Rob Eshman stands in front of his favorite Jewish Journal cover, which never ran. Photo by Lynn Pelkey

The last column


So this is goodbye.

I walked into the offices of the Jewish Journal 23 years ago, and it’s time for me to walk out.

As I announced a month ago, I’ll be stepping down as editor-in-chief and publisher as of Sept. 29 and moving on to the next chapter of my life, focusing full time on writing and teaching, and being open to new possibilities as well. If the urge to return to a regular column proves irresistible, you’ll have to find me elsewhere. So this is my last column as editor. I’m truly touched by the numerous kind letters and Facebook posts from people who say they will miss me. For those of you who won’t miss me, I’m glad I could finally make you happy.

A while ago, I realized I had better move on before it was too late. The Journal has been my home since 1994, and it was time to leave home. Twenty-three years. The voice in my head kept nagging, “If not now, when?”

When I told my therapist maybe this was all just a midlife crisis, he raised an eyebrow. “Rob, you’re 57. Midlife?”

As my friends and family (and therapist) can attest, I’ve struggled with this decision. It didn’t come as an epiphany but as a gnawing sense that I had given this place my all, and it was time to stretch myself in new ways.

Each Yom Kippur, we come face to face with our mortality. The liturgy urges us to make good our vows and repair our wrongs before the closing of the gates. And each Yom Kippur for many years, I sat in services and struggled with the reality that the gates are closing, and I had to decide. I would recite the Al Chet prayer, which asks God to forgive us a litany a sins. I would get to the last one — “For the mistakes we committed before You through confusion of the heart” — and beat my breast extra hard. The rabbis understood how indecision could paralyze us, stifling our potential.

In her new book, Rabbi Naomi Levy (who also happens to be my wife) tells how the rabbis believed that an angel hovers over every living thing, every blade of grass, whispering, “Grow! Grow!” Since I first read that passage, the angel’s voice has only grown louder. By last year, that still small voice — kol d’mama daka — was screaming.

Still, I wavered. Letting go of this job turns out to be really hard. It has given me a public platform, a voice. It has taken me around the world: Poland, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Morocco, Germany, France, England, Mexico and, of course, Israel. It has brought me into the vice president’s mansion and the White House — twice — and enabled me to meet and speak with intellectuals, diplomats, artists, writers, actors, activists, rabbis, educators, politicians and world leaders. It has put me on stages from Encino to Oxford, to speak with people like Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Tony Kushner, Ehud Barak, Amos Oz and the brave Muslim journalists whom the Journal has hosted as Daniel Pearl Fellows.

It has paid me to do what I would do for free: keep up with current events, learn all that I can about Judaism, Los Angeles, politics, food and Israel. It has put me into the heart of the Los Angeles Jewish community at a remarkable time, when we Jews are freer, more secure and more powerful than at any other time in our history. It also put me into journalism during a thrilling moment, when the future of media changes weekly, and when what began as a small community paper can now, with the click of a button, have an impact on people around the world.

Maybe I should stop with this litany before I change my mind, but ultimately, those are just the perks of a fascinating job. I am under no illusions about what really made my role so rewarding.

First, you.

When I say the Journal has been my home, I mean you readers have been like family. You are smart, caring, engaged and opinionated. Not for a second did I ever feel I was writing into a void — and, on occasion, I wished I were. “Eshman is a total moron when it comes to Israel,” a letter writer wrote last week. I’ve been doing this so long and have developed such a thick skin, I actually took it as a compliment. Hey, he didn’t say about everything, just Israel.

I’ve always been keenly aware the Journal serves one of the world’s largest and most diverse Jewish communities. As our online presence has grown, so has our community of readers, from L.A. to Tel Aviv to New York to Tehran. My goal has been to make the Journal the easiest and most interesting place for all these disparate voices to meet, to argue factually and honestly, to understand one another if not to agree. I’ve met or spoken with thousands of you over the years and I take comfort in knowing the Journal, 30 years after its founding, remains the one place where all of our many voices can gather and be heard, day after day, week after week. Even as online media catered more and more to ideological ghettos, the Journal remained committed to reflecting the broadest array of views.

My other deep sense of fulfillment comes from having been part of the Jewish Journal board and staff. I was fortunate to work under three chairs of TRIBE Media, the nonprofit that publishes the Journal: Stanley Hirsh, Irwin Field and Peter Lowy. All three fiercely respected the Journal’s editorial independence. Stanley tapped me to be editor and Irwin devoted himself selflessly to the Journal for years. Peter came in at a dire moment and has stuck by the Journal’s side ever since — he continues to be a selfless supporter and loyal defender. If anything, I often felt that if we weren’t raising a ruckus, we were letting Peter down. To me personally, he is a role model for fearlessness and generosity. If you have received any benefit from this enterprise, Peter Lowy deserves more credit than he will ever take.

I’ve appreciated all of our board members over the years, but I owe four of them special thanks. Uri Herscher believed in this paper when the recession had all but finished it off. His commitment to local, independent Jewish press, his moral authority and his wisdom helped bring it back to life. Uri continues to be a mentor and inspiration to me, as he is to so many. Art Bilger was part of the original rescue squad and saw us through very hard times with insight and creativity. Michael Parks, a Pulitzer Prize winner and former editor of the Los Angeles Times, has always been an unflappable editorial sounding board for me. Jonathan Kirsch has acted as the Journal’s pro bono counsel for 30 years. His expertise has been an important part of the Journal’s success, and occasionally its salvation. Tough stories often make for tough enemies. Jonathan Kirsch is our shield.

As for the staff, what can I say? There’s a word for an editor without a staff — it’s called a blogger. An enormous amount of work goes into putting out a weekly paper and a constantly updated website. That work is unceasing, always under deadline with never enough time or money. Whether it’s Tom Tugend, who fled Nazi Berlin and fought in three wars — and still reports for us — or our newest interns, the people who do this work on the advertising, production, administrative and editorial sides are the paper. They are an extraordinary group of people, from all different faiths and backgrounds. I’ll take full blame for any criticism you may have of this paper, but any compliments must be shared with them.

Six years ago, when I asked David Suissa to join the paper, I knew that there were few people in L.A. who share his passion for Jewish life combined with his commitment to fine journalism and an intense creativity. Three years ago, when I first told David I was thinking of leaving, he said, “No!” David can be very persuasive, so no it was, and I’m grateful I stayed. These past few years have been the most exciting.

I know there are Suissa people out there and Eshman people, but as David takes the reins, I want you to know that I am a Suissa person. I am sure under David this enterprise will go from strength to strength.

There is a second “staff” that also has been a blessing: my family. Raising a family in the Jewish community while reporting on the Jewish community has been tricky at times, and often personally hard for them. To protect their privacy, I chose to write about my son, Adi, and daughter, Noa, very sparingly in this space, but know that is in inverse proportion to the amount of room they take up in my heart and soul. Adi and Noa have been my constant joy and inspiration.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in those decades, it’s that nothing is as important to individual success as community. Yes, the community can offer connections and a leg up. But it also will be there when you fall.

My wife Naomi approaches Jewish learning and practice with utter commitment and total joy. She doesn’t just inspire me, she revives my faith when the politics of communal life can sometimes sour it. Being married to a brilliant rabbi and writer has also helped me fool you into thinking I know far more than I do.   

My parents, Aaron and Sari Eshman, are my role models for community and caring. My dad was born in 1927 in Los Angeles, where his father, Louis, was on the original medical staff of what was then Cedars of Lebanon Hospital. I have vivid childhood memories of Mom and Dad heading off to charity events and volunteering for Cedars, Vista Del Mar and other organizations. Like so many of their contemporaries, they have left this city and its Jewish community far better than they found it. I hope I have been a worthy link in the chain.

That chain includes my predecessors at the paper. Founding editor Gene Lichtenstein set an example of journalistic excellence I have tried to emulate. The cover of the first issue on Feb. 28, 1986,  featured a story on Jews and the school busing controversy. Clearly this was never going to be a paper content to run puff pieces.

Gene accepted men-seeking-men ads long before mainstream papers did. After he left, we were the first Jewish paper to run cover stories on gay marriage and transgender Jews. Religion that doesn’t wrestle with contemporary issues belongs in a museum, not a newspaper.

In the pantheon of columnists I most admire — William Safire, Peggy Noonan, Tom Friedman, Steve Lopez, Bret Stephens, Nick Kristof, Jeffrey Goldberg — I put the late Marlene Adler Marks on the highest pedestal. She was a dear colleague who died too young, and could never be replaced.

When I started at the Journal, almost all Jewish papers were exactly what the late Rabbi Stephen S. Wise called them: “weaklies.” They were parochial community organs. The lead  story of one such paper that arrived in our offices back then was, “Jewish Community Center Gets New Deck.” And yes, the entire cover photo was of a wooden deck. This is some business I’m in, I thought.

Today, Jewish journalism is in a golden age: The Jewish Journal, The Forward, The New York Jewish Week, Moment, Tablet, JTA, not to mention The Times of Israel and Haaretz (let’s face it, they’re pretty Jewish) are attracting great talent, breaking stories, providing deep insights and playing a leading role in shaping communal and international conversation. I am indebted to and often in awe of my colleagues in this corner of the journalism world. Of course, Jewish journalism still is, compared with the big guys, a small endeavor. But Jews also are small in number — and that hasn’t stopped us from making a difference. So can our media. Please support it.

I can’t tell you I’m not a little scared. I will miss being in regular contact with the remarkable people who make up this community, many of whom have become dear friends. I have this recurring, chilling thought that nothing will work out and I’ll be the guy at home in my pajamas writing those cranky letters to the editor, instead of the guy at the office who selects which ones to print.

But there’s some comfort, excitement and strength in being open to the uncertainty. That’s the lesson of Yom Kippur:  We know our days are numbered, that life is a passing shadow, and so we resolve to make changes today — haYom! the liturgy repeats — because the future is beyond our control. 

Last week, I was talking all this over with an older and far wiser attorney friend over lunch. I said I’d heard a life transition can be like a trapeze — sometimes you have to let go of one bar before the next appears. “Well,” he said, “as long as there’s a net.”

At first, I gulped. Oh, damn, I thought, he’s right. What was I thinking?

But then I remembered, I have a net, and so do you. It’s called community. It’s the reason this paper exists and thrives, it’s the reason I’ve been doing this job for 23 years.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in those decades, it’s that nothing is as important to individual success as community. Yes, the community can offer connections and a leg up. But it also will be there when you fall. It’s there for you when you get sick or a loved one dies, and it’s there for you to celebrate your successes and your joys. They say journalism is the first draft of history. But journalism’s true purpose isn’t to record history; it’s to strengthen community. No matter what comes next — trapeze bar or net — I am proud to have helped the Journal fulfill that role.

Over the years, many letter writers have accused me of being overly optimistic. Guilty. This was never the column to turn to if you wanted to read the same old dire warnings about how the Jews are disappearing, anti-Semites are everywhere, the younger generation is lost, Israel and the Palestinians are doomed, and every other gloomy prediction that passes as realism.

But it is impossible to do what I’ve done for the past two decades and not be optimistic. I leave this job with a deep sense of the abiding power of community and tradition and the ability of Judaism to meet the challenges of an unpredictable and often cruel world. To be a Jewish journalist is to see an ancient faith renewed in real time in the real world, in all its variety, abundance — and endurance.

Just this week, I was planning an upcoming trip to Berlin for a conference. When I told my wife I was thinking of finally visiting Auschwitz, a place neither of us has ever been, she became  upset.

“Please don’t go to Auschwitz without me,” she said.

The instant she said it, we had to laugh. Seventy-five years ago, who would have thought?

To this day, that somewhat over-the-top 2003 video of Israeli jets flying over Auschwitz still moves me. The weak can become powerful. Refugees can find a home. In a matter of years, enemies can become allies. Things change, often for the good.

But among all that change, the need for spirituality and tradition abides. Just last week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg posted a photo of him and his wife celebrating Shabbat with their baby daughter, Max. They gave Max a 100-year-old Kiddush Cup that belonged to her great-great-grandfather.

No amount of money or power, no new technology and no social upheaval can erase our deeply human need for meaning, connection and purpose. Judaism has helped people meet those needs for millennia. After 5,778 years, the burden of proof is on the pessimists. Judaism will evolve, of course, but as long as it changes to meet these eternal human needs, it will endure.

So, now comes the time for my personal evolution. I do hope we can keep in touch. After all, I plan on staying in L.A. and, more than likely, remaining Jewish.  This Yom Kippur, you definitely will find me in shul, thankful for having made my decision, grateful for the past 23 years, and eager to open new gates as the old ones close.

In the meantime, I wish you a sweet and healthy New Year. Serving you has been my deepest honor. May you come to know all the blessings that being part of your life has brought me.


If you’d like to keep in touch with Rob Eshman, send an email to robeshman@gmail.com. You also can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism, and on his public Facebook page. Rob will still blog at foodaism.com — without a staff.

My city isn’t a tawdry reality TV show


Every few years, Salinas grabs national media headlines for the wrong reasons: Police killings of criminal suspects caught on camera. Or maybe a sensational courtroom drama like that of our local convicted murderer Jodi Arias. Each story draws the major corporate media outlets to town, eager to shoehorn some reference to Salinas native John Steinbeck into the narrative.

Maybe we look like a real-life version of a tawdry reality TV show to them.

It wasn’t always like this. I’ve covered the town for more than 20 years, largely as a features writer and columnist. I also served time as an education and city reporter for two local publications, The Monterey County Herald and the Salinas Californian. Other local media outlets covering the town include the Monterey County Weekly, the NBC/ABC affiliate KSBW-TV, CBS affiliate KION-TV, and Univision affiliate KSMS-TV.

Once upon a time the juiciest national story about Salinas might have involved an E. coli outbreak linked to one of our produce giants. The town has changed, as violent crime reports in town have fed the media’s appetite for sensational headlines.

Salinas calls itself the Salad Bowl of the World, which sounds like a healthy thing, but our multibillion-dollar lettuce economy is complicated—maybe more complicated than outsiders care to understand—and our struggles are a window into California’s future.

As Silicon Valley is to software, Salinas is to lettuce: We didn’t invent the salad bar, but we introduced the world to bagged salad. We are the model for modern agricultural technology and production. There’s a 90 percent chance that bagged salad you bought for dinner was produced here. But the innovations in lettuce growing, packing, and shipping that brings you a “healthy” meal also includes a lot of unseen hands. And these hands belong mostly to Mexican migrants who make up about 34 percent of our town’s population, according to recent U.S. Census Bureau data.

What do you think happens when one of California’s richest industries conducts business in, and culls its workforce from, a highly concentrated immigrant community? You get changes of the kind that aren’t sensational – and thus are underreported if they are reported at all: the ripple effects in a community of low academic achievement numbers among English language learner students. Or the problems caused by overcrowding and high population density in certain parts of town. Or stories that get reported as something other than what they really are.

For instance, Forbes recently named Salinas the second-least-educated city in America. Media outlets latched onto the story and the study it was based on, and repurposed them as a list of the dumbest towns in the country. Among several indicators, the list factored in the number of available jobs that require a college education.

But really, how unexpected is this? When so much of your workforce is devoted to manual labor, you can bet that there won’t be a load of workers sitting on college diplomas.

When I read those lists, I saw them as a grand insult to the delicate skill and craft of our local farm laborers. 

The idea that Salinas is a dumb town is pretty inaccurate. Harvesting produce doesn’t require an advanced degree, but it’s no job for dummies. Have you ever attempted to pick a strawberry field? I haven’t, but I understand from growing up here the careful technique required not only to pick the produce gently, but also to do it at a rapid fire pace. Our farm workers move fast and efficiently. You have to be smart and know the land to be successful in the fields. Forbes didn’t have the time or just didn’t bother to report that any of this context. 

Ironically, Forbes did have time to host an agriculture technology summit in town recently. Billed as “Reinventing America: The AgTech Summit,” the conference brought together Silicon Valley and Global Ag leaders, many based here in the Salad Bowl, for breakout sessions on the booming AgTech industry. It was an invitation-only event. I mention that because it shows the contrasting sides of this town’s image. We are uneducated enough to make top 10 lists, but somehow industrially sophisticated enough to host big business think tank sessions.

In this dichotomy and others, Salinas may provide a window into the future of this state. We are a rural community steeped in Old West tradition (we host the biggest and oldest rodeo in the state). At the same time, the town is changing, with its economic and cultural divide widening by the year. And Salinas, according to a recent study, was one of the most segregated cities in the nation. For that study, professors at Brown and Florida State University created a dissimilarity index that identifies the percentage of one group that would have to move into a different neighborhood to eliminate segregation; Salinas had a 60.9 percent white-Latino dissimilarity rate, the 21st highest number in the country. Combine our modern social challenges with our old-school agricultural labor practices and our recent emergence as a Silicon Valley bedroom community, and you have a town that offers a bit of everything that people relate to the California experience – sunshine, soil, and sync.

That’s part of what makes covering news in Salinas a tough gig. Everything is sneaky complex. The gang violence that generates so many local headlines isn’t the result of a reckless immigrant population, as Donald Trump would have you believe. It’s a condition that grew out of many decades of cultivating an impoverished and underserved migrant community. Yes, Salinas has poverty, but it’s also a place where rents are so high that sometimes two or three families must pack into a single apartment unit to afford a place to live and survive. During the harvest, these families can work 10-to-12-hour shifts, six days a week to provide for their children. Those children in turn sometimes suffer from the unintentional neglect of busy working parents. This makes them vulnerable to the streets.

Local media does what it can to tell these stories. Investigative journalist Julia Reynolds recently published the book Blood in the Fields: 10 Years inside California’s Nuestra Familia Gang, that analyzed the emergence of one of the most sophisticated criminal organizations in the U.S. It also shed light on efforts from community members and law enforcement in the fight to curb gang violence. 

But for the most part, gang violence is something that is understood only on the surface by locals, and is never portrayed with any complexity by national media. And that leads to a lot of misunderstanding about the town’s image and identity. Largely, that this town is unsafe and people are in danger of violence on every corner. 

It’s tough to recover from the blow of bad media coverage every few years. (It’s certainly not good for economic development). This town is still learning how to adapt to reputational blows. People do their best to shrug it off and carry on. 

I like to keep it positive and remind my neighbors about something John Steinbeck said late in his life, right before he decided he wanted to be buried in his hometown. 

“Not everyone has the good fortune to be born in Salinas.”

Marcos Cabrera is the public information officer for the Alisal Union School District. He is a founding member of the theater company Baktun 12. This essay is part of Salinas: California's Richest Poor City, a special project of Zócalo Public Square and the California Wellness Foundation

 

Nightcrawler Nation: Money, news and politics


When I heard my “>Dan Gilroy, the writer-director of their new movie, “Nightcrawler,” to marry me.

To be adequately horrified by the midterm campaign we’ve just endured, all you need to pay attention to is attention itself, and how attention is monetized.

We live in an information age. Every two days, according to Google CEO “>pointed out, “creates a poverty of attention.” We can’t increase the total attention we can pay; despite talk of multi-tasking, attention is a finite resource, a zero-sum game. “>brain. But our attention can be hijacked. The bottom-up part of our brain, which evolved in our primitive past, is wired to pay attention to danger. It’s immediate, instinctive, faster than reason; if fear had depended on thinking, we’d have been eaten.

Television stations are in the business of selling audiences to advertisers. The more people whose attention their programming can grab, the more money they can charge advertisers for 30-second spots. So it makes sense that station owners looking for ratings would air hours of programming dominated by murder, robbery, assault, kidnapping, gruesome accidents — anything that will reliably scare viewers into watching.

That’s what the research I did with Seton Hall professor “>since 1998. In 2009, we did an intensive study of a single TV market, Los Angeles. We analyzed more than 11,000 stories aired by eight stations during nearly 1,000 half-hours of news over 14 days. Here’s some of 

  • A typical half-hour of L.A. news contained 2 minutes 50 seconds of crime news.  That’s more than any other category of news except sports and weather.
  • The average time spent on L.A. government news — including budgets, layoffs, education, law enforcement, prisons, lawsuits, ordinances, personnel, voting procedures, health care, transportation and immigration — was 22 seconds.
  • One station — KCOP — ran an average of 5 minutes and 3 seconds of crime per half-hour, and one second of L.A. government news.
  • Stories about local government led the news 2.5 percent of the time. But stories about crime led more than 13 times that: One out of three broadcasts began with crime. If it bleeds, it leads.
  •  

    That’s the research cited “>“dark money.”

    The total cost of the 2014 elections is expected to reach almost “>studies of an “>or more political ads, providing those stations with more than half a million dollars of ad revenue, but those same 30 minutes have included zero minutes of actual reporting on those campaigns. Demand for air time for political ads during the news led station WHO in Des Moines, Iowa, to add an extra 4 p.m. hour of local news to cash in. A “>Walter Cronkite Award for excellence in TV coverage of politics, and the winners, from markets small and large across the country, do heroic work against long odds, and their stations’ ratings haven’t suffered because of it. I wish they were the rule, not the exception. I wish that getting money out of politics were a hot button issue, instead of polling “>The Distinguished Gentleman,” which Eddie Murphy starred in and Disney released. I fantasized that that movie could make a difference, too. But today’s political corruption makes the legal con job that congressmen and lobbyists pulled on America a generation ago seem quaint.  On the other hand, if Gyllenhaal ever wants to run for office on a reform platform, I’ll be first in line to volunteer as a speechwriter.


    Marty Kaplan, who has been a political speechwriter, a screenwriter and a studio executive, holds the Norman Lear chair at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

    Jews and baseball: An American news media love story


    For those of us who follow the careers of Jewish ballplayers — a small, eccentric niche of fandom — checking the ” target=”_blank”>jewishsportsreview.com), edited by Ephraim Moxson, who lives in Pico-Robertson, and Shel Wallman of Manhattan’s West Side. 

    Moxson and Wallman collect the names of Jewish athletes in sports ranging from football, basketball and baseball to table tennis. It is the national go-to spot for information on Jewish athletes, and Wallman and Moxson were willing to share with Jewish Baseball News. “They are the gold standard,” Barancik said.  

    I called Moxson. “We go through the rosters of all major sports,” he told me. “We review every roster of every college, men’s and women’s, including small Christian schools in the South. You never know.”

    Tips come from many places. A woman called Moxson and complained that her major league ballplayer son, Jason Marquis, hadn’t been mentioned in the Jewish Sports Review. “He’s not Jewish,” Moxson said. The woman replied that he was. “Our name was Marcus,” she said.

    As he began Jewish Baseball News, Barancik had to struggle with a question that has long troubled our religion and probably never will be settled: Who is Jewish? Rather than consulting the rabbis, he accepted the criteria established by Moxson and Wallman in the Jewish Sports Review several years before: An athlete needs one Jewish parent, is not practicing any other religion and is willing to be identified as Jewish in public. Interestingly, their broad definition was not much different than that of the Pew Research Center in its recent public opinion survey of Jews: Those who “say their religion is Jewish (and who do not profess any other religion)” or “people who describe themselves … as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular, but who have a Jewish parent or were raised Jewish and who still consider themselves Jewish in some way.”

    As I pursued this column, I felt I was learning something important about Jewish life in the United States.

    I wondered why the number of Jewish ballplayers in the major and minor leagues is increasing. “In the ’50s and ’60s, there were five or six [in the majors]; now there are 15,” professor Peter Dreier of Occidental College, an intense scholar of the game, told me. “All but three [of the major leaguers] came from mixed marriages. To the extent there is a Jewish gene in baseball, it’s an intermarriage gene.”

    Barancik and Dreier also attribute the growing number of Jewish baseball players to Jews becoming part of suburban life and being affluent enough to afford the expenses of youth sports — the expensive equipment, private coaching and travel.  

    In addition, Dreier said, the major leagues are increasingly looking to colleges for players, and the schools with the best programs happen to be in areas with large Jewish populations — Florida and California.

    We fanatics focus on numbers, but actually what we are witnessing is how Jewish life is changing.


    Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for the Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

    Marty Kaplan: No news is bad news


    If you think the widening chasm between the rich and the rest spells trouble for American democracy, have a look at the growing gulf between the information-rich and -poor.

    Earlier this year, a Harvard economist’s jaw-dropping study of American’s beliefs about the distribution of American wealth became a “>new Pew study of the distribution of American news consumption is just as flabbergasting. 

    According to the Harvard study, most people believe that the top 20 percent of the country owns about half the nation’s wealth, and that the lower 60 percent combined, including the 20 percent in the middle, have only about 20 percent of the wealth.  A whopping 92 percent of Americans think this is out of whack; in the ideal distribution, they said, the lower 60 percent would have about half of the wealth, with the middle 20 percent of the people owning 20 percent of the wealth.