Tuesday, December 9, 2008
I have a worrying concern about Barack Obama. My concern is that the political economics of America today are such that he will only have one real opportunity to truly challenge the status quo, in a way that can include "the people" in a positive and uplifting way, versus a very divisive and ugly way. The positive and uplifting way will involve a love affair between idealism and realism, the way politics works best. The divisive way is by hedging his bets on either side of the spectrum so that no matter what he comes out looking slick and confident.
Barack Obama is now being given a golden opportunity. Very few American Presidents have ever been provided with such a canvass on which to paint. He has the opportunity to reawaken in Americans a curiosity about how the financial system works; how it has systematically bombarded our souls over the past several decades; how it institutionally favors the rich over the poor, and how it clearly considers the human being nothing more than the proverbial widget, to be sold to the highest bidder. People are genuinely upset with the system, and you can see them preparing for it to come crashing down.
The problem of the free market will be dealt with, in great measure, very soon. I can feel it in my bones. But here's the rub, we don't manufacture anything in the United States anymore, other than cars really. Sure, we manufacture a few things, but they all pale in comparison the auto industry, which is one that directly or indirectly employs approximately one in ten people in the US. And if Barack Obama allows the Big 3 to take a dive - which they of course by all market standards deserve to take - without a genuine revival of the grand discussion of "can free market capitalism truly exist in a real democracy?", we will most certainly be screwing ourselves out of a much less violent transition to a more sustainable economic platform from which to operate in America.
In more direct terms, my concern about Obama is that his propensity to take a centrist view on things, or to work very hard to please both the left and the right by hanging out in the middle, is genuinely flawed. The Buddhists have what they call "the middle way", but it is nothing like political centrism, even though centrists like Barack Obama tend to speak about it as such. The middle way is a place of grand practicality, idealism, and never going too far or getting too deeply into any one thing or idea; have goals, but do not let them run your life, and so on. Political centrism is much more about being neither this nor that, so folks on either side of the spectrum cannot paint you as being left or right. If there were a kind of political middle way (in the Buddhist sense), one would not care whether he or she was perceived as favoring the left or the right. He or she would be only concerned with making the most logical and meaningful decisions for each and every problem faced. Neither would he or she feel the need to show non-attachment to either side of the spectrum. Part of taking the middle way is developing the courage to take a stand on something, because you know - not from a gut feeling, but from deep thought and study - it is the stand that you must take in order to not sacrifice your self worth. For example, there was a certain point in time when I made the decision - as a trombone player - to leave the straight ahead jazz world behind. I'd had enough of always trying to sound like somebody else, which is a rampant disease in the jazz world. I needed to find a new kind of music to play; a kind of music where I could be who I really am, play to the best of my ability, and never feel like I am shutting down the inner artist. For me, that was free-form improvisational music and now underground live-band hip-hop. I am a better man for making that decision, even though it routinely pisses of straight ahead jazzers when I tell them what I think of songs like All the Things You Are. My band mates are laughing it up right now, and it looks like I worked in the trombone after all.
Well, my point is, I am a little uncertain of Obama's ability to step out of his centrism and into his middle way-ness if you will. I'm not ready, like so many of my fellow progressives (for lack of a better term), to paint Obama as just another do-nothing politician who won't challenge any of the institutions that keep us subservient to an unjust system. But, I'm ready to question his motives.
He needs to understand that the free-market capitalist system has failed in every way. It has failed the Earth, our political system, our culture, and our arts. It is the single most destructive force on Earth. If he does not listen to the most suffering of the world and really take on this debate, he will have missed the opportunity to truly be a transformational figure in American and for that matter world history. The rest of the industrialized world has already at least begun to tackle the problem of the tyranny of the bottom line. President Obama, the first Black President of the United States, needs - for the good of the world - to be the one who stares sternly into the scarred and pockmarked face of the free market and makes a decision that is neither left, nor right, nor centrist; a decision that is arrived at from pure truth, introspection, investigation, and realism.
Never mind the right, the left, and the center. Instead, mind the society and culture in which you live; and be mindful of how they are affected by the system you defend.
-Christopher Robin Cox
Thursday, November 27, 2008
But for today, I won't.
Today I woke up on an inflatable mattress surrounded by friends and family. My folks house is awash with energy. There's gospel music pouring out of the kitchen alongside the scent of fresh eggs. There's crazy videogame music coming from the television room as well as my siblings screaming at each other in comical accents. My pops is out adding to his already impressive bird feeder collection. My ma is in the kitchen smiling as she makes everyone food for breakfast.
It's tough to feel anything but blessed right now. And I'm alright with that. With all the shit that is hitting the fan right now, (and trust me, I have not forgotten that shit is hitting the fan) it is often times easy to forget that there remains beautiful things in this world such as family and friends.
So lets not forget. Tomorrow will mark the beginning of likely the worst 4th quarter we have seen in a long long time. After that, most likely, the unemployment rate will rise as corporate America punishes its workers for the problem it created. People will be angry and grumpy as they try to celebrate capitalism and Christmas at the same time and find the capitalism part increasingly difficult to afford.
So lets forget about capitalism for a while, eh? What would happen if we just ignored the incoming greed and mass hysteria that is coming, and focused on everything that we have always known is important? We would have five weeks of celebrating culture, family, and the people we love. No one would be the greatest, no one would get the BEST present, but perhaps, everybody could experience what I felt when I woke up this morning, the feeling of peace someone gets when they know they are loved.
And know this: you can't buy that present at a mall.
-Dan Choma is bassist and composer in the Twin Cities area. He is currently in Rochester with his folks drinking an impressive amount of coffee and making certain his dog Moots doesn't eat his mother's Thanksgiving Turkey.
Monday, November 24, 2008
This is one of the most difficult, time consuming, and thankless parts of being a musician in today's world. I say "today's world", because things have changed drastically in the last few decades. It used to be that a band went to a venue with the goal of working out a deal with the owner of a venue or an agent. The general idea was this: I have a great band. We are well rehearsed, we kick ass live, and we will definitely keep the people here for the night. In return for that, we think we are worth..... In the early 1990's when I was just beginning to book gigs on my own as a band leader, usually in the form of a funky jazz quartet or quintet, I would never get paid less than $25 per guy. Granted this was not in the Twin Cities, this was in Northern California. Anyway, the deal was usually that the club would do the promotion, the advertising, print up fliers for us if we wanted to go post around town, and they would even make an effort to talk to the regular customers about us a bit. "Hey, we have this really great young trombone player who uses the best local cats in his band. You should come out this weekend and check him out." I'll be honest, I have NEVER scene that happen since I moved here to the Twin Cities. Instead, I see a kind of ambivalence, even a sort of resentment from venue staff.
Before I start into another rant, here is the point I am making. We used to just go in and make a deal with the club; the club pays us X amount of money to "keep the people here", and the club does whatever it can to bring the people in, which INCLUDED promotion for the band(s) that plays there, at least if the club was worth its salt.
Today, we have a truly bastardized version of this. The first question I get, as the guy who does most of the booking for JE, from a club or an agent is this: "How many people can you draw?" Not "does your band kick ass?" Or "Can you keep people here partying and having a good time?" Just, how many people can you get to come to my club? Zero interest in the music for the most part. Now, I can live with that being the case. But what I can't live with is that half the damn clubs and bars in this town think everything is supposed to just be handed to them on a golden platter, simply because they are offering a place for us to play. Great example: We played a gig a long time ago at club I won't mention the name of. We busted our asses, doing fliers, sending out emails, doing My Space everything, and blasting out press releases to every damn paper in the Twin Cities. We didn't do too bad, bringing in about 60 people. Now, I'm thinking if we can bring in that many folks, being pretty much an unknown band, than the club should be able to pick up the slack in some way, making that crowd turn into closer to 100 people. Not the case at all. In fact, the club brought in a whopping 5 people. Guess who got the shaft on that deal? Not the lighting guy; not the sound guy; certainly not the bar tender; definitely not the club itself. The band did. We made something like $35 that night. Not per person, but for the whole fucking band!
My point here is simple, publicity only works when everyone involved is doing their part to get people out to the venue. Offer a damn drink special. Put an updated calendar listing in the paper at least! Maybe the bartenders and wait staff could be briefed on who is playing, and what style of music it is, so they can answer people's questions when they ask at the door. Maybe sell the fucking event a little, right? Too much to ask? Apparently so, because not only do they usually not do that stuff, but they expect us to do it all in place of them, all while paying us essentially nothing.
Let's just cut to the chase on this one. I believe, as do most of the guys in Junkyard Empire (maybe all of them), that music is like healthcare, in that if it is subjected to the tyranny of the "bottom line" it will thus suffer endlessly, creating yet another underclass of economically worthless people, worthless because what they make cannot be immediately turned around for profit. Unless of course, they record it, but that's a different discussion. We are talking about performing live right now. Just like a surgeon who operates according to the same market principles as that of the proverbial widget, the quality of the work suffers, and the good work becomes less and less available to the average person.
So, let's just admit that I am slanted. I am pretty much an anarcho-communist. However, I am also a realist, in that I am willing to admit that we need to deal with things within the confines of the system in which we currently are subjected. And with that in mind, change will only come when the engines of capital decide change has to come. For this particular argument, the musicians are indeed the engines of the music industry. Without us, it all falls apart, and we are left with music that can only be made by machines, or music that has already been made.
The question is, how should musicians be paid? The argument that is jammed down the throats of musicians everywhere, and extensively so here in the Twin Cities, is "why should you get paid if you can't bring anyone in to listen to it?" That question provides instant clarity on two points: One, the person asking that question obviously does not value the music at all, save for the dollars it brings in. Two, that person sees live music as unworthy of any kind of payment, unless it brings in vastly more money than the bar invests in it. In other words, the venue puts itself in a position of zero risk (not unlike a loan shark), while asking the musicians to risk everything to play there. If nobody shows, they don't get paid, losing all the time, money, and energy put into preparing for that show. The venue loses nothing.
Here's how it breaks down more clearly: Junkyard Empire goes to a club, let's call it Joe's Place. They talk to Joe and say, "we are a really good, tight band. We bring a kind of political and social message with our music, promoting activism in the community, which can be a cool thing to have in a club; something different than the usual knuckle dragging. We will do our best to get people to come see us play. We are responsible, so we won't show up ten minutes before we are supposed to play and then expect the sound guy to work miracles. And we will definitely keep the folks here, hanging out, enjoying themselves. For this, we ask for a basic guarantee of ...." Seems pretty reasonable if you ask me, especially after you count the endless amount of time we have to put into publicizing the event, talking to everyone we know to try and get them down, writing and rehearsing the music, loading in and loading out, and the simple act of performing our asses off for the patrons of the bar! Here's how the answer usually goes: "Well, how many people do you usually draw?" We say, "depends on the night, the venue, what other shows are going on during any given night, etc. We usually can safely bring in 20-40 people, but again, it all depends, can be a lot more." Joe: "Well, if I'm gonna pay you a guarantee, you have to guarantee me you are going to bring in at least 100 people or so."
Well, the conversation goes on for a bit, and then usually we settle at some utterly ridiculous fascistic capitalist idea like, the first $150 from the door goes to the club and then the rest of the money is split evenly among the bands for the night. What that usually means is - on a damn good night - about $350 to be split evenly among AT LEAST 3 bands, and that's if 100 people come to the club at $5 per head. That also means the bar keeping 100% of what it makes on drinks - although sometimes the bar pays out to the sound guy which is cool. And the crazy part is that this is one of the better deals in town. Many places just offer some piss poor guarantee, no matter what, and because they force you to book 3 or 4 bands on the bill, everyone makes the same embarrassing money.
Bottom line, everyone in that venue other than the musicians providing the night's entertainment is guaranteed a respectable wage, not based on how many people they serve, but on how long they work.
Now, for the solutions:
1. If the band is responsible for all the publicity for the gig in which they have been contracted to perform, they are entitled to be reimbursed, at last partially for the time and expenses that went into it. Easily worth $50 for a big weekend gig promotion. Otherwise, the band is NOT responsible for anything beyond talking up the gig to it's mailing list and regular media contacts.
2. NO MORE 4 BAND BILLS! This is a no-brainer people. If musicians want to actually be paid a rate that does not equal "pay to play", than the days of the 4 band bill must be numbered! A good classic two band bill, with a classic opener and headliner, just like what you would see at First Avenue, means two things: one, more pay for the musicians, and two, the patrons get more music for the money. The first band plays a nice long hour set, and the headliner plays - now, get ready for this - 2 whole sets! Bunker's has been doing it like this for decades, and as a result only great bands play there, and there are always people there to check it out. To put things in perspective, when I was 18 years old, doing my first jazz gigs, usually making never less than $150 for a night, I was playing the whole damn night, usually three sets, sometimes four! We had to WORK for our money.
3. Young bands, and all other bands desperate to play out live, have to grow some balls and start refusing to play at clubs that will not at least guarantee them something. It is a matter of respect for your craft. Do you think a carpenter, fresh on the scene, is going to frame up your new bathroom in the basement for free, because he hasn't framed a million other bathrooms first? No, he'll give you a damn good deal, but he'd refuse to work before doing it for free. This is one of the lessons we artists absolutely have to learn.
3A. There are plenty of ways to organize free concerts or "donation at the door" kind of shows at really cool venues that will actually respect you as an emerging artist, such as all-ages venues. I would rather play some cool house party, or a loft somewhere for $50 in donations than play at a major bar for the same amount to be honest. Plus, by doing that, we send the message to bar owners and bookers that we will play our music elsewhere if you are not willing to share with us some of the profit you gain.
4. High quality bands and individual musicians need to communicate with their fans, friends, and family that they are routinely being mistreated. We need to name names and point fingers. Clubs that disrespect bands should not have the privilege of booking the good ones, like Junkyard Empire. We, for example, are more than willing to take our show on the road to places where they will at least guarantee us a respectable wage, considering the tough financial situation we are all in. We all have to work together to ensure that live music does not fall by the wayside simply because the already flawed economic system of free market capitalism is now failing.
5. A grassroots musicians union needs to be developed. This will take at least a decade to really pay off, but just the process of putting it together will yield massive benefits. One way to start it off would be to start some kind of organization like "Twin Cities Musician Coalition for Respectable Wages." Just an idea I am working on. The point of this organization would be to get a group of very talented bands, some in high demand, some not, to sign a contract amongst themselves, vowing not to play at any venue that does not provide the bare essentials. Those bare essentials would be different for different bands, depending on how much material they have, how established they are, and so on. But it would NOT be based simply on how many people they "draw".
6. We need to redefine some terminology. How many people you can "bring to a show" is not the same question as "what is your draw?" Junkyard Empire can bring anywhere from 20-60 people when we push our friends, family, coworkers, etc, right? But we honestly have not a clue how many people we "draw". Bands are not marketing firms or number crunchers. They are artists and performers. How many people come to the show as a result of who they are, name recognition, etc. is for record companies, marketing firms, managers, and club owners to figure out. The job of a band is rock the roof off the venue and create a nice atmosphere for the people at the venue. A band that is really proactive will go out of their way to get extra folks to show up, because they are responsible and want to play for as many people as possible, not because some no-paying louse of a venue owner says they have to, even if he or she does nothing. So the next time someone asks me how many people do you "draw", I am going to give them an honest, and to my mind business oriented answer. I will say something to this effect: "That depends on who else is playing around town, how well you promote your club in the local papers and on college campuses, and how well Junkyard Empire name recognition is going. We don't have time to crunch all those numbers. What I can say is that we will have some people out, enough that you will be making money on drinks and what not. If we don't bring out enough people, or you are not making enough profit from the people who do come out, then we can always renegotiate our terms for the next show."
Obviously, this has been way longer and less concise than I intended. However, this is a very intense subject that can be interpreted numerous ways. This discussion needs to be had, and it needs to be had by the entire music community in the Twin Cities. Something has to change, and it has to change quickly. We do not have the luxury of slow, incremental change. We need to stand up for ourselves now, not tomorrow, not the next day.
If you are serious about re-thinking how we as bands and artists negotiate on our behalf, feel free to contact us. We have a big house and we'd be willing to host a meeting of local musicians to discuss some of this stuff. You'd be surprised what a small, focused group can accomplish when minds are put to task.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
In the post-imperialist society of which we find ourselves inhabiting, the rise of globalization and consequent international awareness of impacts and concerns is inevitable. This is particularly evident with the current global financial crisis. We occupy a point in history in which the economic stability of each sovereign nation is directly dependent on the overall stability of the global economy. The ideology of entitlement and subsequent propagation of a “manifest destiny” has extended the imperialists’ notion of globalization not limited to the expansion of national boundaries but toward international economic trade – i.e. the globalization of capitalism. In “Biculturalism and Community: A Transformative Model for Design Education” Anthony Ward insists that this current international market economy directly threatens the pedagogy of institutional thought and design education.
The notion of power and privilege and the determination of their entitlement lie at the forefront of imperialist thought. Wherever the concept of privilege is utilized – and as we find in the globalization of capitalism, worshiped – there is inevitably the creation of a substantial dichotomy between those who receive privilege and those considered unworthy of privilege. This separation of privilege manifests itself prominently throughout education systems – where the cultural identity and thus voice of the privileged is given superiority over the underprivileged - and is most apparent to Ward in colonial settings.
“It is in the postmodern discourse on voice that the connections between education and power become finally clear. In the last fifteen years all of these arguments have been nurtured through postmodern (and deconstructivist) discourse that has challenged notions of value, legitimation, and authorship – the issue of power and voice. These discourses take on a particular poignancy in colonial settings, such as New Zealand where culture, class, race, and ethnicity congeal into a multiple oppression, and where the educational process play a prominent role in the processes of subjugating subordinate cultures and colonizing indigenous peoples.” [Ward, 92]We must not put aside and ignore history but rather admit that the United States is fundamentally a colonial society. Our educational systems and political tendencies suffer from the same oppressions and subjugations that Ward finds prevalent throughout New Zealand. Our privileged Eurocentric cultures are reinforced through taught dominance and unquestioned veritability. In this way, the dominant Eurocentric cultures engulf any opposition of their superiority, attaining a hegemonic imposition over subordinate cultures through the globalization of capitalism and, in effect, have achieved an international economic colonization.
“Recorded history (which we normally assume to be the history) is invariably the history of the winners, of the hegemonically successful dominant culture. In design, our built history tends to be that of the dominant Eurocentric culture. The histories of minority cultures are rarely, if ever, valorized in the contested space of the urban landscape.” [Ward, 93]Our design schools are experiencing an increasing awareness of the wealth inherent through the incorporation of multicultural perspectives. It is now widely believed that there exists an “epistemological privilege” of the oppressed. This privilege resides in an ability (or the necessity) of the oppressed to have knowledge systems based on both the dominant and oppressed cultural norms and contexts.
“Oppressed people have a kind of epistemological privilege insofar as they have easier access to this standpoint and therefore a better chance of ascertaining the beginnings of a society in which all could thrive. For this reason I would claim that the emotional responses of oppressed people in general, and often of women in particular are more likely to be appropriate than the emotional responses of the dominant class.” [Jagger, 162]We are beginning to see this shift in attitude away from the supreme superiority of the dominant culture by the implementation of cultural studies within design curriculum. An example especially relative to North America is the increased attention being paid by design schools to the study of Native American structural responses and solutions that embrace the local climate while retaining a humble footprint upon the environmental impact of habitation.
Those contributing to this school of thought are beginning to understand the wealth of knowledge inherent in cultures that have primal rather than colonial experience with the site. This movement represents an awareness of the faults embedded in an entitlement-biased globalized society. The collapse of any elitist global institution is caused by the unstable dichotomy of a dominant cultural ignorance coupled with increased global awareness. We are starting to observe – and necessarily so in order for international progressivism - the reduction of cultural ignorance and its hegemonical system and an increased global awareness of the epistemological advantage of bicultural insights and thus a shift toward, at very least increasing, academic integrity.
A.M. Jagger, “Love and Knowledge: Emotion in Feminist Epistemology.” In Gender/Body/Knowledge.
Ward, Anthony, “Biculturalism and Community: A transformative Model for Design Education.” The Journal of Architectural Education, February, 1991.
Friday, November 7, 2008
First things first, let's take a moment and simply reflect a little bit on what it means that America now has not only a Black President, but a multi-racial one at that and as if that was not enough, he is not a right wing sycophant, hell bent on global American hegemony. So yes, take a moment everyone and breathe. Maybe take a day or two to walk around in the light of new possibilities, day dreaming about the new social and political paradigm in this severely flawed country. Dwell on the fact that we may actually be able to spend some time fighting for new freedoms, restoring old ones, and developing higher levels of access for the American people, instead of simply fighting to keep what we already have. Fighting for what we the people already won, was exactly what we were forced to do during the last 20 years for the most part.
Okay, now jump forward a few days. You are rested, life has gone on. You still have to go to work, maybe supporting fascist capitalists running corporations. You realize that Black men under the age of 20 still face an incalculably higher chance of imprisonment than anyone else. The separation between the rich and poor is still the worst in the industrialized world. You realize that America still doesn't recognize that women and Black people have led beautiful and advanced civilizations all over the world throughout history, and that it is we Americans who are far behind the curve. We still are paying our teachers less or equal to the that of an entry level data entry clerk at a major corporation. Musicians and artists still have nothing in the way of any kind of social net, even though they provide what other enlightened cultures consider the highest pleasure. Well, you get the point right?
Nothing has changed now that Barack Obama has become the President elect of the United States of America. The only way things will change in a way that benefits the vast majority of American citizens is if American citizens take it to the next level of participation and activation. The first level, what should be the basic level of participation in order to be a citizen, is voting. We had the highest voter turnout in this country since the late 1960s, and more than 15% of all Black voters were first time voters. That's fantastic, and it should never drop from there. Now we need to take it to the next level.
In my not so humble opinion (I often wish it were more so), Barack Obama is a very capable leader and politician; a man not afraid to learn, to be judged, to be told when he is wrong, and to utilize the power of introspection and research in making important decisions that effect this country and the rest of the world. But know this, even this guy will totally fuck it up if the American people do not step it up and constantly let him know exactly what we can and what we CANNOT live with. For example, the majority of American citizens want some form of universal single payer health coverage. They need to tell him this. We also support strongly the idea that every American should be able to go to college without accruing massive debt. We need to tell him this. We don't give a fuck whether or not the coal industry takes a dive as a result of fixing the environment. We need to tell him this.
Obviously the list goes on for days and days, but in the end all these things will only get done as a result of the people turning off their fucking televisions and computers (I should talk) and organizing! ORGANIZE! ORGANIZE! ORGANIZE!
In other words, the first part of our job is done. We elected the person that was best for the job, that actually had a statistical chance of winning. Now, we absolutely must work our asses off to begin a massive movement to rid ourselves of the most undemocratic of voting systems, otherwise known as "first past the post." To see what a real democratic voting system looks like, check out Germany: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elections_in_Germany And in addition to that, we need to end the wars, demand universal singer payer health coverage, bring about free public higher education, free childcare, prison reform, truly progressive taxation, a support system for musicians and artists, and .......
We have a lot of work to do, and I think Metallica said it best: GIVE ME FUEL, GIVE ME FIRE, GIVE ME DOUBLE-TIME DESIRE!
- Christopher Robin Cox
Monday, November 3, 2008
Greetings fellow revolutionaries of all types! We will be hosting two great bands, both from New York, on Sunday, November 16th @ the Black Dog Cafe and Wine Bar, that fine intimate venue Sara and Jean so warmly run.
Broadcast Live and their traveling brethren Taina Asili y La Rebelde will be stopping in as part of their US tour, and Junkyard Empire is proud to host them.
In fact, they will even be crashing at the new house of Dan (bass), Christopher (trombone) and Szilvia (Chris' wife), sometimes referred to as the Junkyard Empire house. [To be honest though, we are brainstorming some project name ideas for the property, such as the Urban Earth Project.] Much more on that later. For now, we just want to make sure you are hyped about this little intimate concert.
Now, we know it is a Sunday, but don't let that stop you. First of all, music will start at 8pm, so it will not be a ridiculously late night. Second, the door charge is going to be nothing more than a donation-based sliding scale, so whatever you can afford gets you in the door. And third, it is quite rare for three socially and politically progressive live bands to share the stage together, especially in Saint Paul, when it is not some kind of festival or fund raiser. So please take advantage of the change to see these two great bands, and us of course!
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
The Vote Grab: Voting Machines Are Unreliable and Inaccurate
by Peter Tatchell
As early voting in the US presidential elections gets underway, ES&S iVotronics touch-screen electronic voting machines have been observed in four separate states flipping the votes - mostly from Barack Obama to John McCain but sometimes to third party candidates too. This has already occurred during early voting in the states of West Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri and Texas.
A county clerk in West Virginia invited a video crew to watch his demonstration of the reliability of the disputed voting machines but instead he saw the machine flipping the votes, as critics claimed. He put this down to the faulty calibration of the voting machine. However, even after he recalibrated the machine it continued to flip votes. Watch the video here:
This is further evidence that the electronic voting machines that will be used in the 4 November election are not reliable and accurate - that they are prone to malfunction and may not record the actual vote winner.
Democrats are not the only people who are worried. Stephen Spoonamore, a Republican security expert, explains why electronic voting is inherently unsafe in an eight part series of interviews. You can watch Part 1, and access Parts 2 to 7, here.
Writing in the New Statesman way back in 2004, reflecting on criticisms of the electronic voting systems used in the presidential election that year, Michael Meacher MP pointed out that statisticians, academics and political analysts had highlighted significant voting differences between electoral districts that used paper ballots and those that used electronic systems. These cannot be explained by random variation. The investigators found a much larger variance than expected and in every case it favoured George W Bush over John Kerry. In Wisconsin and Ohio, the discrepancy favoured Bush by 4 per cent, in Pennsylvania by 5 per cent, in Florida and Minnesota by 7 per cent, in North Carolina by 9 per cent and in New Hampshire by a whopping 15 per cent.
Research by the University of Berkeley, California, revealed election irregularities in 2004 in Florida. These irregularities, all of which were associated with electronic voting machines, appear to have awarded between 130,000 to 260,000 additional votes to Bush.
The discrepancies between paper and electronic voting could be the result of simple technological glitches. But some experts detect something more sinister: outright vote fixing by interference with voting machine and tabulation software.
Meacher reported that Diebold company voting machines and optical scanners may not be tamper-proof from hacking, particularly via remote modems. Diebold machines were used in counting a substantial proportion of the 2004 votes and will be used again in next week's presidential poll.
Two US computer security experts, in their book Black Box Voting, state that "by entering a two-digit code in a hidden location, a second set of votes is created; and this set of votes can be changed in a matter of seconds, so that it no longer matches the correct votes".
This is entirely possible, according to Clinton Curtis, a Florida computer programmer. He has confirmed that in 2000 he designed an undetectable programme for Republican congressman Tom Feeney. It was created to rig elections by covertly switching votes from one candidate to another to ensure a predetermined ballot outcome. See a video of his sworn testimony here.
As Robert F Kennedy Jr, nephew of JFK, has exposed, the US is one of the few democracies that allow private, partisan companies to secretly count votes using their own proprietary software.
Moreover, the vast majority of western democracies have independent Election Commissions to oversee voting methods and corroborate the results. The US does not.
Most election ballots next week will be tallied or scanned by four private companies - Diebold, Election Systems & Software (ES&S), Sequoia Voting Systems and Hart InterCivic.
According to Kennedy:
Three of the four companies have close ties to the Republican Party. ES&S, in an earlier corporate incarnation, was chaired by Chuck Hagel, who in 1996 became the first Republican elected to the U.S. Senate from Nebraska in twenty-four years - winning a close race in which eighty-five percent of the votes were tallied by his former company. Hart InterCivic ranks among its investors GOP loyalist Tom Hicks, who bought the Texas Rangers from George W. Bush in 1998, making Bush a millionaire fifteen times over. And according to campaign-finance records, Diebold, along with its employees and their families, has contributed at least $300,000 to GOP candidates and party funds since 1998 - including more than $200,000 to the Republican National Committee. In a 2003 fund-raising e-mail, the company's then-CEO Walden O'Dell promised to deliver Ohio's electoral votes to Bush in 2004."
Is it right and proper for partisan pro-Republican companies to count the votes? It is certainly not objective and impartial.
Kennedy recounts how computer scientists at Johns Hopkins and Rice universities conducted an analysis of the Diebold voting machine software source code in July 2003. "This voting system is far below even the most minimal security standards applicable in other contexts... (it is) unsuitable for use in a general election," the scientists concluded.
"With electronic machines, you can commit wholesale fraud with a single alteration of software," Avi Rubin told Kennedy. He is a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins who received $US7.5 million from the National Science Foundation to study electronic voting. "There are a million little tricks when you build software that allow you to do whatever you want. If you know the precinct demographics, the machine can be programmed to recognize its precinct and strategically flip votes in elections that are several years in the future. No one will ever know it happened."
Electronic voting machines not only break down frequently, their security and integrity is also easily compromised, says Kennedy:
"In October 2005, the US Government Accountability Office issued a damning report on electronic voting machines. Citing widespread irregularities and malfunctions, the government's top watchdog agency concluded that a host of weaknesses with touch-screen and optical-scan technology 'could damage the integrity of ballots, votes and voting-system software by allowing unauthorized modifications'...Locks protecting computer hardware were easy to pick. Unsecured memory cards could enable individuals to 'vote multiple times, change vote totals and produce false election reports.'
An even more comprehensive report released in June by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan think tank at the New York University School of Law, echoed the GAO's findings. The report - conducted by a task force of computer scientists and security experts from the government, universities and the private sector - was peer-reviewed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Electronic voting machines widely adopted since 2000, the report concluded, "pose a real danger to the integrity of national, state and local elections." While no instances of hacking have yet been documented, the report identified 120 security threats to three widely used machines - the easiest method of attack being to utilize corrupt software that shifts votes from one candidate to another.
There is no evidence that the voting machine malfunctions, flaws and security risks identified in the 2004 ballot have been fully corrected in time for the 2008 vote. This calls into question whether the 4 November ballot will reflect the will of the American people. As Kennedy concludes:
"You do not have to believe in conspiracy theories to fear for the integrity of our electoral system: The right to vote is simply too important - and too hard won - to be surrendered without a fight. It is time for Americans to reclaim our democracy from private interests."
To contact Peter Tatchell and for more information about his human rights campaigns visit www.petertatchell.net
© 2008 The Independent
Friday, October 17, 2008
Lors de la Convention Républicaine 2008 qui vit à St Paul (voir L'éléphant contre les chiens noirs) une nouvelle étape franchie dans le façonnage de l'état policier américain, un groupe de musiciens a émergé de façon saisissante et entière par la relation directe entre son vécu musical, sa poésie, son engagement contestataire, ses concerts quotidiens dans les lieux signifiants, ses actions et sa compréhension des situations. Plus encore que Rage Against the Machine qui fit la une le 2 septembre, Junkyard Empire a incarné, les partageant d'égal à égal, l'espoir et la parole de ces milliers de personnes venues à St Paul manifester leur colère contre la guerre, le capitalisme. Hier 16 octobre, ils soutenaient les RNC 8 avec le groupe Pocket of Resistance au Black Dog où ils avaient aussi participé le 23 septembre dernier à une conversation sur les rapports musique et politique.
C R Cox (trombone/claviers/electronics)
Bryan Berry (guitare)
Dan Choma (basse)
Graham O'Brien (batterie/electronics)
INTERVIEW AVEC BRIAHNU ET CHRIS COX DE JUNKYARD EMPIRE (9/09/08)
Jean : Junkyard Empire ?
Briahnu : Je viens de Philadelphie où j’étais musicien de hip hop et je suis venu ici il y a quatre ans. J’avais laissé tomber l’idée de faire de la musique Un ami avec qui je travaille m’a dit avoir vu une petite annonce d’un groupe de jazz, un peu free, était à la recherche d’un rappeur, mais d’un rappeur dont les paroles auraient un contenu politique. Il m’a un peu poussé, ayant entendu certaines choses que j’avais faites avant. J’ai rencontré Chris et tous ces supers musiciens. J’ai aimé le son et j’ai apporté quelques-uns de mes textes les plus radicaux. On s’est fait haïr de suite. On est parti de là il y a trois ans.
Chris Cox : Avant que tu n’arrives on avait seulement répété six ou sept fois. On jouait une sorte d’Acid Jazz. Chacun d’entre nous avait, ou bien joué avec des rappeurs, ou au moins était intéressé par la liberté que pouvait apporter ce genre de musique. Quand Brian est entré dans le groupe, on swinguait avec une sorte de funk-jazz et il a posé ses mots assez évidemment.
Jean: Pourquoi cherchiez-vous un rappeur ?
Chris : Pour deux raisons, la première parce que le hip hop permet une liberté considérable, une liberté harmonique, un endroit où l’on peut vraiment chercher loin ; la seconde parce qu’il contient une capacité d’expression, de réelle expression. Le hip hop parle, il s’adresse au pouvoir avec sa poésie. Le format n’est pas contraignant comme avoir à faire rentrer des mots dans une petite mélodie. On peut avoir de long passages avec ou sans couplet, on peut inventer à foison. Nous voulons être politiques, mais pas prévisibles.
Jean : J’ai entendu une fois Max Roach dire que le rap était la chose expressivement la plus forte depuis Charlie Parker, pas avec la même complexité musicale, mais avec la même projection.
Briahnu : Oui peut-être pas avec la même complexité musicale, mais la poésie portée est peut-être plus complexe que bien d’autres formes incluant la poésie. On peut extrapoler sur le choix illimité des rythmes, des polyrythmes et des métriques, à l’occasion assez fouillés, superposés au travail des mots.
Chris : C’est une forme où j’apprends sans cesse. Je suis un souffleur et je pense rythmiquement autant qu’harmoniquement. Je trouve, dans le hip hop, un terrain d’improvisation extrêmement ouvert. La différence entre jazz et hip hop réside dans le fait que la complexité ne réside pas de ce qui est impulsé par la section rythmique, mais de la poésie elle-même. Dans notre cas, l’improvisation rejoint les mots. D’une certaine façon, c’est un endroit où c’est la simplicité qui crée la complexité alors que dans beaucoup de jazz, la route, quand bien même ayant son lot de surprises, est souvent toute tracée. Du point de vue du son aussi, le hip hop peut être neuf tout le temps.
Briahnu : Nous parlons ici bien sûr du hip hop non-commercial.
Jean : J’ai l’impression que l’avénement du hip hop correspond au moment historique où l’industrie du disque dérape. D’abord, elle n’y croit pas. Ça marche sans elle, alors elle cherche à le récupérer, l’altérer, le manipuler en courant après jusqu’à s’épuiser. Ensuite elle ne sera plus à même de repérer quelque mouvement musical que ce soit.
Chris : Je vivais à San Francisco lorsque j’avais 19 ans, les jazzmen et les rappeurs jammaient assez volontiers ensemble. C’était fréquent d’entendre un rappeur sur un thème de John Coltrane et encore plus souvent sur un thème de Thelonius Monk. Et puis on pouvait aussi voir un type jouer un solo de be-bop dans un set de rap. C’était une forme renouvelée de jazz.
Briahnu : C’est aussi à cette époque qu’il y a eu des restrictions drastiques sur l’emploi des échantillons, une loi limitant leur utilisation. Je crois que le hip-hop a dû s’éloigner du jazz aussi pour cette raison.
Jean : Quel est le besoin de musique dans le monde tel qu’il est ?
Briahnu : Il est difficile de classer la musique, y compris la musique totalement commercialisée qui se love parfaitement dans les play-lists des radios ou de Clear Channel. Cette musique parle aux gens d’une certaine façon. Il existe un foisonnement de choses jouées loin de ce type de projecteurs. Il y a un besoin de contrôler par la musique et de faire de l’argent en même temps. Les multinationales sont fortes pour ça. Si nous ne sommes plus capables d’exercer nos propres choix, c’est que nous sommes soumis aux formats en cours, aux dix chansons choisies pour nous qui font bientôt place à la liste suivante de dix chansons quasi identiques etc. Le contrôle est parfait. Mais il y a cette montagne de musiques différentes qui peut rencontrer tous les besoins d’expression corporels ou intellectuels.
Chris: La créativité ne meurt pas. Aucune multinationale, aucun pouvoir ne peut totalement tuer la créativité. Pour moi, là se niche le rôle de la musique. Son rôle quotidien. Elle est comme toute forme artistique la seule façon de survivre pour la société. La créativité n’est d’ailleurs pas seulement liée à l’art, elle est une partie du quotidien de chacun. Mais quelle part de cette créativité est confisquée par les orientations qui nous sont infligées brutalement ou non? Les radios n’ont plus de DJ, on n’y trouvera plus un type qui mettra "Sidewinger" de Lee Morgan au top à un moment où le rythm’n’blues ou le son Motown dominent.
Jean : Le jazz a aussi beaucoup changé dans son appréhension du monde. Il ne s’agit peut-être pas simplement d’un effet subi du système, mais peut-être aussi d’un éloignement de ceux qui le font.
Chris : Le jazz est une musique qui pèse lourd sur mes épaules. Ca a été une façon d’exister. On le voit encore à la Nouvelle-Orléans, une façon de marcher dans la rue. Dans notre société où dominent d’imposants courants, le jazz a perdu cette relation. Les musiciens portent leur part de responsabilité. On a vu l’éclosion de ce jazz extrêmement institutionalisé, de développement d’écoles où l’on apprend tout jusqu’à copier le son de ceux qui ont fait cette musique. Je me souviens avoir essayé de sonner comme Jay Jay Johnson, j’essayais vraiment très dur en appliquant toutes les recettes, effets de langues etc., et les gens m’encourageaient en ce sens « Super ! tu sonnes comme Jay Jay Johnson ». Je me suis dit, non seulement que ça ne pouvait être le cas, mais en plus me suis demandé de quel genre d’accomplissement il s’agissait. Ca m’a mis en pétard, j’ai foutu tout ça par la fenêtre et suis retourné à l’endroit où j’avais laissé les choses pour en saisir la portée politique aussi. L’académisme qui a envahi le jazz est d’une pesanteur extrême, c’est un langage très contrôlé. Les tenants de ces dogmes me font penser à ces gens venus assister à la Convention Républicaine la semaine dernière qui vous disent « Va y petit creuse ! » en ayant aucune capacité intellectuelle de penser en dehors d’un format qui règle votre vie ou qui sont le produit des manipulation de la propagande du système. Les limites sont ainsi établies qu’on ne peut chercher ailleurs.
Briahnu : Il y a ce bénéfice du status quo.
Jean : Parce que quelqu’un pourrait encore faire un choix... Lorsque l’on voit les meilleures ventes de disques, on y trouve des gens inconnus, il y a deux ans qu’on ne connaîtra plus dans deux ans...
Briahnu : Les buts de l’industrie musicale ont certainement changé en fonction de la nécéssité de contrôle de la société. En ce qui concerne le changement de perspective, nous avons le choix de nous éliminer nous-memes ou de considérer un peu tout. Enfant, vous grandissez jusqu’à un certain point.
Chris : Dans ce pays, un rapide sondage montrera que le vendredi soir, les gens ne se ruent pas pour aller écouter de la musique en direct. Prenons les Twin Cities, il y réside beaucoup de talents très divers qui sont encouragés par une poignée de gens venant les écouter avec plaisir. Lorsque je vois l’état de ce qu’il est convenu d’appeler « musique populaire » aujourd’hui et que je mets ça en rapport avec ce qu’il était convenu de nommer à l’identique lors des périodes précédentes. Je frémis. Tout est conditionné par les pratiques du marché, la propagande capitaliste. Mais la responsabilité revient partiellement aux musiciens qui tombent éternellement dans les mêmes pièges en refusant de prendre leurs responsabilités.
Jean : Comment ce lien peut être restauré ?
Chris : Je crois qu’il y a déjà quelque chose qui se passe. C’est très lent car nous sommes aux USA et on ne fait rien très vite dans ce pays, à part les guerres bien sûr où nous sommes imbattables. Mais lorsqu’il s’agit de changements sociaux ou humains qui n’impliquent pas de faire davantage de profit, là ça ne bouge pas vite. les gens qui en souffrent ne croient pas à un changement radical, alors qu’ils devraient y participer. Ca prendra un moment avant que les musiciens ne soient capables de dire « Fuck the music industry » et décident de vivre ce qu’ils font en vérité. Il y a des maisons de disques qui soutiennent ce qui est fait de façon logique en comprenant les transitions et ce que nous sommes et ça c’est appréciable, mais lorsque l’on vous force être un autre ou travailler sans savoir à quoi ça sert pour quelques cents, quel sens ça a ? On voit beaucoup de groupes de hip hop, toujours le hip hop, au Minnesota qui prennent les choses à la racine sociale de ce que doit être la musique dans son environnement et l’ensemble du processus est vécu de la sorte : pourquoi on fait un disque, comment on le fabrique, ce qu’on y met etc.
Jean : Dans l’histoire, on trouve des musiciens qui ont pris en main leur production avec une belle vitalité, mais d’autres le font aussi par dépit ne trouvant pas où s’inscrire.
Briahnu : Nas dans son disque Illmatic dit « Si c’est réel, vous le faites sans contrat».
Jean : Il y a un sorte d’aspect religieux dans le fait d’être « signé »...
Chris: Oui une idée romantique. Il existe une différence entre avoir l’esprit ouvert et forcer son esprit à être ouvert.
Jean : La semaine passée, Junkyard Empire a été un groupe non seulement actif artistiquement, vous avez été les seuls à jouer en prélude à la manifestation du 4, mais aussi politiquement participant comme les autres militants et acteurs.
Briahnu : Nous souhaitons être plus qu’un orchestre, une petite organisation politique, un groupe d’aide. La musique est le nuage qui nous entoure et nous nourrit, mais il y a plus. Si quelque chose d’important doit se passer, nous devons y répondre par la musique, mais aussi par l’action.
Chris : Dans notre chanson « Complex Crooks », les mots disent « You fall for anything if you don’t stand for nothing ». On peut bien sûr rapper sur tous les sujets avec grande passion, on peut jouer une musique qui prône une révolution prochaine sur une scène, mais nous aimons surtout prendre part aux actions, manifester dans la rue avec les gens que nous aimons voir à nos concerts. Nous aimons penser à Junkyard Empire comme une petite « Commune ».
Jean : Et le titre Rise of the wretched ?
Briahnu : Nous utilisons ce titre de la façon dont Frantz Fanon l’utilise (Les Damnés de la terre - éditions la découverte). Il y a une infime minorité richissime qui gouverne le monde, un monde de pauvres ou de classes moyennes qui parfois ne voient pas que la frontière s’amenuise avec celle des pauvres et qu’elles seront aussi inévitablement sacrifiées.
Chris : Les 200 personnes ou moins qui dirigent ce pays et qui nous regardent comme des malpropres sous-éduqués ne pourraient vivre de la façon dont elles vivent sans nous collectivement. Et elles nous oppressent collectivement. Pas besoin de soins, ni d’éducation, ni d’eau propre, pour cette masse méprisée ! À cet endroit soit nous sommes capables de dire collectivement « C’est assez ! », « Je m’en fous d’être pauvre et je vais vous mettre le doigt dans l’œil, MAINTENANT », soit nous nous enfonçons.
Briahnu : Nous devons cesser de nous battre sans cesse entre nous, ils nous tiennent ainsi. Les Américains considèrent les Iraquiens comme des êtres inférieurs, alors qu’une partie d’entre eux de plus en plus grande est aussi confrontée à la pauvreté. Alors quand on bombarde l'Iraq pour sauver ce qui nous reste de confort, on trouve ça normal. Tant que nous ne serons pas capables de comprendre que nous sommes régis par les mêmes choses, rien ne se passera.
Chris : De nombreux vétérans qui reviennent d'Irak parlent bien de tout ça, ils sont ceux qui demandent de l’aide pour les Irakiens et qu'on fasse preuve d'unité avec eux. Mon père a fait la guerre du Vietnam. Quand il est revenu, il entendait les gens le traiter de « tueur d’enfants », beaucoup étaient choqués, il ne l’était pas. Il comprenait car il savait très bien ce que les Etats-Unis faisaient au Vietnam. Il s’est engagé ensuite dans le mouvement anti-guerre. La moitié des Américains ne comprend toujours pas qu’elle se bat pour le bien de puissantes multinationales.
Propos recueillis par Jean au Black Dog Café à St Paul le 9 septembre 2008
Le disque Rise of the Wretched (6 titres superbes) est disponible aux Allumés du Jazz pour la somme de 5 euros (port compris)
Images : Junkyard Empire à la Black Dog Block Party le 2 septembre 2008 par B. Zon
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Friday, October 3, 2008
They call it a “financial bailout”. I call it a promissory note to continue the economic enslavement of the American taxpayer for generations to come. It is paying homage to the slave masters, the plantation owners, the oil tycoons, the corrupt financiers, the multinational CEOs and all those who have ever exploited the poor and vulnerable for their labor and ingenuity. This time, our own government has finally exposed itself as the greatest purveyor of economic injustice on its own people.
The United States government has drug its feet in terms of justice since its inception. From slavery to native sovereignty, from women’s rights to voting rights, from civil rights to human rights, our government has fought against its populace tooth and nail. However, the people have always prevailed. We forced the lawmakers to see that wealthy white men are not gods. They are not the only people who deserve justice, prosperity and happiness. We have won every battle except for one; the battle for economic justice. The financial levers and means of production of the U.S. have always been in the hands of a few disgustingly wealthy individuals. And they will stop at nothing to maintain their wealth and power and to build up the system that ensures that the masses of citizens will continue to be subservient to the monetary needs of the wealthy few. The famous quote from banker Meyer Rothschild, “Give me control of a nation's money and I care not who makes the laws,” is truer today than ever. Now it is evident that our Senate and Congress will also do whatever it takes to maintain the disparity in our economic system. They too are here to serve only the wealthy of this globe.
At the precise moment when the inherent flaws in the so called “free market” are being exposed and a legitimate dialogue about the structure of our nation’s economy should be at the forefront, our government has decided to continue with business as usual. Actually, it’s business that is much worse than usual. It’s a perverted scheme to rob the taxpayers of our money and put it in the hands of the very people who caused the near financial collapse in the first place. To make it even worse, they caused the crisis by preying upon innocent families who simply wanted to own a home. Is this what we voted for? Is this what we deserve from our elected officials? You can blame Bush and Cheney all you want for creating this mess, but now even our most trusted officials are selling the American people and our unborn children into financial slavery. We are already trillions of dollars in debt, how could they conceive of putting us further in the hole? I am still waiting for the national discourse on why the system failed. I don’t blame the predatory lenders, they were just doing their jobs. They are supposed to bring in as much capital as possible with no regard to the human condition. They played their part to perfection. We, the zombie consumers are to blame for allowing this atrocity of an economic system to stay in place. Unregulated capitalism will eventually end up as slavery; that is the goal of the system. Economic slavery is almost as dehumanizing as physical slavery and it lasts longer because our children will continue the cycle of debt and poverty.
I have more respect for the Republicans who voted against the bill because it did not hold true to the ideals of capitalism (a company that can’t survive in the free market should just fail), than I do for the cowardly Democrats who voted to pass the bill out of the fear for their own legacy or fear of a financial collapse. The system they are protecting is the very system that crushes their constituents under the weight of low wages, long hours, no healthcare, and over-priced commodities. Those Democrats (Obama included) then try to tell us that “there was no other solution, the consequences would have been much worse if we did nothing.” No one is asking them to do nothing. But why is it that there is only one solution to this catastrophe? To give a blank check (sorry, a $700,000,000,000.00 check) to the greedy, incompetent, blood-thirsty bandits who caused the problem to begin with; without any mandates or regulations to keep them from doing the exact same thing again for the next twenty years. We are a country full of gifted and talented people. Are we to believe that no one could come up with any other solution to this problem? There must be tens if not hundreds of ways to find a solution. I have an idea. Why don’t we give only ten billion to the hundreds of thousands of families whose houses have been foreclosed? We could reinstitute their mortgages and reinvigorate the banks and the housing market at the same time. That’s my humble contribution, but I guess that won’t happen, why would our elected officials ever look out for the people who elected them?
The truth is that this bill is a top-down adrenaline shot to the economy. Top-down is another name for “trickle-down economics”. It’s the oldest trick in the book. They tell us to give them our money and just wait. Eventually it will come back to us. We’ve been waiting for the trickle since the Reagan era. Meanwhile they sell us hope, faith-based programs, fear, and other intangible nothings. A strong economy is built from the bottom up, not the top down.
The fact that our society is based upon debt is backwards to begin with. If you are considered “middle class” in America, that means you are probably in debt for about $100,000.00 at least. It also means you are about 6-8 paychecks away from poverty. Just to enter into the mainstream of society by getting an education, you have to incur debt. We bombard college students with high-interest credit cards and socialize our children that it is natural to be in debt. Small businesses start out in debt and many never get out.
I say let the markets fail, wipe all debt clean, let’s start fresh with a massive redistribution of wealth so that everyone has a healthy productive life, not just the super-rich and those that aspire to be them.
Young people, we must refuse to pay for this ransacking of our tax dollars! We must stand up to the elected officials and let them know that if they vote to pass this bill then they have positioned themselves as our enemies. I for one, refuse to stand with any politician who supports this bill of enslavement!
-Brian Lozenski a.k.a. Brihanu
Monday, September 29, 2008
Let's put things in perspective here for a moment: When the UK's Bradford & Bingley (huge national bank) went down today, there was not any debate about whether or not the tax payers should "bail out" the banks. Instead, the debate was on whether or not these banks should be "nationalized". In other words, taken over and owned by the tax payers. A tragedy tuned into an opportunity to change the circumstances of the markets to benefit the people instead of stick them with the bill. Here's the story: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2008/sep/29/bradfordbingley.banking5
As of now, the stock market has had the largest point fall ever, and the overall global capitalist market establishment is beginning to freak out. The real test will be in what the respective governments do in response. What will we do?
Well, I am now prepared to throw all of that out the window. If Barack Obama votes yes on this bailout package, I will withdrawal my decision to vote for him. Why? This is the wholesale sellout of the American people being handed to the world on a golden platter. But don't take my word for it, read the proposal for yourself: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/09/28/bailout-legislation-full_n_130063.html
In the words of Dennis Kucinich: "When a jeweler's eye is applied to this bill, this bill is about Wall Street." He went on to say that Goldmann Sachs has a hell of lot to gain in this bill too, since our man Henry Paulson - the Secretary of the Treasury - has massive holdings in his past employer. If this doesn't reek of a conflict of interest, you need to have your nose checked. Paulson is literally bailing himself out with this bill.
Even beyond the conflict of interest, and the general worry that we should all have about any massive bailout that does not include some kind of dividend check given to every American tax payer below a certain income (because those above a certain income barely pay taxes in this country anyway, and they have most likely benefited from the fleecing the people), the most frightening thing to me is the overuse of words like "may" and "shall", and "encourage to" in regard to helping homeowners. The word "mandate" or "shall" appear far too infrequently. "So there's no help for homeowners in this bill", according to Kucinich. Additionally, there is no requirement to revisit the bankruptcy laws that the Bush Administration has passed during the past 8 years. Even Obama himself has said that should not be in the bill. He's made a case for it, and it is somewhat sound, but the fact is, if the American people are footing the bill for these banks, who cares if it fits within the confines of legislative manners! Damn the rules and the past precedents on this one Obama!
Basically, this whole bill, and I read a good majority of it early this morning, is simply a bailout for the rabid, greedy bastards who got us into this mess in the first place, otherwise known as speculators. They are the reason home prices became criminally over-valued, making the banks do whatever they had to in order to get more loans out to more people, so that they could collect more interest rates. By inflating the value of these homes on the market, they were able to loan more money with increasingly ridiculous interest rates that were "flexible." In the end, what this meant was lower to middle-income people deciding to take a risk by getting a "sub-prime" mortgage. There are only two reasons why a person with an income of like $40,000 made the silly choice to buy a $200,000 house: One, the bank pretty much guaranteed them they would get the loan, even though the payment would be nearly half of their take home pay every month. And they probably didn't say a damn thing about the bubble which they all knew was about to burst. Two, they were consistently reassured that real estate is the safest investment one can make. Usually, it was a combination of the two things that made folks want to buy when they shouldn't. Hell, we have been told for a century that real estate is the most solid investment. If you are a poor or lower-middle income person, you want in on that, because you might actually see something for your investment, something you can't say about anything else you spend money on, right?
Anyway, point is, we got had on a multitude of fronts. And we are about to bend over and take it again, unless enough Democrats and Republicans for that matter, decide to vote against this thing. Obama is wrong when he says "the consequence of doing nothing is more dangerous than the bill we have on the table." To hell with that logic. The reality is, there is nothing in this bill that MANDATES that the American tax payer is truly going to gain from this package. The only thing that is mandated is that the bankers, speculators, and fraudulent real estate investors are going to get out of this one just fine. Meanwhile, the American tax payer is going to enjoy the worst economic situation since the Great Depression.
In conclusion: This bill IS important. It is something that we should be negotiating. However, we should be utilizing these negotiations for a much larger effort: To completely reform the entire banking system in the United States. And while we are at, instituting some real controls on the capitalist market. The fact that we are even debating a bill like this is evidence that nothing but fraud "trickles down" and the dream of "free market capitalism" became a nightmare a long time ago. We are only seeing the effects now.
If Obama votes for this bill, he is simply saying to the American people that the fatally flawed economic premise under which we all suffer is more important to save than the soul of the American people. There is no guarantee, and in fact far from a guarantee, that this bill will keep us from entering a full-blown "depression". Multiple Nobel Prize winning economists have already come out and said we are there, and there is no turning back. We ought to listen to them, and in the meantime, rethink and rebuild the socioeconomic foundation on which this country operates.
If Obama loses this election as a result of folks like me refusing to vote for ANYONE who is in support of this bill, let it be a lesson to us all.
- Christopher R. Cox
Thursday, September 25, 2008
In that sense, it's a lot like love, or what we humans are capable of understanding of love. It follows guidelines that do not fit the mathematical constructs of economics. It cannot be explained with any language fully, or by any theory entirely. It defines our humanity, and therefore solidifies our position in the cosmos while it humbles us to our proper and healthy level of ego.
The tricky part comes here: We live in a society that quantifies values with the numerical constructs of economics. Art has been comodified in order to fit into an equation that crosses all human boundaries by reaching out to the worst things about our humanity. Greed has a funny way of unifying humans on paper, but not unifying them in reality.
I'll spin it this way. When I was younger, me and my brother played with an inordinate amount of lego building blocks. I had lots of legos, and I loved it. It's either a natural or trained inclination that any kid has: You have toys, now, you want more toys. More numbers of legos equals more fun. I mean come on, you can build more stuff with more legos, and create bigger sprawling lego metropolises where less legos only creates tiny buildings barely big enough to hold a green army figurine.
It's funny though, whenever I was playing with the legos alone, I never really was able to make all that big of cities. I could make planes, tiny main-streets, and maybe the occasional parachuting pirate, but I never expanded fully to the sweeping urban landscape my inner lego id desired. I always got bored. Perhaps I ran out of ideas, or more likely I realized playing with legos alone as a little kid is (surprise) lonely, and invariably not that much fun. But playing alone isn't how I created the best lego design of my life.
My biggest accomplishment as a lego architect came not as a sole vision by my own self, but as a collective effort. My brother Nathan laid a lot of the groundwork, bounced ideas, and helped construct at least a few of our skyscrapers. My sister Kirstin, always blessed with more reason than our 8 year old punk asses gave her credit for, made stories about some of the people living in lego town, and that changed the way we designed the city. The lego city, in our imaginations, was now complete. It was stronger than it could have been if we all were separate, and had an imagined social architecture to boot. And man, if you ask any of us kids, that was one damn great lego city. We even took a picture of it.
My point is this. I wanted legos. Lots of legos. Through garage sales and kind friends, us kids were given lots of legos. But nowhere in my recollection did HAVING or OWNING lots of legos make them fun. It was playing with legos, which wasn't cool unless somebody else was there playing with you. This is why it was so much fun to get together with my friend Tyler and mix up all our legos, much to the chagrin of organization and personal lego retention. The true validation and the best art came when my desires weren't based on the acquisition of more legos, but rather playing with the legos I had with other human beings.
Art, or at least true art, isn't a kid having lots of legos. It isn't a self absorbed performance, a way to impress people, or a way to make money. These things are present in art, but they can in no way shape or form account for the creative process. Making lego things was the fun part. Fun wasn't buying lego things or having the most lego things. Greed didn't give better lego cities or a better time, it just gave me more legos.
What gave me fun was playing with the legos as a small group of humans. Little people interacting with other little people creating a tiny world that mirrors our own humanity. You could never buy that in a box or sell it next to a game of Mousetrap. It was and is invaluable and completely impossible to define. It was the process of creativity.
You can't buy that kind of time. It's forever lost in the past and therefore off the market. We can only remember the experience and hope for more of that experience in the future.
And when the experience of that art comes again, we will know it. It will be the only thing that is both impossible to understand or quantify, but also so simply human that even a child is drawn to it. It is virtue not by its perceived value. It is virtuous by bringing together people selflessly for the common good and teaching them things that cannot be explained or put into definable structures.
It is indeed, a lot like love.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Thursday, September 11, 2008
We now have the largest separation of the rich and poor we have ever seen anywhere in the industrialized world, for sure, and possibly in the entire world. The two largest mortgage banks in the world just had to be taken over by the government. And that's a big one, because the new Republicans are absolutely allergic to any kind of regulation or public ownership of anything at all. The reality is that they have now silently admitted failure by allowing these banks to become government entities. And now, the government will still have control of them when the new government is sworn in next year. Perhaps we will make the smart decision and keep control of those banks and actually use them to put people into homes at affordable interest rates and all that communist mumbo-jumbo. I kind of doubt it, but we'll see.
Back to the list of evidences that Rome is burning.
Iraq, you know the country our military is occupying, just canceled six no-bid contracts. (1) This is the country that we have built what the American government refers to as an "embassy" that includes a shopping mall. The same country that we are spending over $200 million per day to occupy, for what we all know is oil, has just given the finger to George W. Bush and his military by saying, no thanks, we'll get someone else to do these contracts. Perhaps the Russians, or the Iranians, or the Brits, or whatever. After all, the other no-bid contracts that were supposed to be bringing Iraqis fresh water, working sewers, rebuilt pipelines, rebuilt schools (because we bombed many of them), new hospitals (because we bombed them too), new power lines, etc, have for the most part failed in providing the basic goods they were paid handsomely for. So, it should come as no surprise that the Iraqi government, and certainly the people, are not interested in making America richer by cutting them in on oil deals. In fact, I would argue it makes a lot more sense for Iraq to offer no-bid contracts to places like Venezuela, China, Japan, Cuba, Brazil, and maybe even Russia. I mean, after all, none of those countries illegally and bombastically attacked and occupied a sovereign nation in a very very long time. Well, Russia and Georgia is debatable. I'll save that one for another blog entry.
Anyway, point is, America's global influence is now dwindling, and it comes as a direct result of the same kind of careless policies that every empire in history has displayed just previous to its grand collapse, Rome being greatest example. In order for Rome to become the powerful empire it was, it had to rape and pillage its way to the top. Ring a bell America? Well, the American empire has now reached its pinnacle. There is no middle class to speak of. Education is at an all time low point. The separation of the rich and poor is a joke. Houses that were selling for $200,000 a few years ago are now selling for less than $100,000. And there are countries all over the world, even poor ones like Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, and Venezuela, are pointing at us and saying, "Karma is a bitch, ain't it?" You see, they all learned their lessons a long time ago: Don't waste your time trying to become an empire. Empires are the biggest targets in the world.
America is now the big target, and for good reason. We are hegemonic, exceptionalist, chauvinistic, and our foreign policy is structured in such as way as to - by its very design - leave out the humanistic concerns of the other countries we deal with. Will Obama matter? I don't know, maybe. Maybe people around the world will not equate the actions of the American government with the minds and hearts of the American people. But as an American, I am prepared to be tarred and feathered, for we all bear the responsibility for what our government has done in our name.
Let the burning begin, so that we can rebuild this nation in a way that makes the world a better place.
-Christopher Robin Cox
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Monday, September 1, 2008
It's me, Chris, just one of the voices of Junkyard Empire, but I wanted to get something our right away about our experience protesting the RNC today. Here's my short, abbreviated take on things:
We got to the Capital at about 12pm, ready to march on the RNC. There were approximately 15-20,000 people. Around 1:30 we began marching down the hill toward the Xcel Energy Center. To be honest, the march pretty much sucked. Well, most marches are usually kind of boring and devoid of any actual civil disobedience or any actions that actually call attention to the powers that be. However, this march sucked remarkably so, because we actually had to march through a fucking CAGE that was about three blocks long. That's right, the route that was mapped out by the police department was such that they build two big walls of very thick mesh wired fencing that were attached at the bottom to very heavy weights and other contraptions, so as to be made virtually impossible to push over. There was one on each side, making for a closed in maze that we had to walk through. This was, of course, right outside the Xcel Energy Center, otherwise known as the "free speech zone." We will be blogging extensively on just how completely repressive and Orwellian the whole process was. For now, I will skip forward to the action.
After the totally lame peace parade was over, we started to head down Wabasha toward Harriet Island to go check out the Take Back Labor Day Concert. By this point it was just myself, Brian (aka Brihanu), and my wife Szilvia. By the the time we ate some lunch and then got relatively close to the bridge that we were to take across the river to the island, our eyes starting stinging like hell! It suddenly dawned on us, as we were hearing the "pop - pop - pop" of gun-fire, that the cops were shooting tear gas. By the time we could really feel our eyes start to sting and our lungs burn a little, we saw at least fifty or sixty protesters come tearing around the corner toward us and then about fifty cops behind them shooting more tear gas. Luckily, Szilvia and I remembered to bring our swimming goggles! So, we all put on goggles and covered our mouths with bandanas, and we were good to go.
We then turned and ran away from the hoard of cops that were coming up the hill, now practically laughing and pointing mace triggers at us. Eventually, we made our way down to Kellog Ave. and across the Robert Street Bridge to Harriet Island, where we got in time to see Mos Def, Atmosphere, and a little bit of Pharside.
Overall, a great day, with the exception of being maced for doing nothing but walking to a concert, having to walk through a fucking cage in order to exercise our right to free speech.
Let me just say one thing: We will not be silent! And all you fascist motherfuckers who maced us are going to hear what we think about you during our show tomorrow at the Black Dog Block Party and at the other four shows we are playing this week!
Friday, August 22, 2008
So we are going to use this momentum and the uniqueness of that moment to do a special Pre-release Show of Rise of the Wretched. We will be handing out the first 100 copies of our EP for free, but ONLY at that show! But that's not it: Every single one of those CDs are going to be numbered 001-100, so you will have a truly unique item from an equaly unique show. This EP, unlike our last full length CD Reclaim Freedom, will be done in a truly grassroots way:
- We recorded the songs at McNally Smith College of Music as part of a special student program, so all these tracks were actually recorded by students in the recording arts program there. Big ups to them!
- Our own Dan Choma has done all the artwork
- We will have a very special friend of ours writing the liner notes
- We are burning the CD's all by ourself, spending countless hours!
- We will putting the stickers on the outside of the CD sleeve ourselves, and the stickers themselves were printed at a local print shop too!
- We will be assembling the CD's all by ourselves and distributing them that way too.
Once we are through the first 200 EPs, we may change our tactic, but for now we are doing everything we can do "in house." A very limited number of corporations are making money from us on this one!
So be a part of the excitement and get your numbered CD for free on September 2nd! See you there.
Our official EP release party will be at the Nomad World Pub on Saturday, October 11th. And you can expect some additional surprises there!
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Junkyard Empire embark on "Anti-RNC Tour"
Hard as it may be to believe, not everyone is delighted to see the Republican National Convention come to the Twin Cities. While the City of St. Paul and the St. Paul Police Department pulled a pretty good fast one, revoking the Welfare Rights Committee’s permit to assemble during the RNC, at least one relentless voice is determined to be heard: that of the avant-garde jazz and hip-hop band Junkyard Empire. They don’t need a permit and plan to state their case profoundly as possible with what they’re calling the Anti-RNC Tour. There’s no word on whether t-shirts, souvenir programs, and such will be available, but it’s confirmed that this is when the band will release the eagerly awaited follow-up to their debut album Reclaim Freedom. The new disc is an EP entitled Rise of the Wretched, and will drop September 2nd as the Anti-RNC Tour kicks off at the Welcome to the Neighborhood Block Party—also on-hand, among others, will be Boots Riley and the Coup, Kill the Vultures, Los Nativos, and Boiled in Lead.
“The idea of this little tour around the Twin Cities”, says Junkyard Empire trombonist and founder Christopher Robin Cox, “is to play shows in celebration of and solidarity with our brothers and sisters who [are] engaged in speaking truth to power during the convention.” Be prepared for such verse, from JE frontman Brihanu, as “I slam poetics with the dialectic of a heretic. Eclectic styles I inherited from the dociet files, and walked the highways with James Meredith. Evoke the souls of Langston and James Baldwin, because there’s a fire in my eyes when I too sing America. But the schools ain’t preparin’ ya’ for the next era, so we sit by in a state of gentle stasis, waiting for the genocide. My genealogy lies in the ocean waves created by Africans who refused to be slaves, so why we slavin’ for the status quo?”
Cox and company, since Reclaim Freedom, have created a new lineup that now includes Bryan Berry on guitar, Dan Choma on bass and Graham O’Brien on drums. The rest of the dates on the Anti-RNC Tour: September 3 at the Blue Nile for the “Real America Concert,” hosted by the Sha Cage-e.g. bailey outfit Tru Ruts; September 4 at Trocadero’s for the Goodbye RNC Party, hosted by MJG Productions with Jistoray on the bill; and September 6 at Downtime Bar for the RNC Protesters Thank You Party. What’s left to say, except, “Junkyard Empire in effect, y’all”?
Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.
Friday, August 15, 2008
September 1, 2008: March on the RNC to Stop the War
March on the RNC to Stop the War
Demonstrate at the Republican National Convention – September 1, 2008 – St Paul, MN
· U.S. Out of Iraq Now!
· Money for human needs, not for war
· Say no to the Republican Agenda
· Demand peace, justice and equality
On September 1, 2008, we have a unique opportunity to step onto the stage of history. The whole world will be watching as the Republicans meet to nominate their next candidate for president. We must take to the streets of St. Paul to raise our voices against the war and the occupation of Iraq. The politicians who brought us this war for oil and control of the Middle East represent an elite that will stop at nothing to build up U.S. empire. Theft, torture and murder are part and parcel of the war in Iraq. These politicians do not represent us. They have cut programs that serve our needs at home, and blame the most exploited for our hardships.
The government’s response to hurricane Katrina spoke volumes about its vision and values, its policies and plans. Racism, discrimination, and inequality placed African American families on New Orleans freeway overpasses, surrounded by floodwaters. This is one of many terrible examples of what’s wrong with this country. They attack our democratic rights, our rights to organize and our economic well being – from immigrants and the labor movement, to abortion rights and gay marriage – the Republican agenda is an anti-people agenda.
Too many times, Democratic politicians in congress have served as accomplices to this reactionary agenda of racism, poverty and war. In 2008, it’s up to us - anyone committed to peace, justice, and equality - to stand up and say no. We are building for a broad nationwide mobilization that will challenge the 2008 Republican Convention and put forward our vision for this country. We are united by a progressive, pro-people agenda, and our insistence that the U.S. leave Iraq now.
During the four-day Republican National Convention, we expect to see every progressive movement raising demands in protests on the streets of St. Paul. Whether you are building the Labor movement in Peoria, Illinois, building solidarity with Palestine, or are speaking out against the many injustices that face people at home and abroad, you should come to St. Paul for the March on the RNC to Stop the War, on Monday, September 1, 2008. Together we can have an incredible impact.
The Republicans picked Minnesota for 2008, betting that activists from around the country would just stay home. Politicians who support the continuing war in Iraq hope that we will stay quiet. Let’s prove them wrong in the streets of St. Paul, Minnesota. Together, we can change the world.
We, the undersigned, endorse the call for the March on the RNC to Stop the War, in St. Paul, Minnesota, on September 1, 2008 We demand that U.S. troops get out of Iraq. We want money for human needs, not for war. We say no to this agenda. We demand peace, justice and equality.
Anti-War Committee; AFSCME Local 3800; SDS - Univ. of Minnesota; Twin Cities Peace Campaign – Focus on Iraq (MN); Welfare Rights Committee (MN); Women Against Military Madness (MN); Action Center for Justice (NC); Action LA Coalition; Al Awda Right to Return Coalition - Chicago Chapter; Al Awda Right to Return Coalition - Omaha Chapter; Alliance for Global Justice; AlliantAction (MN); American Indian Movement Grand Governing Council; ANSWER Coalition; Arlington (MA) United for Justice with Peace and the Lexington (MA) Peace and Justice Committee; BAYAN USA Bolivarian Circle - Cincinnati; Call 'Em Out Coalition (Detroit); Campus Antiwar Network; Centro CSO (Los Angeles); Chicago Coalition Against War and Racism; Chicago Progressive Alliance; Coalition for Palestinian Rights (MN); Coalition to Protect Public Housing (Chicago); CODEPINK; Colombia Action Network; Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES); Communist Party-USA (MN); Communities United Against Police Brutality (MN); Dekalb Interfaith Network for Peace and Justice; Democratic Socialists of America, Twin Cities; Evanston Neighbors for Peace (IL); Fight Imperialism Stand Together (FIST); FIST (Raleigh, NC); FMLN of Minnesota; Freedom Road Socialist Organization; General Federation of Workers Councils and Unions of Iraq; George W. Bush Marrionette Puppet Show (GA); Green Party, 4th Congressional District/St. Paul; Green Party, 5th Congressional District; Gus Hall Action Club (MN); International Action Center; International Socialist Organization; International Solidarity Movement, Chicago Chapter; Iraq Peace Action Coalition (MN); IWW, Twin Cities General Membership Branch; Junkyard Empire (; Latin America Solidarity Coalition; Latinos Against War (Los Angeles); Lexington Peace and Justice Committee (MA); LIBERTY TREE Foundation for the Democratic Revolution; 49. Living Wage Avengers (MN); Low Income People Organized for Power (LIPOP) - Duluth, MN; Madison Infoshop; Madison Raging Grannies; March 10th Committee; March 25 Coalition - Los Angeles; May 1 Movement for Worker and Immigrant Rights; Mexico-US Solidarity Network; Military Families Speak Out - Minnesota; MN Cuba Cmte ; MN Immigrant Rights Action Coalition; MN Women's Earth Brigade; Montevideo Area Peace Seekers(MN); National Committee to Free Ricardo Palmera; National Immigrant Solidarity Network; National Network On Cuba; Neighbors for Peace (Evanston, IL); Network in Solidarity with the People of the Philippines (NISPOP); Neverwood Collective; New England United (MA); New Jersey Solidarity - Activists for the Liberation of Palestine; Nicaragua Solidarity Committee - Chicago; Northland Anti-War Coalition; Palestine Solidarity Group - Chicago; Pan-African Roots; Peace Action Wisconsin; Peace and War in the Heartland; Peoples Republic of the North Star (ML); Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign; Potluck Democracy; Progressive Students of Milwaukee; Radio Free Maine; Rainbow Affinity Tribe; 82. Reno World Can’t Wait; Revolting Queers; RNC Welcoming Committee; School of the Americas Watch; Seeds of Peace (MT); Socialist Alternative; Southsiders Together Organized for Power (Chicago); Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) - National; SDS - Macalester College; SDS – Ohio State; SDS - Tuscarora High School; SDS - Univ. of Alabama-Tuscaloosa; SDS - UCLA; SDS - UIC; SDS - UNC-Asheville; SDS - UNC-Chapel Hill; SDS - UNC-Charlotte; SDS - Univ. of North Dakota; Students for Peace - University of Minnesota, Duluth; Students for Social Justice - Oakton Community College, Des Plains, IL; Students for Workers' Rights at SUNY Albany; SWEEPMN; Teamster Local 743; Troops Out Now Coalition; Twin Cities TransMarch Collective (MN); Unconventional Action Chicago; United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ); Veterans for Peace Chapter 80; Veterans for Peace, Chapter 115 (MN); Veterans for Peace, Chapter 27 (MN); Voices for Creative Nonviolence; War Resisters League; We The People United Bangla Desh; Welfare Warriors; Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice; Youth Against War and Racism; 8th Day Center for Justice; 1000 Grandmothers… Individuals: John Dear, S.J.; Marlys Fox; Jonathan Hutto; Mark Lynch; Cindy Sheehan; Lynne Stewart; Dr. Cornel West