The Dawn of a New Age in the War on Poverty

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An article published in the Chicago Tribune on June 29, 1992 is entitled “The Great Society’s Great Failure.” It profiles the Inez, Kentucky family that appeared in the famous front porch photo that launched LBJ’s War on Poverty in 1964. Suffice it to say without revealing the particular gory details of their thwarted lives, the family’s fate was as dismal as the outcome of the War on Poverty. Mike Duncan, an Inez banker and now chairman of the Republican National Committee – battling to retain his position – put it mildly: “The War on Poverty did not succeed.”  read more »

Obama Family Values

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For a generation, conservatives have held a lock on the so-called "values" issue. But Barack Obama is slowly picking that lock, breaking into one of the GOP's last remaining electoral treasures.

The change starts with the powerful imagery of the new First Family. The Obamas seem to have it all: charming children; the supremely competent yet also consistently supportive wife, and the dynamo grandma, Marian Robinson, who serves as matriarch, moral arbiter and babysitter in chief.  read more »

Don’t Touch That Dial!

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If this were the 1950s, a buzz would be going through the African American community right about now because, come Tuesday, another small milestone would be reached in our progression from involuntary to voluntary servitude. The milestone? A black man is going to appear on television.

Sightings of black people on the tube back then were rare. Hence, there was always some excitement when it occurred. You had Beulah and Amos and Andy on regularly – singer Hazel Scott once had her own show as did singer Billy Daniels. Nat King Cole had a very popular show for a while but lack of national sponsorship and the fact that they didn’t give him any money to pay his guests forced him to fold it. But you’ll notice these people were all entertainers. Real black people, those who couldn’t sing, dance, play an instrument or tell jokes, were never seen on television.  read more »

Not Even Gerrymandering Will Save Some Candidates from Ethnic Shifts

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California’s 32nd congressional district, stretching from East Los Angeles to the eastern San Gabriel Valley, would seem like friendly territory for a Hispanic candidate. Labor Secretary-designate Hilda Solis’s district is more than 60 percent Latino, and there is no shortage of Hispanic local and state lawmakers eager to replace her in Congress.  read more »

Does Growing Inequality Mean the End of Upward Mobility?

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Barack Obama's ascension to the presidency won't end racism, but it does mean race is no longer the dominant issue in American politics. Instead, over the coming decades, class will likely constitute the major dividing line in our society—and the greatest threat to America's historic aspirations. This is a fundamental shift from the last century. Writing in the early 1900s, W.E.B. DuBois observed, "The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line." Developments in the ensuing years bore out this assertion.  read more »

President Obama, Bring Us Together

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The election of Barack Obama signaled the beginning of a "civic" realignment, produced by the political emergence of America's most recent civic generation, Millennials (born 1982-2003). Civic generations, like the Millennials, react against the efforts of divided idealist generations, like the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) to advance their own moral causes.  read more »

Solving the Financial Crisis: Looking Beyond Simple Solutions

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When presented with complex ideas about complicated events, the human tendency is to think in terms of Jungian archetypes: good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains. The more complicated the events, the more the human mind seeks to limit the number of variables it considers in unison in order to make sense of what it sees. The result is a tendency to describe events in the simplest black and white terms, ignoring the spectrum of colors in between.

This principle can be seen in the current explanation of the financial crisis.  read more »

A Little Genius for the City’s So-Called ‘Art World’

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There’s a little girl – maybe 10 or 12 years old – whose family owns a store just a couple of miles from Downtown Los Angeles. She spends a lot of time at the place after her nearby school lets out for the day, sort of helping out but mostly just hanging around where her older relatives can see her.

I call her “Little Genius” because she’s always reading a book or busy at a computer or making paper dolls or working on some other challenge.  read more »

The Leveling of Citigroup

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The idea that Citigroup could support the family by gambling didn’t begin with Robert Rubin. It’s part of a long tradition. What was different in the most recent go-round is that, this time, Citi didn’t invent the game. Of course, once it got to the casino it characteristically placed larger bets than anyone else.

Word that Citigroup is teetering on the brink of break up brings a certain wistfulness to this former Citibank speechwriter. Not because intensive care is something new for the old bank — it isn’t — but because it ended up on life support by following the crowd instead of leading it.  read more »

In a Financial Crisis What Happens to the Dog Bakeries?

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What will happen to the dog bakeries? I ask this question, because this line of business (and perhaps many others) escaped my attention for so long. I saw my first one years ago in suburban St. Louis. As one interested in economics, poverty and history, it struck me that dog bakeries represented a perfect symbol for the many “discretionary” business lines that have been established in recent decades in what has been called the consumer economy.

This discretionary economy consists of businesses for which do not exist in societies with little discretionary income. It includes in its ranks a host of businesses that did not even exist before the last couple of decades, from dog bakeries, to Starbucks, tony cafes, specialized clothing stores and personal fitness centers. While these businesses might have been attractive to the households of the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s, people just didn’t have enough discretionary income to support them.  read more »