Tuesday, June 25, 2019

A New Deal for our National Zoo: The WPA created larger, and more natural areas for the zoo animals

Above: WPA-constructed waterfowl ponds at the National Zoo (Washington, DC), 1940. Photo from the annual report of the National Zoo, fiscal year 1940.

Between 1935 and 1940, WPA workers created larger and more naturalistic areas for the animals at the National Zoo (Washington, DC). For example, a bigger cage and outdoor roaming area was created for giraffes and four new waterfowl ponds were created, "much larger than the old waterfowl yard..." In addition to larger areas, WPA workers also created more naturalistic environments. Instead of relying on cages & bars exclusively, moats were created to separate animals from zoo visitors. This was done in several areas, including the bison, camel, bear, and outdoor reptile exhibits. (Information and quote from the Zoo's various annual reports between 1935 and 1940.)

The idea of replacing cages & bars with moats started with Uraus Eggenschweiler (or Urs Eggenschwyler), and others, in the late 1800s / early 1900s. From the outset of the New Deal, these new ideas were put into place. For example, the Final Report of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) noted: "The Illinois report [on emergency work-relief] tells at length of the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, built by the CWA and the Work Division [of FERA] according to the new zoo ideas of Uraus Eggenschweiler, who in Zurich was displeased with 'the paradox of portraying wildlife in cages and behind bars,' and who invented the 'concealed or partially concealed moat which presents an impassable barrier to the would-be escaping beasts, and no barrier to the eye of the observers'" (p. 95).

There will always be some controversy about the ethics of keeping animals in zoos; but at least the  New Deal helped create better day-to-day conditions for the animals.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

A New Deal for our National Zoo: The Small Mammal House

Above: The Small Mammal House at the National Zoo (Washington, DC). This building was constructed with funds from the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA). Photo by Brent McKee, June 2019.

Above: The Small Mammal House under construction in 1936. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Above: A meerkat in the Small Mammal House. Photo by Brent McKee, June 2019.

Above: One of two Pied Piper aluminum artworks in the Small Mammal House, created by Domenico Mortellito (1906-1994), while he was in the New Deal's Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP), 1936. Photo by Brent McKee, June 2019.

Above: The second of Mortellito's two Pied Piper aluminum artworks. Photo by Brent McKee, June 2019.

Above: A closer look at some of the detail on Mortellito's Pied Piper artwork. Photo by Brent McKee, June 2019.

Above: At the entrance of the Small Mammal House is a bronze statue of an anteater. It was created by Erwin Springweiler (1896-1968), and most probably as a commissioned artwork of the New Deal's Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture (see, "Statue to be Given," The Evening Star (Washington, DC), March 24, 1938, p. A-2). Photo by Brent McKee, June 2019.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

A New Deal for our National Zoo: A better environment for the birds

Above: The Bird House at the National Zoo (Washington, DC) was built in 1928, a few years before the New Deal. The date of this photograph is unknown. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Above: In 1937, this addition to the Bird House was completed, with funding from the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA). Photo from the National Zoo's fiscal year 1937 report.

Above: Currently, the Bird House is undergoing renovations for a new exhibit experience. It's unclear if the 1937 PWA expansion still exists and, if it does, if it will be preserved during the renovation. But it's interesting to note that the Zoo specifically says "our 1928 Bird House" in the sign above. Do they mention the age as a matter of historic pride, or as an indication that it's time for something new to replace the old? Photo by Brent McKee, June 2019.

Above: A bird in the small mammal house, probably kept here because of the Bird House renovation. Photo by Brent McKee, June 2019.

Above: There was also New Deal art for the National Zoo's Bird House, such as this dodo bird artwork, carved by Domenico Mortellito and possibly designed by Elizabeth Fulda, both of whom were working at the Zoo with funds from the New Deal's Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP), 1935-1937. Interestingly, Fulda also created artworks for the Bird House made out of zinc, but they've apparently been lost (see Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) No. DC-777-D, pp. 7-8). Photo from aforementioned HABS report.

Between 1933 and 1940, New Deal work programs made many improvements to the National Zoo's Bird House and surroundings. For example, the Civil Works Administration (CWA) installed a brick smokestack to replace a dilapidated metal smokestack, and also constructed a large flight cage for condors. The WPA constructed a pool and a waterfall, and also installed a water main and concrete walkways. And the Public Works Administration (PWA) provided funds for a Bird House addition (photo above), a structure 43 ft. x 133 ft. and containing 27 new exhibits. (Information from various annual reports of the National Zoo.)

Monday, June 17, 2019

A New Deal for our National Zoo: Exhibit background paintings

Above: Domenico Mortelitto (1906-1994) paints a landscape in the National Zoo's Elephant House (Washington, DC), ca. 1936-1937. The New Deal's Treasury Relief Art Project provided the funding for this art. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A background painting for a reptile exhibit at the National Zoo, created by Garnet Jex (1895-1979), while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A closer view of Jex's desert painting. Jex lived at 1214 16th Street NW, Washington, DC, when he painted this background.

Above: A background painting for a lizard exhibit at the National Zoo, created by J. Lee Funk, while the artist was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. At the time, Funk was living at 1726 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: An exhibit background for the "crocodile lizard" exhibit at the National Zoo, painted by Myrtle Siebenthal, while she was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. Siebenthal was living at 3434 Oaklawn Terrace NW, Washington, DC, when she painted this artwork. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A background painting for a python exhibit at the National Zoo, by W.C. Kennedy, created while the artist was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. Kennedy lived at 1505 Lamont Street NW, Washington, DC, at the time. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Friday, June 14, 2019

A New Deal for our National Zoo: Progress begins with the Civil Works Administration

Above: In one of the earliest New Deal projects at the National Zoo (Washington, DC) men in the Civil Works Administration (CWA) are seen "cutting through a point to eliminate a dangerous curve in a road at the National Zoological Park, November 1933. In the background is the original Buffalo Barn." Photo and description courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Above: A close-up of the CWA work crew.

Above: This photo, taken in January 1934, "shows Civil Works Administration laborers cutting a trench for laying a water main at the National Zoological Park (NZP). The location is on Adams Mill Road in order to provide fire protection near the office of the Director. The CWA was part of the New Deal plan to employ people during the Great Depression." Photo and description courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Above: A close-up of the CWA work crew. Note the unusual (by today's standards) "22 Mile Speed Limit" sign.

Above: "Civil Works Administration laborers building trails in the National Zoological Park and constructing a stone wall to hold the trail," January 1934. Photo and description courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Above: A close-up of the CWA work crew.

Above: Another CWA trail-making crew at the National Zoo, January 1934. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Above: A close-up of the work crew.

Above: CWA workers "construct a trail to the Bird House in the National Zoological Park in March 1934. The Bird House appears in background. Depression era [New Deal] programs allowed the Zoo to build and renovate many facilities." Photo and description courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Above: A close-up of one of the CWA workers, from the previous photo. From November 1933 through March 1934, the New Deal offered many jobs to improve the common good. Over 4 million unemployed Americans signed up.

Above: A model of the zoo, created around 1888. The Zoo's 1934 annual report tells of CWA workers "Revising... a topographic map of the National Zoological Park." This model might be the map referred to. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Above: A closer view of some of the structures and outdoor exhibits on the model.

In addition to the work seen above, the National Zoo's fiscal year 1934 report lists other work performed by CWA workers, such as improvements to the Bird House; replacing the foundation of a warehouse; landscape enhancements; better organization of the Zoo's library; assisting in the architectural design of the Small Mammal House; improvements to various animal exhibits; and "Minor construction, improvements, and repairs, consisting of painting, repairing, improving or replacing minor buildings, cages, fences, pools, pipes, drainage and electric lines, etc., and resurfacing, improving and extending roads, walks, trails, bridle paths, and grounds."

And the CWA was just the brief-lived beginning of the New Deal's great provision of funding and labor for our National Zoo. Soon, the Public Works Administration (PWA), the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and other New Deal agencies would move in to do even more. I'll cover this in future blog posts.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

A New Deal for our National Zoo: Early New Deal art for the Zoo

Above: A black & white photo of a (likely color) sign, created for the National Zoo, Washington, DC, by Klir Beck (1891-1966), while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. Beck was living at 1707 21st Street NW, Washington, DC, at the time he created this sign. According to the Florida Keys Council of the Arts, Beck created "numerous woodcarvings" for the National Zoo. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A photo of "Animals modeled at the [National] Zoo." The models were created by Stephen H. Walker, while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, and living at 1304 Euclid Street NW, Washington, DC, ca. 1933-1934. Photo by Lewis P. Woltz, provided courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A closer look at the models on the left.

Above: A closer look at the models on the right.

Above: A closer look at the tag on the base of the llama model.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

A New Deal for our National Zoo: Animal donations from New Deal policymakers and agencies

Above: In 1935, FDR donated a serval to the National Zoo in Washington, DC. The serval (shown above) is a wild cat native to Africa. Years later, it was recalled, "The late President Franklin D. Roosevelt once received a pair of African wild cats [a serval and a caracal] as a present - and put in a hurry call to [Dr. William Mann, Director of the National Zoo] to come and get them" ("'Mr. Noah' Retires From Animal Realm," The Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi), January 7, 1957).  Photo by "111 Emergency," provided by Wikipedia, and used here under the CCA-2.0 Generic License.

From 1935 to 1941, several New Deal policymakers, New Deal agencies, and related folks donated animals to the National Zoo in Washington, DC. Here is a list, compiled from the Zoo's annual reports:


CCC Camp (Grottoes, Va.): 4 pine snakes.

James Farley, Postmaster General and Chair of the Democratic National Committee: 3 horned lizards and a box tortoise.

President Franklin Roosevelt: A serval and a caracal (wild cat species).

Utah State Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA): 3 mountain lions.


Eleanor Roosevelt: 9 alligators.


Julius Booker, CCC enrollee or staff person (Belvoir, Virginia): Copperhead snake.


President Franklin D. Roosevelt: 2 East African hedgehogs.


Congressman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.): Opossum. (Dingell was an ardent supporter of the New Deal.)

Mrs. E. Gruening: 2 sparrow hawks. (This may be the wife of Ernest Gruening, a New Deal policymaker who served in the Department of the Interior, led the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration, was governor of Alaska from 1939 to 1953, and then U.S. Senator from Alaska, from 1959 to 1969. 


President Franklin D. Roosevelt: 2 ring-necked doves.

U.S. Antarctic Service: Emperor penguin, 13 Adelie penguins, and a crab-eating seal. (The U.S. Antarctic Service was not precisely a New Deal agency, but had several interesting relationships with FDR and the New Deal - see my blog post, "FDR's New Deal for Antarctica, and today's Roosevelt Island Climate Evolution Project.")


U.S. Antarctic Service: 3 emperor penguins, 4 Gentoo penguins, 2 kelp gulls, and a giant fulmar (a.k.a. giant petrel - a bird species).

Above: These are some of the animals collected and donated by the U.S. Antarctic Service. Photo from the Zoo's fiscal year 1941 report.

When considering these donations, it's interesting to ponder if there are any offspring still existing at the Zoo. For example, are there any offspring from Eleanor Roosevelt's nine alligators? Probably not, but you never know...

Sunday, June 9, 2019

A New Deal for our National Zoo... "the most outstanding" in its history

Above: The Elephant House at the National Zoo, Washington, DC. This building was constructed with funds from the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA), 1936-1937. How many people have walked through its doors during the past 80 years? Photo by Brent McKee, June 2019.

Above: Caretakers and elephants in the PWA-funded Elephant House. The inside of the Elephant House has changed drastically since it initial construction, which I'll describe in greater detail in a future blog post. Photo by Brent McKee, June 2019.

The New Deal provides an "outstanding" year for the Zoo

In its 1937 annual report, the National Zoo in Washington, DC, noted that "fiscal year 1937 was probably the most outstanding in the history of the Zoo. The construction under the Public Works Administration grant of $892,920 was completed. These improvements include a brick exhibition building for small mammals and great apes; a stone exhibition building to house large mammals [today's Elephant House]; a new wing to the bird house; a two-story building for machine and carpenter shops; a stone garage; the installation of three 250-horsepower down-draft boilers in the central heating plant; an extension of the conduit system to the small mammal house and large mammal house; and rearrangement of the electric supply distribution system, a portion of which was put underground" ("Report on the National Zoological Park," Appendix 6 in the Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, fiscal year 1937, p. 69).

From 1933 through 1940, various New Deal programs improved our National Zoo: The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Public Works Administration (PWA), The Civil Works Administration (CWA), the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), the Treasury Section of Fine Arts (SFA), the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and the Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP). I'll be detailing all this work, on my blog, over the next few weeks.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

No climate-focused debates: Is the DNC starting to rig the primaries in favor of Joe Biden?

Above: "Craps," a chalk drawing by John D. Pusey (1905-1966), created while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, 1934. I think it's likely that the Democratic Establishment will rig the primaries in favor of Joe Biden, and also that rank & file Democratic Party voters will look the other way - remaining gleefully unaware during another roll of the dice to beat Donald Trump. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the University of Iowa Museum of Art.

Learning from their Hillary-rigging debacle, the DNC will be... sneakier this time

Despite protests to the contrary from Hillary shills and Third Way (a.k.a. Sell-Out) Democrats--who can't believe she was anything but deserving (or entitled)--we all know that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) rigged the 2016 primaries against Bernie Sanders. Harry Reid said so, Donna Brazile (the interim DNC chair) said so, Elizabeth Warren said so, Tom Perez (the current chair) said so (and then tried to walk it back), and anyone who watched the primaries sober knows it to be true.

Unfortunately, we're starting to see signs that the DNC is also going to rig the primaries in favor of Joe Biden (a.k.a. Lyin' J'Biden).

After Biden nearly flunked Greenpeace's climate test, and after he was caught plagiarizing his climate agenda (and using language derived from the fossil fuel industry to boot), the DNC has apparently let it be known that there will be no primary debates centered on climate change and, further, any candidate who tries will be punished. How convenient. Joe Biden's weakest agenda item won't be addressed in great detail.

You see, the Democratic Establishment has a cozy relationship with Corporate America, and Corporate America wants Joe Biden to be president because they know he'll keep their taxes low and let them pollute as much as they need to, to keep profits flowing in... and, just as importantly, contributions to the Democratic Establishment flowing out. It's the same game the Republicans play, only a bit more subtle, a bit more sneaky. Make no mistake about it. The Democratic Establishment is thinking and scheming, "How can we rig this primary, in a way that will be harder for people to see this time?"

The Democratic Establishment will do anything to maintain power. Even DNC Chair Tom Perez won the chairmanship under questionable circumstances, and then, just coincidentally of course, progressives began to be purged from the DNC to ensure space for corporate lobbyists (see, for example, "Democratic Party Drama Puts Deputy Chair Kieth Ellison In Tough Spot," The Intercept, October 20, 2017).

Yes, it's all beginning to happen again; but rank & file Democratic Party voters will hiss and scold if you point it out, "Shhhhhh! You're playing into Trump's hand!", just as they did last time. Instead, I suppose, we're just supposed to sit back, watch the corruption, watch the cheating, and keep our mouths shut... just play along with the DNC's (probably losing) roll of the dice.

The modern Democratic Party... and its rank & file voters... are insufferable.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Is CNN herding us towards Lyin' J'Biden, just as they tried to herd us towards Hillary Clinton?

Above: "The Herd," an etching by Edward Hagedorn (1902-1982), created while he was in the WPA, ca. 1935-1943. Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

I was watching CNN yesterday, and anchor Brooke Baldwin highlighted a poll showing Joe Biden's lead cut from 39% to 32%. She labeled the reduction as, "down a smidgen." But 39 to 32 is not a smidgen, it's a significant drop, about 18%.

And several days ago, CNN's Chris Cuomo said something to the effect of, "there's the crazy right, the crazy left, and the truth is in between [i.e., the center]."

Yesterday, CNN's political analyst Chris Cillizza penned an article, "Here's why all those booing liberals aren't as big a deal as you think," arguing that most Democratic Party voters are older and conservative, and therefore the voters who booed the centrist Democrats, at the recent California Convention, are of no great concern.

Let's be frank: The mainstream media wants a centrist like Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden to be president, because they know that such a president would not increase their taxes to pay for the common good... and also not bring along as much hate baggage as Trump.

CNN's parent company, Time Warner, was a big contributor to Hillary Clinton (see "Money Talks: Why CNN Wants You to Believe That Hillary Clinton Won the Democratic Debate," Huffington Post, December 6, 2017). And now we know: "Comcast-Owned MSNBC in the Tank for Joe Biden’s Presidential Run" (Common Dreams, April 28, 2019).

During the last presidential run, CNN had a virtual blackout of the Bernie Sanders campaign. They spent most of their time covering the wild antics of Trump and the calm, "adult-in-the-room" campaign of Hillary Clinton. Their strategy backfired. I'll never forget the looks and voices of shock in the CNN hosts, as they watched the 2016 general election results come in, showing Trump likely winning the Oval Office. It was like watching baseball fans, finally realizing that their team was going to lose the World Series.

CNN and MSNBC are doing just about the same thing this time - spending 90% of their time on the wild & crazy Trump, mentioning Bernie Sanders once in a while, and herding us towards the "adult-in-the-room" Biden... and also holding a few town halls (for those other candidates), in an attempt to cover their biased asses. 

Last time, the majority of Democratic Party voters took the CNN and MSNBC bait, and we ended up with Trump. It seems that this time, so far, the majority of Democratic Party voters are still taking the centrist bait. And this centrist bait may result in 4 more years of Trump, especially when more and more Americans begin to realize that Biden's neoliberal policy-making is the cause of their economic malaise (job-exporting trade deals, the recession-causing repeal of Glass-Steagall, debt-relief restrictions on the middle-class & poor, etc.).

Fox News is all-in for Trump. CNN and MSNBC are all-in for Biden. But We the People should be all-in for Bernie of Elizabeth... because they're the top contenders who are all-in for us.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

As we're doling out tax cuts to the rich, our levees and dams are breaking

"If it keeps on rainin', levee's goin' to break
And the water gonna come in, have no place to stay
Well all last night I sat on the levee and moan"

--Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie, When the Levee Breaks (song), 1929

Above: In this video, we see a levee near Dardanelle, Arkansas breached on Friday, May 31, 2019 (for more information, see: "Hundreds of roads under water as historic flooding breaches levees and threatens communities," CNN, May 31, 2019). Video courtesy of the Associated Press and the Yell County Sheriff's Office. Original video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDsEeklN-rc.

Above: This video shows the Lake Dunlap Dam near New Braunfels, Texas, break open on May 14, 2019. Video courtesy of CBS Dallas-Fort Worth. Original video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrDvmcgu9tc.

Our levees and dams are breaking

Days after the Lake Dunlap dam burst open in Texas (see video above), residents are realizing just how catastrophic this was for their communities. They can't launch their boats, local businesses will suffer due to reduced tourism & recreation, and a lot of wildlife has been killed. And it will likely be years before things return to normal ("Dam failure at Lake Dunlap hurts homeowners, wildlife, business owners," Fox 7, May 23, 2019). "Aging structural steel" is believed to have caused the dam to break (San Antonio Express-News, May 16, 2019).

In other parts of the U.S., levees are breaking open or overflowing. For example:

"Downtown Davenport [Iowa] Being Evacuated After Mississippi River Levee Breach," NBC 13 WHOtv, April 30, 2019.

"St. Charles [Missouri] levee breach prompts evacuations," CBS KMOV4, May 6, 2019.

"Man 'Swims for Life' After Sayre Levee Break," News 9 (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), May 8, 2019.

"Areas in Chariton County [Missouri] evacuating due to levee break," NBC KOMU, May 30, 2019.

"Residents flee Levasy [Missouri] after Missouri River levee breach," 41 KSHB News, June 2, 2109

We were warned

In its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave America's dams a letter grade of "D" and said:

"Due to the lack of investment, the number of deficient high-hazard potential dams has also climbed to an estimated 2,170 or more. It is estimated that it will require an investment of nearly $45 billion to repair aging, yet critical, high-hazard potential dams."

The ASCE also gave a "D" to our levees, in fact noting, "Due to the large inventory of levees outside [the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers'] authority, the condition of the nation's levees is largely unknown..."

And the ASCE has been issuing these types of warnings for the entire 21st century, and even before. But we're not listening. NetFlix; Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner; and our smart phones gobble up way too much of our time and concern. "Dams? Levees?" we ask with a scrunched face, "Puh-leez, those things don't entertain or amuse me at all!"

Even Disneyland is at risk: "Federal engineers are raising alarms that a 'significant flood event' could compromise the spillway of Southern California's aging Prado Dam and potentially inundate dozens of Orange County communities from Disneyland to Newport Beach" ("Engineers up failure risk for dam protecting Disneyland, dozens of Orange County cities," Los Angeles Times, May 17, 2019).

Above: The description for this photograph, ca. 1935-1943, reads, "View shows area below the dam and part of the crowd which participated in the dedication of Bronson Dam [Minnesota] on June 20th. View gives an excellent impression of the size of this WPA project." This photo also shows the pride Americans used to have for their public works. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Today, the aging Bronson Dam (and bridge) is in need of serious repair; in fact, it's the number one dam-repair priority in the state of Minnesota. Unfortunately, there's no money for the repairs (see, "Pushing the limits: Flooding threat puts spotlight on Minnesota's 'poor,' aging and underfunded dams," ABC 5 KSTP News, May 1, 2019. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Public Works vs. Private Gluttony

During the New Deal, the federal government was very willing to help states, cities, and towns with their infrastructure needs. It was also very able to do so, thanks in part to higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations. For a project like the Bronson Dam, the WPA would have contributed about 80% towards the cost. That's a pretty good deal. And the states & localities (and other federal agencies too) took advantage of this good deal, this New Deal. For example, the WPA was utilized to create 591 miles of new levees, and repair another 1,083 miles (Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1947, p. 132).

Today, of course, we're less interested in the condition of our public works, and much more interested in coddling and worshiping the wealthy. Instead of a big infrastructure plan, Trump, his voters, and the GOP Congress handed out gargantuan tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations a year-and-a-half ago. And we now know (in fact, we always knew) that the wealthy and corporations used that extra after-tax money to enrich themselves further (see, for example, "A New Congressional Study Finds Little Economic Benefit From The 2017 Tax Cuts," Forbes, May 29, 2019). That money could have been used to shore-up our dams and levees, but nope, conservative orthodoxy demanded that the rich get richer, infrastructure be damned.

You see, here's the thing: The rich, as a group (there are individual exceptions of course), don't give a rat's ass about about our public works... our roads, our bridges, our levees and dams. After all, they can handle potholes with their $100,000 heavy-duty SUVs; they can handle power outages with their $5,000 Generacs; they can deal with floods by having mansions in multiple locations; they can avoid contaminated water by having pure water trucked in to their estates; they can escape the crime & chaos their greed causes by living in gated communities, private compounds, or even private islands.

The rich don't ask, "How can I improve America's infrastructure?" Instead, they ask, "How many yachts can I buy?" or "How many half-million-dollar dresses can I buy?" or "How many politicians can I purchase to do my bidding?" And the American people, completely bamboozled from cradle to grave by trickle-down economics are happy to oblige: "Gee, I don't know how many yachts you can buy, but let me elect politicians who will gift you massive tax cuts, and let's find out. And if I lose everything in a flood, well, that's a price I'm willing to pay to serve you dear master."

And all the while--as we're kneeling down before the rich, kissing their feet, bringing them slippers, and singing hymns to them--the rich are giving us a collective middle-finger from their gated communities. But that's okay with us... the next round of tax cuts for the rich will be granted in just a few short years, by the next set of political puppets we obediently vote into power. 

Isn't that amazing?

Above: WPA workers also built emergency levees. The description for this photo, taken on March 19, 1936, reads: "Washington, DC; night photo, showing WPA workmen erecting emergency flood levee to stem the overflow of the Potomac River." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Republicans are cruel, Democrats are feckless, and Progressives are apprehensive & disorganized. This is the hopelessness of our politics and government.

Above: "Three Old Figures," a linocut by Fay Chong (1912-1973), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1938. Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Republicans are cruel

Spending most of their lives trying to punish anyone who isn't like them, or those they've judged to be lazy good-for-nothings, Republicans have shown that their cruelty knows no bounds. For example, they'll gladly try to strip away healthcare and food assistance for the poor, and then give tax cuts to billionaires who, in turn, use their extra after-tax income not to increase wages and benefits for workers, but to further enrich themselves (see, e.g., "GOP Tax Law Doing Little For The Economy, Even Less For Workers: Congressional Study." Huffington Post, May 28, 2019). And, far from admitting mistake, we know that Republicans will continue to push for draconian cuts to the safety net, as well as more tax cuts for the rich.

Democrats are feckless

The Democratic Party is less than a shadow of its former self. It's a complete & utter disgrace. Its donors are rich and out of touch, its policymakers are perpetually afraid of offending the Republicans who hate them, and its voters are afraid to vote their values whenever the mainstream media says, "electability" (see, e.g., "Iowa voters flock to Joe Biden, but out of practicality, not passion," The Los Angeles Times, May 1, 2019). Much of the party has retreated into a mouse hole and won't come out. Others are purposefully pushing the party to the right. 

Progressives are apprehensive & disorganized

Progressives know what the problems of the nation and the world are: Extreme income & wealth inequality; too many military adventures; free market fanaticism; pollution; healthcare price gouging; to name just a few. They also know what the solutions are: Higher taxes on the rich; a Green New Deal; Medicare-for-All; etc. But sadly, progressives have let themselves become pathetic hangers-on. They follow the Democratic Party around like dutiful lapdogs, persistently barking for change but always following, always disappointed, no-matter-what.

Even Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) has resigned herself to following along, saying she would "support whoever the Democratic nominee is." As much as I love AOC, this is EXACTLY the wrong approach. It sends a signal to the Democratic Establishment that progressives are barking wimps. The Democratic Establishment says to itself, "Let them cry and stomp their feet. Yes, let the petulant children get it out of their system. In the end, we know they'll coming running back to us, our rich donors, and our neoliberal policies."

You see, Progressives are apprehensive that if they pull away, refuse to back the Democratic Establishment, and perhaps even form their own party, the vote will be split, and Republicans will win. So, they're constantly waving the white flag of surrender to the Democratic Establishment. But here's the thing: Republicans are winning anyway (the recent Democratic House victory was but a small slowdown in the nation's decades-long, goosestepping to the right). 

And on top of their apprehension, Progressives are amazingly disorganized. The Progressive movement is essentially a disconnected amalgam of activists, op-ed writers, Internet commentators, and politicians grovelling within the Democratic Establishment. Have you ever seen a headline like, "Twitter unleashes fury on GOP congressman after he says [whatever]"? Um... okay... so what? What does that do? Bring a little public shame for a day or two? Until the next Republican outrage? Twitter can throw all the tantrums it wants... but that won't stop climate change, and it won't resurrect the American Dream, and it won't stop Republican cruelty in the aggregate.

The hopelessness of our politics and government

Where does this leave us? If Republicans are cruel, and Democrats are feckless, and Progressives understand the problems of the world--but haven't the guts or organizational skills to divorce themselves from the feckless Democrats, and thus begin to effect change--what hope is there? Can the Green New Deal, for example, succeed on cruelty, fecklessness, apprehension, and disorganization?

Progressives need to untie themselves from the sinking Democratic Party ship; organize themselves; begin to make their case; begin to pull voters away from the Democratic and Independent ranks; and begin to effect change. Will this split the vote? At first, yes. But what is the alternative? Look around you. We have a silver-spooned idiot sociopath in the White House; we have Republicans packing the courts; we have income & wealth inequality getting more out of control (indeed, seeming to feast on our very protests against it); we have racial tensions growing; our children are drinking lead - so that the super-wealthy can have more money to bribe their kids into elite colleges; and, far from a Green New Deal, we've been rolling back environmental regulations in order to increase CO2 levels past their already record-setting levels.

If Progressives cannot find the courage and determination to break away from the Democratic Party--which is leaning more and more to the right--then I see no hope. Many op-ed writers and talking heads claim that the Democratic Party is moving left. It is not. Instead, what we have are several presidential candidates giving lip service to Progressives in order to secure their vote (just as Obama did). These candidates have no intention of fighting for anything too "radical" or too "impractical" (i.e., progressive). Further, the front-runner status of Joe Biden, well ahead of the authentic candidates Sanders and Warren, proves that the Democratic Party is not moving left. Remember: Biden supported tax cuts for the rich, bank deregulation, debt-relief restrictions on the middle-class & poor, bailouts for his banker buddies, and cuts to Social Security & Medicare... and still he is the front runner. Yes, this is proof, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the Democratic Party has become a center-right party - partly out of fear, party by design. And Progressives keep hanging on, like mice riding a coattail.

In 1932, presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt said to the citizens of Utah, "The tasks that we face in the reordering of economic life are great. They call for courage, for determination and what you have abundantly out here, the hardihood of the pioneer." In electing, and then repeatedly re-electing FDR and his New Deal, our elders and ancestors had the courage and determination to crack down on greed, modernize our public works, and greatly enhance the social safety net. 

Yes, courage, determination, and a pioneering spirit. We have none of that today.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

10 quotes about Joe Biden (a.k.a. "Liar Joe," "Lyin' J' Biden," "Grifter Joe") that the American people should take to heart

Above: The future of the Democratic Party should be what we see on the left - tough, determined, and for the people. What we see on the right--Lyin' J' Biden, Shyster Supreme--should be a thing of the past. It is mind-boggling to me, that so many Democratic voters are rallying around this despicable, duplicitous man - a man responsible for shipping good American jobs overseas (NAFTA), locking people into debt and likely driving up the suicide rate (bankruptcy relief restrictions), bringing about the recession (voting to repeal Glass-Steagall), and bailing out his banker buddies during the recession, and then trying to cut Social Security and Medicare for the middle-class & poor (goddamn!)... and all-the-while casting himself as "Middle-Class Joe" and subsequently claiming to be the most progressive candidate for the 2020 nomination. The truth is, Joe Biden is a major league as$hole and con-man. And the support he's receiving is making me question the basic intelligence, morality, and courage of rank and file Democratic Party voters. Even though I left the party quite a few years ago, I had no idea it was this bad. Photo of AOC by Patrick Semansky, Associated Press, and photo of Biden by Reuters, both used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.

10 quotes about Lyin' J' Biden that the American people should take to heart

1. "I will be damned if the same politicians who refused to act then, are going to try to come back today and say we need to find a middle-of-the-road approach to save our lives. That is too much for me."

--U.S. Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, quoted in "Ocasio-Cortez Decries Biden 'Middle-Of-The-Road Approach' On Climate Change," NPR, May 14, 2019.

2. "At a time when the biggest financial institutions in this country were trying to put the squeeze on millions of hardworking families who are in bankruptcy because of medical problems, job losses, divorce and death in the family, there was nobody to stand up for them. I got in that fight because they just didn't have anyone, and Joe Biden was on the side of the credit card companies."

--U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, quote in, "A decades-old feud looms over Biden and Warren in 2020," CNN, May 2, 2019.

3. "I would argue that Joe Biden's record is worse than Hillary Clinton's... He's more out-of-touch than Hillary Clinton, and I didn't think that was really possible."

--Emma Vigeland, "Emma Talks Biden, Bernie and Warren On HILL TV" (YouTube video), Rebel HQ, May 23, 2019.

4. "Behind Biden are all the elite forces who dream of retaining the status quo that preserves their profits. Biden's corporate backers imagine their planetary pillaging and worker oppression can continue into some endless horizon. Biden's war backers imagine some fantasy in which bigger and deadlier weapons can fix problems they have not fixed for decades and that such a trajectory is limitless."

--Sonali Kolhatkar, "Joe Biden Is Not the Pragmatic Choice for 2020," Common Dreams, May 23, 2019.

5. "Let's be blunt: As a supposed friend of American workers, Joe Biden is a phony. And now that he's running for president, Biden's huge task is to hide his phoniness. From the outset, with dim prospects from small donors, the Biden campaign is depending on big checks from the rich and corporate elites who greatly appreciate his services rendered."

--Normon Soloman, "Joe Biden Is a Fraud, Plain and Simple," TruthDig, April 24, 2019.

(List continues below)

Above: Lyin' J' Biden loves to claim that he's the most progressive candidate or that he was the most liberal member of Congress (and it's reminiscent of Donald Trump's foolish boasting), but Politifact found otherwise. Screen capture from Politifact--"Joe Biden claims he was a staunch liberal in the Senate. He wasn’t." (May 6, 2019)--used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.

6. "[A]t a time when both the Democratic party and the country are moving left--particularly on economic issues--Biden is a lingering fragment of the triangulating liberalism that was shattered by the 2016 election, and which helped bring us Trump in the first place."

--Branko Marcetic, in "Joe Biden, Neoliberal," The Jacobin, August 7, 2018.

7. "Biden, the senator from Delaware, where many credit card companies and banks are incorporated, has long advocated on behalf of those financial entities. This is one of the ironies of his role as blue-collar Everyman; that guy is regularly screwed by the very companies Biden represents."

--Rebecca Traister, "Joe Biden isn't the answer," The Cut, New York Magazine, March 29, 2019, emphasis in original.

8. "As a loyal toady of the large corporations (especially finance, insurance, and credit cards) that put their headquarters in Delaware because its suborned government allows them to evade regulations in other states, Biden voted for repeated rounds of deregulation in multiple areas and helped roll back anti-trust policy - often siding with Republicans in the process."

--Ryan Cooper, "Joe Biden is about to ruin his reputation," The Week, March 20, 2019.

9. "Ever wonder why our nation has reached record levels of household debt--including $1.5 trillion in student debt--while a vast infrastructure of surveillance and data harvesting now pervades both Washington, DC, and Silicon Valley? Thank politicians like Joe Biden."

--Ron Kim, Democratic New York State Assemblyman, "Say No To Joe," BuzzFeed, April 25, 2019.

10. "The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA) was passed in April, 2005 by the U.S. Senate in a 74-25 vote, including the 'yea' vote of Joe Biden, and was quickly signed by President Bush... The harm it did to middle-class Americans, especially during the crushing events of the recession four years later, is immeasurable... the bill contained nothing to crack down on abusive practices by predatory lenders, including punitive interest rates and penalties... Put another way, the Bankruptcy Bill was great for Biden and his Delawarean benefactors, but a financial atrocity for millions of families, made worse by the financial crisis and crippling recession that followed [a recession that Biden helped cause, with the repeal of Glass-Steagall - a deregulation gift to his wealthy bank donors]. While thousands of financial institutions received billions of dollars in relief during the recession, ordinary Americans who were hammered by medical and mortgage debt, not to mention record-smashing job losses, were more or less screwed... Frankly, no amount of experience or folksy charm should blind Democrats into forgiving Biden's support for the BAPCPA. It's a deal-breaker."

--Bob Cesca, in "Joe Biden's greatest betrayal: The one Senate vote that makes it hard to support a Biden run: As a Senator in Delaware, Biden shepherded to passage a law that decimated bankruptcy protection for milllions," Salon, October 21, 2015 (during Biden's most recent failed presidential ambition).

Never Biden

Let's be super, super clear here. I will never vote for Joe Biden. I'd vote for Trump before I'd vote for Joe Biden. And I guarantee you I'm not the only one who feels this way. If the Democratic Establishment (DE) and its voters have such contempt for the millions of people harmed by Joe Biden that they're willing to spit in our faces and rub our noses in it by supporting this man, then I'll be more than happy to return the contempt.

Pick someone else DE and DE voters. Preferably Sanders or Warren... but even Harris, Booker, O'Rourke, or somebody else will do. But not Biden. Never Biden! Yes, pick someone else or, in 2021, when Trump is gloating in the White House, you'll be wishing you had.

Is this spiteful? Petulant? Insolent? Obnoxiously pugnacious? Oh yes. Because (channeling AOC), I'll be damned if I'm going to let Corporate America force me, yet again, to vote for the lesser-of-two evils in a Con-Don vs. Lyin' J' Biden match-up.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Suckered by trickle-down economics again! Corporations are paying historically low taxes, wages are still stagnant, and our children are still drinking lead from old pipes.

Above: Trickle-down economics is a circus... and we're the clowns. Image from a WPA poster.

Thanks to right-wingers and milquetoast liberals, we've been turned into clowns and suckers

Thanks to right-wingers, America's corporations are paying their lowest share of federal income tax since the Eisenhower presidency (CBS News, May 21, 2019).

Thanks to right-wingers, this low tax burden on corporations--as well as the historically low federal taxes on super-wealthy individuals--forces the tax burden down on the heads of the middle-class & poor at the state & local level (i.e., state & local taxes, tolls, fees, fines, and utility rates). According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, "The vast majority of state and local tax systems are inequitable and upside-down, taking a much greater share of income from low- and middle-income families than from wealthy families" (Who Pays? 6th Edition, October, 2018).

Thanks to right-wingers, the promise of trickle-down economics has fallen flat. For nearly 40 years they've forced their lies down our throats, telling us "If you give colossal tax cuts to the rich, their magical investments will create a jobs utopia!" Instead, "For most U.S. workers, real wages have barely budged in decades" (Pew Research Center, August 7, 2018). And the latest Real Earnings Summary from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (for April 2019) shows that our inflation-adjusted wages are down from March and up only about 1.2% over the past year. Yep, the super-wealthy got billions and trillions of tax cuts, to buy more yachts, islands, and politicians, and in return they blessed us with a 1.2% wage increase. Are you impressed by that?

In addition to stagnant wages, the super-wealthy have pummeled our retirements and appointed themselves as our healthcare supervisors, putting themselves between us and our doctors, declaring, "I get to choose what medicines and procedures you receive!"

Thanks to right-wingers, our under-funded federal government is less willing and able to modernize our infrastructure. Thus, our children are still drinking lead... several years after the Flint debacle.

Many Democratic politicians and voters are to blame too. Always going the milquetoast, jelly-spine route, they've been perpetually unable to handle the decades-long assault on our quality of life. For example, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren offer bold policies for the people, the corporate media says they're "unelectable," and rank & file Democratic voters hide under their beds, nervously clutching their blankies & binkies. "Okay... okay," they squeak, "then I'll vote for that corporate puppet, Lyin' J' Biden!"

The worst part about all this--the most nightmarish quality of this trickle-down scandal--is that you know, you just know, that in a few short years, Republicans will gift yet another round of gigantic tax cuts to the rich, and the people will scratch their heads, twiddle their lips, and mumble incoherently. They'll put on their red hats and scream in delight... or dance around with signs saying "Make America Great Again" or "I'm With Her." And the rich will watch our clown show, look at each other in astonishment, and then giggle as the bags of cash are delivered to their private compounds, one after the other after the other.

Yep, suckered again!

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Student loan debt, the billionaire rapture, and those of us left behind

"I've even had people confess to me that they have contemplated suicide because of their student loans."

--Adam Minsky, student loan expert and lawyer, "Student Loans and Mental Health," Law Office of Adam S. Minsky, September 9, 2016.

Above: "San Miguel Archangel," a painted wood plaque by Juan Amadeo Sanchez (1901-1969), created while he was in the WPA, 1942. In the Christian faith, the Archangel Michael plays a prominent role in the End Times, helping to save Christians from the forces of evil. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the University of Colorado, Boulder.

The 2019 graduates of Morehouse College (Atlanta, Georgia) have been blessed by a billionaire, who has promised to wipe away their student loan debt. One graduate cried and said, "I was struggling for four straight years. Now look at it. God has smiled on me." ("One Morehouse College student's $100,000 in debt, vanished. 'God has smiled on me,' he says after billionaire Robert F. Smith's speech," USA Today, May 20, 2019.)

Oprah Winfrey, another billionaire, has also blessed many college students. For example, she set up a scholarship fund at Morehouse College, so that some of the students there won't have to take on as much (or any) debt. And when someone criticized her philanthropy as not being enough, Internet commentators jumped to her defense, for example, "Love Oprah, she has not forgotten her roots. She is a shining example of giving back. Other wealthy people should follow her examples"; "Don't dis the O!"; "Don't mess with Oprah"; and "Oprah is not obligated to give away any of her fortune."

And like God, Oprah Winfrey has her own army of angels--(her nonprofit "Oprah's Angel Network")--that delivers Oprah's miracles and blessings all around the world.

We also know that Oprah does not like paying taxes to fund the common good, once saying, "I think it's so irritating that once I die, 55 percent of my money goes to the United States government" ("Oprah 2020 mania proves the American presidency is badly broken," The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 9, 2018). This is a common feeling among the super-rich. Rather than pay into the common good through taxes, they prefer to be our gods, sending down their whimsical favors upon us when the mood strikes them. Billionaire Michael Dell expressed the same sentiment at the 2019 World Economic Circus in Davos, Switzerland: "I feel much more comfortable with our ability as a private foundation to allocate those funds than I do giving them to the government." But is autocratic philanthropy really and truly more effective than policies funded through taxation and proper democratic deliberation, for example, Medicare, Social Security, public roads, and the U.S. Navy? 

Of course, for the recipients of billionaire philanthropy, it's quite understandable why they're doing cartwheels in the streets. They have been taken up & away from the economic End Times, delivered from evil by the billionaire rapture. But what happens if you're not visited by a billionaire? What happens to those of us who are left behind?

Well, total student loan debt is over $1.6 trillion and growing. And, thanks to the Democratic Party's presidential front-runner, Joe Biden, most of that debt is inescapable, even if your job and financial prospects are hopeless ("Joe Biden Backed Bills To Make It Harder For Americans To Reduce Their Student Debt," International Business Times, September 15, 2015). Maybe this is why some people kill themselves over student loan debt. No billionaire savior has visited them, and bankruptcy relief has been taken away.

In any event, we know that one set of super-wealthy Americans profits off student loan misery, let's call them "Satan's Army," while another, much smaller set of super-wealthy Americans tries to reduce the debt, let's call them, "God and his angels" (however, both sets of super-wealthy Americans benefit from student loan debt via a lower tax burden; and many philanthropists also profit from student debt thanks to their stock market investments). In between these two warring factions are college graduates, some of them saved but most of them drowning in a financial Lake of Fire.

Instead of a higher education system where the armies of greed and philanthropy compete for America's soul, wouldn't it be better to tax the rich more, get rid of student loan debt, and fund free public college? After all, the billionaire rapture will only save a few of us. Millions of the unlucky will be left behind.