconventional relative, Coodley writes: "I never asked enough questions, never paid enough attention, never expressed my affection, If you are anywhere, hear me now at last." This reminded me of one of my great-grandaunts, who had a tremendous amount of family history knowledge, and enjoyed telling it, but she passed away long before I was old enough to appreciate family history. I have a lot of questions for her now, but too late. Image above scanned from a personal copy.

Above: "The Poet," a lithograph by William Samuel Schwartz (1896-1977), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. The WPA's Federal Writers' Project (FWP) gave many struggling journalists, novelists, poets, etc. jobs during the tough times of the 1930s. They wrote and published well over 1,000 books, pamphlets, magazine articles, and more. And poems written by FWP writers were included in the 1937 WPA book, American Stuff: An Anthology of Prose and VerseImage courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Above: Quite a few WPA writers had the opportunity to have their poetry included in the July 1938 edition of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. A review of the issue noted: "The poems were chosen with evident care, and while a number of poets are concerned with current problems and issues, and belong to the left wing, both politically and poetically, the emphasis has been placed on literary value, rather than timeliness... The issue has attracted widespread attention, as exhibiting, and in America's foremost magazine of verse, the grade of work being turned out by poets on the WPA" ("New Books Passed in Review," The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 7, 1938). Image courtesy of the Poetry Foundationused here for educational, non-commercial purposes (follow the link to visit their site and also read the poetry of the WPA writers).

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Height of Madness: Right-wing voters drink the Kool-Aid and blame the "libtard"... as the political right pounds them into the ground with stock market manipulation, tax cuts for the rich, and stagnant wages

Above: A WPA poster, imploring the public to develop critical thinking skills. Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago, used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

The failure of right-wing trickle-down economics... again

Republican politicians (like Paul Ryan and Donald Trump), promised American workers that this latest round of tax cuts for the rich would be good for them; that prosperity would trickle-down upon them from the Captains of Industry, the hedge fund managers, and the Rich Kids of Instagram. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The rich have taken their tax cuts and engaged in an unprecedented orgy of stock buybacks. Meanwhile, real wages (wages as compared to the cost of goods and services) have actually dropped over the past year. This is just the latest example of trickle-down economics failing the American worker. Wages have been stagnant ever since Reaganomics and anti-unionism became our economic laws of the land in the early 1980s. Not only that, but benefits have become more stingy, retirements more precarious, and suicides more frequent.

The right-wing roots of stock market manipulation

Stock buybacks are a form of stock market manipulation. Corporations buy back their stocks, making them more scarce and thus more valuable. It does absolutely nothing positive for the American worker. It's a tool to enrich the already-rich and it was once illegal. But, "In 1982, the Reagan administration was happy to remove the impediment and the SEC instituted Rule 10b-18 of the Securities Exchange Act," legalizing certain types of stock market manipulation ("Why It's Raining Share Buybacks on Wall Street," Forbes, March 25, 2018).

Many wealthy investors, of course, will try to convince you that stock buybacks can be a good thing, or even that we can't live without them (even though we did live without them, from about 1933 to 1981, when the middle-class was more prosperous). These are the same type of people who try to convince us that we can't live without hedge funds (even though we once live without them too). They make these claims, of course, without a concern in the world about the poverty, misery, and suicide that surrounds them. 

Over time, anti-New Deal Democrats (the Clintons, Bidens, and Obamas of the party) didn't push back too hard (or at all) and became comfortable with stock buybacks. "Why fight it," they seemed to agree, "our corporate donors are benefiting from it; and that means more campaign donations for us!"

The New Deal way vs. the right-wing way

The New Deal prohibited stock market manipulation, increased taxes on the rich, promoted unions, etc., and the middle-class prospered like never before or since. Even the Republican Party realized the success of the New Deal, and praised Social Security, unions, and the minimum wage in their 1956 party platform. Beginning with Ronald Reagan, however, America has moved steadily and strongly to the right. The Republican Party and Republican voters have decided to allow stock market manipulation, to lower taxes on the wealthy, and to demonize unions. As I indicated above, the results have been disastrous.

The political right is coming for your Social Security and Medicare

As if all of the above were not bad enough, Republicans are actively planning to raise the Social Security age to 70, even as life expectancy is dropping, to ensure continued tax breaks for the rich. Yes, American workers are losing their wages and their pensions, don't make enough to save, and now the Republicans are coming after their Social Security. Further, with Trump and the Republicans creating an ultra-right, fascist Supreme Court, it wouldn't surprise me at all if, in the not-too-distant future, a right-wing backed plaintiff (dupe) challenges the constitutionality of Medicare, arguing that the general welfare clause of the Constitution doesn't give Congress the power to create a government-managed health insurance system. The fascist Trump Court will be more-than-happy to overturn previous rulings that hold that Congress (i.e., "We the People") determines what the general welfare consists of. (Or perhaps Republicans in Congress will simply repeal Medicare, or raise the benefits age to 120, or amend the Constitution to remove the words "general welfare" from both the preamble and Article 1 Section 8.)

Right-wing voters cry "libtard!" 

As all this insanity is unfolding, right-wing voters are scurrying all across the Internet, decrying the "libtard." Yes, you heard right - Republicans created the stock market manipulation and the tax breaks for the rich that are now decimating the American worker, but millions of middle-class and low-income workers insist on blaming the "libtard." This is what happens when an electorate has zero knowledge of its history. This is what happens when citizens replace their brains with Facebook, Twitter, and Fox News. This is what happens when wealthy, anti-New Deal "liberals" hide away in their exclusive communities, buy $500,000 outfits (yes, I'm talking to you Amal Clooney), and refuse to interact with the public outside of their whimsical, guilt-absolving, and ultimately impotent philanthropy.

What we are seeing in America today is a colossal fraud being perpetrated on an uneducated, misinformed, and frequently apathetic citizenry. As Dr. Sophia McClennen of Penn State University has correctly pointed out, we have become a nation of ignoramuses. We have no awareness of our history, no critical thinking skills, no sense of civics, and we can't tell fact from opinion. Hence, tens of millions of Americans end up supporting the very people who are crushing them. The tax cuts of Reagan, Bush Jr., and Trump have eroded our quality of life and have turned us against one another in routine fits of misdirected anger. But millions of American workers continue to pull the voting levers for these fraudsters anyway, completely unaware of the confidence game that's being played on them. Hypnotized by the trigger words, "God," Freedom," and "Guns," they're signing their own economic death warrants.

The right-wing electorate, steeped in firearms, fear, hyper-nationalism, and a blind & utterly slavish devotion to the rich--and without a shred of critical thinking skills--has turned the American Dream into a horrifying nightmare. And when millions of them retire into poverty, over the next 15-20 years--or cannot retire at all because of poverty--you can be sure that they'll cry out in the anguish, even more rabidly than before: "Libtards!!"

We are witnessing the height of madness. With a devilish grin and a barely hidden giggle, the super-wealthy and their political puppets have prepared the economic Kool-Aid. Millions drink it down, oblivious.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Obama, Hillary, and the Democratic Establishment paved the way for our upcoming, fascist Supreme Court. We're going to need FDR's court-packing plan.

"The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism - ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power."

--President Franklin Roosevelt, "Message to Congress on Curbing Monopolies," April 29, 1938

Above: FDR, getting ready to discuss his Supreme Court reform plan during a Fireside Chat, 1937. Historians often conclude that the plan was a mistake but, truth is, we may need something very much like it in the not-too-distant future. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

From Kennedy to worse
After crippling unions, banning travel, and allowing Republicans to gerrymander minority voters into oblivion, Justice Anthony Kennedy is retiring (see, "Supreme Court Hands Conservatives Major Victories Under Trump," Huffington Post, June 27, 2018). However, as bad as Kennedy's jurisprudence has been--he wrote the Citizens United decision (allowing private power to undermine our democracy with cash)--his replacement is almost certainly going to be worse. When Trump and the Republican Senate put the next right-wing extremist on the bench, America will have its first truly fascist Supreme Court in nearly 90 years. Roberts, Thomas, Gorsuch, Alito, and the next right-wing rubber stamp will be ruling against American workers, and for private power, for the next 10, 20 or more years.

Think things are bad for American workers now (stagnant wages, stingy benefits, useless 401k's, shredded safety nets, regressive taxation, no bargaining power)? You ain't seen nothing yet. Income and wealth inequality is going to get even worse, and every attempt to help ordinary Americans will be challenged by some Koch or Tea Party-backed plaintiff. And the fascist Court is going to side with private power every time. Even Social Security and Medicare may be challenged by private power, and then struck down as unconstitutional by a Court that has contempt for ordinary Americans and contempt for the constitutional words "general welfare."

Poverty will run rampant, retirements will be destroyed, and suicides will skyrocket (even more than they already are). And millions of American voters--like the village idiots they've become--will cheer it on, screaming in rabid compliance, "Make America Great Again!!" Other Americans will be too immersed in Facebook and Twitter to give a damn. Private power? It will be laughing at the chaos it's created, safely tucked away in its gated communities, guarded compounds, and distant private islands.

Put the blame where it belongs

You can put all the blame for this national, monumental nightmare squarely on the shoulders of Obama, Hillary, and the Democratic Establishment. They have brought us to this dark place. And I would say to them what Charlton Heston's character "Taylor" said to the human race at the end of the Planet of the Apes: "You finally, really did it... You maniacs! You blew it up!... Goddamn you all to Hell!"

You see, the first mistake was when President Obama picked Merrick Garland to be a Supreme Court Justice. Garland was a centrist who inspired no one - but Obama, as always, was ignoring progressives and trying to appease Republicans.

The second mistake was when Obama and the Democratic Establishment decided that they weren't going to fight too hard when Mitch McConnell decided that Obama no longer had the power to nominate a Supreme Court Justice. (See, "Democrats Regret Not Fighting Harder For Obama’s Supreme Court Pick," Huffington Post, June 27, 2018)

The third mistake was when the Democratic Establishment decided to back Hillary for president because it was "her turn," and not support (in fact, collude against) Bernie Sanders, who clearly had the growing enthusiasm and energy on his side. And these mistakes are all tied together, because the Democratic Establishment thought, "Oh well, if Obama can't get Garland on the bench, we know that Hillary will win easily, and so she can nominate someone! Yippee!!"

Such was their hubris and stupidity.

It turned out that Hillary missed her coronation, the Democratic Establishment was left scratching its head, and... Obama? Oh my, Obama's been cashing-in ever since - with lucrative Wall Street speaking tours, multi-million dollar book deals, Netflix contracts, Trump-approved tax breaks, and a bunch of other post-presidential goodies I'm sure.

We're going to need FDR's court-packing plan

And so now we have a childish, racist plutocrat in the White House, separating migrant kids from their parents, handing out tax breaks to private power like a drunken sailor, and eager to put more cold-blooded Ayn Rand disciples on the Supreme Court. Thanks Obama. Thanks Hillary. Thanks Democratic Establishment. What a great job you've done!... you jerks.

Historians often look back at President Franklin Roosevelt's court-packing plan, and conclude that it was a bad mistake. But FDR and a nation of people in need were dealing with a Supreme Court that had little concern for the common man. We are facing the same situation today, and it's about to get much, much worse. Private power is going to brutalize us even more, in order to increase executive compensation and shareholder profits, and the Supreme Court will be there to support them. So, if progressive-minded people ever wrest control of the White House and Congress away from the nation's sociopath millionaire & billionaire class, they're going to need to look at FDR's court-packing plan anew - or, they're going to have to change the Constitution, and abolish this fascist Court altogether.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez... for PRESIDENT! (scrap the 35 age requirement)

Above: In this great campaign ad, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calls out stagnant wages, Corporate Democrats, and a lack of political representation for the working class; and advocates for progressive policies like Medicare-for-All and a jobs guarantee. She also declares that significant policy change doesn't have to take a hundred years (as the Democratic Establishment has led us to believe). YouTube link:

Running on a Bernie Sanders-style platform, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez scored a victory over Corporate Democrat Joe Crowley (a man who made New York City officials dance for him, literally) in New York's 14th District primary. And, because this was in a strong Democratic region, she is likely to advance to Congress.

However, after watching her campaign ad, and after reading a little bit about her, I've come to the conclusion that she should not be in Congress... she should be in the White House! Get that mean-spirited, silver-spooned, plutocratic Republican outta there, and put in someone who will truly represent the working class: Ocasio-Cortez.

Now, Ocasio-Cortez will only be 30 in 2020, and the Constitution requires that a president be at least 35... but... who cares, put her in there anyway. Trump breaks the rules all the time, why can't we??

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 2020!

"As chairman of the Queens County Democratic Party, Mr. Crowley, 56, was a kingmaker in New York City politics. At his annual holiday party, city officials were expected to perform karaoke, singing and dancing on the stage to a song of Mr. Crowley's choosing. That power perhaps created a sense of hubris and complacency, the kind that no doubt contributed to Hillary Clinton's loss to Donald Trump."

New York Times Editorial Board, June 27, 2018 ("What Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Victory Means") 

Monday, June 25, 2018

Author and WPA worker Elizabeth Marion, and the value of local writers and historians

Above: The description for this photograph, taken in Spokane, Washington, ca. 1938-1941, reads: "Miss Elizabeth Marion, material clerk in the WPA who through WPA employment was able to continue her studies as a writer. Her first novel, The Shadows Gather 'Round Me, has been accepted by Thomas Y. Crowell Publishing Company. Her second novel still in the writing has already been contracted for by the same company." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

In addition to The Shadows Gather 'Round Me, Elizabeth Marion (1916-1993) wrote at least three other novels, The Day Will Come (1939), Ellen Spring (1941), and The Keys to the House (1944). These books seem very scarce today, but see reviews for the latter two here and here. It seems Marion eventually grew frustrated at a lack of publishing opportunities and ended up working as the managing editor of the Standard-Register newspaper in Rockford, Washington. She wrote op-eds for the newspaper and also met the man she would marry, Eugene D. Saunders (see "Guide to the Elizabeth Marion Saunders Papers 1933-1989," [which includes local history materials] Washington State University).

Elizabeth Marion was friends with Ruby El Hult, a well-known author, researcher, and local historian in Spokane and other Northwest areas (see, "Ruby McAndrew," Seattle Times, March 1, 2008). They and others formed a friendship based on writing, local history, and a love for books, and probably also progressive-minded politics. In 1980, Marion and El Hult published some of their correspondence in The Cockalorum Chronicles: New Words Between Old Friends (see "Guide to the Ruby El Hult Papers 1899-1994," Washington State University).

The life story of Elizabeth Marion is a great example of how the WPA helped struggling Americans sustain their skills and training, and maintain their hope. Marion was obviously dealing with some degree of financial stress during the '30s, so the WPA gave her a job and a modest income. This helped support her as she honed her writing skills - writing skills that later allowed her to support herself as an author and editor. Other writers-in-need received more direct help, finding jobs in the WPA's Federal Writers' Project (FWP) (it's possible Marion did some work for the FWP too, but I didn't run across any information on that).

The importance of local writers and historians like Marion and El Hult

Above: Napa Valley Chronicles, by California author Lauren Coodley (The History Press, 2013). Local histories catch and recall things that more broad histories do not, such as recollections and photos of long ago businesses, as well as the founders, employees, and customers of those businesses. Napa Valley Chronicles is a great source of information and remembrance for residents of the area - and also a good example for others interested in writing their own local histories. Image scanned from personal copy.

Above: Another great local history is Hidden History of the Outer Banks, by North Carolina author Sarah Downing (another 2013 publication from The History Press). The last section of the book is titled, "Remembering the Laundromats." More general histories are unlikely to cover such a topic and, at first thought, laundromats might not seem interesting enough to write about. However, in the hands of skilled writers like Downing and Coodley, such normal routines of life become interesting recollections and observations on what we do and how we interact with others. Image scanned from personal copy.

Above: An exhibit for the WPA's Federal Writers' Project, Washington, DC, 1938. The WPA published quite a few local histories, for example, Berkeley: The First Seventy-Five Years; Cherokee County History [Iowa]; and Sudbury: A Brief History of the Town [Massachusetts]. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Friday, June 22, 2018

"These aren't our kids," "I really don't care," "shoot them all." The Ayn Rand-inspired sociopathy continues.

"Roosevelt moved to make it possible to bring over people who had relatives here to guarantee their support. He endorsed a program to bring over orphaned and handicapped children who had no relatives [to be supported by] the Council of Jewish Women and also by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid and Shelter Society. This move was not too popular in some quarters…"

--Frances Perkins, The Roosevelt I Knew, New York: The Viking Press, 1946, p. 349.

Above: A New Deal-funded school in Puerto Rico, ca. 1934. All across the country, the New Deal built new schools, served school lunches, administered immunizations, performed dental exams, offered free art classes, managed recreation programs, and much more, for children. The investment and concern for children was incalculable. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

On her way to visit the detention facilities holding immigrant children, Melania Trump wore a jacket that said, "I really don't care. Do u?" It's unclear if there was a message behind this, i.e., "I don't care about immigrant children," or whether the statement was just some sort of hip fashion statement. I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, and conclude it was the latter, but WOW, what an amazingly foolish wardrobe choice. Does she not have any common sense?

Meanwhile, in Oregon, a DMV worker seems to have suggested shooting immigrant children ("shoot them all") at the border to save money. And a host on Fox & Friends attempted to obliterate any small shred of sympathy that might still be remaining in the conservative heart by concluding, "These aren't our kids." And remember, as I mentioned in my previous blog post, these are the people that many evangelicals have partnered with. It seems that many evangelicals are perfectly willing to praise and mock Christ at the same time (see "Blame Evangelicals for the Decline in Christian Faith," The Daily Beast, June 16, 2018).

All of these sociopathic trends are the inevitable result of a government and culture increasingly drunk on the teachings of Ayn Rand - teachings proclaiming selfishness to be a virtue and altruism to be evil; teachings that had their genesis, at least partly, in Rand's admiration for a child killer. And these teachings have been embraced by Ronald Reagan, Alan Greenspan, Paul Ryan, Donald Trump, the Tea Party, and many more.

Rand's teachings have fueled both public policy and public sociopathy - either directly or indirectly. Rand's teachings hold, essentially, that the richer you are the better you are, and the poorer you are the less you're deserving of dignity, respect, and perhaps even life. As author Anne Heller recently noted: "Rand hated ordinary people with a vengeance" ("Review: Ayn Rand's Ideal," TIME, January 9, 2015). And because the New Deal helped ordinary people, she hated it too, writing in 1936: "My feeling for the New Deal is growing colder and colder. In fact, it's growing so cold that it's coming to the boiling point of hatred" (Jennifer Burns, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, New York: Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 38).

Funny thing is, millions of ordinary people keep voting the way Rand would want them too - against their own economic interests. And millions of ordinary people have adopted her selfish view of life, her hatred of the downtrodden. Yes, she hated the ordinary folk, but many of the ordinary folk love and obey her. Isn't that amazing?

As I've mentioned before, this is not about whether you're pro-immigration, anti-immigration, or somewhere in between. It's about whether you can have sympathy for the less fortunate, even if you're ultimate decision is to deport them back to their dangerous countries. It seems to me that many conservatives have utterly no sympathy for poor families and children fleeing countries mired in violence and crime. They not only don't want them here, they hate them. Why else would you say "These aren't our kids" or "shoot them all"?

There is evil in this country, and it's not coming from the outside.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

We should thank Donald Trump... for exposing the true sociopathy and hypocrisy of the political & religious right

"'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me...' Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me...' Then they also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?' Then he will answer them, saying, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'"

--Mathew 25:34-45

Above: "Refugees," a lithograph by Chet La More (1908-1980), 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.

Right-wing icon Ann Coulter says that immigrant children crying for their parents are "child actors." Trump operative Corey Lewandowski made fun of the separation of a 10-year-old immigrant child with Down syndrome from her parents. Trump himself said he doesn't want immigrants to "infest" America, using terminology eerily reminiscent of Nazi Germany's dehumanization of Jews (and the current dehumanizing language used by the political right to describe low-income Americans, e.g., "takers," "wild animals," "parasites," and "lazy pigs"). And a Trump supporter recently told CNN what he thought of families being separated at the border: "I have no feelings for them at all."

And remember, these are the people that "Christian" evangelicals have partnered with.

It's one thing to disagree among ourselves about the number of immigrants that we can bring in per year, or to be anti-immigration altogether. It's quite a different thing to ridicule people fleeing extremely violent countries or to "have no feelings for them at all." How can you have no feelings for people fleeing for their lives? Even if you ultimately think they should be deported, can you not have at least some sympathy for their plight?

We also know that most Republicans agree with the Trump Administration's zero-tolerance policy of separating children from their migrant parents. And, of course, the religious right is mostly silent. They love to mouth off about Jesus... while secretly (and sometimes openly) hating the less fortunate who Jesus said to love.

An article on WebMD describes psychopathy and sociopathy: "Most experts believe psychopaths and sociopaths share a similar set of traits. People like this have a poor inner sense of right and wrong. They also can't seem to understand or share another person's feelings... Both lack empathy, the ability to stand in someone else's shoes and understand how they feel."

What we're seeing today is the complete uncovering of the political & religious right's sociopathy and hypocrisy. Again, it's not just that they're anti-immigration, it's that they have no feelings at all for these desperate people who have nothing - no sympathy whatsoever for separated families or for immigrants who may be deported back to their own murders. This is 100% against the teachings of Christ. It is anti-Christ.

And many of these sociopaths and hypocrites have the gall to declare America a "Christian nation." That is some seriously bold blasphemy right there.

But let's thank Donald Trump anyway... for pulling back the cover, all the way this time, on the spiritual rot that is turning America into a cesspool of anger, hatred, racism, and financial terrorism. 

As an aside: Where is our cash-bloated Pentagon on this? Where is our effort to spread "democracy" across the world? Why are we not using our military might in these Central American countries, for the sake of these people's safety, and for the sake of reducing fear-inspired migration? Is it because America's millionaires and billionaires don't see the profit in it? Not enough oil and corruption to cash in on? We spend 15 years in Iraq, to (supposedly) help the Iraqi people... and then deport Central American immigrants back to their crime-riddled countries without a care in the world? What a sham.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Poisoned water, poisoned air, and poisoned policy: It's time to stop pretending that we care about children

Above: "Children," a color lithograph by Chet La More (1908-1980), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1937-1939. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Poisoned water

A few days ago, it was reported that dozens of schools in Montgomery County, Maryland--mostly elementary schools--had drinking water systems contaminated with lead. And the levels of contamination far exceeded the "acceptable" limits of 15-20 parts per billion (ppb). For example, a drinking fountain at an elementary school in Silver Spring was tested at 356 ppb, and a faucet at an elementary school in Rockville tested at 564 ppb. Montgomery County is just one of the many areas across the country dealing with leaded drinking water.

It's been several years since the Flint, Michigan water scandal was first uncovered, and we're still allowing children to drink lead (lead is a neurotoxin that causes permanent physical and mental damage, especially in children). There has been no wide-scale federal initiative to update our drinking water systems. Instead, Trump and his Republican colleagues have simply doubled-down on military spending and tax-cuts-for-the-rich. The rich, for their part, are enjoying more dynastic wealth (thanks to the estate tax cuts) and are engaging in a massive and selfish stock buyback campaign (thanks to the corporate tax cuts).

There are some new state & local level initiatives to replace lead-contaminated systems, but without more federal help these initiatives must rely on regressive state & local taxation on the middle-class and poor - a group of Americans who are bringing home stagnant or dropping paychecks, and who are struggling to make ends meet. Yes, despite the fact that "Almost half of US families can't afford basics like rent and food" (CNN, May 18, 2018) they are being forced to pay rising and regressive state & local taxes, tolls, fees, fines, and utility rates... so that the rich can enjoy yet another round of gargantuan tax cuts. And--as if this were not bad enough--many of these middle-class and poor folk cannot connect the dots of their torment, and so they continue voting for Republicans (or not voting at all), thus letting the rich steamroll over them time and time again.

Poisoned air

Poisoning children with lead-contaminated water is not the end of it. UNICEF has highlighted that hundreds of thousands of children under the age of 5 die every year from air pollution. And in case you think it's just a third-world problem, think again. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has noted that "Air pollution causes 200,000 early deaths each year in the U.S.," and doctors in Utah regularly advise pregnant women to stay indoors due to very poor air quality.

But all of these child deaths don't matter too much to a significant part of the American electorate, do they? They still pooh-pooh climate science, declare that there are no consequences to pollution, and demand more drilling.

Poisoned policy

There are many other examples of our indifference, or even malice towards the well-being of children: high infant mortality rates; high rates of childhood poverty; repeated attempts to cut food assistance programs; crumbling & underfunded schools; shaming children who advocate for safer schools; ignoring the problem of child suicide on American Indian reservations; separating immigrant children from their parents at the border (or gleefully sending them back to the crime-ridden countries where their lives have been threatened); separating American children from their parents with a  system of mass incarceration for non-violent offenses; etc., etc., etc.

Above: "Death of a Spanish Child," a lithograph by Mildred Rackley (1906-1992), created while she was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Righteous indignation is not the same as caring

I have noticed that many Americans routinely express righteous indignation over issues like abortion and child abuse, but when it comes to children's issues that may require significant money, for example, food assistance, or replacing crumbling schools, or decreasing income & wealth inequality so that infant mortality rates start to decline, that righteous indignation starts to transform into apathy.

So let's stop pretending that we toss & turn every night worrying about the welfare of children. Let's be honest and admit that, generally speaking, we don't give a sh&t. Or, if that seems distasteful, then let's put our money where our big mouths are, and stop subjecting children to poisoned water, poisoned air, and poisoned policy.

Above: A WPA exhibit, photographed in Washington, DC, 1940. The New Deal invested heavily in children: school and summer lunch programs; free art and music classes; children's theatre; distribution of surplus goods and food; various recreation programs; toy repair and lending; creating children's books; clinics and immunizations; new schools; new clothing; and much more. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Friday, June 15, 2018

New Deal Bird Art (10/10): "Pelican"

Above: "Pelican," a sculpture by Bue Kee (1893-1985), created while he was in the WPA, ca. 1935-1940. Kee's nephew, Dr. Dan Kee, professor emeritus at California State University, Fullerton, notes that his uncle Bue was "severely hearing impaired and never finished grade school. He loved everything pertaining to art. As a young man he attended the Portland Art School and was involved with the Timberline WPA Project at Mount Hood. He worked in oil, watercolor, pastel, ceramic and photography." Image courtesy of the Portland Art Museum.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

New Deal Bird Art (9/10): "Birds of the World"

Above: A WPA poster, promoting the WPA book, Birds of the World (1938). Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: Birds of the World has many photographs - like this eagle, photographed at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., by Ralph De Sola, editor of the WPA's Federal Writers' Project in New York City. De Sola was a bit of a strange character. It seems he was born in 1908 (and died around 1993), attended Columbia and Swarthmore colleges in the mid-to-late 1920s, and "ran a zoological garden in Florida, but the depression broke him" ("Washington," Eau Claire Leader (Eau Claire, Wisconsin), May 12, 1939). He had been a member of the Communist Party, but left around 1937 and became an anti-communist finger-pointer. In 1950 he was involved in the highly publicized senate confirmation hearings of Anna Rosenberg. He joined with Senator Joe McCarthy and prominent anti-Semitic figures in falsely casting Rosenberg as a communist. Their efforts failed and she became Assistant Secretary of Defense (see, e.g., "'Great Conspiracy' Failed in Objective," News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio), January 5, 1951; and also Stuart Svonkin, Jews Against Prejudice, Columbia University Press, 1999, p. 119). An ex-wife of De Sola had also testified at the hearings, and painted her former husband as an "unstable, frustrated writer who resented the fact that he had to earn his living in jobs he considered demeaning, a man who could persuade himself to believe passionately in that which he wanted--or needed--to believe in" (Stephen E. Atkins, Encyclopedia of Right-Wing Extremism in Modern American History, ABC-CLIO, 2011, p. 125). Well, if nothing else, at least De Sola got Birds of the World right! Photo from Birds of the World, Chicago: Albert Whitman & Co., 1949 edition, used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.

Above: Another De Sola photo. In addition to lots of photographs, Birds of the World is full of interesting information (some of which is probably dated of course). Photo from Birds of the World, Chicago: Albert Whitman & Co., 1949 edition, used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.

Above: The WPA's Federal Art Project provided illustrations for Birds of the World, like this Hummingbird. Image from Birds of the World, Chicago: Albert Whitman & Co., 1949 edition, used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.

"Birds of the World is one of the publications written by members of the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration... Many books and brochures are being written... As they appear in increasing numbers we hope that the public will come to appreciate more fully not only the unusual scope of this undertaking, but also the devotion shown by the workers - from the humblest field worker to the most accomplished editor..."

--Harry Hopkins, head of the WPA, 1938, in foreword to Birds of the World

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

New Deal Bird Art (8/10): "Parrot," by Vivian Norman Barto

Above: "Parrot," an artwork by Vivian Norman Barto (1876-1962), created while she was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), ca. 1933-1934. Vivian Norman was born in Iowa in 1876, married Howard L. Barto in 1915 in Nebraska, taught school in Washington, and worked in the real estate business in Oregon. She passed away in 1962 in Central Point, Oregon. Her husband died in 1974, and they both rest at the Medford IOOF Cemetery, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Though her name appears in the final report of the Public Works of Art Project ("Barto, Mrs. Vivian N.," "Region No. 16, Oregon...", p. 85), there doesn't seem to be any significant record of her artistic work or ambitions, other than a small file folder at the National Archives. It also doesn't look like Vivian and Howard had any children. So, perhaps the images on this blog post (see below) can serve as a small legacy of her creative work. (See, "Vivian Norman Barto," Medford Mail Tribune (Medford, Oregon), June 14, 1962; and Find A Grave, here and here). Image courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: An oil painting of a "misty morning," by Vivian Norman Barto, probably also created while she was in the PWAP, ca. 1933-1934. A description for this painting notes that it won first prize at the Josephine County Fair. Image courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Another artwork in Vivian Norman Barto's PWAP folder at the National Archives.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

New Deal Bird Art (7/10): "Junco"

Above: "Junco," a watercolor painting by Gilbert Boese, created while he was in the WPA, ca. 1940. I wasn't able to find any definitive information on Boese on the Internet or in newspaper archives, but a 2007 obituary reports: "Boese, Thomas Gilbert Wildlife Artist Age 64 Passed away Monday, November 12, 2007 in Region's Hospital after an extended illness. He is preceded in death by his father, Gilbert R. Boese, also an accomplished artist..." And a web page on MyHeritage notes a Gilbert Robert Boese who lived from 1911 to 1970. In any event, the Gilbert Boese who painted "Junco" was a prolific artist in the WPA, painting all sorts of wildlife - moose, ducks, owls, caribou, mink, woodpecker, bobcat, fisher cat, and much more (see a collection of his work at the Minnesota Historical Society). He also did work for the WPA's Index of American Design (see "Gilbert Boese," National Gallery of Art"). Image courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society, used here under license.

Above: Dark-Eyed Juncos in West Virginia. In the winter time, they forage on the ground like little snow chickens, as many as 20 or 30, pecking at the ground for any morsels of food they can find (which I've been known to supply from time to time). Photo by Brent McKee, 2013.

Friday, June 8, 2018

New Deal Bird Art (6/10): "Great Horned Owl"

Above: "Great Horned Owl," an artwork by James C. Kulhanek, created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1939. There isn't much information on Kulhanek, but he may be the James Kulhanek who lived from 1896-1974 and is buried at the Emanuel Lutheran Church Cemetery in Henrysville, Wisconsin. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and Case Western Reserve University.

Above: A Great Horned Owl in Canada, 2016. Photo by Peter K. Burian, provided courtesy of Wikipedia. Used here under the CCA-SA 4.0 International License.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

New Deal Bird Art (5/10): "Duck Hawk after Widgeon"

Above: "Duck Hawk after Widgeon," a watercolor and pencil painting by William J. Beecher (1914-2002), created while he was in the New Deal's Section of Fine Arts, 1940. Beecher directed the Chicago Academy of Sciences from 1958 to 1983, and invented a special type of binocular for bird watching - the Beecher Mirage. (See, "William J. Beecher, 88," Chicago Tribune, August 4, 2002.) Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

New Deal Bird Art (4/10): "California Quail"

Above: "California Quail," a lithograph by Florence Elizabeth Atkins, created while she was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1936. Atkins was born in Pleasant Hill, Louisiana, on August 21, 1876, and died at her home at 1145 Pine Street, San Francisco, September 25, 1946. She rests at Old Pleasant Hill Cemetery (Louisiana) near her parents, William and Mary. Atkins worked for the Western Union Telegraph Company and, according to the president and CEO of the Fenimore Art Museum (Cooperstown, New York), presented her art at "prestigious venues such as the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia." Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Friday, June 1, 2018

New Deal Bird Art (3/10): "Toucans"

Above: "Toucans," an artwork by Gordon Deacon, created while he was in the WPA, ca. 1935-1943. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and Julie Redwine.

Above: A video of Ripley the Toucan, cuddling with its owner and making the Toucan's distinctive clicking / purring sound. YouTube link: