Richard Wolff – The Political Economy of Obama/Trump

Link to an article by Richard Wolff:

“The Political Economy of Obama/Trump”


(One small caveat about this article.  This statement is misleading: “Strictly trickle-down economics was how his administration ‘handled’ the 2008-09 crisis. Nothing remotely like the New Deal’s taxing the rich to fund programs for the poor and middle was proposed or debated, let alone adopted as policy.” At the federal level, there is no need to tax the rich to pay for programs for the poor, because the USA is no longer on the gold standard as it was during the New Deal.  Today, money can simply be printed to fund these programs, within reasonable limits.  This is explained in detail by Modern Monetary Theory publications.).

Carpenters – A Kind of Hush

A Kind of Hush

CarpentersA Kind of Hush A&M SP 4581 (1976)

A Kind of Hush was a bit of a lesser album from The Carpenters after a string of impressive ones in the early 1970s.  Of course, Karen still sings beautifully, and there are some good songs here (“Can’t Smile Without You,” “I Need to Be in Love”).  But the brother-sister duo seems to struggle to find enough suitable songs to fill the album, and Richard as the producer / arranger drifts into rigid formula, not living up to his best work.  He later admitted that this was a disappointing album, noting the poor song selection, and blamed it on his addition to sleeping pills at the time.  Celebrity was definitely beginning to take its toll.  For their next album, they tried to seek a different producer but had difficulty finding someone “major” willing, at which point Richard produced but made an effort to move out of his comfort zone.  Anyway, with all seriousness, the producer (or co-producer) that the duo should have used was Tiny Tim — think about it, this makes perfect sense when The Carpenters were recording pop songs from bygone eras like “Goofus” but also in that Tiny Tim would have added a sense of modern irony that would have reinvigorated The Carpenters’ sound at a time when their old approach maybe seemed less relevant.

“In an old joke from the defunct German Democratic Republic, a German worker gets a job in Siberia; aware of how all mail will be read by the censors, he tells his friends: ‘Let’s establish a code: if a letter you get from me is written in ordinary blue ink, it’s true; if it’s written in red ink, it’s false.’ After a month, his friends get the first letter, written in blue ink: ‘Everything is wonderful here: the shops are full, food is abundant, apartments are large and properly heated, cinemas show films from the West, there are many beautiful girls ready for an affair — the only thing you can’t get is red ink.’ ***

“we ‘feel free’ because we lack the very language to articulate our unfreedom.”  Slavoj Žižek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real! pp. 1-2.

At their best, The Carpenters were able to articulate the claustrophobic unfreedom of the (white) “American Dream” in the post-WWI “Golden Age”, presenting songs in “red” ink” or pointing out a lack of “red ink”. There is only a trace of that ability on A Kind of Hush.  At a time when punk was making overt attacks on society, disco was celebrating individual hedonism and even hip-hop was rising from the underground, The Carpenters seemed somewhat out of touch, merely responding to conditions that many people already relegated to the past.  Oh, and the album cover is indeed one of the strangest and creepiest on a major commercial release at the time.  The duo’s next album Passage would be a small improvement, flirting with disco and showtunes a bit, though still prone to a few (easily avoidable) missteps.

Johnny Cash – The Junkie and the Juicehead Minus Me

The Junkie and the Juicehead Minus Me

Johnny CashThe Junkie and the Juicehead Minus Me Columbia KC 33086 (1974)

Ragged Old Flag was a transitional album in which Cash finished off with his folk-country phase that began with Hello, I’m Johnny Cash and started to establish a more contemporary sound with the help of producer Charlie Bragg.  The Junkie and the Juicehead Minus Me finds the new style firmly established.  It’s clearly influenced by the big country stars from Texas, like Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings (those three would team up with Cash to form The Highwaymen a decade later).   Kristofferson especially looms large, with two of his songs featured including the great title track.  It makes this album a little grittier, looser and modern than typical Cash fare.  A few other songs take on more of a bluegrass flavor.  Funny thing, though, is that there are a number of songs here where vocals are handed over to guests–all part of Cash’s extended family.  On these he sometimes delivers only one line (“Ole Slewfoot”), or nothing noticeable for the entire song.  But that’s actually not such a bad thing.  The album’s biggest weakness is the lackadaisical effort Cash puts into his vocals.  Still, the album tries for a contemporary sound and achieves it without it coming across as forced, and it has aged sufficiently well.  This is another of those 1970s Cash albums that’s fairly decent in an average sort of way, and no classic.  His next few albums represented a step down in quality from this one.

Johnny Cash – Rockabilly Blues

Rockabilly Blues

Johnny CashRockabilly Blues Columbia JC 36779 (1980)

The songs are a bit spotty, but Cash is doing the best he can and his band is at least competent.  Rockabilly Blues has Cash putting a pub rock sheen on some of the material.  It has a synthetic and compressed sound, which has left it a little dated now, but far less so than Silver.  His then step-son-in-law Nick Lowe is on board, and some of this is exactly like what you’d expect a Cash/Lowe collaboration in 1980 to sound like.  Other parts are more standard Cash fare for the era.  “Without Love” and “It Ain’t Nothing New Babe” are the standouts here.  For the most part, this isn’t going to impress anybody new to Cash, but it’s marginally more listenable than some of his other stuff from the slowest part of his career.  It probably earns second place in the beauty pageant of his 1980s albums.  The curious may want to ponder how this sets out some of the same objectives as Unchained almost two decades later, but just doesn’t deliver nearly as well.  It also is maybe worth mentioning that in a few years Dwight Yoakam would find success with generally more energetic music that bore resemblances to this (Yoakam would be a staunch and vocal defender of Cash later in the decade).

Douglas Allen & Paul Anderson – Consumption and Social Stratification

Link to an article by Douglas E. Allen and Paul F. Anderson:

Douglas E. Allen and Paul F. Anderson, “Consumption and Social Stratification: Bourdieu’s Distinction”, Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, 70-74 (C. Allen and D. Roedder John, eds.,  Association for Consumer Research, 1994).

Selected quote:

[Pierre] Bourdieu sees the consumption field as a site of struggle over the definitions of legitimate, middlebrow, and popular culture. In his view, the socially and economically dominant in any society seek to maintain a strict hierarchy of cultural forms so that all judgments in the consumption sphere are subject to the hegemony of ‘legitimate’ (i.e., dominant) cultural tastes. This is accomplished without conscious direction or coercion because a person’s class habitus presents each individual with a preexisting set of ‘natural’ classifications that constitute his or her unreflective definition of reality. Thus, in western industrialized societies, classical music, opera, legitimate theater, books on philosophy, knowledge of foreign languages, modern art collections, and subscriptions to academic journals are just a few of the cultural forms that are unquestionably (and unquestioned) elements of the legitimate or dominant culture. While members of the middle and working classes may eschew such cultural forms (indeed, they may well view them with suspicion or disdain), their position at the pinnacle of the cultural hierarchy goes unchallenged. As a result, those who can appropriate elements of legitimate culture as their own have the power to define the status of all other cultural forms.


“For Bourdieu, the singular mistake made by dominated class fractions, particularly the petite bourgeoisie, is to associate culture with knowledge. Lacking the lived experiences that produce the elite habitus, the petite bourgeoisie misrecognize what are essentially arbitrary aesthetic selections for special knowledge of what counts as ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ in the cultural sphere.”

Willie Nelson – Both Sides Now

Both Sides Now

Willie NelsonBoth Sides Now RCA Victor LSP-4292 (1970)

Willie ups the folk-rock influence on this one.  There are a few very decent performances here, like “Crazy Arms” and “Pins and Needles (In My Heart).”  Although many of Willie’s early recordings that looked toward pop/rock music fizzled, the “folk” aspect of this means that there are no cheesy backing strings or horns, and very minimal backing vocals (on “Pins and Needles” the backing vocals recall certain Johnny Cash recordings and anticipate Neko Case‘s entire solo career).  “Everybody’s Talkin'” is a big swing and miss though.  Nothing here is especially memorable, but, overall, this is slightly better than Willie’s next couple RCA albums, which doesn’t exactly say a whole lot.  As another reviewer astutely put it, “All in all, Both Sides Now is a lackluster effort that does hint at his future direction, though it does so rather obliquely.”