Inequality for All

Rated PG.  Running time: 1 hour 29 min.

Our Advisories (1-10): Violence 0; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 0

Our star rating (1-5): 4

 You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning.

            Leviticus 19.13

 Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
and his upper rooms by injustice;
who makes his neighbors work for nothing,
and does not give them their wages…

            Jeremiah 22.13 (also check out Jeremiah 6.13.)

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts on a day of slaughter.

James 5:1-5

Reich

Former Labor Sec. Robert Reich address his large class on the need to reinvigorate a strong middle class.
(c) 2013 Radius – TWC

Director Jack Kornblth’s documentary follows former Labor Secretary Robert Reich from his large lecture hall at the University of California Berkeley where he teaches economics to various points around the country, including Washington DC, as he spreads his message on behalf of the middle class. The message is simple, well backed up by charts and statistics: that the US has thrived economically when the gap between the middle class and the wealthy was small, and when, as has happened over the last decade or so, the gap widens to canyon-like proportions, the whole country suffers.

Backed by factory owner Nick Hanauer, Reich demolishes the myth that the wealthy are “job creators,” arguing instead that it is the middle class that buys the most clothing, appliances, cars, and other consumer products that keep our economy healthy. Mr. Hanauer, whose company manufactures pillows, says: “As a multimillionaire, I really don’t spend $500 a day on really expensive meals.  A lot of times, [Chinese] take-out suits me just fine… I also don’t need 50 or a 100 pairs of jeans.  Three suit me just fine.”  The CEO earns 1000 times the money that a worker does, but, as he honestly admits, 40 or 50 of those workers, by spending on clothing and food, are the ones who really create jobs because they increase the demand for the products manufactured by the factories of the wealthy owners.

As in his book Aftershock, Reich deftly uses charts and statistics to support his arguments, which come across very well on a screen that favors visuals. He also injects self-deprecating humor into his serious presentations: he says that when President Kennedy was deciding on his Secretary of Labor he was on “the short list.” This is not a boast, but a comment on his own physical stature, he being just five feet tall (so that he often carries with him to speaking engagements a small box to stand on so he can be seen above the podium).

An interestingly, indeed, passionately, presented thesis, the film ends with a challenge for viewers to become involved in the political process that can turn around the present in which the middle class continues to diminish. Decla

ring that he is not fomenting class warfare, he points out that the wealthy also do better when the middle class is prosperous enough to buy the products of their factories. People of faith, aware that Jesus and the prophets often spoke of the wealthy and the poor, will find this documentary both interesting and useful in their own social justice ministries.

 For Reflection/Discussion

1. What do you think of Robert Reich’s argument that a healthy economy is impossible without a strong middle class?

2. How is his “suspension bridge” chart helpful for understanding what has happened to our society over the past eight decades?

3. He considers the period between 1947 and 1977 as “the golden years” for the middle class, with the gap between the wealthy and workers much lower than now (and income taxes on the wealth far higher). Some argue that he does not factor in that the US came out of WW 2 as virtually the only nation that did not need to rebuild its cities, this giving us an enormous economic advantage over such nations as Germany and Japan—and that once they, along with China, recouped their war-time losses, their competition changed the situation after the 70s. What do you think?

4. How are both the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movements both reactions to what has happened since the economic recession after 2007? How might a consideration of Reich’s arguments benefit both?

5. Were you surprised that millionaire Nick Hanauer agrees with Reich? How is he similar to Warren Buffet?

6. How are Reich’s concerns in line with the social justice teachings of the Scriptures? In addition to the James passage, apparently dealing with a congregational problem, see Malachi 3.5. Also, in Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, how does Jesus reveal his position in regard to the two classes? (See Luke, in 6:17-49) In an electronic Bible you might do a word search: rich; poor; wealthy; widow; orphan; oppress.

7. How does Reich avoid the charge that he is not teaching class warfare? What do you think of his claim that the wealthy also would benefit from a strong middle class? Although he focuses upon the middle class, how might his arguments apply to the poor? Do you agree with those who argue that government programs, many now being cut or scaled back, bring dividends that more than justify their expenditures? How?  The Wikipedia article “Poverty Reduction” offers a long and interesting article on this at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poverty_reduction.

8. How is the film better on diagnosis than prescription? What might you, viewer and citizen, do to change the status quo, assuming that you agree with Mr. Reich that it needs changing?

 

Blue Jasmine

Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V -0; L -4; S/N-5 .

Running time: 1 hour 38 min.

 Jasmine with husband and son (far left) lived a lavish life style in the Hamptons before fall into the impoverished class.  (c) 2013 Sony Pictures Classics

Jasmine with husband and son lived a lavish life
style in the Hamptons before fall into the impoverished class.
(c) 2013 Sony Pictures Classics

‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
‘Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.

Luke 6:24-25

 We hear much in op eds and political debates about America’s class warfare, about how the 1% of Americans who allegedly control as much wealth as the bottom 90% are imbued with a sense of entitlement and superiority. I can think of no better illustration of this than Woody Allen’s new film Blue Jasmine, in which Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of a once wealthy wife is bound to earn her a Best Actress nomination.

Flower lovers will know that the title does not refer to the plant, the flower of which is usually white or blue, but to the mood of the character named after it. Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) and Ginger (Sally Hawkins) were raised together as adopted children from different sets of biological parents. Their parents showered more attention on beautiful Jasmine over the plain Ginger, so the latter left home as soon as she could to make her own way. She married working class Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), the two of them producing two boys, both of whom are destined to have weight problems. Then comes the day that they hit the California Lottery big time, winning $200,000. Intending to start his own business, Augie sees this as their way out of their life of living from paycheck to paycheck.

Meanwhile Jasmine has dropped out of college to marry the handsome and wealthy Hal (Alec Baldwin), a rich Wall Street schemer who is always using other people’s money to fund dubious new ventures. As evidence of her upward mobility drive she has changed her name from Janette to the more upscale name of the flower. They have one grown son Danny. Jasmine’s life of conspicuous consumption in the Hamptons is filled with Manhattan shopping sprees, lunches at elegant restaurants, and hosting parties and lavish charity events. They feel put upon when Ginger and Augie pay them a visit during their trip to New York City, but when they learn that the pair have just won a big sum of money, smooth-talking Hal seduces Augie into investing it in what turns out to be a Ponzi scheme. Ginger, who was not enthusiastic about this, becomes even more worried when she spies Hal lunching with and kissing a woman who is not her sister.

All the above is told in a series in intermittent flashbacks as Jasmine, now popping pills and taking frequent sips of vodka from her flask or glass, tries to cope with her new distasteful circumstances. Not only has she finally caught her philandering husband in one of his numerous affairs, but also she precipitates the series of events that leads to Hal’s arrest, conviction, and imprisonment. Unable to cope he has committed suicide. Jasmine’s survival plan involves her moving in with her sister, whose marriage had ended with divorce after they had lost their money. None of this may seem funny, but Allen’s wit is scattered throughout the film.

As has been pointed out by several reviewers, the plot is very much like that of A Streetcar Named Desire, with Ginger’s fiancé Chili (Bobby Cannavale), a lowly (to Jasmine) garage mechanic, quickly developing a passionate hatred for the one he calls “A phony!” Chili is upset that his plans to move in with Ginger have to be put on hold now that Jasmine is there. Ginger feels caught in the middle, her sister loyalty strong despite the way Jasmine has always looked down upon her.

Jasmine wants to start life anew by finishing college and taking a computer course so she can obtain an interior decorator’s license, but has to find work to fund this, reluctantly following Chili’s tip to obtain a receptionist’s job at a dental office. However, this soon ends when Dr. Flicker (Michael Stuhlbarg) tries to follow through on his lust for her. Then she meets the man who could restore her to the status she feels she deserves, the well-heeled wealthy diplomat Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard). He has long range plans to enter politics and needs a trophy wife like Jasmine. But will her less than wholesome past marriage and tendency to dodge reality and deceive herself and others get in the way?

Every member of the ensemble cast performs well, but Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of the once wealthy Jasmine is unforgettable, perhaps the only other portrayal of a Narcissistic neurotic     woman that compares being that of Vivian Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara (she also played Blanche!). Her character is so fully defined—nervous tics, almost incessant drinking, tendency to talk out loud inappropriately in public places, disdainful expressions, and elegant dress—that she emerges as a real person. And even though we see what a despicable person she is, we are still drawn to her and, if not root for her, wish that she might achieve a measure of self-understanding. This is a fascinating, detailed study of a woman whose worst enemy is herself. Her fate seems to bear out what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in a far different situation, but which applies to Jasmine’s fate, “The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long, but It Bends Toward Justice” Although not intended as a social justice film, Mr. Allen’s revelation of the hollow lifestyle of “the rich and famous” as seen in Jasmine could be a midrash of Jesus’ denunciation of the uncaring rich, or of the equally harsh denunciation of the wealthy by the prophet Amos. One of Mr. Allen’s best films in years, this must not to be missed!

The full version with 7 discussion question appears in the Sept/Oct issue of Visual Parables