Friday, November 27, 2009

Thoughts of a Factory Shift-worker

15 minutes is a manageable duration
thats 32 units of 15 minutes 
10% of a 32 base system is 3.2
2/10 of 15 minutes is 3 minutes
so every 48 minutes passed is 10% of the day
xx:48, xx:36
[...] break time.   

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

10 Things a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Can Do

by Joel Wendland

1. Stay committed to the timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.
2. Reject calls for a "surge" in Afghanistan, and draw up plans for eliminating military involvement there.
3. Move forward a realistic pace process in Israel and Palestine.
4. Engage multilaterally and unhypocritically to enforce the provisions of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, i.e., provide energy alternatives for countries seeking nuclear power and reduce and eliminate the nuclear weapons arsenals of the nuclear states (even the US).
5. Engage honestly and cooperatively with countries that do not share the ideological or political or economic values of the US capitalist class (e.g. Cuba, Venezuela, China, etc.).
6. Break with the free trade ideology and neoliberal trade policies that enforce conditions that are hostile to working families, farmers and the poor in any country.
7. Use every ounce of "political capital" to reform, as quickly as possible, modes of economic production to stop climate change through carbon reduction, investments in alternative energy resources, and promotion of a "green" economy.
8. Promote human rights globally, but refuse to use the issue as an excuse for unilateral intervention in other countries.
9. Promote democratic rights and civil rights over the private profit motives of capital.
10. Reject global appeals to end economic stimulus projects in favor of monetary, trade and public investment policies that create jobs as quickly as possible.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

einstein on socialism

Why Socialism?
by Albert Einstein

This essay was originally published in the first issue ofMonthly Review (May 1949).

Is it advisable for one who is not an expert on economic and social issues to express views on the subject of socialism? I believe for a number of reasons that it is.

Let us first consider the question from the point of view of scientific knowledge. It might appear that there are no essential methodological differences between astronomy and economics: scientists in both fields attempt to discover laws of general acceptability for a circumscribed group of phenomena in order to make the interconnection of these phenomena as clearly understandable as possible. But in reality such methodological differences do exist. The discovery of general laws in the field of economics is made difficult by the circumstance that observed economic phenomena are often affected by many factors which are very hard to evaluate separately. In addition, the experience which has accumulated since the beginning of the so-called civilized period of human history has—as is well known—been largely influenced and limited by causes which are by no means exclusively economic in nature. For example, most of the major states of history owed their existence to conquest. The conquering peoples established themselves, legally and economically, as the privileged class of the conquered country. They seized for themselves a monopoly of the land ownership and appointed a priesthood from among their own ranks. The priests, in control of education, made the class division of society into a permanent institution and created a system of values by which the people were thenceforth, to a large extent unconsciously, guided in their social behavior.

But historic tradition is, so to speak, of yesterday; nowhere have we really overcome what Thorstein Veblen called "the predatory phase" of human development. The observable economic facts belong to that phase and even such laws as we can derive from them are not applicable to other phases. Since the real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development, economic science in its present state can throw little light on the socialist society of the future.

Second, socialism is directed towards a social-ethical end. Science, however, cannot create ends and, even less, instill them in human beings; science, at most, can supply the means by which to attain certain ends. But the ends themselves are conceived by personalities with lofty ethical ideals and—if these ends are not stillborn, but vital and vigorous—are adopted and carried forward by those many human beings who, half unconsciously, determine the slow evolution of society.

For these reasons, we should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems; and we should not assume that experts are the only ones who have a right to express themselves on questions affecting the organization of society.

Innumerable voices have been asserting for some time now that human society is passing through a crisis, that its stability has been gravely shattered. It is characteristic of such a situation that individuals feel indifferent or even hostile toward the group, small or large, to which they belong. In order to illustrate my meaning, let me record here a personal experience. I recently discussed with an intelligent and well-disposed man the threat of another war, which in my opinion would seriously endanger the existence of mankind, and I remarked that only a supra-national organization would offer protection from that danger. Thereupon my visitor, very calmly and coolly, said to me: "Why are you so deeply opposed to the disappearance of the human race?"

I am sure that as little as a century ago no one would have so lightly made a statement of this kind. It is the statement of a man who has striven in vain to attain an equilibrium within himself and has more or less lost hope of succeeding. It is the expression of a painful solitude and isolation from which so many people are suffering in these days. What is the cause? Is there a way out?

It is easy to raise such questions, but difficult to answer them with any degree of assurance. I must try, however, as best I can, although I am very conscious of the fact that our feelings and strivings are often contradictory and obscure and that they cannot be expressed in easy and simple formulas.

Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being. As a solitary being, he attempts to protect his own existence and that of those who are closest to him, to satisfy his personal desires, and to develop his innate abilities. As a social being, he seeks to gain the recognition and affection of his fellow human beings, to share in their pleasures, to comfort them in their sorrows, and to improve their conditions of life. Only the existence of these varied, frequently conflicting, strivings accounts for the special character of a man, and their specific combination determines the extent to which an individual can achieve an inner equilibrium and can contribute to the well-being of society. It is quite possible that the relative strength of these two drives is, in the main, fixed by inheritance. But the personality that finally emerges is largely formed by the environment in which a man happens to find himself during his development, by the structure of the society in which he grows up, by the tradition of that society, and by its appraisal of particular types of behavior. The abstract concept "society" means to the individual human being the sum total of his direct and indirect relations to his contemporaries and to all the people of earlier generations. The individual is able to think, feel, strive, and work by himself; but he depends so much upon society—in his physical, intellectual, and emotional existence—that it is impossible to think of him, or to understand him, outside the framework of society. It is "society" which provides man with food, clothing, a home, the tools of work, language, the forms of thought, and most of the content of thought; his life is made possible through the labor and the accomplishments of the many millions past and present who are all hidden behind the small word “society.”

It is evident, therefore, that the dependence of the individual upon society is a fact of nature which cannot be abolished—just as in the case of ants and bees. However, while the whole life process of ants and bees is fixed down to the smallest detail by rigid, hereditary instincts, the social pattern and interrelationships of human beings are very variable and susceptible to change. Memory, the capacity to make new combinations, the gift of oral communication have made possible developments among human being which are not dictated by biological necessities. Such developments manifest themselves in traditions, institutions, and organizations; in literature; in scientific and engineering accomplishments; in works of art. This explains how it happens that, in a certain sense, man can influence his life through his own conduct, and that in this process conscious thinking and wanting can play a part.

Man acquires at birth, through heredity, a biological constitution which we must consider fixed and unalterable, including the natural urges which are characteristic of the human species. In addition, during his lifetime, he acquires a cultural constitution which he adopts from society through communication and through many other types of influences. It is this cultural constitution which, with the passage of time, is subject to change and which determines to a very large extent the relationship between the individual and society. Modern anthropology has taught us, through comparative investigation of so-called primitive cultures, that the social behavior of human beings may differ greatly, depending upon prevailing cultural patterns and the types of organization which predominate in society. It is on this that those who are striving to improve the lot of man may ground their hopes: human beings are not condemned, because of their biological constitution, to annihilate each other or to be at the mercy of a cruel, self-inflicted fate.

If we ask ourselves how the structure of society and the cultural attitude of man should be changed in order to make human life as satisfying as possible, we should constantly be conscious of the fact that there are certain conditions which we are unable to modify. As mentioned before, the biological nature of man is, for all practical purposes, not subject to change. Furthermore, technological and demographic developments of the last few centuries have created conditions which are here to stay. In relatively densely settled populations with the goods which are indispensable to their continued existence, an extreme division of labor and a highly-centralized productive apparatus are absolutely necessary. The time—which, looking back, seems so idyllic—is gone forever when individuals or relatively small groups could be completely self-sufficient. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption.

I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.

The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor—not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules. In this respect, it is important to realize that the means of production—that is to say, the entire productive capacity that is needed for producing consumer goods as well as additional capital goods—may legally be, and for the most part are, the private property of individuals.

For the sake of simplicity, in the discussion that follows I shall call “workers” all those who do not share in the ownership of the means of production—although this does not quite correspond to the customary use of the term. The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. Insofar as the labor contract is “free,” what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists' requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.

Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.

The situation prevailing in an economy based on the private ownership of capital is thus characterized by two main principles: first, means of production (capital) are privately owned and the owners dispose of them as they see fit; second, the labor contract is free. Of course, there is no such thing as a pure capitalist society in this sense. In particular, it should be noted that the workers, through long and bitter political struggles, have succeeded in securing a somewhat improved form of the “free labor contract” for certain categories of workers. But taken as a whole, the present day economy does not differ much from “pure” capitalism.

Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Since unemployed and poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers' goods is restricted, and great hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilization of capital which leads to increasingly severe depressions. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals which I mentioned before.

This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.

I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?

Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition. Since, under present circumstances, free and unhindered discussion of these problems has come under a powerful taboo, I consider the foundation of this magazine to be an important public service.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

concern, in one sentence or less.

with our politicians cat-fighting, a general public less and less sure of science and more confident in religious superiorities, wars being waged over "good" and "evil",  universities of higher learning  promoting task repetition and conformity over thought and innovation, and lobby interests blocking urgent and necessary environmental, financial, and health-rights reform while the earth runs low on viable oil  and water reserves, food production abilities and the globalization of bottom-line self depleting capitalism has brought about an international market collapse and the economists, bought out by the central bank, promote more "free-market" patches while private interests throw more money and power at a massive smear campaign of one of the only promising long-term solutions - otherwise known as socialism - that has successfully convinced people that massive human-rights and international law violating corporations are better for the people than strong government policies that actually recognize and defend the value of the individual,  corporations that have amassed a great majority of the worlds total wealth through exploiting the poor - all while an extremely weak attempt at health care reform in the united states has ignited racism and violent intolerance while showcasing massive ignorance in our (dis)abilities of reading comprehension and an inability of intelligent and productive debate both in our elected leaders and in the general public, with an absurd focus on the relatively menial cost to begin restructuring these problems when record funds are being spent on an illegal ideological and imperialist war in the middle east; i am growing less and less confident in the ability of the human species to survive the twenty-first century.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

rebellion politik tour preproduction

retro-ing/modifiying an 80's gmc cargo van into a vibrant - creative and comfortable tour space.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

a brief synopsis of a public education experience

as completed in a post-graduate survey for the University of Minnesota:

Friday, July 3, 2009

what would they say of us?

okay, so we need the numbers.  perhaps i hold entirely too much confidence in our rights as citizens and the constitution in general to in any way be an effective revolutionist. i must admit also here, that i am currently very conflicted about a violent/nonviolent philosophy, given, the times and physical environment that we occupy.  but, it seems to me that even if we  formed a militia and marched on the capital and demanded a government for the people and by the people, we - in all technical and "legal" ways - would have yet to break a single constitutional law.  so how could they even touch us?   

it has been almost a year since junkyard empire performed a weeklong series of protest and awareness campaign concerts in and around the twin cities during the 2008 republican national convention held in saint paul minnesota.  i spent the week attending and deciding to miss some of the first week of classes in order to experience what i now call "reality education" on the streets of saint paul.  junkyard empire had a protest rally/show scheduled for almost every day of the convention, and in some cases, more than one show a day.  what transpired, impacted us to the extent that we all agreed to write about our experiences in order to inform and/or simply relate our  sense of  confoundedment and simultaneous reassurance that junkyard empire is exactly the right position for us to be, creating art and generally speaking truth if you will. after more than nine months, i guess i am ready to do so. 

there was a march of the poor people's contingent scheduled on the first day of the convention.  i headed to saint paul to meet up with everyone in order to show our solidarity with people's rights everywhere.  on the bus, i noticed a much elevated sense of community as the majority of us commuters where headed to the march - many with gas masks and goggles at hand.  i, being from north dakota, hadn't ever been apart of any such political event.  

we showed up at the state capital mall, where the march was assembling - and where, in four days, i would experience one of those life altering powerful moments on stage.  as more and more people congregated and speeches were told to remind us that, yes indeed, we all showed up in the same place at relatively the same time for a common purpose, the march set forth.  i remember being impressed with the sheer number of people taking the street and marching down toward the convention, legally.  

as the march approached the excel center - the site of the republican national convention - or rather, came within approximately 1,000 feet, the crowd was surrounded by fences and "herded" into a roughly 20 foot wide by 10 foot tall gated coral away from the excel center.  there was ONE person, banging on a kettle and telling the crowd to "enter at your own risk" at the entrance gates - i.e. lockable doors - but through sheer shock and inertia, the crowd carried through and into the confined passage. 

i remember distinctly that it took a few minutes to really understand what was happening, and by that point, i was already in the gate gazing at hundreds of signs reading "let us win in iraq" and "freedom isn't free" through a series of two 10 foot tall nonpenetrable fencing.  my initial fear was of the safety of the thousands of confined people.  what if a riot or violence of any kind erupted?  where would i go?  i was, after all - and all in the name of "public safety" - confined to a relatively small and very densely populated space, with nowhere to retreat toward personal safety. 

but then set in outrage.  observing that the momentum of the crowd had shifted from excited patriotic expression of dissatisfaction over totalitarian politics executed under the guise of american democracy to nervousness.  the crowed literally hushed to nothing - simply a group of scared, and concerned cattle walking through a gated, guarded and inescapable passageway.   i had some time to contemplate our situation in the still quiet of the crowd.  

then it broke; with "freedom isn't free" through two fences on each side of me, 10 feet of industrial perforated steel, snipers on every roof, and a line of riot patrol palming their sticks, grenades, riffles and tear gas - like snake's tongues rhythmically and excitedly dancing through the air in search of prey - from behind bullet-proof vests, goggles, impact masks and shields while creating an obvious and controlled march route.  day one.

we played at an outdoor music festival hosted by the black dog cafe in lowertown.  there were very few people attending due to what we later learned was a massive police blockade, preventing any downtown access to lowertown because a rage against the machine show was predetermined by big brother to be dangerous, unlawful, and downright unpatriotic.  day two.  

the schedule had us performing at a local restaurant/bar in minneapolis the next evening,  a place that we had performed previously that has a generally enjoyable atmosphere.  taking a short break from the front lines, this show didn't involve any tear gas or bullets - rubber or otherwise.  

day four:  last minute, junkyard empire is asked to perform for a march rally on the capital steps by the anti-war committee.  here, the march was to assemble for speeches, some - hopefully - inspirational music and march on the excel center.  during a verse of "rise of the wretched" the police stormed upon the crowed, towering from horses and surrounded an individual in order to make a perceived arrest.  

"rise of the wretched" faltered for a brief moment, as we collectively and instinctively decided to improvise live protest music - in the stead of music for protest.   the band was directly feeding from energy in the crowd as they surrounded the police forces and began chanting "let them go".  taking a hendrix moment, the music delved into extreme freedom through beautiful dissonance.  

this blatant attack on a peaceful gathering was a pathetic attempt to break the perseverance of the people.  the anit-war march left, as scheduled toward the excel center, under a declared "expired permit" to protest.  junkyard empire re-joined the march at what appeared to be a stalemate against a police blockade.  here, were massive trucks lining the streets to prevent any forward progress toward the national convention, where mccain was to speak in a few hours.  the beds of these trucks were filled with armed forces aiming guns at a crowd of otherwise placid citizens simply holding their ground - sitting, communicating and gently expressing their first amendment rights to free speech.  

all exits where cut off;  surrounded, beaten, gassed - the evidence of which destroyed.  in all, more than 400 protestors, journalists and lawyers where arrested.   the night streets of saint paul erupted with concussion grenades, tear gas, riffle shots and explosions, while speeches were made of freedom, prosperity, god's virtue and the value of life from inside the comfort of a climate-controlled excel center.

i don't want anything to do with it.  this false democracy, hypocritical chastisings of other nation's political and economic processes and feeble demonstrations skewed by a privatized mega media.  people suffer, people thirst, people hunger and people die in poverty here in america.  people are also shot, arrested and detained of pre-cognating crimes of "terrorism" through simply demonstrating constitutionally granted political dissent  here in america.   

we support slave labor with an artificial market for diamond rings to symbolize eternal love, our purchase of coffee, and the clothes on our back.  we currently have the greatest disparity of wealth and power in the history of our country.   a select few of the people cannot pass a message of truth through the airwaves of the rich.  those with enough courage to speak of personal integrity and innovation through non-conformity dissent are restrained and prevented from assembling.  we need the numbers, we need the impact - the dissatisfaction and the climate are ripe.  

in lue of a decent conclusion, there is this:

"I knew that the moment the great governing spirit strikes the blow to divide all humanity into just two opposing factions, I would be on the side of the common people."
- Ernesto Guevara, Becoming Che - Carlos Ferrera
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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thoughts of a radical trombonist

Chris here. Just thought I'd let the people who read the Junkyard Empire blog know that I have decided to resurrect my old habit of blogging. A few times over the last year or so I have blogged about Junkyard Empire and various other subjects here, but since I want to get back into writing more often - in an effort to regain and then ultimately improve upon my writings skills - I have revamped my old blog. It's title is "thoughts of a radical trombonist". There's a lot of room for interpretation in that title, or so I'd like to think. There are many meanings of the word "radical", depending upon the lens one views it through, and utilizing the word "thoughts" keeps it sufficiently vague. This is all on purpose, and all part of my plan to take over the world and shape it based upon a utopian future. You can see what I have to write about at THOUGHTS OF a radical trombonist

When there are posts relevant to what we do in Junkyard Empire, I'll post them here on the Junkyard Empire blog. Until then, see you over at the other virtual parking place for our thoughts.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A MUST READ by Thom Hartmann on the "Tea Parties"

Published on Wednesday, April 15, 2009 by
The Real Boston Tea Party was an Anti-Corporate Revolt

by Thom Hartmann

CNBC Correspondent Rick Santelli called for a "Chicago Tea Party" on Feb 19th in protesting President Obama's plan to help homeowners in trouble. Santelli's call was answered by the right-wing group FreedomWorks, which funds campaigns promoting big business interests, and is the opposite of what the real Boston Tea Party was. FreedomWorks was funded in 2004 by Dick Armey (former Republican House Majority leader & lobbyist); consolidated Citizens for a Sound Economy, funded by the Koch family; and Empower America, a lobbying firm, that had fought against healthcare and minimum-wage efforts while hailing deregulation.

Anti-tax "tea party" organizers are delivering one million tea bags to a Washington, D.C., park Wednesday morning - to promote protests across the country by people they say are fed up with high taxes and excess spending.

The real Boston Tea Party was a protest against huge corporate tax cuts for the British East India Company, the largest trans-national corporation then in existence. This corporate tax cut threatened to decimate small Colonial businesses by helping the BEIC pull a Wal-Mart against small entrepreneurial tea shops, and individuals began a revolt that kicked-off a series of events that ended in the creation of The United States of America.

They covered their faces, massed in the streets, and destroyed the property of a giant global corporation. Declaring an end to global trade run by the East India Company that was destroying local economies, this small, masked minority started a revolution with an act of rebellion later called the Boston Tea Party.

On a cold November day in 1773, activists gathered in a coastal town. The corporation had gone too far, and the two thousand people who'd jammed into the meeting hall were torn as to what to do about it. Unemployment was exploding and the economic crisis was deepening; corporate crime, governmental corruption spawned by corporate cash, and an ethos of greed were blamed. "Why do we wait?" demanded one at the meeting, a fisherman named George Hewes. "The more we delay, the more strength is acquired" by the company and its puppets in the government. "Now is the time to prove our courage," he said. Soon, the moment came when the crowd decided for direct action and rushed into the streets.

That is how I tell the story of the Boston Tea Party, now that I have read a first-person account of it. While striving to understand my nation's struggles against corporations, in a rare book store I came upon a first edition of "Retrospect of the Boston Tea Party with a Memoir of George R.T. Hewes, a Survivor of the Little Band of Patriots Who Drowned the Tea in Boston Harbor in 1773," and I jumped at the chance to buy it. Because the identities of the Boston Tea Party participants were hidden (other than Samuel Adams) and all were sworn to secrecy for the next 50 years, this account is the only first-person account of the event by a participant that exists. As I read, I began to understand the true causes of the American Revolution.

I learned that the Boston Tea Party resembled in many ways the growing modern-day protests against transnational corporations and small-town efforts to protect themselves from chain-store retailers or factory farms. The Tea Party's participants thought of themselves as protesters against the actions of the multinational East India Company.

Although schoolchildren are usually taught that the American Revolution was a rebellion against "taxation without representation," akin to modern day conservative taxpayer revolts, in fact what led to the revolution was rage against a transnational corporation that, by the 1760s, dominated trade from China to India to the Caribbean, and controlled nearly all commerce to and from North America, with subsidies and special dispensation from the British crown.

Hewes notes: "The [East India] Company received permission to transport tea, free of all duty, from Great Britain to America..." allowing it to wipe out New England-based tea wholesalers and mom-and-pop stores and take over the tea business in all of America. "Hence," wrote, "it was no longer the small vessels of private merchants, who went to vend tea for their own account in the ports of the colonies, but, on the contrary, ships of an enormous burthen, that transported immense quantities of this commodity ... The colonies were now arrived at the decisive moment when they must cast the dye, and determine their course ... "

A pamphlet was circulated through the colonies called The Alarm and signed by an enigmatic "Rusticus." One issue made clear the feelings of colonial Americans about England's largest transnational corporation and its behavior around the world: "Their Conduct in Asia, for some Years past, has given simple Proof, how little they regard the Laws of Nations, the Rights, Liberties, or Lives of Men. They have levied War, excited Rebellions, dethroned lawful Princes, and sacrificed Millions for the Sake of Gain. The Revenues of Mighty Kingdoms have entered their Coffers. And these not being sufficient to glut their Avarice, they have, by the most unparalleled Barbarities, Extortions, and Monopolies, stripped the miserable Inhabitants of their Property, and reduced whole Provinces to Indigence and Ruin. Fifteen hundred Thousands, it is said, perished by Famine in one Year, not because the Earth denied its Fruits; but [because] this Company and their Servants engulfed all the Necessaries of Life, and set them at so high a Price that the poor could not purchase them."

After protesters had turned back the Company's ships in Philadelphia and New York, Hewes writes, "In Boston the general voice declared the time was come to face the storm."

The citizens of the colonies were preparing to throw off one of the corporations that for almost 200 years had determined nearly every aspect of their lives through its economic and political power. They were planning to destroy the goods of the world's largest multinational corporation, intimidate its employees, and face down the guns of the government that supported it.

The queen's corporation

The East India Company's influence had always been pervasive in the colonies. Indeed, it was not the Puritans but the East India Company that founded America. The Puritans traveled to America on ships owned by the East India Company, which had already established the first colony in North America, at Jamestown, in the Company-owned Commonwealth of Virginia, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi. The commonwealth was named after the "Virgin Queen," Elizabeth, who had chartered the corporation.

Elizabeth was trying to make England a player in the new global trade sparked by the European "discovery" of the Americas. The wealth Spain began extracting from the New World caught the attention of the European powers. In many European countries, particularly Holland and France, consortiums were put together to finance ships to sail the seas. In 1580, Queen Elizabeth became the largest shareholder in The Golden Hind, a ship owned by Sir Francis Drake.

The investment worked out well for Queen Elizabeth. There's no record of exactly how much she made when Drake paid her share of the Hind's dividends to her, but it was undoubtedly vast, since Drake himself and the other minor shareholders all received a 5000 percent return on their investment. Plus, because the queen placed a maximum loss to the initial investors of their investment amount only, it was a low-risk investment (for the investors at least-creditors, such as suppliers of provisions for the voyages or wood for the ships, or employees, for example, would be left unpaid if the venture failed, just as in a modern-day corporation). She was endorsing an investment model that led to the modern limited-liability corporation.

After making a fortune on Drake's expeditions, Elizabeth started looking for a more permanent arrangement. She authorized a group of 218 London merchants and noblemen to form a corporation. The East India Company was born on December 31, 1600.

By the 1760s, the East India Company's power had grown massive and worldwide. However, this rapid expansion, trying to keep ahead of the Dutch trading companies, was a mixed blessing, as the company went deep in debt to support its growth, and by 1770 found itself nearly bankrupt.

The company turned to a strategy that multinational corporations follow to this day: They lobbied for laws that would make it easy for them to put their small-business competitors out of business.

Most of the members of the British government and royalty (including the king) were stockholders in the East India Company, so it was easy to get laws passed in its interests. Among the Company's biggest and most vexing problems were American colonial entrepreneurs, who ran their own small ships to bring tea and other goods directly into America without routing them through Britain or through the Company. Between 1681 and 1773, a series of laws were passed granting the Company monopoly on tea sold in the American colonies and exempting it from tea taxes. Thus, the Company was able to lower its tea prices to undercut the prices of the local importers and the small tea houses in every town in America. But the colonists were unappreciative of their colonies being used as a profit center for the multinational corporation.

Boston's million-dollar tea party

And so, Hewes says, on a cold November evening of 1773, the first of the East India Company's ships of tax-free tea arrived. The next morning, a pamphlet was widely circulated calling on patriots to meet at Faneuil Hall to discuss resistance to the East India Company and its tea. "Things thus appeared to be hastening to a disastrous issue. The people of the country arrived in great numbers, the inhabitants of the town assembled. This assembly, on the 16th of December 1773, was the most numerous ever known, there being more than 2000 from the country present," said Hewes.

The group called for a vote on whether to oppose the landing of the tea. The vote was unanimously affirmative, and it is related by one historian of that scene "that a person disguised after the manner of the Indians, who was in the gallery, shouted at this juncture, the cry of war; and that the meeting dissolved in the twinkling of an eye, and the multitude rushed in a mass to Griffin's wharf."

That night, Hewes dressed as an Indian, blackening his face with coal dust, and joined crowds of other men in hacking apart the chests of tea and throwing them into the harbor. In all, the 342 chests of tea-over 90,000 pounds-thrown overboard that night were enough to make 24 million cups of tea and were valued by the East India Company at 9,659 Pounds Sterling or, in today's currency, just over $1 million.

In response, the British Parliament immediately passed the Boston Port Act stating that the port of Boston would be closed until the citizens of Boston reimbursed the East India Company for the tea they had destroyed. The colonists refused. A year and a half later, the colonists would again state their defiance of the East India Company and Great Britain by taking on British troops in an armed conflict at Lexington and Concord (the "shots heard 'round the world") on April 19, 1775.

That war-finally triggered by a transnational corporation and its government patrons trying to deny American colonists a fair and competitive local marketplace-would end with independence for the colonies.

The revolutionaries had put the East India Company in its place with the Boston Tea Party, and that, they thought, was the end of that. Unfortunately, the Boston Tea Party was not the end; within 150 years, during the so-called Gilded Age, powerful rail, steel, and oil interests would rise up to begin a new form of oligarchy, capturing the newly-formed Republican Party in the 1880s, and have been working to establish a permanent wealthy and ruling class in this country ever since.

Thom Hartmann (thom at is a Project Censored Award-winning New York Times best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk program The Thom Hartmann Show. His most recent books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights," "We The People: A Call To Take Back America," "What Would Jefferson Do?," "Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class and What We Can Do About It," and "Cracking The Code: The Art and Science of Political Persuasion." His newest book is Threshold: The Crisis of Western Culture.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Fake Populism in the Form of Anti-Tax "Tea Parties"

Chances are, if you at all like me, you have seen report after report on the so-called "tea-party" protests put on by Libertarians and Republicans all over the country. They are of course promoted heavily by Fox News and the other shills for the individualistic ideologies that the right wing in this country have been duped by. Well, individualist until you bring in the idea of militaristic hegemony across the globe, in which case Republicans love spending taxpayer dollars.

Beyond the fact that they routinely use the term "tea-bagging" (I won't explain), this movement, if it could actually be called anything of the sort, is absolutely full of shit. But before I vent anymore about it, there two things needed; one, some links to these really annoying videos, and two, some background on "tea parties". Here is some video, from Huffington Post, linked below as well:

So, if you took a moment to check out how silly these things are, you will no doubt already realize what kind of insufficiently knowledgeable people we are dealing with here. First of all, the term "tea party", it it's political sense, comes to us from the Boston Tea Party ( Basically, it was the beginning of the Revolutionary War. I'm no historian, but from my limited knowledge of the event, the only relevance of the Boston Tea Party to the silliness of today's "tea party protests" is that both parties were/are protesting taxes. Of course, in the case of the earlier tea party, the taxes were levied upon imported tea from the British government, who still ran the American colonies at the time. It was symbolic, in that it foreshadowed the new drive for American independence. After all, America was indeed founded by a what was essentially a bunch of well-to-do Brits fleeing a revolution that was decidedly against their privileged lifestyle. I mean, hell, why not go and claim land and pillage the savages, right? Sorry, back to the case at hand.

So, it looks like the only real similarity here between the two tea parties is that they both are essentially based on the idea that taxes are bad and money and goods are better without them. Needless to say, that is quite debatable, but let's not waste time talking about a debate to be had between these cop-outs and any normal person who at least understands the basic idea behind taxation, because that's not going to happen. And frankly, that is the most frightening part of this, depending on how you look at it.

It's frightening, because what these people really are demanding is one of two things [and I'm not sure which one yet], taxation without representation, or the absence of taxation all together. Either way, the citizens of this country all lose. And furthermore, those who are holding these protests seem not to understand their own history at all. I would venture to say that not a single person in any of these videos, with the exception of the organizers who sometimes appear, would have any knowledge of what the tax rates used to be in this country only a few decades ago. There once was a time when anyone who made in excess of like $300,000 per year was taxed in the 80-90 percentile! That number is a hell of a lot lower today, to make a gross understatement.

What these people are essentially advocating for is a philosophical civil war between those who believe that humanity is best served through "enlightened self-interest" and the absence of government in the financial affairs of its citizenry, and those who believe humanity is best served by a governmental apparatus capable of creating an acceptable minimum standard of living and access to the branches of governmental power - the original intention of taxation as an idea.

I, for one, would love to have that debate, but not with a bunch of brainwashed right wing nuts who think of nothing but themselves and their own material accumulation.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tell me again: Why don't we want the banks to fail?

Okay, yeah, I know there are "a lot of good people out there who are unfortunately depending upon banks loaning them the money to run their businesses, businesses that provide much needed jobs in our community," (voice of my inner "Devil's advocate")but let's just think about that a minute. Is it actually a good thing that the vast majority of the economy of the United States and indeed much of the world depends upon loans from banks who are essentially answerable to nobody? I mean, I just recently got a letter from Capital One telling me that my credit card interest rate is going up to like 24%, after I have only had two late payments in well over two years. Who the fuck are they actually in business for? [Wait, I want to stay somewhat restrained in this post, so that I don't look like a completely bloody revolutionist on the rampage.]

So, I ask the question: Why exactly are we so - and when I say "we" I mean our current and recent governmental leadership - sure that if we let the banks that are "insolvent" fail our society will not rebuild itself in a much more logical, evidence-based manner? I mean, if you own a coffee shop and you are not selling enough coffee and danishes to stay open without taking out a bunch of business loans from the bank, logic ought to tell you to close down the damn business, or somehow change how you operate the business so that there is less overhead, right? Under the economic paradigm of the past 30 years or so, the previous statement would be shouted down as blasphemy. So much so, that most business owners are remiss to envision any possible business that does not take out more and more loans the more successful the business becomes. That is how out of touch the business world has become; they can't envision operating without massive funding from banks. In short, we went from a basic operating assumption that a successful business is one that is solvent and can provide the amount of goods and services demanded by the customers of said business, to an assumption that says a good business is a big business - the goal being to get bigger, even if you operate on a huge loss every year. Needless to say, I tend to think the former is a much healthier, albeit tougher, paradigm to operate under. Being a musician, problems like running out of CD's to sell at our shows, are good problems. We don't run out and try to get a loan from a big bank to pay for the printing of more CD's. Instead, we partner up with colleagues and actual investors to print more CD's than we did the last time, so that we can service everyone that wants one. More on that later.

Look, my point here is simple: There is a big difference between going to the proverbial "bank" and taking out a giant loan with a high interest rate in order to create more product, knowing full well that you are going to have to pay back a ton of money, regardless of whether or not your customer base actually expands, and talking to partners in similar businesses about pooling monies together to put out more product, offering those partners "points" (as we do in the independent music world) or a piece of the profits for a certain period of time or until they are paid off, whichever happens first. Damn, that was a long sentence, but hopefully clear. Am I making sense here?

If all the big giant, community crushing, banks in the country failed, what would happen? Well, the same damn thing that has happened time and time again throughout history, we would "socialize" them, "nationalize" them, "rescue" them, or whatever term you want to use so as not to rile up your frightened capitalist friends. And when that happens, the taxpayer owns the bank, and if the taxpayer is involved enough in the goings on of government, the taxpayer can have a profound effect upon who gets the money and what the terms are. In our current situation, banks are no different than the mafia, in that they give you an offer you simply can't refuse, and then when you fuck up and miss a payment, they don't just come and break your legs, they take your home, sue you, and take all your possessions until they feel like they got enough out of you to "settle" your loan terms. In the case of homes, the government pays off many of the banks the minute you sign your promissory note, and every penny you are supposedly "paying off" to the bank is pretty much just them collecting twice. It's a complex issue, and I do plan on writing more about this in the future. But for the sake of argument, everyone knows that nobody who buys a house, myself included, really envisions paying the thing totally off - unless they are really damn wealthy. Instead, we plan to hold onto it until the market tells us it's smart to sell, pay off the loan, and then - you know it - go out and get another, bigger, better loan.

It's all bullshit people, a clever game that we all play, because our system is set up in a way that offers very few alternatives. If the biggest, baddest banks fail, and taxpayers either take ownership of them or simply refuse pay them off, the government will have little choice but to take control of the financial markets and rebuild them, hopefully in a way that is centered upon uplifting the human condition, not simply uplifting profit and capital.

Personally, I have already canceled all of my credit cards and I am paying off the remaining balances in payments I can afford. Within a few months, I will have no cards to speak of, and I am more than willing to live my life here without the "convenience". I am still paying off my car, which sucks, and I have a house to pay off. However, my home loan is guaranteed by the government, and sits at a fixed interest rate of 6%. Put that in your pipe and smoke it Wall Street! I, for one, am more than willing to deal with the pain of the end of the American banking system as we know it, compared with the pain of only being able to subsist in this culture via outlandish bank loans that I know I will never be able to pay back.

And finally, the failing of the banks will inevitably lead to the coming together of people from every walk of life, either on the streets fighting a long overdue revolution in this misguided country, or because we are forced to work together with our neighbors to take back our country, its economic system, and control of the engine of capital again. Only this time, we can't fuck up and let the so-called "conservatives" lure us in with the promises of exorbitant capital and profit for goods and services that do nothing but rape the environment, the arts, and the rest of the commons.

Bring on the angry mob.

-Chris Robin Cox

Monday, March 2, 2009


In the words of ex-Chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul Volker: "I don't remember any time, maybe even the Great Depression, when things went down quite so fast." He was speaking of the “global financial meltdown.” Strong words coming from the guy who is supposed to keep the American people sold on free market capitalism.

My question is: what will happen to the music when the harsh reality of the global economic collapse finally reaches the front porches of all Americans, not just us broke musicians who have been in a “depression” for far too long, but EVERYONE. Let me be clear when I say my question is not necessarily about the musicians, it is about the music. What will happen to the music?

In order to answer that question, we need to take a little trip back to the last Depression, that nasty time during the 1930s. On one hand we had boundary breaking, style creating merchants of swing like Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Fletcher Henderson, as well as the famous white bands led by Tommy Dorsey (the “ghost band” of which I have myself played in) and Benny Goodman, among others. And then on the other hand, you had the radical leftist folk singers hitting the road in support of labor unions and the growing Socialist alternative, headed up by none other than the great Woody Guthrie.

The 1920s was a boom time for big band music, often referred to as the “big band era”. It was also the beginning of the film industry and at that time music was expected to play a central role in every film. Bands, primarily big bands, often provided the soundtracks live.

So, we go from the “roaring twenties”, where both Black and White musicians could find decent paying work in the north, either in the mainstream clubs or on the underground, to the devastating crash of 1929. That’s when it all changed. But, how exactly it changed is up for debate. Clearly, musicians and artists of all kinds dealt with the brunt of the economic hardships of those first few years of the Depression. But again, I ask what happened to the music? I mean, everyone was immediately broke. Sure, there were a few robber barons that had most of the money, just like any other time in American history, but for the most part everyone was in the same leaky boat, financially.

When the Depression hit hard at the end of the 1920s, going into the 1930s, there was a dramatic decrease in the amount of paid work any musician could find, much less Black musicians. The really popular bands, like Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington and the like could still stay afloat, because they could pack the big auditoriums and clubs in Harlem and across the country. For the smaller, lesser known bands, it was a very different reality. But I would argue that the music itself became stronger than ever as a result of the massive and sudden reality check that everyone was put into. It simply had to become all about the music; only the best was going to get booked anywhere. Of course, this was the case because the actual musical talent of a particular artist or band was in the forefront of the decision to promote them. That has definitely changed in the mainstream music business in recent decades.

The record business was hit really hard too. Record sales went down from the high of 104 million in 1927 to just 6 million in 1932. Add to that the reality that young people, definitely making up the bulk of album sales, were not going out to shows in an effort to save money; you’ve got quite a cocktail of disaster for an industry that was laced in gold for the previous ten years. But here’s the silver lining: Radio stepped up to save the day. Radio was the first free form of entertainment the country had ever seen!

Radio was no saint of course. Many jazz musicians in these days claimed that the commercialization of jazz was going to kill the art form. There are many who still hold that opinion. And let’s face it; much of the best music of the Depression didn’t make the radio, just like it doesn’t make the radio today. All that considered though, music via radio did actually find a way to get out there to the public at large without musicians having to find a way to pedal it across the country, one live show at a time. Still, many musicians who went on the radio claimed they did so out of desperation and/or starvation. The same could be said today about the need to get into licensing one’s music for mainstream television and radio spots. It’s not what we would really want to do, but it’s damn near the only other way to make real money. Now hold on, I’m leading somewhere with this!

Here we are in the year 2009. We are on the verge of not just an American, but a global economic meltdown, something many – including the above cited Paul Volker – say could be worse than the Great Depression. That is not only scary as hell because of the visions of bread lines, government cheese, and the overwhelming amount of under-educated and frightened people who own guns in this country, but because radio sucks terribly, nobody sees the need to buy CD’s anymore, and the over-commercialization of music is so ingrained in the American psyche that we all have to fear what the traditional thinkers in the music industry might have up their sleeve.

All that said, there still is the music, and there is a conundrum at hand. That is, while CD sales have been taking a steady dive for quite some time, partially as a result of the many free forms of musical access via the Internet – legally and otherwise – and partially as a result of CD’s just kind being a sucky form of physical distribution by historical standards, sales of vinyl have gone up dramatically! Furthermore, as a percentage of money earned by musicians, the live performance has now far surpassed that of record sales of any kind. This has rarely been the case in past decades.

So, as the member of a band that has just signed a recording contract, albeit a very small one, I ask a simple question: What will happen to the music when the music is all we have? I mean, clearly, when the shit really hits the fan, buying a CD – which you are just going to dump onto your computer and ultimately your iPod or some such device – is going to be the last thing on my mind, and I am a damn musician! How can I expect the fans of the band I play with to think any different?

Let me just cut to the chase. When the Great Depression hit, it took with it a whole lot of bullshit, dig? A lot of music that had no business being recorded in the first place was wiped off the planet and out of people’s conscience. Sure, it was damn hard for musicians to make a living, but life has always been hard for musicians, because we don’t do something that has real market value, unless our music is attached to something that does. That brings me to the point: Bring on the collapse! Why do I say that? I say it because there is so much shit out there, totally unworthy of crossing the path of anyone’s ears that it will be a welcomed change to see it suddenly disappear from the radio, the television and so on. Let the good music prevail I say! But let’s be real about this. If we, the musicians and the public that respects them, want good music to prevail, we have to be willing to rebuild the music world; to revolutionize it from the inside out by making decision that make sense.

During times of economic depression, money doesn’t only become scarcer, it becomes more precious. This is both a blessing and a curse. People have less of it to spend on things like music and the live shows that ought to come along with it. But, when people do spend it on music, they tend to want to really get what they pay for, as they should right?

So, with the looming collapse haunting our thoughts, I ask you, the listener, the musician, the critic, the whatever: What do you think will happen to the music? Will it get better because there will simply be less of it dumped into the public’s lap? Or will it suffer because of lack of financial interest from the purveyors of American uber-capitalism? It’s something we should watch closely, and we should do everything we can to inform the monsters of the recording industry that in times like these, they better bring us some damn good music if they want us to pay for it.

What we buy with the dollar is much more important than the dollar itself, and for that very reason, we must move away from the notion that the quality of music can be derived from the amount of money it fetches on the rabid free market.

- Christopher Robin Cox

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Little Update from the Junkyard Empire

Hello to all you lovely people in cyberspace,

We realize we have not been writing hardly at all here on ye ole' blog, but that's because of all very good (and exciting) reasons. Most of which I am going to keep quiet about until everything is agreed upon and signed! (hint, hint) PLUS: Junkyard Empire was named one of URB MAGAZINE'S Next 1000!! You can look for information about that next week.

In the meantime, here are some links to some great articles that have been recently published about the band, interviews, etc.:



RISE OF THE WRETCHED REVIEWED IN "RIFT MAGAZINE" (Although they get the name of the album WRONG and use the cover from Reclaim Freedom)