Obama administration whitewashes police killings

Tamir-Rice-Shooting

In wake of latest atrocity

By Andre Damon

3 March 2015

Only one day after the world was shocked and horrified by the release of a bystander video showing Los Angeles police murdering yet another unarmed man in broad daylight, the Obama administration’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing released its interim report, offering a handful of toothless recommendations that amount to a green light for police violence and murder.

In December, in the wake of mass protests against the police killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio, the Obama administration announced it was establishing the task force to “strengthen the relationships between local police and the communities they are supposed to protect and serve.”

Apologists for the Obama administration such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson sought to present the task force, together with federal investigations into several high-profile police killings, as evidence that the White House was seriously seeking to bring killer cops to justice and put a halt to police brutality.

From the beginning, however, Obama made clear that the task force would have no real power. It was staffed with many former and current police officials, including Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who functioned as its co-chair.

At the same time as it announced the creation of the task force, the administration released a report endorsing federal programs that have transferred billions of dollars in military-grade hardware from the Pentagon to local police agencies.

In establishing the task force, Obama implied that the fundamental problem was not that police murdered hundreds of people every year, but that the population did not sufficiently support the police. He decried the “distrust that exists between too many police departments and too many communities of color.”

In announcing the task force’s findings on Monday, Obama declared that this distrust “means we’re not as effective in fighting crime as we could be.” He called the task force report “a great opportunity, coming out of some great conflict and tragedy,” to make “our law enforcement officers feel, rather than being embattled, feel fully supported.”

The recommendations in the report are in line with this goal of defending and strengthening the police. There are no proposals for significant nationwide legal or administrative measures to rein in the police. Rather, there is a laundry list of recommendations for law enforcement agencies to carry out or ignore, entirely at their pleasure.

These include calling on local police departments to implement “outside” investigations of police killings by referring probes to “neighboring jurisdictions or to the next higher levels of government.” This would mean in practice shifting investigations to other police-friendly agencies and jurisdictions.

There are no demands that killer cops or their superiors be held criminally or legally accountable for the deaths and injuries they inflict. There are no demands for the removal of officials guilty of whitewashing police killings, such as Robert McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecutor who rigged the grand jury proceedings to prevent the indictment of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, the killer of Michael Brown.

The task force report notes that there is no mandatory federal database of police killings, and that the submission of this information by local police to the federal government is voluntary. Its response to this scandalous situation is merely to urge police departments to be more forthcoming with data.

The only substantial nationwide proposal is for the creation of a federal “Law Enforcement Diversity Initiative” to encourage the hiring of minority police officers. This is aimed at giving ammunition to the White House’s apologists, who will hail the proposal as evidence that the White House is “sensitive” to the needs of minority communities.

It is in line with the administration’s attempt to define the nationwide epidemic of police killings of unarmed people—white as well as black—as a racial question, obscuring the more fundamental class issues.

It is noteworthy that the central premise of the task force—that the problem is a “lack of trust” between the police and the population, is the same as that advanced by Obama following the exposure of massive, illegal spying on the American people by the National Security Agency. The task, Obama declared at that time, was to restore the trust of the American people in the NSA and other police and intelligence agencies.

Obama established a task force, packed with defenders of the NSA, to look into the issue and make recommendations. The result was a series of toothless proposals that in no way challenged the “right” of the NSA to violate the Constitution and intercept the communications of every single person in the US and tens of millions more around the world. The result is a level of mass surveillance today that is, if anything, even more pervasive than when the spying revelations emerged two years ago.

It will be no different with the policing task force and the epidemic of police killings.

The White House report is the product of a calculated political operation that began with the eruption of protests following the killing of Michael Brown last August. The administration responded by backing the police-military crackdown carried out by the local authorities, while carrying out maneuvers aimed at tamping down public outrage.

After the sham grand jury proceedings that exonerated Wilson, the White House announced a “civil rights” investigation. Predictably, the Justice Department has, according to media reports, found no grounds to bring charges against Wilson.

Since the killing of Brown, more than six hundred more people have been killed by police, according to an online compilation of local media reports. The murders of Brown, Garner and others, followed by the exoneration of the killer cops, sparked nationwide protests. But what have been the results?

The police have been given a virtual license to kill, secure in the knowledge that they will not be prosecuted. Meanwhile, hundreds of people have been arrested for protesting and dozens detained for posting criticisms of the police on social media.

The basic lesson is that democratic rights—including the right to live—cannot be defended by appealing to or relying on Congress, the courts, the Democratic Party or any other official institution. Basic rights can be defended only through an independent political movement of the working class in opposition to the existing economic and political system, that is, on the basis of a socialist program.

The endless series of sociopathic police killings expresses something much deeper than the individual psyches of the backward people recruited by the state to do its dirty work. These killings are ultimately an expression of the cancerous growth of social inequality, which is intrinsic to capitalism and the corporate and financial aristocracy that runs America.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/03/03/poli-m03.html

The Problem of Israel in the Modern World

Can the Unspeakable be Spoken?
529198-israel

by MICHAEL WELTON

The mood of our uneasy times is incredibly bellicose, dark, apocalyptic and vengeful. The “war on terror” is like a virus that infects everything it touches. And it does seem to touch everything, from our popular television shows, to getting across borders, travelling overseas somewhere. You can’t read the Sunday paper without feeling queasy, a sense of dread tingling our nerves and spoiling our lovely morning coffee. Everyday brings a new jolt. And if terror doesn’t do the trick, fear of global warming, or running out of oil will spoil your day for sure.

I am particularly interested in probing the role that religious belief and mythological systems play in dividing us from one another, fuelling irrationality and hatred of others, and dampening any spirit of radical self-criticism. To illustrate the incendiary nature of religious belief, I will focus attention on the Israel-Palestinian conflict in the context of the Middle East. Perhaps no topic–Israel’s fate and role in the Middle East–is itself so incendiary and symptomatic of the failure of our global civilization to act justly.

The horrific Israeli war against Lebanon in 2006, the continuing assault on Palestinians in the Gaza strip, now virtually a prison, and the building of settlements in the West Bank, has revealed to the world the stark inadequacies of the old axiom, that “might is right”. I am fascinated with why Israel, particularly, believes that might is right, that war is the only message the Arabs understand and why Israel refuses to talk with their enemy. What belief system underpins the aggressions of Israel against the Palestinians and its Arab surroundings? Why is it so hard for us to criticize Israel in the west? Are there mythic underpinnings and reasons operating here, too?

September 11, 2001 set me on a pathway to understand what was behind this ghastly act of flying hijacked airplanes into the very heart of the American military-industrial complex. Why was it so easy for George W. Bush on a Sunday afternoon, Sept. 16, 2001, on the south lawn of the White House–to utter these words: “We need to be alert to the fact that these evil doers still exist. We haven’t seen this kind of barbarism in a long period of time. No one could have conceivably imagined suicide bombers burrowing into our society and then emerging all in the same day to fly their aircraft–fly US aircraft into buildings full of innocent people–and show no remorse. This is a new kind of-a new kind of evil. And we understand. And the American people are beginning to understand. This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take awhile.”

Commentators of the day observed that Bush’s remark about crusade had come in an off-the-cuff comment to a journalist. Actually, he had struggled hard to find the right word. This was the word that came from his gut. It signified the struggle between Good and Evil. On January 29, 2002, Bush announced that: “States like these (Iran, Iraq. N. Korea), and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.” Unwittingly, Bush was dragged back to the century’s old world of malediction–cursing one’s enemies.

One of the deep reasons why the West is open-hearted to Israel and hard-hearted towards Palestinians (and increasingly all Arabs) is the pre-eminence of “Israel” in the western, Christian imagination. Let me tell a personal story to illustrate my point. The Diary of Anne Frank has taken its place in the western religious imagination from its publication after the war until the present day. I can remember reading an expurgated version of the diary when I was a teenager. The excruciating drama of her hiding from the Gestapo, and her family’s eventual murder, was cut into my youthful memory. I somehow took on her suffering as my own. In my twenties, I read Holocaust narratives by the likes of Elie Wiesel (Night) who captured the horror of trains carrying Jews to the death-camps, Jews who didn’t know what was in store for them as they shuddered down the rails. I read the works of Jewish theologians who taught me that The Holocaust was the most horrific form of human suffering.

When I gradually made the journey from pietistic evangelicalism to liberation theology, like so many others, I read Gustavo Gutierez’s Liberation Theology text with amazement. There, the Exodus narrative was claimed as a paradigm for the liberation struggles of the oppressed everywhere. The spirituals of Black slaves incorporated Old Testament, Jewish imagery as they longed for “Moses” to lead them to the promised land of freedom, away from Pharaoh’s crushing contempt. “Israel” existed as a powerful metaphor–the Jews appeared to be the paradigm of profound suffering. Those suffering from the depredations of South African apartheid, or sugar plantations or the brutality of Latin American dictatorships–could find comfort in the story of the Exodus.

But I didn’t think about the real state of Israel that was forged through violence and terrorism in the 1940s on the historic land of Palestine. Nor did I pay any attention to what actually happened when the ancient Hebrews ventured into the “promised land”, instructed by their tribal sky-god to eliminate the Amalekites. What happened to them? Didn’t Yahweh tell the Israelites to murder, plunder and rape its inhabitants? When I think about Israel now, and the Diary of Anne Frank, I realize the power of Edward Said’s remark that Israel’s “other”, the Palestinians, have never had permission to possess their own narrative. It is not that Anne Frank’s diary ought not to be read. But the fact that we keep telling, and re-telling this story and its variants, leaves little room for other narratives. It contributes to the idea, I think, that Jewish suffering is unique, different from other forms of suffering, mysterious and resistant to rational understanding.

A diary for our time would, perhaps, be entitled The diary of Asthma al-Mugghayr, a 16-year old Palestinian, an account of what happened to his fellow and sister kids and family and community members in and around Rafah. Scribbling among the ruins, would Asthma write of watching his brother, Ahmad, 13 years-old, shot with a single bullet through his head while taking clothes off the drying line and feeding pigeons? Apparently the shot came from a house nearby, which been taken over by Israeli soldiers shortly before. Would he write by candle late at night, amidst the rubble, about the thirteen year old girl who was shot while she was walking to school? What would this teenage boy think about the Israeli commander who emptied his gun into the school girl?

What would Asthma think about the Occupation–a system of military check-points splitting towns and villages into ghettoes, curfews, closures, raids, mass demolition and destruction of houses and land expropriations? How would he characterize daily life, and the grotesque wall, that, when completed will total 400 miles–four times longer than the Berlin wall. Would Asthma write youthful poetry about being caged or displaced? Would this young man be driven mad? Would he confess to a concealed desire to be a suicide bomber?

Maybe Asthma would keep a record of just how many children have been killed. Two-thirds of hundreds of children killed at checkpoints, in the street, on the way to school, in their homes, died from small arms fire, directed in over half of the cases to the head, neck and chest–the sniper’s wound. Would these young men wonder why the Palestinians are always terrorists? Would he have taken his own life?
Why is it almost unspeakable to speak of the suffering of the non-Jew in the west? Why is the suffering of Palestinian people of so little concern and interest to the western mind and politicians? One answer surely is that both Christians and Jews share a common mythology: that Yahweh created the world, that the Jews are a chosen people, that they have been promised a land. Christians and Jews obviously differ regarding the significance of Jesus. But those who embrace him become part of the universal “people of God” who will inherit the earth when the redeemer returns to Zion. Islam has no place in the great purposes of God.

But there is something else. The United States and Israel have fused into a single entity in global politics and world history. Both are uniquely chosen to be redeemer nations, a light unto the nations. They have special status in the cosmic story. Israel is the US, and the US is Israel. The early Puritans were the “new Israel” and America was the Promised Land. America has never forsaken its historical sense of specialness before God, to be a redeemer nation. And, as we will now see, Israel’s imagined destiny was not only to be a homeland for dispossessed Jews. It was to be beacon of civilization in savage Arab lands, a light unto the nations.

We cannot understand the current crisis in the Middle East without understanding the religious mythology and historical circumstances underpinning the creation of the Jewish state of Israel. I can only highlight these. All of us, if asked, probably immediately link The Holocaust perpetrated in Germany with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 in historic Palestine. Getting their own state was Europe’s payment for their suffering in the 1930s and 1940s. Now, they will be safe and less subject to anti-Semitic attacks or assaults. Many of us might even assume, without thinking too much about it, that God gave the land to the Jews. The Palestinians are Amalek. If they will not submit to Jewish rule they must, or will be, destroyed. The basis for this is the Old Testament, the shared sacred text of Christians and Jews. One cannot argue with sacred texts! Indeed, in 1971, Golda Meir told Le Monde that Israel existed as “the fulfilment of promise made by God Himself. It would be ridiculous to ask it to account for is legitimacy.”

Yet those of secular mind might want to ask some questions and probe into history deeply. At the dawn of the twentieth century, historians tell us, Europe’s ‘subject peoples’ (Poles, Czechs, Armenians, Serbs) dreamed of forming their own ‘nation-states’. Places where they might live free from fear. These states privileged particular ethnic groups–defined by language, or religion or antiquity. The Zionist movement originated in Europe at the end of the nineteenth century. The land of Zion, the ancient homeland (Israel actually existed for only 60 years in the thousands of years of life in historic Palestine) was an exultant space of hope for some Jews. Zionists dreamed of the restored ‘lost fatherland’. This was a powerful dream that turned into hard fact at the end of World War II.

Zionism coincided with the period of European imperialist expansion and acquisition of lands in Africa and Asia. Lands, including lands in Canada, were acquired and occupied in the name of a higher power, God, and a higher civilization. There is something very interesting here for our understanding of Israel and the crisis in the Middle East. Zionist ideologues like Moses Hess and Theodor Herzl (as did all Israeli leaders from Ben-Gurion onward) believed that they had a divine right to occupy the land that was plainly occupied by others. If they were soft on ‘divine right’, they simply accepted that they were going to lands that were empty. Not empty of real live people, but empty of civilization and proper cultivation. In other words, those who colonize, or steal, other peoples’ lands (be they in Africa, Asia or in the Nass River Valley in BC) carry ideas in their heads about their right to do so. They, the colonists, will cultivate the untended gardens and settle the savages in orderly, moral communities.

The Zionist project, Edward Said has argued, participated in the “great dispossessing movement of modern European colonialism, and with them all the schemes for redeeming the land, resettling the natives, civilizing them, taming their savage customs…” The natives are, to put it bluntly, irrelevant to begin with! They are inferior and marginal. Herzl admitted in his diary that “both the expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discretely and circumspectly.” He thought that they had to be spirited across the border and denied employment. They existed, but not as full human beings. These inferior beings could be put on reservations, on compounds, on native homelands. They could be taxed, counted and used profitably. Then, the new society could be built in the vacated space. Thus, ‘empty’ actually means ‘uncivilized’. Now we can understand the slogan of Israelis who saw Palestine as a “land without people, for a people without land.”

Those are Ben-Gurion’s words. In 1937 he had argued that “we must expel the Arabs and take their places. He acknowledged the presence of Arabs on the land, but denied the presence of Palestinians. In her famous statement to The Sunday Times in 1969, then Prime Minister Golda Meir said: “There is no such thing as a Palestinian people. It is not as if we came and threw them out and took over their country. They didn’t exist.” During that same year, Zionist leader Menachem Begin told Kibbutz members the importance of denying the existence of Palestinians. “My friend, take care. When you recognize the concept of ‘Palestine’, you demolish your right to live in Kibbutz Ein Haboresh. If this is Palestine and not the land of Israel, then you are conquerors and not tillers of the land. You are invaders. If this is Palestine, then it belongs to a people who lived here before you came.”

But the Palestinians were there, weren’t they? At least 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes, and villages were destroyed or pillaged. Israeli propagandists used to push the story that the Palestinians just ran away, saying, “Here, Israel, take our homes, here’s the key, and don’t forget to look after our olive trees.” Contemporary Israeli historians like Benny Morris and Ilan Pappe have dispelled this farcical story. The Israeli armies and terror squads expelled the villagers through terror and massacre. This the Palestinians call the Nakba, “the original sin.” The process of ethnic cleansing began in the mid-1940s and has never ceased. Border raids, massacres, settlements, slaughter of 20,000 in Lebanon, expulsions, demolitions, arrests, torture, and assassinations, chicanery and all the tricks of road maps that never materialize. Israel is a big problem in the modern world. Perhaps even an anachronism.

Zionist strategy has always been to seize the moment when they can take-over all of Palestine. In 1947-8, under cover of conflict, 78% of historic Palestine was transformed into “Israel.” In 1967, Israel seized the opportunity to take-over the remaining 22% of Palestine. Israel justified the 1967 war as self-defence; thus they are blameless; just as they are in the recent disproportionate destruction of civilians in Palestine and Lebanon. Israel is the perpetual victim; the little David facing the Arab Goliath. Israel never initiates; it only responds.

There is little historic or contemporary evidence that the Israeli military, which runs the country and shapes its mental outlook, has a shred of commitment to a Palestinian state. Liberal critics who rail against the “occupation” of the West Bank or the Gaza and the settlements and the capture of Jerusalem are correct, but only from the Palestinian point of view. Israel is doing everything in its power, day after day, minute after minute, and one stone at a time, one olive grove, one goat at a time, to destroy the possibility of a Palestinian state. If it did exist, it would be tiny, fragmented, weak–an act of Palestinian surrender and humiliation.

Don’t we see through Israel and US games? Hamas was elected in democratic elections. US-Israel and the EU have done everything possible, short of utter starvation of the people, to destroy Hamas (and Hezbollah). They keep telling Hamas that they have to lay down their arms, and recognize Israel. But what are Israel’s borders to be recognized? Where are they drawn? Hamas might well agree to return to the 1967 borders with all settlements dismantled. This is just a wicked charade being played out on the international scene, and many fall for it, including Canada’s right-wing Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.

We in the west have a hard time seeing what is before our eyes. Another logical error, which we see committed all the time, is to talk of the “cycle of violence” in the Middle East. From our vantage point in Canada, we imagine both are to blame, tanks and F-16s on one side, suicide bombers on the other. Aren’t human beings violent creatures–we mutter to ourselves: just an endless cycle of violence. But the Israel/Palestine story is not one of moral equivalence. It is a story of brutal dispossession and oppression of one people by another; it is not simply a sort of Greek tragedy. The idea of a cycle of violence leaves Israel once again not guilty. Everyone is not an innocent victim.

At this point, one can see where the idea of enemies talking it out can be premature. You feel my pain, I will feel yours. If only we could listen. I’ve suffered, you’ve suffered. Let’s talk. But it is not true that Palestinians have not heard the Zionist story. They have heard it ad nauseum and have heard enough about Jewish suffering. Both sides do not need to listen. It is Israelis and Jews who need to listen. There is lots of evidence–from Jewish Israeli commentators–that most Israelis scarcely give two hoots about the sight of a white-scarfed women scrubbing through the rubble of a bombed out building for a trace of her child.

Can you imagine both sides in apartheid sitting down to talk and listen to one another? What form would the suffering of the white perpetrator of apartheid take? That’s the point, isn’t it–there is a perpetrator, there is a victim; there is an oppressor; there are the oppressed.

Funerals, observes the great Palestinian poet, Mourid Barghouti, are an “integral part of the lives of Palestinians wherever they were, in the homeland or in exile, in the days of their calm and the days of their Intifada, in the days of their wars and the days of their peace punctuated by massacres.” Thus, when Yitzhak Rabin spoke so eloquently of Israelis as absolute victims, and the eyes of those in the White House and the whole world grew wet, Barghouti said that he “knew that [he] would forget for a long time his words that day: “ We are victims of war and violence. We have not known a year or month when mothers have not mourned their sons.”

Barghouti says that Rabin “knew how to demand that the world should respect Israeli blood, the blood of every Israeli individual without exception. He knew how to demand that the world should respect Israeli tears, and he was able to present Israel as the victim of a crime perpetrated by us. He changed facts, he altered the order of things, he presented us as the initiators of violence in the Middle East and said what he said with eloquence, with clarity and conviction.”

Rabin told his story of soldiers returning from war, covered in blood, and funerals where those in attendance could not look into the eyes of grieving mothers. In a remarkable passage in the brilliant book, I saw Ramallah, Barghouti argues compellingly that it is “easy to blur the truth with a simple linguistic trick: start your story from “Secondly.” Yes, this is what Rabin did. He simply neglected to speak of what happened first. Start your story with “Secondly,” and the world will be turned upside-down. Start your story with “Secondly”, and the arrows of the Red Indians are the original criminals and the guns of the white men are entirely the victim….You only need to start your story with “Secondly”, and the burned Vietnamese will have wounded the humanity of the napalm, and Victor Jara’s songs will be the shameful thing and not Pinochet’s bullets, which killed so many thousands in the Santiago stadium. It is enough to start the story with “Secondly”, for my grandmother, Umm ‘Ata, to become the criminal and Ariel Sharon her victim” (pp. 177-78).

Zionism has been a beautiful dream for many Jews. But Zionism from the ‘standpoint of the victim’ is not a pretty picture. My conclusions may be troubling and disconcerting. But I think that the cause of global justice and world peace, and particularly peace in the Middle East, demands that we understand that the state of Israel is at the crossroads. Israel, the first modern ‘democracy’ to conduct full-scale ethnic cleansing as a state project, can continue towards an “ethnically cleansed” Greater Israel, or transform into a single, integrated, bi-national, multicultural state of Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians. In my view, the ferocity unleashed in Lebanon and the Gaza—laying sieges, causing electricity blackouts, bombing and shelling, assassinating and imprisoning, killing and wounding children and babies—can only be comprehended in terms of the Zionist project to eradicate any opposition to their goal of total domination in historic Palestine and the surrounding Middle East. Hezbollah was being taught the Zionist’s elementary lesson: we have the right to abduct, you do not.

Israel is an anachronism in our increasingly cosmopolitan world order in that Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privilege from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded. This is a “separatist project” in a world of individual rights, open frontiers and international law. Thus, in the Jewish state, one community, the Jews, is set above others, in an age when that sort of state has no place.

The wall being erected between Israel and Palestinian occupied territories is a symbol of the moral and institutional bankruptcy of the regime it is intended to protect. You cannot build pathways towards others if you believe they are inferior beings, or that you, and not they, are superior, chosen ones, with your suffering privileged above and beyond everyone else’s. Israel’s actions in the world towards and against the Palestinians—curfews, check points, bulldozers, public humiliations, home demolition, land seizures, shootings, targeted assassinations, and the separatist fence—indicate a state that appears to have lost is moral centre, and is possible facing its own Nakba.

I believe that the United States’ unconditional support for Israel, and the adoption of an Israeli approach to foreign policy, is undermining the hopes and possibilities for peace in the Middle East and the rest of the world. The US’s catastrophic loss of international political influence and the degradation of its moral image has much to do with their bizarre approval of, and financial support for, Israel’s actions in the Middle East. Israel embraced the “war on terror” when the smoke was still rising from the Towers, immediately identifying the Palestinians as “terrorists” who had to be eliminated. Thus, Israel’s wars, now and in the past, are always presented to the world as wars of necessity, of self-defence.

The compelling question before Israel and the rest of the world is simply this: will Israel reinvent itself and dissolve the exhausted Zionist political project in favour of building a truly bi-national state in historic Palestine for everyone? We have reached a moral crossroads. In the new Middle East defined by the US, only Israel and the US may dominate, only they may be strong, only they may be secure. But in the just world that lies on the other side of the crossroads, this is unacceptable.

Dr. Michael Welton is a professor at the University of Athabasca. He is the author of Designing the Just Learning Society: a Critical Inquiry.

 

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/30/the-problem-of-israel-in-the-modern-world/

Income inequality soars in every US state

By Andre Damon
30 January 2015

Income inequality has grown in every state in the US in recent decades, according to a new study published this week by the Economic Policy Institute. The report, entitled The Increasingly Unequal States of America, found that, even though states home to major metropolitan financial centers such as New York, Chicago, and the Bay Area had the highest levels of income inequality, the gap between the rich and the poor has increased in every region of the country.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re looking at Hawaii or West Virginia or New York or California, there has been a dramatic shift in income towards the top,” said Mark Price, an economist at the Keystone Research Center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and one of the study’s co-authors, in a telephone interview.

Source: Economic Policy Institute
The report noted that between 2009 and 2012, the top one percent of income earners captured 105 percent of all income gains in the United States. This was possible because during this period the average income of the bottom 99 percent shrank, while the average income of the top one percent increased by 36.8 percent.

To varying degrees, this phenomenon was expressed throughout the country. In only two states did the income of the top one percent grow by less than fifteen percent.

The enormous concentration of wealth in the top 1 percent was even further concentrated in the top .01 percent. In New York, for instance, someone had to make $506,051 per year to be counted in the top one percent, but $16 million to be in the top .10 percent. The average income within the top .01 percent in New York was a staggering $69 million.

“Most of what’s driving income growth are executives in the financial sector, as well as top managers throughout major corporations,” said Dr. Price. “Those two together are the commanding heights of income in this economy.”

Source: Economic Policy Institute

Dr. Price and his co-author, Estelle Sommeiller, based their study on the methods of Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, whose widely-cited research analyzed the growth of income inequality for the United States as a whole. Using state-by-state data from the Internal Revenue Service, much of which had to be compiled from paper archives dating back almost a century, Price and Sommeiller were able to make a state-by-state analysis of income inequality since 1917.

Nationwide, the average income of the top one percent of income earners is 29 times higher than the average income of the bottom 99 percent. But in New York and Connecticut, the average income in the top 1 percent is 51.0 and 48.4 percent higher than the average for the rest of earners, respectively.

New York City is the home of Wall Street and boasts more billionaires than any other city in the world. Connecticut is home to many of the largest hedge funds in the world. Ray Dalio, the founder of Westport, Connecticut-based hedge fund Bridgewater Associates earned $3 billion in 2011 alone.

While the average income of the bottom 99 percent of income earners in New York state was $44,049, the income of the top one percent was $2,130,743. For the United States as a whole, the top one percent earned on average $1,303,198, compared to the average income of $43,713 for the bottom 99 percent.

In California, the most populous US state, the top one percent received an average income of $1,598,161, which was 34.9 times higher than the average pay of the bottom 99 percent. In 2013, four of the highest-paid CEOs in the United States were employed by technology companies, which are disproportionately located in California. At the top of the list was Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, with a current net worth of $53.4 billion, who made $78 million in pay that year.

The study shows that the average income for the bottom 99 percent of income earners is relatively consistent across states, with no state showing an average income of more than 33 percent above or below the average for the whole country.

The average incomes of the top one percent varied widely, however: from $537,989 for West Virginia to $2.1 million in New York. According to Forbes, the wealthiest resident of West Virginia is coal magnate Jim Justice II, who, with a net worth of $1.6 billion, is the state’s only billionaire. New York City, by contrast, has four residents worth more than $20 billion, including chemical tycoon David Koch, with a net worth of $36 billion; former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with a net worth of $31 billion; and financiers Carl Icahn and George Soros, worth $20 billion apiece.

Yet despite the broad disparity in the relative concentration of the ultra-rich, every single state showed a pronounced and growing chasm between the wealthy few and the great majority of society. In Alaska, which has relatively high wages and few billionaires, the incomes of the top one percent were on average more than fifteen times higher than the bottom 99 percent.

The report noted that exploding CEO pay has set “new norms for top incomes often emulated today by college presidents (as well as college football and basketball coaches), surgeons, lawyers, entertainers, and professional athletes.”

Price added, “As the incomes of CEOs and financiers are rising, you’re starting to see that pull, almost like a gravity starting to pull up other top incomes in the rest of the economy.

“A University president might claim, ‘I run a big institution, you expect me to raise money from some of the wealthiest people in the country, you’ve got to pay me a salary that helps me socialize with them.’”

Price said that, while inequality figures are not available nationwide on the local level, his work on income inequality in the state of Pennsylvania shows that income inequality is growing in counties throughout the state, in both rural and urban centers.

Nationwide, the income share of the top one percent fell by 13.4 percent between 1928-1979, a product of the New Deal and Great Society reforms, as well as higher taxes on top earners. These measures were the outcome of bitter and explosive class struggles. But in subsequent years, that trend has been reversed.

As a result, income inequality in New York State was even higher in 2007 than it was in 1928, during the “roaring 20s” that gave rise to the Great Depression. In the period between 1979 and 2007, every state had the income share of the top 1 percent grow by at least 25 percent.

Citing a previous study by the Economic Policy Institute, the report noted that “between 1979 and 2007, had the income of the middle fifth of households grown at the same rate as overall average household income, it would have been $18,897 higher in 2007—27.0 percent higher than it actually was.”

The enormous growth of social inequality is the result of an unrelenting, decades-long campaign against the jobs and living standards of workers. Under the Obama administration, the redistribution of wealth has escalated sharply, through a combination of bank bailouts and “quantitative easing,” which has inflated the assets of the financial elite.

These policies have been pursued by both parties and the entire political establishment which is squarely under the thumb of the corporate and financial oligarchy that dominates American society.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/01/30/ineq-j30.html

Obama’s State of Delusion

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22 January 2015

The delusional character of  address on Tuesday—presenting an America of rising living standards and a booming economy, capped by his declaration that the “shadow of crisis has passed”—is perhaps matched only in its presentation by the media and supporters of the Democratic Party.

The general tone was set by the New York Times in its lead editorial on Wednesday, which described the speech as a “simple, dramatic message about economic fairness, about the fact that the well-off—the top earners, the big banks, Silicon Valley—have done just great, while middle and working classes remain dead in the water.”

The attempt to present Obama’s remarks as a clarion call to combat social inequality runs first of all into the inconvenient fact that the individual supposedly making this call has been the head of state for the past six years. The Times writes as if the policies of the Obama administration—the multitrillion-dollar bailout for the banks, the coordinated assault on wages, relentless cuts to social programs and the social counterrevolution in health care known as Obamacare—have nothing to do with the record levels of social inequality that prevail in the United States.

The Times quotes Obama’s question delivered toward the beginning of the speech: “Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes an effort?”

Anyone listening to the speech with even a passing knowledge of the record of his presidency would immediately respond that, for Obama and for the entire political establishment that he heads, the answer is clearly the former.

As for the proposals themselves—including tuition assistance for community colleges, tax credits for child care and college education, an increase in the minimum wage and paid maternity leave—they consist of insincere and paltry measures, tailored to the interests of big business, that no one, least of all Obama, expects will pass.

The Times itself acknowledges, “Mr. Obama knows his prospects of getting Congress to agree are less than zero.” White House officials freely admitted ahead of the State of the Union that Obama had no expectations that the measures he proposed would be taken up on Capitol Hill. “We will not be limited by what will pass this Congress, because that would be a very boring two years,” White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer told the press before the speech.

Previous State of the Union speeches have produced similar wish lists aimed at generating illusions that Obama sought to advance a “progressive” agenda, proposals dropped as soon as the president completed the obligatory tour of photo-ops and speeches at college campuses.

In his 2014 State of the Union, Obama called for ending tax loopholes for corporations that ship jobs overseas, investing tens of billions in infrastructure projects to create jobs, making pre-kindergarten available to every four-year-old child, regardless of family income, and enacting equal pay for women. Instead, one million people were cut off food stamps, long-term unemployment remained stubbornly high, poverty increased, and wages stagnated.

On the other hand, every major initiative by Obama in domestic policy—the 2009 stimulus program, the 2010 health care reform legislation, the 2010 financial regulatory overhaul, countless budget deals with the congressional Republicans, right up to the executive order on immigration issued a month ago—was dictated by the needs of corporate America, and, in many cases, drafted by corporate lobbyists.

The consequences for working people—record long-term unemployment, a tidal wave of home foreclosures, the slashing of wages in basic industry, the steady decline in living standards over all—were not accidental. They were the deliberate goal of government policy, for both Democrats and Republicans, because mass suffering by the working class was required to obtain the resources needed to bail out the financial aristocracy.

The main purpose of Obama’s remarks was to give the various publications and organizations that orbit the Democratic Party—the Times, the Nationmagazine (whose columnist John Nichols described the spech as a “serious effort to address income inequality”), the trade unions, and the network of pseudo-left organizations that present themselves as “socialist”—fodder for promoting the Democrats in the 2016 elections.

Thus, Obama’s speech was peppered with references aimed at the upper-middle class practitioners of various forms of identity politics (Time magazine, for example, enthused that Obama “made history Tuesday night” by the inclusion in his speech of one word: “transgender”).

Here is how to paint the Democratic Party in progressive colors, he was telling them. Here is how the Democratic Party will seek to fool the American people as it collaborates with the Republicans in enacting ever more right-wing policies over the next two years, combined with endless war abroad and the assault on democratic rights.

The delusions, self-delusions and lies of Obama and his supporters cannot, however, alter the underlying reality of American political life: the unbridgeable gulf between the entire state apparatus and the vast majority of the population. It is notable that Obama’s speech, delivered less than three months after the midterm elections, made no reference to the debacle that the Democratic Party suffered at the polls—due primarily to the collapse in voter turnout produced by six years of right-wing policies from the “candidate of change.”

Perhaps the most striking delusion of all is the belief by the ruling class and its representatives that it can, through a few honeyed and lying phrases, forestall the tidal wave of social opposition that is on the horizon.

Patrick Martin and Joseph Kishore

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/01/22/pers-j22.html

Lights of rebellion shine at the Zapatista resistance festival

By Giovanni Cattaruzza On January 19, 2015

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Last month, the Zapatistas organized the first World Festival of Rebellion and Resistance Against Capitalism. One participant shares his impressions.San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas

The mountains of Xochicuautla, which are waiting for the snow and for yet another Christmas here in Mexico, don’t know anything about us.

They don’t know anything about the thousands of people from all over the world who climbed up here in the cold.

The mountains of Xochicuautla ignore what democracy looks like, where Palestine or Valle di Susa is, what sort of thing an international airport is, or what so-called “sustainable capitalism” looks like.

They don’t know anything about mega-development projects, highways, garbage dumps, mines, GMO’s, transnational companies, militarization, and progress.

They are only mountains, they speak Nahuatl, and it’s kind of complicated to have a conversation with a mountain.

Rebuilding from below

On December 21, the first World Festival of Resistance and Rebellion Against Capitalism — “Where those from above destroy, those from below rebuild” — organized by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), was inaugurated in the San Francisco Xochicuautla community, municipality of Lerma, in the state of Mexico.

More than 2.000 Mexican activists, 500 international comrades from 48 different countries, and hundreds upon hundreds of indigenous community representatives started their journey throughout the country from these mountains.

The EZLN and the CNI invited all the people of the world here in Mexico in order to travel together to the southern-most point of the country and to discover the histories and struggles of the indigenous peoples of Mexico, and the challenges faced by all the political organizations that take the Zapatistas as a point of reference — from the anarchists of the Z.A.D. of Nantes, to the Sem Tierra of Brazil, on to the teachers of Oaxaca.

Once again, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation together with the indigenous communities of Chiapas decided to build a common project in cooperation with the anti-capitalist movements of the planet.

Once again, from the jungles of the south-east of Mexico, they thought globally. Inviting the people from all over the world to Chiapas in order to fight against capitalism together. According to the Zapatistas, global capitalism in the year 2015 reveals itself most clearly through mega-development projects and violent attacks to Mother Nature all over the world.

This journey can be summarized in one line: preguntando caminamos (“asking while walking”), as the Zapatistas say. It is a time to learn and to doubt ourselves.

We walked and dreamed together from Mexico City to the tropical rains of the State of Campeche, on to to the cold altiplano of the Caracol of Oventik, sharing political practices of resistance, knowing that, as Subcomandante Insurgente Moises said:

There is no single answer. There is no manual. There is no dogma. There is no creed. There are many answers, many ways, many forms. And each of us will see what we are able to do and learn from our own struggle and from other struggles.

“We give you 43 embraces”

During the so called “sharings” in Xochicuatla, Monclova and in the University of the Land (CIDECI) in San Cristobal de las Casas, we listened to hundreds of languages and political experiences of resistance, but most importantly we listened to the voices of the families of the 43 missing students of Ayotzinapa to whom the EZLN gave its own seat during the festival.

We cried together and we embraced each other under the cold rain of Oventik, looking at the members of the Comandancia of the EZLN hugging one by one the fathers and the mothers of the 43, after hearing the voice of Subcomandante Moises pronouncing the following words:

And so, when this day or night comes, your missing ones will give you the same embrace that we Zapatistas now give to you. It is an embrace of caring, respect, and admiration. In addition, we give you 43 embraces, one for each of those who are absent from your lives.

In the next weeks the EZLN will communicate in detail some actions and proposals to the world.

According to the Zapatistas and to the individuals and organizations that attended this first World Festival of Resistance and Rebellion Against Capitalism, there is no more time to waste. The henchmen of global capitalism — big business, national governments and international organizations — are quelling all voices of dissent, attempting to destroy all forms of resistance wherever it pops up. Ayotzinapa is just another example of this mechanism thatkills everyone who chooses to resist, from Turkey and Ferguson to Mexico.

Today is the time for unity of all those who want to fight capitalism and who do not recognize themselves in any political party.

The lights of rebellion and resistance

The night is dark as only the nights in Chiapas can be, here in the Caracol of Oventik. It is December 31, 2014, 21 years after the Zapatista uprising.

Deaths, disappearances, repression and the threat of imprisonment will continue to challenge los de abajo also in the year we are entering. 2015 will be tough for them — but in the extreme darkness of the night, in the black hole of the capital in which we’re living, there are some lights of resistance.

The thousands of people who arrived here, in the mountains of Southeast Mexico, are here to share some of these little lights.

It’s funny to look at these little lights, here in Oventik, where the words of the EZLN — reaching us through the voice of Subcomandante Insurgente Moises — echo in the mountains:

Darkness becomes longer and heavier across the world, touching everyone. We knew it would be like this. We know it will be like this. We spent years, decades, centuries preparing ourselves. Our gaze is not limited to what is close-by. It does not see only today, nor only our own lands. Our gaze extends far in time and geography, and that determines how we think.

Each time something happens, it unites us in pain, but also in rage. Because now, as for some time already, we see lights being lit in many corners. They are lights of rebellion and resistance. Sometimes they are small, like ours. Sometimes they are big. Sometimes they take awhile. Sometimes they are only a spark that quickly goes out. Sometimes they go on and on without losing their glow in our memory.

And in all of these lights there is a bet that tomorrow will be very different.

The night is ours.

Giovanni Cattaruzza lives in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas. He collaborates with the Human Rights Center Fray Bartolomè de las Casas-FrayBa and is a graduate of Latin American Studies at Leiden University. A great supporter of Genoa C.F.C, proudly NO-TAV, and in love with the continent of Pancho Villa, he writes articles about the struggles of indigenous communities and social movements in Latin America.

http://roarmag.org/2015/01/zapatista-festival-rebellion-resistance-capitalism/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

More than half of US public school students living in poverty

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By Andre Damon
19 January 2015

For the first time in at least half a century, low-income children make up the majority of students enrolled in American public schools, according to a report by the Southern Education Foundation (SEF).

The percentage of public school students who are classified as low-income has risen steadily over the past quarter century, under both Democratic and Republican administrations. In 1989, under 32 percent of public school students were classified as low-income, according to statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) cited by the report. This rose to 38 percent by 2000, 48 percent in 2011, and 51 percent in 2013.

These figures are the result of decades of deindustrialization, stagnating wages and cuts to antipoverty programs. Since the 2008 financial crisis in particular, the US ruling class, with the Obama administration at its head, has waged an unrelenting assault on the social rights of working people, carrying out mass layoffs, driving down wages, and slashing social services during the recession and the “recovery.” The SEF report makes clear that it has been the most vulnerable sections of society, including children, who have been made to bear a disproportionate burden due to these policies.

The study defines low-income students as those qualifying for either free or reduced-price lunches. Students from families making less than 135 percent of the federal poverty threshold are eligible for free lunches, while those making under 185 percent of the federal poverty line are eligible for reduced-price lunches.

The report was published last week in the form of an update to a 2007 study, entitled “A New Majority,” which warned that low-income students had for the first time in decades become the majority in the historically impoverished American South, and were well on their way to becoming the majority in the US as a whole. In 2006, the year covered by the report, low-income students constituted 42 percent of students enrolled at public schools. Seven years later, the figure has risen by a shocking nine percentage points.

The 2007 report noted that in 1959, “Historical correlations suggest that close to a majority of the school-age children in the South were in households living below the recently defined American poverty line.” It added, “Somewhere between 1959 and 1967, it is likely that for the first time since public schools were established in the South, low income children no longer constituted a majority of students in the South’s public schools.”

“By 1967, the percentage of low income children in the South and the nation had declined to unmatched levels,” the report continued, but noted that the improvement “came to a halt in 1970 when the percentage of low income children leveled off and remained essentially constant over five years. In 1975 the trend lines for low income students in the South and across the nation began to creep upward. After 1980, the Reagan Administration convinced Congress to enact large federal cutbacks in anti-poverty programs, and the numbers of low income children in the South started to rise sharply.”

The vast historical retrogression exposed by the report is further emphasized in the breakdown by state. The report notes, “In 1989, Mississippi was the only state in the nation with a majority of low income students. It had 59 percent. Louisiana ranked second with 49 percent.”

Low-income students now comprise the majority in 21 states, and between 40 percent and 49 percent of students in 19 others. While all states had significant numbers of low-income students, the share of poor students in the South and West is “extraordinarily high.” It notes that “thirteen of the 21 states with a majority of low income students in 2013 were located in the South, and six of the other 21 states were in the West.”

Mississippi has the highest share of low-income students, at a shocking 71 percent, or nearly three out of four, in 2013. Second was New Mexico, where 68 percent of public school students are low-income. These are followed by Louisiana, with 65 percent; Arkansas, with 61 percent; Oklahoma, with 61 percent; and Texas, with 60 percent. California, the country’s most populous state, has 55 percent of its public school students in poverty.

Poor students require far more resources than their affluent peers if they are to keep up. But rather than provide resources according to need, the Bush and Obama administrations, under the “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top” programs, have channeled resources away from schools with a high share of students in poverty, which are declared to be “underperforming.”

The SEF report warns, “With huge, stubbornly unchanging gaps in learning, schools in the South and across the nation face the real danger of becoming entrenched, inadequately funded educational systems that enlarge the division in America between haves and have-nots.”

The study is the latest in a series of reports showing the increasingly desperate social conditions facing children in the United States.

In September, the US Department of Education released statistics showing that the number of homeless children increased by eight percent in the 2012-2013 school year, compared to the year before. There were 1.3 million homeless children enrolled in US schools, a figure that is up by 85 percent since the beginning of the recession.

In April, Feeding America reported that 16 million children, or 21.6 percent, live in food insecure households. The share of all people in the United States who are food insecure has increased from 13.4 percent in 2006 to 21.1 percent in 2013.

In April 2013, the United Nations Children’s Fund released a report showing that the US has the fourth-highest child poverty rate among 29 developed countries. Only Lithuania, Latvia and Romania have higher child poverty rates. The US fell behind even Greece, which has been devastated by years of austerity measures dictated by the International Monetary Fund.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/01/19/pove-j19.html

Portrait of the Artist as a Dying Class

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Scott Timberg argues that we’ve lost the scaffolding of middle-class jobs—record-store clerk, critic, roadie—that made creative scenes thrive. Record store clerks—like Barry (Jack Black) in High Fidelity—are going the way of the dodo. (Getty Images)

BY JOANNA SCUTTS

It was livable, affordable, close-knit cities, with plenty of universities and plenty of cheap gathering places, that allowed art to flourish in 20th-century America.

Though Scott Timberg’s impassioned Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class focuses on the struggles of musicians, writers and designers, it’s not just a story about (the impossibility of) making a living making art in modern America. More urgently, it’s another chapter in America’s central economic story today, of plutocracy versus penury and the evisceration of the middle class.

Timberg lost his job as an arts reporter at the Los Angeles Times in 2008 after real-estate mogul Sam Zell purchased the paper and gutted its staff. But newspapers are experiencing a natural dieoff, right? Wrong, says Timberg. He cites statistics showing that newspaper profits remained fat into the 21st century—peaking at an average of 22.3 percent in 2002—as the industry began slashing staff. The problem isn’t profitability but shareholder greed, and the fact that we’ve ceded so much authority to the gurus of economic efficiency that we’ve failed to check their math.

The story of print journalism’s demise is hardly new, but Timberg’s LA-based perspective brings architecture, film and music into the conversation, exposing the fallacy of the East Coast conviction that Hollywood is the place where all the money is hiding. Movie studios today are as risk-averse and profit-minded as the big New York publishing houses, throwing their muscle behind one or two stars and proven projects (sequels and remakes) rather than nurturing a deep bench of talent.

For aspiring stars to believe that they may yet become the next Kanye or Kardashian is as unrealistic as treating a casino as a viable path to wealth. Not only that, but when all the money and attention cluster around a handful of stars, there’s less variation, less invention, less risk-taking. Timberg notes that the common understanding of the “creative class,” coined by Richard Florida in 2002, encompasses “anyone who works with their mind at a high level,” including doctors, lawyers and software engineers.

But Timberg looks more narrowly at those whose living, both financially and philosophically, depends on creativity, whether or not they are highly educated or technically “white collar.” He includes a host of support staff: technicians and roadies, promoters and bartenders, critics and publishers, and record-store and bookstore autodidacts (he devotes a whole chapter to these passionate, vanishing “clerks.”) People in this class could once survive, not lavishly but respectably, leading a decent middle-class life, with even some upward mobility.

Timberg describes the career of a record-store clerk whose passion eventually led him to jobs as a radio DJ and a music consultant for TV. His retail job offered a “ladder into the industry” that no longer exists. Today, in almost all creative industries, the rungs of that ladder have been replaced with unpaid internships, typically out of reach to all but the children of the bourgeoisie. We were told the Internet would render physical locations unimportant and destroy hierarchies, flinging open the gates to a wider range of players. To an extent that Timberg doesn’t really acknowledge, that has proven somewhat true: Every scene in the world now has numerous points of access, and any misfit can find her tribe online. But it’s one thing to find fellow fans; it’s another to find paying work. It turns out that working as unfettered freelancers—one-man brands with laptops for offices—doesn’t pay the rent, even if we forgo health insurance.

Timberg points to stats on today’s music business, for instance, which show that even those who are succeeding, with millions of Twitter followers and Spotify plays, can scrape together just a few thousand dollars for months of work. (Timberg is cautiously optimistic about the arrival of Obamacare, which at least might protect people from the kinds of bankrupting medical emergencies that several of his subjects have suffered.).

In addition, Timberg argues that physical institutions help creativity thrive. His opening chapter documents three successful artistic scenes—Boston’s postwar poetry world, LA’s 1960s boom in contemporary art, and Austin’s vibrant 1970s alternative to the Nashville country-music machine. In analyzing what makes them work, he owes much to urban planner Jane Jacobs: It was livable, affordable, close-knit cities, with plenty of universities and plenty of cheap gathering places that allowed art to flourish in 20th-century America. In Austin, the university and the legislature provided day jobs or other support to the freewheeling artists, Timberg notes: “For all its protests of its maverick status, outlaw country was made possible by public funding.”

Today, affordability has gone out the window. As one freelance writer, Chris Ketcham, puts it, “rent is the basis of everything”—and New York and San Francisco, gouging relentlessly away at their middle class, are driving out the very people who built their unique cultures.

Take live music, for example. Without a robust support structure of people working for money, not just love—local writers who chronicle a scene, talented designers and promoters, bars and clubs that can pay the rent—live music is withering. Our minimum wage economy isn’t helping: For the venue and the band to cover their costs, they need curious music-lovers who have the time and money to come out, pay a cover charge, buy a beer or two and maybe an album. That’s a night out that fewer and fewer people can afford. Wealthy gentrifiers, meanwhile, would rather spend their evenings at a hot new restaurant than a grungy rock club. Foodie culture, Timberg suggests, has pushed out what used to nourish us.

Timberg is not a historian but a journalist, and his book is strongest when he allows creative people to speak for themselves. We hear how the struggles of a hip LA architect echo those of music professors and art critics. However, the fact that most of Timberg’s sources are men (and from roughly the same generation as the author), undercuts the book’s claim to universality. Those successful artistic scenes he cites at the beginning, in Boston, LA and Austin, and the mid-century heyday of American culture in general, were hardly welcoming to women and people of color.

It’s much harder to get upset about the decline of an industry that wasn’t going to let you join in the first place. Although Timberg admits this in passing, he doesn’t explore the way that the chipping away of institutional power might in fact have helped to liberate marginalized artists.

But all the liberation in the world counts for little if you can’t get paid, and Timberg’s central claim—that the number of people making a living by making art is rapidly decreasing—is timely and important, as is his argument that unemployed architects deserve our sympathetic attention just as much as unemployed auto workers.

The challenge is to find a way to talk about the essential role of art and creativity that doesn’t fall back on economic value, celebrity endorsement or vague mysticism. It’s far too important for that.

Joanna Scutts is a freelance writer based in Queens, NY, and a board member of the National Book Critics Circle. Her book reviews and essays have appeared in the Washington Post, the New Yorker Online, The Nation, The Wall Street Journal and several other publications. You can follow her on Twitter @life_savour.

http://inthesetimes.com/article/17522/portrait_of_the_dying_creative_class