Saturday, February 28, 2009

Crazy with Fear - CPAC 2009

You know how, when you're witnessing a personal meltdown--when someone you happen to be near finally reaches the breaking point; when everything they've ever held near and dear is suddenly slipping away, and they try desperately to hang on, either with lies or tantrums or tears--how you just can't look away?

As the drama unfolds, if you're not too personally invested, the polite thing to do is just move along. There's not much you can do for them anyway, and, honestly, they don't care what you think. But you're riveted by the spectacle, and--admit it--fascinated by the sheer craziness of it.

Ever since January 20 that's how I've been feeling about the eerily escalating Right Wing meltdown. It's breathtaking to behold. The scope of it is beyond anything I could ever have imagined. Day after day, I awaken to some new evidence that they've not just lost their way, they've lost their minds.

From Limbaugh to O'Reilly to Keyes to Beck to Shelby to Santelli to Jindal to Steele to Bachmann . . .it's been one nutty thing after another, just in the last week alone. (That might be because it was CPAC week. Everybody from Joe the Plumber to 13-year-old Jonathan Krohn had a moment in the sun at the Conservative's main event. )

Here's Joe the Plumber. (It's 6 1/2 minutes of Joe, so be forewarned.) The ALG Network (Americans for Limited Government) had their crew out there full time at the conference, filming speeches, doing interviews, and just generally presenting those Conservatives in their best light. So I have to assume that sabotage wasn't really in the plans when they filmed and then edited Joe's little talk; I have to assume that this is the BEST of Joe:

Along with some of the usual suspects, ALG also interviewed Jerome Corsi, author of "Obama Nation", and all-around odd ball:

At 5:00 today Rush Limbaugh spoke to the rapt convention crowd (Sorry, no video.  He's not on my agenda here) and then, afterward, was the recipient of the "Defender of the Constitution Award".
Honest. (Why am I not laughing out loud? See last paragraph below.)

I spent a few hours today wandering around the virtual halls of CPAC and I'm here to tell you--Alice in Wonderland has nothing on me. Up was down and down was up. In was out and out was in. People said one thing and meant another.

I half expected to see the Cheshire Cat grinning from a limb:
Cheshire Cat: If I were looking for a white rabbit, I'd ask the Mad Hatter.
Alice: The Mad Hatter? Oh, no no no...
Cheshire Cat: Or, you could ask the March Hare, in that direction.
Alice: Oh, thank you. I think I'll see him...
Cheshire Cat: Of course, he's mad, too.
Alice: But I don't want to go among mad people.
Cheshire Cat: Oh, you can't help that. Most everyone's mad here.
[laughs maniacally; starts to disappear]
Cheshire Cat: You may have noticed that I'm not all there myself.

On Thursday, Bob Cesca wrote a piece for the Huffington Post called "The Wingnut Revolution".
. . . accountability (a "day of reckoning" as President Obama called it) is underway in the form of the president's housing proposal, his healthcare plan and, naturally, the recovery act. At the end of the day, ninety-five percent of Americans will benefit from what amounts to the largest tax cut in American history, along with increased access to affordable healthcare and millions of new jobs.
Though, alas, the super rich will have to pay slightly more in taxes.
Yeah, that's a shame.
So they're gathering in their secret war rooms in the Orange County underground and on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, grinding the tips of their Salvatore Ferragamo Pregiato Moccasins into razor-sharp spears and fashioning their Bentley key fobs into makeshift nunchucks in preparation for a supremely ridiculous rebellion led by a cast of far-right characters more freakish than the acid trip monsters from Yo Gabba Gabba.
It's a great piece, done in usual Cesca style, but when he got to this part I was hooked:  
For the last year or so, Glenn Beck has been attempting to peg Barack Obama and the Democrats as actual communists, and now he's going all out with, quite literally, a red scare segment on his show -- festooning his set with Soviet flag graphics, a "Comrade Update" logo and a Russian language crawl in the lower-third of the screen.
I have no words.  (I did have the red scare clip inserted on this page but it's no longer available.  Too bad.  It was something to behold.)

On that very same Thursday, Paul Jenkins wrote a piece for HuffPo called, "Worst Week Ever: Republicans Unhinged".
He wrote, In just seven days, Republicans have offered up more amusement and fodder for an election campaign than even the most hopeful among us could have expected. What is especially thrilling is that it comes at little expense: Obama is competently in charge, as are, by and large, Democrats elsewhere, and change is happening at a mind-blowing pace. In the long run, yes, there should be concern that having buffoons in opposition is not healthy, but for now let's enjoy the moment.

Oh, enjoy! Yes, let's! They're a laugh-a-minute, that bunch.

Remember how some of us folks were laughing hysterically when we heard the Republicans had chosen George W. Bush as their (mwa-ha-ha!) presidential candidate?

And remember how we cackled when, after weeks of beating the bushes (Bushes) for a best choice, Dick Cheney appointed HIMSELF the vice-presidential candidate?

And remember the hoots and hollers, the LOLs, the LMAO's, when we got wind of that loony idea to attack IRAQ after 9/11 instead of al Queda-harboring Afghanistan?

And remember how we roared over the idea of those absolute fools running for a second term? 

OH, I remember, all right. So I may smirk a little, and I may go so far as to showcase their more memorable loony binges, but laugh out loud? Not on your life.

I laughed at the idea of "preachers" like Pat Robertson or James Dobson or John Hagee pulling so many righteous legs all the way to the bank.

I laughed at the idea of a Rush Limbaugh or an Ann Coulter achieving even a thimbleful of fame and fortune.

I laughed at the idea of Ronald Reagan--a "B" actor if you wanted to be charitable, a dimwit if you wanted to be fair-- running for the highest office in the land. Now look where we are. He's a damned "hero" and we're screwed.

So let me just leave you with this: Tonight they anointed Rush Limbaugh as their fearless leader.

I may think that's odd, but I know better than to think it's funny.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hey, you guys! Over here! Michigan?

"This is about real people who, through no fault of their own, are laid off because of a recession. They need to be able to put food on the table. . . So you better believe I'm going to take every dollar that is coming to Michigan. And if my colleagues here in Minnesota and South Carolina don't get — don't use theirs, I'm going to be first in line to say for my people, for our citizens, to put people to work and to make sure that they can survive through this, I'll take their dollars, too." Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm on Fox News, 2/22/09


Is there anything more foolish in these times than a governor of a poor state pouting about a stimulus bill that doesn't exactly address their wishes? Well, yes, there is something more foolish. Saying "no" to the money the bill could provide for their poor state. That's dumb.

From an AP story, published 2/22/09: "Some Democrats took a harder line at a news conference arranged by the Democratic Governors Association to praise President Barack Obama for his leadership on the stimulus. Association chairman Brian Schweitzer of Montana and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley dismissed GOP detractors as 'fringe' Republicans eager to score political points.

'All of us are committed to working with President Obama to pull our nation's economy out of the ditch that George W. Bush ran it into,' O'Malley said. 'If some of the fringe governors don't want to do that, they need to step aside and not stand in the way of the nation's interests.'

The line drew a rebuke from [Mark] Sanford, governor of South Carolina, and chairman of the Republican Governors Association. 'I think in this instance I would humbly suggest that the real fringe are those that are supporting the stimulus,' Sanford said. 'It is not at all in keeping with the principles that made this country great, not at all in keeping with economic reality, not in keeping with a stable dollar, and not in keeping with the sentiments of most of this country.' "

Uh huh. That "in keeping" part? Where was it when those upstanding loyalists were cheering on the Bush team as they screwed with our banks, our military, our land, our jobs, our homes, our kids, our elders, and our heads?

These people act as if they had nothing to do with the reasons for this recession-fast-becoming-a-depression. NOW they have all the answers. NOW they've found their integrity. NOW they stand on principal. Where the hell were they when the Bush Bunch was steamrolling us into near oblivion?

In case they've missed it, let me just remind them that it was on their watch that the de-reg party went into full swing. Oh, what fun they all had at our expense. Their message to us po' folks was, "Get out of our way while we drink from the fount of Greed. Someday, if you play your cards right, you can drink from it, too." (That's how GWB was able to wrangle eight years in our White House. Half the country bought into that absurdity. Their real message was, "We deserve it and you don't, so don't hold your breath. But keep on keeping us here".)

We've paid dearly for their drunken excesses, and the bills keep piling up. They nearly destroyed us and now, instead of feeling any sense of shame, they want to shove us aside again in order to keep their swanky soirees going.

(By the way, last night, when President Obama addressed congress for the first time, he introduced Ty'Sheoma Bethea, a high school student from South Carolina--Sanford's state--who had written a letter to members of congress pleading for help to save her crumbling school. Obama quoted from her letter: "We are not quitters. That's what she said. We are not quitters." Tell that to Mark Sanford.)

Here in Michigan, a labor state, we're hurting more than most because we're still under the apparent delusion that manufacturing is a necessary component to a strong, vibrant nation. Silly us.

In her weekly radio address, our governor, Jennifer Granholm, said, "We will be using this federal recovery funding to create all kinds of jobs for all kinds of people. We'll create jobs today building infrastructure, fixing roads and bridges, and repairing sewers all across the state. And we'll create jobs tomorrow by creating demand for new alternative energy products and projects. We'll be investing in a new energy infrastructure and weatherizing homes and businesses from one end of the state to the other."

Sounds like a plan. So if Mark Sanford and Bobby Jindal and Haley Barbour don't want the money for the people of their states--and if the people of their states go along with that whole cutting-off-their-noses-to-spite-their-faces game--we Michiganders will gladly take it off their hands. We have plenty of uses for it, none of which involves lining pockets or selling down rivers.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

S.O.L -- Save our Labor

It's fashionable these days among the politicians, pundits and so-called experts to claim that free trade is actually good for us. They say it enables us to buy cheaper goods made with cheap foreign labor and this, in turn, raises our standard of living. With all due respect, the free traders need to ask themselves a more fundamental question: how will Americans buy those goods when they don't even have a paycheck that covers their mortgage, much less the college tuition for their children?

Virg Bernero, Mayor, Lansing, MI

Virg Bernero is my new hero. The mayor of Lansing, Michigan is taking the message of the American laborer and shoving it so tightly down the throats of the pundits, they're getting bilious just thinking about him.

When they began inviting him onto their shows last fall to talk about the prospects of a Big Three bailout, they thought they were dealing with the biggest yokel on the planet. This'll be fun! You could see it in the smirks on their faces, in their sit-back-and-laugh postures, in their questions meant to provoke rather than inform. Outside of Ron Gettelfinger, the president of UAW, (I'm elevating him to hero status, too), who the heck would be out there speaking FOR labor these days? And who in their right mind would do it on, of all places, Fox News?

Well, it turns out that Virg would--every chance he got--and once he was on a roll, nobody was going to shut him up. In November he sparred with Neil Cavuto twice in three days.

In December he did it again, caling the Auto Companies "the most patriotic companies in America". Virg says when all the other companies were shipping their jobs overseas, the American auto companies stayed in America. It's true--to a point. They have shipped some jobs overseas, just not as many. But can we talk about this? Apparently not. See how quickly he's bid a fond adieu by the interviewers.

Here he spends some quality time with some of the folks at CNN--John Roberts, Ali Velshi, Ciran Chetry and Christine Romans--all apparent experts on what this country needs to get going again.

Ali Velshi to Virg: ". . .It's the fact that things are made more cheaply in other parts of the world, which has, in a lot of cases, helped many Americans in their standard of living. They've been able to buy cheaper goods."

Virg: "I disagree vehemently. . ." (It was early in the interview. Virg hadn't gotten his steam up.)

Virg, picking up speed: "I'm tired of hearing the American worker being beat up upon, and people told you need to be more competitive; you need to be more competitive. What they're really talking about is 'cut your wages, cut your benefits, work for nothing, like some peasant somewhere else in the world'. Well, I'm sorry--I'm tired of the American standard of living brought down to the lowest common denominator. We need fair trade agreements fairly enforced."

Christine Romans, using the tired 'some people say' tactic , said: "You will hear from a lot of decision makers that manufacturing is very 20th century and this is a service economy and that we have to innovate and we have to come up with the next thing that's going to move the economy forward. How does that square with Michigan and its labor base?"

Lordy, did she really say that? Yes, Virg heard it, too, but to his credit, given the condescension dripping from her tongue, he remembered what his mother taught him about being polite to women--even silly women--and gave Ms. Romans way more nice than she deserved.

"With all due respect," Virg said, "That--what you just said--I've heard it before. I'm not saying this about you. . . "

Okay. With that out of the way, he wasted no time in getting back on track:

". . .But that is absolute bull. That has been perpetrated by Wall Street. The idea that you can be a service economy. . .What are you servicing? How can you service. . . What are you going to serve? Hamburgers? That is total, utter nonsense that Wall Street has been spewing for years. That's part of the unholy alliance. We need manufacturing in this country. Manufacturing is at the apex of the economy. When you give up manufacturing, you are giving up your future."

That interview was on February 6. I don't know where else Virg has been since then, but just the other day (February 18) he finally quit sparring and went for the jugular, totally obliterating Fox News's Greg Jarrett, who just wanted to know why the unions shouldn't go ahead and give their concession speeches already and get out of Big Business's hair.

Oh, that Virg! He has to talk fast, and he has to talk straight, because it may not be long before the air waves are closed to him forever. You can't have pro-labor people out there making too much sense.

The interesting thing about the Bernero blitz is that those talking points are nothing new. It's a conversation that has gone on in every labor family, ever since unions began surfacing in the early part of the 20th Century. During the Reagan years, when the systematic undermining of labor unions began to get serious, the conversations grew hot and heavy, but, outside of the interested few, nobody else cared.

Along with watching the government-condoned slow but sure destruction of our labor unions, most of the country sat passively still while Big Business thumbed their noses at good old American Can-Do and Know-How by moving major chunks of our formerly vibrant manufacturing base outside our borders. A precious few protested when millions of jobs were outsourced and lost to Americans on the strength of wage packages alone. For years it was okay by us (you, that is) that millions of American wage-earners took home smaller paychecks and forfeited better benefits so that the Fat Cats who owned the businesses could live the life-styles of Sultans and Kings.

This is what happened because of it:
Our economy has collapsed in ways we couldn't have even imagined a mere eight years ago, on Inaugural Day, 2000.

We're in a protracted war brought on by hubris and greed, and encouraged by stupidity.

We owe our souls to our national credit company, communist China, and we can't pay them back because we don't make anything anymore.

Health care costs are going through the roof while health care benefits are a thing of the past for many, many millions.

Our food, our water, our very air isn't safe.

We're slowly selling off our natural resources to the highest bidder because we can't afford to keep them anymore.

And hundreds of thousands of American citizens are losing their jobs every month. (That's every month.)

So this shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody, given the sorry state of our nation, but the Fat Cat glory days are over. You'll be getting no more sacrificial lambs from what's left of our puny work force. Even the workers in the south are finally waking up to the con game called "low wages and no benefits are good for me and you--especially me".

In order to build an essential, strong labor force in this country, we need labor activists to combat the still mighty hold of the greedy Kings of Commerce who would rather see our nation destroyed than give up their thrones.

People like Virg Bernero and Ron Gettelfinger and, occasionaly, Barack Obama, understand the important role labor needs to play in order to bring us back to prosperity. We need good jobs that pay well in order to get back to spending again. (People without money don't buy things. I'm just saying, because some people still don't get it.)

On the campaign trail Barack Obama said, loud and clear, "I believe we have to reverse many of the policies toward organized labor that we have seen over the past eight years, policies with which I have sharply disagreed." and "You cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement."

Hold him to that. Labor doesn't have a chance if it doesn't organize. "Solidarity Forever" isn't just a song. It's a battle cry again.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

LiBeRaL: Not a Four-Letter Word

I've always been proud to be a Liberal. I've never gone the "Progressive" route, and I probably never will. I see the word "Progressive" not as the definition of an enlightened liberal, but as a way to be liberal without having to admit to it.

The Right Wing never gives up on trying to convince everyone that Liberals hate America. Their mantra: The Liberals are all that stand in the way of true economic success . The Liberals want to hug terrorists, and hug trees, and hug Welfare moms driving Cadillacs. The Liberals want Big Government, a Nanny State, and the abolishment of all signs of Christianity, including slogans on tee shirts saying things like, "Jesus Loves Me, How About You?" (No, I don't love you and I think you look silly, but I'm a Liberal.  So, whatever. . .)

We Liberals got wimpy for an unconscionable number of years--I admit it--but now we need to work hard to make up for it. I'm not good at numbers, but I know enough to be terrified when I read that over 600,000 people lost their jobs in one month, or that more than 80 million people have health insurance that ranges from inadequate to none, or that home foreclosures doubled last year from those in 2007: From 404,000 in 2007 to 861,000 in 2008.

Those are big, big numbers, signifying abject misery for every single American affected by them. If you've got any Liberal leanings at all, start thinking of those big numbers in terms of real people. Get on the damned bandwagon and do something, for God's sake! Nobody else is going to do it.

I get it that after all that Right Wing blabbering and battering, you need a little pep talk first. Start here. This is "Seven Habits of Truly Liberal People", K. Anthony Appiah's review of Alan Wolfe's "The Future of Liberalism".

In the review, Appiah says:
"Temperament, substance, procedure can all be liberal, and understanding liberalism requires a grasp of all three and of the connections among them.
Wolfe's distinctive claim, however, is that the key to liberalism is a set of dispositions, or habits of mind—seven of them, in fact, each of which gets its own chapter.

Four of these dispositions will be familiar: 'a sympathy for equality,' 'an inclination to deliberate,' 'a commitment to tolerance,' and 'an appreciation of openness.' We're used to the portrayal: liberals as talky, tolerant, open-minded, egalitarians. It's not surprising, then, that these types are at home in the garrulous world of the academy—or that bossy preachers, convinced they have the one true story, do not care for them much. But Wolfe's sketch of the liberal adds three unfamiliar elements to the picture: 'a disposition to grow,' 'a preference for realism,' and 'a taste for governance.'"

We Liberals know down deep who we are, but it's that "taste for governance" that hasn't been talked about much. We've let ourselves be convinced that Big Government is death to civilization as we know it. What ninnies we've been! Have you seen what a non-governing Government (deregulation, look-the-other-way, favor our buddies and nobody else) has done to us?

Appiah paraphrasing Wolfe again (Maybe he should write a book.) :
 "Anti-liberals think that we should have as little government as we can get away with because the real achievements of humanity come from the self-organized activity of the economy and of private life. This conviction is to be found both to liberalism's left—Marx, after all, hoped the state would wither away—and to its right, among those modern conservatives who believe, as Ronald Reagan put it, that government is the problem. For liberals, the problem is bad government, and there is a vast range of government that, when done well, is as creative and important as anything human beings do."

Okay. That's us in a nutshell. So go ahead and read the book when you have time, but right now we have bigger fish to fry. Millions of people are hurting in our country. They're not all Liberals, but with our Big Hearts and Open Minds (see above) we can do this. Yes, we can. (Or so it says on some of the better tee shirts I've seen.)

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Long, Long Season of Shame

I used to love to watch John Leonard review movies on CBS's "Sunday Morning". I never knew what he was talking about but I sure loved the sound of his words. Every week, after he finished his review, my husband and I would turn to each other and say, in almost perfect unison, "So? Did he like it or not?" (John Leonard died last November 8, four days after the presidential election. He was only 69. Way too young to die for anybody, but especially young for a wise old owl like Leonard. He was gravely ill but he mustered up nearly the last of his energy in order to vote for Barack Obama. I rarely understood the man but I wasn't the least bit surprised. I knew he would never have voted for McCain/Palin.)

One Sunday he was talking about a plague of spectacularly vile horror movies that had descended upon us that year. At the very end, he heaved that long, sad sigh heard so often during the Bush years and said, loud and clear, "I'm old enough to remember when America still felt shame."

I thought about John Leonard and that remark last week when I was in a Books-a-Million and I wandered over to their Joe Muggs coffee shop. Every table had a tri-folded advertising stand-up and they were all exactly the same. One side focused on BAM's membership advantages, one side told about Joe Muggs's latest Cappuccino flavor, and the third advertised Ann Coulter's newest paean to hate, "GUILTY: Liberal Victims and their Assault on America".

I guessed that Coulter's publisher, Random House (Bennett Cerf must be spinning down there), paid a pretty penny for their third of the stand-ups--an offer BAM maybe couldn't refuse--but couldn't BAM at least have tried to find another publisher--one who recognizes, celebrates and rewards good literature--willing to pay the same? For every Coulter fan turned on by the image of their favorite dominatrix taking a military stance, glaring out at us from above the word "Guilty". . .(Oh, I see now. A bit of sabotage by the cover designer? From a distance it looks like Ann's the criminal. I LIKE it!) . . .they're going to find people like me who just don't get the appeal of hatemongers.

The hateful have always been among us, but never so forcefully or in such great numbers. When I hear that millions of people are buying Coulter's ugly, inaccurate books or gushing over the nonsensical rantings of Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Hannity, Malkin, and a host of other snarling snipes, I have to wonder who these supposedly sentient inhabitants of the 21st Century, these self-anointed cultural caretakers, these self-appointed arbiters of our United States, these (Must I say it?) Voters really are.
(Stop me! I'm lapsing into a really bad imitation of Leonard-speak!)

Anyway. . .I want to shout to them (because I don't want to get too near): What are you people doing? You glorified and deified Ronald Reagan, a "leader" who almost singlehandedly killed the unions and who gave the destruction of the lower and middle classes such a boost we may never recover from it. He filled his cabinet with anti-government goons who reveled in showing their muscle, depriving poor kids of healthy school lunches by seizing on ketchup as a good enough vegetable, by turning our public lands over to as much private enterprise as their eight year reign would allow, and by introducing "deregulation" into our every day lexicon.

You so longed for the total destruction of Bill Clinton, a popular president not of your choosing or your party, that you readily bought into-- and passed along with a giddy vengeance--the notion that a really sleazy sex life was immediate grounds for something as serious and as rare as impeachment.

On the other hand, you turned your heads and closed your minds to any real evidence that, after Clinton (the really popular president) completed his eight years more or less honorably (no thanks to you), the woefully inadequate one you then so carelessly chose and so happily ensconced was everything you hoped he wouldn't be.

But even after the Bush Administration took the astonishingly shortsighted and murderous detour to Iraq, presided over the sickening mishandling of Katrina, initiated programs that severely undermined the lives of all but the super rich--showing their true colors at every turn--you still came out in huge numbers to put them back into office for four more years!

And even after he proved you wrong so many times, and even after you and your fathers and your mothers and your sisters and your brothers and everyone else you ever came into contact in your entire life got the shaft from George W. Bush and the Republicans, did you finally come to recognize the error of your ways? Did you promise to donate every penny you ever make as long as you live to help take care of those millions of victims who were doing, if not splendidly, at least pretty much okay until your guys came along? Did you press for jail sentences for your former buddies? Something--anything--to wipe those stupid grins off of Bush/Cheney's evil mugs? Did you at least give up Chocolate on Thursdays??

No. You didn't. Instead, you bought Ann Coulter's books and went on listening to Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Hannity, Malkin and that host of--others. You're over on Newsmax right now yucking it up over Obama's middle name and passing it on that Michelle is a Mother.

I see I'm not getting through to you. . .but I know someone who recognizes shame when he sees it. Watch and learn:


Monday, February 9, 2009

Is There Nothing Sacred in this Country?

UAW-CIO mural, Romulus, Michigan
painted by Walter Speck, head of the Detroit WPA Arts project, 1937
(Click here to read more)

I read an article in the New York Times today by Tracie Rozhon entitled "New Deal Architecture Faces Bulldozer". She writes:
"Hundreds of buildings commissioned by the Works Progress Administration and Roosevelt’s other 'alphabet' agencies are being demolished or threatened with destruction, mourned or fought over by small groups of citizens in a new national movement to save the architecture of the New Deal."
We have a nasty habit in this country when it comes to old buildings.  We refuse to see value in them once walls begin to crumble and windows begin to fall out.  No matter their history, when the time comes that they require some major TLC (and it will. They're OLD!) they become liabilities and committees quickly form to figure out how they can get around that old historical nostalgia thing and convince the public that an old building is just an old building and even when it's gone they'll still have the memories.

"It’s ironic to be tearing [WPA structures] down just when America is going through tough times again,” wrote biographer Robert A. Caro, in his 1974 book, “The Power Broker, “ We should be preserving them and honoring them. They serve as monuments to the fact that it is possible to combine infrastructure with beauty.”

If you've gone across this country anywhere at all, chances are you've seen something that was built as part of Roosevelt's WPA Project, designed to put millions of people back to work in the 1930s.
You've seen beautiful bridges, roads, parks, and public buildings. You've seen murals in railroad stations and libraries, commissioned by the New Deal visionaries, and painted by out-of-work artists.

The Painted Desert Inn at Arizona's Petrified Forest National Park was a WPA project built in the 1930s by the young men and boys in the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) . We visited it a few years ago, and I was completely enthralled by the work that went into it. As a works project during the depression, the designers and facilitators could simply have put up a utilitarian building and left it at that. But they made it a work of art to complement the stunning beauty of its surroundings.

It had been abandoned and neglected until recent years, but thanks to more current visionaries, it's been lovingly restored. It is no longer an inn, but the murals, the chandeliers, the painted glass ceiling and the magnificent stucco work of the 1930s are intact. (Click here to see more pictures of the building.)
Painted Desert Inn, built by CCC Corps 1935-40
Murals, posts and vigas created and completed by CCC Corps

Glass ceiling, painted by CCC Corps

In my online travels researching this post, I found this remarkable website with photos of some of the other WPA projects across the country. It's not complete by any means--there were thousands--but it gives an idea of the scope of the projects, and, more importantly, the worth.

You've seen the heartbreaking photographs of Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans and you've read the clear and poignant words of writers like Eudora Welty, Saul Bellow, John Cheever, Richard Wright and Zora Neale Hurston--all employed by the government during the days of the WPA.
"I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean- to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me.There was a sort of equality about it. "
(From: Popular Photography, Feb. 1960. Dorothea Lange describing the series of migratory farm labor photographs she took in February or March of 1936 in Nipomo, California called "Migratory Mother")

Yes, the New Deal WPA programs were make-work projects. And yes, they could be considered entitlements, since their work wasn't what most would consider "necessary". But oh, the treasures they produced! (Deny that, you dolts in Washington, who still believe, all evidence to the contrary, that the heart and soul of this country lies in keeping the Upper Class uppermost).

In "American Life Histories", from the Library of Congress, I found manuscripts from the Federal Writer's Project, 1936-1940. Every state in the union produced a WPA guidebook written by the writers of the day. In one of them, for the Georgia Writer's Project, Mrs. Ada Redford interviewed Mr. Clifford Farr, owner of the Skinner Clothing Company in Augusta on July 17, 1940. Here's an excerpt:

Ada Redford: "What do you think caused the depression?"

Clifford Farr: "It would take a more brilliant mind than mine to tell you the real cause. My ideas along with a lot of other small merchants is about the same. It was Wall Street against the world, along with a political upheaval, in other words, a Republican trick. Millionaires were made over night from the life savings of others. The war got the credit for a lot of and rightly so. I remember the close of the Spanish American War; cotton dropped to 3 1/2 and 4 cents a pound, why? Politics and the little man being crushed and beggared by the man or men who were in power. Take my business for instance; before the last depression fourteen families were being supported from it; my own personal loss was 50%. I was worth around $40,000 with an income of $5,000. That was cut in half and today my average is a little more than $3,000."
Ada: "What to you think of conditions today?"
Clifford: "They are about the same as the pre-war days of the last World War. When this program is over, there will be an increase in business. The present administration is wise now to all the Republican tricks and there will not be another depression such as Hoover and the Republicans caused. The people in our country know now that it was a political trick to enrich the big man and make beggars out of the little man. We have more unemployed than any other country in the world today, and the cry is that this is a machine age. That is true, to a great extent, but who built the machines? Where did the money come from? Out of the pockets of the working man? Again I say, 'Wall street against the world.' "

These words, those photographs, along with the thousands of other treasures that came out of the New Deal, not only should be, but
must be preserved. There are tribes of dangerous power-mongers who want to re-write history and ignore the obvious signs of a country turning back on itself, but we can't let that happen.

Those buildings, those parks, those bridges, those artworks, those words, were crafted by a people who came out of a darkness artificially created by hubris and greed. They built a new America for us. The least we can do to preserve the memory of those hard times is to preserve the wonders their hard labor created after the New Deal administration finally saw the light and gave them hope.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Diogenes and Me - On the Road Again

To paraphrase the great Joan Cusack in "In and Out", as she stood in the bar in her wedding gown, looking for a marrying man, "Is everybody sleazy?"

I've spent more than 50 voting years looking for an honest politician. It's always been in my best interest to choose the honest ones, and, most of the time, the ones I've chosen have been mostly honest. But--I don't know--maybe I set my sights too high. I really, even now, expect them to behave the way they said they would.

I wanted to believe Bill Clinton when he said through his teeth, "I've never had sexual relations with that woman!" I liked Bill and I thought, as presidents go, he was good for the country.

I wanted to believe John Edwards when he said, with love in his eyes, that Elizabeth was all the woman he ever wanted. I liked John and believed with all my heart that he could help us out of this mess.

I wanted to believe that Bill Richardson was as pure as the driven White Sands, but two Pay-for-Play scandals in a row, along with a flurry of truth-checks, gives me pause. I liked Bill and had every faith that he would have served our country well.

And, more important to you, me, the state of the economy, and the plight of the world, I wanted to believe that George W. Bush would set aside his childish ways and suddenly become a grown-up. (No, I'm kidding here. I never for a scanty second thought he would.)

And now, at my age, I've been bedazzled by this new one, Barack Obama. I like Obama, and let's face it, I want to believe every darned word he ever said. I believed him, for instance, when he said he wouldn't hire lobbyists or special interest flunkies. Why wouldn't I believe him? He HATED those damned lobbyists and special interest flunkies. Didn't he?

(Let me stop and explain myself, because, except for that one lapse, I've only been talking about Democrats here. After 50 years, the Democrats are like family to me. And you know how it is with families; we tend to love them, faults and all. We look the other way when they embarrass us. We suffer silently when they disappoint us. But finally, when they just won't behave, no matter how many times we remind them that we're the good guys, we have to get together for some serious intervention.)

So that brings me to Tom Daschle. I really like Tom Daschle. I was heartbroken when he lost his bid for re-election in 2006. I wanted to believe that Mr. Daschel, soft spoken, modest--one of us-- would continue the good fight Somewhere Out There. I saw pictures of him driving a rickety old car along the streets of D.C, bless his Midwestern heart, and I thought, there's a man who knows where his bread is buttered.

So imagine my surprise when I heard he'd been taking millions from the folks we thought he was fighting against, and tooling around Washington in the back of some millionaire's Town Car. Has he never heard of taxis? Rental cars? Or, here's a thought--when he agreed to come and talk to those groups, couldn't he have asked nicely to be picked up at the airport and delivered to wherever he was going? (I've been one of those airport picker-uppers for semi-famous people. Believe me, there are people standing in line just waiting for a chance to get those VIPS in the car, where they're then held captive for what must seem like hours, subject to the most vapid conversations that consist mainly of observations about the weather. The only consolation is that the ride is free; no strings attached once you step outside of the vehicle.)

***I started this post yesterday, and I'm still waiting to hear how a single person can rack up $120,000 in taxes alone for a part-time car and driver. That's six figures--just for the taxes. I think there's some mighty 'splainin' to do, and I'm all ears. (What is a Town Car, anyway?)

I am sick of greed. I'm sick of sleaze--even legal sleaze. What influence was Daschle peddling and why was it worth many millions of dollars? Consider this: If he had really wanted to get his message across to the Health Care industry, he could have done it for a lot less than a few million dollars. He could have said it this way, in plain-spoken, midwestern English:

"Guys, the ride is over. You either tighten your belts and stop gouging us or I've got three words for you. Universal Health Care."

If he had done that, today he would be Secretary of Health and Human Services, and tomorrow he would have rolled up his sleeves and gotten to work. He would have been where we needed him to be, and somewhere down the road a Good Man could have made us proud.