New at Salon: Interview with Nathan Rabin on Donald Trump and The Insane Clown Posse

George Carlin once explained that when “you’re born you get a ticket to the freak show, and when you are born in America, you get a front row seat.”

Nathan Rabin, former head writer at the Onion A/V Club, cultural critic and author of “The Big Rewind,” has decided to test the veracity of Carlin’s theory with his new ebook, “7 Days in Ohio: Trump, The Gathering of the Juggalos, and The Summer Everything Went Insane.” Rabin is also able to offer insight into who the real freaks are: Are they fans of the socially stigmatized rap group, Insane Clown Posse, whom the FBI has labeled a dangerous organization and public threat, or Republican Trump supporters? At the risk of spoiling the fun, I’ll mention that the maniacs are not the ones wearing circus makeup.

In his equally amusing, fascinating and moving new book, Rabin chronicles his week in Ohio, attending both the annual Gathering of the Juggalos and the Republican National Convention. As if that were not enough to provide fodder for entertainment and journalism, Rabin spent the seven days with his long-lost brother, allowing him to further reflect on broken families, fractured relationships and the painful consequences of disconnection.

Rabin writes with his characteristic wit, but he also maintains an empathy that is staggering in its profundity and potency. As clichéd as it might seem, when I read Rabin’s account and analysis of Republicans, who frightened him, and Juggalos, who inspired him, mixed together with his own traumatic family history, I experienced the full range of emotional response — rage, laughter, tears.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Rabin over email.

Read the exchange at Salon.


New at Salon: Interview with Award Winning Toxicologist on The Deadly Legacy of the Iraq War

In “Last to Die,” his protest song against the war in Iraq, Bruce Springsteen sings, “We don’t measure the blood we’ve drawn anymore. We just stack the bodies outside the door.”

When the U.S. government and the world’s most lethal military force subject an entire country to torture and torment, the wounds fester long after bored Americans direct their attention elsewhere, and explosions and bloodshed, thousands of miles away and across the ocean, fail to attract news cameras.

The American people and their politicians might have moved on from Iraq, but the American presence of violence and devastation still hurts and haunts the lives of Iraqis. As a direct result of the U.S. invasion and occupation, Iraqi children now have high levels of lead contamination, and pregnant women and the elderly population suffer from expensive and painful health problems. There is an epidemic of birth defects and disabilities throughout the beleaguered country, but much of the world, and especially the U.S., continues to ignore the health crisis and moral catastrophe.

The casualty count, even if the war is over, continues to rise. Bombs and bullets damage the lives of millions of Iraqi civilians, subsequent to their detonation, and penetration of human skin. In America, the war in Iraq is too often reduced to a “mistake,” but for Iraq it is a merciless reaper that will continue to visit the homes of innocent people for generations.

Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, winner of the 2015 Rachel Carson prize, is a toxicologist, author and researcher at the University of Michigan. Since 2004, she has organized research expeditions in Iraq to measure the contamination and pollution that’s causing widespread sickness and death. Her team’s conclusions should horrify any thoughtful and ethical person and galvanize the entire world, with U.S. leadership, to react immediately and aggressively to save the lives of Iraqi children. Just as America is responsible for the war in Iraq, it is responsible for its consequences.

I recently interviewed Savabieasfahani via email about her work.

Read the conversation at Salon.

Music Writing: Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen, and Gov’t Mule

Recently, for No Depression, I wrote a review of a newly released box set compiling Elvis Presley’s masterful final recordings in the famous Jungle Room of Graceland. Read the essay for my take on Elvis’ unique gifts, his late in life musical accomplishment, and his development of the genre, rhythm and country.


Shortly after reviewing Elvis, I reviewed a Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band concert at the United Center in Chicago, and used the performance as an opportunity to reflect on the power and importance of hope. Read it at Salon.


Finally, I crown Gov’t Mule the “best band in the world,” after watching them perform a single set in Rosemont, Illinois. Read my explanation for how Mule surpasses everyone else in the genre, and elevates rock ‘n’ roll to art at No Depression.


New Essay for Salon: America’s Great Mistakes – The Stupid and Unnecessary Wars in Vietnam and Iraq

In a recent essay for Salon, I break through the cacophony of maudlin discussion of military “service” and “sacrifice,” to ask the taboo questions: Serve what? Sacrifice for what?

There is no longer any debate among reasonable people that the wars in Vietnam and Iraq were unnecessary, unjust, stupid, and destructive. Both wars created widespread death and devastation for reasons that remain painfully mysterious – The advancement of cold, self-interest that never materialized? The edification of cold war, and later, neoconservative theorists?

Read the entire essay on the fatal and permanent consequences of America’s imperial ambitions at Salon.

New Essay at Salon: Barack Obama Reclaimed Patriotism for The Left

In my newest essay for Salon, I examine how Barack Obama, making brilliant use of his own life as metaphor, confiscated patriotism from the reactionary right wing, and claimed it as property of liberalism. As central to the American spirit and story, Obama emphasized diversity, and the enlargement of opportunity and liberty. He injected Whitman’s poetry into politics, making it clear that America is full of contradiction, and that it contains multitudes.

Read the essay at Salon.

I will explore Obama’s transformation of patriotism from conservative vice to liberal virtue, among many other topics, in my upcoming book, Barack Obama: Invisible Man (Eyewear Publishing).


New Essay at Salon: The Party of Myth and Nostalgia

One of the most nauseating aspects of the US Presidential election is its nostalgic focus on Baby Boomer issues of manufacturing employment and “abandoned factories.”

The maudlin litany of boomer reminiscence for “how it used to be” manipulates many people, because it implies that most jobs are lost to trade, when in reality they are lost to automation, and gives lazy thinkers the illusion that the jobs are “coming back.” The jobs are never coming back. The 1960s ended a long time ago.

Worse than the political manipulation is the cultural misdirection of focus away from imperatives of the future. Young people are not longing for the reopening of textile mills. They want debt-free education, job training, and easier access to home ownership and entrepreneurship. Pathetic and sentimental weeping over manufacturing gets them exactly nothing, and betrays the future in service of the past.

I write in greater detail on the subject for Salon.


New Essay for Salon: Military Violence and Scandal

One of the most hideous scandals of American culture is the continued indifference toward the high rates of rape in the United States military, and the regularity of domestic violence in military homes.

The universal application of the honorific title of “hero” to combat veterans is one, among many, cultural obstacles preventing honest scrutiny and deliberate action to reduce pain and suffering among military women and the wives of military men.

Read my essay on the subject at Salon, and pay particular attention to my summary of the truly heroic life and work of Stacy Bannerman, the leading advocate for military spouses who fall victim to domestic violence.

Announcement: Writing Commentary for No Depression

I am happy to report that I will now, on occasion, write essays, reviews, and commentary for the “journal of roots music,” No Depression.

In my inaugural contribution, I review the new record from Chicago-area Southern Rock band, The Righteous Hillbillies, and in doing so, appraise the value of pure rock ‘n’ roll.

Stay tuned for more updates.