Ordain And Establish [song]

June 11, 2013 · Posted in Lyrics and Explanations · Comment 

Listen to the song Ordain And Establish on SoundCloud

'The Surveillance State not only grows inexorably, but so does the secrecy and unaccountability behind which it functions.' - Glenn Greenwald

This song deals with the ominous and often outright dangerous developments having to do with our civil liberties. Warrantless wiretapping, abuse of National Security Letters, torture, black sites, extraordinary rendition, and indefinite detentions have moved us from an ostensible beacon of liberty in the world to a deeply paranoid and abusive state with a shrinking respect for Constitutional protections - the core values that define this country. Though some give and take is always expected, and often necessary when dealing with the difficult issue of security, we can not, and should not toss away everything that makes this country what it is in our attempt to achieve complete safety, as complete safety is never attainable.

NOTE: fuller explanation and references forthcoming


The law must be stable but must never stand still
This is not what he meant
This is not what he meant

Modest and incremental
Our fears a kaleidoscope

No probable cause
Lost due process

The legislative equivalent of breaking and entering
Ominous free pass
Our source values hijacked

It's the return of
the letter of the signet
Signed, sealed, choked
The rebirth of Vincennes

The eye in the sky has shifted, now trained on us
Appalling autoantonym -
(just) how would a PATRIOT Act?

Losing the lessons of history

Ashcroftian dystopia now made manifest
Opaque, impenetrable one way mirror
The eye in the sky has become the eye on the flag

Do we really deserve
either of the two?
Necessity is the plea of tyrants
for every infringement on human liberty

Our Restive Zeitgeist: song about protest movements around the world

November 16, 2011 · Posted in Announcements, Lyrics and Explanations, Music, Policy, Politics · Comment 

Listen to this song, Our Restive Zeitgeist, on Bandcamp.

As of this writing, it's been three years since the 2008 financial crisis ended. Over this time, many have wondered just what would happen we finally stopped reeling from the confusion, shock, and bewilderment at the scale of its effects. In 2011, we finally began to move from that previous state to one disappointment and despondency. Around the world, people have wondered just what, collectively, was next. Would we deal with corporate malfeasance; massive financial fraud; abysmal governance; the globalization of capital and faux-free trade that benefits a narrow minority at the expense of the many; growing wealth inequality; crumbling infrastructure; bailouts and corporate socialism; vanishing social mobility and increasing wealth and power concentration? In terms of reforms, it seems we've barely budged from those fateful days of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers. Much hand-wringing, and "what is to be done?" have occurred, but very little of actual consequence to fix, or even ameliorate our many ills has been accomplished, or in many cases, even attempted in the US or Europe. The social contract in these places has been broken, and no sign of imminent repair appears forthcoming.

The countries of the Middle East and North Africa have been different stories. Suffering for decades under tyrannical regimes, people in these countries have, one after another, been rising up and ousting their rulers. Much of this continues today, and the outcomes remain highly uncertain. Each country, of course, has its own set of unique historical circumstances and local grievances. One thing that has united them, is that in many of these places, a sort of social contract existed: trade your loyalty (and liberties) for guaranteed income streams, a sinecure, and fixed prices for staples. For a variety of reasons, this has broken down; we've been seeing the results.

Aside from the broken social contract, the one thing has united people in all these different regions and countries: disappearing opportunity. We've relied on governments and (mostly large) businesses to remedy our situation, but as has become abundantly clear, no help is coming. The latter was perceived to be reliable out of a mix of national interest-tinged self interest, the former because it is what we elect them to do. Instead, many of these large businesses have become untethered from their home country in this era of frictionless globalized capital, and easy access to low-cost (and in some cases, suffering under Mercantilist regimes) labor. Governments, on the other hand, have succumbed to Neoliberal, non-Ricardian-Free Trade ideology, internal division, pure incompetence, and myopia. Both, of course, have become parties to corruption, influence peddling, and the system of revolving door jobs. These last issues have become a central focus of many extant protest movements (and are the subject of our song "Mussolini's Revenge.")

Now, we've begun to reach a boiling point. Inchoate, at times unfocused, but rapidly coalescing around many of the issues above, this worldwide crisis has been decades in the making, and is the subject of this song. It's particularly focused on the crisis in the US and the attendant "Occupy" protest movement.

Lyrics start with a ">" and are italicized. Full lyrics without the explanation at the bottom.

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Mussolini’s Revenge [song]

September 25, 2011 · Posted in Lyrics and Explanations · Comment 

Buy this song on iTunes or Amazon

From the album "America: 25 years in review"

Much analysis has been done on the economic system that has emerged in the United States over the past three decades and its effect on people at large. Our song "The Washington Consensus", for example, goes into detail about the Neoliberal system that currently dominates. The other side of the economic coin in this country, however, has little in common with Neoliberalism aside from an affinity (to some degree) for technocratic management. While a great many people experience the confused hybrid of free and quasi-Free Markets and oft-dysfunctional liberal democratic institutions, a network of large businesses, executives, revolving-door regulators, politicians, lobbyists, corporate litigators, and others who benefit from our business-corporate alliances experience an altogether different existence. An existence above and outside the everyday experience, where large businesses and and politicians  comfortably exchange campaign contributions for favorable policies; where regulators are installed to not regulate, or worse, put in place policies which favor their particular industries; where said regulators, after doing a stint at a government agency, have plum jobs awaiting them in the private sector in the very industry they were formerly regulating (and back around again); where the rhetoric of Free Markets gives way to the reality of wheel-greasing donations; and where preferred industries and companies are anointed winners and the rest wind up losers. This makes up the mostly legal, quasi-Corporatist part; still left to deal with is the Crony Capitalism and of course, pure corruption. With the dealings and legality so murky, which label you might use depends on a number of factors and particular context. It's fluid, and pinning it down to any one of them at a given time given shifting rules and norms would likely prove to be quite a challenge. This song tackles them collectively.

"The final irony of corporatism is that it represents the triumph of the one 20th-Century ideology that is considered so utterly discredited that most educated people don't even bother to learn what it believed about economics: fascism." writes Frontpage Magazine. Fascism with the original intended meaning: the merger of state and corporate power. Though the name and its ideas (especially with regards to guaranteed delivery of goods and services, and the romantic notions of the "organic body") are soundly rejected and ridiculed by nearly all quarters, in practice, both Republicans and Democrats practice it in this country every day, and have helped nurture and entrench it to a degree that might make the NFP proud. This hidden triumph is Mussolini's Revenge.

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Earnestly Pursued Oblivion [song]

March 10, 2011 · Posted in Lyrics and Explanations · Comment 

This song is about America's failed Drug War and its damaging effects on the country. From attacks on entire groups to leading us into sordid alliances with violent organizations who would later call us their enemies, the Drug War continues on, providing a raison d'etre and great profit for many - who have no desire to change the status quo, all while helping to discredit those that continue to support it.

Note: full explanation coming soon. For now, just the lyrics.

A permanent war of attrition
Underclass directed
but it can never work

"It is unconscionable in this country to continue to carry out public policy of this magnitude and cost without any way of knowing whether, and to what it extent it is having the desired effect."

The drug war has no interest in its own results

One million every year
You strengthen the thing you try to destroy

We can win, we can win - we can't win

It's a misnomer...wars end.

Monsters of our own creation
When will they learn?

You call it moral midgetry
The greater harm comes from your misguided crusade

"The passing of an unjust law is the suicide of authority."

It's not a war
Wars end

Rhizostoma Democratica [song]

December 6, 2010 · Posted in Lyrics and Explanations, Music · Comment 

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Listen on Soundcloud: http://soundcloud.com/opir/rd

Republican policies have defined the modern era in the United States, as many songs on this album explain. However, the state of this country would not, and likely could not, be what it is today without a slew of enablers. Chief among them are a great many Democratic politicians (particularly in the Senate) over the past few decades. To be sure, there are exceptions (Feingold and Kucinich have been staunch defenders of sane policies, for example), but the overarching theme of these politicians has been one of constants sops, half-measures, milquetoast policies, and a "bi-partisanship" that is indistinguishable from near-total capitulation. 

So, what is it that makes so many of today's Democratic politicians so spineless, so devoid of resolve, so weak?

* Fear that divisiveness is a "turn off", even if they're totally right.

* Fear that attacking those that are wrong, even blatantly, is somehow rude or uncivilized, and so is "beneath" them.

* The idea that compromise is always a good idea, and has value even if the ends are horrific. Even if that means compromising with war criminals, human rights violators, anti-enlightenment value nuts, or bigots. 

* Some twisted belief that compromise shows that you're "civilized", even if that means giving everything away.

 * Fear of appearing "radical" and being painted as a fringe minority, even though what they're often challenging is radical.

* Best is the enemy of good. No exceptions. An inability to see that it can be worth losing a fight while sticking to your principles than giving in and losing the confidence of your erstwhile supporters. Not to mention the fact that some compromises can be worse than simply losing.

* Enslavement to the median voter theorem, and (sometimes) polls. Both parties can be guilty of this, but Republicans have been much better at sticking to their guns under fire. Lyndon Johnson's administration proved that governing by polls does not work.

Perhaps it is a peculiarity of a party that is steeped in traditions of academic debate, civility, careful consideration of arguments, and an often unshakable belief that all players at the table are honest. I doubt this was ever true, but even if it was, that time is long passed. We've been in an era of increasing communication speed, bitter divisions, ad hominem attacks, non-stop scandal creation and exploitation, mini-cults of personality and celebrity, and hardened positions. Democratic politicians, however, seem stuck in the (possibly imagined) past time when everyone came together in earnest and tried to hash out differences, really listened to the positions of others, and came to a sane compromise. They've failed to internalize the fact that the divisions are so deep, that in many cases, it's like we're living in two (sometimes more) different countries, completely devoid of common ground (a country that, at times, seems like it would function better if calmly split in two.)

Finally, fear of the Republican noise machine saying every conceivable terrible thing you can imagine about them - which they do. They shouldn't be afraid of it, they should paint it exactly as it is - enemies attacking them - but they are. Republicans are right about politics as warfare. It's not a game. Ideas and policies have real consequences. The idea that you can play politics like a game where you're far removed from the consequences of those policies is a huge problem. An absolutely enormous one. We're talking about the fate of people in this country and the country itself; if one party is destroying things, treat them as what they are: the enemy. Republicans learned this lesson long ago. 

This song is written from a first-person perspective. Basically, me singing to the entire Democratic Congressional leadership, governors, state legislatures, party bosses, and influential ex-officials. Preferably while they're tied town and forced to listen. Repeatedly.

Lyrics start with a ">" and are italicized. Full lyrics without the explanation at the bottom.

From the album "America: 25 years in review"

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The Washington Consensus [song]

November 29, 2010 · Posted in Lyrics and Explanations, Music · Comment 

Buy this song on iTunes or Amazon

For the past three decades, we have attempted a vast economic experiment, largely in the Americas and Europe (but by no means limited to there) called Neoliberalism. It is known by several names (Reaganism, Thatcherism, and others), and is a type or "school", in a very loose sense of what we now (thanks to George Soros) call Market Fundamentalism. Its edifices and ideas, it's doctrines and policies, and the culture(s) that have sprung up around and because of it, will likely be familiar to anyone in the aforementioned areas. So familiar, in fact, that many casual observers may not even realize that there are other systems, and that the one that they live within, natural though it may seem, is a relatively recent invention. This is a testament to the amazing success of its supporters and its practitioners; its disciples and priests; its critics; and of course, its victims. 

This system and its variants are rooted in several traditions and schools of thought. Among them, as some argue, is Social Darwinism (though Mises disagreed), which came to prominence in the late 1800s and early-to-mid 1900s. Its basic essence is thus: society, like nature, should be constituted as a competitive race, with those able to succeed surviving, and those unable to do so dying out. It's a simple, elegant idea in theory. An idea with winners and losers, simple rewards and punishments, and a constant, forward progress created by having only the best able to live and breathe. Due to its uncompromising nature, and its ability to allow the best to get ahead, it leaves behind the failed, the rotten, and the useless - whether those be institutions, organizations, or individuals. In practice, however, it requires us as societies and people to jettison the idea providing support for those who have not, or cannot succeed through no fault of their own. To eliminate the idea that anyone could fail for reasons other than their own incompetence or laziness, and to convince ourselves of the fiction that the world is constituted as a level playing field; that in a world where we have such a thing as a "birth lottery", that there can be pure meritocracy. Even if one rejects the idea that Social Darwinism has strongly influenced today's Market Fundamentalisms strongly, its difficult to argue that they don't produce similarly cruel outcomes and "systems of private tyranny."

As an idea, Social Darwinism is extremely seductive for those of us who believe in meritocracies; who wish for them. It envisions the world ever improving, ever innovating, and ever purging - all of which could make up for its brutality. A seductive idea indeed.

The most prominent and powerful influence on today's Neoliberalism was, of course, Classical Liberalism (which of course also influenced modern liberal social democracies; many great ideas come from this, today's social democrats (and their ideological allies) and Libertarians tend to part ways on economics, and are often close allies when it comes to non-economic rights, to all of our benefit), and in more recent decades, Objectivism and (Economic) Libertarianism. These latter two movements have always been bit players, and in terms of their number of actual adherents (and elected politicians) they remain small. However, they've had an outsize influence on economic policy, particularly starting in the mid/late 1970s and early 1980s. With the rise of Thatcher and Reagan, the ideas of Hayek and Friedman started to gain traction and were allowed to function in the real world. Still reeling from the excesses of "embedded Liberalism" (overly generous pensions, bloated budgets , too-powerful unions in some places, laughable vacation and sick day policies, and waste) this new order rose up. Neoliberalism, as it came to be called, was and is a synthesis of many of the previously mentioned schools and systems of thought; in a way, it can be conceptualized as a kind of "professionalized, polished economic Libertarianism." It spread, in its various forms, throughout the world during the 1980s, and is credited with much of the growth of that era. While this is true, it also hides the fact that wealth inequality, as many expected, grew to levels unseen since the beginning of the 20th century. Yet another "new Gilded Age" it has been called, and rightly so.

To its credit, it has helped cement two facts: that near-absolute government control of an economy does in fact produce worse outcomes compared to less government control (in many/most circumstances) and that unfettered markets do the same. We've discovered that what works best in the world at the moment are purposely mixed economies; systems that renegotiate the boundaries between public and private; government control, corporate control, union control, and individual control; a system that uses markets where they make sense, and government control where it does - and change as technology or other factors change; flexible, well enforced regulatory structures; responsive representatives; the rule of law, and uniform enforcement, along with the ability for the law to change as needed; tax rates that are based on needs and incentives, not ideology; and perhaps most importantly: the realization that we should do everything necessary to provide equality of opportunity, and the ability to get wealthy and provide a floor through which no one falls; A "range compression" of wealth. We should want people to get wealthy, and for aggregate social welfare to increase, and need to provide institutions and policies that encourage and support this, while doing our utmost to prevent anyone from slipping into destitution. What we have now has distorted our ability to any of this.

So what we've seen is decades of radical deregulation of areas that should not have been deregulated, radical privatizations of things that should not have been privatized, disappearing social mobility, massive wealth concentration, and decreased opportunity overall. Deregulation and privatization have their place. Tax cuts and changes have their place. Governing and society should be regarded as a careful balancing act. Now, as this experiment has shown too little regulation in areas where its needed, too much privatization in areas where its not needed, and too low tax rates where they aren't warranted can produce terrible effects as surely as the converse can. Where Communism and Socialism have failed, Neoliberalism has failed just as mightily, just in different ways. In all cases, however, we all wound up worse off.

The policies contained in John Williamson's document that is credited with articulating these ideas is known as The Washington Consensus, and is the subject of this song.

From the album "America: 25 years in review."

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A Graveyard Of Elephants [song]

September 15, 2010 · Posted in Lyrics and Explanations, Music · Comment 

Buy this song on iTunes or Amazon - Watch the video

A casual look at the Republican party might make one believe that they are completely unified, utterly in lockstep with no dissension. This view seems to be supported by both the outward-facing messaging, and by the fact that Conservatisms of all kinds tend to be quite organized, disciplined, and intolerant of dissent. The very well managed (particularly in the 1990s and 2000s) organizations and congressional voting policies (institutionalized by Gingrinch and Delay) add further support to this view. Finally, when it comes time to vote, the many factions are very dependable, despite the considerable nose-holding required to vote with the party as a whole.

Dig deeper into the policy discussions and the picture gets considerably more complex and nuanced, as one would expect from any group of sufficient size. The conflicts created by these ideological differences have pulled the US in many different directions over the past few decades, with (an upon first glance) confusing mix of policy decisions which have served to have an often deleterious effect on the country. This song attempts to touch on and summarize each major faction, of which there are four. Many more minor factions and sub-factions could be enumerated, but these four could be considered defining for "modern Republicanism", a set of ideas and policies that this song serves as a thoroughly vituperative tirade against. Each faction gets its own section. Lyrics start with a ">"  and are italicized. Full lyrics without the explanation at the bottom.

From the album "America: 25 years in review."

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