Robert F. Wagner

Americans tend to be fascinated by what’s new and to be indifferent to the past, except when they can use “tradition” to reinforce current prejudices and power arrangements. This has had an unfortunate effect on how we govern ourselves. We forget important lessons, and repeat old mistakes. A century ago, on March 25, 1911, 146 garment workers, most of them Jewish and Italian immigrant girls in their teens and twenties, perished after a fire broke out at the Triangle Waist Company in New York City’s Greenwich Village.

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“New York City needs, and must have, a change. It must change completely in all of its institutions from top to bottom.”—CANDIDATE JOHN LINDSAY, a week before his election as mayor. Lindsay is often called “the Republican Kennedy.” There is some resemblance. Like the late President, he is forever tilting with a lethargic bureaucracy, trying to impart to it some of his own dash and sense of urgency. Kennedy tried, but soon abandoned, the experiment of sitting in on a State Department staff meeting and startling middle-echelon officials by telephoning them to ask their opinions.

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