50 years later, we’re still fighting the Civil War
The key to understanding the Civil War, which began 150 years ago this week, is to realize that it’s still being fought. Indeed, it’s being fought now more intensely than at any time since the 1960s.
Then, African Americans and white Northern liberals and moderates battled Southern white segregationists and Goldwater conservatives to establish equal racial access to the ballot, housing and public facilities. Today’s battle more closely resembles the one that inaugurated the Civil War, which centered on the expansion of slavery to the lands west of the Mississippi. As in 1861, we are again divided over whether Southern or Northern labor systems, and Southern or Northern versions of government, shall become the national norm.
Wisconsin and Beyond
How far will the backlash against union-busting go?
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka was only speaking truth when he called Scott Walker, Wisconsin's Republican governor, the labor movement's "Mobilizer of the Year." The backlash against Walker's successful (for now) drive to end collective bargaining for Wisconsin's public employees has been stunning in its scope, intensity, and (ongoing) duration.
The big political question is how far and how deep that backlash will go. My first guess is that it has produced a shift in public opinion that will help America's unions, though it will take a lot more than public sympathy to rebuild labor's power. My second guess is that it will help the Democratic Party across the industrial Midwest.
Who’s hurt by Paul Ryan’s budget proposal
If it does nothing else, the budget that House Republicans unveiled Tuesday provides the first real Republican program for the 21st century, and it is this:
Repeal the 20th century.
Republicans have never particularly warmed to the American social contract that governed most of the past hundred years. Its central elements, enacted during the presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, assumed a level of collective national responsibility for the well-being of the elderly and children, the two groups who could not benefit directly from employment, through such programs as Social Security, Medicare, funding for schools and for college grants and loans.
L.A. labor -- getting the job done
In Wisconsin and other states, labor movements are on the defensive. Here, unions have gone on the offensive to help create jobs at decent pay.
American unions are waging epic battles today against the most serious assaults they've encountered in more than half a century, and they've had some major successes. No one could have predicted that union members and their supporters would flood state capitals in the way they have, or that polls would show Americans support collective bargaining rights for public employees by a 2-1 margin.
The mind-set that survived the Triangle Shirtwaist fire
The seamstresses were just getting off work that Saturday, some of them singing a new popular song, “Every Little Movement (Has a Meaning of Its Own),” when they heard shouts from the eighth floor just below. They saw smoke outside the windows, and then fire. As David Von Drehle recounts the ensuing catastrophe, in his award-winning book “Triangle,” just a couple minutes later the ninth floor was fully ablaze.
The fire engines that rushed to the scene did not have ladders that reached to the ninth floor. The fire escape — which didn’t reach all the way to the street anyway — was not built to accommodate more than a few people and soon collapsed. The stairwell that led to the roof was already burning, and after a few minutes was consumed by flames. The other stairwell led down to the street, but the door was padlocked from the outside so that the men and women who worked at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company would be compelled to use just the one stairwell or the two elevators to exit, lest any of them elude inspection and make off with leftover scraps of cloth.
From Japan’s devastation, our Lisbon moment?
First came the earthquake, then the tsunami and the fires, and then, over time, a critical decline in belief in a benevolent God.
The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 killed about a fifth of the city’s 200,000 residents and leveled 85 percent of its buildings, including almost every major church — on a church holiday, when they were packed with parishioners. It also shook 18th-century philosophers to the core. “Candide,” Voltaire’s comic polemic against the belief that all was for the best in this best of all possible worlds, was written in the quake’s aftermath, as Voltaire was abandoning any notion of godly oversight of the world’s affairs. The young Immanuel Kant was sufficiently upset to research and write one of the first books ever on the causes of quakes, before he turned to his life’s work of creating ethical codes that functioned in both the presence and absence of God.