Posts Tagged Huffington Post
Posted by Darshana V. Nadkarni, Ph.D. in Uncategorized on February 28, 2014
The film “Inequality for All” premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and won a U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Achievement in Filmmaking. Huffington Post calls it a “must-see movie” and according to Variety, this film “does for income disparity what “An Inconvenient Truth” did for Climate Change”; a deeper understanding of the issues and meaningful conversations around some action. How cool that our local community college hosted the screening and fabulous panel discussion, following the film! DeAnza College at Cupertino is a model in providing top notch all-rounded education experience, with opportunity for civic and community engagement. Economic disparity is a very real problem in our society and here is a link to my previous blog on this issue and the huge fragmenting impact of economic disparity on the fabric of our families and communities – http://bit.ly/AwLq7G .
In “Inequality for All”, economist, author, professor and former labor secretary, Robert Reich examines the widening income disparity in the US, and discusses its impact on our society, and on our democracy. So how wide is the gap? In 2011 broadcast of “The Daily Show”, Jon Stewart cited a CIA Gini Index in which the United States ranked 64th in income inequality (worse than Cameron, but just above Uraguay). Later CIA revised the figures, but as Robert Reich explains in the film, 400 people in the US have more wealth than half the population of the US. Reich examines the years leading up to the crash in 1928, and in 2007, and finds striking parallels.
President Reagan’s economic policy was based on reducing growth of government spending, reducing federal income tax, reducing capital gains tax, reducing government regulation, and tightening the money supply to reduce inflation. The very wealthy often made their money in capital gains, and at 15% rate, frequently pay less in taxes than the average Americans. When wealthy do not pay higher taxes, the middle class gets stagnated. When middle class is squeezed, it stops spending, stops buying, and there is less revenue for states, for public institutions. This results in cost of higher education going up, higher school dropout rate, less skilled workforce, more jobs going abroad, higher unemployment and so on.
It is a misnomer to believe that when the very wealthy have more money, they would spend more and hire more. They may buy 3 more cars or 5 more pairs of jeans. But in the end, there is only so much they can buy, compared to a mass of middle class people. The more wealth they accumulate, the very wealthy invest in speculative assets, in gold, housing, and/or invest it abroad. That is exactly what happened in the years preceding the crash in 2007. The financial sector ballooned and greater deregulations helped the speculative assets to grow.
Meanwhile, the average American worker was struggling to keep up. Not wanting to get locked out of the American dream, middle class families too were buying homes. While middle class salaries had stagnated, two income families grew, and many people were working two and three jobs, in addition to borrowing heavily (often against the equity in their homes), just to make ends meet. With greater deregulations, union bashing, and union squashing, increasingly their voices were not heard. In 1992, President Bill Clinton promised to cut taxes for the middle classes, and make the very wealthy pay their fair share. He also promised to contain outrageous executive pay. Many executives then began to get paid in stock options which further fueled the growth of speculative assets. Government sets the rules by which the markets function, says Reich.
Big corporations are simply not designed to generate jobs. They operate with focused objectives of making profit and delivering value to the shareholders. Technology and globalization enable big corporations to take the jobs away from average American workers and go to the regions of the world, where labor supply is cheaper. Who looks out for the average American worker? The answer is “nobody”, says Reich. President Clinton’s policies did nothing to stop the downward spiral of the middle class. The eventual economic crash further harmed the middle class families. Many of them cannot afford to stay in their homes and resulting pressure often fragmented or broke up families. Please do check out my previous blog on its devastating impact on our families – http://bit.ly/AwLq7G . The very wealthy do not benefit when things get so dire for the majority. Reich makes the points emphatically, citing data and sources to bolster his perspectives and with appropriate amount of humor.
This much is clear from the film that this growing income disparity is lethal for a society and for the democracy. People are polarized and on edge. No one benefits from it. In the end, it also hurts the very wealthy. What communities would they live in when the teachers, the grocery store clerks and others cannot afford to live in the same communities? But how can average Americans take back their voice and get heard? What can they do? The panel discussion that followed the film was enlightening and heart warming. The panelists included Professor Ben Pacho, Professor Jim Nguyen, President of De Anza College, Dr. Brian Murphy, Dr. Crystallee Crain, and Dr. Cynthia Kaufman.
Dr. Murphy advised that we not just focus on marginal shifts but focus on the big picture and reclaim public institutions. He suggested we learn about power and leverage the capacity to build coalitions by forging connections across diversity of race, gender, and cultures, to focus on the true cause. It might be a long struggle but with unity, we can counterbalance the power of money. Dr. Kaufman (author of “Ideas for Action” and “Getting Past Capitalism”, added that we need to focus on building deep, authentic relationships with each other and with “stuff” so that we end up requiring less stuff. According to Dr. Crain, we need to overcome apathy and Professors Pacho and Nguyen emphasized the need to get involved in the community. All panelists emphasized they would not want to see the students getting burnt out. In fact, Dr. Murphy talked about the power of “random episodic silent thinking” or rest! He said, no one can do any kind of community or activist work, if they do not deeply love. This love may be for someone or something but deep affection anchors the values and purposefulness and provides the drive to be involved in things one cares about. It may not be everything that we all can take on. But apathy just won’t do. Each of us can take on and contribute to something we deeply care about so we can leave the world a better place.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver (quoted at beginning of Part Five).
If Cheryl Strayed is any inspiration, you will do much. “We aren’t poor, because we’re rich in love”, her mother said, while Strayed and her siblings were growing up. Her mother with many faults (and who isn’t), was kindhearted, forgiving, generous, naïve, and an undying optimist (when you read the book, you will see there is a pun in here, alluding to one of life’s strange ironies). One day life threw a curve ball and her family went bankrupt, at least, in love. Strayed’s memoir is a brutally honest, funny, sad, and absolutely magnificently written account of her journey through her 1,100 mile walk on the Pacific Crest Trail, through her denial and her anger, and her acceptance of things as they are, that led her to love. Wild, chosen by Oprah as her first Book Club 2.0 selection, was also chosen by Huffington Post in August 2013, as one of “40 books to read.
In a desperate attempt to reclaim her life run amok with her zany behaviors, in one swell swoop, so characteristic of teens and early adults, Strayed traded the material world of possessions and comfort for life in the nature, in the wild, and in favor of her backpack, Monster, so heavy that she had to perch on a chair to lift it. At the age of 22, she began the journey at Mohave in the Sierras, in her boots so tight that her toe nails popped off. On the long journey, she held together her fraying sandals with tape, got new boots shipped by REI at next pickup location, almost stepped on the rattle snakes, came face to face with a bear and a fox, ran into the crew about to blow off the mountain she was walking on, woke up from her sleep once covered with black ants and at another time found frogs jumping over her in droves.
She walked on during days of merciless heat and on bone chilling nights, got lost and then found, ran out of money and got invited for meals by kind strangers. Strayed hiked on from Mohave desert through Tehachapi Mountains to Kennedy Meadows in the high Sierras, through Forester Pass, at 13,160 feet, the highest point on the PCT, through Sierra City (a town that was wiped out by an avalanche in 1852) and other scenic villages. She kept walking through Northern California, where the High Sierra Nevada yield to the Southern Cascade Range, through Lassen Peak, through extremely dry Hat Creek Rim, to Mount Shasta to Oregon’s Cascade Range, through Mount McLoughlin to Mount Thielsen to Mount Mazama. At one time, Mount Mazama had stood at 12,000 feet tall and was then hit by the crater and became Crater Lake, a site of incredible beauty, its waters so pure and deep that apparently it absorbs every color of visible light except blue, and reflects pure blue back, into the world. Srayed continued walking through the Three Sisters to Mount Washington to Three Fingered Jack to Mount Jefferson and to Mount Hood (Oregon’s largest and most active volcano), finally ending her journey at the Bridge of the Gods on the Columbia River, on the Canadian border, in the state of Washington. Yes, she did a solo two month hike and walked One Thousand and One Hundred miles! It is an incredible story of physical agony and persistence, of humanity filled with kindness, and one where only luck can help you, if in the wild, you are faced with people, with evil intentions.
Throughout her journey, Strayed also reflects on her inner struggles, her deep loss, her heart wrenching grieving, her egregious behaviors that jeopardized her safety and put her marriage at risk. In the wild, she hollers, sobs, curses God, ruminates and reads. Some of her ruminations are gut-wrenching. She regrets the “small things that stung now”, where in arrogant superiority, characteristic of a teen, she had “scorned her mother’s kindness”, how she hurt her kind and infinitely forgiving husband, she yearned to talk to her siblings, yearned for a family, “to be folded into something that was safe from destruction”. Her enormous physical accomplishment pales in comparison to the place where her self healing and spiritual journey led her. About her mom she says, “the truth was, she’d been a spectacular mom”, one who gave her “all-encompassing love”, and “considered that love her greatest achievement”. She was able to forgive her step father Eddie, who was there in the most significant ways, when it mattered.
At the end of her long journey, Strayed feels very present to her life, “like all lives, mysterious, irrevocable, and sacred.” (Indeed – what a profound description of life which can be seen in the rearview mirror, but can only be lived forward). Strayed is filled with gratitude, as she accepts her life, without feeling the need to recapture it. “Something inside of me released”, she says. I, highly recommend this book. You will laugh, you will cry, you will reflect, you will regret, you will accept, and most of all you will enjoy her beautiful writing. (Personally, it also reminded me of the month I spent with 4 of my fellow climbers/hikers in the Himalayan mountains, carrying our own monster packs with tents, mats, food, stove, crampons, rope, ice ax and blistered feet, and fully bathed only after the span of almost 27 days. Some day I too might write my story).