Death with Dignity: The Legacy of the Notorious B.I.G.

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The downfall of the American Empire may have been its own unnatural survival into the twenty-first century. The unprecedented comfort, wealth, and affluence—commonly mistaken for “quality of life”—enjoyed at the end of the millennium was patently unsustainable; nevertheless, the sleepy bourgeoisie, who had long since disbelieved in the possibility of any other standard, couldn’t open their eyes, even after they were violently awoken. When the economy turned in the year 2000, the pampered middle class, honored to be the United States’ spiritual representatives, were presented with a choice: acknowledge the impending demise of their decades-long bacchanalia or scramble to protect the doomed party and salvage whatever vestige of pleasure they could. Naturally, they selected the latter: what else could they do, having spent their whole lives lovingly preserving their ignorance of their nation’s true nature? For twenty years running, these desperate insomniacs have been refused their one, persistent wish: to go back to sleep.

Maybe they should have listened to Nas, who, in 1994, on a rap album that underperformed when it sold only five hundred thousand copies, cautioned his listeners: “Sleep is the cousin of death.” When one is embroiled in cutthroat capitalism—be it in Wall Street’s anarchic casino or, in Nas’s case, the more tightly regulated cocaine market of Queens, New York—there is no foreseeing the end of moneymaking, no way of telling when the celebration will come to a catastrophic end. Our downfall was especially recondite, possibly even unfathomable, in the 1990s, when the FEN DE SEE EK UL marriage of commercialism and culture produced, among so much else, the golden age of hip-hop. Could anyone conceive of a more concordant coda, a more apropos epitaph, to the chronicle of the American Empire than this music that extols the rise of young men from communities of squalor to the executive suites of media conglomerates?

Gangster rap, marketed efficiently in the 1990s and still synonymous with hip-hop in the minds of suburban Americans, is a particularly poignant criticism of upward socioeconomic mobility. This musical subgenre deconstructs the American Dream of sanctioned prosperity, of success exclusive to authorized means, and fashions its own inglorious story of rags to riches—or do-rags to riches, in the words of Donald Trump. Both the gangster rapper and the bourgeois citizen are committed to work ethic, materialism, and individualism, and both operate below or within a system that will inevitably malfunction and eventually collapse. Accordingly, the one remarkable difference is the gangster rapper’s knowledge, however incomplete, of the system’s critical vulnerabilities. Unlike the good citizen, who cannot overcome his own rigid faith in the system’s infallibility, the gangster rapper knows full well that the day of reckoning approaches and a devastating fate awaits us, one and all.

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$uper Tue$day and the Political Casino

We won’t win any points for innovation or originality if we compare the culture of spectator sports to American politics in the Trumpish Age. Both are predicted on a proudly irrational partisanship, a gloriously uncivilized hostility towards the opposition, and an impenetrable ignorance of the fact that it is all a zero-sum game. We have known this commonality, and it is a subject we will touch upon again. Today, however, I would like to draw attention to another shared feature, one which has been neglected hitherto: the salacious relationship to legalized gambling. Only the especially foolish would claim, as Krusty the Clown once did, that there is nothing illicit or even untoward about the incredible sums of cash that are exchanged when the heavyweights go toe-to-toe in the public arena. In January of this year, a special sage wagered $420,000 on a football game, only to see his favored team fall in a decisive defeat. How does one become so comfortably wealthy that half a million dollars can be jeopardized, the potential losses being inconsequential? The same way whereby Michael Bloomberg chooses to gamble more than half a billion dollars of his own. We’re describing a culture, the reckless nature of which endures, regardless of how many bruises are inflicted and bones are broken in back alleys when the losers can’t pay.

Bloomberg, of course, will never be punished with injury for his insolvency. He will be ridiculed for wasting a massive stack of cash, the estimates for which range from $400 to $570 million, on his abbreviated, ill-fated presidential run, but when the final check has cleared, he will have spent only one percent of his seemingly incalculable fortune. Jokes will be made and puns will be shared about his unprecedented investment’s unremarkable return, but the supposed laughingstock cannot hear us behind an impenetrable wall of hundred-dollar bills. Even if we could somehow reach his ears, we couldn’t reach his mind: how can this man, who has the financial omnipotence to spend and not even miss $400 million, at least, ever be made to understand the petty animadversions and insecurities of peasants? We are closer psychologically to the earthworm who tunnels underground to save himself from the ravenous pigeon.

Oh, but let us be higher-minded than to pick on the chubbiest man at the feast. The skinniest of the lot, Tulsi Gabbard, has consumed more than $11 million to date, and for this, she is ridiculed and dismissed as the feeble, scrawny, miserable gamine. She is little Cossette, sweeping the corner of her dismal dungeon while the hearty hogs feast on the fat on the land. Only in the phantasmagoria of corporate campaigning can a guttersnipe have $11 million at her disposal. Somewhere between Gabbard’s golden crumbs and Bloomberg’s ivory tower, we find Joe Biden, who has spent more than $60 million as of this writing; Elizabeth Warren, who spent more than $90 million before she closed up shop; Bernie Sanders, who spent almost $120 million before his opponents pooled their resources; and Donald Trump, who apparently believed it was necessary to spend $75 million to halt Bill Weld in a doomed and one-sided Republican primary.

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Violence in Activism: To What End?

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A few months ago, during one of my embarrassing arguments on Twitter, somebody dismissed me as a “tenth-tier Internet commentator”. The insult was petty, but it wasn’t inaccurate: in the eight months since I started putting myself “out there”, I have not obtained a notoriety or prominence, even within the relatively limited parameters of the underground media. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and, as Anderson Cooper and Sean Hannity confirm, one does not become respectable or trustworthy simply because one is a household name. However, anonymity and obscurity ought to come with immunity from the paranoid slanders traditionally reserved for omnipresent figures wielding cultural clout. They don’t, of course, which is why even a tenth-tier Internet commentator like myself can be accused of every manner of nefarious, conspiratorial intent.

Despite my supposed political irrelevance, my unsolicited critics, charming for their inexhaustible powers of imagination, have described me as: one, a government agent dispatched to disrupt the progressive movement; two, an aspiring assassin plotting to murder Senator Bernie Sanders; three, an employee of Tulsi Gabbard’s presidential campaign who is feigning support for Julian Assange; four, a fanatical supporter of Julian Assange who is feigning support for Tulsi Gabbard, which is probably not entirely wrong; and five, a domestic spy employed by multiple federal intelligence agencies to infiltrate, discredit, and eventually dismantle the movement to free Julian Assange. This lattermost suspicion—I avoid the term “conspiracy theory” wherever possible—originated in a noteworthy pro-Assange group, one with which I have been involved before, the same one with which I’ll never work again.

The suspicion developed after I made a speech outside the notorious Alexandria Detention Center in Virginia, where Chelsea Manning is being imprisoned for her refusal to testify against Assange. I praised the work of the Black Panthers, in particular Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver, both of whom either endorsed or personally committed violence as a form of political activism. Neither of these men condoned violence unilaterally or unconditionally, but both men believed that, in some situations, and under extraordinary circumstances, violence becomes a viable, albeit quite ironical, method of preservation. A couple of days later, I asked a fellow activist for his perspective on this, and he grew worried that I was gathering incriminating evidence, perhaps on behalf of the FBI. The subsequent paranoia, rumormongering, and slander became so intense that I removed myself from the group.

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An Open Letter to Pete Buttigieg

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Dear Pete Buttigieg,

A couple of months ago, somebody on your payroll wrote a letter on your behalf, and one of your lesser-paid employees put it in an envelope and sent it to me. I suppose every one of my neighbors received a copy of the same, but I seriously doubt that any one of them appreciated it half as much as I did. Whoever mailed it out to me had not a clue that I was the same person who stood beneath you in the auditorium of Bow High School on a cool October night and asked if you would pardon Julian Assange. Any honest witness of our exchange would have been impressed by your unctuous style, the viscosity with which you seized to my question even as you slipped away from my point: “I’m not going to make any commitment as a candidate to issue a pardon to any individual.” You scarcely had time to finish your sentence before the audience—your audience and mine—erupted and spilled out their applause. Had I been permitted to ask a second question—and questions, I’ve learned, are the most precious commodity to be found at a political campaign event—I would have addressed it not to you, but to our audience, and asked them: “What part of his disinterest delights you?”

Such a question would have been rather misleading: you are far from disinterested in Assange, and we are not such an undemanding culture that we would cheer for someone else’s boredom. There may have been as many as five hundred people sitting in that venue on the night in question, and as many as half of them had never even heard of Julian Assange. The hundreds who had were far from sympathetic to the man and his plight, rigorously trained as they were to believe that he posed an existential threat to democracy and progress, a threat that was ineffably malicious; quite literally so, for it remains undefined, even to this day. Nevertheless, the attendees associated his name with esoteric evil, and because you refused to speak in his defense, they read this, not incorrectly, as an assault, and one of which they could wholly approve as bitterly cold and satisfying justice.

Needless to say, the footage of their spirited applause depicts not the thrill of righteous retribution, but the unmasking of the liberal bourgeois. I never believed that those applauding hundreds were possessed of a singular psychopathy; on the contrary, I know that their bloodlust is all too common in the United States. The freewheeling hatred that guides the hand of the Trumpeter as he places a MAGA hat upon his head set the palms of your adoring fans to clapping. In both cases, indignation is the psychic catalyst, the motivating fuel derived from the aghast conviction that one’s country, one’s cultural and political power and control, has been seized by a gang of unworthy barbarians—repulsive not for their barbarism, but for their incurable unworthiness. Unworthy of what, you ask? Of a voice, of acknowledgment, of representation.

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Negotiating with Terrorists: The Art of the Deal

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The militarization of everyday life. Scenes from the Concord Police Department’s National Night Out on 08/06/2019.

The Trumpish Age has been a surrealist epoch of life imitating satirical art, an embarrassment of richest irony that may have prompted Nietzsche to declare, “Parody is dead and the electorate have killed it.” The absurdity of the daily news has become so overwhelming, so brutally cloying, that every attempt to take it seriously is an anachronistic act, politically as well as psychologically. All too fitting, then, that the twenty-ninth day of February, that preternatural and puzzling Leap Day, has produced the most cartoonish chapter of this yet-unfinished story. On this most particular date, the Trump Administration, which has been accused of everything but predictability, told the world that the United States military, known euphemistically as “the United States”, was finally prepared to withdraw its troops and weaponry from Afghanistan. This was not to say that the United States, including its military, was actively withdrawing from Afghan soil; such would be a rather reckless reading of the Administration’s words. The real announcement pertained to the preparatory period, which would last for fourteen months, at least, and which could take much longer than that. None of the variables have ever been explained.

In the twenty-first century, the only constant in any plan for American (military) withdrawal is its failure. For sixteen consecutive years, the American electorate have voted to conclude our military combat in the greater Middle East, first by the affirmative declaration of “Mission Accomplished”, then through the insouciant motto of “Hope and Change”, and lastly in contemptuous disdain for “endless, stupid wars”. Our leaders’ remarkably consistent inability to deliver on their promise to stop spilling blood helps explain the seemingly inexplicable faith that Ryan Fournier, the founder of the group Students for Trump, places in this latest fourteen-month plan. “This is historic,” or so he tweeted this morning, expressing his awe for an event that hasn’t even happened yet. One might ascribe his excitement to Trump’s newly strengthened chance of winning re-election, though only by forgetting that, should Trump be defeated in November, his successor will have the entire spring and half of the summer of 2021 to cancel the deal.

Fournier also failed to observe that the deal is as promising as it is empty. It was proposed to and accepted by the Taliban, an association of violent Islamists who apparently facilitate Afghanistan’s negotiations with the American government. The Taliban have amassed a tentative majority power in the course of our eighteen-year odyssey into the land of the Pashtuns, which may have been the point of our original embarkment. Regardless, the Taliban have yet to establish an insurmountable advantage over their competitors for control, and therefore, they must secure their cooperation, or their submission, before the so-called deal can be confirmed. Five thousand incarcerated members of the Taliban are scheduled for parole if this plan comes to fruition, and they will undoubtedly be active participants in the discussions and deliberations. Those should begin in less than two weeks, which gives the corporate media, sponsored by subcontractors with the Department of Defense, to celebrate the dawn of an infant peace. Will they mourn its premature mortality, too?

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An Open Letter to the Dean of UNH-Manchester

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To whom it may concern:

My name is Dack Rouleau. I graduated from the University of New Hampshire-Manchester in the spring of 2015. I was the recipient of the program award, bestowed on me through the unanimous vote of Professors Paterson, Walsh, Pugh, and Brown. Last year, I returned the award to Paterson, rejecting it in protest of Professor Seth Abramson’s dangerous, unprofessional, and disgraceful behavior. While I had been aware of Abramson’s mendacious and malicious political commentary for quite some time, it wasn’t until April of 2019 that I was compelled to sever my ties with the university that employs him, lest I benefit from any association with a corrupted institution.

Undoubtedly, you are already aware of Abramson’s extracurricular pursuits. Fashioning himself as a political scientist despite the fact that he was hired by the university as an English professor, Abramson has become a figure of moderate size in the neoliberal intelligentsia, penning indignant and pseudointellectual conspiracy theories about the Trump Administration. While there is ample material on which to condemn Trump, including his penchant for imperialist violence, Abramson prefers to roll himself in the muck of Russiagate, promoting that absurd political fantasy—even after it was discredited conclusively by Robert Mueller.

Abramson’s grotesquerie reached its apex—relatively speaking—when he appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher and allowed the program’s eponymous host to slander Julian Assange. For those who are uneducated on this international crisis, Assange is the victim of a decade-long persecution, the dystopian objective of which is to effectively repeal the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Assange has committed no crime, including the fictitious and incoherent crime of “Russian collusion” with which Abramson has so recklessly accused him, yet he has been tortured, imprisoned, and medically ravaged on the orders of the Pentagon. Abramson looks upon all of this and smiles in smug, pampered, sadistic approval.

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Traitors of Journalism: Stephen Stromberg and Ronald Brownstein, Gatekeepers of the Oligarchy

In the past two weeks, Bernie Sanders lost two rigged contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, netting fewer delegates than Pete Buttigieg despite surpassing him twice in the popular vote. Although the Democratic National Committee has won its first two battles against the tenacious senator, thereby confirming its political supremacy, it has not convinced itself of its cultural relevance. Ergo, it has instructed its myriad mouthpieces and apologists in the corporate press to batter Sanders morning, noon, and night. They will not unload all of their ammunition, not as long as Sanders continues to walk an improbable path to the Democrats’ presidential nomination, but they will do their part to derail his campaign. Their assignment isn’t simple, but it’s surprisingly easy: they must convince the American electorate that it is in their best interests to maintain the status quo, even though they have an opportunity to change it effortlessly.

As a candidate as well as a progressive icon, Sanders is obscenely, hideously flawed. He may even be unlikable, so shamefully does he propagate the Pentagon’s crude propaganda. Nevertheless, he endures as a symbol of progressive politics, as a promise of something better than the depressively dysfunctional system within which we are slowly wasting away. He encourages us to ask relevant, pertinent questions about our collective subjugation to Wall Street, Big Pharma, and a number of other predatory, cannibalistic institutions. He reminds us that we could do without these malignant forces, and although he suggests we eliminate them through the same framework that brings them to power, his resonant vision of an alternative social structure just might inspire thought people to expect better of their elected officials. Once you’ve realized that universal health care is not merely possible but entirely practical, Joe Biden’s inane references to competitive markets and consumer choice just won’t fit the bill anymore.

The problem isn’t Sanders, whose ability to disassemble the political-economic framework of the American Empire is regrettably slight, even with the powers of the presidency. The problem is his message, which might be summarized as follows: “Think outside the box, the narrow, dilapidated box presented to you by the corrupt establishment.” If you hear this message and come to believe it, then you might still participate in the political charade, even when you know there is no reason to do so, but you can no longer do so enthusiastically. You become a political atheist, and once the establishment has lost your faith, then you become its enemy. For all of his political grotesqueries, Sanders is successfully planting the seeds of progressive ambition in the minds of younger voters, and the establishment literally cannot afford to reap his ideological harvest: it doesn’t fear Sanders, but it fears what will emerge in his wake. Accordingly, its only option is to set fire to the fields, to tarnish this ambitious dissent before it sprouts.

In Latin America, where the nationalization of oil has proven the success of progressive programs, the flames of authoritarianism are fed by the military, usually through the sponsorship of American oligarchs. Three months ago, the United States helped to topple the Bolivian government, thereby warning Venezuela not to persist in refusing to sell off its natural resources. We prefer to do things differently at home, where police brutality can still engender a public panic. Rather than meet the democratic progressives with riot shields and bullets, the government smothers them bloodlessly, drowning them out in the weltering waves of mass media. The polished spokesmen of the centrist intelligentsia emerge to reassure the electorate that their dreams of a more equitable system cannot lead to anything but unspeakable suffering—an accurate prediction, for the same corporatists who sic the dogs on their opponents in the global south will, if need be, tear their domestic foes apart.

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