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Best Albums of 2009

Because I didn't have a full-time job for most of the year, I didn't buy nearly as much music as I usually do. I did, however, manage to get my hands on a few wonderful albums. The following is my picks for the ten best albums of 2009.

(ALSO: I only count albums I actually own so I know for a fact I'm missing some great music. Please let me know what caught your attention this year!)

10) Wilco- Wilco

Yes, the cover is probably better than the album. But Wilco is Wilco. They are one of the best bands in the world. Period. If you get a chance, see them live.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sifqGTzLGck


9) Mirah (A)spera

"Shells" is one of the most beautiful songs I can think of.

http://www.dustedmagazine.com/reviews/4825


8) The Dead Weather- Horehound

Indie supergroup cuts a solid modern rock record that sounds like a solid classic rock record. Ironically, both classic rock and modern rock radio stations don't play it. Reason number 2,546 why radio sucks. (Check out…

The Corporate Attack on Pension Plans

While George W. Bush’s attempt at privatizing Social Security famously failed, private industry has largely been successful at shifting their group pension plans into individual private accounts. In fact, for many people, traditional defined benefit employer-sponsored pensions are something they are not even familiar with. Most of us are used to 401(k), IRA, or other defined contribution plans, if we even have such a plan. These individual accounts (sometimes employers match funds up to a certain amount, many times they don’t contribute anything at all) are almost always invested in the volatile stock market. They essentially absolve companies of any financial risk associated with retirement and firmly place that risk on the back of each individual employee.

Because of the large amount of non-unionized industries, and the class-collaborationist ideology of many union bureaucrats in the industries that are, there have been few attempts to fight this blatant rollback of gains made in th…

"Small Thing"

While listening to internet radio (Pandora), I heard the following song by Barton Carroll (listen to it before you read on):

http://bartoncarroll.com/pages/listen.php?f=SmallThing.mp3&title=Small%20Thing

The first thing that struck me about the song was that it's from the viewpoint of a German during WWII. Yes, she was a civilian, and yes, she was young, but I was already thinking about her role in one of the most vile societies ever created. She admits to being "naive enough to survive." Is that a reference to the Germans in Berlin basically going on with daily life while the Russians were advancing? Hitler was insanely calling on nonexistent units to guard the city while Fascist loyalists were rounding up anyone who could hold a gun (and shooting anyone who couldn't or wouldn't). Those who were able to simply ignored their former leaders, clearly seeing the bankruptcy of their ideology. Or is it referencing earlier times, when defeat wasn't certain, when …

Wall Street has got a brand new bag

From the NY Times:
The bankers plan to buy “life settlements,” life insurance policies that ill and elderly people sell for cash — $400,000 for a $1 million policy, say, depending on the life expectancy of the insured person. Then they plan to “securitize” these policies, in Wall Street jargon, by packaging hundreds or thousands together into bonds. They will then resell those bonds to investors, like big pension funds, who will receive the payouts when people with the insurance die.

Elections in Afghanistan: What Now?

On Thursday, August 20, 2009, Afghanistan held its provincial and presidential elections. This is the second presidential election since the occupation of the country began in 2001. While a winner has yet to be declared, many have predicted that incumbent Hamid Karzai would win outright in the first round of the runoff election, although recent reports suggest a second round of voting is probable. Regardless of who is elected, they will be backed by the U.S. led NATO occupation forces, who aren’t planning on leaving any time soon. A few days before the election, Barack Obama made it a point to reiterate that the war in Afghanistan “won’t be quick.” Towards the beginning of the year the administration ordered thousands of more troops to the region, and early reports are suggesting Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s upcoming assessment of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is going to call for even more troops (up to 45,000 more). The reports of possible further escalation are coming right as a re…

The Workers' State

I used to think of the State in very abstract terms. The State was an idea represented by a flag and arbitrary borders; a symbolic existence that has largely outlived its usefulness. While all this is all true, there is also a much more tangible aspect to it. The State is also involved in governing, providing services, taxation, etc. But, as anyone who has been through our justice system can attest, the State is not neutral. Naturally, the State is controlled by the ruling class. It is, at its roots, a tool for one class to dominate another.

This is where confusion sets in and tempers flare. Traditionally, the main disagreement between Anarchists and Marxists is on the question of the State. While Anarchists insist on immediately abolishing it, Marxists argue for taking State power in order to implement Socialism. It was fairly easy for me to understand the Anarchist position (although not so easy to understand what they would replace the State with). It was, however, a bit more diffic…

The Power Question

The Spanish and Russian Revolutions

When I first got involved in "radical" politics, I quickly learned that the Spanish Revolution was the "good" revolution and the Russian Revolution was the "bad" one. While the big names of the "anti-authoritarian" left do a wonderful job of explaining the positive gains in social and property relations during the Spanish Revolution, as well as putting the acts of violence in context, they seem to agree with the Capitalists' version of history regarding the Russian Revolution.

Yes, it is easy to write off such a monumental event if Stalinism is a direct result of "Lenin's vision" and the conflict between Trotsky and Stalin was essentially a conflict of individual personalities. Only understanding the "anti-authoritarian" and Capitalist version of the events, I tended to romanticize the Spanish Revolution (which failed) and had no interest in the Russian Revolution (which succeeded). T…

"Bossnapping" - Workers React to the Crisis of Capitalism

Another piece written for Socialist Appeal. It also appears on Marxist.com.
Luc Rousselet, who works for Minnesota-based 3M, recently told reporters that talks between his company and its employees were a good thing. This, however, was only after he was kept in his office for more than 24 hours by workers he was intending to fire. Rousselet, who manages one of 3M’s French factories, was described as a “scoundrel boss” by the workers, who demanded negotiations surrounding their layoffs. This case, along with similar situations across France and in other parts of Europe, has been dubbed a “bossnapping.”Bossnappings have quickly caught the attention of the world Capitalist class. Recently, Forbes.com went so far as to post an article on how to avoid such an embarrassing ordeal. The article largely reads like the motherly “don’t talk to strangers” speech given to a young child, and no doubt puts executives’ fears to rest when it offers brilliant advice such as, “escaping rather than freez…

Human Consciousness

The following, from a piece entitled Canadian Persepectives 2009: The Failure of Capitalism and the Need for a Socialist Alternative written by the Canadian section of the IMT, is a wonderful description of the dialectal nature of human consciousness. Understanding this is key to understanding how societies change, and this excerpt is some of the best writing on the subject I've ever read. (Click here to read the whole piece.)
The most revolutionary observation about human consciousness is that it is inherently conservative. People do not expect or welcome change. The empirical philosophy of "what you see is what you get" is how most people live their lives. For most of their lives, this philosophy is a close enough approximation of reality that it does not cause people too much distress. However, during times of great change and crisis such as the period we are currently passing through, the philosophy of empiricism is woefully inadequate. Capitalism has failed, and yet …

10 years under Chavez (a mainstream economic report card)

While I am of the opinion the revolution in Venezuela must continue to move forward and end current property relations or it is doomed to fail; I'm certainly not against enacting progressive reforms along the way. The following report gives an idea of what has been accomplished so far. (Obviously, at least from my point of view, not everything is positive. Many of these programs show their limitations within the confines of a capitalist system.) It was done by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a research institute with Nobel laureates Joe Stiglitz and Robert Solow, among others, on its advisory board.

http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/venezuela-2009-02.pdf

Key points (as taken from the report):

* The current economic expansion began when the government got control over the national oil company in the first quarter of 2003. Since then, real (inflation-adjusted) GDP has nearly doubled, growing by 94.7 percent in 5.25 years, or 13.5 percent annually.

* Most of this g…

Class independent leadership is key

Class collaboration doesn't favor the working class. It never has. No matter how practical it seems, the working class always ends up being subjugated.

This situation reminded me of something I read a couple days ago.

As in revolutionary Russia, the importance of class independence isn't recognized by many on the left today (even within the "radical" left). The result is an NDP coalition with Liberals in Canada and sizable left support for Obama here in the States. Unlike the US and Canada, however, revolutionary Russia also had a large group of people who understood class collaboration to be a mistake. Victor Serge wrote the following some eighty years ago in his account of the Bolshevik led Russian Revolution:

Nothing is more tragic at this juncture than the moral collapse of the two great parties of democratic socialism. The Socialist-Revolutionaries had carried considerable weight, through their distinguished record and their influence in the countryside, on the int…

"Guns, Germs, and Steel"

Over Christmas, while in Canada at my grandfathers, I picked up his copy of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. It is a few years old, and I had always been meaning to read it, but hadn't got around to it yet. It actually was really easy to read and I finished it quite quickly.

Diamond's thesis is, contrary to what was accepted by most people and still is by many, environment is the major reason certain areas of the world developed more than others, not race and culture. It was simply an accident of geography that Europe and Asia developed guns, writing, general technology, and domesticated animals. This made the Spanish able to easily rout South American societies, as well as the English in Australia and North America, the Dutch and French in parts of the "new world," and still others who colonized areas all over the world.

This seems obvious, but it is no doubt hard for some to realize as many of us have had near meaningless catchphrases like "personal r…