The words “progressive” and “populist” are bandied about on a daily basis, but I wonder if those who use the terms understand what they mean.  Knowing the difference can – well – make a difference.

Populism can be defined as follows:

  • any of various, often anti-establishment or anti-intellectual political movements or philosophies that offer unorthodox solutions or policies and appeal to the common person rather than according with traditional party or partisan ideologies.
  • grass-roots democracy; working-class activism; egalitarianism.
  • representation or extolling of the common person, the working class, the underdog, etc.

A populist is a person who follows the populist philosophy.

Progressivism can be defined as follows:

  • a broad philosophy based on the idea of progress, which asserts that advancement in science, technology, economic development, and social organization are vital to improve the human condition.
  • the principles and practices of progressives.

A progressive is a person who follows the progressive philosophy.

Can one be both?  Perhaps, but doing so requires walking a thin line or embracing  changes in the traditional definitions which have resulted in a third option – that of “progressive populist.” 


Populism tends to be anti-establishment and anti-intellectual while progressivism tends to rely on the establishment, the educated intellectuals, and existing political structures to implement its goals. 

Populism is older than Progressivism and was a response by the agrarian establishment to the rise of industrialization.  During the 1870s, farmers began to chafe against the high cost of money and the low price of crops.  Angered by what they saw as unresponsiveness by the political parties, populist leaders called on the people to rise up and seize the control of the government.  Populists exalted farmers and laborers as the true producers of wealth.  The original populist movement was short-lived with its most intense impact from 1889-1896.

The Progressive Movement – the Era of Reform – began as a response in the 1890s to problems created by the seismic shift from an agrarian society to an industrialized urban society.  Corporations and trusts controlled more and more of the country’s finances, immigrants arrived in large numbers competing for jobs and moving into slum tenements, and party bosses and political machines sprang up to control the new arrivals. In the eyes of many, the country was falling apart and action needed to be taken to restore a semblance of democracy to the nation.  That philosophy gave rise to the Progressive Movement.

Progressives typically lived in cities, were college educated, believed that government could be used as a tool to better the human condition, and rejected social Darwinism.  Many were “privileged” members of society and believed they had a duty to the poor and those in need.  The Progressive, middle-class reformers attempted to restore what they saw as a loss of democracy by limiting big business.  Immigrants were to be “Americanized”, and political machines were to be curbed.  The Progressive Movement was in its prime from 1901-1918; Theodore Roosevelt was a proponent of progressive ideas.

A final conundrum is the increasing philosophy of a “progressive populist.”  While this new formation uses both terms, it is not the populist or progressive movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  It is, instead, built on a foundation of the majoritarian “submerged agenda” – an economic agenda that the majority of Americans support – increasing the minimum wage, restoring workers’ ability to bargain with employers, and taxing millionaires and giant corporations at levels that reflect how much of the country’s wealth and income they now have. 

The submerged majoritarian agenda is unable to gain support in Washington, D.C. because it reflects goals and philosophies that work against the very entities and contributors who maintain the power structure in D.C.

As yet another cycle of campaigning rolls around, the words “Populist”,”Progressive”, and “Progressive Populist” will continue to crop up in debates and conversations as candidates and the public attempt to pigeon-hole their ideas and philosophies.  Regardless of viewpoints,  understanding the nature of these movements is key to how we debate and how we ultimately resolve issues.

Populists v Progressives



The G-8, meeting this week in Italy, ran into a spot of trouble when the developing nations of the world – primarily China and India – and the already-industrialized nations failed to reach an agreement on specific cuts in heat-trapping gases by 2050, undercutting an effort to build a global consensus to fight climate change.

In what is an “it’s our turn now” attitude, China and India failed to agree on specific targets to cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by mid-century, and emissions from the most advanced economies by 80 percent.  The developing countries’ stubborness may be understandable given that they have only just begun to figure out how to exploit their environments to get the most from their resources.

Pollution in China

Pollution in China

Since exploitation of the developing countries is occurring from outside forces – ah, namely global corporations – how about tamping down the ability of those multinationals to do business in the developing countries.

I find the solution pretty simple.  If the multinationals and U.S. corporations want to do business in these newly developing nations, then tax them for the destruction they are aiding and abetting. The U.S. mega-giants know exactly what they are doing – or they wouldn’t have shipped their factories and jobs overseas.

Perhaps in addition to corproate social responsibility in the United States, it is time to enforce global responsibility.  After all, if corporations want all the profit from exploiting developing nations and their workforces, they should also shoulder the burden of what havoc they are wreaking.


After eight years of disastrous deficit policies – six of those years under complete Republican domination – Republicans have now decided that party unity trumps all else – hey, they’ve got their groove on again.    They have turned into a bunch of whining, sore losers using their pulpits from an oft-empty congressional chamber to sputter their righteous indignation at the stimulus plan and its efforts to stimulate the economy.   Not one single Republican in the House voted for the Plan, and only three voted for it in the Senate.

They have determined that no matter what, they will not support the policies of President Obama.  But given the numbers, it doesn’t look like Republicans are really needed for most legislation.

Ironic isn’t it how Republicans watched and cowered for six years as their party’s president virtually ignored their own touted fiscal conservative policies.  Now that their backs are up against the wall, they have decided to fly home to roost on those policies,  railing against the stimulus plan as if their lives depended on it.  And, perhaps they do – their political lives that is.  They are hedging their bets that the stimulus plan won’t work and that the failure will lead to a comeback in 2010.

The danger, of course, is that if the plan works even partially, the Republicans stand to garner the continued wrath of the American voter – as was reflected in the last two election cycles which saw both the House and Senate revert to Democratic control – a repudiation of the Republican party and its posititons.  They could lose even more seats and could very well see the historical writing on the wall.  Republicans have become the obstructionists, and I am betting they will pay dearly for their new-found party unity ploy.


What appeared to be an idea that had little impetus a couple of years ago continues to gain steam.  Derreck Gingery of the Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly takes on the issue and provides pros and cons of bringing such an institution to Fort Wayne.

Personally, I think we have enough gambling and gaming already.  But in these economic times, it seems like many see a casino as the end-all, be-all to our financial woes.  Mayor Henry believes it would be irresponsible to pass over such an enterprise given the shortage of funds the City is now facing and will continue to face.

But good as the idea may seem to the City’s officials, it seems that other organizations can’t, won’t, or haven’t made up their minds as to welcoming a casino.  The Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance,  the Greater fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce,  and the Fort Wayne-Allen County Convention and Visitors Bureau have all declined at this time to take a position on whether or not they favor a casino in The Fort.

I still say keep your eyes on the North River project.  I could be wrong, but given the increased talk of a casino coupled with Mayor Henry’s request to Senator Lugar’s office for funding to study the improvement potential for the downtown section of the St. Marys River, it seems like it might be a safe bet that Fort Wayne will eventually have a casino despite the current wavering of opinion by county and city economic development groups.

I would almost wager!

North River Now project map – Photo Credit:  City of Fort Wayne


In what could be a devastating move for the Midwest auto industry, GM has indicated it will close 20 plants temporarily early in 2009.   Six of those plants are in Michigan with the Allen County GM auto plant also set for closing.   The GM plant in Allen County will go off line the first two weeks of March 2009.  The GM workers affected by the moves are eligible to receive up to 72 percent of their gross pay covered by state unemployment compensation and supplemental unemployment benefits paid by the automaker.

Get ready for a bumpy ride.  Those workers spend money in the local economies, and, no doubt, will cut back their spending.  The cut back in spending will impact local businesses and their ability to cover their expenses.  In today’s economic setting, no one is unconnected – what impacts one location impacts the surrounding area.

Whether you agree with the auto loan package or not, GM’s decision will have a devastating effect in the Midwest – even if it is for only two weeks.  Those weeks will be long weeks for the auto workers and the region.


Last week I spent Thanksgiving at my youngest son and daughter-in-law’s in Wilmington, Ohio. On my way out the door, I grabbed my morning newspaper and threw it into my overnight bag to read at some point. It was as big as the Sunday newspaper.

Then it dawned on me that of course it was huge – the “Black Friday” madness was about to ensue, and the newspaper was crammed with advertisements. I didn’t get a chance to look at it until our dinner was over, the dishes done, and everyone was enjoying the warmth of the wood-fired stove in the family room. The kids were playing games, and the adults were groaning and groggy from eating too much.

I dug out the ads and started leafing through them. As I looked at ad after ad, I wondered how we had come to the point where Americans can’t wait for Thanksgiving to end so the shopping can begin. Americans no longer enjoy Thanksgiving; it is now simply a day that gets in the way of the mad rush to the finish line of Christmas Day.

Families breeze over Thanksgiving, paying cursory homage to it with perfunctory get togethers and, at the break of dawn – barely before the Thanksgiving meal has settled – crazed shoppers rear their heads to the sound of a blaring alarm and head to the malls, rudely pushing and shoving to get in line to try to snag some bright, shiny new piece of technology.

Each year it seems the stores open earlier. Insanity rules as the lure of …. of what I don’t know drags people to the stores with tents, chairs, coffee, and various and sundry items to keep them busy until the long-awaited moment of chaos begins. Employees line up like buffers against the mobs waiting outside to rush through the doors as they open.

The stores knowingly perpetrate the pandemonium and countenance the fiasco – often by withholding stocks of merchandise until the last moment, putting it on the shelves moments before the doors open. Employees must feel like the sands of Bande Ache as the unstoppable tsunami of hysterical shoppers crash into them – pushing and shoving to obtain their prizes.

This year the insanity cost a Wal-Mart employee his life. The loss of life to this madness is inexcusable. In fact, how Americans handle themselves during the entire holiday season is inexcusable. The spirit of Christmas has become a casualty of greed and self-actualization. Greed on the part of the retailers and self-actualization on the part of the shoppers.

Where has Thanksgiving gone? Where has Christmas gone? For weeks all we have heard is the mumbo jumbo of “Black Friday” and the urgings of businesses to spend, spend, spend. Nary a word about Christmas and its meaning and why we celebrate. Americans have gone insane, and each year it only gets worse.

I hope the family of the dead employee sues the pants off Wal-Mart. The ultimate verdict should award the family not only compensatory damages but also a smack down in the form of punitive damages – in an amount that will get Wal-Mart’s attention and strike fear into the hearts and cash registers of the other co-conspirators of the “Black Friday” insanity.

As my visit wound down, we discussed Christmas presents. Each year I become tense and anxious calculating how much to spend, what to buy, how to get everything done, thinking about the exhaustion, and worrying about whether everyone will be happy with what I bought.

You can imagine, then, how absolutely thrilled I was when my son said “Mom, we were thinking, instead of buying so much stuff, let’s just take some money and donate it to a charity or a food bank.” I had always wondered why we couldn’t do something like this, but I never had the heart to discuss it and risk disappointing my grandkids.

So this year instead of wondering where Christmas has gone, we will find the true Christmas spirit and give to food banks and charities. It may not be a huge amount, but it will be given in the spirit of Christmas.

As the insanity of shoppers continues until Christmas is over for one more year, I am breathing a sigh of relief, and whispering a silent thank you to my son for bringing back what I believe is the real gift of Christmas – giving to others who are in need.


Watching Governor Daniels commercials, one would think that Indiana is “doing better” than other Midwestern states – how does the soothing voice say it? An island in the Midwest, or something to that effect. Yet, the just-released Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that, at least in the area of unemployment, Indiana workers are suffering.

In July 2008, the largest employment decreases occurred in Florida (-21,400), Georgia (-18,900), Indiana (-16,500) California (-14,900), and Arizona (-14,100). Indiana was third behind Florida and Georgia – not the picture of employment health that Daniels has been touting.

Indiana also shows up in the list of states with statistically significant unemployment rate changes from July 2007 (4.4%) to July 2008 (6.3%). Indiana is now above the 5.7% national unemployment rate. Daniels can stand on his podium all he wants and announce new jobs coming to Indiana, but the reality is that those jobs are far in the future, often times three and four years down the road.

Reality for Hoosiers right now is an increasing unemployment rate and job losses. That reality dictates that Daniels remove his rose-colored glasses and take a good, unadulterated look at what is really happening to Hoosiers.

Photo credit: Google Images


Indiana, as well as other states, requires that employers notify communities and the state of closings, transfers, and layoffs. Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) notices are listed on the state’s Workforce Development website.

Lately, however, the notices seem to be disappearing and then reappearing in altered form. I frequently check the notices to see how many jobs have been lost. The WARN notices bely the governor’s rosy picture painted about Indiana’s economy.

The WARN notices disappeared earlier this year, and I had to contact the state to see where they went. I finally received a response with a link that took me to the proper site. Well, lo and behold, they disappeared again last week. I kept trying over a couple of days and finally gave up and contacted the state again. Again, I received a reply with a link sending me to a new website.

But this time, the government had removed the older WARN notices and listed only those beginning with February of this year. The website not only removed the older notices but also cut down the number of notices listed. Looking at the new list, one would think that we had lost very few jobs when, in fact, each month brings worse news for Hoosier workers.

Here are the number of listings for each month:

January – no notices (the month isn’t listed)

February – one notice

March – no notices

April – one notice

May – two notices

June – three notices

July – six notices

August (to date) – two notices

A total of 15 notices – what a fabrication. I have looked at the list too many times since the first of the year to be lured into these false figures. The tactic shows a total lack of responsibility by the Daniels’ administration and his contempt for Hoosier workers – manipulating the WARN notices is inexcusable. It is amazing just how far he will go to hide his administration’s worsening job picture.

I guess I am just going to have to make myself annoying and call until I get an answer as to where those notices have been hidden.


Hoosier Orchid Company, located on the far-northwest-side of Indianapolis is going out of business at the end of August. William Rhodehamel started Hoosier Orchid in 1989 after a gift of three of the flowers from a friend sparked an ongoing fascination. He eventually cultivated orchids never before grown from seed, as well as some varieties that have never received scientific names. The company grew to become one of the nation’s most specialized orchid growers.

Photo Credit: Hoosier Orchid Company


Rhodehamel said the ornamental flowers have become a commodity now stocked even at stores like Costco. Business also withered because fewer people are showing interest in the myriad specialty versions that Rhodehamel raised. Membership in the American Orchid Society, a group of hobbyists and enthusiasts, has fallen substantially in recent years.

Almost all the plants in the 5,000-square-foot greenhouse at 82nd Street and Lafayette Road will be offered to the public through Hoosier Orchid’s Web site and sales on site. Operations with mail-order and walk-in customers will continue as usual until August 30th, when shelves will be cleared.

Orchids have now gone the way of so many other items that used to dwell only in small stores or specialty shops. They are now available in big-box stores such as Meijer and Wal-Mart. Once the big-boxes get hold of the product, their ability to command large quantities at low prices sets the stage for competition that smaller stores just can’t beat.

So, another one bites the dust – the dust of the corporate big-box stores. When a specialty product such as orchids goes big-box, I can’t imagine anything that is safe.


Finally, Congress exhibited its long absent intestinal fortitude – guts – to stand up to the administration’s incessant scare tactics surrounding free trade agreements, notably the U.S. – Columbia Trade Promotion Agreement. Congress or should I say the Democrats – with a few exceptions – took action to delay the implementation of yet another lopsided and unfair free trade agreement.

H. Res. 1092 passed this week in Congress states as follows:

Resolved, That section 151(e)(1) and section 151(f)(1) of the Trade Act of 1974 shall not apply in the case of the bill (H.R. 5724) to implement the United States-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement.

The sections mentioned detail time constraints under which free trade agreements are to be considered by Congress under the Free Trade Agreement Act of 1974. That Act required that Congress take up consideration of trade agreements 90 days after they are received from the White House. The recently-passed Resolution removes that timetable and allows delay in consideration of the Agreement.

The Indiana house congressional delegation voted on an expected partisan line with Visclosky, Donnelly, Carson, and Ellsworth voting to delay consideration and Souder, Burton, Pence, and Hill voting to take up the bill immediately. Buyer did not vote, and Hill was the lone Indiana Democrat to jump ship and side with the Republicans.

The Administration continues to use statements such as “helping an important ally in South America is in the political and security interests of the United States.” Absent from Bush’s yammering on security and political interests is any hint of how, once again, American workers will be benefited rather than hurt by another free trade agreement.

Free trade agreements are nothing more than corporate gifts from the administration. And, while many administrations have entered into these agreements over the past, the effect has now become painfully obvious. The agreements require few, if any, reciprocal efforts in the areas of environmental protection or human rights violations. Corporate powers-that-be are the beneficiaries of the following policy that can be found at the government’s export website:

Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) can help your company to enter and compete more easily in the global marketplace. Trade agreements help level the international playing field and encourage foreign governments to adopt open and transparent rulemaking procedures, as well as non-discriminatory laws and regulations. FTAs help strengthen business climates by eliminating or reducing tariff rates, improving intellectual property regulations, opening government procurement opportunities, easing investment rules, and much more.

The informational description contains no reference to how FTAs help American workers. The reason? FTAs do not help our workers. When the statement says “trade agreements help level the international playing field, what actually occurs is that American job losses increase through outsourcing.

As a final note, the new agreement is called a “trade promotion” agreement rather than a “free trade” agreement. The change in terminology is simply an exercise in semantics. A rose is a rose is a rose, and a trade agreement is a trade agreement no matter how you disguise it.