Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Best Albums of 2012

10. Sun Kil Moon- Among the Leaves:
Lush guitars and lovely drawn out stories.

9. Bhi Bhiman- Bhiman:
Gorgeous folk music with a sense of humor.

8. Patrick Watson- Adventures In Your Own Backyard:
Dreamy pop under the direction of a supremely talented dude.

7. The Dirty Projectors- Swing Lo Megellan:
Interestingly danceable album from one of the more interestingly danceable bands.

6. Dark Dark Dark- Who Needs Who:
Piano-driven chamber pop with substance.

5. Trampled by Turtles- Stars and Satellites:
Country music done properly.

4. The XX- Coexist:
They keep stripping down, and keep getting better.

3.Father John Misty- Fear Fun:
Cheeky lyrics and classic rock make this more fun than fear. 

2. Alabama Shakes- Boys & Girls:
The best thing to come out of Alabama since, umm, Sun Ra?

1.How to Dress Well- Total Loss:
This album was a complete surprise to me. It's atmospheric indie soul, not usually my bag. If you let is soak in, it will be rewarding. A bit dark, a bit 90s R&B, the contrast is beautiful.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Let them eat Twinkies

I don't like paying taxes. My dislike, however, doesn't stem from some half-thought theory yammering on about "liberty." I certainly acknowledge that my taxes pay for many essential services. My problem is one of return on investment. Instead of health care, I get a thuggish imperialist military, subsides for the rich, and so on. In short, I am not too keen on paying for a state that is not run for my benefit.

That, one would think, is understandable. What is less understandable, for me anyway, is this religious devotion many rich have to not paying a single penny more in taxes. Considering these people are supposed to be so clever, does it not occur to them they have to pay to for the state that shapes the societal structure that perpetuates their privilege? Thirty, forty, fifty percent, whatever; it's a small price to pay for power.

It appears many of these folks have convinced themselves of their divine right to rule. Granted, this "right" is less focused on the metaphysical (most of the time at least) and instead infused with the legend of the uber-American grand entrepreneur. At any rate, with few notable exceptions, they've put on the blinders. Their neoliberal experiment of the last few decades has not restored the economic growth we saw after WWII. It has succeeded in increasing inequality. The rich have never been so rich, income for everyone else has stayed flat, at best. The state, their state, has had to pick up the slack. If history is any indicator, this is at their own peril.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Hanging from a cliff

The day after Obama won his second term the markets took a bit of a tumble. The Dow dipped below 13,000 for the first time in a few months. US Congressional gridlock and the ongoing crisis in Europe are mostly to blame. What is more interesting, even if it's unsurprising, is the rush to bonds- US government bonds to be exact. Indeed, the yield on ten-year treasury notes dipped as low as it has since May. Even with our ratings downgrade (which no one now cares about in the slightest) and huge debt, it is cheaper than ever for us to borrow money. We are still the safest piggy bank out there. 

With the "fiscal cliff" of expiring tax cuts and automatic spending cuts looming, the spirit of compromise is being sprayed into the air like a bottle of Glade mountain berry. Democrats are fond of saying we need a "balanced" approach to reducing the deficit. Nominally this means some tax increases along with spending cuts. Republicans are now, apparently, open to some sort of "new revenue." What this means is unclear. Closing loopholes sounds great, as the word "loophole" is synonymous with unjustly escaping punishment of some kind, but what if that loophole is the earned income tax credit? That's not so good for most of us. Certainly Republicans have made it clear they aren't at all open to a capital gains tax, or financial transaction tax of any sort for that matter. (We could switch the word "tax" to "fee" if that makes people feel better?) Both parties agree, despite the record-setting cheapness of our borrowing costs and the weakness of our economy, we must focus on the debt.

The election, however, frequently drifted away from the economy. Liberals, with some help from idiotic Republicans who couldn't shut up about rape, made social issues take the forefront several times. Gay rights, women's reproductive rights, voter rights, and even though the candidates barely mentioned it, immigration. While all of these issues (particularly immigration) have a great deal to do with the economy, most people's thought processes separate them. It wasn't too long ago conservatives loved to start warring over our culture, but as America becomes more civilized, it appears they can't win general elections on these issues anymore. One can hardly blame liberals for co-opting this strategy, but they don't compliment it with coherent economic arguments like conservatives tend to. Because of the little difference between Republican and Democratic economic philosophies (and I use that term loosely), small things get exaggerated and the focus shifts elsewhere. If one party knows they can win on social issues, they hammer away at it. 

While liberals have seemingly won the majority of battles over social policy the last few decades, they have decisively lost the war over the economy. Despite the vast amount of evidence proving government spending is crucial to regaining levels of economic growth needed to bring down employment, there is no one (few notable economists aside) defending "big government." There is no one saying "right now, debt really isn't that important." We have an economy producing way under its capacity and if the word "stimulus" is mentioned, people are still worried about inflation. The stimulus we did get was full of the same old supply-side policies that simply didn't, and won't, spur the economy in any meaningful way.

I realize government spending won't forgive the underlying contradictions in capitalism. I also realize government spending is a sorry substitute for the huge transfer of wealth from the top to the rest of us that is needed. But it is a step in the right direction. Our country is out of date. We are in dire need of an infrastructure upgrade (especially our railways, they are poor by last century's standards). Our internet speeds are laughable. Education. Obesity. The list goes on. All of these grand projects are the sort that government has historically had to address. This spending could, and should, be a no-brainer. What better time than now, when unemployment is high and our borrowing costs are low? It would make the life of millions of people measurably better. It would create new revenue for the government, some in the short-term and lots in the long-term.

Right now, however, we don't have a political party that even wants to make that case. (Yet anyway.) The best we can "hope" for is a "balanced" focus on, of course, debt. (Even the radical left is obsessed with debt.) The ruling class of this country wants a modern developed state to protect their interests (including history's most expensive imperial war machine), but doesn't want to pay for it. Some think this may hasten their downfall. I'm not sure. But election after election, I get the feeling a cliff is an apt metaphor for more than just a few tax increases and spending cuts. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Bring on the crazy

During the next few weeks the Republican descent into madness will become sharper. They are losing, and the paranoia ripe within the party will reach levels where satire itself will become ironic. My sincere hope is these folks in the Republican Party seek a mental health professional for their paranoia. (I am completely serious.)

Having said that, please don't let this context allow you to conclude the Obama Administration has fundamentally been anything different than Bush's third term. If a few cosmetic differences gets your vote, fair enough; but I urge you to give it a second, third and fourth thought. I realize we have no electoral choice, but there are plenty of things we can do to make our lives better that don't involve voting for one of these two representatives of the one percent. So let's continue, or start, to do them.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

What an awful party

My Facebook news feed is pretty much a never ending scroll filled with the embarrassing antics of today's pitiful Republican Party. It's a bit sad considering their history. While the Democrats were the party of slave owners, Republicans were largely united behind crushing the slave aristocracy, and in some cases they were radical abolitionist revolutionaries advocating the expropriation and redistribution of massive amounts of private wealth. They were our Jacobins.

Now they offer us Mitt Romney, a silly little man you wouldn't notice in an empty room.

To be sure, I'm no supporter of the Democrats. They are the party of perpetual war, among other horrible things. However, a quick look through their history doesn't offer you the same kind of teeth grinding question marks. Everything about them is suspect. They never offered hope. (Despite the latest rhetoric.)

The Republicans were, at least at one time, different. Granted they have been brutal enemies of working people for decades now, but their tumble downhill has become much harder to watch since they so opportunistically embraced the south. In recent years it has become simply unwatchable. I hate to start hypothesizing about what a person who no longer exists might possibly think about the party he brought to prominence, because, you know, he doesn't exist. But if he could render his opinion (here I go) he'd most certainly ask to be dead again.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Never trust a man with two first names...

 I find it interesting the Republican party, so hunkered down in religion, specifically fundamentalist Christianity, has picked a spirited (pun intended) critic of their faith to be Mormon Mitt Romney's running mate. Taken at face value, it seems at least strange. Why would such a religious party offer up another seemingly problematic candidate?

The answer, of course, lies in Ryan's criticism of Christianity. Ryan, like Romney, has no beef with the reactionary social views many fundamentalists espouse. In fact, Ryan would almost certainly deny he is a critic of the religion using "defense of marriage," or whatever other silly cultural cry to arms is currently fashionable, as undeniable proof of his belief. Ryan, however, firmly takes issue with the "Prince of Peace." His issue is with Christ's annoying insistence on helping the poor, his chicken-shit clamoring for peace, etc. In short, weakness. Like any true Randian hero, Ryan hates weakness. His soon to be excruciatingly vetted budget proposal says as much.

So there we have it. The overwhelmingly Christian Republican party has nominated someone from a regional sect of Christianity many Christians don't consider legitimate and someone who is at odds with the only part of their dogma that isn't steeped in first century backwardness. Now if only we could find enough principled folks, we would have strange bedfellows.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Punched In

Every day I have an existential crisis.
Every day around the same time.
“Why am I here?”
“What have I done with my life?”
“Is this it?”
“Will I do this for another forty years?”

Not so long ago, forty years was a lifetime.

There are at least two different people whom my only interaction with is to point out which day of the week it currently is.
We share assurances.
It is better, I suppose, than having an assurance alone.

Fake outrage for dubious numbers always prevails.
“We must do better!”
I nod my head in agreement with the seriousness of an assistant to the regional manager.

“What time is it again?"

Friday, May 04, 2012

The Concert

(a sketch)

Two men are pressed close to each other in a long line waiting to get into a sold out concert. The line is tight and people are being bumped.  Tensions are running high.

Bouncer (shouting): Doors open in 2 minutes! Please have your tickets ready so this line will move as fast as possible!

Everyone is quite uncomfortable. Eventually the underlying tension is released and a confrontation is initiated. Near the middle of the line, a man unleashes on another man who is directly behind him. 

Man 1: What the fuck man!?! Stop fuckin’ touching me!

Man 2: Fuck you! I can’t move at all! Go fuck yourself you fuckin’ bitch!

The two men are nearly touching noses; ready to fight.

Man 1: Fuck you jerk off! I’ll fuck you up!

Man 2: Dude. I’ll kick your ass. Seriously.

Man 1: Fuck off. I’ll break your fuckin’ nose.

Man 2: Go fuck yourself! I’ll break your fuckin’ face!

Both men back up a small amount and share a brief moment of silence.

Man 1: Really? My face?!

Sounding a bit sarcastic…

 Man 1: I’ll break off your fuckin’ legs! How about that?!?

The two share several awkward glances.

Man 2: I’ll break your heart.

Man number 1 takes a few steps back, knocking people out of the way. 

Man 1: What?

Man 2: I’ll break your heart.

Man 1: What the fuck?

Man 2: We’d go on a first date, really hit it off, I’d be perfect. Really, that guy you’d tell all your friends about. You’d probably even update your Facebook status with some shit about how your life might not be so fucked after all and how maybe things might just work out. And then I wouldn’t call. No reason. I just wouldn’t fuckin’ call. So fuck you.

Man 1 steps forward towards man number 2; completely unaffected by the severity of the comment.

Man 1: Dude. That’s a fucking week and a bottle of Jack Daniels. Fuck off. I’d fuckin’ date you. Really. I’d learn your fuckin’ favorite color. I’m serious. I’d tell inside jokes in front of other people just to let them know how close we were. We’d be off condoms even. Then I’d fuckin’ disappear. New number. New email. Not a goddamn thing left.

Man 2: Fuck off.

Man 1: No joke. You fucked with the wrong dude mother fucker!

A slightly awkward, but also slightly understanding, moment of silence.

Man 2: We’d be married in Autumn.

Man 1: What!

Man 2: You heard me pussy. We’d fuckin’ marry in Autumn. I like it when the leaves change. It’s fuckin’ romantic. What the fuck! But that’s not it. We’d be in love. I’d fuckin’ make you fall in love with me. And then I’d fuckin’ cheat on you. Yep. With some cliché ridden fuck too. I’d cheat on you with an Evangelical preacher. Fuck yes.

Man 1 is disturbed, but regains his composure.

Man 1: I’d have your child.

Man 2: That’s not even fuckin’ possible you dumb fuck.

Man 1: I would. I’d invent some shit. Have you seen “Junior”? It’d be weird at first, but over generations people would learn to except it. And I’d wait that long. I’d fuckin’ love you. Marry you. Bear your fuckin’ goddamn children- only to leave you when our first born is waiting for her dad to walk her down the aisle.

Man 2: You wouldn’t!

Man 1’s hand is now on man 2’s shoulder.

Man 1: I would.

Man 2 cracks a sheepish smile.

Man 2: Hospice care.

Man 1: What?

Man 2: I’d love you too. We’d get married. I would have your fuckin’ big-headed children. I’d fight in the great war, only to come back to you a hero. We’d be happy. We’d read Readers’ fuckin' Digest. Then on your deathbed- yes- I’d ask for a moment alone. One last fleeting moment with the man I have loved for half a century- it would be perfect. Then I’d leave you. I’d walk out the mother fuckin’ door! Nothing. Not a fuckin’ word. You would die alone.

Both men take a step back and stare at each other for several seconds. Just then they notice the rest of the line is no longer there, and hasn’t been for some time. The concert has clearly started. Realizing this, their eyes meet, only then to break out in a sloppy, spontaneous kiss.

Man 2: I should call us a cab.

Man 1: I already did.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

I Like my Justice, and Diamonds, Bloody

Historically, Charles Taylor isn’t that interesting. History certainly has produced no shortage of despots. What makes him a likely footnote in future textbooks is that he got caught. He, like Bernie Madoff, was tried and convicted.  Mr. Taylor, it would appear, was big enough to be a bastard to many, but not big enough to be “our bastard,” as the famous quote goes.

It’s been a few years since Hollywood made us associate Leonardo DiCaprio’s boyish grin with the phrase “blood diamond,” but the diamond industry hasn’t forgotten. I never gave it much thought until I went looking for a ring for my soon to be wife. Given her family is from diamond-rich west Africa, we both decided it would be the height of poor taste to not at least have some idea of where our public display of love came from. Don’t get me wrong, I have no illusions in global capitalism creating an equitable structure to extract and trade shiny rocks rich people collect, but if I can get a cup of “fair trade” coffee one would think I could at least find a shred of assurance my beautiful fiancé wouldn’t be facebooking  pictures of her new ring mined by an eight year old cousin from back home?

As it turned out, I couldn’t. No one knew where the diamonds came from. I tried small jewelers, I tried big. No one had a clue. As you might suspect, no one wanted to talk about it. But after some uncomfortable pressing, they would all proudly proclaim they didn’t deal with “conflict diamonds.” Sure. But how did they know? They didn’t. But whatever. I didn’t expect them to know any more than I expect the "sandwich artist" at Subway to know which factory farm produces their tasteless tomatoes. In the end I went with a diamond-less ring (which has the added benefit of being much cheaper).

The United Nations backed  “Special Court for Sierra Leone” had been effectively ignored up until the Taylor verdict. Like Samantha Powers dedicating some generic human rights award to a nameless, as well as limbless, child, the media has finally given us the pat on the back we needed for the moment. Who has time to understand the where and why when they’ve already firmly told us the who, what, and when?

The trick to sacrificing someone is to make sure they’re guilty. It is a huge mistake to sacrifice someone with even a shred of respectability. But, still, I must ask, where can a find a “conflict free” commodity of any sort, let alone a diamond? One of the major contradictions, and if we are honest, geniuses, of capitalism is divorcing production from consumption. I’ve been manufacturing commodities for over a decade and I’ve, at least to my knowledge, never used one of the glorified widgets I’ve produced. Alienation has created a fair amount of apathy. (Hey, that’s a good slogan to put on a three dollar mass-produced t-shirt!)

Charles Taylor isn’t “our bastard” because he is a authoritarian murderer. No, we’ve got plenty of those in our little black book. Charles Taylor tried to buy low and sell high outside accepted international frameworks. And, certainly most damning for him, he did so in such a manner that his conviction filled our belly of emotions full of righteousness for some time. (Taylor’s purported mentor, Muammar Qaddafi, learned this lesson a bit too late.)

I hope everyone’s hungry, because justice is served!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Why did the British end the slave trade?

Despite what we've been told, the real reason behind the British banning of the slave trade is more economics and less Christian-inspired morality. The following is a brilliant passage (found on page 53 and 54 in the second edition revised) from C.L.R. James' classic book, The Black Jacobins

It was the growth of San Domingo that was decisive. Pitt [William, "the Younger"] found that some 50 percent of the slaves imported into the British islands were sold to the French colonies. It was the British slave-trade, therefore, which was increasing French colonial produce and putting the European market into French hands. Britain was cutting its own throat. And even the profits from this export were likely not to last. Already a few years before the slave merchants had failed for £700,000 in a year. The French, seeking to provide their own slaves, were encroaching in Africa and increasing their share of the trade every year. Why should they continue to buy from Britain? Holland and Spain were doing the same. By 1786 Pitt, a disciple of Adam Smith, had seen the light clearly. He asked Wilberforce to undertake the campaign. Wilberforce represented the important division of Yorkshire, he had a great reputation, all the humanity, justice, stain on national character, etc., etc., would sound well coming from him. Pitt was in a hurry- it was important to bring the trade to a complete stop quickly and suddenly. The French had neither the capital nor the organization to make good the deficiency at once and he would ruin San Domingo at a stroke. In 1787 he warned Wilberforce that if he did not bring the motion in, somebody else would, and in 1788 he informed the Cabinet that he would not stay in it with those who opposed. Pitt was fairly certain of success in England. With truly British nerve he tried to persuade the European Governments to abolish the trade on the score of inhumanity. The French Government's negotiations had been to "compliment us and to keep us quiet and in good humour." The Dutch, less polite, gave a more abrupt negative. But here a great stroke of luck befell Pitt. France was then stirring with pre-revolutionary attacks on all obvious abuses, and one year after the Abolitionist Society had been formed in Britain, a group of Liberals in France, Brissot, Mirabeau, Pétion, Condorcet, Abbé Grégoire, all the great names of the first years of the revolution, followed the British example and formed a society, the Friends of the Negro. The leading spirit was Brissot, a journalist who had seen slavery in the United States. The society aimed at the abolition of slavery, published a journal, agitated. This suited the British down to the ground. Clarkson went to Paris, to stimulate "the slumbering energies" of the society, gave it money, supplied France with British anti-slavery propaganda. Despite the names that were to become so famous and a large membership, we must beware of thinking that the Friends of the Negro represented a force. The colonists took them seriously, the maritime bourgeoisie did not. It was the French Revolution which, with unexpected swiftness, would drag theses eloquent Frenchmen out of the stimulating excitement of philanthropic propaganda and put them face to face with economic reality.