My Kanye “hot-take” – from four years ago…

I’m close to being done with most pop culture, but the reality is that it makes up a large part of culture these days, all over the world. So, anyone expecting to be heard in any way shape or form has a much better chance doing it using pop culture than almost any other subject. I’m also loathe to talk about DT for too many reasons to list. All of that being said, I remembered writing this comment about four years ago in response to this piece

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/outer-space-something/

and thought it could add to the discussion – or more likely, be just another cry in the wilderness…Anyway, for the one person who may be interested, here is the comment:

Good piece Ismail. It sparks a lot of questions and associations. Makes me think of Kanye. He has been a great case study in the representation of the subject game. One could easily write a book on the contradictions, confusions, and historical events that led to “Yeezus,” as well as his recent series of appearances in the media making a case for why he should be a mogul, i.e., a capitalist. Aside from his admirable passion and talent, some of his ideas can be attributed to his lack of a deep analysis (which I think could be said of most americans) and his fundamental acceptance of the capitalist system. It’s more troubling if he is simply cynical and calculating, but that automatically brings up questions of what success means under capitalism and what is required to achieve it, to say nothing of his personal struggle. I don’t want to get locked down in a binary construction here or even a judgment, but “New Slaves” certainly points up many a contradiction and confusion, and though it may just be Hip Hop swagger, he makes himself pretty clear here:

You see there’s leaders and there’s followers
But I’d rather be a dick than a swallower

That may be the shortest distillation of the capitalist ethos there is – other than the golden rule: “he who has the gold, rules.” In any case, Kanye made clear in his I-wanna-be-a-mogul media barrage that his major frustration was with the gatekeepers of capital blocking his access to it; thereby, keeping him from being another steve jobs. He constantly couches his desire in terms that distract from the ugliness of capitalism roiling just below the surface. He speaks in corporate phrases about product and being a “creator,” and constantly of his love of design. Not coincidentally, in the past decade or so, design has been elevated and commodified in popular culture like never before. He presents his desire in his own particular bombastic, self-promoting brand of Hip Hop, boasting that usually ends in platitudes, but it cannot disguise the fact that he wants something more than simply to create and design, because he has more than enough money to start a little boutique any time he wants. And though he may just want to bring good affordable fashion to the masses, it cannot disguise the fact that the fashion world he wants to be a part of is a nexus of capitalism. It is based on the exploitation of “cheap” labor out of the consumer’s sight and the creation of both desire and self-hate in “the consumer,” otherwise known as “a person.” Capitalists he sees as role models like steven jobs also made their fortunes from little brown hands working in prison-like conditions, and that is more than germane here.

Along with saying we are all new slaves to consumerism and materialism, and rightly pointing out the New Jim Crow of the prison industrial complex, Kanye says he is just a rich slave now (I know…) because they (the big fashion houses) “let” him produce for them, but he is continually blocked by the big players in fashion (capitalists) from becoming one of them. The hegemony of the fashion industry (and tech, and spirits, and perfume, etc…) in popular culture is now intricately intertwined in Hip Hop (there were early associations as well, like “My adidas” but that looks quaint now). Not only does it present the problems sketched above, but it directly involves creating a need in black and brown kids that makes them feel like shopping (and owning) will accomplish something. Of course, billions of people of all colors are enmeshed and in the thrall of the fashion industry and consumerism, but the irony is especially strong when black and brown kids are constantly extolling the virtues and buying the products of modern day slave masters. And it is compounded many times over when someone like Kanye starts talking about new slaves and then starts a media campaign to be “let in” by vicious capitalists, so he can become an actual modern day slaver himself. In all of his appearances, he has never come close to acknowledging the logical end of winning his campaign to be “let in,” or the evils of the fashion industry, or the capitalists who fund and, needless to say, profit from it.

To broaden the critique, liberals and self-identified progressives who claim to champion equal rights and justice buy (literally and figuratively) into this system as well. Seemingly, without a second thought. No one ever calls martha stewart and ralph lauren and steve jobs and phil knight modern day slave masters, but I think it needs to be done and I think we all need to be involved in stopping it. Most americans now accept that most of what they buy is made by slave labor. In fact, it has been joked about by stewart, colbert, and every late night talk show host and comedian I can think of. It is a disgusting failure on every level that we can’t even respond with a boycott when de facto slaves are throwing themselves out of foxcon’s windows and buildings are collapsing on Bangladeshis. We are all implicated in capitalism and its crimes, and there is certainly no dyad – especially when there is no “outside” commodification.

Well, just a few quick thoughts. Thanks for the piece.

nb: capitalizations and lack thereof are intentional.

Looking for a stellar political podcast and news site? Check out Black Agenda Report

BlackAgendaRadio_AlbumArt

Click image above to go to site.

 

BAReport
Click above to go to site

In the fall of 2006, Glen Ford, Bruce Dixon, Margaret Kimberley and Leutisha Stills of CBC Monitor left Black Commentator, which Ford had co-founded and edited since 2002, and launched Black Agenda Report.
Check it out. Well worth your while…

 

The wisdom of Malcom X and MLK jr. (Re-post from 2014)

We are living in the middle of massive changes that will profoundly affect us all. One could look back through history and say, it was ever thus, but the world has never known concentrated power and control on this level and its consolidation continues every day. We now live in a world, as Oxfam recently described, where “[w]ealthy elites have co-opted political power to rig the rules of the economic game, undermining democracy and creating a world where the 85 richest people own the wealth of half of the world’s population.”

More often than not, those 85 people use the corporation as an entity to embody their wealth and power – and to make it grow. Growth has become the thing to strive for, it is the mantra of governments, the logic of capitalism, and by extension, the corporations who control the capital. Of course, we are not talking only about those 85 people. We are talking about the system of corporate capitalism we all live in. Increasingly, corporations are using the ideology of neoliberalism to operate in the world, to reshape it in their own image, to claim all rights and property for the corporation. Making private (for profit) everything belonging to the public (things we supposedly own in common) and taking all information we think should be private and putting it in the hands of corporations and the governments they control – in order to increase control and profit.

One could point to the enclosure movement and police states of the past and continue to say, plus ca change, but differences of degree will eventually lead to a difference in kind. After all, we started as single-celled bits in the ocean. In other words, we are dealing with a whole new beast. And that beast is killing many of us. If it doesn’t kill us, it is shaping every aspect of our lives.

Many americans are still in denial about the forces at play and how to engage them. Many are too ignorant to be in denial, but there are also people who understand what the struggle means and that, if we do not fight, we will eventually lose our humanity, in every sense. There are a relative few who understand the stakes of this moment in history. Some are tempted to look to leaders of struggles in the past and have a kind of nostalgia. There is no time for nostalgia. In fact nostalgia is a dangerous feeling. It distorts the past and discounts the future. If we’re going to look backward, we have to do so with clear, un-obscured eyes.

When we see without the veil of nostalgia – or more importantly, propaganda – it becomes easier to see the true struggles many of our leaders were involved in. For example, MLK and Malcolm both made their share of mistakes, but by the end of their all too short lives, they had amassed a great deal of wisdom. It’s instructive to look at where they were in their development as intellectuals and activists when they were assassinated because they had both moved straight to the core of the struggle. Of course, it’s difficult to take such a wealth of experience and distill it into a sentence or two, but if you focus on the root of the struggle, it looks something like this:

Well-organized people of all colors, classes and religions, working together in love, world-wide, for vulnerable people, and against capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism.

Those ideas are guiding principles. They aren’t a road map, but they definitely point the way. The thing is, we actually have to understand the way forward involves all of us working together in that direction. Black, white, rich, poor, gay, straight, and on and on. It seems such a simple point, but everyday realities and the power of the dominant corporate culture seem to obscure it and divide us and atomize us more and more. The dominant culture has had such a corrosive effect that saying we all need to work together sounds like a platitude or cliche, but that is what every great leader ends up saying – and more importantly struggled to do.

If we study the past and work together now, we don’t have to repeat the mistakes our leaders made when they were trying to find their way and we can learn from the wisdom they finally attained. They earned that wisdom through struggle – blood, sweat, and tears. Those guiding principles are their legacy. The struggle we face is bigger than any that has gone before. We would be foolish to ignore the wisdom they handed to us.

Story style links [#1]

Click on any sentence below to be taken to the story:

If the median household’s income is heading upward, the economy is in good shape. If it’s heading downward, as it’s been for this entire recovery, we’re all in deep trouble. Advocacy groups who sought a moratorium on shutoffs testified last week that the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department’s policies of mass shutoffs — 19,000 in recent months — are leaving low-income households with seniors and children without water service. INTERVIEWER: Do you think of yourself as a feminist? SONTAG: That’s one of the few labels I’m content with. But even so…is it a noun? I doubt it. In the current recovery, at least through 2012, the bottom 90 percent actually lost ground, with all of the income gains being grabbed by the wealthiest 10 percent of American households.

The wisdom of MLK jr.

We are living in the middle of massive changes that will profoundly affect us all. One could look back through history and say, it was ever thus, but the world has never known concentrated power and control on this level and its consolidation continues every day. We now live in a world, as Oxfam recently described, where “[w]ealthy elites have co-opted political power to rig the rules of the economic game, undermining democracy and creating a world where the 85 richest people own the wealth of half of the world’s population.”

More often than not, those 85 people use the corporation as an entity to embody their wealth and power – and to make it grow. Growth has become the thing to strive for, it is the mantra of governments, the logic of capitalism, and by extension, the corporations who control the capital. Of course, we are not talking only about those 85 people. We are talking about the system of corporate capitalism we all live in. Increasingly, corporations are using the ideology of neoliberalism to operate in the world, to reshape it in their own image, to claim all rights and property for the corporation. Making private (for profit) everything belonging to the public (things we supposedly own in common) and taking all information we think should be private and putting it in the hands of corporations and the governments they control – in order to increase control and profit.

One could point to the enclosure movement and police states of the past and continue to say, plus ca change, but differences of degree will eventually lead to a difference in kind. After all, we started as single-celled bits in the ocean. In other words, we are dealing with a whole new beast. And that beast is killing many of us. If it doesn’t kill us, it is shaping every aspect of our lives.

Many americans are still in denial about the forces at play and how to engage them. Many are too ignorant to be in denial, but there are also people who understand what the struggle means and that, if we do not fight, we will eventually lose our humanity, in every sense. There are a relative few who understand the stakes of this moment in history. Some are tempted to look to leaders of struggles in the past and have a kind of nostalgia. There is no time for nostalgia. In fact nostalgia is a dangerous feeling. It distorts the past and discounts the future. If we’re going to look backward, we have to do so with clear, unobscured eyes.

When we see without the veil of nostalgia – or more importantly, propaganda – it becomes easier to see the true struggles many of our leaders were involved in. For example, MLK and Malcolm both made their share of mistakes, but by the end of their all too short lives, they had amassed a great deal of wisdom. It’s instructive to look at where they were in their development as intellectuals and activists when they were assassinated because they had both moved straight to the core of the struggle. Of course, it’s difficult to take such a wealth of experience and distill it into a sentence or two, but if you focus on the root of the struggle, it looks something like this:

Well-organized people of all colors, classes and religions, working together in love, for vulnerable people, and against capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism.

Those ideas are guiding principles. They aren’t a road map, but they definitely point the way. The thing is, we actually have to understand the way forward involves all of us working together in that direction. Black, white, rich, poor, gay, straight, and on and on. It seems such a simple point, but everyday realities and the power of the dominant corporate culture seem to obscure it and divide us and atomize us more and more. The dominant culture has had such a corrosive effect that saying we all need to work together sounds like a platitude or cliche, but that is what every great leader ends up saying – and more importantly struggled to do.

If we study the past and work together now, we don’t have to repeat the mistakes our leaders made when they were trying to find their way and we can learn from the wisdom they finally attained. They earned that wisdom through struggle – blood, sweat, and tears. Those guiding principles are their legacy. The struggle we face is bigger than any that has gone before. We would be foolish to ignore the wisdom they handed to us.

The Federalist Society: How Conservatives Took The Law Back From Liberals

About the Book:

Over the last thirty years, The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies has grown from small group of disaffected conservative law students into an organization with extraordinary influence over American law and politics.  Unknown to the average citizen, this group of intellectuals managed to monopolize the selection of federal judges, take over the Department of Justice, and control legal policy in the White House.  How did this happen?  How did right wing law professors with radical ideas move their theories into the mainstream of legal thought?  How did Federalist Society members shape national policy for the “War on Terror,” reverse the Supreme Court’s direction on civil rights, chip away at a woman’s right to choose an abortion, win free speech rights for corporations to bankroll elections, and leave the United States as one of only two countries in the world that have not signed the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Children?  How has this group garnered broad acceptance of the idea that we should interpret the Constitution according to its original eighteenth century meaning, rather than as a “living” document? This book goes behind the surface of legislative and court battles to explain how law is really made.  It’s about how ideas and ideology drive law, policy and politics.  And what both conservatives and liberals alike can learn from the rise of the Federalist Society.

Click anywhere above to read a Q&A with the authors

Sam Sacks’ review of “Stay Illusion! The Hamlet Doctrine” & my comments on the review

stay illusion
Click picture above to read Sam Sacks’ fine review of “Stay Illusion! The Hamlet Doctrine”

This is what I have to say about it:

Well done man.

I like the approach of the authors as well as your approach to the review.  The psychology of human action (or non-action) is an inexhaustible subject because we will never know precisely why we do things (or do not).  This may be at the root of the brilliance of the play. It gives us a question to which there is no answer.  Human beings are rational and irrational, and never the twain shall meet. While this is true, we are cursed at the same time with the need to know.  We want certainty about why someone acts they way they do – and we are cursed again with a need to control how others act.  Maybe that is at the root of some people’s need to create robots – and to make them appear more and more human.

I’ve always thought the question of whether Hamlet was crazy or not was as strange as the idea of temporary insanity.  If one has little or no insight into choices one makes that hurt others and one kills and plots to kill, what is one? Sane?  Is one sane if one has a good reason for committing condemnable acts?  Is Obama sane for killing children with drones and bragging that he is, “good at killing people”?  Insanity (or at least irrationality) and human actions often seem one and the same to me.

I enjoyed the Slings and Arrows clip – and that last brilliant clip as well. Erudite actors! Fun and edifying.  And how fitting that Wells says, “…the first point about Hamlet is that he is a genius.” Well, of course that is what he would say!  As your piece observed, Wells reading of the play revealed as much about Wells as it did Hamlet.

Doug Henwood – Behind the News Podcast/Radio show + bonus video

LBO

Click above for Doug Henwood’s Left Business Observer Radio show/Podcast called “Behind the News”. Many great interviews. Start with the October 17th show, where Doug interviews Jodi Dean and Kshama Sawant.

www.leftbusinessobserver.com

Doug Henwood also contributes to The Nation. I have many “issues” with The Nation, but Doug Henwood and a few others like Jeremey Scahill are solid.  Max Blumenthal is doing great work as well.

Here is an example of Doug’s  clear vision of “The New Economy” and its cheerleaders before 9/11 and before the manufactured crisis:

If He Hollers Let Him Go

GhansahOnChappelle
Click picture above to read The Believer article by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah,
“If He Hollers Let Him Go, Searching for Dave Chappelle ten years after he left his own show.”

One of the best articles I’ve read in a long while – and it happened to be the only confirmation I’ve ever seen of my thoughts about why Dave left Comedy Central.

Addendum: Dave Chappelle ascended to the mountaintop of comedy. He amassed the goodwill of billions and became a voice that people wanted to hear. He has since taken all of that and thrown it in the toilet. In a time of unprecedented inequality, war, corporate criminality, corrupt politicians, global warming, cops murdering black kids and adults with impunity and countless other horrors, Dave has chosen to punch down and belittle serious crimes while offering nothing original. And it’s not funny.

His latest attempts at comedy are pathetic and cruel. He clearly thinks he’s the most macho of all the comics now – in fact, my guess is that he actually thinks he is fighting for comics to be able to say whatever they want. Well, he’s doing it wrong. One of his Netflix specials ends with him describing how he ended up sitting with a bunch (or let’s call them a murder) of neoliberal politicians at a stand-up gig. He talks about how well they all got along…and then he talks about how great it was to meet prince charles (who he was introduced to by gavin newsome). The episode ends with him meeting obama (who kamala harris had earlier asked dave to call).

Chappelle is a clueless, rich, unfunny, celebrity who attacks the oppressed and has no problem hanging with politicians who are greatly responsible for said oppression. The saddest thing of all is that people are still eating it up. If it were the 70’s, Chappelle would be running up to Nixon and giving him a big hug like Sammy did. But Sammy wasn’t born into a family of scholars. Sammy never heard from the left or had much political knowledge at all. Dave obviously knows very little about politics, but he should know better, and that is unforgivable.

To add insult to injury, he is a hypocrite (in his comedy act no less). He claims to know what it’s like to be poor and intimates that he grew up poor. Aside from the fact that he was never poor and has had money since he was 15, he has been rich for decades now. He is so out of touch, he actually went out of his way on SNL to encourage people to give trump a chance. I’m not a fan of “cancel culture,” but dave has gone out of his way to cancel himself. Not because he is not “politically correct,” but because it’s clear he has chosen to side with his people, the 1%, against struggling and oppressed people. The irony in all of this is that I bet he thinks he’s practicing the “sick humor” and satire of Lenny Bruce and Paul Krassner, but (again) he’s doing it wrong. Lenny and Paul used their talents to go after the rich and powerful and call out hypocrisy. dave is now using his talents to go after the poor and oppressed while hanging with the rich and powerful. It’s sad to watch, dispiriting, and disgusting enough to make your skin crawl.

Letitia James NYC Public Advocate passionately speaks at the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP)

Ed Notes Online
Diane Ravitch’s Blog entry on Letitia “Tish” James

I know her passion is real. I know the parents care and are ready for change. I hope they all realize a new administration is not going to stop the neoliberal assault on public education – and I hope de Blasio doesn’t end up in the pockets of the fascists who run NYC. This of course points to the problem of reform. The whole system needs to be changed. Reform is actually what brought us to this point. Welfare “reform” put more woman and children on the streets, education “reform” created NCLB.
The path forward needs to be radical (change at the root) systemic change, because even if progressive “reforms” are won, neoliberal capitalists are going to continue to take money out of the system that supports us, they will continue to privatize everything we need to survive.

Web Reading List #11 [10-04-2013]

Criminalized poor are swelling Britain’s slave labor private prisons
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Amazon Workers In Germany Strike For Higher Wages
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Fast-food workers strike for higher pay
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The Impact and Echoes of the Wal-Mart Discrimination Case
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Workers’ protest forces shutdown of Dhaka garment units
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Workers in Cambodia Take to the Streets to Demand Higher Wages
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Thousands of garment workers stop Bangladesh, demanding higher wages
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Bangladesh garment workers stage biggest wage hike protest

Larry Summers: Goldman Sacked – Another barn burner from Greg Palast

greg palast

Joseph Stiglitz couldn’t believe his ears. Here they were in the White House, with President Bill Clinton asking the chiefs of the US Treasury for guidance on the life and death of America’s economy, when the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Larry Summers turns to his boss, Secretary Robert Rubin, and says, “What would Goldman think of that?”

Huh?

Then, at another meeting, Summers said it again: What would Goldman think?

Unchecked perpetrator of outright evil.

Click picture or text above for story: “Larry Summers: Goldman Sacked!”

Income Share of the Top 1 Percent, 1913-2012 (annotated with events and policy landmarks)

Income share top 1%This graphic adds an annotated political history to the iconic (and recently-updated) Piketty and Saez data on top income shares in the U.S. The events and legislative landmarks listed here are representative rather than exhaustive. And they are meant to suggest broad policy shifts rather than direct causal relationships. But the pattern is nevertheless clear. The share of the top one percent rose during eras of tax cutting, light financial regulation (or deregulation), and labor weakness. And inequality narrowed when policy pushed in the opposite direction.

Click above anywhere to go to the bigger interactive graphic on cepr’s site

Web Reading List #9 [9-21-2013]

University of Oregon to Faculty: You Belong to Me!
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Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor of French for 25 years, died underpaid and underappreciated at age 83
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Faculty to University of Oregon: Oh No We Don’t!
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Ralph Ellison’s race classic “Invisible Man” banned in North Carolina
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Uncertain Times in India, but Not for a Deity
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Most of us will have to work until we drop
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San Francisco split by Silicon Valley’s wealth
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I’m Gen Y, and I’m Not a Special Snowflake. I’m Broke