Saturday, March 24, 2018

Inequality Topics Are Out Of Vogue-- Except For A Growing Majority Of Americans


The Swamp by Nancy Ohanian

by Skip Kaltenheuser

Allow me to offer a few additional thoughts on the recent Economic Inequality Town Hall that triggered Howie’s post on job guarantees.

The event, “Inequality in America: The Rise of Oligarchy and Collapse of the Middle Class,” took place on the 19th in the Visitor Center at the US Capitol before an overflow crowd. Its panel included Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, filmmaker Michael Moore and economist Darrick Hamilton, with input from thoughtful experts, interspersed with short films of people describing their economic realities in ways that fracture stereotypes. I watched it here, thinking what a great resource it is for candidates and others exploring progressive values. Over 1.7 million viewers watched online, a figure I hope rises as it's sent about and if astute teachers make it a homework assignment.

Smack dab in the center of the swamp, this should have been a top drawer political story. Those wondering why so much of mainstream media is being deserted for alternative media offerings might do a search trying to find coverage of this event in publications like WaPo and the NY Times, and in the All Things Lightly Considered-type shows at NPR. To be fair, the following day was a crowded news day at NPR. For example, a gorilla in Philly walked upright to keep his hands clean.

What does this lack of MSM attention tell us? Unless we start making noise, we’re going to see corporate media continue to use its coverage, or withholding of it, to damp down the prospect of truly progressive contenders who might exorcise the demon leeches from America’s executive branch and the rest of government.

One wearies of media’s frequent lumping together of all stripes of populism as if they make up a uniform monolith. As if Berlusconi and Bernie are cousins, with Trump the missing link. It’s hard not to suspect some of an effort to tar Bernie’s brand of egalitarianism. Let journalists, commentators, editors and any remaining of the vanishing ombudsman species know how dopy it sounds. It might eventually shame them into making the distinctions one hopes those in their profession are capable of. If they aren’t capable or willing to end such media malpractice, they’d best continue on to their more promising careers in propaganda.

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren sure looked to me like an amiable presidential ticket. Mitch McConnell and Republican strategists who once dissed Warren in order to elevate her status, hoping she’d land on a presidential ticket, might be rethinking their wish list. You know wish lists. Like Hillary had for running against Trump. But as Hillary points out, she had the cool, prosperous, dynamic places in her pocket. What’s to worry about places where people are hurting from neglect, from opioids, war casualties, unaffordable education and foaming the runway for banks?

Part of Last Conversion by Juan Munoz at the Hirshhorn Museum. I heard them whispering about what might be done about Bernie and Senator Warren

I marvel at what Bernie has done. Distilling his themes and pounding away at them, he’s helped sort our confusion over what’s happening around us, giving us focal points. He might have had to run for President to do it, but with apologies to Ralph Nader, Bernie has had more success than anyone in recent memory to substantively change the political dialogue across the political spectrum. You probably have to go back to Clean Gene McCarthy and Uncle Ross Perot for contenders. Reagan of course, but he moved us toward the dark side. Bernie’s provided a legitimate framework that Everyman can use to interpret what is going on behind the scenes in those places where public viewing is verboten, like forbidden meetings of lawyers for colluding banks. Despite his label as an Independent, never mind democratic socialist, he is the vanguard for reforming the Democratic Party, in the near term the only real game in town. That is one hell of an accomplishment. Even when it seems Bernie’s about to stretch our attention spans by smacking our hands with a ruler, he’s coming off as darn likable. Smiling more and dressing dapper, if he wasn’t so worried about the country cracking apart-- worry that seems written on his face-- he might enjoy himself. No one can accuse Bernie of sticking his finger in the wind before he speaks. How many politicians can you say that about?

The Breadline by Georg Segal, part of the expansive FDR Memorial-- "They who seek to establish systems of government based on the regimentation of all human beings by a handful of individual rules... call this a New Order. It is not new and it is not oder"-- FDR

There’s nothing I’d change in this kitchen sink pitch for Bernie during the primaries. It begins with an example of the media knives out for Bernie. A National Press Club election post-mortem on the media is here. True, Bernie now gets invited on the Sunday shows, for short segments. Producers figured out the most popular politician in America is a ratings booster.

For a thicker slice of Bernie unbound than the Sunday shows carve, here’s a twenty-five minute symposium keynote I heard him give last November to the Economists for Peace and Security, warming up on the bought-and-paid-for levers of inequality.

Bernie at a symposium for Economists for Peace and Security

A quick digression on when I became aware of Micheal Moore’s work. I knew former Congressman Jim Corman, a terrific guy, gone now, whose family was kind enough to host my wedding in their backyard; Jim gave my wife away. Jim's father was a silica miner in rural Kansas who died of related lung disease. Jim was always batting to hit long balls for the downtrodden. The GOP targeted him for his support of the Supreme Court’s decision to tackle desegregation with busing. Next in line for Ways & Means chairman, he lost by a hair when Jimmy Carter conceded defeat while the polls were still open in California. Jim was dismayed by what Reagan was doing to unions, starting with the air traffic controllers. He predicted a downward spiral for those who’d achieved middle class status with the help of unions.

Through Jim, I met Dale Kildee, a Michigan congressman who grew up in and taught school in Flint. I took him to see Roger and Me, a 1989 film in which Moore explores the impacts of General Motors laying off Flint union workers, replacing their labor with that of non-unionized workers in Mexico. Roger is Roger B. Smith, then chairman of GM. The late, great Roger Ebert discusses the film’s controversies here.

Two of the film’s scenes involved women trying to make ends meet for their families by raising rabbits, necessary to supplement their job wages. The first had a sign offering customers the choice of rabbits for pets or meat. In the second, a woman shows her affection for a rabbit then whacks it in the head and skins it for her family’s dinner that night. Both matter-of-factly discuss their lives while demonstrating the critical role their rabbits played. I glanced at the Congressman and saw tears rolling down his cheek. I then understood what was happening in his home town. And this was long before Republicans decided to save money with hot and cold running lead.

Sanders made the point, there was more discussion on inequality issues in this single town meeting than the networks ever present. Indeed, think of the rarity of gems like Harvest of Shame, Edward R. Murrow’s final program for CBS. If you haven’t seen the riveting 1960 documentary on the lives of American migrant agricultural workers it can be seen here.

I did see a decent piece on the town hall event in The Guardian, a British owned-paper with an American edition, and a media partner for the event. The Guardian occasionally risks losing its MSM card by publishing Thomas Frank’s essays. Here’s a worthy batch.

To its credit, FOX News took note of the event. Except that it did so with goofballs claiming middle class shrinkage is from so many moving up. Comedy Central gets a run for its money.

The Hill initially focused on quips Moore and Sanders made about Stormy Daniels, along with Russians, being among the shiny keys to distract us.

Some irony there, the lesson that if you want media notice, at least give media a chance to quote mention of Stormy as a shiny distraction. I guess if one really wants coverage, put her on a panel.

Thankfully, I am above such cheap tricks.

Stormy Daniels by Nancy Ohanian

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At 12:33 PM, Anonymous Rob lane said...

Skip,you are the great arbator of progressive thought. Rob


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