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Archive for April, 2007|Monthly archive page

The Music Wars: Damning the Streams in the New Frontier

In Blogs we like, Civil Liberties, Consumerism, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, Media Criticism, Misc., Music, Technology on April 20, 2007 at 12:34 pm

The accomplished Talking Heads frontman and activist, David Byrne, recently posted a blog about the insidious new licensing rates and policies being propogated by the Copyright Royalty Control Board, a government panel of appointees tasked with regulating ever more influential copyright issues. At the root of the new policies is a substantial increase in royalty rates – fees a broadcaster pays to the copyright owner for each time their composition is played – that will greatly impact the way business is done for thousands of independent webcasters. Not only are the rates retroactive, but they also happen to be in line with a proposal submitted by SoundExchange, basically the “non-profit” face of RIAA advocacy. You can read their press release here.

Considering that the RIAA’s lawyers have litigated the pants off those downloading free Mp3s and the services making them available, it seems only natural that they now turn their attention to purveyors of webstreams and podcasts. Instead of going head to head in court, though, they’re trying to circumvent the system and pre-emptivelty install legislation that works in their favor by increasing their revenue. Byrne breaks it down for us:

With the proposed changes the royalties [for Webcasting] can no longer be based on a percentage of revenue, but on a fee for each listening hour — how many folks are listening and for how long — and there will be a minimum fee per radio “channel”. Also, above a certain aggregate listening hour amount, non-profits have to pay the same per-listening hour rates as commercial broadcasters. So now there will be no distinction between a large-scale non-profit station (like KCRW or WXPN) and Z100.

These changes are estimated to increase average costs about 20% accross the board, taking money directly out of the pockets of webcasters and into the hands of the 4 remaining major labels. And as I said before, since the law is retroactive starting from 2006, there will be a ton of money “owed” to these multinationals in addition to their increased projections:

For NPR stations it is a different story as they have wider listenership than I and would pay the same royalty rates as commercial broadcasters. KCRW estimates roughly that as this ruling is retroactive they would owe $130,000 in additional fees for 2006 and $237,000 for 2007. WXPN in Philly estimates $1,000,000. In some worlds this is not a big deal but as one can imagine many of these stations barely eek by as it is, so this could very likely shut down the webcasting side of many of them. That would be a shame, as these stations are the only source of, well, good music, alternative sounds and innovative and informative programming in the U.S. It would be a loss for, well, democracy, as democracy depends on availability of many points of view untainted by commercial concerns and pressures. A truly informed populace, in other words. It points to another victory for the oligarchs — the big 5 record companies and the media companies that own them. Count one more for the big guys. The reasoning that it’s for the benefit of the artists rings a little hollow as most artists heard this argument re: cracking down on file sharing, and most never see money from their record companies anyway — so the line about “we’re doing it for you” is pretty suspect.

They don’t charge these kinds of rates to terrestrial broadcast radio, either. They can’t. Despite the homogeonzing effect Clear Channel has had on playlists through it’s absorption of radio stations, it is still nearly impossible for anyone to determine if an audience is listening. ASCAP and other performing rights organizations determine royalty payments via Billboard rankings, applying some assinine, archaic formula to determine who gets paid what in a given week. Internet radio is different in the fact that servers and ISPs keep exceptional records of everything associated with any web-based service, allowing for more accurate tracking of audiences, effectively allowing these companies to see exactly how much money they’re “losing” to internet radio.

This argument is – for lack of a better word – bullshit. Every major label record deal removes about 10%-15% of an artist’s sales revenue for what are called “Free” or “Promotional” materials; this includes T-shirts, posters and, of course, CDs given away to press, radio and other media outlets to promote the act. A considerable amount of money also goes to “marketing consultants” who basically bribe stations with fabulous cash and prizes to gaurantee radio play – termed “Payola”. So, I ask, what the hell’s the problem with factoring internet radio into this equation? Anyone with any kind of business acumen can see this makes a shit ton of sense. Not only are you reaching more consumers in new and fashionable ways, but you don’t have to produce any additional product or incur any further cost to do so. You can email MP3s to scores of stations for free, track the feedback far easier and more accurately than broadcast radio, and hone in that much more effectively on your key demographics, thereby streamlining your promotional schemes for similar artists in the future. The shit actually SAVES you money in the long run.

This is not about money, though, and don’t let the RIAA tell you different. Every case of piracy and royalty infringement in the past, and the future, is about access and control. The real power in the current music business structure does not come from producing content, but rather by regulating how that content is distributed and consumed. Radio, concerts and CDs are the conveyance of their property, and Labels charge tolls – be they concert tickets or retail prices – to access them. The internet represents a new frontier that is no longer controlled by the establishment, it is controlled by the people. There are no more dams or gates restricting the flow on content, and the only true regulation is quality – talented bands who work and tour to develop their own following are able reap the benefits of their work with the help of organic, grassroots support structures. True, this creates a far more decentralized business model that is harder to predict and difficult to conquer. But it also encourages smaller, more agile businesses – like local radio – who understand their niche audience and are genuinely engaged in satisfying their specific tastes, putting these lumbering multinational corporations at a marked disadvantage against their independent counterparts. Litigation for copyright infringement and the tripling of licensing rates represent the last ditch efforts by these majors to exert their only real advantage: money. Increase costs of starting and running an independent outlet, and more and more will go outta business forcing fans back into the mediocre mainstream. With access denied to their audiences, bands will have to fight even harder for increasingly rare and exploitative record contracts. The possibilities we should be given by this new age will be denied to us, but at least Universal’s stock can move up a couple of percentage points. For everyone out there who loves music, variety and choice, please get involved with the links below.

Future of Music Coalition

Save Net Radio

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Bowl Data – The Republicans

In Election 2008, The War On Drugs, US Politics on April 12, 2007 at 11:12 pm

As a follow up to his Bowl Data – The Democrats post, here is RD’s take on the Republicans:

A political candidate’s viability is often reduced to one simple but telling question: Would you want to have a beer with them? But sharing a few laffs over a pitcher of suds isn’t nearly as revealing as camping out in the rumpus room with a dimebag and a medium sausage lover’s. The real question should be: Would you want to get stoned with them? What follows are purely hypothetical stoner profiles of the leading 2008 presidential candidates:

THE REPUBLICANS

rudy-giuliani-picture-1.jpg

Rudy

Preferred Paraphernalia – one of those metal cigarettes that’s actually a pipe. Because he’s sneaky!

Stoned Songbook – Dean Martin. The original slick Italian. Ol’ Dino was like parmesan-encrusted catnip to impressionable legal secretaries back in the Attorney General days.

Marijuana Movie – Previews of the Giuliani biopic commissioned by his campaign. Coming soon to a theater near you – “Did I Mention 9/11? The Rudy Giuliani Story,” directed by Jerry Bruckheimer.

Munchies, man! – Judith Nathan

Baked Babble – “You know what’s crazy? Ice cubes, man. They’re like these little, perfect squares of coldness, and we totally take them for granted. You know what else is crazy? That a pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-civil union New Yorker might win the South Carolina primary. That’s fucking crazy.”

Dope Demeanor –Kind of jumpy. Constantly killing your buzz with inappropriate comments you try to forget.
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Mitt

 Preferred Paraphernalia – a Coke can. Because if he’s going to indulge in the forbidden herb, why not make it a twofer and score some caffeine?

Stoned Songbook – the Carpenter’s Christmas album. It reminds him of family, and Mitt Romney is all about family. But only wife. Don’t get it twisted.

Marijuana Movie – “An Inconvenient Truth.” He was the governor of Massachusetts, alright?

Munchies, man! – Pickles.

Baked Babble – “Yeah, Mormons take a lot of shit, and some of the stuff we do is a little nutty, granted. But have you ever taken a close look at the Pope? Homeboy is walking around with a fucking sceptor. Why doesn’t anyone ask Rudy what that’s all about?

Dope Demeanor – Pompously earnest. Earpous.

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John McC .

Preferred Paraphernalia – perfectly rolled joints of legal, medicinal marijuana. He can’t walk without them. Bad hip.

Stoned Songbook – Cher, “Do You Believe in Life After Love?” His wife, Cindy, listens to it every morning during her nude step aerobics workout. She keeps him young, and he loves her for it.

Marijuana Movie – “Apocalypse Now – The Director’s Cut.” And not necessarily because of Nam – it’s just a badass movie.

Munchies, man! – Centrum Silver.

Baked Babble – “You know who sucks? Pat Robertson. I meant it the first time. And you can fucking go to Wolf Blitzer with that – I don’t give a shit anymore.”

Dope Demeanor – Tired, a little cranky, but oddly endearing.

Bowl Data – The Democrats

In Election 2008, The War On Drugs, US Politics on April 11, 2007 at 10:23 am

This article was submitted to the blog by our friend “rd,” who has his own blog here.  Enjoy.

HillaryObamaEdwards

A political candidate’s viability is often reduced to one simple but telling question: Would you want to have a beer with them? But sharing a few laffs over a pitcher of suds isn’t nearly as revealing as camping out in the rumpus room with a dimebag and a medium sausage lover’s. The real question should be: Would you want to get stoned with them? What follows are purely hypothetical stoner profiles of the leading 2008 presidential candidates:

The Democrats

Hilary

– Preferred paraphernalia – a glass pipe (name: Toots McSmokealot) purchased during her freshman year at Wellesley.
– Stoned Song – Journey, “Don’t Stop Believing.” Rated America’s #1 favorite song in a recent Gallup poll; confirmed by Hillary 2008 focus groups.
– Marijuana Movie – “Pretty Woman.” Because she’s still a hopeless romantic at heart.
– Munchies, man! – a 32 oz. porterhouse, rare.
– Baked Babble – “Bill inhaled. I inhaled. Fucking Nixon inhaled. It was the seventies, for chrissake. Give me a break.”
– Dope Demeanor – Paranoid. Very paranoid.

Barack

– Preferred Paraphernalia – Cocaine blunts.
– Stoned Song – Rod Stewart, “Maggie May.” You’d think this would hurt his credibility within the black community, but in fact a large number of African Americans really love Rod the Mod. It’s just one of those weird things.
– Marijuana Movie – “Soul Plane,” allegedly. But he could just be overcompensating for the Rod Stewart thing. In his defense, it’s actually kind of a funny movie.
– Munchies, man! – Half a pack of Nicorette.
– Baked Babble – “Which is a weirder presidential name: Barack Hussein Obama or Millard Fillmore? Tough one, right?”
– Dope Deamanor – Cool as fuck. Homeboy makes Snoop look like Screech.

John Edwards

– Preferred Paraphernalia – a simple, workingman’s joint. Preferably smoked in the company of the family dog behind the toolshed.
– Stoned Song – Alan McGraw. Garth Tritt. Waylon Urban. Bruce Mellencamp. This is his country, dammit.
– Marijuana Movie – “Wild Hogs.” Anything with Tim Allen, really. John Edwards is one of you, America!
– Munchies, man! – Hominy. It doesn’t get more Red State than J-ward!
– Baked Babble – “I pay my Botox guy more than I pay my top consultant. A lot more.”
– Dope Demeanor – Smiley. It’s kind of creepy.

The Republicans – Coming up, as soon as we find the goddamn lighter… Between the cushions, maybe?

The Way Forward

In Afghanistan, Election 2006, Election 2008, Global War On Terror, Iraq War, Misc., Progressive Politics, Terrorism on April 5, 2007 at 5:27 pm

I’ve been trying to avoid writing about the War since I started contributing to this blog a few months ago, but comment on a recent post has forced my hand. Much talk has been made on the fact that America must stay in Iraq until is has “acheived victory”, and that “surrender”, “cut and run”, or any option otherwise is paramount to failure. This argument, though, always makes me laugh, while at the same time noding my head, reflecting the intrinsic duality of our mission and our goals in this shattered country.

In many ways, “victory” is no longer America’s to acheive, it’s Iraq’s. When the occupation began in 2002, we dissolved – entirely – any semblance of statehood and public works the country had in a vain hope that we could re-shape it into something more palatable to the West and Iraqis at large. However bad they were, though, the Baathists could at least keep the lights on and the water running. But since we dismissed all public employees and replaced state offices with private contractors, maintaining necessary services became a little tough. The police and army – well-armed, well-trained personnel – were also given their walking papers, making idle hands truly the devil’s plaything. These mistakes, made by acting Pro-Consul L. Paul Bremer, and the administrations desire to deploy half the troops needed to secure a country of this size, helped speed Iraq towards disaster.

We created an immense power vaccum in Iraq which forced it’s people to revert to the only kind of law and order they had left – tribal councils and ethnic divisions – which lead us to the country’s current state of chaos. Though the Maliki government – elected with all of those inked fingers so long ago – has been unable to quell the seething violence throughout it’s country, there is no gaurantee our troops have or will be any more sucessful. If anything, our presence undercuts any authority the government has and intrinsically calls into question its autonomy. High rates of unemployment also fuel both the insurgency and the sense of hopelessness in Iraq. Take away the hundreds of over-fed American corporations “rebuilding” towns and business, give potential insurgents a steady job and a proper wage and see how many are willing to put down their guns for a shovel. We have taken so much from these people, it is time that their home be put back into their own hands. In this way, our vision of Iraq as a stable, legitimately soverign nation will never come to fruition until we leave.

But yet, the omnipresent issue of security surrounds every choice being made, and rightfully so. The fact of the matter is that our men and women sit in the midst of a growing civil war that has the potential to engulf the rest of the region in bloody ethnic cleansing; and the Maliki government is both unable and unwilling to bring the violence to an end at the cost of compromise with their former oppressors. As more and more countries from our “coalition” pack up and leave, the greater our responsibility is to protect Iraqi’s from themselves. It is clear that without our presence, the bloodshed will possibly escalate to ugly proportions, making us neither liberators, nor occupiers, but rather enablers: the country that turned it’s back on the mess it made and allowed it to fester into a horrific genocide. With all these circumstances, though, it is difficult to promote a continuation of a war that has brought to view the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians, unprecidented financial misappropriation, the formation of a private mercenary army of over 25,000 that operates outside any jurisdiction and enough tortue and human rights abuses to take the Hague’s present staff into retirement.

One of the most interesting plan I’ve read on constructive disengagement from Iraq came from former Senator and ’72 Presidential candidate George McGovern. In a lenghty, detailed, and amazingly level-headed piece in Harpers magazine last year, George presents a multi-faceted, responsible alternative to a “troop surge”. Though removal of our forces is a key element to this plan, he proposes to replace them with services that would probably prove to be much more effective than our previous efforts. A multi-national security force will be put in place of our military and will include personnel from muslim nations who – unlike us – speak fluent Arabic. Instead of pouring money into Haliburton, we will give our billions directly to established Iraqi government funds for reconstruction, reparations, and the continuing development of State and local government at large, all while being monitored by third party auditors to ensure transparent and responsible spending by both sides. In addition, McGovern encourages the establishment professional training programs for doctors, lawyers, social workers, and more, filling the desperate needs of a country that has experienced a drain of mental capacity along with everything else.

Though my paraphrasing is not doing his plan justice, McGovern’s concept is far more important. Since taking power in the House and Senate, the Democrats have been fervently seeking to withdrawl our troops and finally challenge the administration in an attempt to execute the percieved will of the people. All the while, Republicans have continued to counter their time tables and budget points with shouts of treason and failure. Both parties are desperately trying to make up for their past mistakes and making bold statements to try to carry political favor – Democrats with immediate ends, Republicans with redoubled efforts. Neither, though, is the responsible course of action. The myriad consequences from the abhorrent mishandling of the war cannot be undone by a temporary influx of over-worked troops. And though the sight of these troops coming home is an invaluable photo-op for any Dem who signed their tickets, it must be done in a responsible, methodical, and well planned manner. A quick-fix deadline motivated by political ambition is reminiscent of our “Mission Accomplished” carrier jamboree (case in point, Afghanistan). The point of this horribly long rant is that the issues and consequences involved with Iraq are far more complex than we have been led to believe, and there is no single solution to the war. “Victory” will require compromise between our own warring houses, and will most likely look much different than we have been led to believe. We have been pushed towards dangerous extremism over the last few years, so much so that we have begun to see everything in absolutes. The question before us should not be merely fight or flee, there is a middle ground that must be occupied in order for the country to survive. We must stay in some capacity in order to keep some semblance of security, but we can’t continue such invasive combat operations as the only ones walking the beat. Troops and weoponry must not be the only reflection of America’s presence in the region, either. The surge proposed by the Republicans can have a tinge of bleeding-heart Liberalism if we send an enlarged contingent of benign civilian and financial aid to help heal what we’ve destroyed. For too long, we have represented a single-minded absolutist nation. The way forward must utilize all aspects of American foreign policy, not just the ones that go boom.

“What Happens When Bush Vetoes?”

In Afghanistan, Culture of Corruption, Global War On Terror, Habeas Corpus, International politics, Iraq War, Laws & Regulation, Policing, Terrorism on April 4, 2007 at 7:34 pm

From an e-mail sent to me by Chris Dodd for President, which, I suppose, is an organization trying to get Dodd elected president.

If President Bush delays funding for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan by vetoing the war supplemental passed last week, how will Democrats react?

One course of action would be to capitulate and immediately write the President another blank check, devoid of benchmarks and accountability.

But that’s not the right choice, nor is it what Democrats were elected to do on November 7, 2006.

Assuming a veto, Senator Russ Feingold and Majority Leader Harry Reid plan to introduce legislation next Tuesday mandating that President Bush begin troop withdrawals one hundred and twenty days after passage.

The bill also serves notice that funding for the war will end by March 31, 2008.

Senator Dodd has signed on as one of the first co-sponsors of the Feingold-Reid bill.

Will you lend your support to this important piece of legislation and ask your personal networks to do the same?

http://chrisdodd.com/stopthewar

It looks like they want us to sign something supporting this legislation, which will only be introduced after Bush has smacked down some other legislation.  Well, ridiculous or not, I suppose I’ll sign it.  Feel free to do the same.