How much is “too” much?

It’s called “consciousness raising,” I think. Or maybe it’s “conscience raising.” I forget which is which. Whatever it is, there was a whole lot of it going on in Upstate New York Wednesday.

I mean people railing against inequality, especially as represented by the gap between the poor and the rich. And not just in Third World countries. The New York City Coalition Against Hunger says inequality of wealth is higher in Manhattan than in Brazil or Haiti. That poor old twenty-four dollar island is home to about a million and a half people living below the poverty line. And several billionaires.

Well, “several” is vague. What the Coalition said was that there are fifty-seven billionaires in Manhattan, and that’s not counting those with fortunes squirreled away to banks in Atlantis, or wherever better folk secrete their assets.

  • A friend asked me the other day if I thought billionaires worried about poor people. I said that it’s probably hard to become a billionaire if you worry about poor people. But hey, that’s just me.

So anyway, there were all these people in Albany, pointing out how unequal distribution of wealth causes so much trouble.

One of them was former President Bill Clinton, talking to a huge audience at The State University (SUNY). He provided a wealth of informed commentary, trenchant observations, and carefully-considered suggestions for reform. Among the former President’s comments, according to the story in the Schenectady Gazette:

“Inequality in resources and lack of constructive dialogue about how to solve that and other problems plague the world today… The world is too unequal to support democracy, freedom, stability and peace in the long run… too much of the world has little access to quality health care, clean water, food and education.”

Reading “too unequal” and “too much of the world,” I was sort of hoping he’d explain just how much inequality would be okay, or how much of the world should be left without access to quality health care, clean water, food and education. But he didn’t. When you’re the President, even the ex-President, aides probably handle details like that.

The others making a similar argument — about a hundred of them, according to one report — were not at the SUNY Do with Big Bill. They were over at the State Capitol, carrying signs, chanting slogans, trying to get attention from legislators, reporters, passers-by, anyone they could find. Their comments were summed up in the paper as “opposition to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to cut program funding for the poor while giving tax breaks to the rich.”

I don’t know how many people paid any attention to them, but I suspect that, even if it were as many as the two thousand back at SUNY, it was not as receptive or sympathetic an audience as Clinton commanded. In fact, some whose attention was drawn not only were not sympathetic; they were downright hostile. But about those, more later.

The reporter for Associated Press who covered the demonstration at the Capitol was one who seemed less than wholeheartedly sympathetic. He may have been aiming for even-handedness, or for in-depth reporting. Or maybe it was a series of cheap shots. I report, you decide. Here is some of what he wrote:

“In Albany, grassroots protest is big business… The groups flood Albany on legislative session days, boxed lunches in hand, after fully alerting the media… On Wednesday, the effort came in three chartered buses, with those who face the real cuts in services and aid led by full-time staffers who know how to play to the TV cameras to maximize the impact of a couple dozen or 100 protesters and steer reporters to heart-wrenching personal profiles for which they prep their clients.”

Back at the SUNY affair, there was more glitz and less gloom. While SUNY and former President Clinton also are, in their own ways, big businesses, they seldom show up with boxed lunches, and hardly ever in buses. And not an ounce of prepping. I mean, can you imagine Bill Clinton asking someone to tell him how to play to the TV cameras?

So there they were Wednesday. One hundred and one people in Albany, all trying to explain how unfair the system is.

One of the explainers got a hundred thousand dollars for his effort. Of the others — and here’s where those hostiles I mentioned come in — seventeen got arrested by State Police and charged with disorderly conduct.

You guess who got what.

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