Author's posts

Jul 04

Climate Refugees

I’ve been thinking about climate refugees for awhile, partly inspired by all those pictures of Dust Bowl refugees from the 1930s.  Floods and famines have forced people to leave their homes for greener pastures throughout recorded history, and presumably before that.  

But nowadays we’ve got a new kind of climate refugee:  Rising sea levels are driving people from their homes in many corners of the planet.  A case in point is the Carteret Islands of Papua New Guinea, a low lying coral atoll, home to 2500 people.  

Cross-posted from DK GreenRoots/Eco-Week at Daily Kos.

May 24


In this diary, we address more directly what I’ve mostly skirted around in this New Deal series – something I’m completely unqualified to talk about.  That being race relations in the South.  I know it’s a cheap shot to give a diary this potentially misleading title, but I couldn’t resist.  STFU stands for Southern Tenant Farmers Union, which organization this diary will come around to after some introduction.


     Delta Cooperative Farm, Hillhouse, Mississippi, July 4, 1936

     (Dorothea Lange for the Resettlement Administration)

STFU was an important progressive organization in its day.  I’ve come across the argument that it was a key precursor to the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s.  There’s probably something to that.

Apr 15

Black Sunday

Yesterday was the anniversary of some mammoth multi-state dust storms.  Robert Geiger (AP) wrote on 4/15/35:

Three little words achingly familiar on a Western farmer’s tongue, rule life in the dust bowl of the continent – if it rains.

The name “Dust Bowl” stuck, first coined on today’s date 74 years ago.  The rains didn’t return until four years later.  When the dust settled in April 1935, scenes like this were repeated throughout the high plains region.

Crops were ruined.  Farms produced nothing.  Livestock died en masse.  There was no one to sell to.  People abandoned them in droves, with little more than the clothes on their back to show for many years of hard work building their homesteads.

The 1930s Dust Bowl is often referred to as a natural disaster.  But that’s not quite right.  Human activities, en masse, had everything to do with it.

Apr 08

1000 Words, 1000 Years

It’s been awhile since my last entry in my series on the New Deal.  I’ve dipped into the motherlode of picture archives – the FSA pix from the Library of Congress, and got lost amongst the rich legacy therein for a time.  Starting with Dorothea Lange, with some 4000 entries.  This picture of hers is one of the most iconic from the period:

A picture’s worth a thousand words, right?  And everyone thinks they know what this picture’s about.  But consider the caption that goes with:

Migrant agricultural worker’s family. Seven hungry children. Mother aged thirty-two. Destitute in pea picker’s camp, Nipomo, California, because of the failure of the early pea crop. These people had just sold their tent in order to buy food. Of the twenty-five hundred people in this camp most of them were destitute.

Permanently changed my understanding of the picture.  Throughout the diary, text in italics is direct quotes from the photographers notes

Cross-posted from Daily Kos

Feb 23

Second Class Citizens

This is another entry in my New Deal pictorial series.  It just takes a roundabout route to get there.  

We start a generation before the Great Depression, as Seattle photographer Edward Curtis was traveling the west for his epic photographic record of Native Americans.  This may be the best known of his of his thousands of images, each contact printed from 14×17 inch glass plate negatives, and rendered in copper plate photogravure for limited edition publication:


It’s Cañon de Chelly in Navajo country near Chinle, AZ, photographed 1904.  There’s a lot of controversies and opinions on Curtis’s work, which might rightly be called his mission.  Or even obsession.  I’m gonna add a few opinions of my own, some context, and then bring it around to the New Deal.

Feb 10

Welcome to Hooverville

Let me say it right up front: I’m getting sick and tired of the charlatan blowhards claiming that the New Deal “didn’t work”.  I was already mulling over a diary on this, when a Feb. 3 article by Charles McMillion (Blog for America’s Future) came to my attention:

The monthly data for industrial production show a near three-year collapse under President Hoover, ending when FDR came to office in March 1933. Production rocketed by 44 percent in the first three months of the New Deal and, by December 1936, had completely recovered to surpass its 1929 peak.

GDP, only available as annual averages, plunged 25.6 percent from 1929-1932, including by 13.0 percent in 1932. It stabilized in 1933, and then soared by 10.8 percent, 8.9 percent and 12.0 percent, respectively, in 1934, 1935 and 1936. Real GDP surpassed its 1929 peak in 1936 and never again fell below it. After-tax personal income, consumer spending, real private investment and jobs all reached or surpassed their 1929 peaks by late 1936.

It’s time to take a peek at President Hoover’s policies.

Cross posted at DailyKos

Feb 08

Class Warfare: Heroic Labor (pictorial)

One thing about the New Deal is that it was well documented.  Some of the best photographers of the day were hired by Roy Stryker in the Farm Security Administration.  Lewis Hine worked for the TVA/CCC.  

Pretty much every New Deal agency sent photographers out to document both the need for their activities, and also the results.  There’s some terrific photographs which don’t have the artist identified.  And I do mean artist.

Back in the days of the New Deal, there was a lot of emphasis on work.  On labor actually.  Organized labor was a force, and the powers that be were worried about insurrection from the left in the US.  So it’s not surprising that work is depicted in an heroic light.  

In light of the debates over what is or isn’t worthy of inclusion in the stimulus package, I thought it might be interesting to look at work in FDR’s day.

Cross posted at Daily Kos

Feb 04

Class Warfare Pix: The So-Called Death Tax

Nowadays, the Rockefellers are probably best known as the namesake for the TV show 30Rock.  One of them, Nelson, was the unelected Republican Vice President under Gerald Ford after Nixon resigned.  100 years ago, along with Morgan and Carnegie and others, John D. Rockefeller was just another robber baron getting rich beyond imagination on oil and coal and steel and railroads.

A brutal massacre of mineworkers at his Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, in Ludlow, Colorado, became a shocking national scandal – not unlike the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.  (The pic is of one of the militia guys who did the killing.)  Some say that Rockefeller’s kids were so ashamed, they eventually put much of the family fortune into the various Rockefeller Foundations, as an attempt to redeem the family legacy.

Cross-posted at Daily Kos

Feb 03

Time for a Little Class Warfare (music & pix)

This is a followup to my diary on Post Office Murals in the New Deal.  

Lewis Hine was a great photographer, and also an intrepid social activist.  Amongst his most famous works are pictures of child laborers in the early part of the 20th century, for the National Child Labor Committee.  The black and white slides with this music are mostly all by Hine.

Cross-posted from Daily Kos

Jan 18

Bread and Roses (New Deal TRAP Murals)

I’ve been thinking that some exploration of the public works of the New Deal might be useful.  And right away, I stumbled upon a program I’d never heard of.  Under the auspices of the Treasury Department, TRAP placed murals in post offices around the country.


Mexican muralist (& “class warrior”) Diego Rivera was an important inspiration for the project.  This is one of his works from Mexico City.


He was commissioned to do a mural at Rockefeller Center, but that didn’t work out so well.  JD’s spawn objected to VI Lenin appearing in the work, and ordered it destroyed.  A smaller version was recreated in Mexico.

Cross-posted at Daily Kos

Sep 26

Court Smacks Palin Down on Native Alaskan Moose Hunt

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, avid helicopter hunter and lifetime NRA member, has opposed native subsistence rights ever since she came into office.  Tuesday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said “Thanks but no thanks” to her ongoing efforts to ban indigenous moose harvest.

Federal trust responsibility for Native people meant that the Federal Subsistence Management program followed all appropriate procedures in its ruling for moose harvest by the Cheesh-na Athabaskans of the tiny inland village of Cristochina.

“Palin’s attack here has targeted (among others) the Ahtna Indian people in Chistochina; and although the federal court last year rejected this challenge, too, Palin has refused to lay down her arms,” wrote Kendall-Miller and her husband, Lloyd Miller, another prominent Native rights attorney.

The State’s challenge was rejected on straightforward legal grounds.  It seems unlikely that the Supreme Court will hear a further appeal should Palin take time out from the campaign trail to pursue it.  This decision will probably stand.  With more GOP judges appointed?  Perhaps not…

Oct 22

Go Indians! (Vernon Bellecourt R.I.P)

A friend from Taos Pueblo invited me out for a drink the other night.  Turns out she had something on her mind.  “I hardly ever ask you to do anything.  You have to write a blog about the Cleveland Indians mascot because of the World series.” It’s a big issue in Indian Country.  And so, I am carrying out my friend’s wishes.

And, as it happens, Vernon Bellecourt, a leader of the American Indian Movement, was buried last week, so this story serves as a memorial to him, too.  The depiction of native peoples by teams like the Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Braves, Washington Redskins, and countless college and high school teams around the country is unconscionable.

(I put this in for the music only – and a reminder that no matter who thinks sports mascot protests are too serious and “PC”, there’s always lots of laughter in Indian country):

Cross-posted at Daily Kos

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