Culture News

Meet the Man Kim Kardashian Is Trying to Save from Death Row

Brandon Bernard is scheduled for execution in December, more than 20 years after crimes he committed as an 18 year old.

With all the chaos of 2020, not a lot of attention has been paid to the fact that the federal government has started executing prisoners.

At the state level, of course, the death penalty has never taken a break. Over 1,500 prisoners have been executed in the U.S. since the 1970s. But until 2020, only three prisoners had been executed by the federal government.

Under President George W. Bush, Timothy McVeigh, Juan Raul Garza, and Louis Jones Jr. were executed between 2001 and 2003. Then, for more than 17 years, the federal government got out of the execution business.

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Culture News

Kanye West's Presidential Run Is Great News for Donald Trump

"Better late than never" may not apply in this case...

Update 7/8/2020: In a truly wild interview with Forbes, Kanye West claimed to be done with his support of Donald Trump and "taking off the red hat."

Among other revelations was the announcement that he will be running for president under the label of "the Birthday Party," that Tesla CEO Elon Musk will be advising him along with his running mate, Michelle Tidball—an obscure preacher out of wyoming—that he would model his administration after the fictional nation of Wakanda from Black Panther, that he believes vaccines are "the mark of the beast," and that Planned Parenthood is doing "the devil's work."

If that wasn't enough, Kanye also asserted that "America needs special people that lead." And on Kanye's list of special people are Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, and (of course) Kanye. As for the Democrats presumptive 2020 nominee, Kanye said "Joe Biden's not special."

Unfortunately for the world, only one of the people on Kanye's "special" list has any chance of winning the election in November... Hat or no, Kanye is still team Trump.

On Saturday, in a strange celebration of Independence Day, rapper, producer, and sneaker mogul Kanye West announced his intention to run for president in 2020.

As in, this year. Right now.

The announcement quickly prompeted messages of support from Kanye's wife, prison reform advocate Kim Kardashian West, as well as from billionaire weirdo/Grimes baby daddy Elon Musk.

Of course, this news comes well past the filing deadline for independent candidates in several major states—which means that unless a political party randomly decides to nominate him, Kanye's name won't appear on those ballots. As deadlines in other states approach—with little apparent effort to gather the petition signatures required—Kanye is officially joining the long, proud history of vanity presidential campaigns. Unfortunately, that's a lot more dangerous than it sounds.

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Culture News

Is Donald Trump Going to Pardon Joe Exotic?

Donald Trump Jr. expressed interest in the idea in a radio appearance on Monday

Update 8/18/2020: On Monday President Trump hinted to reporters that he was planning to pardon someone "very, very important."

After reporters confirmed that the person in question was neither NSA leaker and former Trump punching bag Edward Snowden, nor disgraced former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, speculation began to run rampant that Trump was planning to pardon Joe Exotic. Not this time.

As it turned out, Trump bestowed a posthumous pardon on Susan B. Anthony, the "very, very important" women's rights activist who died more than a hundred years ago. Anthony was arrested in 1872 for illegally voting in Rochester, NY nearly 50 years before women were granted the right to vote by the 19th amendment.

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TV News

Who's to Blame in the Slapfight That Pushed Kourtney to Quit KUWTK?

In the season premiere of Keeping up With the Kardashians Kim's criticism of Kourtney finally pushed things too far

These days it's hard to imagine anyone getting mad at another person for staying home sick.

The best reason to get mad at someone during the coronavirus pandemic is that they refuse to stay home. But that wasn't the case last September, when the Kardashian family's usual tension and in-fighting escalated to physical blows between Kourtney and Kim.

It was around the time Kylie Jenner was scheduled to have a major moment at the Balmain Spring 2020 fashion show in Paris. As the season premiere of Keeping Up With the Kardashians documents, Kylie was planning to represent Kylie Cosmetics at the event—and was in the process of planning out looks for the models—when she became violently ill. According to posts made to Twitter and Instagram, Kylie had a case of strep throat that was so bad she was bleeding from the mouth and had to be hospitalized, with Kylie later tweeting, "It was the sickest I've ever been."

But apparently Kim Kardashian West was not convinced of her half-sister's illness, and she was not concerned for the well-being of all the models and attendees that Kylie could have infected—we used to be so careless pre-2020! She felt strongly that she and Khloé were the only sisters who knew the value of hard work, and she let Kourtney know that she and Kylie were letting down the family, stating matter-of-factly, "You don't care about stuff" and, "If I were on my deathbed, I would still show up." Cool...

Kim & Kourtney's Feud Gets Physical: "KUWTK" Katch-Up (S18, E1) | E! www.youtube.com

This is not the first time that Kim, 39, has directed this kind of criticism at her older sister—the infamous fight over the Christmas photo shoot was much the same—but it was apparently the last straw for Kourtney, 40, who interrupted Kim to say, "You act like I don't do sh*t … You have this narrative in your mind—" which is when Kim cut her off. Kourtney continued trying to mount a defense while Kim interjected with her criticism until Kourtney finally came out with, "I will literally f*ck you up" and quickly showed that it was not an empty threat.

The exchange of slaps, kicks, punches, and digging fingernails has to be seen to be fully appreciated—though footage of kangaroos fighting in the wild will get you 90% of the way there.

In the aftermath of the fight airing on national TV, Kourtney all but officially confirmed that she will not be returning to the show. It's always sad to see a family business falling apart over this kind of sibling drama—even if the family business was to constantly be on the brink of falling apart over sibling drama—but the question remains, whose fault was it?

Actually, never mind, it was Kim's. Without a doubt. Good for her that she's a hard worker—and she has actually done some impressive things in recent years—but her attitude that her siblings are supposed to live according to her standards, and that she knows better than they do about their own health, is insufferable—especially from a younger sister. Kourtney should not have flown off the handle, but Kim should have seen that she was striking a nerve and backed off rather than escalating it—and actually slapping her sister across the face with a lot more force than Kourtney managed.

Kangaroo Boxing Fight | Life Story | BBC Earth www.youtube.com

In a series of tweets on the incident, Kourtney said, "It's trash #KUWTK." And when another user suggested that the fight had been the motivation she needed to finally leave the show—after previously deciding to cut way down on her involvement—Kourtney responded, "It is from our darker moments where growth happens." Grammar aside, it would be nice if she followed through this time and we no longer have to see this kind of drama without the soothing tones of David Attenborough's narration to reassure us that the kangaroos will be okay.

Culture Feature

The Upside of the Coronavirus: We're Finally Past Celebrity Drama

Celebrities' normal antics are not as entertaining (or as important) as they once seemed.

Kim Kardashian has lashed out at Taylor Swift, or Taylor Swift has lashed out at Kim Kardashian, but most of all, both lashed out at all of us for constantly devouring their drama.

Kardashian volleyed a bunch of tweets last night, admonishing Swift for apparently re-invigorating their briefly dead feud and then disavowing the feud on the whole. She finished, "This will be the last time I speak on this because honestly, nobody cares. Sorry to bore you all with this. I know you are all dealing with more serious and important matters."

Swift also responded negatively to the feud's resurfacing. "Instead of answering those who are asking how I feel about the video footage that leaked, proving that I was telling the truth the whole time about *that call* (you know, the one that was illegally recorded, that somebody edited and manipulated in order to frame me and put me, my family, and fans through hell for 4 years)… SWIPE up to see what really matters," she posted on Instagram. When fans swiped, they were taken to a donation page for the nonprofit Feeding America and the World Health Organization's Solidarity Response Fund.

The mind-numbing stupidity of the Taylor Swift-Kim Kardashian-Kanye West feud feels even more obvious in the light of the fact that we're living in a pandemic. Are we entering the age of the post-celebrity feud?

Everywhere, celebrities and ordinary people are expressing rage and anger at those who attempt to continue with business at usual. People who cluster on the street and hang out in parks are the recipient of angry yells from the balcony-bound self-quarantined. Those with any inclination towards the mystic are writing about how the world must change after coronavirus passes—how we cannot return to the way things were, to the way we mindlessly destroyed the planet and hurt each other, thus somehow cursing ourselves into isolation. Humans are the virus, they write; to which the activists respond, capitalism is the virus, while people facing unemployment attempt to vie for a rent freeze.

Even ordinary acts of "kindness"—of the sort we would normally associate with celebrity benevolence—are beginning to appear woefully out of touch. In essence, Hollywood's version of prepackaged, performative kindness and drama seems to be failing to placate the masses. Instead, it only serves to show that the main difference between these folks and regular people isn't necessarily hard work or talent—it's money.

Ellen's versions of "tolerance" and "kindness" were under scrutiny before the virus, but now that she's live-streaming from her couch and complaining about boredom from within her massive home, a thread about her cruel behavior has gone viral.

Madonna also faced vitriol when she made a poorly crafted attempt to comfort her fans from the safety of her bathtub. "Coronavirus is the great equalizer," she said, equating her own living situation—in a flower-filled bathtub, safe within one of her multiple large homes—with the plight of people who have no way of paying this month's rent. (She faced so much backlash that she deleted the video).

And then there's Gal Gadot's "Imagine" video, a horror that seemed to seep out of the wounds coronavirus has already made in our world and ways of life. What was the worst thing about that video? Was it Gadot's waffling intro? Was it seeing our beloved celebrities, without their stage makeup and lighting and cameramen to turn them into gods—was it seeing our celebrities' mortality and feeling some inordinate rage that we've worshiped them for so long while they were really just ordinary people? Was it the look in their eyes, the tepid sorrow overshadowed by a glossy egoism, the same look in the eyes of everyone who has taken a photograph with a child on a service trip? Was it the different keys, the lack of background music, the carelessness of the whole thing?


The "Imagine" video was awful, certainly, but would we have hated it so much if it were well-made, a professional music video with excellent harmonies and good lighting and dazzling costumes? Maybe the disappointment we feel while watching the "Imagine" fiasco stems from a feeling of falling, a realization that the person behind the curtain has always been just an ordinary man, and yet these mortals are languishing in massive air-conditioned homes while so many people sleep on the streets.

Some of the celebrity responses to coronavirus are not just disillusioned; they're truly dangerous. Vanessa Hudgens also provoked ire when she posted a video showing just how much she cared about those who might be affected by the virus. "Even if everybody gets it, like yeah, people are going to die, which is terrible... but inevitable?" she intoned in a video she later apologized for. Worse still, Evangelline Lilly is crusading against quarantining herself on the basis of some idea that it's a violation of her American-born "freedom."

And then there's Donald Trump, the reigning king of the celebrity illusionists. Everything he says sounds as painful and as hollow as the "Imagine" video to some of our ears. Recently, a man died because he tried drinking chloroquine phosphate, a fish tank-cleaner, per Trump's ill-advised recommendation. Trump has been persistently spreading false information, promising that America will be up and running by Easter as other nations tighten their regulations.

Most of the guiltiest illusionists of all aren't even visible. They're the Wall Street executives and the genuinely super-rich—not the Hollywood-level rich but the Jeff Bezos-level rich, those who possess a literally unfathomable amount of money—the ones who have already raced off to their bunkers, the ones who bought stocks at the start of the crisis instead of raising the alarm.

Collectively, maybe we're all getting tired of these folks, parading their gaudy lifestyles and tapping out their stocks, getting early access to tests while our healthcare workers can't even access tests in their own hospitals. Illusions just aren't going to cut it the way they used to. That's not to say they won't change form; certainly our new very-online lives will leave plenty of room for performance and fabrication. Still, the coronavirus feels like it's peeling back many layers of performative benevolence to reveal the insubstantiality at the heart of it all—the wealth inequality and pure selfishness that's allowing this crisis to sputter on into the disruptive mess it's become. Even Kim Kardashian, Taylor Swift, and Britney Spears are waking up to it. Are you?

CULTURE

Kim Kardashian West, Jay-Z, and the Fight Against America’s Racist Prison Industrial Complex

"Prisons do not disappear social problems, they disappear human beings."

Kim Kardashian has released the trailer for her forthcoming documentary, Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project.

It will follow her efforts to defend incarcerated people, which began back in 2018 when she fought to free Alice Marie Johnson, a black woman serving a life sentence for a first-time, nonviolent drug charge.

Since then, Kardashian announced her decision to pursue a law degree, and she is currently working with the Decarceration Collective to help more incarcerated people exit the prison system. The documentary will follow her journey to this point.

Apparently, her relationship with Kanye West and her four biracial children have something to do with her newfound passion for criminal justice. "I'm raising four black children that could face a situation like any of the people that I help," the reality TV star told the Television Critics Association. "Just to know I can make a difference in my children's lives and (others) by helping fix a broken system, that's so motivating for me."

Kardashian West's fears are well-founded. "There is a mass incarceration problem in the United States," Kim says in the trailer for her documentary.

It's true, to say the least. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, America comprises 5% of the world's population but holds 25% of its incarcerated population. Even more tellingly, there were only 200,000 people incarcerated in the United States in 1972, but today there are roughly 2.2 million people behind bars.

These statistics are shocking, but it's almost impossible to comprehend what they actually mean. Behind each one of these numbers, there is a human being trapped behind bars, suffering as a cog in a system that breeds corruption, violence, and abuse.

Jay-Z and the Effort to Hold Prisons Accountable for Their Terrible Conditions

Whether or not you think jails should exist at all, the truth about what goes on in prisons should be enough to stun anyone with a grain of humanity in their body.

On January 16, rapper and billionaire Jay-Z and the rapper Yo Gotti filed a lawsuit against the Mississippi Department of Corrections on behalf of 30 prisoners at Mississippi's Parchman Prison, who claimed they were being subjected to "inhumane, violent and unconstitutional conditions" that resulted in the deaths of five people over two weeks.

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"Plaintiffs' lives are in peril," reads the lawsuit. "Individuals held in Mississippi's prisons are dying because Mississippi has failed to fund its prisons, resulting in prisons where violence reigns because prisons are understaffed. In the past two weeks alone, five men incarcerated in Mississippi have died as the result of prison violence. These deaths are a direct result of Mississippi's utter disregard for the people it has incarcerated and their constitutional rights."

It adds that the prisons "are plagued with violence" and inmates "live in squalor, endangering their physical and mental health."

At Parchman, inmates often don't have access to beds, and prison "units are subject to flooding" while "black mold festers," continues the lawsuit. "Rats and mice infest the prison. Units lack running water and electricity for days at a time."

On Friday, Jay-Z and Yo Gotti's teams will rally in Jackson, Mississippi, according to their philanthropy organization Team Roc. The demonstration is scheduled for Friday at 11am.


The Carceral Industry and Michelle Alexander's New Jim Crow

Why, exactly, are there so many people in prison? What does the American justice system have to gain from imprisoning so many people?

In part, imprisonment is a way of maintaining control and preserving pre-existing power structures. There's a reason why 70% of female prison inmates and 60% of male inmates suffer from some form of mental illness, according to one study by the US Bureau of Justice Statistics. "Prisons do not disappear social problems, they disappear human beings," said Civil Rights activist Angela Davis. "Homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, mental illness, and illiteracy are only a few of the problems that disappear from public view when the human beings contending with them are relegated to cages."

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The deeper truth is that American prisons today are used as punishment systems for poor people and people of color. More than 70% of prisoners are estimated to be people of color; The Sentencing Project estimates that 1 in 3 black men will do time during their lives, compared with 1 in 17 white men, and Black Americans are four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession compared to white Americans accused of the same crime.

"If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas have been labeled felons for life," writes Michelle Alexander, who argues that the prison industrial complex has become the New Jim Crow—America's way of ensuring that Black people remain in the lower echelons of society.

"These men are part of a growing undercaste—not class, caste—permanently relegated, by law, to a second-class status," she writes. "They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits, much as their grandparents and great-grandparents were during the Jim Crow era."

She notes that although it would be easy to blame a spike in crime on all the increase in incarceration, crime is actually at a historical low. Poverty and economic inequality, however, are spiking, and so is the number of people incarcerated in American jails—by a truly staggering amount.

These prisons have a lot in common with slavery. "In 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment was passed, abolishing slavery," writes Gina M. Florio for Bustle. "There was a significant loophole in the Amendment, though: It stated that slavery and involuntary servitude are illegal, "except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted."

As Whitney Benns writes in The Atlantic, "Slavery never ended at Angola; it was reinvented." Incarcerated workers receive few benefits and are not recognized as legal persons in that they do not receive the right to vote or the right to move freely; they are dehumanized, condemned, and they are—critically—forced to work for huge corporations.

The Prison Industrial Complex

The sudden rise in incarceration in America over the past forty years can be attributed to what's known as the "prison industrial complex." In The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik writes, "[A] growing number of American prisons are now contracted out as for-profit businesses to for-profit companies. The companies are paid by the state, and their profit depends on spending as little as possible on the prisoners and the prisons. It's hard to imagine any greater disconnect between public good and private profit: the interest of private prisons lies not in the obvious social good of having the minimum necessary number of inmates but in having as many as possible, housed as cheaply as possible."

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In essence, prisons are making money off prisoners' cheap and free labor and increasing their profits by stripping inmates of resources and welfare. In order to fulfill government quotas and continue to create the profit that drives this system, prisons need to arrest and imprison more and more people while spending less and less money.

Thanks to aggressive organizations like the Corrections Corp of America, the prison industry is a $70 billion profit machine. These corporations and their investors push for more severe sentences, while fighting against efforts that would lower the number of people in prison, such as marijuana decriminalization laws.

In addition, prisons profit from crackdowns on immigration, and many believe that carceral corporations have long worked in tandem with government officials to engineer waves of immigration and subsequent crackdowns.

"The immigration industrial complex is the confluence of public and private sector interests in the criminalization of undocumented migration, immigration law enforcement, and the promotion of "anti-illegal" rhetoric," writes professor Tanya Golash-Boza in a paper called "The Immigration Industrial Complex: Why We Enforce Immigration Policies Destined to Fail."

"Under the pretext of being tough on crime, state governments can fatten their coffers and fill the jail cells of their corporate benefactors," writes John W. Whitehead for The Huffington Post. "However, while a flourishing privatized prison system is a financial windfall for corporate investors, it bodes ill for any measures aimed at reforming prisoners and reducing crime."

According to Nelson Mandela, "It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones." What might the state of American prisons tell us about our nation?

Thankfully, people like Kim Kardashian West and Jay-Z are shedding light on some of these issues, but even these powerful, wealthy celebrities can't do much more than scratch the surface of a problem entrenched in centuries of American tradition.

Still, every little bit helps. To resist aiding the prison industrial complex, you can avoid calling the cops on people who might be in danger from a police presence; you can learn about alternatives to calling the police; you can boycott organizations that make money off of prisons (like Starbucks, Aramark, and Victoria's Secret); you can volunteer at a local prison; you can be like Kanye West and donate to prison reform organizations; you can attend protests like Jay-Z's on Friday; you can join a prison abolition organizing group; you can vote for politicians that support anti-carceral policies; and you can learn about local and national prison issues and contact your congressperson to fight for what you believe in.