A top economist explains the mess Americans have made

One of the world’s smartest economists, Dean Baker has new book out. It’s called “The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive.” You can read a summary and download the book for free by clicking here.

I have only begun to read it, but this seems to be the main thesis:

The political system and the “free market” are rigged (and increasingly so) to the advantage of the rich and powerful, but progressives continually make the mistake of accepting the right’s spin that this rigging is somehow “natural.”

This is from Baker’s website: Read more


More political shenanigans from the coast

As a resident of the Cape Fear area, seems nothing can surprise.  Assemblyman in jail, sheriff indicted, ABC board buying real estate with public funds without any public disclosure or oversight, rampant municipally approved building in "protected" wetlands areas.  But a TV spot last night beat all as far as I'm concerned.

I've supported Julia Boseman and have voted for her. I think she's an effective voice in Raleigh for our area and the state as a whole, sensitive to concerns of both Old and New Wilmington.  Shucks, her people even wrote me a letter when there was an article about my business in the paper.   My feeling has always been that people's lives are their business, and they should be entitled to live those lives as they desire as long as they don't impact negatively or injure others in the process. But, if you decide to enter the public arena through government employment on politics on any level, then your conduct immediately goes under scrutiny that has to be at least acknowledged.

As most of you know, some untoward disclosures about Ms. Boseman have come to light in recent weeks.   A foreclosure on a jointly owned property, admission of pot smoking in the recent past, custody fights over an adopted son with a previous partner, even a disclosed public "lip lock" at a very public NASCAR event. 

Ms. Boseman is currently airing a thirty second tv spot where she implies much of the impetus for her recent bad PR stems from her fighting for what's right for her son, just as you or I would.  In addition, the commercial has the unique feel of slick production values only attainable with financial resources from outside the Cape Fear area.  Mere words can't express the depth of my disappointment for her lack of class, culpability, or even sense of what is really happening.

I consider myself to be pretty "alternate lifestyle tolerant", but I can't stomach a progressively minded politician falling into the same muck that makes most other elected officials so unsavory.  Get your life together, pay your bills, but don't wave the flag of family values as a crass attempt to regain public support.  I never felt Julia would loose my vote, but I'm feeling pretty disappointed in one elected official that I thought had some good ideas and was effective in carrying them out.


Aspiration and compassion

During an interview last week with Steve Inskeep on NPR , British Prime Minister Tony Blair said something that resonated with me. He said,

[T]he Labour party should be the marriage of aspiration and compassion. That there's nothing wrong with wanting the best for yourself and your family, it's just that you don't want to exclude that possibility for other families, too.

There’s a lesson in that statement for North Carolinians.

Yesterday during the Crucial Conversation luncheon about the state of North Carolina’s mental health system, I listened as numerous parents describe their personal ordeals trying to find mental health or developmental services for their children. These were parents, who like me, only wanted to provide what was best for their children. The mental health parity bill would help many families whose only aspiration is providing care for their family members. 

I hope, as state, we can find the compassion to put in place the systems and services so that all families can have an opportunity to thrive.


Imus Is Us

Is there anything to be learned in the Don Imus firing for people who debate and advocate for progressive causes? Yes. There is a take-home message which I will discuss in a moment. First, however, there is a lesson here for Americans regarding hypocrisy and prejudice.

It is my belief that we all harbor a toxic brew of prejudiced stereotypes by which we make judgments on the essential “goodness” of others. Is there anyone out there whose mind is so beautifully vacuous that they have no preconceived opinions? Isn’t there a little Imus in all of us? Let’s see. Take the following quiz:

Do you make assumptions about the decency of others when you see the following: an NRA sticker on a pick-up truck; a thin, smoking woman in a fur; a panhandler; luxury cars parked at an all-white WASP country club; an atheist with an ACLU card; an obese man using food stamps in a supermarket check-out line talking on a cell phone; a bearded man holding a Koran at the check-in line at the airport; a male hairdresser; a Hummer with a magnetic yellow “support the troops” ribbon; an Irish bartender; a televangelist asking for donations; or a comment by Dallas Woodhouse.

If your thoughts were absolutely pure reading that list (particularly the last one) then by all means be outraged with Imus. Meanwhile, the rest of us should take a long, hard look at ourselves and our prejudices. We have a lot of work to do. In my opinion, the only ones who should be legitimately “outraged” over this are the women of the Rutgers basketball team.

Unfortunately, the likelihood that the Imus flap will start a “national dialogue” on race gets more remote every day. The 24 hour news cycle has already exhausted the Virginia Tech shootings, the Gonzales testimony, and the Edwards haircut. This week we will be focused on Sanjaya Malakar, Iraq war funding, and…well , you get the idea.

Now for the take-home message for progressives. The Imus and Duke lacrosse stories remind us that bigotry is pervasive in our country. I’m too cynical to believe that making Don Imus a sacrificial lamb will change the underlying prejudicial attitudes in America. And that is precisely why we should focus on institutional (i.e. policy) solutions. One way to keep the playing field level for women and minorities is through progressive education and health policies. But the most important way to guarantee equal opportunity is to defend and preserve our civil liberties. And the most important of those is freedom of speech. Imus’s comments were odious, but irrelevant. His dismissal will do nothing to advance race relations in America or make society less vulgar.


Will Dixie Rise?

In this week’s Nation magazine both Tom Schaller and Bob Moser have their final say on whether it is possible to build a progressive movement in the South that is a powerful champion for working Americans. Unfortunately, for now, it is behind a subscription wall. The original Progressive Pulse post on this subject is here. What follows is a summary of the authors’ rebuttals:

Schaller: Can’t be done and shouldn’t be tried.  Schaller still believes transforming Dixie is a fool’s errand and a waste of precious resources.  He cites high racial tensions and low unionization rates as factors which will not allow a successful appeal for economic populism. His solution: “Continue importing non-native Southerners to the region because the white South is not quite ready” (for populist appeals).

Moser counters: (Economic populism) has never really been tried in the South, and now is the time. Moser downplays “negative racial attitudes” as a factor. He contends that high poverty levels, the loss of manufacturing jobs, and increasing income inequality make the South potentially receptive to a strong message of economic fairness.

In the end, I come down strongly in favor of Moser’s approach which is that a message of progressive economic populism could transform Southern politics. Progressive Southerners should welcome this debate, and not because it might lead to electoral victories.  This is an issue of morality and economic justice.  Already, America would like to forget the unraveling of New Orleans.  Politics, and political campaigns, have the power to transform a region.  Recall how John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential trip to Appalachia drew attention to the “Other America.” 

If the quality of life in our region is going to improve for everyone, it will be because we Southerners are united in our belief that good jobs, fair wages, healthcare, and education are core issues of decency and fairness.  If we allow ourselves to be divided, again, by social wedge issues like guns and gay marriage; then everybody loses.