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Vol. #31 - June 05, 2020

Like most weeks of 2020 thus far this last one was...A WEEK. I hope you and your people are holding up. And I hope that "holding up" doesn't just mean "alive", but who knows anymore. I want to say Welcome! to all of the new WesRecs readers. Most of those are here because I had to deal with an (exceedingly minor) instance of arson last week and you heard about it. I am was brief and utterly manageable. I am so very happy to report that nothing near as exciting happened to me personally this week but we've still got another great set of recommendations for you. I hope you like what you see and that it's at least somewhat in line with what you thought you signed up for. If not... take a risk! To all returning readers please know that I have some crazy big plans to develop/enhance the newsletter during the course of this summer and after next week I should actually have the time to start executing them. In the meantime please enjoy and be kind to each other. I love you all.

WesRecs is the weekly newsletter where I (comedian/storyteller/TV Host) Wes Hazard recommend a bunch of cool content (recs) to YOU (the person reading this). There's no particular reason for this other than the fact that I love curating stuff and I'm always excited to share items that I personally have found worthwhile, exciting, or necessary. If you like what you see please be sure to subscribe to get each week's edition delivered straight to your inbox and if you know someone else who might be into it definitely share with them. You can check out all past issues HERE.
Before You Hit The Streets...
Absolutely NONE of this is new. Not by a long-shot. Police (and the slave patrollers that preceded them) have been killing black men (and women) in the streets for generations. If you're an NYC resident and old enough (or just a fan of art history) you may remember the slaying of graffiti artist Michael Stewart who was killed by NYC transit police in September of 1983. The official story was that he was caught tagging a subway station wall and became violent after being detained causing officers to forcefully restrain him. The truth (according to eyewitnesses, an independent medical examination, and I dunno...the entire history of policing in America) is that he was thrown to the ground while handcuffed, beaten in the street, hogtied, and then beaten and choked in the transport van. He hung on in a coma for 13 days before dying and (predictably) becoming a victim a 2nd time via an egregious coverup involving the MTA and the Medical Examiner's office.

Stewart's case gained more lasting awareness and interest than the standard and all-too-common police killing of an unarmed black man due to its immortalization in one of the most famous paintings of international art star Jean-Michel Basquiat: Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart), 1983. The two artists were not close friends but they knew each other and had mutual friends.

That connection is what most likely led to the creation of this short documentary (30 mins) from 1984 Who Killed Michael Stewart (Dir. Franck Goldberg). Shot on no budget this early video work features interviews with people who knew Stewart, the independent investigators hired by his family to challenge the patently fictitious police story, the press conference held by the medical examiner, and more. It's a fascinating time capsule into a time that's not long gone but which seems lifetimes away (...except for the sustained thread of police violence and getting away with it...that parts forever). Witness a very young Madonna being interviewed (her blunt and clearheaded assessment of race in America is a hell of a lot more palatable than her current billion dollar bathtub routine or proffering her son dancing to Michael Jackson as an antidote to a divided country [look it up, I don't have the strength]).

If you're interested in all of this and want to see how white supremacy works in a non-judcial envriroment I'd invite you to check out this tea spilling thread by Chaédria LaBouvier the art researcher who was the first black curator of a Guggenheim exhibition last year that focused on Basquiat (and specifically his blackness) and which used Defacement as both its centerpiece and title. She details being consistently undermined and minimized and the various attempts that were made to steal her scholarship.
"Police Brutality" is a Redundant Term

As the George Floyd protests continue, let's be clear where the violence is coming from - The Guardian
We try to "reform" things that are broken or wayward. That does not describe the police. They are doing what they are designed to do: protect the capital of the privileged class and keep the people who are exploited in order to generate that capital quiet and under control...and failing that: dead. The murder of George Floyd was abhorrent and tragic and cruel, but the only true professional "failure" of the officers involved was that they did it so openly as to be filmed in broad daylight on a crowded street. If your first inclination is to talk of "bad apples" and rogue cops then you simply need to observe the wanton violence and aggression of cops with helmets and shields and batons and pepper spray and dogs and tanks aligned against protestors with...signs across the country. We can't keep allowing this.
"Nevertheless, much of the finger-wagging has been about property destruction, and it is dismaying to see that some are more upset about broken glass than public killing – or rather that they seem to believe society ought to rest on a foundation of stable property relations, not human rights and justice.

The distinction between damaging or destroying human beings and inanimate objects matters. But it’s not simple. People trapped inside a burning building break down the doors to escape; an estranged husband with a restraining order breaks down a door to further terrorise his ex-wife. The same actions mean different things in different situations. Martin Luther King famously called riots “the voice of the unheard” – and as the outcry of people who have tried absolutely everything else for centuries, property damage means something very different from merely malicious or recreational destruction. When they riot, the black people most impacted by police brutality and by four centuries of poverty, dehumanisation and deprivation of basic rights and equality, are more like people trapped inside that burning house trying to break out."


"The story of activist violence is often used to justify police violence, but damage to property is not a justification for wholesale violence against children, passersby, journalists, protesters, or anyone at all. It is the police who should have lost their legitimacy, over and over, after the many individual killings from Eric Garner to Walter Scott to Breonna Taylor to George Floyd. And after reckless, entitled, out-of-control violence in police riots like that on Saturday night. Perhaps the point of their action this week is that they don’t need legitimacy, just power."

Thousands of Complaints Do Little to Change Police Ways - NYT

If you were an armed paramilitary force that received a huge chunk of your city's yearly operating budget and, as supposed enforcers of the law, you were faced with exactly zero outside checks to ensure that you yourself adhered to it, how fully or enthusiastically would you be when provided with non-binding recommendations to reform your conduct by a civilian review board??? I would never be a cop, but I personally would laugh in their face in that situation...which is more or less what happens.
"And while black residents account for about 20 percent of the city’s population, Police Department data shows they are more likely to be pulled over, arrested and have force used against them than white residents. And black people accounted for more than 60 percent of the victims in Minneapolis police shootings from late 2009 through May 2019, data shows."


"In 2012, the civilian board in Minneapolis was replaced by an agency called the Office of Police Conduct Review. Since then, more than 2,600 misconduct complaints have been filed by members of the public, but only 12 have resulted in an officer being disciplined, Mr. Bicking said. The most severe censure has been a 40-hour suspension, he said."

How Police Became Paramilitaries - The New York Review of Books

You reap what you sow. If your country makes continuous war on countries halfway around the world for almost 20 years you are going to end up with a tremendous amount of surplus military equipment and a huge number of combat veterans who return home and enter police forces that have inherited that equipment and you really can't be surprised if they look out upon a giant mass of civilian protestors in a city experiencing deep unrest and think "Oh, I've seen this before someplace else, I know exactly what to do."
"That beat cops so often look like troops is not just a problem of “optics.” There is, in fact, a “positive and statistically significant relationship between 1033 transfers and fatalities from officer-involved shootings,” according to recent research. In other words, the more militarized we allow law enforcement agents to become, the more likely officers are to use lethal violence against citizens: civilian deaths have been found to increase by about 130 percent when police forces acquire significantly more military equipment.

The corollary of more police-involved killings, of course, is more protests in response. That sets up, for some, a convenient “law and order” pretext to occupy American streets—or “dominate” them as President Trump remarked in a recent news conference. That call was echoed by his defense secretary, Mark Esper, who called on governors to “dominate the battlespace” in response to the George Floyd protests across the states."

Sultan Malik, a formerly incarcerated activist & business owner gets into the some economic specifics about how the police can be financially de-incentivized to engage in future brutality.

Boots Riley - Racist violence and police murder are inherent to capitalism. It will be around until we get rid of capitalism. Rapper/Activist/Screenwriter/director Boots Riley (who made 2018's phenomenal Sorry To Bother You, seriously SEE IT if you haven't) recently dropped this debate club masterpiece detailing the parallels between "legitimate business" and illegitimate business (aka "crime) and how the existence of the former necessitates the latter and how both rely on men with guns in order to provide stability & the enforcement of contracts (the police and gangs respectively). If you're deep into Marxist theory not much of this will be new to you but I really admired it for the way that it breaks this all down into utterly understandable everyday language in a way that feels very close to our lived everyday experience (that is if you're not a millionaire). I suggest you read it, take a minute or a day, then read it again, and then share it with someone you know who is not a millionaire and not particularly politically engaged and who would generally laugh at the very *idea* of engaging with formal Marxist thought. It might just put a foot in the door that has been put up for a century in the collective American consciousness against far-left politics. Listen, I hate Stalinism, I hate the idea of bread lines, and deprivation, and the confiscation of personal property, and of a cult of personality but these are the very things that flood the average American mind the second "socialism" is mentioned, and that's to be expected after decade upon decade of state sponsored capitalist propaganda here. It doesn't have to be one way. Our choice is not Stalinism vs. hyper-Reaganomics (though you wouldn't know it given our paltry national discourse on econ, politics, & race).
Graphic courtesy of Critical Resistance

Racism Is the Biggest Reason the U.S. Safety Net Is So Weak - Bloomberg

Feel weird whenever I share a piece from "Bloomberg" but... here we go.
"One of the big questions Alesina tackled was why the U.S. doesn’t have the generous welfare benefits of advanced countries in Europe. His answer, along with co-authors Edward Glaeser and Bruce Sacerdote, was twofold. First, U.S. institutions -- the Senate, the electoral system, the legal system -- were designed much earlier than their modern European equivalents, and are thus more oriented toward protecting private property above all else. But in addition, the economists found evidence that racial animosity was a source of American exceptionalism:

    Opponents of redistribution in the United States have regularly used race-based rhetoric to resist left-wing policies…Within the United States, race is the single most important predictor of support for welfare. America’s troubled race relations are clearly a major reason for the absence of an American welfare state.


"Alesina’s research, of course, covered much more than the question of ethnic tensions. He also researched the link between inequality and growth. Some economists believe that the key to growth is to cut taxes and deregulate the financial system; the increased inequality that results from these policies, they argue, is simply the price of greater efficiency. But Alesina had the opposite theory -- inequality, he reasoned, leads to social discontent, which foments political instability,  reducing economic growth. Looking across recent history, he and co-author Roberto Perotti found that more unequal countries are more likely to fall into political chaos and suffer economic decline. So time and again, Alesina shows that politics can turn intuition about markets on its head."

"But even with most of the country shut down, almost 100,000 Americans were now dead, and some 38 million were out of work. So why was the stock market going up? Ackman said that the market was heavily weighted to a small number of companies — Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook — that were positioned to become even more dominant than they were before the crisis and whose stock prices were rising in anticipation of that. Weak public companies were being culled — ‘‘the virus kills older people, people with comorbidities, people with other health issues, and the same thing is true in business; the virus kills off companies that were structurally impaired already’’ — while strong ones were poised not just to survive but to prosper. ‘‘The impact of the crisis on companies like Amazon is actually a little bit of short-term negative because they’re spending a lot of money managing through this, but it’s long-term hugely beneficial to the company.’’ In that sense, Ackman said, the market ‘‘doesn’t seem wrong to me.’’"


"Even including 401(k)’s and individual retirement accounts, only 55 percent of Americans are investors in the market, according to Gallup, down from 62 percent in the early-to-mid 2000s — and not surprisingly, stock ownership has become even more concentrated in the hands of the affluent during this period. The New York University economist Edward Wolff has pointed out that as of 2016, the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans owned, in dollar terms, 84 percent of the total stock held by U.S. households. And it seems likely that as a result of the current crisis, even fewer Americans will have money to invest, and the rich will end up with an even larger share of the market."


Perhaps one lesson this crisis can reinforce is that we should stop thinking of the stock market as a barometer of national prosperity. Maybe it served that function in the past, but it doesn’t now. Instead, the market has become an emblem and engine of American inequality. In that sense, its performance in recent months reflects our reality all too well.

Things Read
Our Brother Kaizen - Vulture

You might know The Lucas Bros from TV. They're twins who've made their mark for years now on the standup circuit and in films & television. I've been a fan and definitely got more insight into their upbringing and biography when I heard them on Pete Holmes' You Made It Weird interview podcast a few years back. But here we have a completely different level of depth and vulnerability discussing a deeply personal and very American story about a childhood filled with deprivation (but also love, and a strong network) and a group of young men struggling with poverty, inequality, mental health, & racism who grow up in the same households but follow starkly different paths into adulthood. I can't recommend this enough.
"People don’t like to talk about mental health. Back in Newark, there was a stigma against folks who openly acknowledged struggling with it. Specifically, they would be stigmatized as crazy motherfuckers. Rather than seeing the issue as a matter of degrees, the community drew a rigid dichotomy between “normal” and “insane.” No one wanted to be deemed mad. So instead of talking about our emotional distress, we adopted strategies to cope. People have different ways of rationalizing disturbing thoughts. In college, we turned to philosophy and sports. Kaizen preferred violence, drugs, and alcohol. None of us saw a psychotherapist. We couldn’t afford it.

This isn’t just an issue in the hood. It’s pervasive throughout society. At Duke and NYU law school, we saw firsthand how the elites treated their mental health issues. Our classmates heeded a strict code of silence to avoid being perceived as weak in such a competitive environment. Nevertheless, a significant number of them suffered from severe mental health issues and abused substances. A few of our classmates even committed suicide. In fact, we know more people who committed suicide from law school than from the inner city."

The End of White Supremacy, An American Romance - Bomb Magazine

I don't really even know how to describe this piece...or exactly how I feel about it, but I know it makes me feel...something. Seriously, you might find the loose, allusive, collage-like style alienating. You may feel at sea with the forking paths it sends you down. You may wonder what year you're in or whether you're reading fiction, or a historical report, or a critical analysis. And all of that is...fine. But you'll think about this. You will. From the inimitable Saidiya Hartman. (P.S. Here's the Wikipedia page for the Harry Belafonte film The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959) which also links to the entry about the W.E.B. DuBois short story The Comet.
"The influenza pandemic of 1918 does not appear in this inventory. Perhaps because microbes seemed benign when compared with the bloodletting of the Red Summer. Or because for every year between 1906 and 1920, black folks in cities experienced a rate of death that equaled the white rate of death at the peak of the pandemic."


Du Bois believed that telling such stories [a grizzly account of the lynching of pregnant woman] mattered. In hindsight, he would explain this earnestness (the belief that intelligent argument and reasoned judgment might defeat racism) as a consequence of not having read psychoanalysis. He “was not sufficiently Freudian to understand how little human action is based on reason” or to apprehend the deep psychic investment in racism, what others have since described as the libidinal economy of an antiblack world. He had assumed that “the majority of Americans would rush to the defense of democracy,” if they realized that racism threatened it, not only for blacks, but for whites, “not only in America, but in the world.”

America at the breaking point - Vox

File under: Things that definitely did NOT make me feel better about America's prospects during an already monumentally shitty year but which I'm glad I read because we really need to have the proper perspective on just how bad things could get.
Today, our political coalitions are our social divisions, and that changes everything. When there is a rift within a party, the incentive is to bridge it, or ignore it, to maintain cohesion and retain wavering voters. When the rift is between the parties, the incentive is to escalate, to sharpen differences and mobilize supporters. The technological and financial understructure of politics and media transformed in ways that reinforced the polarization of the parties, as nightly newscasts and daily newspapers gave way to the quivering nervous system of Twitter, the identitarian incentives of Facebook, the shouting on cable news.

These institutions are in feedback loops with each other, and what is fed back and forth, growing louder and louder, is conflict, collision, and fury. Donald Trump is that system summoned into human form, a social media savant and cable news favorite who rode the feedback loop of outrage into the White House. He understood our divisions better than we did, and that is seen, in our age, as a form of political genius.

But what makes Trump successful is what makes him dangerous: He knows only the one thing, and knows it too well. All he can see is division; all he knows is discord; all he can do is escalate. He is the King Midas of strife, turning the country he leads into the thing he believes we are, the thing he himself is.

Ahmaud Arbery was hit with a truck before he died, and his killer allegedly used a racial slur, investigator testifies - CNN

I really didn't think this situation could have been worse or more heartbreaking. But damn. Here we are.

US elections are bought. And the people paying don’t want the same things we do - The Correspondent

File under: you pretty much already knew it was true but seeing it just laid out like this is..disgusting... BUT there are some practical reforms that could help! But the whole system is probably irredeemable.
"One leaked presentation revealed that a Democratic campaign committee suggested to freshman legislators that they spend four hours a day doing “call time” – that is, calling potential donors to raise money. In contrast, the schedule advises these new politicians to spend just one hour or two visiting their constituents.

“I could give you names of people who’ve said, ‘You know, I’d like to go to Washington and help fix problems, but I don’t want to go to Washington and become a mid-level telemarketer,” former Minnesota Democratic congressman Rick Nolan said in 2016.
Nolan told CBS News that “both parties have told newly elected members of the Congress that they should spend 30 hours a week in the Republican and Democratic call centres across the street from the Congress, dialling for dollars”."


One of the reforms that came out of this initiative was the establishment of the city’s “democracy voucher” programme: using revenue generated from a property tax, the city distributes four $25 vouchers which residents
then use to support eligible candidates in the municipal elections. 

While by no means comparable to the sums that the wealthiest political donors give, the programme made it possible for residents of modest means to have a voice even before the ballot box – but it also gave a fighting chance to candidates who might have more grassroots support than deep pockets.

“I felt like a bigwig that usually donates all the time,” said Gina Owens,
a 60-year-old public housing resident. “Being able to contribute to a campaign like that was really awesome ... like Bill Gates!”
Things Seen
Well here's one thing that put a smile on my face this week: The Robert E. Lee Statue in Richmond, Virginia.
Things Made
I can say I nailed "Opera for $1000" and was up on my #PrisonAbolition icons back to back. Not a bad 30 seconds.
I've included this in a previous issue of WesRecs, I just wish it would stop being timely.
I was raised in Stoughton, MA a totally fine town that happens to be named after maybe the biggest douche of of the entire Salem Witch Trials fiasco. Not a great jurist. Here's me doing a comedy presentation on ol' Billy S. and a slight parallel to today's justice system at the very last Encyclopedia Show Somerville which was one of the most fun live show series I've ever been involved in.
Word of the Week
Menticide, n.
[ MEN-tuh-sahyd ]

Meaning: systematic effort to undermine and destroy a person's values and beliefs, as by the use of prolonged interrogation, drugs, torture, etc., and to induce radically different ideas (regarded as a characteristic activity of totalitarian regimes). Brainwashing.

Origin: classical Latin ment-, mēns mind (see mental adj.1) + -icide comb. form2
Somebody Said This
I know that Charlie Rose is (rightfully) not cool anymore. But I'm not gonna let that man's many many flaws and indiscretions take away from lé goddess Toni Morrison (I mean literally no one could take away from her). Just bask in the greatness.
Slavery Econ Facts
  • 1860, the value of the slaves was “roughly three times greater than the total amount invested in banks,” and it was “equal to about seven times the total value of all currency in circulation in the country, three times the value of the entire livestock population, twelve times the value of the entire U.S. cotton crop and forty-eight times the total expenditure of the federal government that year.”
  • On the eve of the Civil War, raw cotton constituted 61 percent of the value of all U.S. products shipped abroad. And cotton was the leading American export from 1803 to 1937.
  • Lots of Americans do NOT believe that Black Americans should be provided with reparations for slavery. BUT few Americans would ever accept the idea of an employer not paying an employee for their work. Now, slavery was not "employment" in any real sense (it was so very much worse), but it definitely entailed a lot of backbreaking work which was largely not compensated in any way whatsoever (some skilled slaves were allowed to sell wares they made or crops they grew on their own time). Now, it's an established precedent in this country that when you die your property is inherited by your descendants. So roughly how much would be owed to current descendants of Black slaves if we used only the unpaid wages that were "owed" to slaves? I've thought about this a lot, so here we go:
—The average hourly wage of a free unskilled laborer in 1860 = 9.8 cents an hour

—The basic slave work week was 14 hours a day, 6 days a week, 51 weeks per year.

—So if slaves had been paid going rate in 1860 that would be:
9.8 cents an hour X 14 hrs X 6 days X 51 weeks = $419.83 for a year (no fed income tax until 1913)

—Let’s figure a slave’s working life as ages 15-60, for 45 years. 45X419.83 x 45 = $18,892.35 in wages owed across a slave’s life.

—$1 in 1860 = $30.85 in 2019

—So that's $582,829 for one slave for a life’s work. Times 4 million slaves = $2.3T (not including inflation or any interest). Divided by 39,445,495 non Hispanic blacks in the U.S. today: Would mean $59,102 per Black American paid out today. (If you want to nitpick with me and throw in the "But not all Black Americans are descended from slaves!!!" argument I will remind you that I AM NOT INCLUDING INTEREST HERE!! To give you some insight into what adding interest would do I'll just say that $100 dollars invested in 1860 and earning just 3% interest annually (low) for the last 160 years, would now be worth $11,322.86 so....STFU.
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Copyright © 2020 Wes Hazard -- Comic. Poet. Performer., All rights reserved.

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