Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Hedrick Smith: Income disparity our major problem

Scientific American magazine once quoted George Carlin as  joking that "the reason they  call it the American Dream is because you have to be asleep to believe it."

And why not?  In terms of economic inequality, the same article noted that the United States is now "the most unequal of all Western nations".   The Carnegies, Goulds, Astors and Vanderbilts, among other plutocrats  from the gilded 1800s,  may be  gone, except for the history pages, but today's wealth is in such imbalance that President Obama has described the income gap as the "defining challenge of our time.:"

Hedrick Smith thinks so, too.  The Pultizer Prize-winning journalist-author sharply brought  that message  to the Press Club-Bliss Institute luncheon as well as a Bliss student class and Cleveland City Club.

If you doubt its validity, Smith will remind you that one percent  of Americans own five times that of the other 99 pct. Or, as Scientific American noted, the "Walton Family, for example,  has more wealth than 42 percent of American families combined."

The  problem , as he sees it , of which I agree, lies in the inattentiveness of the media to make a big deal of it.  Twenty-four hour news cycles serve us blips of fragmented information while newspapers remain wedded to soft feel-good features as the Akron Beacon Journal's sweeping  stop-the-presses  front-page pieces on cupcakes  - or as Bill Maher once twitted, TV newscasts that end with a warm tale about a "blind, black bus driver". Feeling better about life in general?

Sorry, Rick .  The paper didn't report your talk at Quaker Station.

Is the dark playbook that drives so much money to the GOP's preferred candidates hopeless?

Could be. As Smith, the author of the must-read  Who Stole the American Dream? , laments that nothing can change until Americans have shown more in demanding that change with a hefty grassroots response that has effected other changes in our society.  Until then, if ever, we remain victims of a 'broken political system" in  the grip of Wall Street.

"We don't have an active citizenry," Smith said. "We can't sit back and say it's terrible." Meantime, he complained that the media "continues to do a superficial job."

Smith also didn't have much hope  that politicians will  correct the evils of gerrymandering. Safe districts are "how they get elected," he said.

There once was a guiding spirit in my profession that newspapers should "afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted."  I think of that when I recall the cupcakes story.

So, yes, the mountain is high to restore the American Dream.  But it does help to know that a guy like Hedrick Smith, a journalistic giant, hasn't  given up.

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