Interesting Inequality Article

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An interesting article on inequality. The journalist is probably of the class who feel some guilt for benefiting from the unjust, enormous upwards redistribution of income that’s happened in the last four decades. The income share of the top 1 percent in the U.S. has doubled from its share during most of the 1950s to 1980. This is an amount high enough to increase the income of people in the lowest 90 percent of the country’s income distribution by over 20 percent, and it’s nearly enough to double the income share of the bottom 40 percent.

I have my disagreements with the article, and it doesn’t offer many solutions relative to its lengthiness. In brief though, one of the most important ways to reduce inequality is to stop wealth from being distributed so unequally to begin with. Market structures have been rigged in all sorts of ways to benefit the wealthy, and instead of only focusing on tax and transfer policy, pre-tax distributions of income need to be focused on more.

Major U.S. Newspapers Dominated by Elite University Graduates

It definitely makes a difference in the coverage, as (having been around those elite-type people and having looked at the data myself) there’s a stark contrast between what’s covered and what powerful interests are doing that’s important. I would also connect this with another study that I read recently, which further verified the relevance of op-eds.

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It has been a longstanding criticism of the news media that at least some portions of it are too culturally and socially insular. A recent study published in the Journal of Expertise adds some data points to that thesis.

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The researchers found that both the Times and the Journal are overwhelmingly dominated by graduates of America’s elite schools. Around 44 percent of Times employees attended elite schools, as did nearly 50 percent of Journal employees, the study found. Among staff writers (as opposed to the broader pool, which included editors, contributors, and others whose job titles did not fall cleanly into another major category), elite school overrepresentation was still higher, with almost 52 percent of writers at the Times and 54 percent of writers at the Journal attending elite schools. Among this group, the top 1 percent in cognitive ability is overrepresented by around 50 to one. What’s more, the researchers found that approximately 20 percent of overall employees, and 28 percent of just editors and writers, attended Ivy League schools.

The Bernie Sanders Media Network is Doing Well

An encouraging sign that issues of real importance are gaining more attention, especially considering the outsized influence corporate mass media still has in promoting nonsensical trivialities.

The Vermont senator, who’s been comparing corporate television programming to drugs and accusing it of creating a “nation of morons” since at least 1979 — and musing to friends about creating an alternative news outlet for at least as long — has spent the last year and a half building something close to a small network out of his office in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill.

He understands, but resents, the comparison to the man who’s described the news media as the “enemy of the people.” His take is different, and he has his own plans. “[Am I concerned] that people might see me and Trump saying the same thing? Yes, I am,” Sanders conceded, leaning back in a leather chair in a conference room in his office on a recent Tuesday, as footage of Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony one building over played on TVs throughout his office. Wearing his standard uniform — long tie, jacket in need of a few swipes with a lint roller — he launched into the critique now familiar to anyone who’s watched one of his rallies. “My point of view is a very, very different one. My point of view is the corporate media, by definition, is owned by large multinational corporations: their bottom line is to make as much money as they can. They are part of the Establishment. There are issues, there are conflicts of interest in terms of fossil fuel advertising — how they have been very, very weak, in terms of climate change.” Needless to say, the content he produces is not sponsored by advertisers.

Sanders hosts an interview show (“The Bernie Sanders Show”) that he started streaming over Facebook Live on a semi-regular basis after his staff got the idea in February of 2017 to film the senator chatting with the activist Rev. Dr. William Barber. After they posted that simple clip and it earned hundreds of thousands of views with no promotion, they experimented with more seriously producing Sanders’s conversation days later with Bill Nye.

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Things escalated. Audio recordings of his conversations, repackaged as a podcast, have since occasionally reached near the top of iTunes’ list of popular programs. Sanders’s press staff — three aides, including Armand Aviram, a former producer at NowThis News, and three paid interns — published 550 original short, policy-focused videos on Facebook and Twitter in 2017 alone. And, this year, he has begun experimenting with streaming town-hall-style programs on Facebook. Each of those live events has outdrawn CNN on the night it aired.

“The idea that we can do a town meeting which would get a significantly larger viewing audience than CNN at that time is something I would not have dreamed of in a million years, a few years ago,” Sanders says.

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“Because people turn on the television, and they’re working longer hours for lower wages, they don’t have health care, their kids can’t afford to go to college, and they’re watching TV: ‘Hey! What about me? You know, I don’t care that Trump fired somebody else today, what about my life or my kids’ lives?’ So what we do, is we look at media in a different sense, we try to figure out what are the issues that impact ordinary people, and how can we provide information to them?”

Mr. Boston — The Formerly Secretive Role of Gar Alperovitz in the Release of the Pentagon Papers

Democracy Now’s recent interview with Gar Alperovitz is important and well-done. Many more people should know about what’s being discussed here, due to both current threats to humanity and the values needed for a much more sustainable future.

Audio: 

For more than 40 years, Alperovitz kept a close secret. In 1971, he clandestinely helped Ellsberg distribute sections of the Pentagon Papers to 19 newspapers across the country, at a time when the Nixon administration was trying to block publication. Alperovitz would go on to become a well-known historian, professor and political economist, but he kept his role in the Pentagon Papers leak a secret, until this week, when he spoke to The New Yorker magazine. The identities of who else worked with Gar Alperovitz to aid Ellsberg remains a secret. Dan Ellsberg told The New Yorker the secret role this group played was so crucial in releasing the Pentagon Papers he gave them a code name: “The Lavender Hill Mob.” Alperovitz went by the alias “Mr. Boston.” Ellsberg told The New Yorker, quote, “Gar took care of all the cloak-and-dagger stuff.”

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GAR ALPEROVITZ: Well, two things, I think, brought me to this judgment it was time to actually talk about this. One, it came back into the news because of the big movie, The Post, which describes some of this, which had been out of the news and out of consciousness for a long, long time. So, it offered an opportunity to think about this subject in a very powerful way, because lots of folks have seen that movie, and it raised the subject. And secondly—so the context was there.

And secondly, the dangers of this administration. Particularly, I’ve written about nuclear weapons a great deal. The dangers of this administration, I think it’s time for people to really think through what they can do, however small, however they want, to find a way, to actually find, personally, to do something to try to begin to build up a more democratic option and a way to avoid some of the real dangers. The possibility of nuclear war in Korea is a real possibility. There has been nuclear war in Asia, obviously: the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which is an area that I’ve written a great deal about. People, I think, need to think seriously about where they—what they can do to make for a more peaceful and a world that doesn’t repeat those mistakes.

AMY GOODMAN: The issue of nuclear war, again, raised once again by President Trump, you know, talking about expanding the nuclear arsenal, in his State of the Union address this week, and reportedly saying to his chiefs of—to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “If we have nuclear weapons, why don’t we use them?” You are a longtime historian, have written eloquently about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Can you talk about this? Why not use them?

GAR ALPEROVITZ: Well, they are—the weapons we have today are so many times more powerful than anything was used in World War II at Hiroshima and Nagasaki—and, I would mention, at that point, against the will of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all of whom came out after the war, all the top military leaders, with the one exception, publicly, after the war, saying the bombing was totally unnecessary in Hiroshima. We are now in a case where nuclear weapons are many, many, many times more powerful, and many, many thousands of them, and very, very dangerous because they are so easily launched.

And my hope is, both a public action will begin to build up, understanding that this is a threshold that should not be crossed, and that I hope, actually, some people within the government, just as during World War II the Joint Chiefs tried to stop that action, which was unnecessary and they knew was unnecessary, I would hope people begin to think, “What could we do?” What could they can do personally? And I think that’s an individual decision for everyone to make, what kind of things they can do in the circumstances they face. But I think the trillion dollars that’s now about to be spent to upgrade and increase the nuclear weapon supply—a trillion dollars—we are going into a whole new phase and with a government that is, so far, irresponsible in so many other ways, that this is a very dangerous period of American history.

AMY GOODMAN: You write a lot about changing the system, a lot about economics. Has that also played a role, given the passage of the tax law? You discuss the issue of inequality. We’re seeing the greatest growth of inequality in this country than any time in history.

GAR ALPEROVITZ: I don’t think we’re going to change what we do in foreign policy in a fundamental way, until we change what we do in the system. And I think we’re at a place where we’re facing what I would call a slow-boiling systemic crisis—traditional corporate capitalism producing great inequality, ecological destruction, increasing tensions in racial matters and gender matters, violence abroad. That process, the danger of slipping over into some form of formal or informal repression is very real. On the other hand, if the corporate capitalist system fails, the state socialist system also fails.

The basis of a new society and a new direction is really thinking through what can be a genuinely community-sustaining, peaceful vision of what the next system is. I’m a historian and political economist, and I see it as: How do we build the next two to three decades? Maybe taking off from what Bernie has shown us, taking off from what activists in the black community and the gay community and the feminist movement, the environmental community. There is a building-up process that has to go well beyond the politics of today towards a transformative vision that is much different than the vision that now supports the nuclear weapons and the military outreach. I think we’re in that period, and it could be a long period. But the lesson of all this, for me, is that we need to go both deeper and more boldly and begin building right from the bottom up, with a view to understanding—let me say it carefully: Systems change all the time in history. I think we have the opportunity to establish the conditions, if we’re serious, of laying down the foundations for a transformation. I didn’t say change the system tomorrow, I said building the basis of a transformation.

AMY GOODMAN: Gar, as we wrap up, are you proud of what you did in helping Dan Ellsberg get the Pentagon Papers out?

GAR ALPEROVITZ: “Proud” is a funny word. I did what I thought was necessary, what was important to do. I don’t think of it as pride, but I’m glad I did it.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us. Gar Alperovitz, historian, political economist, revealed this week he secretly helped Dan Ellsberg leak the Pentagon Papers. Gar Alperovitz is author, most recently, of Principles of a Pluralist Commonwealth and co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative and co-chair of its Next System Project.

What More Journalists and Reporters Should Know

There are key elements to valuable journalism. Among those are expressing important ideas with clarity and being adversarial to those who wield corrupt power at the top of society. Beyond that, however, there are also necessary critiques about the details of much mainstream press coverage that need to be seen more. This link focuses primarily on journalism and reporting related to economics, but some creativity will allow someone to see that there are similar critiques available to reporting in other fields.

And much of those similar available criticisms come down to relevance and comparisons. In foreign policy coverage, the root causes of crises (such as militarism being motivated by profits for weapons manufacturers and stateless terrorism being worsened by state terrorism) are not noted enough. There is also a disturbing trend of whitewashing war crimes and not providing context to important historical events that relate to the present, such as the 1953 Iran coup being backed by the U.S. government for oil resources. North Korea being obliterated in the Korean War (to the extent that their civilian infrastructure — notably the dams — were flattened, a war crime) is one of numerous other possible examples that reveal underlying causes of animosity in foreign relations today.

In a lot of political coverage, too much focus is on the personalities instead of on the issues. In technological coverage, it’s rarely noted that technology has no moral imperative and that it must be used appropriately to actually help people. There’s more I could say here, but the reader should understand the main point of this post by now.

Numbers in Context

There is perhaps no area of economic reporting that I find more frustrating than the failure of reporters to put numbers in a context that is understandable to their audience. I say this because it is not really an arguable point. When a news story tells readers that, “the federal government will spend $180 billion on transportation over the next six years,” it might just as well have said “the federal government will spend a REALLY BIG NUMBER on transportation over the next six years.”

The audience for the elite news outlets is highly educated, but as a practical matter very few readers of The New York Times or listeners to National Public Radio have any idea how much money $180 billion is to the federal government over the next six years. They spend their days working and their time off is with their families or dealing with other responsibilities. They are not reading documents from the Congressional Budget Office or Office of Management and Budget. On the other hand, if these outlets reported that it would be 0.8 percent of total spending or $100 per-person, per-year, it would be providing meaningful information on the size of the transportation budget.

This issue of putting numbers in context comes up in a wide variety of ways but is especially important in people’s views of anti-poverty programs both domestically and internationally. If people hear that we are spending $20 billion a year on Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) or foreign aid (roughly what we are actually spending), they are likely to think we are spending a great deal of money in these areas. After all, almost no one will ever see $20 billion in their lifetime. In fact, very few people will even see $20 million in their lifetime. When people hear these numbers, they tend to think of them as huge sums, which of course they are.

But relative to the federal budget they are not especially large. $20 billion dollars is less than one-half of one percent of federal spending. While that comparison doesn’t mean that the sum is trivial or that we shouldn’t be concerned if it is wasted, it does mean that we will not see a qualitative change to the budget picture or our tax obligations if these lines of spending were drastically cut back or even eliminated altogether.

DuPont Concealed Dangerous Health Risks Caused by Teflon Globally

This DuPont case is a significant example of corporate crime and the damage it causes. The toxic chemicals in Teflon provide ample reasoning to simply use different products (such as cast iron pans) and avoid exposure to the potentially harmful chemicals in Teflon.

Broadcasting from the Sundance Film Festival, we are joined by three guests who personally battled with DuPont and are featured in the new documentary called “The Devil We Know,” that looks at how former DuPont employees, residents and lawyers took on the chemical giant to expose the danger of the chemical C8, found in Teflon and countless household products—from stain- and water-resistant apparel to microwave popcorn bags to dental floss. The chemical has now been linked to six diseases, including testicular and kidney cancers.

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AMY GOODMAN: We are broadcasting from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Nearly 70 years ago, the chemical giant DuPont introduced a product that would transform how people around the world cook: nonstick Teflon pans.

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AMY GOODMAN: The chemicals in the product, C8, went on to be used in countless household products, from stain- and water-resistant apparel to microwave popcorn bags to dental floss. But DuPont had a secret it never told the American public or many of its own workers: C8 is highly toxic. But that didn’t stop them from discharging C8 into the waterways around its manufacturing plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia. It’s now been linked to six diseases, including testicular and kidney cancers. The chemical has been used so widely, it’s now in the bloodstream of 99 percent of Americans, even newborn babies. And the chemical is bioresistant, meaning it does not break down.

The struggle to discover the truth about C8 and hold DuPont accountable is the subject of a stunning new documentary that premiered here at Sundance. It’s called The Devil We Know.

Additional article: The Case Against DuPont

Long Sort of Interview on “Russian Meddling”

A long sort of interview with journalist Glenn Greenwald. The Russia “meddling in the election” story has sadly taken over much of American media focus, which is detrimental to the country and its need to focus on issues that would actually improve the well-being of the general population. There’s no hard evidence that the Russian government had a major impact on the election, and even if they did, the U.S. itself has a long history of interfering in elections. Beyond interfering in elections, the U.S. actually has a history of supporting horribly violent overthrows of sovereign governments. The U.S. supported the 1953 coup in Iran that lead to a brutal regime ruling in that country until 1979, for one brief example.

Another disappointing thing is the person even Fox News admits is the most popular politician in America — Senator Bernie Sanders — runs around the country showing what a strong and meaningfully popular political platform is. Senator Sanders doesn’t mention Russia much, as he has his eyes on what matters — e.g., the attacks that threaten to cut the safety net, the essential economic issues (inequality, taxing Wall Street, infrastructure), and healthcare. He literally has the blueprint and is vocal about expressing it, but still too few Democratic politicians are learning from it, such is the corrupting nature of excessive corporate campaign cash and the effect of the distracting Russia narrative.

There’s a spacing error with the third and fourth last paragraphs of the article, but I have to wonder how many people actually read through to see that.

And even if claims about Russian meddling are corroborated by Robert Mueller’s investigation, Greenwald’s not sure it adds up to much — some hacked emails changing hands, none all that damaging in their content, maybe some malevolent Twitter bots. In his eyes, the Russia-Trump story is a shiny red herring — one that distracts from the failures, corruption, and malice of the very Establishment so invested in promoting it. And when in January, as “Journalism Twitter” was chastising the president for one outrage or another, Congress quietly passed a bipartisan bill to reauthorize sweeping NSA surveillance, you had to admit Greenwald might have been onto something.

“When Trump becomes the starting point and ending point for how we talk about American politics, [we] don’t end up talking about the fundamental ways the American political and economic and cultural system are completely fucked for huge numbers of Americans who voted for Trump for that reason,” he says. “We don’t talk about all the ways the Democratic Party is a complete fucking disaster and a corrupt, sleazy sewer, and not an adequate alternative to this far-right movement that’s taking over American politics.”

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“For me, the fundamental question is: How satisfied are you with the prevailing order, with the status quo?” By this, Greenwald does not mean life in the Trump era but the behavior of American elites over the past several generations. “How benevolent do you regard American power and American institutions?”