Poverty & Wealth

Why the Real Story of the Irish Exodus to America Isn't Taught in Schools

The famine that brought vast numbers of Irish to the U.S. wasn't caused by nature; it was caused by ruthless capitalists.

(Photo: Lawrence Collection, National Library of Ireland)
(Photo: Lawrence Collection, National Library of Ireland) During the potato blight of the 1840s, tenant farmers were not allowed to partake of the grain, poultry and other edibles they raised, and were often evicted, as shown above, by ruthless landlords when they could not meet the rent under the duress of starvation. This article was produced by the Zinn Education Project , and is part of the project's If We Knew Our History series. “ Wear green on St. Patrick’s Day or get pinched.” That pretty much sums up the Irish-American “curriculum” that I learned when I was in school. Yes, I recall a nod to the so-called Potato Famine, but it was mentioned only in passing. Sadly, today’s high school textbooks continue to largely ignore the famine, despite the fact that it was responsible for unimaginable suffering and the deaths of more than a million Irish peasants, and that it triggered the greatest wave of Irish immigration in U.S. history. Nor do textbooks make any attempt to help...

The Dance of Liberals and Radicals

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(AP Photo) U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, right, talks with civil rights leaders in his White House office in Washington, D.C., January 18, 1964. The movement leaders, from left, are, Roy Wilkins, executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); James Farmer, national director of the Committee on Racial Equality; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; and Whitney Young, executive director of the Urban League. This essay originally appeared at The Huffington Post . M arch 15 was the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson's best speech, his "We Shall Overcome" address applying the final round of pressure on Congress to enact the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Much of the speech invoked the bravery, dignity and historical rightness of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his fellow movement activists. All of which puts me in mind of the complex relationship between liberals and radicals. History shows that liberals...

Sharing the Wealth

Why can’t we broadly distribute the wealth produced from America’s common resource pool? Conservative Alaska manages to do it.

(AP Photo/The Juneau Empire, Klas Stolpe)
(AP Photo/The Juneau Empire, Klas Stolpe) Governor Sean Parnell announces the 2010 dividend check amount that all Alaskans receive through the state's popular Permanent Fund. Looking on is Department of Revenue Commissioner Pat Galvin, a trustee on the Alaska Permanent Fund Board. This book review appears in the Winter 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . With Liberty and Dividends for All: How to Save Our Middle Class When Jobs Don’t Pay Enough By Peter Barnes 174 pp. Berrett-Koehler Publishers $19.95 I n the mid-17th century, Gerrard Winstanley led a series of protests in England against “enclosure,” the practice of landlords privatizing public lands. Nonviolent, with a utopian communist agenda, Winstanley’s followers, the Diggers, published pamphlets and, more quixotically, sang their hopes and fears. A stanza from one of their songs: “Your houses they pull down, stand up now, stand up now Your houses they pull down, stand up now. Your houses they pull...

Looking Forward to the Sequel

If we don’t alter the power distribution that led to the financial collapse, it will happen again.

(Illustration: Wesley Bedrosian)
(Illustration: Wesley Bedrosian) This book review appears in the Winter 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . The Shifts and the Shocks: What We’ve Learned—and Have Still to Learn—From the Financial Crisis By Martin Wolf 466 pp. Penguin Press $35 M artin Wolf is one of the few people on the planet who can mingle with financial elites without being co-opted by them. Fans of his regular column in the Financial Times —and I am one—are familiar with the power of his writing, the clarity of his logic, and the independence and delightful unpredictability of his views. But Wolf fans beware: While his columns can be devoured as easily as a Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, his new book, The Shifts and the Shocks , tastes more like the side of brussels sprouts that Aunt Millie brought to the holiday dinner—obligatory to consume and good for you, but requiring a lot of chewing. This is dense and at times highly technical reading, laden with jargon only an Oxford economist could...

CPAC Labor Panel Does GOP No Favors in Outreach to Latinos, Women

Organizing among fast-food workers and home health-care aides has clearly gotten under the skin of anti-labor leaders—even as they boast of another anti-union triumph in Wisconsin.

(Photo: Ron Sachs / CNP via AP Images)
(Photo: Ron Sachs / CNP via AP Images) Governor Scott Walker, Republican of Wisconsin, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National at National Harbor, Maryland on Thursday, February 26, 2015. He's expected to sign new anti-union legislation, passed by the Wisconsin Senate on the day before, into law if, as is likely, the bill passes the state assembly. O n February 26, day one of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, a panel convened on the state of the labor movement. To describe the tone of presenters as triumphant would be an understatement. At the Thursday afternoon breakout session titled “There’s No ‘I’ in Teamsters: Obama’s Bow to Big Labor Bosses,” panelists discussed a long list of topics, ranging from the salaries of top union leadership to “pernicious” attacks on franchisers of fast-food restaurants, whose workers have taken to the streets to demand predictable schedules and livable wages...

Historian as History-Maker: Isabel Wilkerson Calls All of America to Account for Racial Injustice

The acclaimed author of The Warmth of Other Suns is not about to let the North off the hook. A conversation with the chronicler of the Great Migration.

(Photo: Joe Henson)
(Photo: Joe Henson) Isabel Wilkerson, author of the award-winning book, The Warmth of Other Suns , the story of the Great Migration of African Americans to the North. T his summer, Ta-Nehisi Coates published a compelling argument for reparations in The Atlantic . This nation, he argued, has inherited a debt. We ought to repay the community that we as a nation have hurt most. In its entirety, the headline read: The Case for Reparations : Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole. The idea? You can stop slavery, you can stop Jim Crow, you can stop discriminatory housing policies, but it doesn’t stop the bleeding. And the first step to healing is reparations. The idea of reparations for African Americans once had credibility, but in recent decades the notion has been scoffed at. Reparations are thought to be...

CPAC 2015: Right-Wing American Dream Kind of Crappy

Republican politicians are rarely shy about expressing some hatred of the government, and Mia Love is no exception.

(Photo: C-SPAN)
(Photo: C-SPAN) (L-R) Raffi Williams of the Republican National Committee, Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA, U.S. Representative Mia Love and U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, appear on a panel about millennials and the American dream at the Conservative Political Action Conference on February 26, 2015. W hat is the American dream? Is it owning a house and having a job you love? Perhaps you want to be able to have children and send them off to school? Well, this year at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, members of the Republican Party are promising to help you make your dreams come true. On Thursday morning, CPAC—an annual gathering at which a broad range of right-wing constituencies are represented—officially started as presidential hopefuls, political pundits, conservative activists and college students filled the Gaylord National Convention Center at National Harbor, Maryland, just outside of the nation’s capital. Because both political parties go through great lengths to...

Why Markets Can't Price the Priceless

It takes government planning to promote the rational conservation and use of water.

(AP Photo/Wichita Falls Times Record News, Torin Halsey)
(AP Photo/Wichita Falls Times Record News, Torin Halsey) A public works wastewater reuse project accounts for approximately half of the water used daily by Wichita Falls, Texas. This article appears as part of a special report, "What the Free Market Can't Do," in the Winter 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . W ater sources for many Southwestern cities such as Las Vegas and Phoenix are drying up. Meanwhile, most Eastern cities have ample supplies but decaying infrastructure that can’t handle the more frequent and severe flooding brought on by climate change. The Cato Institute and Reason Foundation are part of a libertarian movement arguing that market pricing of water could solve both problems. But water, as a public good, can’t just be left to private markets, or we will have billionaires watering lush lawns while other citizens have dry taps. Privatizers are also notorious for underinvesting in the infrastructure needed both to supply fresh water and to...

CPAC: Is Carly Fiorina the GOP's Anti-Hillary?

Will the former CEO be the designated nemesis to the presumed Democratic presidential candidate? The optics couldn't be better.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)
(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images) Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Maryland, on February 26, 2015. C arly Fiorina is almost certainly running for president. At first glance, Fiorina doesn’t seem like much of a 2016 presidential contender. Despite that, organizers of the Conservative Political Action Conference gave her a desirable speaking slot on February 26, the conference's opening day—just after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and before right-wing favorite Ted Cruz. If elected, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard would not only be the first woman president; she’d be the first not to have held an elected post. She lost her only political race—by double digits—to incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer in a 2010 U.S. Senate race. Her only other politics foray was as a surrogate for John McCain’s presidential bid in 2008. In a series of faux pas, she embarrassed the Republican nominee . As the first female CEO...

Anti-Choice Activists Dishonor Black History, Co-Opting Language of #BlackLivesMatter

But do they join the protests around the country calling for an end to police brutality? Not so much.

(AP Photo/The Register-Guard, Chris Pietsch)
(AP Photo/The Register-Guard, Chris Pietsch) Alveda King (center), niece of the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., joined about 75 others in an anti-abortion prayer vigil at the Planned Parenthood office in Glenwood, Oregon, Monday, February 4, 2013. King has traded on the name of her famous uncle to become a leader in the right-wing anti-abortion movement. F or decades, a great debate has raged in this country between those who believe in the human right to a safe and legal abortion and those who call themselves “pro-life” and consider abortion to be morally wrong. The anti-choice community has always used shaming tactics. Whether touting faulty and confusing statistics or showing, to women entering reproductive health clinics around the country, gruesome Photoshopped images of what they say are aborted fetuses, anti-choice activists have relied on strategies designed to inspire fear and shame in the women they target—essentially, anyone considering getting an abortion. In recent...

Workers Centers: Organizing the 'Unorganizable'

From contract janitorial workers to day laborers, new strategies emerge for seeking justice on the job.

(Photo: CTUL/Minneapolis)
(Photo: CTUL) On November 28, 2014, workers for a company contracted to clean retail stores staged a Black Friday strike in front of a Target store in Minneapolis, just blocks from the big-box chain's headquarters. The action was organized by the CTUL workers center. M ost days Maricela Flores starts work at three in the morning—3:30 a.m. on a late day. Flores and her co-worker are tasked with cleaning an entire sprawling 125,000-square-foot Target store in six hours—every day. They sweep, buff, wipe, and scrub the store, erasing the evidence of the day of the previous day’s shoppers, who have streamed through the store. It’s hard work, certainly not glamorous—and at just $8 an hour, neither is the pay. As a single mother, Flores finds that’s barely enough to support her four children. “I always have to be making decisions about what to buy,” Flores tells me in Spanish, through an interpreter. “It’s very difficult to have to stretch every dollar.” Her family currently lives in a...

Democracy's New Moment

F or a very long time, those of us committed to strengthening American democracy felt we were—if not voices crying in the wilderness—standing on the sidelines, stamping our feet for attention. Fights over the right to vote and other civil rights are as old as the Republic, as are efforts to restrain the influence of money in politics. But until lately, the health of democracy itself was not quite a first-tier public issue. When the 2000 election showed just how important a few votes could be, we hoped this debacle would galvanize a broader movement for democracy. In March 2001, I wrote an article for this magazine entitled “Democracy’s Moment,” calling for a movement with the broad agenda of expanding voting and reining in runaway campaign spending. The closing sentence was “If the democracy movement is successful, America’s real and diverse majority will emerge and change our country for the better.” It was slightly wishful thinking, at the time. Now, 14 years later, we are in even...

A Talent for Storytelling

Rick Perlstein tells how Reagan imagined his way into the American psyche.

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This book review is from the Fall 2014 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here. Simon & Schuster The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan By Rick Perlstein 880 pp. Simon & Schuster $37.50 I n 1959, as the Cold War heated up and the economy cooled down, President Dwight Eisenhower received a letter from World War II veteran Robert J. Biggs. Tired of hearing the president explain the complexities of the modern world, Biggs begged Eisenhower to lead the nation with firm assertions rather than “hedging” and “uncertainty.” The former general responded that such guidance by authority was imperative in a military operation but fatal in a democracy. Self-government demanded that men reject easy answers and instead carefully weigh the often contradictory facts about great issues facing the nation. Just as Eisenhower did, Rick Perlstein’s new book, The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan , illuminates the deadly attraction of...

Will E.U. Leaders Wreck Europe’s Economy to Teach Greece a Lesson?

(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris) Pro-government protesters passes in from of a banner outside Greece's parliament to support the newly elected government’s push for a better deal on Greece’s debt, in central Athens, on Sunday, February 15, 2015. The protests held in Athens by around fifteen thousands supporters of the left-wing Syriza party as the new Greek government on Monday, February 16, presented its proposals to skeptical rescue lenders at a euro zone finance ministers' meeting in Brussels. G reece and the European Union are now in a final showdown. And if you had to place odds, the likelihood is that the stubbornness and folly of Europe’s senior leaders will create a catastrophe for both Greece and the E.U. On Monday, at a key meeting of finance ministers in Brussels, the Greek negotiators walked away from a demand that Greece recommit to the terms of the current austerity program as the precondition for extending talks on possible easing of the terms. In return, E.U. leaders had...

Will the Recovery Finally Translate into Better Wages?

(iStockPhoto/© JLGutierrez)
whitehouse.gov Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen and President Barack Obama. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . T he good news about the economy's improved job creation dominated the weekend's headlines. Many commentators concluded that the economy is finally shaking off the effects of the financial collapse of 2008 and the long period of stagnation that followed. The creation of 257,000 new jobs in January is surely good news, as is the long-awaited increase in wages, reported at half of one percent in that month. Even so, the one-year increase in wages has been only 2.2 percent, barely more than 1 percent when adjusted for inflation, and it's been a long time since most workers have seen substantial raises. In this recovery, the economy has been creating more low-wage jobs than high-wage ones. The shift from standard payroll jobs to temp and contract work continues. The uptick in the measured unemployment rate, from 5.6 percent to 5.7 percent, suggests...

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