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Martin Luther King Day is perhaps one of the better excuses for James Brown that our holiday-scarce American year provides, and so I’ll give you a live performance of “I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door, I’ll Get It Myself)”. I suppose even seasoned soul aficionados may have somehow missed the excellent recent book The Hardest Working Man: How James Brown Saved the Soul of America, where Boston Globe writer James Sullivan recounts the chain of events around JB’s legendary Boston Garden concert shortly following MLK’s 1968 assassination. There were no riots in Boston that year, and it might be overselling to credit Brown solely for that; but many of America’s visionary Black artists of the 60s spoke out, in one way or another, against the frustration-fueled violence that leveled formerly vibrant communities in places like Detroit and Newark (cf. Sly Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On, for one). In an era where “white folks focused on dogs and yoga” are driving African-Americans out of the inner city to former “sundown towns” in the suburbs, Brown’s message of self-empowerment and equality is perhaps as relevant for the larger American community as it ever has been. Plus, of course, he’s the greatest American musician of all time. So here you are.
A useful album a decade ago:
This business about section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is sickening. In their quest to prove that Founders hagiography constitutes the Absolutely Correct View on Everything, the Republican-appointed justices seem willing to engage in a breathtaking act of judicial activism by striking down portions of the landmark 1965 law that first provided effective tools for challenging “literacy tests” and other segregationist dodges intended to keep blacks “down on the farm”. The Bizarro Warren Court finds the cudgel of disenfranchisement charges aesthetically displeasing, as it proves a reminder that not every social ill is solved by faith-based charity and freely willed contract; but Barack Obama is not the only black person in America, and race prejudice is alive and well (at least here in the North — perhaps Bubba Sparxxx put an end to it in Dixie). More proof that “originalism” is a failed philosophy of law that merely embodies a certain, blinkered political perspective. Say no to stoned Republicans, OK?
An amusing entry from artist Tony Shin in the Post-Occupy Wall Street sweepstakes:
Created by: AccountingDegreeOnline.net
Ten years ago today, I was working as a call representative for a class-action lawsuit by government workers related to their cost-of-living adjustments. I got to work at 7 AM Pacific time, and people were saying that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center in New York. I thought that it was unusual mayhem, but not more; When we got inside, it was revealed by a co-worker that the towers had collapsed. I said “that’s impossible”, relating to the incident where a US Army Air Force bomber hit the Empire State Building during World War II. It wasn’t impossible, and after an hour or two they let us go. I was pretty deep down the insanity hole, and instead of going home crying I went to Portland State University for a couple of hours of stimulating reading in the library. It seemed oddly beautiful, and oddly like being in New York itself [I haven’t been to the Big Apple since Dinkins – JR]. We found out later that day that air travel, and a thousand other things, were shuttered for an indefinite period of time as a result of the attacks.
Like I said, I took the War On Terror pretty casually; my whole life seemed like a terror attack, so I was dead to the deepening ethical significances of 9/11 as it ramified to Afghanistan (I was against it) and Iraq (I was for it, enough to write GWB an email telling him he was the commander-in-chief in a time of crisis; in a separate incident, I mailed him copies of Weber and Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus). Does any of this make sense? I don’t know what you would ask of my sensibilities at the time. We didn’t put up an American flag, or commiserate about the events; even as a cautious supporter of the Palestinian intifada against the Israelis, I didn’t feel like I had very much to apologize for in terms of Islamist attacks. In early 2002, I took a plane trip back to Pittsburgh, where I went to college and started going crazy. A country on edge, Eastern standard time.
I was struck by how very similar airplane travel was after 9/11, making me think that people weren’t taking the ramifications seriously enough. Then the very-casually related Iraq War started piling up casualties, and I, faced with aggressive new liberals slagging Bush, started to keep quiet about anything not related to my system of delusions about academia. Over the years, I’ve read many articles about the World Trade Center (which I visited the top of as a child) and how its powerful futurism — viewed from Arab-heavy Northern New Jersey, it was like landing on the moon — is about as obsolescent as Saturn V rockets. More and more obvious ramifications continued to pile up as many terrorism-free but wary years followed.
On this anniversary, I guess what I can say is that the system of ‘social and economic organization’ represented by the WTC and its victims seems alive in the Lebensform of many Americans today; and that those of us emotionally distant from the tragedy of that day have missed a lot since. Still, the truth is the truth and like a T-shirt on an old Riot Grrl record had it I AM AN AMERICAN CITIZEN —
It seems like only yesterday that Barack Obama became our first African-American president. And yet this is 2011, and none of the rhetoric concerning recent “dry runs” at the Republican candidacy discusses Obama’s historic stature. The Republican party is clearly trying to re-orient American public discourse concerning U.S. priorities at present, and has achieved quite a coup by turning budgeting priorities into the new “buzzword” section of government. A similar ‘re-orientation’ of American public discourse helped bring Obama to power; it could, perhaps surprisingly, remove him showing little for his efforts, making him a sort of American Edith Cresson.
Many of us, I’m sure, are not eager to return to the days when a George W. Bush ran America. And yet, like many older Marxists, I am less than sanguine today about a strategy of “Democratic aid” for 2012 and beyond. It isn’t that there is no relevant difference between the two parties, but that Democratic austerity politics now blocks ‘telescoping’ out to leftist social-justice concerns more effectively than ever. The ‘redwashing’ of Hillary Rodham Clinton as the ‘progressive choice’ in 2008 was an important issue worth dealing with, but there is undoubtedly less motivation for 2012 to be captivated by liberal bromides which yet again will fail to meet the political needs of the American majority painlessly and cheaply.
Even if it would be worthwhile to have Obama serve a second term, this is not to say that mass America’s political energies are best suited to being palliated by his Kennedyesque charm. Perhaps radicals could instead make 2012 “the year of the issue”: presenting fuller slates of writing and broader organization dealing with economic and social problems than the Democrats or Republicans provide candidates and ‘framing’. If mass government there is to be, let us try to provide ‘straw polls’ for a systematically ramified and elaborated working-class politics enabling the people to take a shot at governing America.
Ricardo Levins Morales’ essay for Solidarity US, “Let’s Not Take America Back”, started me thinking about these issues. If one ignores the past lunacy of the Weathermen, and remembers the limits of ‘lifestyle’ organizing a la fur protests, it is perhaps a “revolutionary” and not a “procedural” point in American leftism. When arguments count more than rights, it’s time to reexamine the whole ball game.
Recently I’ve come to feel that, in addition to all the errors my flesh is prone to, I fundamentally have misread the situation for socialist politics in America ca. 2011. I thought the prominence of the Marx-as-capitalist-seer attitude during W.’s presidency odd, but was also very concerned about concrete obstacles to organization from the War on Terror (the other side of the coin). Although I am unlikely to ever regain the intellectual high ground due to past events, things like eating and being physically well despite lack of riches continue to be on my agenda for the foreseeable future and so perhaps I can be forgiven a look into the Leftist Crystal Ball.
Data point: Indymedia seems oddly lucid these days (without me, of course) and so I wonder if the Marxist ought to “go big or go home” with respect to 2012 and thereafter. The Wisconsin protests and similar phenomena suggest that a certain critical politics from the 90’s — call it “Winnebago unionism” for its insufferable jointure of labor-aristocracy privilege and populist tastes in argument — is out. Perhaps the time has finally come for the Hardt-Negri “micrological” autonomist approach to organizing.
The Party is also showing positively disturbing signs of wellness; and although Russia is unlikely to go back to state capitalism anytime soon, their fraternal ties with labor movements in the Third World surely merit some praise and attention. If you haven’t tried this brain-teaser yet, take a look at their magazine Political Affairs and decide how up-to-date you are. Perhaps this suggests a break with the “Maguffey’s Reader” leftism of IWW enthusiasts and, despite my qualms about keeping up with the Kotzebues, a nostalgic and systematic appreciation of leftist consumer culture from the New Deal era.
“Gee, our old LaSalle ran great” – no it didn’t, and the ironic point of Norman Lear shows forth today.
You know what? I’m glad Osama Bin Laden is dead, and this seems to me a wholly unproblematic viewpoint for a leftist to have. The 2000s seemed to be not a decade of ultra-right jeremiads, but to be strangely captivated by the viewpoints and goals of fundamentalist Islam: to be like Noam Chomsky, viewing the person of OBL as worthy of more consideration and TLC than the average American counts on in everyday life, seems a wrongheaded and muddled view of contemporary international law (Castro’s diatribes to the US contain a sort of exigent double-speak and are not in the same category). If you make it your business to blow up innocent civilians, do not expect life will be endless sunshine.
And, given the grittiness of life in “the Arab street”, presumably the militants of al-Qaeda did not and do not expect to be treated like ordinary protesters. Although I am not a “realist”, I think it is time to return to a common-sense view of America’s public-safety needs; avoiding Herman Cain’s flustered bigotry, but avoiding classing harsh and belligerent Arab high-school students stuck on the ‘positive true meaning’ of the word “jihad” as something akin to Mexican braceros. The left must have a popular mentality and avoid falling for easy outs based on “red herrings” from totalitarian viewpoints; many an argument is lost from the first “I agree with you, but…”, for in the presence of eminent realities like 9/11 a legalism of human rights is often everything but.
“Austrian Death Machine” [!!!! – grow up – Eds.]
Who is Your Daddy, and What Does He Do? [A question frequently asked by California state employees – Ed.]