Daily (or almost daily) ideas, tid bits, factoids, stories, research notes, news, and other fun things from the most interesting time period in American history! After reading my blog, click on the links below for more information about the New Deal.
"Now Los Angeles County is dealing with a new fire in the Santa Clarita area that has prompted the evacuation of at least 40,000 people. And like last year, state fire resources are stretched thin as agencies fight another conflagration in Northern California and additional wildfires throughout Southern California."
Above: One of the many new fire hydrants installed around Manchester, New Hampshire, by WPA workers, 1936. The WPA, along with other New Deal agencies, made massive efforts to fight fires all across the country: new fire stations; hiring the unemployed to fight fires and build firebreaks; removing wildfire fuel from forests; and much more. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Sucking the common good dry
Super-wealthy Americans have crippled the common good by demanding and receiving gargantuan tax cuts - under Reagan, under Bush Jr., under Trump. The super-wealthy are now enjoying record-breaking fortunes, while paying less in taxes than the working class. The result is a system of government (plutocracy) that is less willing and able to support the common good. American plutocracy gives enormous amounts of money to the Pentagon, endless tax breaks to the rich, and sends the national debt soaring while neglecting the domestic needs of the electorate.
Meanwhile, the electorate--in a jaw-dropping display of stupidity--goes along with it, decade after decade. The electorate has been trained to put their faith in Republicans and neoliberal Democrats who don't give a crap about them. Every four years, we vote for more coddling of the wealthy. And when someone comes along who might change plutocracy, like Bernie Sanders, we laugh and scoff at their policy proposals (as our homes are destroyed by the latest wildfire or flood, and our homeowners insurance premiums go through the roof): "Oh my, he's so pie-in-the-sky! So impractical!"
So, as California deals with devastating wildfires (e.g., destruction of homes, evacuations, blackouts), with less-than-adequate resources, the rich are gleefully hiring private firefighters (usually through expensive insurance policies) to fight any fires that might threaten their mansions or, better still, safeguard their mansions with presuppression efforts, like "sprinkler systems and spray retardants" ("Private firefighters go to work for California's wealthy," Fox Business, October 27, 2019).
The super-wealthy also don't have to worry--as much--about the blackouts currently being imposed on Californians. After all, they can just buy a $16,000 Generac, power-up their homes, sip wine, look down at the commoners running around on fire, and wait it out. In rare instances, they might have to evacuate Mansion #1 and retreat to Mansion #2 (with Mansions 3, 4, and 5, spread out across the globe, waiting in reserve). Soon, I would suspect, the super-wealthy will begin creating their own power grids, underground - safe from fires and barricaded against any possible usage by the middle-class & poor.
When the common good was cool
During the New Deal, things were quite a bit different. For example, in California, there were nearly 100 CCC camps spread out across the state, performing all sorts of work to combat wildfires. Consider:
"As a result of severe forest fires, a master plan was developed cooperatively in 1930 by the regional forester, the California Forest Experiment Station and the State Division of Forestry to protect California's forest from fire and devise plans for forest fire suppression. With the advent of the CCC program [in 1933] an opportunity was presented to carry out forest fire presuppression plans, as well as plans for fighting forest fires." This work included the Ponderosa Way Firebreak, and "Many fires were prevented from spreading beyond [this] firebreak." (Perry H. Merrill, Roosevelt's Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942, 1981, pp. 113-114)
Across the nation, the CCC removed wildfire fuel (dry vegetation and dead trees); created access roads to remote areas (to better reach forest fires, thus curtailing the spread of fire); constructed 68,000 miles of new firebreaks; and, of course, fought fires directly. In California, if one were to consider population expansion, there could be several hundred CCC camps doing the same type of work today.
Today, we're dull
Unfortunately, the public's imagination has dulled. After years and years of neoliberal propaganda, the public can no longer imagine a Civilian Conservation Corps. Heck, most Americans have never even heard of the Civilian Conservation Corps. To make matters worse, they probably don't care to know either. All they know, is that the super-rich will either save us or they won't, and those are the only options and outcomes. We've been so thoroughly trained to believe that every solution must be generated by, or filtered through, billionaires and banks, that critical thinking, civics, and history have been thrown out the window. We don't think for ourselves anymore. "A government of, by, and for the people?" we ask, "WTF is that??" We don't imagine. We don't explore history. We just bow down before the rich and hope for the best.
Well, my fellow Americans, that hope is misplaced. The rich are not going to save us. In fact, they're going to make it worse... with continued wealth & opportunity hoarding; with continued political corruption via campaign and Super PAC payments; and with continued investment in fossil fuels.
Yes, our dull minds, in the face of extreme wealth & opportunity hoarding by the 1%, is why fires and blackouts are spreading. We've shot ourselves in the foot, we're limping around, and we're placing another bullet in the chamber for our other foot. We can't see solutions anymore, we just keep blasting away at our ability to move, to act, to be resolute. We watch our homes burn or wash away, throw up our hands, and ask in defeat, "What can be done?" And then we answer in defeat, "Nothing."
Above: "Drip, Drip," 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.
Writing in Slate, about the uprising against right-wing authoritarianism in Chile, Lili Loofbourow describes an interesting aspect of the political right in Chile:
"And when the Chilean right talks about the underclasses, especially the ones who protest, it uses a very specific term. It calls them resentidos. As in the resentfuls: a pejorative often deployed with hatred and contempt. Per this worldview, if any such person complains or protests, it's not because their complaints have merit, but because they're envious, lazy, and want what they don't deserve. You are literally not allowed to resent the elite; if you do, you fulfill what the elite call you. It's a trap. If you're struggling in Chile, you're supposed to keep it to yourself and, in Joker parlance, 'put on a happy face'" [referring to the recently released Joker movie, which some reviewers have interpreted as an indictment against capitalism]. ("Chile's people have had enough," Slate, October 26, 2019)
The exact same thing is done in America, of course. The rich elite routinely cast the have-nots as lazy parasites who don't want to work, preferring "free stuff" instead. Former Fox News Propaganda Artist Bill O'Reilly is one of the main purveyors of this type of ridicule, and recently tweeted: "Elizabeth Warren wants a wealth tax to pay for free stuff, lots of free stuff. Lots." O'Reilly's implication is clear: Elizabeth Warren wants to take from the deserving (the rich) and give to the undeserving (lower-income groups).
By ridiculing the non-wealthy, as well as any attempts to help the non-wealthy, the rich elite, like Bill O'Reilly, hope to keep their taxes as low as possible. They're trying to keep us brainwashed and docile - trying to keep us subservient to them. They want us to adhere to the following belief system: The rich should be coddled and served and, if you work hard enough for the rich, the rich will bless you with good wages (or charity if need be). If you're not making good wages... well... you're not working hard enough for the rich and must work harder still.
And this self-serving myth that the rich elite push, is very similar to the Christian belief that one must worship and serve God in order to make it to Heaven. And if you don't make it to Heaven... well... you should have worshiped more.
Yes, scolding the poor and casting themselves as gods. It's a universal practice by the rich elite, a core strategy to facilitate their wealth & opportunity hoarding. The rich elite want you to feel puny next to them, inadequate and undeserving.
Meanwhile--and thanks in part to the Trump / GOP tax cuts for the rich--America's wealthiest 400 people increased their already-bloated private fortunes to "a record-breaking $2.96 trillion" ("The Forbes 400: The Definitive Ranking Of The Wealthiest Americans," Forbes, October 2, 2019). And of course, we know that the super-rich will in turn use a portion of this money to give more campaign contributions to Republicans and neoliberal Democrats (and/or their Super PACs), in payment (i.e., bribery) for another round of tax cuts in the not-too-distant future.
Yet still, millions and millions of working class Americans follow along... goosestepping in apathy or goosestepping in enthusiastic approval... goosestepping for Trump or goosestepping for Biden... goosestepping for peanuts... yes, goosestepping for pathetic wages, as their world descends further into anger, hatred, chaos, and environmental collapse.
Isn't that amazing? Isn't that just absolutely jaw-dropping?
Above: "Wisdom and Courage," a sculpture by Alexander Sambugnac (1888-1965) created while he was in the New Deal's Section of Fine Arts, 1938. This sculpture is on a federal courthouse in Miami. Image courtesy of the the General Services Administration and Carol M. Highsmith.
When I was reading about the Tulsi Gabbard and Hillary Clinton fight, I came across an author for The Atlantic, Tom Nichols, who bashed Gabbard pretty good; and I saw he had previously been a Republican (which explains his preference for neoliberal Democrats). In a different piece he wrote for The Atlantic, "Why I'm Leaving The Republican Party" (October 7, 2018), Nichols explained that the Republican Party had sacrificed ethics for power, but also explained that he was still a conservative, despite his exit from the party:
"I'm not a Republican anymore, but am I still a conservative? Limited government: check. Strong national defense: check. Respect for tradition and deep distrust of sudden, dramatic change: check. Belief that people spend their money more wisely than government? That America is an exceptional nation with a global mission? That we are, in fact, a shining city on a hill and an example to others? Check, check, check."
There's a lot potentially wrong with that statement, but let's just consider a "Belief that people spend their money more wisely than government." I frequently hear this type of statement from Republicans, Libertarians, and other conservatives... but is it true?
The rich spend or invest their money on fossil fuels that are changing our planet's environment, perhaps to the point where it will no longer be habitable. Is that a wise use of their money? Multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein apparently spent his money getting massages from underage girls. Is that a wise use of money? The rich also buy expensive toys, like mega-yachts, as millions of children drink lead from old water mains, connection lines, and plumbing. Is that a wise use of money? And all sorts of people spend their money gambling, or purchasing cocaine, or buying private arsenals in contemplation of mass shootings, and so on. Is that a wise use of money?
And what about philanthropy? Charitable donations certainly do a lot of good, but they also perpetually fail to solve major problems, for example, homelessness, pharmaceutical price gouging, lack of health insurance, crumbling schools, and suicide. Indeed, things like Social Security and Medicare would never have been necessary in the first place if philanthropy had adequately addressed the problem. (The truth is, people have never, and will never, voluntarily part with enough of their money to solve major problems - hence the need for taxes.) So, is philanthropy a wise use of money? Sometimes... but sometimes not.
On the other hand, government spending of your money can provide national defense; infrastructure so we can travel about; a social safety net for people who fall through the cracks of our winner-take-all capitalism; Social Security and Medicare for older folks who need some support; courts to resolve disputes; public schools & colleges for people who are not members of the 1%; etc., etc.
Conservative fantasies aside, it is clear that good government often spends your money more wisely than you do. Of course, since good government is We the People, good government spending is just another way that WE spend our money.
These days, Democratic Establishment politicians think that any Democratic or Independent voters who don't love and support them are Russian assets, or have been brainwashed by Russian disinformation campaigns. They just can't believe that their neoliberal, elitist, and milquetoast policies might turn people off.
Clinton-Obama-Biden (COB) Democrats have definitely sickened the Democratic Party. COB Democrats have stabbed the New Deal in the back, and have embraced neoliberal, corporate-coddling, and even right-wing policies instead (e.g., debt-relief restrictions on the middle-class & poor, the repeal of Glass-Steagall, and job-exporting trade deals that do little or nothing for displaced workers). COB Democrats scoff at the Green New Deal, call Medicare-for-All "pie in the sky," and are routinely open to Social Security cuts. COB Democrats mildly rebuke Republican actions, like tax cuts for the rich and raising the Social Security eligibility age, but then do little or nothing to reverse those actions once they're back in power.
COB Democrats, like Hillary Clinton, are the worst of the worst. They say pretty things to progressive voters--to get their votes--but then always bow down to Wall Street when it comes time for policy-making (remember how Obama campaigned?... with progressive fire & fury?... but then packed his administration full of corporate apologists and Wall Street types?). COB Democrats are a truly deceitful bunch; their entire strategy is built upon a foundation of tricking the working class and servicing the greed of the rich... in the hopes that such service will be rewarded with loads of cash. Hillary and Barack have cashed in, BIG TIME - as have many other COB Democrats. The truth is, COB Democrats are actually just very clever Republicans (see, e.g., "Obama is a Republican," The American Conservative, October 21, 2014)
Is Tulsi Gabbard a Russian asset? Doubtful, unless your definition of a Russian asset is so broad as to include any politician whose name is utilized by a Russian actor to spread disinformation (in which case, every American politician can be a Russian asset through no fault of their own).
Is Hillary Clinton a Wall Street asset? Unequivocally, yes. And she has the cash to prove it.
"The thing we know for sure is that Hillary Clinton is a Donald Trump asset."
"Why pretend any longer? Our history and current practices prove that on a regular basis we sacrifice those without voices and without the resources to fight back--people considered dispensable by those with power who make decisions--so a few can make a buck."
Above: "Murder by the Mill," a wood engraving on paper by Charles Surendorf (1906-1979), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1939. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
As the suicide rate increases, the super-wealthy continue to build their record-breaking fortunes (indeed, there seems to be a positive correlation). As healthcare becomes more expensive, and medicine increasingly unattainable, the wealthy are living 10-15 years longer than the poor. As the social safety net comes under constant attack, making the poor more vulnerable to illness and death, the rich receive round after round of tax cuts.
As children across the globe die from air pollution, the rich get their fossil fuel dividends. As Perpetual War becomes the new norm, the rich get their defense industry dividends. As inmates kill themselves in prisons, the rich get their private prison dividends. As mass shootings increase, the rich count their gun manufacturing profits behind the secure walls of their private compounds; peeking over those walls, occasionally, to gawk at the madness they've created... and then it's back to counting the cash.
As opioids and cigarettes have flourished, easily attainable and facilitating death, and as life-giving insulin has been restricted, the rich are demanding the repeal of Medicaid expansion. Yep, they make us ill, and then actively trying to restrict our healthcare access for that illness. Oh, such clever homicide!
As deaths of despair have risen, driven by a lack of resources, The Rich Kids Of Instagram have sent us photos showing how wonderful their lives are... thanks to an excess of resources.
As Americans are buried in debt--student loan debt, credit card debt, school lunch debt, etc.--the rich are using their extra wealth--derived in part from that debt--to create emergency plans to escape or kill the debtors should they ever revolt.
Do you think all of the above is mere coincidence? I don't. I think the super-rich want a lot of us dead. Oh, they want a certain number of us alive to buy their goods. But people too broke to be active consumers?... oh yes, they want those people dead. Why? Because a poor person is a potential tax increase. The existence of the poor might provoke, for example, Social Security expansion, and Social Security expansion might require more taxes on the rich. And more taxes on the rich means less surplus homes, fewer mega-yachts, fewer massages from underage girls, and potentially fewer photos to post on The Rich Kids of Instagram.
Sound harsh? Sound unreasonable or far-fetched? Remember that Ayn Rand-loving rich Americans frequently refer to the poor as "parasites." Well, nothing wrong with killing parasites, right? Or at least, withholding the necessities of life so that they slowly shrivel up and die? After all, they're not really humans... just parasites... parasites can be killed... Himmler told us that a long time ago, remember?
The Goebbels Rich
Don't worry super-rich people, there will probably never be a revolt against you, politically or otherwise, because you are masters at pitting us against one another. As you hoard all the wealth and opportunity, and even rub our noses in it, you simultaneously fund politicians, think tanks, and media outlets to convince us to blame "the other" for any problems we're having. Yes, the middle-class and poor in America, thanks to you, have been convinced that the roots of their problems are gays, Muslims, Jews, blacks, migrant workers, and anyone else that doesn't fit into the white wealthy Christian mold.
The ability of the super-rich to divert our attention away from their greed and selfishness, and towards minority groups instead--a phenomenon best seen at Trump rallies--is the greatest and most sinister act of propaganda in human history. Even Goebbels would be astonished and envious of America's super-rich: "You took everything, all the wealth!" Goebbels would exclaim. "And you convinced those you took it from to blame their neighbors instead of you! How did you do it?!?"
"The executive team at Boeing is quite skilled – just at generating cash, rather than as engineers. Boeing's competitive advantage centered on politics, not planes. The corporation is now a political machine with a side business making aerospace and defense products."
Above: A new WPA-built airport administration building at Davis Island Airport, Tampa, Florida, 1937. The WPA built the entire Davis Island Airport, which is now called the "Peter O. Knight Airport." Between 1935 and 1943, WPA workers built or improved hundreds of airport facilities, including safety enhancements, such as markers, beacons, boundary lights, and improved water drainage. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Cracked pickle forks
Recently, it was discovered that cracks are appearing on some Boeing 737 pickle forks. Pickle forks are large structural supports that help keep a plane's wings attached to the fuselage. The pickle forks are supposed to last the lifetime of the plane, about 90,000 flying cycles, without cracking. But the cracks are appearing on some 737s in less than half that time. No one seems to know exactly what the problem is, but some sort of metallurgy problem is probably a top candidate. (See, for example, "Boeing finds itself in a fresh pickle," Washington Post, October 12, 2019.)
The FAA issued an emergency order for airline companies to inspect 737s that have logged in over 30,000 flying cycles. They were to do this within 7 days. The inspections have so far resulted in several dozen planes being grounded due to cracks.
Shouldn't all 737s be inspected, ASAP, regardless of how many flights they've flown?
The problem of a cracked pickle fork is a serious one because, as the FAA pointed out, a failure of this support structure would likely cause a catastrophic loss of control. With this in mind, you would think that the airlines and the FAA would be diligently keeping the public informed, and going above and beyond the call of duty to inspect these planes. But is that fully happening? Consider United Airlines:
On October 2nd, it was reported: "Aircraft with more than 30,000 cycles must be inspected within seven days, while planes between 22,600 and 29,999 cycles must be inspected within 1,000 cycles, which typically correspond to the number of flights. The FAA wants operators to 'report their findings to the agency immediately.' United said it... does not fall under the 7-day time frame and 80 of its airplanes are 'between the 22,600 and 29,999 cycles' and will be inspected as required" ("U.S. orders speedy checks for cracks on 165 Boeing 737 NG planes," Reuters, October 2, 2019, emphasis added).
What's really interesting here is that the inspection only takes about an hour. So, considering that no one seems to know what the problem is (it's more than just the age of the pickle forks), and considering the tragic consequences of a failed pickle fork; and considering that the inspection only takes a brief time, wouldn't a better response be, "None of our airplanes fall under the 7-day order, but we're going to inspect all of our planes anyway, as soon as possible. And we'll keep the public informed of the results." Is that too much to ask? Is that unreasonable?
The airlines tweet about Star Wars, but not about FAA-ordered inspections for structural cracking
As someone with an upcoming flight on a 737 with United Airlines, I'm somewhat concerned. Going to United's Twitter account, I see tweets (between October 2nd and today) about girls in aviation, breast cancer, the baseball playoffs, "watching Mean Girls on board today," something about penguins, and the following tweet:
"We’re excited [to] join the partnership alliance to launch a campaign to celebrate Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Find out how you can enter for a chance to win tickets to attend #TheRiseOfSkywalker world premiere and the sold out #StarWarsCelebration 2020…"
Now, some of these tweets are important to aviation, some are important but unrelated to aviation, and some are just downright trivial. What's amazing is that there are no tweets about the pickle fork cracking issue. Star Wars, yes. But inspections of possible cracking in structural supports, no. Am I the only one appalled by that?
I feel as though I'm being treated like a child - the less I'm aware, the better. I feel as if I'm being told, "Don't worry about any structural problems, FAA warnings notwithstanding. We'll take care of it, and you don't need any updates. Just enter for your chance to win Star Wars tickets."
To be clear, it's not the pickle fork problem that concerns me the most, it's the lack of communication between the airlines and their customers on this potentially catastrophic problem. For heaven's sake, keep us informed! And if the inspection only takes an hour then, again, do it ASAP - on all the 737 airplanes! (Of course, in America's form of hyper-capitalism, where executive compensation and shareholder profit takes precedence over everything else, I guess I shouldn't be surprised by any of this.)
It seems to me that both government and private sector big wigs are treating us like infants, only letting us know the bare minimum, and keeping us updated as little as possible. "They're just little children," they seem to be saying, "They need to be seen, and they need to hand over their money, but they don't need to be heard or informed." This seems like the classic market failure of "asymmetric information," where one party to a transaction knows more than the other party. We buy the tickets, but are mostly kept in the dark about important aspects of the transaction, e.g., safety issues.
An important question is: Is Boeing, and the airline industry more generally, and even the FAA, now putting profit over safety? The Max's software problems and the 737 pickle fork cracks are not the only problems that we've seen recently. Consider:
Also, in recent testimony before Congress, the head of the Association for Professional Flight Attendants said of the industry's shrinking plane seating: "It is a torture chamber for our passengers and for us... We find that the seats are not only getting smaller, but there's no padding on them anymore... The passengers already--in the normal case of getting on or off the airplane--are having difficult times getting into the aisle to sit down. Can you imagine in a stressful situation trying to evacuate, in a real-life scenario, passengers from a plane that is burning or that is half tilted or upside down?” ("President of flight attendants union likens cramped airplane seating to a 'torture chamber'," Fox News, July 18, 2019).
The 737s that are flying are almost certainly going to be okay, with respect to their pickle forks at least. Air travel is still amazingly safe. But this lack of communication--this keeping Americans in a state of ignorance--is a bad sign for the future. (As an aside, when I was studying for my Master of Public Policy degree, I took a management course where we studied the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Lack of communication was a major factor in that explosion and loss of life.)
Dear airline industry: Stop treating us like children, keep us informed, and inspect all your planes now - not just the planes that are under emergency FAA orders. Ignore your bean counters... and do the right thing.
Above: A WPA nurse ices down the head of a patient suffering from a high fever, in New Orleans, ca. 1935-1943. The WPA nursing program helped millions of Americans. For example, between 1935 and 1941, WPA nurses in Passaic County, New Jersey "weighed and measured 12,732 children, assisted at 47,719 treatments, assisted physicians in making 7,697 physical examinations, conducted classroom examinations of 73,659 children, and made 4,000 home visits" ("What the WPA has done in this county in six years," The News (Paterson, New Jersey), December 20, 1941, p. 3). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: "Industrial Textures," a color woodcut on paper by Riva Helfond (1910-2002), created while she was in the WPA, ca. 1936-1941. Helfond learned many of her art techniques while in the WPA, and once said, "People were starving, banks were closing. We couldn't paint and draw pretty pictures" ("Plainfield artist's mark was left around world," The Courier-News (Bridgewater, New Jersey), May 15, 2002). Today, Helfond's work is hard to see because it's not on display, or it's not fully digitized, or it's blocked by copyright restrictions, etc. Therefore, you usually see nothing or, at best, a very tiny image that you're forbidden from enlarging or saving. In these many years of blogging I've done, I don't think I've ever seen an artist's work suppressed quite to this extent (see, for example, Helfond's work at the National Gallery of Art, the Library of Congress, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Whether Helfond wished this to be the case, or whether this is an example of copyright overkill I don't know; but it's a shame, because it's a hindrance to younger generations getting to know her work and legacy. How can art be appreciated if it's boxed up in a basement somewhere and, on top of that, not fully digitized... or digitized at all? Image above courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Brooklyn Museum.