Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Conversation with Dallas Penn about the black blogosphere, hip-hop, life, Bill Cosby, and collecting

Dallas Penn is the guest on this week's episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show. He is a pioneer in what was once known as the "black blogosphere", birthed the term "Internets", and has been a contributing writer to such hip-hop magazines as Mass Appeal, XXL Magazine, and The Source. He is also a founding member of the film-making collective, iNternets Celebrities.

During this relaxed and fun episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show, Dallas and Chauncey discuss the current state of hip-hop, digital versus analog culture, sneaker collecting and the pleasures of various subcultures, as well as the Bill Cosby sex scandal. Given that they are fellow online travelers Chauncey and Dallas also reflect on life, aging, their health, and the (obvious) mysteries of Donald Trump.

Writer and podcaster Alasdair Stuart also sits down at the virtual bar and salon to share his thoughts about the new movie It. Stuart and Chauncey critique the film, discuss questions of adapting Stephen King's source material for the screen, and the film's various problems with race and gender.

On this week's show, Chauncey DeVega reflects on the perils of Trump, North Korea and the "madman" theory of international relations. In this week's episode, Chauncey understands why folks may be upset at Trump's racist comments in Alabama towards black athletes who are protesting police brutality and social injustice--but cautions that the real issue is how Trump is a de facto financial con artist who is using the presidency to enrich his own bank account.

This episode with Dallas Penn and Alasdair Stuart can be downloaded from Libysn and also listened to here.

The Chauncey DeVega Show is available on Itunes, Spotify and at Stitcher.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Is Donald Trump evil?

Political scientists often focus their research on institutions, behavior, public opinion and political culture. The study of political institutions helps us to understand the context and rules that influence how elected officials, other representatives and bureaucrats behave. Political behavior includes voting and social movements, which together impact the levers of power and decision-making in a democracy. The study of public opinion provides a barometer for the public's mood and how they feel about a given social or political issue. And political culture is one of the primary ways by which citizens and other members of a society are socialized into its values, norms, and rules.

Journalists and pundits spend their time trying to craft narratives about society. As has often been said, they are focused on the "new" in the "news" and the events that move the 24/7 news cycle forward.

At its best, in a democracy the Fourth Estate provides a check on power by holding elected officials and others accountable to the people. At its worst, the Fourth Estate is a vehicle for propaganda, succumbing and kowtowing to power -- and profit -- instead of speaking truth to it and serving the public.

The average American is relatively unsophisticated in terms of political knowledge and cares about politics only to the degree it impacts his or her immediate lives. Moreover, Americans' decisions about politics are based on a deep tribalism in which supporting "their team" -- and this is especially true of Republicans and conservatives -- is more important than civic virtue, the Common Good or rational decision-making. This is poisonous to a democracy.

In all these frameworks, how can we reckon with questions of morality, right and wrong, and the United States' collective national character as well as that of its leaders?

As repeatedly demonstrated by his words and actions, President Donald Trump is an authoritarian, a misogynist and a racist. (I have repeatedly argued that he is a fascist, although that term remains contentious.) But is Trump evil? How does his behavior fit within commonly understood definitions of good and evil? If Trump is indeed evil, does that mean his voters and supporters are evil as well?

In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Susan Neiman. She is director of the Einstein Forum and was a professor of philosophy at Yale University as well as Tel Aviv University. Neiman is the author of numerous books, including "Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy."

In light of the many examples of Donald Trump's cruel and heartless behavior, both as president and also during the 2016 campaign, do you think he is evil?

Sunday, September 17, 2017

There's "No Easy Way Out" When You are Bowling with Gangsters and Hustlers

This week's special birthday edition of The Chauncey DeVega Show features two guests.

Robert Tepper is the writer and singer of the classic 1980s song "No Easy Way Out" from the movie Rocky IV. He stops by the virtual bar and salon to share some stories about his career as a musician, life on the road, Sylvester Stallone, and how "No Easy Way Out" came into being. Tepper also gives some advice to up-and-coming musicians about their careers and enjoying the moment.

Sports journalist and writer Gianmarc Manzione is the second guest on this week's episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show. He is Editor of Bowlers Journal and author of the book Pin Action: Small-time Gangsters, High-Stakes Gambling, and the Teenage Hustler who Became a Bowling Champion.

During this episode of The Chauncey DeVega ShowGianmarc and Chauncey discuss their shared love of the sport of bowling, common working class culture. Gianmarc then tells some great stories about the gangsters, crooks, hustlers and other colorful characters who dominated the big money "action bowling" (gambling) scene in the United States during its heyday from the 1950s to 1970s.

On this week's show, Chauncey DeVega reflects on his birthday and the health challenges that come with advancing decrepitude. In keeping with the spirit of sharing things that he loves on his birthday, Chauncey offers up some life wisdom learned from con artists and grifters and then reads from a wonderful story about the sloth--his spiritual avatar and one of his favorite animals.

This episode with Robert Tepper and Gianmarc Manzione can be downloaded from Libysn and also listened to here.

The Chauncey DeVega Show is available on Itunes, Spotify and at Stitcher.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

We need to stop heaping such effusive praise on white folks like Margana Wood who publicly speak out against racism

In today’s America, effusive — and often undeserved — praise is heaped upon white folks who publicly condemn racism.

During the 2018 Miss America pageant, Margana Wood, competing as Miss Texas, provided another example of this phenomenon. When asked about Donald Trump’s reaction to the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Wood replied:
I think that the white supremacist issue, it was very obvious that it was a terrorist attack. And I think that President Donald Trump should’ve made a statement earlier addressing the fact and in making sure all Americans feel safe in this country. That is the number one issue right now.
Her comments were widely praised by journalists, pundits and across social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

For me, this moment evokes Chris Rock’s genius 1996 comedy special “Bring the Pain,” during which he mocked people who want credit for things they should be doing anyway, such as taking care of their children.

That Wood’s condemnation of white supremacists and neo-Nazis is considered brave or especially laudable is one more indicator of how low the standards for truth-telling and acts of resistance against racism have fallen in the age of Donald Trump.

In a healthy society, it should be a given that decent and normal human beings would publicly condemn white supremacists, neo-Nazis and their ilk. Alas, such basic standards of human decency have been upended by Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s racial authoritarianism and growing influence over American life.

In fact, Margana Wood’s comments provide an opportunity for one more “teachable moment” along the color line.

On Sunday, Wood provided an unintentional reminder of the complex ways that race and gender have long intersected in America. For example, the Miss America pageant — like most such competitions — are an example of the male gaze, a power relationship in which women’s bodies are objectified and commodified for the pleasure of men. For most of their history, the Miss America and similar beauty pageants were also racially segregated. African-Americans, Asians, Latinos and Native Americans were usually not allowed to enter these competitions because the very concepts of “beauty” and “femininity” were understood as being exclusive to white women. These attitudes about beauty, whiteness, purity and femininity still dominate American and Western society today, if perhaps in subtler forms.

One should not overlook how “white” women from Eastern and Southern Europe — as well as Jewish women — were for most of American history viewed as not embodying “pure” notions of whiteness. It was not until after World War II that “ethnic” white women were viewed as being able to equal the beauty standards applied to “real” white women whose ancestry derived from Northern and Western Europe.

The effusive response to Margana Wood’s comments condemning overt white supremacy also signal to the divide between public behavior and private thoughts in the post-civil rights era. Public and obvious displays of white racism are viewed as anachronistic and representative of an ugly bigotry that was supposedly vanquished from American society by the civil rights movement during the 1960s.

In reality, public opinion and other social science research has repeatedly shown that while some measures of “old-fashioned” racism have decreased over time, many of the most racist attitudes still remain. Because post-civil rights America has embraced a superficial “colorblind” ethos, overt white racism has moved to private spaces, online and to what is generally described as “the backstage.” This is especially true for those whites who came of age after the civil rights movement and for so-called “millennials,” specifically.

So it is not necessarily true that white Americans are any less racist against nonwhites but rather that those attitudes have been muted and — at least before Donald Trump’s ascension — transformed into “dog whistles” and other types of more symbolic or more subtle actions and beliefs.

White privilege consists of the unearned advantages, opportunities and resources that white people receive in American society because of the color of their skin. It also manifests in “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” where a well-intentioned white person like Margana Wood is praised for speaking out against white supremacy while black and brown folks who do the same — see the case of sports journalist Jemele Hill — are punished and marginalized.

How then should white people resist racism?

Words are insufficient. They must be followed by action.

Words are a beginning. But in most circumstances they are not an end on to themselves.

Corporeal politics — joining progressive associations and activist groups, working in your community to create positive change, making personal sacrifices and being willing to confront power by putting one’s body in harm’s way — is a necessity.

American history offers many role models for white people who want to fight racism. John Brown is an American icon. White abolitionists were crucial in helping to end the American slaveocracy. White Freedom Riders helped to defeat Jim and Jane Crow and bring down de jure white supremacy across the South. White heroes in Portland and Charlottesville have died fighting the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who support Donald Trump.

Of course, white folks do not have to be martyrs in order to effectively resist racism. Daily acts of resistance can help create a quiet revolution along the color line. One must not overlook the power of such acts to change the world.

Ultimately, those white folks who desire to be sincere and active anti-racists must do more than mouth obvious truths against easy targets if they are to be on the right side of history in this crucial moment.

Talking is easy. Taking action is much more difficult.

Margana Wood’s words were a beginning and not an ending. Those necessary next steps go beyond superficial discussion or condemnation of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and the assorted human deplorables of the “alt-right.” They involve remaking the social and political institutions that maintain white privilege and white supremacy in America, with the goal of creating a more just and democratic society.

Monday, September 11, 2017

How the terrorist attacks on September 11th helped set the stage for Donald Trump's victory

I originally wrote this in November of last year. In many ways, it was written some months too early. The truth of my observations still stand.


In many ways, Donald Trump’s victory on Election Day is collateral damage from the “War on Terror.” The profound changes in America’s political culture and values in response to 9/11 created a crack that Trump, the entrepreneur and political opportunist, was able to open wide enough so as to slip into the White House.

Philosopher Slavoj Zizek described the “War on Terror” as a sea change in a 2006 before-and-after essay for The Guardian:
September 11 is the symbol of the end of this utopia, a return to real history. A new era is here with new walls everywhere, between Israel and Palestine, around the EU, on the US-Mexico and Spain-Morocco borders. It is an era with new forms of apartheid and legalised torture. As President Bush said after September 11, America is in a state of war.
Writing in the London Review of Books in March 2002, Zizek also observed:

The paradox is that the state of emergency was the normal state, while “normal” democratic freedom was the briefly enacted exception. . . . The problem is that America is, precisely, not in a state of war, at least not in the conventional sense of the term (for the large majority, daily life goes on, and war remains the exclusive business of state agencies). With the distinction between a state of war and a state of peace thus effectively blurred, we are entering a time in which a state of peace can at the same time be a state of emergency.
The “War on Terror” created a condition where policies and decisions once thought impossible in the United States would now be made routine and quotidian. This includes drone strikes from afar on “terrorists” (attacks in which 90 percent of those killed are innocent civilians), policies such as extraordinary rendition and state sponsored torture and, of course, massive surveillance programs that intrude on the privacy of all Americans.

Beyond public policy, the “War on Terror” negatively affected America’s political culture.

George W. Bush presided over a failed presidency that exacerbated the country’s extreme political polarization. Bush was also able to stoke and subsequently leverage fears of future terrorist attacks on “the homeland” in order to win a presidential election — and invade Iraq under the pretense of preemptive self defense.

The alternate reality created by Fox News and the broader right-wing echo chamber worked its way into the broader public discourse during the Bush administration and amid flagrant disregard for “the reality-based community.” In total, the “War on Terror” has nurtured and reinforced what philosopher and media critic Henry Giroux describes as a “culture of cruelty” in America.

The “War on Terror” also coincided with an increase in authoritarianism and ethnocentrism among many (white) Americans. Social scientists and others have shown how the ascendance of Donald Trump and his ability to win over white conservative and right-leaning independent voters is directly tied to this phenomenon.

President-elect Trump emphasized themes related to “economic anxiety” and malaise in red-state America in order to defeat Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. While the facts of the economic circumstances described by Trump (aided by a gullible and lazy corporate news media) are very much in dispute, the sense that America’s economy has never really recovered from the Great Recession is undeniably true. While the housing bubble may have been the flash point, the American economy was already on the verge of imploding: Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has estimated that the war in Iraq cost the American people at least $3 trillion.

It also cannot be overlooked that one of the stated goals of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida was to drain the United States economy — and in this they were quite successful.

In combination with the negative impact of neoliberalism and globalization on many American workers, the slow bleeding of the country’s economy helped to seed the political terrain for the rise of a right-wing demagogue such as Donald Trump.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

A Conversation with Psychiatrist Lance Dodes about Donald Trump and Sociopathy

Dr. Lance Dodes is the guest on this week's episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show. He is assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (retired) and a psychoanalyst (Training and Supervising Analyst Emeritus at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute).

Dr. Dodes is a signatory to a nationally discussed letter which was published in The New York Times which warned the public about the dangers posed by Donald Trump's mental health. He also has contributed a chapter on Donald Trump and sociopathy in the forthcoming book The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President

During this episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show, Dr. Dodes and Chauncey discuss how clinicians have a "duty to warn" the American people (and the world) about Donald Trump's mental health problems. Dr. Dodes also clarifies the common misunderstandings surrounding the so-called "Goldwater Rule". And Dr. Dodes shares his thoughts about how he believes that Donald Trump is a sociopath and a megalomaniac not unlike other tyrants which we have seen throughout human history.

Writer and podcaster Alasdair Stuart also sits down at the virtual bar and salon to share his thoughts about the new Star Wars films and if they are in trouble because of a supposed "director problem". Stuart and Chauncey also select their own personal favorites to write and direct a Star Wars film and give an update on what is known about the plot and characters of Episode 8 and Episode 9 in the Star Wars Trilogies.

On this week's show, Chauncey DeVega ponders ethical questions about the horrible hurricanes striking Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean such as "would he give aid and assistance to Trump supporters in those areas?" In this week's episode Chauncey also shares some troubling news about how current American politics have inspired the new Star Trek series "Discovery". 

At this end of this week's episode, Chauncey also offers a personal reflection and promise in response to Ta-Nehisi Coates' new piece in The Atlantic about Donald Trump and whiteness.

This episode with Dr. Lance Dodes and Alasdair Stuart can be downloaded from Libysn and also listened to here.

The Chauncey DeVega Show is available on 
Itunes, Spotify and at Stitcher

Saturday, September 2, 2017

A Conversation with James Q. Whitman about what Hitler's regime learned from American racism

James Q. Whitman is the guest on this week's episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show. He is the Ford Foundation Professor of Comparative and Foreign Law at Yale Law School and author of the new book Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law.

During this episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show, Professor Whitman and Chauncey discuss the connections between American "race scientists" and their peers in Germany, what the Nazis and Adolf Hitler learned from America's racial order, as well as how American anti-miscegenation laws and Jim and Jane Crow were admired by the Nazis. Professor Whitman also shares his thoughts on the troubling parallels between Donald Trump's rise to power, the recent events in Charlottesville, and Hitler's genocidal authoritarian regime.  

On this week's show, Chauncey DeVega reflects on Hurricane Harvey and what its devastating aftermath reveals about the color line, income inequality, and disaster capitalism. Chauncey also ponders the morality of trying to profit from the inevitable rebuilding efforts. At the end of the this week's podcast Chauncey also "connects the dots" between the high level of support for Donald Trump among America's police, disinformation about the Black Lives Matter movement, and how the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies have now labeled anti-fascists as "terrorists".

This week's episode with James Q. Whitman can be downloaded from Libysn and also listened to here.

The Chauncey DeVega Show is available on Itunes, Spotify and at Stitcher

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Hurricane Harvey is a Disaster Capitalist's dream come true and a nightmare for everyone else

Capitalism has been described as “creative destruction.” In the worst case scenario, it is human beings who are destroyed. The market does not care. Profits over people is the true “golden rule,” and the “invisible hand” is at work in its most cruel form.

Hurricane Harvey and its horrific aftermath will be an exercise in disaster capitalism. (Yes, it’s a tropical storm now, but made landfall as a severe hurricane.)

Harvey and its aftermath offer an opportunity for gangster capitalists to further undermine the commons and the public square. Harvey has created a stage on which the profiteers and price-gougers will take advantage of a desperate public.

Harvey and its aftermath also offer an example of what can happen when Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s desire to destroy the infrastructure and legitimacy of government are applied to a national disaster. What follows will be a spectacle of greed and incompetence.

Harvey and its aftermath will also demonstrate how neoliberal policy elites help create a crisis which they in turn propose to solve through “innovative,” “free-market” solutions — most of which do not work.

Investor’s Business Daily, a site that expends most of its energy tracking the financial markets, published an unsigned editorial this week under the headline “Harvey’s Wrath Reveals the Blessing of Liberty.” (I suppose they got some pushback on that one, since it has since been changed to “If You’re Focused on the Government’s Response to Harvey, You’re Looking in the Wrong Direction.”) As you would expect, it’s pro-business propaganda, depicting large corporations as kindly souls and public-spirited friends of the people, rather than self-interested, rapacious and often destructive entities.

Of course, Investors Business Daily — like the corporate news media in general, is not likely to explain how unregulated free markets and unrestrained capitalism greatly worsened the impact of Hurricane Harvey.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Hurricane Harvey and its epic flood waters are a reminder of how white racism hurts white people too

The flooding of Houston and its surrounding areas caused by Hurricane Harvey is a blockbuster disaster movie made real. This is a human tragedy of epic proportions.

The flooding of Houston and its surrounding areas is also a reminder of how white racism hurts white people too.


In a time of national crisis, the United States looks to the president for leadership. His or her behavior should be an example for us all and should serve as a beacon to guide the American people through their travails.

Instead, America is led by Donald Trump. He is manifestly unqualified to be president. In almost comical fashion, Trump played on Twitter and engaged in ego aggrandizement and braggery while Houston flooded. Nero had a fiddle. Trump has a phone.

After seven months in office, Trump has not fully staffed FEMA and other essential parts of the federal government tasked with disaster relief and monitoring the weather. In the positions he has filled, Trump and his minions have largely chosen political hacks and operatives whose only distinguishing quality is their loyalty to him.

Trump has also offered aid, comfort and cover to neo-Nazis and other white supremacists. In my view, he should be seen as a usurper whose rule is illegitimate because of the Russia scandal, whose full dimensions we may never know. This has compromised Trump’s ability to lead the country with any degree of effectiveness. In an almost unprecedented fashion, America’s senior leadership in the military and the State Department have all but publicly denounced Donald Trump’s recent behavior.

As numerous public opinion polls, focus groups and other research have demonstrated, Donald Trump was propelled into office by a wave of white racismand general hostility to people of color. In sum, a white-privilege temper tantrum by tens of millions of adult human beings is directly responsible for the national emergency of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Racism hurts white people in other ways as well.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

A Conversation with Timothy Snyder about how Donald Trump will use the white supremacist terrorism in Charlottesville to further his fascist plot

Timothy Snyder is the first guest on this week's episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show. He is an award-winning professor of history at Yale University and author of numerous books including Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin as well as Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. His newest book is On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.

This is Professor Snyder's second appearance on The Chauncey DeVega Show. His first conversation with Chauncey DeVega about Trump's election and the potential for a coup and a fascist regime was read several million times at the online magazine Salon and also shared almost 300,000 times on Facebook. That episode of the podcast was also listened to and downloaded more than 20,000 times.

During this episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show, Professor Snyder and Chauncey evaluate the health of American democracy after eight months of Trump as president, discuss how the recent white supremacist terrorism in Charlottesville could potentially fit into Trump's plans for authoritarianism in America, if Charlottesville was a "Reichstag Fire" moment, and how the rule of law is threatened by Trump's regime.

Professor Snyder also explains the historical antecedents and disturbing echoes of the white supremacist and neo-Nazi hate festival in Charlottesville relative to their origins in Nazi Germany.

This week's podcast also features Professor Cedric Johnson.

He is the author/editor of several books including Revolutionaries to Race Leaders: Black Power and the Making of African American Politics, as well as The Neoliberal Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, Late Capitalism and the Remaking of New Orleans.

Dr. Johnson is also an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and African-American Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

During this week's episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show, Cedric and Chauncey discuss the new movie Detroit, the accuracy of its depiction of that city's racial rebellion, how the civil rights movement is presented by Hollywood, and share some thoughts on the problematic racial essentializing politics of the much discussed and highly praised film Get Out.

On this week's show, Chauncey DeVega demands accountability from those people who were in denial about the threat posed by Donald Trump, shares a story about filming a documentary, and explains how today's black conservatives are a modern day version of the black people who helped the Ku Klux Klan in the American South after slavery.

This week's episode with Timothy Snyder and Cedric Johnson can be downloaded from Libysn and also listened to here.

The Chauncey DeVega Show is available on Itunes, Spotify and at Stitcher