Economic inequality

  • January 2, 2013

    by John Schachter

    Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” has earned rave reviews, myriad award nominations and more than $132 million at the box office. All this for a 2½ hour movie about politics. While other films with government and politics at their core often struggle to draw sizable audiences, “Lincoln” has transcended the genre and demonstrated mass appeal. That’s likely because of the superb acting and script – and the moral force behind the film’s focus, the fight to end slavery in America once and for all..

    Tuesday, January 1, marked the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, a document Fredrick Douglass praised as “the most important document ever issued by an American president,” according to historian Eric Foner (in his book The Fiery Trial).

    Douglass was no Lincoln apologist; he recognized the great man’s flaws and imperfections. But Douglass also got to know Lincoln and appreciate the great pressures under which he operated. When it came to the Emancipation Proclamation, Douglass understood the content, the context and the confines. In his “Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln,” delivered at the unveiling of the Freedmen's Monument in Washington D.C. in memory of Lincoln, on April 14, 1876, Douglass said:

    “Can any colored man, or any white man friendly to the freedom of all men, ever forget the night which followed the first day of January, 1863, when the world was to see if Abraham Lincoln would prove to be as good as his word? I shall never forget that memorable night, when in a distant city I waited and watched at a public meeting, with three thousand others not less anxious than myself, for the word of deliverance which we have heard read today. Nor shall I ever forget the outburst of joy and thanksgiving that rent the air when the lightning brought to us the emancipation proclamation. In that happy hour we forgot all delay, and forgot all tardiness, forgot that the President had bribed the rebels to lay down their arms by a promise to withhold the bolt which would smite the slave-system with destruction; and we were thenceforward willing to allow the President all the latitude of time, phraseology, and every honorable device that statesmanship might require for the achievement of a great and beneficent measure of liberty and progress.”

    Though sectional conflicts over slavery certainly contributed to the war, ending slavery was not an initial goal. The National Archives notes that that “changed on September 22, 1862, when President Lincoln issued his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which stated that slaves in those states or parts of states still in rebellion as of January 1, 1863, would be declared free.” Just 100 days later, seeing no action from the rebelling states, Lincoln issued the official Emancipation Proclamation declaring “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious areas “are, and henceforward shall be free.” While the proclamation did not end slavery in the United States, it did fundamentally transform the character of the war and added moral force to the Union cause while strengthening the Union both politically and militarily.

    Eric Foner wrote in The New York Times that to some extent the Emancipation Proclamation “embodied a double emancipation: for the slaves, since it ensured that if the Union emerged victorious, slavery would perish, and for Lincoln himself, for whom it marked the abandonment of his previous assumptions about how to abolish slavery and the role blacks would play in post-emancipation American life.”

    Across the nation, celebrants have many opportunities to appreciate the value and meaning of the Emancipation Proclamation. The Library of Congress is displaying Lincoln’s first handwritten draft, on display for six weeks starting Jan. 3 in "The Civil War in America" exhibit. And the National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian has an exhibit called "Changing America," which recounts both the 1863 emancipation and the 1963 March on Washington for Civil Rights. The exhibit includes a rare signed copy of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that abolished slavery and is the centerpiece of the Spielberg film. What a great opportunity to see and appreciate the reality of what's been portrayed on the movie screen!

  • December 14, 2012

    by E. Sebastian Arduengo

    Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R) despite a massive outcry of protestors at the state capitol in Lansing signed a so-called “right-to-work” bill into law. And just like in neighboring Indiana, right to work passed despite a massive outcry, and Michigan joined 23 other states that have passed such legislation in a seeming race to the bottom for the benefit of corporations that have made massive political donations to the Republican proponents of these bills.

    So what is “right to work,” and why are so many Republican officials making it a legislative priority? Put simply, right-to-work legislation prohibits agreements that require employees of a firm to maintain union membership as a condition of employment, allowing workers who choose to do so the right to “work through a strike.” The problem with this is that federal law requires unions to bargain for a contract that benefits all workers, regardless of whether they become members of the union. And, unions are founded on the premise of collective action, when individuals can take advantage of the benefits that unions win in contracts without having to pay their fair share in dues; it creates a massive free-rider problem that undermines the purposes, and ultimately the benefits that a union provides. For that reason, the AFL-CIO calls this kind of legislation a “right to work for less [pay/benefits]” law.

  • November 16, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Christine L. Owens, Executive Director, National Employment Law Project


    With the election behind us, the looming fiscal cliff has now moved front and center in our national debate. The stakes are enormous, though as many note, the “cliff” is really a “slope,” with the effects of going over it more gradual than immediate and remediable by future action.  But for one group of Americans -- the long-term unemployed -- Congress’s failure to meet an end-of-year deadline means a catastrophic plunge. Here’s why.

    The Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program enacted in mid-2008 and since renewed ten times, provides between 14 and 47 weeks of federal unemployment benefits, depending on states’ unemployment rates, for jobless workers who reach the end of their state benefits (typically, 26 weeks) without finding work. Since Congress last reauthorized and shrank the EUC program in February 2012, the total number of weeks of federally-funded benefits for long-term unemployed workers has declined significantly, by an average of 31 percent across the states.  

    The EUC program is now set to expire at the end of the year -- a demise that is premature. Though the unemployment rate is falling, at 7.9 percent it is still 40 percent higher than when EUC was first implemented. More significant, long-term unemployment -- joblessness longer than six months -- has grown substantially in recent years: At five million individuals, long-term unemployment accounts for 40.6 of overall unemployment, a share more than double that in mid-2008 (18 percent) and one that has declined only marginally from the 42.6 percent rate last February, when the program was renewed. With more than three unemployed workers for every job opening, the average duration of unemployment is 40 weeks. These jarringly long spells and sustained high rates of long-term unemployment are record-setting, underscoring the continued need for the EUC program.

  • October 23, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Peter B. Edelman. Edelman is a law professor at Georgetown Law and Chair of the ACS Board. Edelman is also author of the recent book, So Rich, So Poor.


    George McGovern leaves legacies of principle and courage across the board. Robert Kennedy once said McGovern was the most decent man he had ever known. I admired McGovern for many reasons, but the one that counts most for me in particular is that he picked up the mantle on American hunger after RFK was murdered and led the way to the food stamp program we have today – eradicating the near-starvation of children that we discovered in our country in the 1960s and achieving an enormous success in our public policy. 

    McGovern is no doubt known more for his unsuccessful run for the presidency and his steadfast opposition to the war in Vietnam, but he had a lifelong concern for food and nutrition and especially about feeding the hungry across the world. After Robert Kennedy died, McGovern got the Senate to establish a special committee on hunger and nutrition and stayed with it through the better part of the 1970s until food stamps had become a fully mature and successful national program. 

    I will remember George McGovern on many counts, but personally more than anything else I will hold closest to my heart his enormous contribution to bringing an end to severe malnutrition for millions of children in our nation.

  • October 22, 2012

    posted by Jeremy Leaming

    The nation lost a passionate liberal, proud populist and decorated war hero on Sunday when U.S. Senator and presidential nominee George McGovern died at 90.

    As Salon’s Joan Walsh wrote, after McGovern accepted the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972, Richard Nixon and the Republican Party unleashed a notorious smear campaign that not only attempted to besmirch McGovern’s integrity, but led to a landslide victory for Nixon.

    Walsh wrote:

    It worked. Of course Nixon’s aggressiveness was ultimately his downfall; he resigned over the scandal around his henchmen breaking into the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate building. A year after the ’72 election, polls showed Americans would choose McGovern if they had it to do over again.

    Read more tributes to McGovern’s life:

    Ignore McGovern’s Message at Your Peril, Stanley Kutler, Salon

    George McGovern Dead at 90, David Browne, Rolling Stone

    Remembering George McGovern, Gary Hart, The Huffington Post

    A Prairie Liberal, Trounced but Never Silenced, David E. Rosenbaum, The New York Times

    George McGovern: Touchstone of Liberalism, John Nichols, The Nation

    George McGovern: American Patriot and Truth-Teller, Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation

    George McGovern, the man who never gave up, former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, The Washington Post