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Archive for the ‘Freedom of Speech’ Category

The War on Terror

In Afghanistan, Children and Youth, civil, Civil Liberties, class warfare, Culture of Corruption, Disaster Relief, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Environment, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, Housing, Immigration, International politics, Iraq War, Media Criticism, Misc., New York City, Progressive Politics, Terrorism, US Politics on March 21, 2013 at 11:36 am

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Growing up in Virginia, I have fond memories of the shooting range.  My father even gave me a turn with his .44 magnum which did in fact kick like a mule.  The violence followed me to New York with 9/11, and where I was fortunate to try to give blood and wait things out in my dorm, many others who I’d grown up with or befriended back in VA were suiting up to go and fight, first in Afghanistan, then to Iraq.  A couple days ago, I caught this letter on a friend’s Facebook Feed – which is starting to make the rounds – and at first, I couldn’t read it.  It had been comforting in a way to forget about Bush and the Axis of Evil, of all the squandered potential we poured into the sand.  But as we’re reminded so often in this endless war, we must never forget.  We cannot hide unpleasant things in the shadows.

And yet, for two years after the attack and ten more after our invasion – the two defining moments of our time – we seem content to do just that.  My relationship to guns came into focus in Millbrook, NY where – eating lunch with my band after playing our first funeral – we saw the horrors of gun violence laid bare on the diner’s TV screen.  CNN’s coverage of Sandy Hook still fresh,  our waitress remarking, “That’s a half-hour from here.”  A member of the jazz community in NYC lost their daughter and even Joe Biden says nothing will be the same.

Except it is.  Exactly the same.  After hearings and meetings and press conferences and statements, there will be no assault weapons ban, no reduction in the capacity of magazines, no new safegaurds against the armed-and-mentally ill.  21 children are dead for absolutely no reason, and for all our wails of grief and shock, no one is willing to really do anything about it.  The 1.4% of us who are NRA members must be fairly satisfied by this.

Immigration is looking a little more hopeful, with real-ish players talking about real-ish solutions – path to citizenship, guest worker visas, living wages?? – but if the current legislative process holds true, which it will, we can expect exactly none of these to make it to any real legislation, no leadership or dialogue will take place.  Just as we have come to expect, as we have chosen to remember.  So on we go with stopping people for their papers, exploiting them with unscrupulous employers and siphoning resources away from the state without putting any tax revenue into – or getting any real value from – the community they’re living in.

The current tally on this War on Terror is coming in to around $6 trillion, with about $4 trillion of that going towards the Iraq war, which I think is over at this point.    No further attacks have been made on the home front, and aside from a few pesky revolutions throughout the region, we haven’t had World War III yet, so, mission accomplished.  But this war isn’t being fought by “America,” it’s being fought by less than 1% of America.  The backlash and destruction caused by what we want is being felt by them, not by us, which makes it easier to saber rattle as the threats continue to pop up in far-flung places all over this hostile world.  It is easy to hide the unpleasantness of war, and that much better to remember all the glory and victory, when only a few have to bleed.

We were lied to.  We were lied to and believed in it so much that we lied to the world.  We remember the attack, the victimization we felt at that moment, but we choose to forget – every day – the reaction that has set us on this path.  Something horrible happens, but the real cause is too scary, too political, too much to bear, so we lie to each other, we lie to ourselves, and talk really loud about something else.  Something that makes us feel good, or empowered and that lasts just long enough for the next crisis to come, and the next cycle to start, and nothing, nothing, nothing is ever really done.

But this is politics, this is Washington, this is Gridlock and Sequester and Special Interests and this is out of our control.  It is also quite uncanny to a nervous breakdown.  As a country, we first experienced trauma then threw ourselves into deeper and deeper trauma’s with no discernible solution or responsibility, which eventually lead us to unearth, then ignore, all the skeletons we’ve amassed inside our closet.  Guns, war, immigrants, health care, economy, housing, the list goes on.

But you can’t make guns safer by talking by talking about “freedom.”  Nor can you keep healthcare prices low by invoking “liberty” or create jobs by claiming to be the victims of “class warfare.”  We can’t claim to be a “nation of immigrants” while installing xenophobic laws, nor can we claim to be “pro-life” and fight against affordable health care.  These are things both the right and left have been guilty of doing – or are at the very least both complicit in – and the apathy/isolation of the electorate has enabled these madmen to hijack trillions of dollars every year and immense power around the globe with little accountability.  We are lied to every day and believe the lie so much, we lie to each other, we lie to ourselves.

During the campaign in 2008, I was reading The Argument by Matt Bai and the quote I wrote with then still rings true now:

The story of modern politics was the story of popular movements molding their candidates, not the other way around. Roosevelt didn’t create progressive government; the progressives of the early twentieth century created him. Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy, while they despised eachother, both derived their essential arguments about social justice from the equality movements of the late fifties and early sixties. Ronald Regan would not have existed without the movement conservatives who offered him a philosophical anchor. These were great and preternaturally talented leaders, men who had the charisma and the intellect to synthesize the arguments that each of these movements had made, to persuade voters of their urgency, and to adapt them to the realm of policy making. But they were merely conduits for change, and they would never have emerged as public visionaries had others not laid the intellectual foundations for their arguments.

There is no magical elected official or working group someplace that will be able to fix all of this shit, but this does not divorce government – federal, state and local – from their responsibility in implementing solutions.  We have to decide, all of us, what the fuck we want, what the alternative is going to be.  We have to build it, prove it works, then demand, in no uncertain terms, that it be given to us better, faster and cheaper by those with the money and resources – e.g. government, business, that guy you know – to do so.  Occupy Wall Street accomplished exactly none of it’s goals, BECAUSE IT HAD NONE – and no, press coverage/raising awareness isn’t enough on the world stage.  We have to be able to confront all of those demons on that list, turn the lights on and get right with everything in honesty before we can expect respect from the dilettantes we’ve been ruled by.

Until then, the government will have no problem treating us the way in which we’ve grown accustomed, and we’ll have no problem taking it.  Never forget what we’ve been through.  Never forget that we deserved – and still deserve – so much better.

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New Politics

In Civil Liberties, class warfare, Criminal Justice / Prison Reform, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, International politics, Iraq War, Laws & Regulation, Misc., Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, Terrorism, The War On Drugs, US Politics on March 26, 2008 at 12:32 pm

People usually can’t tell what I am by looking at me. My skin is white, like my mom’s, but some tints of my dad’s Filipino heritage peek through, making me look equally Cuban, Puerto Rican, Italian, anything but Asian. I’m lucky enough to have never really had any allegiance to a certain race or identified with any specific notions of it. I often joke with my friends about these things, usually bringing up all kinds of offensive, inappropriate comments about certain groups to get a cheap laugh, most probably because it’s more complicated for me to get the same treatment. But being a man without a team – a free-lance race(er), if you will – I have few preconceived notions about them myself, allowing me to find a lot of humor and joy in the differences we have and how they effect our interactions and shape our perceptions. I kid because I love. I love diversity, I love that my children will have roots on 3 different continents and I love this country for giving me, my family and countless others like them a place in the sun. Obama’s speech last Tuesday was given from this perspective, which is probably why it inspired and impressed me more than anything I’ve seen in politics. That something has finally spoken to me in this way has also engendered quite a bit of resentment towards the reaction to it.

He is a politician, one trying to contain a damaging scandal that speaks to the very heart of his campaign, a scandal so grievous that it caused Hillary Clinton to overtake him in national polling for the first time in months. He is a candidate who often gets by on looks and charm, his silver tongue paving the way through a rather charmed candidacy. The allegiance to Wright and Trinity were undeniably instrumental in Obama’s acceptance in the black community of Chicago and subsequently by the national black community – a voting block that has been crucial in many of his primary victories over a white woman. These are all things we knew before he stepped to that podium and it was impossible to forget while listening to his words. Perhaps it is because I support him, because I am a racial mutt same as he, because I have been seduced by that aforementioned silver tongue, but I didn’t care about any of it.

If my Catholic upbringing has taught me anything, it’s that if you look hard enough at anyone, you will see faults, you will see sin – they even make you apologize for it first thing Sunday morning. All any of us can do is mitigate these as best we can through good works and faith in eachother, neither of which come easy or without failure. Barack didn’t hide behind his press secretary or some other surrogate, he didn’t throw out some half-baked sound-byte of appeasement in hopes things would blow over by the next news cycle, he stood there for 30 minutes and talked to us like adults. He told us things we all know, but never hear. He made no accusations, but rather placed responsibility equally among all of us, himself included. He asked us to stop raising our voices and start listening to eachother. If you don’t believe me, watch the speech or read the transcript in its entirety. The motivations behind these words are unimportant to me. Sure, he could’ve been trying to divert our attention to save his own ass, but I don’t care. I don’t care why he said what he said, just that someone finally did so.

A black man running for President put his campaign on the line, stepped up to the plate and spoke about race in a way no other politician has ever done, but you would have never guessed by reading about it. A great deal of reaction and coverage was spent haggling over details. He didn’t go far enough to denounce a man who baptized his children, he didn’t explain how many times he heard these statements or the ways in which he tried to stop a preacher from preaching, he made us feel guilty for slavery and that was mean. It is as if we are at a beautiful restaurant in front of a gourmet meal but no one is eating because they don’t like the fold of the napkins. Obama’s mistake wasn’t that he stood by his preacher, it was that he assumed people would actually pay attention.

Politics is a dangerous game, not just for the candidate but for those who support them. We pin our hopes and dreams on certain people every couple of years and when they fall by the wayside, so does our resolve. We allow these candidates to paint themselves as the magic bullet, as the only answer to our problems; and so in their defeat lies ours. The one thing that really made me jump into this campaign was that Obama asked us, the people, to work for what we wanted, to help him reach our goals. Part of this is obviously tactical. You can’t fight the Clintons with the establishment, they are the establishment. The most powerful political machine cannot be undone from within, so he was forced to look elsewhere for his support. His relative inexperience and lack of accomplishments give him less to run on by himself, so he needs more help and faith from the outside. He has no record, so he forgoes specific policy items in favor of meta-themes. It is also, though, an undeniable return to history.

In his incredible book, The Argument, Matt Bai put much of the focus on the Democrat’s search for a post-Clinton identity. But he also provided amazing insight into political movements at large:

The story of modern politics was the story of popular movements molding their candidates, not the other way around. Roosevelt didn’t create progressive government; the progressives of the early twentieth century created him. Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy, while they despised eachother, both derived their essential arguments about social justice from the equality movements of the late fifties and early sixties. Ronald Regan would not have existed without the movement conservatives who offered him a philosophical anchor. These were great and preternaturally talented leaders, men who had the charisma and the intellect to synthesize the arguments that each of these movements had made, to persuade voters of their urgency, and to adapt them to the realm of policy making. But they were merely conduits for change, and they would never have emerged as public visionaries had others not laid the intellectual foundations for their arguments.

Barack has often been chastised for a lack of clarity, rhetoric instead of results. But perhaps this is because his movement, his base, has not yet codified their beliefs or their goals. Regardless of why, Obama has caused a progressive awakening in a generation that faces monumental challenges, my generation. One who has grown to see the prosperity of the 90’s – our formative years – become destroyed by forces outside our control: fanatical terrorism, global warming, economic instability. Those in power attempting to fix these problems are not the ones who live with the consequences. It is my friends who are getting laid off, who go to the emergency room for physicals, who are sent off to fight in the desert. We are the most diverse, best educated and technologically advanced generation this nation has ever seen and we must begin to take ownership of it. We can’t afford to be distracted by the horse race, but rather be enlightened by the message. Say what you want about Barack, but you cannot deny that his calls for a recognition of shared responsibility speaks to the best in us, that a house divided against itself cannot stand. If it takes inflammatory remarks by a preacher for us to take stock of our treatment of one another, so be it. If an opportunistic, ambitious politician can dupe us all into working for eachother instead of against, we are the better for it.

But we cannot expect one man to do it all. Elections are not the realization of change, they are the beginning of it. If he loses the nomination, if he loses the general election, we cannot retreat into the background in defeat. If he becomes our President, it is our responsibility to hold him accountable and help to fulfill the promises of his potential and our own. Obama has outed us. The success of his platform and the goals he has set will only be met through the efforts we make. The themes he has brought to bear since his introduction of Senator Kerry in 2004 cannot be ignored, especially as we descend into an ever bloodier campaign season. Hillary – an impressive public servant in her own right – has undoubtedly inspired many young women to pursue ambitious careers. John McCain has given credence to sacrifice and centrism in a party that has been known for anything but. Obama’s message challenges us to recognize the nobility in our foes, to respect differences and approach challenges with optimistic pragmatism instead of cynical ideology. His candidacy might fade, but these ideas must not.

Many have belittled the thinking man in these times, but the consequences of looking tough and acting stupid are keeping us from what we can become. Harsh crime legislation and unyielding drug policy have stopped neither and added non-violent, first time offenders to the ranks of the incarcerated, now accounting for 1 out of every 100 of our citizens. Elliot Spitzer’s demise at the hands of a call girl might have been cheered by the Wall Street firms he savaged as Attorney General, but considering the greed and deception they perpetuated to bring down our economy – with no jail time in sight – one wonders who really got off and who got screwed. If we could have seen the facts in Iraq for what they were, free from agenda, fear or spin, we would have $1.3 Trillion more in our pockets, we would be without 29,000 wounds and be able to hold over 4,000 of our sons and daughters that have been lost to ignorance. We are waging war against an ideology instead of a nation, so it must be considered that our ideas and culture can and must fight as effectively as our military. If we continue to distill these complex issues down to sound bytes and slogans, deny the due process of debate and discussion and pigeon-hole the myriad points of view into mere black and white we run the risk of turning into the same fanatics that seek to destroy us. If we cannot decide the proper course of action through argument, we must find a way to do so through conversation. Obama or Hillary, Democratic or Republican, we all share the same fate. If there is one thing I hope this Presidential race will teach us, it is that there are more important things than winning elections.

Impending Florida Mail-In: Let the Clusterfuck Begin

In Civil Liberties, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Laws & Regulation, Misc., US Politics on March 13, 2008 at 2:19 pm

Ever the beacon of our fair, balanced and uncorrupted representative democracy, Florida is at it again. There are several reports hitting the wire that the state “government” is day or so away from annoucing their “plan” to administer a re-vote via mail-in ballots. Here is the plan as detailed by the States Democratic Party chair, Karen L. Thurman:

Under her timetable, fundraising and a public comment period would begin today and end April 12, about when ballots go to production. Overseas and military ballots would be sent out April 19. Fifty temporary election offices would be set up May 1 in poor areas to ensure access to voters with mail difficulties. On May 9, the bulk of the ballots would be shipped out, and the election would officially be on June 3, a day shared with Montana and South Dakota.

The counting will be done by an outside contractor using optical scanning devices and signature confirmation and other validation will be done by state and local election officials. Considering the extremely tight timetable, officials argue, this is the best way to get an accurate vote, thereby representing their electorate honestly.

What a bunch of horse shit. Firstly, the “fundraising” period will inevitably include a good chunk of soft money contributions that have been banned in federal elections, making this process suspect from day one. Secondly, there are no gaurantees with the USPS and even if they were iron clad in their delivery, people have moved, they might be out of town, any number of scenarios can interrupt people actually getting the damn things. Not only this, the opportunities for fraud are as plentiful as fanny packs at Islands of Adventure. The verification process happens only when the ballots are received by government officials, allowing for any number of incidents to occur along the way. Buying ballots, hoarding ballots, soaking mail, the possibilities are endless. And most importantly, IT’S FLORIDA. We’re talking about people who got absolutely confounded by hanging chads, who had to go to the damn Supreme Court to tell them how to count and now they think that they can pull this completely new system out of the bag with 3 moths to go? (Here’s a more professional critique)

I have nothing against Floridians on spec, and they absolutely deserve to have their voices heard like the rest of us. But these rules were established by the DNC MONTHS AGO, in full view of the public, and they went ahead and broke them anyway. Citizens could have told their party leaders not to risk a penalty and representatives should have known better, so they have no one to blame but themselves. I undertsand the frustration of having Iowa dictate terms to the rest of the party. Such a small, rural state having this much influence on a nation as complex as this is a little ridiculous, but you don’t change the guidelines by pretending they don’t exist. That the race is so close, so hotly contested and getting so many’s passions boiling is reason enough to try something drastic, which is exactly why this shouldn’t happen.

No matter the outcome, people have to believe that the process is fair above all else, they have to feel that the election happened by the book and that their choice wasn’t hijacked by someone more connected or a favorable circumstance benefitted one group at the expense of another. Every one of Florida’s House Democrats – whether supporting Hillary, Barack or neither – don’t want any part of this because it simply cannot be trusted. 318 delegates can’t be thrown around on spurious information, and if this goes through, there will be no end to the arguments, litigation or controversy, further deepening the democratic impasse and inflaming hostilities on both sides; regardless of the outcome, no one wins this thing. Floridians are complaining that they don’t want to be disenfranchised, but that ship has sailed. You already voted. You were told – in no uncertain terms – that it wouldn’t count and you went ahead and did it anyway. You were disenfranchised from the day you moved your primary, from the moment you broke the rules and that can’t and should not be changed at the 11th hour by some hair-brained scheme. Since you can’t bring yourselves to obey the law, you get to sit and wait for this thing to play out, the same way the rest of the country did in 2000. When the decision is made, you’re gonna have to eat it the same way the rest of us did in Bush v. Gore.

Maybe Dean can cut you a deal and seat your delegates at the convention 50/50 or some other formula determined after the rest of us are through. Maybe you can come to some reconciliation yourselves and relax at the beach until November. But one thing is for sure: you don’t get to decide this race if you don’t follow its rules. Florida wants their voices heard at the expense of the rest of country, and they shouldn’t get to screw us again.

A 7 Mile March to the Polls in Texas (2008)

In Children and Youth, civil, Civil Liberties, class warfare, Culture of Corruption, Direct action, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Laws & Regulation, New York City, Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, US Politics on February 20, 2008 at 4:05 pm

An incredible story popped up on Crooks and Liars today describing a beautiful answer to a disgusting act in an escalating primary battle:

Early voting starts today in Texas. In Waller County, a primarily rural county about 60 miles outside Houston, the county made the decision to offer only one early voting location: at the County Courthouse in Hempstead, TX, the county seat.

Prairie View A&M students organized to protest the decision, because they felt it hindered their ability to vote. For background, Prairie View A&M is one of Texas’ historically Black universities. It has a very different demographic feel than the rest of the county. There has been a long history of dispute over what the students feel is disenfranchisement. There was a lot of outrage in 2006, when students felt they were unfairly denied the right to vote when their registrations somehow did not get processed.

1000 students, along with an additional 1000 friends and supporters, are this morning walking the 7.3 miles between Prairie View and Hempstead in order to vote today. According to the piece I saw on the news (there’s no video up, so I can’t link to it), the students plan to all vote today. There are only 2 machines available at the courthouse for early voting, so they hope to tie them up all day and into the night.

Yes, we’re talking about this election – 2008 – where black students are forced to these lengths to exercise their rights and draw attention to these abuses. This is early voting in a primary, mind you, I can’t wait to see what these kids will do for the general election. By the way, don’t think Yankees are invulnerable to this, either. A little publicized story in the New York Times has uncovered a drastic underreporting of Obama votes in several counties in New York’s primary – in some cases, not registering a single ballot cast in his favor. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m an Obama man, but these are problems that have persisted since the clusterfuck of the 2000 election. No matter who you’re voting for, your vote deserves to be counted and no one – not Obama, not Clinton, not McCain and certainly not appointees to local election boards – should be allowed to destroy or steal them. Federalism has its place, but shouldn’t there be some sort of standard in national voting and election oversight? Shouldn’t we at least use the same machines and meet the same requirements to use them? How can the world’s most successful democracy tolerate these kinds of problems? If there are aspects I am ignoring, please, educate me.

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

Redistricting Prisoners

In Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Laws & Regulation, New York City, Policing, Progressive Politics, Race, The War On Drugs, Urban Planning / Space, US Politics on February 28, 2007 at 11:21 am

Another one that isn’t a new conversation, but good to see Schneiderman keeping it on the table…

Where prisoners are counted as population for redistricting purposes is an urgent issue for New York to deal with before 2010 Census redistricting, especially considering the Community Service Society of New York reports that,

“Approximately 80% of New York State’s prison population consists of Blacks and Latinos from New York City’s predominately Black and Latino communities, including Harlem, Washington Heights, the Lower East Side, the South and East Bronx, Central and East Brooklyn, and Southeast Queens. When released, the majority of the former prisoners return to these communities.”

This, from today’s Albany Times Blog,

Eileen Markey’s article in City Limits alludes to another parallel. The majority of our state’s prisoners come from downstate (New York City), but virtually all the state’s prisons are upstate. More importantly, those prisoners are counted as “residents” of upstate towns in the decennial census, but they are unable to vote. Thus, for the purposes of reapportionment and redistricting in NY, prisoners are like seat fillers at the Oscars: they give districts the appearance of being full, but they have absolutely no clout.

This practice has meaningful economic and political consequences. The resources diverted to districts upstate do little to aid prisoners, while the actual residents get a disproportionately large slice of the pie. In turn, less money is directed to downstate districts that already lack resources and support returning prisoners upon their release. Politically, this method has favored Republicans, who are heavily concentrated upstate. By allocating prisoners up north, redistricters respecting one-person/one-vote doctrine must create more districts upstate; these puffed-up districts have tended to elect GOP candidates.

There are simple ways to change New York’s method of counting prisoners. Some states simply do not count prisoners when redistricting. Others, including Sen. Eric Schneiderman have proposed creating a database with the last known addresses of prisoners, and counting them there. Either proposal would bring more fairness to the system and help end the current practice in NY which heaps insult onto injury: not only are prisoners being used for partisan gain, but their home districts suffer as well. Or, put another way, not only are they little more than nominees with no chance at a statue, they’re left without the coveted swag too.

Fed’l Agencies May Have to Report All Data Mining Activities

In Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, International politics, Laws & Regulation, Technology, Terrorism, US Politics on February 20, 2007 at 10:59 am

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee this week approved language that would require federal agencies to report to Congress on their use and development of data-mining technologies.

The language, approved unanimously, is based on legislation, S. 236, co-authored by Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H. He used the bill language for an amendment to a bill, S. 4, that would implement recommendations of the commission that investigated the 2001 terrorist attacks.

“There is a sharp distinction between the federal government looking at digital records of terrorists and other criminals, and those of law-abiding citizens,” Sununu said in a statement. “Congress has a responsibility to ensure that this technology, which can analyze vast quantities of data, does not unintentionally infringe on Americans’ personal privacy.”

NYC Grassroots Media Conference Selections

In Direct action, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, Netroots, New York City, Progressive Politics, Technology on February 19, 2007 at 7:38 pm

The fourth edition of the NYC Grassroots Media Conference schedule has been released and there are plenty of great workshops. Sessions I’m eyeballing include…

Beyond Googling It: News and Government Information “Web 2.0” style

Do you feel like you have to check 50 websites just to keep up with a single news item? Do you ever hear about a pending bill, send off a letter to your legislator, and then wonder what became of the issue? Just what DO people mean when they talk about “Web 2.0”? Come explore approaches to using the Internet to monitor, track, share, and manage information. This presentation will demonstrate how so-called “Web 2.0” tools like RSS, news aggregators, and social tagging can help you get organized online and be a more effective independent journalist or community activist. Librarian volunteers from the collective Radical Reference (radicalreference.info) will give real-life examples of how journalists, researchers, community organizers, and informed citizens are using these technologies to track information from around the globe—and how you can too. Rad Reffers will give the basics of each tool, introduce websites and sources, take questions from the audience, and provide detailed handouts.

Talking to Mainstream Media

Indy media isn’t always enough—sometimes we want to look for mainstream press coverage, and sometimes they come looking for us. Be prepared!! This workshop will help you get ready to deal with mainstream news media, telling your story, and “managing” your message. It is NOT a workshop on the mechanics of organizing a p.r. campaign or how to write a press release—it WILL help you understand how the media works and what they look for in news stories, so your campaign can be successful. This workshop is back by popular demand.

The Impact of Mainstream Media Ownership on the Ethnic Press in New York

In September 2006, Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation, bought out Courier Life Publications, a group of black and Caribbean newspapers in the city, including Caribbean Life, Brooklyn-Courier, Brooklyn Heights, Flatbush Life and Fort Green Courier. Two months later, an inside source said that a representative of Mr. Murdoch came to the office of Manhattan Borough community publications in the city. We can only wonder what impact Murdoch will have on the editorial content of the ethnic and immigrant communities. Chinese, Russian, Filipino, Black and Spanish-language newspapers tell their stories from their point of view. In fact, they don’t care if English speakers cannot read their papers. If Murdoch’s buy spells the beginning of a trend, what effect will this consolidation of ownership have in shaping public opinion among immigrant and low-income communities? Are the media avenues that immigrants use to air their views to policy-makers in danger? What measures can be taken to ensure that that this media sector continue to thrive? Hear representatives of the ethnic press take on these issues.

New York’s Wireless Future
New wireless technology provides an efficient and affordable way to deploy new broadband infrastructure. You can use it to turn your local park into a hotspot or to give affordable access to all of your neighbors. Across the country, local governments are considering whether to build – or to let corporations build – wireless networks that cover an entire city. New York City is just beginning this process. This is the best chance in a generation, if not a century, to come together as a community to decide what we want and need from our communications infrastructure. This panel will bring you up to speed on the discussion.

Also of note: Josue Guillen of May First/People Link will lead US Social Forum 2007 – Exploring Media Opportunities

The first ever US Social Forum will take place in Atlanta, GA from June 27 – July 1, 2007. Because it brings together so many activists from so many diverse movements and highlights different struggles that are worth covering, it will be a unique opportunity for progressive and alternative media people to meet each other, strategize together and cover a major event. This discussion will provide insights on the current plans of the National Planning Committee and challenge participants to help this event have even more impact.

The Music Wars: Here’s One for Their Side

In Consumerism, Culture of Corruption, Freedom of Speech, Misc., Music, Technology on February 16, 2007 at 5:41 pm

The International Herald Tribune reported today that Universal Music Group is narrowing in on a negotiated settlement with the website Bolt.com over – what else – copyright infringement. For those not in the know, Bolt is basically a hybrid MySpace/YouTube site that allows users to create profiles, message, and upload and share various types of media. Seems like the standard story from the last couple of years, but there are some ominous overtones nonetheless:

To pay for the settlement, which will combine cash, stock and advertising credits, Bolt has agreed to sell itself to GoFish, a smaller rival, for as much as $30 million in GoFish stock.

“This deal is economically painful to Bolt shareholders,” Cohen said. “It is setting a precedent that companies that violate copyright at minimum risk litigation.”

Universal, a unit of Vivendi, hopes the settlement will set a precedent that will help its ongoing case against MySpace, the vast social network owned by News Corp., and against Grouper, a video sharing site owned by Sony. Universal has sued both for copyright

Bolt.com had about 8 million visitors last year which accounted for a minuscule fraction of Universals potential revenue from royalties in it’s fiscal year, and that’s being overly generous. Yet by bankrupting this little no-name site, they’re gaining a powerful tool to use in future lawsuits. Once the deal is done, it’s fairly likely that we’ll be seeing more of this in the coming months and years. There is no dearth of small media sites that have neither the representation, nor the resources to defend themselves against the onslaught of litigation wrought by these multi-national conglomerates. Given any “infringement” case the sharks over a the legal departments of UMG , Warner Bros., Paramount, Conde Nast, or any large media company can basically waltz in and dictate whatever terms they see fit and waltz out with a precedent that not only would have cost them ten times the manpower if they’d have picked on someone their own size, but can also be used to deal a crushing blow to their larger enemies.

It seems that the Music “Business” has come to rely less and less on the content created by their artists while increasing its reliance on lawyers and settlements to replace their “lost” revenue. Granted, whats the point spending to produce content if it’s simply going to be stolen anyway, but did it ever occur to these people that the answer to their prayers might have something to do with their actions and not ours? Case in point, UMG is suing MySpace because their songs are on people’s pages and their not getting a piece of the action. Their resident mouthpiece, Pete Lofrumento, took it a step further:

“…copyright law doesn’t give people the right to engage in the massive infringement of our content to build a thriving business and then, after the fact, avoid exposure by saying they will prospectively start to filter.”

Where does one begin? The copyright law he invokes is actually the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which will no doubt become a defining piece of legislation of our generation. I’m not well-versed enough to speak on his legal issues, but I find it the highest kind of arrogance to believe that UMG’s content, or any mainstream media content for that matter, had a major role to play in the success of MySpace. Murdoch’s billions went to purchase an already vibrant network of DIY websites that were mostly populated by user-generated content. Not to say that there aren’t Jay-Z songs on people’s pages, there are tons of people who upload their favorite songs to their profiles. That being said, these tracks and already existing content is not the main event of anyone’s profile; they’re window dressing on an already lush environment of personal pictures, comments, music and video. Big media wasn’t giving us what we wanted so we made it for ourselves. The notion that the creators of MySpace somehow hijacked someone else’s products to create a phenomenon is bogus, as is the Major Label contention that they are somehow owed something now that the site is successful. If anything, Majors should be encouraging and facilitating access to their catalogs on MySpace, not actively working to have them removed or “filtered”. The fans are online by the millions, all craving content on an unprecedented scale. Until these suits are willing to trade old hang-ups for new money, they can shut the hell up about their royalties and keep their lawsuits to themselves.

Ricky Martin Defends Anti-War Stance

In Civil Liberties, Culture jamming, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, International politics, Iraq War, Misc., Music, Progressive Politics, Terrorism, US Politics on February 16, 2007 at 4:56 pm

I know, I know. It’s Ricky Martin. But his is an important audience to reach to continue the swell of anti-war sentiment.

Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin, who was a headliner at the 2001 inauguration ball for U.S. President George W. Bush, has a message for the American commander in chief about war.

At a recent concert, Martin stuck up his middle finger when he sang the U.S. president’s name in his song “Asignatura Pendiente,” which includes the words, “a photo with Bush.” The gesture last Friday prompted cheers from thousands of Puerto Rican fans in the San Juan stadium.

On Thursday, the Puerto Rican heartthrob repeated his criticism of the Iraq war and explained his changed position on Bush.

“My convictions of peace and life go beyond any government and political agenda and as long as I have a voice onstage and offstage, I will always condemn war and those who promulgate it,” Martin said about his action in an e-mail statement sent to The Associated Press via a spokesman.

Cheney formed fourth branch of government… years ago

In Blogs we like, Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, Laws & Regulation, US Politics on February 15, 2007 at 10:51 am

From the good folk at Free Government Information (“Because government information has to be free”):

The Office of the Vice President (OVP) is refusing to cooperate with a government directory known as the “Plum Book,” which lists government employees. Federal agencies have to comply by listing staffers in the directory, but Dick Cheney’s office claimed an exemption for itself, arguing that the “Vice Presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch.” But it’s not just the phone book with which the OVP refuses to cooperate. Evidently, the OVP is not part of the executive branch and so need not comply with ANY disclosures.

An important legal ruling is pending over Vice President Cheney’s refusal to disclose statistics on document classification and declassification activity. The Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), which is responsible for the policy and oversight of the government’s security classification system and declassification, has asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to direct Cheney’s office to disclose these statistics. According to Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News, “for the last three years, OVP has refused to divulge its classification statistics to ISOO, despite a seemingly explicit requirement that it do so. Prior to 2002, such information had routinely been transmitted and reported in ISOO’s annual reports to the President.”

Hmmm, the OVP doesn’t want the public to know who’s working there or how many documents they’re classifying. What’s going on there?

Today’s Cartoon

In Civil Liberties, class warfare, Direct action, Economic Justice, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, Habeas Corpus, Immigration, International politics, Laws & Regulation, Policing, political cartoons, Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, Sexuality, Terrorism, The War On Drugs, US Politics on February 15, 2007 at 10:45 am

‘Osama Hearts Obama’ – Part II: Wrath of RTurbo

In Blogs we like, Culture jamming, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, Media Criticism, Netroots, Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, US Politics on February 13, 2007 at 6:15 pm

In light of my posting earlier, a long-time ally pointed out a recent post on his blog Circling the Drain regarding John Howard’s uber-couth statement regarding al-Queda’s desire for Obama and the Ds to win next year:

Proving my long held suspicion that other countries are about two to three years behind the pop culture curve, the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, pulled out the ol’ “vote for the other guy and the terrorists win” card in advance of his country’s upcoming elections.

Oh, silly Prime Minister, still stuck in 2004. What’s next? Claiming that global warming is caused by Janet Jackson’s breasts? I’ll admit it is nice to see that while most American exports are plummeting, there’s still a healthy market for our bullshit.

But at least John Howard is still gung-ho on Iraq, right? He’s seen the terrible price of war in blood and resources, he’s looked at the situation on the ground and he’s realized that the costs – while high – are worth it. Hasn’t he?

I mean, it hasn’t been easy going since his decision to send troops, right? They’ve taken a lot of deaths, after all. Not as many as the three thousand plus we’ve sustained but still a few, and every death is a tragedy, after all. Hey, how many Australian troops have died in Iraq, anyway? Oh, that’s right…ZERO. No Australian troops have been killed in Iraq. Let me put this into perspective for you with a quick chart:

Number of Australian troops killed in Iraq: 0
Number of prominent Australians killed by stingrays: 1

Bold stance, John Howard! This page applauds your courageous sacrifice of your sanity for the cause of freedom.

But, since Australia gave the world AC/DC, for which I am eternally grateful, I suppose we should cut them some slack. (But not before I point out the irony that AC/DC has had more deaths in their band than Australia has had in Iraq! You really are a son of a bitch, John Howard.)

I just wish Circling the Drain would, for once,  just tell us what he’s thinking. No hesitations.

Hit the link to read more about:

– Rudy G’s cousin marrying tendencies (“And even if they could forgive Rudy for all of that, the Smoking Gun document has something even more damning than cousin-sex, than social liberalism, than ‘a weirdness factor’… That’s right…in 1972, Rudy voted for McGovern!”);

– Mitt Romney’s presidential chances (“he’ll be the first Mormon president, making him the Jackie Robinson of rich, white Christians everywhere in Utah”); and,

– Our post-Anna Nicole Smith world (“Years from now, your children will ask you where you were on 2/8 when it happened. I certainly remember what I was doing. I was praying that our country would one day live in a post-Lindsay Lohan world.”)

Jack Bauer fills post-9/11 torture void, and then some

In Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, Habeas Corpus, International politics, Iraq War, Laws & Regulation, Misc., Policing, Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, Sexuality, Terrorism, US Politics on February 13, 2007 at 5:30 pm

well put, Political Animal

GOOD GUYS vs. BAD GUYS….Jane Mayer’s New Yorker piece about Joel Surnow, the right-wing producer behind 24, has been getting a lot of well-deserved attention. The use of torture on the show has become so routine and so outlandish that even some Army officers are unnerved by the effect it’s having. In a scene she describes, an Army interrogator tells the show’s staff that “People watch the shows, and then walk into the interrogation booths and do the same things they’ve just seen.”

But here’s another observation about TV torture. It’s alluded to in passing in Mayer’s article, but an LA Times piece spells it out:

From 1996 to 2001, there were 102 scenes of torture [in prime time television], according to the Parents Television Council. But from 2002 to 2005, that figured had jumped to 624, they said.

….The increase in quantity is not the only difference. During this uptick in violence, the torturer’s identity was more likely to be an American hero like “24’s” Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) than the Nazis and drug dealers in pre-9/11 days.

Pre-9/11: torture is used by bad guys. That’s one of the ways you know they’re bad guys.

And today? Actually, nothing’s changed. It’s still how you know who the bad guys are. We just seem to have temporarily forgotten that.

“Osama Hearts Obama” -Aussie PM John Howard

In Afghanistan, Civil Liberties, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, International politics, Iraq War, Misc., Race, US Politics on February 13, 2007 at 12:33 pm

“If I was running al Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008 and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats,” Howard said in the interview, a swipe at the Illinois senator for proposing to pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq by March of next year…

Rudd said the remarks criticizing the Democrats as the “terrorists’ party of choice” are irresponsible and could hurt Australia’s relationship with the U.S.  But Howard stated it was “absurd” to say he was interfering in domestic U.S. politics and was unapologetic for his remarks. He noted that Australian opposition politicians criticize Bush all the time…

In an unscientific poll, 82 percent of readers of the Sydney Morning Herald said Howard had “put his foot in it” when asked about their reaction to the prime minister’s comments.

FTC Let’s Industry Write The Rules (Sounds Like Bush’s Energy and Banking Regulators)

In Consumerism, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Food Justice, Freedom of Speech, International politics, International Public Health, Laws & Regulation, Media Criticism, Misc., US Politics on February 12, 2007 at 10:21 am

Subject matter may be a bit odd to some, but it’s just another example of Bush Administration letting industry “self-police.” Banking and energy are two very clear parallels where the Administration has let industry police itself by turnig a collective blind eye to its own misgivings.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has written to the Federal Trade Commission asking the agency to ban cheese advertising during children’s TV shows… Cheddar cheese gets 73% of its calories from fat, the PCRM claims, and thus is not an acceptable food to be promoted to kids during the obesity epidemic… The PCRM wants the FTC to copy the United Kingdom, which has recently banned cheese and other fatty foods from British kids TV. Kellogg and Kraft in the U.S. in November became part of a coalition of food marketers who pledged to devote 50% of their advertising targeting kids to only healthful products… In a recent interview with Brandweek (Feb. 5), FTC chief Deborah Platt Majoras said she would rather see the industry regulate itself than force the FTC to act.

Who’s a Rat.com: List Police Informants and Undercover Agents

In Civil Liberties, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, Laws & Regulation, Technology, US Politics on December 21, 2006 at 5:30 pm

An interesting piece:

Is it legal for a website to publish the names and photos of persons its users claim are criminal informants (often referred to as “rats” or “snitches”), or undercover police agents? A website called “Who’s a Rat” says it is doing just that.

While it’s understandable that judges and the police are outraged by the site, the site appears perfectly legal – and it seems it will remain so, unless it ever were to actually threaten informants or undercover agents.

Absent such a threat, the content of the web site is protected by the First Amendment. In this column, I’ll explain why – drawing upon a key precedent relating to speech online that may be linked to potential real-world violence.

Domestic Spying: Errors Cloud Data Mining

In Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, International politics, Iraq War, Laws & Regulation, Media Criticism, Netroots, Technology, Terrorism, US Politics on December 21, 2006 at 10:58 am

Every once in a while the Cato Institute makes an intelligent statement (from Washington Technology):

Data mining’s high error rate makes it wrong for fighting terrorism, according to a new report.

The report by Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute, and Jeff Jonas, chief scientist with IBM Corp.’s Entity Analytic Solutions Group, said that data mining results in false positive rates of more than 90 percent. The error rate cannot be reduced substantially, they said, because the underlying analysis depends on the existence of terrorism patterns. These are nearly impossible to discern, because such a small amount of data is available.

“The statistical likelihood of false positives is so high that predictive data mining will inevitably waste resources and threaten civil liberties,” they wrote.

Bush Censors Science

In civil, Culture of Corruption, Environment, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, Laws & Regulation, Technology on December 15, 2006 at 1:56 am

A very interesting article from the associated press. I found it here. Seems they’re no longer satisfied denying science’s findings: they’ve graduated to tooling it. A shame when you have to police “truth”. That’s usually a sign of weakness, I think.

The Bush administration is clamping down on scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, the latest agency subjected to controls on research that might go against official policy.

New rules require screening of all facts and interpretations by agency scientists who study everything from caribou mating to global warming. The rules apply to all scientific papers and other public documents, even minor reports or prepared talks, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

Top officials at the Interior Department’s scientific arm say the rules only standardize what scientists must do to ensure the quality of their work and give a heads-up to the agency’s public relations staff.

 

“This is not about stifling or suppressing our science, or politicizing our science in any way,” Barbara Wainman, the agency’s director of communications, said Wednesday. “I don’t have approval authority. What it was designed to do is to improve our product flow.”

Some agency scientists, who until now have felt free from any political interference, worry that the objectivity of their work could be compromised.

“I feel as though we’ve got someone looking over our shoulder at every damn thing we do. And to me that’s a very scary thing. I worry that it borders on censorship,” said Jim Estes, an internationally recognized marine biologist in the USGS field station at Santa Cruz, Calif.

“The explanation was that this was intended to ensure the highest possible quality research,” said Estes, a researcher at the agency for more than 30 years. “But to me it feels like they’re doing this to keep us under their thumbs. It seems like they’re afraid of science. Our findings could be embarrassing to the administration.”

The new requirements state that the USGS’s communications office must be “alerted about information products containing high-visibility topics or topics of a policy-sensitive nature.”

The agency’s director, Mark Myers, and its communications office also must be told, prior to any submission for publication, “of findings or data that may be especially newsworthy, have an impact on government policy, or contradict previous public understanding to ensure that proper officials are notified and that communication strategies are developed.”

Patrick Leahy, USGS’s head of geology and its acting director until September, said Wednesday that the new procedures would improve scientists’ accountability and “harmonize” the review process. He said they are intended to maintain scientists’ neutrality.

“Our scientific staff is second to none,” he said. “This notion of scientific gotcha is something we do not want to participate in. That does not mean to avoid contentious issues.”

The changes amount to an overhaul of commonly accepted procedures for all scientists, not just those in government, based on anonymous peer reviews. In that process, scientists critique each other’s findings to determine whether they deserve to be published.

From now on, USGS supervisors will demand to see the comments of outside peer reviewers’ as well any exchanges between the scientists who are seeking to publish their findings and the reviewers.

The Bush administration, as well as the Clinton administration before it, has been criticized over scientific integrity issues. In 2002, the USGS was forced to reverse course after warning that oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would harm the Porcupine caribou herd. One week later a new report followed, this time saying the caribou would not be affected.

Earlier this year, a USGS scientist poked holes in research that the Interior Department was using in an effort to remove from the endangered species list a tiny jumping mouse that inhabits grasslands coveted by developers in Colorado and Wyoming.

Federal criminal investigators are looking into allegations that USGS employees falsified documents between 1998 and 2000 on the the movement of water through the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump in Nevada. The USGS had validated the Energy Department’s conclusions that water seepage was relatively slow, so radiation would be less likely to escape.

At the Environmental Protection Agency, scientists and advocacy groups alike are worried about closing libraries that contain tens of thousands of agency documents and research studies. “It now appears that EPA officials are dismantling what it likely one of our country’s comprehensive and accessible collections of environmental materials,” four Democrats who are in line to head House committees wrote EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson two weeks ago.

Democrats about to take control of Congress have investigations into reports by The New York Times and other news organizations that the Bush administration tried to censor government scientists researching global warming at NASA and the Commerce Department.

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll be Home for Christmas, If Only in My Dreams

In Culture jamming, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, International politics, Iraq War, Media Criticism, Misc., Music, US Politics on December 10, 2006 at 3:40 pm

I’ll be home for Christmas, you can count on me.
So please have snow, and mistletoe, and presents on the tree.
I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.

Back at my parents’ house for the weekend dog-sitting, I ran into a kid I grew up with yesterday. Because of stupid crap that happens between kids in junior high, we hadn’t spoken for more than 12 years. He recently got back from Iraq, and as he was talking about his time in Fallujah as a Marine a passing thought I had a few weeks ago sunk back into my head.

I was being subjected to my father’s annual and earliest-yet addiction to Christmas music when”I’ll Be Home for Christmas” came on. It wasn’t until hearing the slow, methodical, depressing Frank Sinatra version of the song last December that I understood that this song is about a soldier fighting overseas, facing the Axis Powers, yearning to spend time with his family.

This thought in mind, while sharing a beer with my childhood friend yesterday, I came to wonder if an artist as popular as Bing Crosby, who had originally recorded the song, would be able to end a song on such a somber note if the song had been recorded today. Would it be distributed as widely? Would it be bashed on conservative talk radio as anti-American? Would it be said that the morale of the boys fighting for democracy overseas was being damaged by those detractors expressing a soldier’s desire to be, not fighting a war thousands of miles from home, but unwrapping presents with the ones he loves?

At the time, it seems, this was certainly not the case for the Irving Berlin song. The Patriotic Melodies project of the Library of Congress says:

Within about a month of its being copyrighted the song hit the music charts and remained there for eleven weeks, peaking at number three. The following year, the song reached number nineteen on the charts. It touched a tender place in the hearts of Americans, both soldiers and civilians, who were then in the depths of World War II, and it earned Crosby his fifth gold record. ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ became the most requested song at Christmas U.S.O. shows in both Europe and the Pacific and Yank, the GI magazine, said Crosby accomplished more for military morale than anyone else of that era.

In an era where “liberals” are too often accused of being paternalistic in the push for regulation of the markets, I can only imagine the backlash from stores like Wal-Mart, talking heads like Rush Limbaugh, or Judeo-Christo-fascists like Pat Robertson if an artist with Bing Crosby’s status tried to release a song for the troops in Iraq or Afghanistan that is as deeply moving as “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” can be.

I have no doubt in my mind that these folks would drop the paternalistic anvil on the CD presses, in order to continue “supporting the troops” and to protect patriotic sentiment as much as possible. Nevermind they claim that it was Muhammed Atta, et al, who had showed disrespect even for their own lives by killing themselves in an attack on the US — if Americans, whether in the armed forces or not, express love of life and fear of death, these Americans would, I believe, be subjected to harsh accusations of being “anti-American” and “anti-troops.”

Discussing soldiers overseas, facing death, is, I suppose, simply too reality based. Are there songs discussing these isses, reaching those heights on the charts that I’ve missed?