Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Top 10 Funkiest Songs of All Time

I've been asking all of my friends recently what their top ten funkiest songs are. I've had a multitude of responses, and its interesting to see what different people define to be "funky." A lot of people touch upon Funk legends like George Clinton, James Brown and Dr. John. Some go by the bigger bands with horn sections like Chicago, Tower of Power and Chase.

I define The Funk as anything that makes you move. When you hear music that makes your head move and your body pop and your face turn into a grin, that's The Funk. I find The Funk is primarily carried by the bass drum, bass guitar, falsetto vocals and occasionally the organ.

But The Funk is not an elusive creature; it can be found in genres spanning from Pop to Jazz to Hip Hop. Keep in mind, I can only do ten songs in a top ten, so regretfully, lots of other funky songs will not be mentioned here. And as much as some of the funkiest have ten all on their own that are equally funky, I'll be shedding light on ten different artists here. There are plenty of links to boot, so make sure you check some of these out!

So here is my top ten. If you disagree with any of these, I encourage you to make your own list and send it to me!

10. Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking by Rickie Lee Jones
This is a track featuring one of my favorite drummers, Steve Gadd. Notice how the funky slap bass immediately pulls you right in. The percussion comes in, along with the guitar, slowing building onto the funk. By the time RLJ starts singing, you should be moving your whole upper body forward and backward to the beat. At least that's what I do. Don't judge.

The happiness challenge: Be in a bad mood first. Try and listen to this song all the way through and still be in a bad mood when you're done. You can also do this with Jackie Wilson's Higher and Higher.

9. Groove Tonight by Earth, Wind and Fire
EW&F had The Funk. There's no doubt about that. One of the keys to making great Funk music is having someone sing falsetto. Something about falsetto is funky, but I'm not sure why. And listen to those horn lines. Man! Those trumpets hit those high notes, and they SUSTAIN. We've all heard this at the club or even the high school dance before. And if you didn't get down with your bad self when it came on, shame on you. You know you wanted to.

8. Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker) by George Clinton/Parliament Funkadelic
There's a whole lot of rhythm goin' round. The falsettos really make this song, as does the signature Parliament synthesizer sound. Describing that sound is kind of like describing pornography; I can't really explain it, but I know it when I see it.

I'd say this is P-Funk's most well-known song after Atomic Dog, but its still worth mentioning. This is from the Mothership album, which is full of classic Funkadelic tracks. In particular, check out P-Funk (Get Funked Up) and Mothership Connection/Star Child (If You Hear Any Noise)

George Clinton in concert: If you're into having a lot of fun seeing a show, definitely set some money aside to see these guys. Picture about 30 people onstage, a wide variety of outrageous costumes, and a room full of people on their feet and dancing. When I saw them, they ended their set with this song. George Clinton walked into the audience, slapping hands, with the audience chanting, "We want the funk! Gotta have that funk!"

7. I Like Your Style by Tower of Power
This is a great song by a legendary Funk/R&B group. Some might know them by their equally awesome songs What is Hip and Willin' to Learn. Their sound is incredible, and their horn section was famous for dominating the LA session scene back in the day.

This particular song is short and sweet, with a perfect horn arrangement and a tight pocket in the drums to push everything along. The three horn hits before the chorus really make this piece.

6. Jungle Boogie by Kool and the Gang
Some have told me this particular song is their #1. It was indeed in the golden age of Funk, back when Funk was a mainstream trend. And if you'll notice from the video, this recording is a live performance from an episode of Soul Train.

The rising horns after each verse are what make this song unique. And the guy with the goofy voice makes everyone happy in their pants. Notice how everyone moves and grooves onstage, with everyone else moving and grooving on the dance floor. Afros and bellbottoms abound. Disco balls. Jheri curls. Flamboyant costumes. This is funk at it's best.

5. Holy Calamity (Bear Witness pt.2) by Handsome Boy Modeling School/DJ Shadow
Funk isn't all about platform shoes and horn sections. I give homage to the contemporary funksmen and take pride in including the second Bear Witness installment to this list.

If you haven't acquainted yourself with Handsome Boy Modeling School, you should do so. Its a collaboration project between legendary Hip Hop producers Dan Nakamura (Dan the Automator) and Prince Paul. Dan is famous for masterminding such concept albums like Dr. Octagon (the first Bear Witness was on his album), Deltron, and has also been known for first shining the spotlight on Blur and Del Tha Funkee Homosapien. Prince Paul is a widely-acclaimed producer, and his best work is definitely the concept album Prince Among Thieves.

This track, however, features DJ Shadow scratching up samples. Listen in particular to the drumbeats, and how he mixes those samples so fluidly. The funky bridge is also a great feature, as is the beatbox section. And Shadow's scratching skills are unparalleled in this track. This is definitely top ten worthy, as far as I'm concerned.

4. Pick up the Pieces by Average White Band
This is one of the few songs that define Funk. The horn chorus is familiar in everyone's mind, as this was and is an FM radio favorite either back in the day or on the oldies stations today. I've seen it covered by a great many bands that didn't even have horn sections, nor consider themselves Funk. This is a universally-celebrated and recognized song.

Average White Band's playing on this recording is as tight as it ever was. The solos are outstanding. The guitars and drums carry this while the horn players have their fun. Even if you don't consider yourself a Funk fan, how could you hear this come on the radio and change the station? Even if you don't know the AWB, most still know this song, and most still like it. Kind of like The Weight, by The Band. Or Pudd'n Pops. Even if you've never heard of it or had one, you still like 'em just fine.

3. Superfly by Curtis Mayfield
Just as the '60s had love, the '80s had greed, the '90s had grunge, and the '00s had hate, the '70s had Blaxploitation. Quentin Tarantino paid tribute to the genre with his movie Jackie Brown, which features some more great music by Bobby Womack and The Delfonics. While this decade was rife with classics like Shaft and The Mack, the epitome of Blaxploitation was the movie Superfly, with a score arranged by Curtis Mayfield.

Whenever I put on a suit, this song always pops into my head. And when anyone is looking fly or walking with their chest out, chances are, this song is playing in their head too. The simple three note bassline is timeless, and Mayfield's falsetto singing fits the genre and the times so well. This song is already a classic, and will likely be remembered by future generations many years down the road.

2. Super Bad by James Brown
Early James Brown was known by hits like Papa's Got a Brand New Bag and I Feel Good. James in the middle part of his career was known for hits like Sex Machine and Get Up Offa That Thang. Late in his career he kind of sold out with songs like Living in America. But at the peak of his career there were songs like Super Bad.

At the pinnacle of James' musical career, he was known as The Godfather of Soul. His band was funky, but he made every track with his raw energy and dancing. Super Bad is a simple groove with horn hits, straight beats and funky bass, but James is the star. Listen for the scream around the 3 minute mark. Nobody alive can do that and still be so funky. Rest in peace, James.

Well, guess you're anxious to see my number one? It may surprise you. And if you're like me or if you personally know me, it may not surprise you one bit.

1. Chameleon by Herbie Hancock
This is a Funk symphony. This is what all Funk aspires to be. I submit that it is an impossible to make a song more perfectly funky than Chameleon. If Funk was a literal object that one could heft in hand, then Chameleon would be Excalibur. But first, let me give you some background on the song's creator.

Most would consider Herbie Hancock to be a Jazz artist, not a Funksman. But those who followed Herbie's career know that he got bored with Jazz a long time ago. He started out as Miles Davis' protege, and was most famous for the song Maiden Voyage. The song is pretty, and Herbie shows his skill, but when you account for the evolution from Maiden Voyage to the Headhunters era to the also funky Hang Up Your Hang Ups, and finally to his Hip Hop experimentation with Rockit, you'd see Herbie is anything but a strict Jazz musician. Rather, Herbie will come to be known as a versatile musical genius, albeit a bit eclectic and unconventional.

Chameleon is a funk symphony. It is literally a funky masterpiece. And the best part about it is it's re-listenability. Each time you listen with a finely-tuned ear, you hear the subtleties that hold the piece together. In the first movement, pay attention to the bass drum. As that movement progresses, listen to how the bass drum keeps everything right in the pocket. Listen for the drummer's gracenotes on the snare in between the beats. The second movement first features the bass guitar, and then the organ. The third movement features a string pad and more of the funky bass guitar and organ. Finally, it comes back to a coda as the first movement repeats itself, albeit more steady and driven.

Every bass player who doesn't know anything about bass guitar can still likely play the opening bit for Chameleon. Even drummers can play it on a bass guitar. Six notes. One series is low, one is high. then it repeats, over and over again. By the time you're 7 minutes into the first movement and Herbie is slamming his fingers discordantly all over the keyboard, most people would think, "This is obnoxious," and they would be right. That's what I thought too, until I gave into patience and let the song continue on.

Once the repetitive first movement finally comes to a stop around 7:40, the chorus breaks down and the drummer fills in the space with some sick, wicked beats. The song then morphs into something else like an actual chameleon does. The bass guitar comes in, and the drums fade back to complement the bass. The organ comes into supplement the bass, and then the song comes together really tight, and you don't want it to stop grooving. The drummer lets himself get a little carried away, and then it goes into a third movement.

This movement begins with a string pad chord progression, then goes right back into the bass/organ funk. It's almost Jazz, but the drums keep it funky. And right when the third movement has completed it's run, the song morphs back into the simple bass groove. And it just rides on until the fade out. This is the perfect Funk song in terms of stellar musicianship, although it is entirely instrumental.

So there you have it. My top ten funkiest songs of all time. What do you think?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Progress Through Reflection: A speech I'd deliver to Obama and congress

"Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

Don't get me wrong; I'm all for progress in society, and for always looking into the future in what we do. And now more than ever, its obvious that if human beings are going to survive into the 22nd century, we need to find our way. The path can be blazed through several factors; renewable production, transportation and consumption through sustainable means, and gradual population control. Before we do that, we must devise a way out of our current economic morass and evolve as not just a nation, but as a global society.

If you ask anyone from the Baby Boomer generation when the nation's economy was at it's best, they'd tell you it was the post-WWII days, just after Roosevelt's New Deal finally began to be accepted by both sides as necessary and effective means to an end. Even Dwight Eisenhower, the first Republican president in decades, recognized the importance of the New Deal in a 1954 letter to his brother, Edgar-

"Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H.L. Hunt, a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid."

Some folks on the right would tell you it wasn't government intervention in our economy that brought us out of the Great Depression in the 1930s, but rather what they call "free market solutions." However, It is noted by most honest historians that the Depression was the inevitable cause of free market plunder and abuse by the robber barons of the late 19th century, combined with their brutally ferocious suppression of workers' unions by hired goons and even military force. Indeed, reckless capitalism and irresponsible corruption among the banking elite was the poison in the 1920s, and government proved to be the cure in the 1940s. And as we continue to reward the bankers for their greed at the expense of the American people in the 2000s, that popular quote from George Santayana comes to mind.

In the 1920s, economic inequality had polarized the American people. A great portion of wealth was concentrated among the top 1% income earners, while those who sweated in their factories could barely afford running water and electricity, such luxuries back then we take for granted today. While the railroad owners and oilmen basked in mounting wealth and soft tax rates, blue collar employees lived in run-down shacks and tenements they shared with dozens of others. The Wall Street panics of 1921 and 1929 were engineered and executed by the financial string-pullers of the day, and the disenfranchised working class was further sequestered into crippling poverty and debt. While failed banks were bought for pennies on the dollar, most investors lost everything they had. Franklin Delano Roosevelt saw this injustice, and set about fixing it by going after the problem rather than the symptoms.

As is seen now in the late 2000s, the president in the late '30s was viciously assaulted by the money interests through yellow journalism from the corporately-owned media. As he raised corporate tax rates and income tax rates for the very top up to as much as 80 to even 90%, he was vilified in the papers as a traitor to capitalism. His fabulously wealthy enemies portrayed themselves through nefarious doublespeak in the press as saints, the so-called results of hard work and free market success, the "hardest working American people."

The truth was that America's most truly dedicated laborers waited hours in lines just for a piece of bread or a bowl of soup. As most everyday Joes and Janes know through personal experience, hard work and perseverance does not automatically mean making millions of dollars. Sometimes it barely pays the rent. Sometimes hard work can still end in foreclosure and unemployment, as we've seen all too often today.

On the eve of the 1936 election, Roosevelt addressed a Madison Square Garden crowd on a tenacious political environment and economic climate eerily similar to our current one--

"We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace; business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob. Never before in all of history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me--and I welcome their hatred."

With the controversial New Deal came a lofty tax on the richest of the rich. It also came with a government-funded safety net. This net also was made of Social Security and unemployment insurance. Regular folks all over had jobs that paid far more than they used to. American families now had the wherewithal to own personal vehicles and move into larger houses. They could afford luxury and had the financial confidence necessary to invest in the market again. And the rich were still rich, just perhaps with less influence over domestic affairs than they used to have. While national health insurance was a staple of this safety net, that was rejected by the right but Medicare came as a compromise in the 1960s.

Roosevelt's New Deal was instrumental in stopping the abuse of workers by their employers. Through unions, the proletariat now had a powerful voice that could not be ignored. They used their freedoms to demand fair pay and hours and an end to child labor, among other things. Grassroots coalitions also formed to demand equal rights for black laborers, and this evolved into the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. LBJ's democratic party became the party of civil rights, just as it had become the party of the union man in previous decades. Just as it has been the party of equal rights for homosexuals. Just as it was elected last fall to be the party of access to medical care for all, regardless of their income.

And even in the political strife of the 1960s, the New Deal's economic safety net was just about the only thing going correctly in the midst of an unjust war in a foreign nation. The backlash from that war resulted in high crime rates and increased violence and public outrage. Still, work was plentiful and people still had their homes and careers.

The parallels are overwhelming as we are yet again faced with an economy and health care system in shambles and the only real solution staring us in the face. Wealthy private sector elites have once again been proven to be held accountable only to money, while government has always been held accountable by the people and the democratic process. Yet the private sector is still succeeding in shielding our eyes from historical basis for an effective government solution.

Ronald Reagan once quipped, "Government isn't the solution to the problem. Government is the problem." He validated this claim as he clandestinely filled the war chest of our eventual Taliban and Al-Qaeda enemies. To really drive home the point of his statement, Reagan also famously helped suppress Latin American populist movements against the brutal right wing dictatorships we put into power. Government by Ronald Reagan's value system is very much a problem, for all of us. But a democratic government in FDR's vision, as a solution to real crises, has proven throughout our history to be the saving grace of a democratic people.

This really only leaves one to confront the statement that's been present the entire time, even after 70 years. Government really can be used for good. The war effort of the late 1930s and early '40s was different from today's, because our government, businesses and populace were united in a common cause. The government had a plan for success and put it to action.

The government nationalized industries all over; Ford factories were used to make tanks. And the face of Rosie the Riveter symbolizes my grandmother's spirit for cooperation as she helped build fighter planes with other young women, while the young men were overseas, perilously fighting evil. Many American families similarly share such proud stories of selflessness in their ancestry.

America, for a few years, took one for the team. We contributed in a national effort in a cause we all knew to be noble. Sure, we rationed our goods, gave up a few luxuries, and worked harder than we ever had. But in the end it all paid off. I'm not saying we have to resort to such drastic measures today, but that we simply unite once more and work toward a common goal.

Today's goal is not to defeat a military empire abroad, but to defeat a financial empire that reigns within our own borders.

Yesterday's American Dream was one of tall buildings, rabid and wasteful energy consumption, and more cars on the road than there are stars in the sky. This dream has come true. Now we see, through the receding of the ice sheets and extinction of species, through reckless banking just as prevalent today as in the 1930s, that the things we venerated have broken us. Now is the time to live up to a new dream.

We mus dream a dream of a population sustainable for planet Earth, cultivated through a united effort to stop oppressive regimes and genocide. Through reproductive education and prevention of disease. Through smart ways to produce just as much as we consume. Through a cooperative spirit made possible only through peace and solidarity.

Mr. President and congress, let's make this dream a reality, and work to give our posterity the greatest of gift of all-- a world which they can appreciate and enjoy for millenia to come.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

IdeaFestival 2009: Growing Our Way out of World Hunger

This past week, I got to attend a unique gathering of today's greatest minds and innovators as a member of the press. Even cooler than that, I got to talk with lots of these people, who treated me as a colleague rather than just another student.

One of these folks was Paul Osterlund, an Intel retiree-turned social entrepreneur. He's a guy from Portland, OR, who devised a fantastic new way to harvest water. It's called Zeba, and his presentation was about the Abundance Farming Project, which involves getting Zeba to people who can really make a use of it.

Zeba is a corn-starch based granule that can store 500 times it's mass in water. A teaspoon of the stuff can start a garden, as it uses and re-uses a liter of water over and over again. A 15-lb box of it can feed a family of 5 for $185. More than that, this means that third world countries racked by poverty and lack of rainfall in a dry climate can grow food again. It means the climate could even possibly be changed for the better in the future, as Zeba could be used to plant trees that absorb CO2 and generate rainfall of their own. In short, thanks to Zeba, third world farmers can now grow their way out of hunger.

I got 45 minutes with Paul at the IdeaFestival earlier this week, and I'll be playing that interview on the Faux Radio Show. You can hear it next Thursday at 8 PM, or anytime after that on the show archive. This sounds like a really revolutionary new thing, and more people should get on board and try and get involved, because Paul needs all the help he can get.

If ending world hunger and growing food sustainably is your thing, you won't want to miss this!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Treason and FOX News

Treason- the betrayal of a trust or confidence; breach of faith; treachery.

Treason is a dangerous word, and not to be used lightly. Indeed, betraying the trust of someone, or in FOX news' case, millions of viewers, has disastrous consequences. But when treason applies to the #1 most watched "news" channel, this means tens of millions of people are subjected daily to propaganda masquerading as "fair and balanced" journalism. If you're reading this critically, as I hope most of you are, I suspect you'll be wanting a few examples of the treason to which I refer. First, allow me to illustrate treason through a familiar frame.

Schoolyard Bullying
Bullies are known to push you around for having no reason to do so, other than to make a scene for those watching. While bullying is looked upon with disdain, nobody wants to challenge the bully, lest the bully start to focus his aggression towards you.

But when bullying happens outside of the schoolyard, is exacted unreasonably upon a multitude of victims, and happens on a "news" channel (referring to FOX as an actual news channel would be equivalent to putting a candle in a pile of excrement and passing it off as chocolate cake) it turns into treasonous propaganda.

Take a look at the FOX Nation homepage on 9/11. That was indeed a black day in our nation's history, where around 3,000 people died in NYC, Washington and Pennsylvania. It is remembered somberly as "Patriot Day," where flags go up in towns nationwide to memorialize those who were killed. Indeed, 9/11 is seen as off-limits, and using such an event to gain political advantage should rightly be looked at as tasteless and appalling. But those two words seem to be a mantra for those in FOX's newsroom.

Notice the graphic of President Obama's face next to a picture of a plane slamming into the twin towers on 9/11. Now notice the caption. "Administration moves to downplay 9/11." Even before clicking on the story to read it, one who isn't viewing critically would already have established animosity toward the president. I'll explain this more bluntly to let how offensive and wrong this is sink in.

FOX Nation is using a picture where Americans are literally dying in a fiery plane crash to directly antagonize the president. FOX is directly capitalizing off of the murder of Americans to inflict political harm. This is the epitome of patriotism corrupted.

After the president has been effectively antagonized, the graphic then shifts to Obama's face next to the Trojan Horse with the words "Trigger Option" between the two. The frame is then evoked of Homer's Iliad, where the Greeks pretend to surrender to Troy, but instead hide soldiers inside a wooden horse to wreak havoc on the city once the horse is inside.

Readers with any literary knowledge to draw upon would see that FOX Nation is deliberately framing the president's health care proposal as a ploy on the American people, poised to attack when they least expect it. Those not viewing the page with a critical eye accept that frame unconsciously, especially after Obama was antagonized in the previous graphic, using a sensitive issue as a political weapon.

An ACORN story also tops the headlines on 9/11. The focus on ACORN has always been a central point for FOX, aiming to tie the president to the organization even though his association with them was years ago and has no relevance to the activities of a few members of the group.

They report, they decide. The American people already have their minds made up for them by FOX.

Bullies don't stop picking on their targets until they get their nose bloodied. The Obama administration dismisses FOX news at their own peril; millions are privy to FOX's 24/7 bullying of the president and the progressive electorate. Until Obama rolls up his sleeves and lobs some shots back at his aggressors, he will be remembered as Jimmy Carter was, when he failed to stand up to the emergence of the neoconservative movement in the 1970s. He will be remembered as John Kerry was in 2004; a veteran of the Vietnam war was called unpatriotic by draft dodgers in the White House, who actually got people to go along with them.

Both of those men were too gentlemanly and polite to engage the neoconservatives on their own turf, and they suffered permanently because of it. FOX will get away with their bullying until progressives in this administration refuse to tolerate it any longer.

FOX's Love Affair with Deception
Deliberate deception is nothing new to the FOX network and it's affiliates.

In the link above, investigative reporters with a FOX affiliate in Florida went after Monsanto after it was discovered that the agribusiness giant was putting harmful chemicals in school milk along with milk that went into grocery stores. Monsanto, one of FOX's biggest advertisers, told the affiliate to silence its reporters. When the reporters refused at the insistence of the sales department, they offered a compromise.

In the video I linked to, you can see just how thoroughly their story was censored by the corporate lawyers that ran the station (and their news coverage). After 83 revisions that took away words like "cancer" and "health risk," Monsanto still wasn't satisfied. FOX even offered to buy the reporters' silence in exchange for killing their story. This was a news organization that sought to suppress the news 83 different times in exchange for corporate profit and ad dollars from their sponsors. For most commercial TV news organizations, reporting the news is secondary to making money.

Long story short, the reporters took FOX news to court on the grounds that they were deliberately manipulating the news and information that people depend on daily. The courts ruled in FOX's favor, because it isn't technically against the law to lie to people in the news.

FOX news censored the truth and suppressed the truth from getting out, because their bottom line was Monsanto's money, not journalistic integrity. This is but one example of FOX's allegiance to the corporate elite as they antagonize the truth with lies.

Bush's White House and FOX News: Partners in Crime
FOX has been recently accusing media outlets for being buddy-buddy with the President, due to all the press coverage he gets. This is particularly ironic, because FOX news gave Bush all the friendly coverage he could handle while he was in office.

But FOX's support of the Bush administration is no longer privileged knowledge, thanks to former Bush Press Secretary Scott McClellan's book. While on Hardball, McClellan openly admitted to the Bush White House feeding FOX news their agenda and talking points, then having commentators like Hannity and O'Reilly air them as their own opinion. The White House would then congratulate FOX on a job well-done.

MATTHEWS: Did you see FOX television as a tool when you were in the White House, as a useful avenue for getting your message out?

MCCLELLAN: Well, I make a distinction between the journalists and between the commentators. Certainly, there were commentators and others, pundits, at FOX News that were helpful to the White House...It wasn‘t necessarily something I was doing, but it was something that we at the White House, yes, were doing and getting them talking points and making sure they knew where we were coming from...

MATTHEWS: ...You were using these commentators as your spokespeople?

MCCLELLAN: Well, certainly. I mean, certainly.

The "Fair and Balanced" Illusion
It should be obvious to any media consumer that FOX news is simply a mouthpiece for the right. They have been proven to lie, manipulate and distort the truth, as seen in just this particular analysis alone. But it would be easier to dismiss the FNC as just another madhouse full of loons were they not taken so seriously by the American public. They insist on calling themselves "Fair and Balanced" while proving themselves time and again to be anything but.

If there need be another example of FOX's blatant lying, bullying and hypocrisy, look no further than the ad they took out in newspapers recently, that attacked major media outlets for not covering the Saturday tea party march in Washington. They even went so far as to say they expect an apology. As you can see via the link above, even MSNBC sent reporters and film crews to the gathering of 50,000 who marched against their own self-interests last weekend. CNN's Rick Sanchez went out of his way to lambast FOX for taking out a full-page ad to blatantly lie to the people.

The difference, Sanchez says, is that while other media outlets indeed covered the event, FNC was the only "news" organization that promoted the event, as they did with the Tax Day Tea Parties. FOX even had the audacity to put their name behind the event.

This is the part where my critical readers say, "Wait a minute, Carl. MSNBC and CNN lie just like FOX does! Why aren't you attacking them!"

Indeed, CNN has it's own share of lying pundits like Lou Dobbs, and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC focuses intently on attacking the conservative movement. But the difference between places like MSNBC/CNN and FOX is that while Dobbs and Maddow make it clear that their shows are commentary and opinion, FOX slides opinion into coverage that they insist is "Fair and Balanced."

If FOX can get away with calling their treasonous coverage "Fair and Balanced," reckon I can logically call Free Chicken and Beer "Scripture" without suffering any consequences?


Nah, probably not.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The US Corporatocracy Pt. 3 (A Massive Mexican Standoff)

Intro/Spoiler Alert
Because of actions of the United States government in the past few decades and their consequences, planet Earth has turned into a Quentin Tarantino movie cliche on a global scale.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the phrase, a Mexican Standoff is a commonly-used plot device in Spaghetti Westerns where three separate parties have the jump on one another simultaneously. All three are in a precarious position, and all three are capable of taking the life of another. However, in doing so, one party squeezing the trigger effectively means everyone dies all at once.

Tarantino uses them in almost all of his movies: Samuel L. Jackson draws on Tim Roth in Pulp Fiction as Amanda Plummer points her own piece at Jackson's head. Later in that scene, John Travolta appears brandishing a gun at Plummer. While everyone escapes alive from that scene, those of you who have seen Inglourious Basterds know that the standoff in the rendezvous scene ends in a bloody blaze of gunfire.

All movie analogies aside, the world is now in a stand-off that is looking to end like the basement rendezvous in IB. But instead of merely three parties, this particular stand-off could effectively plunge most of the developed world into chaos in the next few years unless things change soon.

The Saudi Arabian Money Laundering Affair (SAMA)
In Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, one particular incident John Perkins looks back upon with even more regret than usual is the SAMA. One one hand, it secured the dollar as the world's dominant currency, backed by an even more precious resource than gold. On the other hand, Perkins also played a key role in ensuring the Corporatocracy's reign would extend through the 21st century. On Perkins' MAIN resume, it can be seen on the last line of the last column as "U.S. Treasury Dept., Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."

After the gold standard was revoked, the US dollar was regarded simply as legal tender, backed by little more than faith. In Confessions, Perkins remembers a conversation with a colleague, where he speculated that the dollar would soon be backed by an oil standard, instead of gold. His colleague's prediction came true after the famous Saudi oil embargo imposed upon us in 1973.

As history has shown, the US's insatiable addiction to oil made us highly reliant upon Saudi Arabia. Without their oil, the American economy was brought to its knees that year and into the next for several months by the OPEC leader, simply because Nixon supported Israel. Thus, his administration took action that reversed the situation in our favor. However, the SAMA was an exception to our standard way of doing business.

While the previous two pieces in this series discuss the process in detail, I should hope by now that my readers are familiar with the nefarious process in which we secretly conquer the globe financially. First, Economic Hit Men like John Perkins are sent in to make inflated economic forecasts for infrastructure projects meant only to benefit the top income earners of a country. Assuming the leaders are corrupt, they allow the projects to commence with huge loans from the World Bank and IMF, justified by the initial forecasting.

If leaders prove to be incorruptible (Jacobo Arbenz, Salvador Allende, Omar Torrijos, Jaime Roldos, Mohammed Mossadegh, etc.) then the CIA goes about instigating military coups, where a corrupt right wing dictator subservient to the US is put in power. (Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Saddam Hussein, Manuel Noriega, Roberto D'Aubisson, etc.) If the CIA fails, we send in the military to turn that country into a smooth piece of glass (Panama in 1989, Iraq in 2003). Point being, the projects always get built, and the rich corporate executives in the US (Bechtel, Stone and Webster, Halliburton, etc.) and corrupt heads of state elsewhere profit at the expense of the environment and indigenous people.

While our old way of business was intended as a way to subjugate countries with debt after defaulting on their World Bank loans, oil-rich Saudi Arabia had the resources necessary to finance the loans. Our companies quickly went to work in the mid-1970s "westernizing" Saudi Arabia. We gave the Saudis everything from garbage trucks to power plants to industrial parks, complete with neighborhoods, airstrips, and mini-malls. We marketed the affair as a bold step forward for democracy and capitalism in a region that typically favored neither. The international banks, private contractors, elected officials and their media aimed to use Saudi Arabia's example as enticement for other countries to follow suit. Saudi Arabia was now not only a key player in the Middle East, but in world affairs as well. You may ask what the United States got in return for bestowing such wealth and power upon a nation known for harboring terror cells and international fugitives.

Oil: The New Gold Standard
The United States had a quid-pro-quo system with the Saudi Royal Family in the 1970s, and it is still very much present today. SA's westernization was set into motion after we guaranteed ourselves an unlimited supply of Saudi oil through a clandestine agreement.

The Saudi leaders of OPEC had to promise not to ever place the US under a trading embargo ever again- our bargain was that we would guarantee political support for the Saud family, and keep them in power as long as OPEC's chief trading currency was the US dollar. In effect, the dollar was now backed by an even stronger and infinitely more valuable resource than even gold. Even if other currencies rose in influence and were valued more than the dollar, we would still have the coveted Oil Standard. The Fed can still be free to print all of the paper it wants, because as much as inflation rates will rise, we still have Saudi Arabia's oil backing up our currency.

As we can see, this has already happened in the global market; the Euro has now become the most valuable currency, beating the dollar into submission as the exchange rate grows wider and wider between the two. As powerful and vast as the US Corporatocracy is, it still depends entirely on the dollar's OPEC oil standard. The Corporatocracy is also well-aware that the Iraq war started the United States' rapidly expanding debt, which continues to plummet further into a hole to which we cannot foresee an end.

Without OPEC's support of our money, the Corporatocracy and the foundations of the modern US economy will crumble.

The Worldwide Mexican Standoff
We're currently in an multi-trillion debt with China largely because of the War on Terror and the Fed's budget for fiscal year 2009. Should OPEC decide to start using the Euro as their standard currency instead of the dollar, China would then have an excuse to come knocking on our door, demanding we immediately pay our $11 trillion in debt with Euros. The exchange rate would be astronomical. The United States would have to liquidate every single asset. We would be immediately brought to our knees. Even if were to wage a war with China if they proceeded with such an action, the Department of Defense would be bankrupt. A war would be waged and lost in an instant; not with guns, but with checkbooks.

However, OPEC and Saudi Arabia know that if they were to convert to trading in Euros rather than dollars, the United States, foreseeing the financial backlash, would immediately go about turning the majority of the Persian Gulf into a sea of glass. Saudi Arabia foresees the destruction we are capable of wreaking, and would immediately hesitate considering such an action.

So there you have it; China has the jump on the US, the US has the jump on Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia has the jump on all of those who depend on their oil. The first person to squeeze the trigger in this Mexican Standoff will likely spark the next World War, which would span from the Atlantic to the Pacific. All Mayan predictions aside, a likely date for such an event were it to occur could very well be December of 2012. Three years from now we will have possibly just elected a new president, and China has a tendency of testing our newly-elected leaders, as does the Middle East.

So how do we possibly avoid such a dreadful and catastrophic situation?

The Venus Project: Financial Panacea on a Global Scale
In early 2009, I wrote in-depth about about a proposed overhaul of a money-based economy for a resource-based one. The heart of The Venus Project is a global society that lives entirely sustainably, produces as much as it consumes, and no longer has to work tirelessly for a living. In this system, all methods of distribution, production and inventory would be fully automated. Indeed, we already have the technology to automate most jobs done by humans. Crops could be grown, irrigated and harvested by machines; factories could operate independent of human hands, simply with a renewable energy supply. It would be as the ancient Greek societies were, where slaves did the menial labor while man was free to create, read, write, learn, and communicate meaningfully with their fellow man. Except this time, instead of slaves, we would have science hard at work for us.

If the world converted to such a system, all money-based jobs would become obsolete. Political and financial decisions could be made in an instant by a digital system not capable of being bought off by special interests. This system wouldn't have to raise money for election campaigns, squabble in a Capitol building with other politicians, work against progress in exchange for material gifts, or work seasonally. It would be put in place by leaders from all sides of the world, and it's bottom line would be progress, growth and equality instead of more votes in the next election cycle.

Resources could be shared globally, and all global citizens could enjoy vast amounts of wealth; plenty of food to eat, shelter for themselves and their families, water to drink, and unlimited electricity powered by renewable energy. There would no longer need to be a Corporatocracy to ensure cheap cars, cellphones, computers, petroleum, gold, diamonds, shoes and clothes for Americans at the expense of Third World peoples or their land. It would be a truly ideal egalitarian society free from political or religious dogma and human error. It would be a united society that fosters virtue and innovation, rather than greed and corruption. New human beings would be born into a system that venerates creativity over material wealth.

There you have it. We are faced with a crisis- we can either watch the horror unfold before our very eyes, or unite and work together to stop it from ever taking place. As wiser men have said before, we must be the change we want to see in the world.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The War on Terror: Missing the Mark

A family member of mine summarized the Afghanistan war with a creative analogy-

Imagine you're in a grocery store. Your kid gets away from you for a few seconds and goes to the candy aisle. When you get there, the candy aisle is a mess. There are bags of sweets all over the floor, strewn about across the aisle, and everyone around you is looking at your son in disgust. Its obvious that what he did was wrong, but you can't just walk away. Its your responsibility to clean it up. And people are watching to make sure you do it all the way and not make a half-ass job out of it.

According to a story today published on Politico, the Obama administration is worried that "Liberal, anti-war democrats will try to end the war in Afghanistan before progress is made."

This first implies that what we've been doing there for 8 years has been working. It implies that success in the "War on Terror" is made through aggressive troop deployment and ever-increasing defense spending. It also implies that we can defeat radical Islamic terrorism, an ideology, with guns and bombs alone. This is faulty reasoning, and will only make the situation more dire. Below is a three-step solution to permanently end the War on Terror with nonviolence.

A Three-Step Solution to Eradicating Terrorism
To eradicate an idea, guns and bombs alone will never work. They only solve the effects of a situation, and completely ignore the roots. For example, no matter how many time you trim the weeds, they always grow back a week later. The more you let them sit there, the worse they get. But imagine if you uprooted the weeds and made it so the weeds could never grow back in the first place? You could move on to other more important matters.

Terrorism is the same idea; it is a weed that shows it's ugly face every few years and we respond by spending a bunch of money, deploying thousands of troops, and suffering casualties and debt only to deal with more terror attacks a year or two down the road. But if you took out the root causes and the enabling factors of terrorism, then it would have nowhere to grow. There are three roots to terrorism; the desperate social conditions and oppressive regimes people are forced to tolerate abroad, radical religious fundamentalism, and finally, the terror networks themselves. Here is how to uproot these problems.

1. Apologize for and actively work to rectify past mistakes of foreign policy.
TIME Magazine's Person of the Year in 1951 was Mohammed Mossadegh, Iran's populist, democratically-elected prime minister. Mossadegh refused to cower to imperial wishes, and sought to nationalize all of his country's oil resources to insure his people saw the profits. In the first part of the Corporatocracy series, I mentioned the clandestine ways we financed CIA operative Kermit Roosevelt to stage false rallies and violent protests to stir civil unrest in Iran and make it look like Mossadegh was corrupt and not in control of his populace. After we successfully helped the Premier's son, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, become the Shah of Iran in a violent coup, we secured oil resources for the United States. However, this had a devastating side effect.

As we proudly tout our founding values of democracy, equality, liberty, and reject oppression and tyranny here in the States, hypocritical Washington administrations propped up and financed ruthless and brutal regimes that promised to be a puppet for US interests. The Middle Easterners saw this in 1951, and became incensed at our doublespeak. Political scholars have theorized that had we instead decided to support Mossadegh's regime instead of overthrow it, Iran could have served as an example for the Middle East. Arabs throughout the Gulf might have been inspired to try democracy in favor of despotism, and we could build allies and forge friendships with Middle Eastern countries other than Israel.

Instead, we indirectly fostered a culture that wields religious extremism as a fierce weapon, who praises their dead as "martyrs" willing to die in order to stop what they see as US imperialism. The rampant anti-US stances harbored by many in the Middle East are a direct result of our interference in Middle Eastern affairs for our own selfish gain.

I propose that we rather than defense, we focus our Middle Eastern spending on honest-to-goodness foreign aid projects. Rather than costly infrastructure that only benefits the top 1%, we could instead turn the slums and ghettos of Jordan, Syria, Iran, Kuwait, and so many other exploited nations into places where everyone has access to clean water, public education, basic health services and electricity. We could do all this and more with a fraction of the money we spend on bombing cities in Afghanistan and Iraq. We would also show the Middle Eastern people that we want to genuinely help them out of poverty and allow everyone the opportunity to succeed and prosper.

2. Fund and support peaceful Islamic clerics, political campaigns, and social reform movements.
The militant form of Islam championed by Al-Qaeda is far from an adequate representation of Muslims in the rest of the world. Benazir Bhutto dedicated her life to advocating for peaceful Islamic movements and reforms. She was violently assassinated in December of 2007 after working overtime to eradicate Islamic terrorists from Pakistan. Her book, "Reconciliation," talks about the tremendous possibilities of progress when peacefully-motivated Islamic movements are supported by the international community.

If the US worked to eradicate poverty and desperate social conditions along with propping up peaceful Islamic politicians and clerics, we would demonstrate our commitment to peace and nonviolent diplomacy. As the image of the United States would be shown in a much more positive light, one would simultaneously find people less willing to preach and act against the United States. By apologizing for our actions and working to rectify them, radical Islamic clerics would find their audiences and followers dwindle in their numbers, and those movements would eventually cease to exist.

3. Forge military alliances with our newfound Muslim allies.
Only after apologizing for and working to fix past mistakes, as well as supporting peaceful Islamic movements and candidates, can we proceed with using military force against radical extremists. We must root out those who work to stir up chaos and who live to kill and oppress. But we must do this with multi-lateral support from cooperating Middle Eastern and other Islamic governments. With Muslims dedicated to open-mindedness and tolerance on our side, the international community would simultaneously rally against the fundamentalist Muslims who actively seek to harm others.

These military alliances would be long-lasting, and would be the best way to insure that the Islamic faith is equated with peace and understanding, as was originally intended before the corruption of the Qu'ran by the extremists.

Muslims in the Middle East are still largely against us due to our hypocrisy in preaching democracy but supporting tyrannical dictators. With this three-step solution to ending the War on Terror, we would eradicate both terrorists but also root out the initial causes of terrorism both in the Middle East and elsewhere. By bolstering our international image in this way across the globe, the international community will start to see our nation in the positive light in which we do. Only through smart solutions and creative, nonviolent diplomacy can we eradicate ideologies like religious extremism.