December 9, 2014

Income disparity as seen from the street

Posted by WARREN PERLEY – Editor,
Writing from Montreal

A homeless man seen sleeping on a row of seats in a Montreal subway station.
Photo: Jeff Kraus, iStock Editorial/
A homeless man seen sleeping on a row of seats in a Montreal subway station.

Two recent events convinced me we needed an in-depth analysis on explaining to readers the political and economic trends which have steadily increased income disparity.

The first event was a November 19, 2014 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation financial news show called “The Exchange with Amanda Lang”, in which the host waxed positive over the fact that the latest Statistics Canada figures, which came out the day before, showed that the wealthiest 1 percent of Canadians controlled 10.3 percent of national income in 2012, down from 10.6 percent one year earlier and 12.1 percent in 2006. [By contrast, three decades ago the figure was 7.1 percent.]

U.S. figures indicated that the top 1 percent in that country had a 19.3 percent share of total income in 2012, the largest share in a century of record-keeping and up from 18 percent in 2006.

Amanda Lang’s point was that Canada was doing much better than the U.S. in closing the wealth gap between the top 1 percent and the other 99 percent of its citizens. “It’s kind of refreshing to know that the big disparities in income aren’t happening here [in Canada],” Lang said…”The gap between the rich and the poor is narrowing in Canada.”

It didn’t take long for one of her guests, senior economist Armine Yalnizyan of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives to squelch that notion and to put the entire matter of income disparity into context, pointing out that Canada has tax advantages for the wealthy, many of whom use private corporations as shells for aggressive tax avoidance, meaning the wealth gap is still there – it’s just not visible as taxable income.

But Yalnizyan wasn’t finished. She went on to warn the Conservative government of Stephen Harper not to make the income gap worse by introducing new tax cuts in anticipation of a 2015 federal election.

Lang seemed taken aback by Yalnizyan’s contention, asking rhetorically how it could be that the super wealthy in Canada had access to tax dodges not open to their American counterparts.

Looking Lang in the eye, Yalnizyan went on to say: “You can talk about things getting better, but talk to anyone on the street and they’ll tell you it isn’t.”

She was referring to Canada, but the malaise of inequality originates in the United States, the unbridled champion of consumerism based on free-market, free-trade capitalism which it promotes worldwide.

Yalnizyan’s comment that anyone on the street could tell you how bad the have-nots are faring brought to mind an anecdote related to me a few months ago by my niece, Norma, who lives in Atlanta. It seems that she, her husband, Robert, their 9-year-old son, Gabriel, and their 6-year-old daughter, Noa, were on their way to an Atlanta Braves-Philadelphia Phillies baseball game when they passed some homeless people near Turner Field, located in downtown Atlanta at the junction of I-75, I-85 and I-20.

Gabriel had saved $60 from his birthday money to buy an Atlanta Braves jersey with the name of his favorite player, outfielder Justin Upton. But as they walked towards the stadium entrance, Gabriel, who had three $20 bills for his anticipated jersey purchase, saw a homeless black man with a breathing tube and a near-empty cup for change.

What happened next, I’ll let Gabriel tell you in his own words as part of a composition called “Random Acts of Kindness” he wrote for a class project. [You can find his composition, replete with his byline and without editing by us, at the end of this Note From The Editor.]

I was impressed by the fact that a young boy could be so touched by the plight of a sick, homeless stranger and could instinctively understand that it is not a normal situation for people to have no option but to sleep outside.

So I resolved to find a journalist who had the depth of intellect, talent, experience and compassion to explain to all our readers – old and young, American, Canadian and other nationalities – how we as citizens of some of the wealthiest, democratic nations on earth have allowed our most vulnerable neighbors to slip into the depths of poverty and despair.

As Editor of I don’t normally assign stories to journalists; it is up to the freelancers themselves to choose their subject matter. But I made an exception in this case and contacted Henry McRandall, a firebrand journalist who has worked at major media outlets across North America, including The New York Times, and is founder and Editor of, an opinionated, hard-hitting online newsmagazine.

Every young journalist in the world would do well to have the opportunity to learn their craft from an experienced old-time media maven such as Henry. Unfortunately, most likely will never have that opportunity because big-city legacy media are no longer the apprentice-type shops they were in my day and in Henry’s time when experienced journalists from around the world mingled, collaborated and exchanged points of view with their younger colleagues, making us all better journalists and transforming our newspapers into must-reads for people seeking context about political, social and economic events.

Although we couldn’t put Henry in a classroom or in a newsroom, we did the next best thing by inviting him as a guest contributor to to write a detailed analysis on this hugely important issue of income disparity and its twin demons of homelessness and hunger.

So in the end, I took Armine Yalnizyan’s advice and asked someone in the street, in addition to my 9-year-old great-nephew, Gabriel, how things are going for the have-nots. Befitting an intellectual who has sat as a journalist at the news desk of The New York Times and as a homeless vagrant on the streets of downtown Toronto, Henry McRandall has provided us with a detailed analysis of the political and social events in America which have brought the disaster of income inequality upon the heads of citizens of all Western democracies, including Canada. His conclusions leave scant room for optimism for those dreamers among us who aspire to a more egalitarian society.

It brings to mind the last scene in the 2012 neo-noir crime film, “Killing Them Softly”, starring Brad Pitt as a mob enforcer who is in a Boston bar renegotiating his fee for three hits with a senior Mafia emissary. On a bar television, we see and hear Barack Obama giving his victory speech from the November 4, 2008 presidential election in which he talks about how in America “out of many, we are one” based on opportunity and hope.

“This guy [Obama] wants to tell me we’re living in a community?” Pitt’s character asks rhetorically. “Don’t make me laugh. I’m living in America, and in America you’re on your own. America is not a country; it’s just a business. Now f _ _ _ _ _ _ pay me.” Fade to black.

[See teaser below]

Published: DECEMBER 2014
Hungry, homeless and hopeless: utter despair of income disparity

Writing from London, Ontario

Now more than three decades since Reaganomics took America by storm, income disparity in that country is at its highest point in more than a century, a nefarious trend shaking the roots of Western democracies, including Canada and the United Kingdom. An Oxfam International report released in January 2015 predicted that the richest 1 percent of the population would own more than half the world's wealth by 2016. A veteran journalist who was himself homeless for 14 months explains the key events of the last 50 years which have permitted the laissez-faire capitalism of the world’s only superpower, the United States, to dominate the world, banishing many in the middle class to poverty and bringing some of the most vulnerable members of society to their knees.

10,037 Words | 29 Photos

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ADDENDUM: December 18, 2014

Atlanta Braves reward act of kindness

Gabriel, seen wearing his new Atlanta Braves jersey at his Atlanta home on December 17, 2014.
Photo: Jeff Kraus, iStock Editorial/
Gabriel, seen wearing his new Atlanta Braves jersey at his Atlanta home on December 17, 2014.

When Gabriel donated $20 to a homeless man near Turner Field [see first-person account above], he felt “good on the inside” for helping another human being. But, of course, he was disappointed that he no longer had enough money to buy an Atlanta Braves jersey inscribed with the name of his favorite player, Justin Upton.

So you can imagine his utter shock and delight when a UPS delivery truck arrived at his Atlanta home this week with the Atlanta Braves jersey he had his heart set on before giving away his money.

“This is amazing,” Gabriel told his mother, Norma, as he unwrapped the gift. “I can’t believe this!”

Inside, he found a note addressed to him from Jan White, who is in charge of guest services with the Atlanta Braves. “The Atlanta Braves organization would like to wish you Happy Holidays,” she wrote. “Best wishes in 2015. We hope to see you at Turner Field.”

Jan, who graduated in 2009 from Lebanon Valley College, one of the top liberal arts colleges, located 20 miles east of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, started working for the Braves in 2011, landing what she calls her “dream job” in January 2012, coordinating guest services for the National League baseball team.

When Jan read what she calls Gabriel’s “special story” on the site last week, she contacted, which put her in touch with Gabriel’s mother.

In spring 2012, Jan was quoted in her alma mater’s Valley News journal as saying: “I love everything about working for the Braves — the people I meet, the things I do day to day, everything.”

The moral of this story? Professionals, such as Jan, who are passionate about their work are usually very good at what they do. In this case, she took the initiative to reward a selfless act by a little boy with a big heart who was concerned about the plight of a homeless man near Turner Field.

The lesson for Gabriel? While doing a good deed is a reward in itself because it helps us to feel good about our moral character, there are occasions when such “random acts of kindness” are recognized in a tangible manner by like-minded individuals.

Some people call it “karma”, the positive energy that can be initiated by one person’s actions. If we continue trying to help the less fortunate among us all year round — not just at Christmastime — perhaps there is hope for the world!