Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Netiquette In the Age of Facebook

I haven't heard the term "netiquette" used in decades, so I figured I'd just date myself with the title.  I've been actively using the internet for 20 years now.  What has become known as social media for about 13 years.  I was very impressed with the organizing potential involved with all kinds of things that came along -- email lists, file-sharing, web-based media.  Social media -- particularly MySpace and then Facebook -- always seemed fraught with problems.  Largely related to the tight and ever-evolving corporate control of these completely corporate-controlled platforms of communication.

As these platforms of communication -- ultimately, really, just Facebook -- came to become dominant, I was always hoping that it would be a phase that would be replaced by something at least slightly more useful and less oriented towards endless displays of "mommy, look at me" in one form or another.  But, unfortunately, Facebook is the new way that most of us seem to do most of our communicating -- because everybody else is on there, and if you're not, you're basically in the dark.

Of course if you are on Facebook, you're also in the dark, for the most part.  You can try various techniques at communicating with your base, or at finding out what's happening that you actually want to know about, but for me it's a lot like finding a needle in a haystack.  A haystack where the needles you're looking for seem to be buried in the algorithms -- where the most useless bits of hay get systematically pushed to the top.

I have been told repeatedly by people in their twenties that Facebook is a generational problem.  That they know how to navigate it better, and find what they're looking for, than older people do, generally.  If this might actually be the case, I'd appreciate any enlightenment on the subject anyone might be able to provide, especially those of you who grew up online, which people my age obviously did not.

In any case, as this very imperfect medium has become the dominant one, I have only recently realized that I have to stop treating it like a necessary nuisance, and start really engaging with people out there using the platform, as best I can under the circumstances.  To that end, I have finally realized that what some of my younger friends have been telling me is true -- that is, Facebook and various other places online where interactions between humans take place are not best seen as forums for some amorphous notion of "free speech."  Which always seemed to be a default position for me.  Which in retrospect seems very strange.

Facebook and other interactive places online, such as comments beneath YouTube videos and blog posts, I have decided, are best treated as forums for friendly discussion between basically like-minded people -- far from a place where anything goes as long as it's protected by the First Amendment.

It took me years to even figure out how to get notified (in places that I would notice) when there was a new comment on a Facebook post or YouTube video.  Once I got that figured out, my initial orientation towards these comments was that I should read them, and acknowledge them, perhaps react to them in some way.  After much urging from various young, more web-savvy friends, I started policing these spaces to some extent, by deleting comments that were obviously racist, sexist, transphobic, etc.

Much more recently I came to the conclusion that this wasn't enough.  That these forums for discussion needed to be treated more seriously and respectfully than that.  I started trying to think in terms of what if this were a discussion happening after one of my shows or in some other social environment in the physical world.  How would I want to treat people, or try to guide the conversation in that space?  Not that I have the power to do that, necessarily, as one person.  But as the administrator for my own Facebook pages, YouTube channel, etc., I decided on certain courses of action.  It's too early for me to tell if this will have a positive impact, after all the damage that has been done by my laissez faire attitude up til, well, last month.

It was the way Facebook essentially caught fire during the first half of November that finally prompted these realizations, around the 2016 US elections.  Since then, on an average of every other day or so, I have been blocking people from commenting on my YouTube channel and blocking people from seeing me on Facebook (which also blocks them from commenting on my otherwise public posts).

Not just for saying things that are obviously offensive anymore, but for slightly more subtle reasons.  Such as anyone who comments with what is clearly a snide or insulting tone, regardless of what they are saying otherwise.  If it's not in the spirit of friendly, respectful discussion, they get blocked.  This has applied to both people who agree with me and people who don't, though probably more often for those who don't.  My goal is not to squelch a diversity of perspectives, but to promote a friendly, nontoxic atmosphere for discussion, for making friends, for solidarity.

I think it's extremely rare for anyone to benefit or learn anything or change their position because of an argument, whether the argument takes place in a bar, a living room, or a social media post.  It's just not the way people work.  If it were, then the toxic atmosphere and the microaggressions involved might be worth putting up with.  But they're not.

It's obvious when people are approaching a discussion with an open mind.  In such cases, differences of opinion can be useful.  But if people just seem to be venting, that's not helpful to anyone, in my newly-adopted view.  That includes me.  I stopped.  I no longer respond negatively to the negative comments -- I just block those people now.  I don't know why I ever thought I should engage with them in the first place.

I haven't decided yet, but I might even start blocking those people who habitually respond to my posts before they take the time to actually read or listen to them.  If I post a song, I'm very interested in what people think of it, who have taken the time to listen to it.  I don't want to know what you think of the title of the song, when it's obvious from your comment that you didn't take the time to listen to the actual song in question.  I think that kind of stuff is just useless noise, and very disrespectful in its own way.  What I feel like we need on Facebook -- as in society as a whole -- are more people who capable of truly listening, giving honest feedback, and engaging in respectful discussion.  Anyone not into that sort of thing can find somewhere else to yell at each other.

I feel like I've come to these conclusions very late.  I'd be very interested in anyone else's thoughts on these matters.  How do you deal with these things, and why do you do it that way?

Sunday, December 11, 2016

2016 Year In Review

It's nearing the end of the year, and it's that time of year when individuals, families, nonprofit organizations and the media often tend to reflect on and summarize what has happened in the past 12 months or so.  

It seems like a good thing to me that this tradition exists, since if it didn't, it would probably rarely happen, given how much of a rush society generally seems to be in all of the time.  And of course in the age of Too Much Information, a review of the past year is just one more pile of infodung to slog through.  Plus, lots of people I know would rather just move on and not think much about 2016.

But I sort of cover several of those roles -- as an individual, a member of a family, and in some sense as an organization and media outlet, too.  And 2016 has been an eventful year for me in many ways

I'm loosely dividing my review of the year into three categories -- Songs, Essays and Everything Else.


The first song I wrote in 2016 was at the beginning of January, a song about the racist history of Oregon called "Sunset Laws."

Mid-January, as news was spreading about the ongoing disaster in Flint, Michigan, I wrote the poem, "Arrest Governor Snyder."

That month I also heard from a woman in England who is a friend of a guy named Mohamed Abu Sakha.  Mohamed had been arrested the previous month, on no stated charges -- as usual for Palestinians being arrested by Israelis.  "Free Abu Sakha."

With the constant pressure of endlessly rising rents in the city of Portland, Oregon, I have written many songs about the situation -- partly for therapeutic purposes.  In late January I wrote "Letter to My Landlord."

Throughout the year I wrote more songs on the subject of gentrification, and the gentrifiers -- "Good-bye, Portland," "Yuppie Scum," "So You Wanna Flip A House," and "Just A Renter."  I also wrote "Someday (On Burnside)," about the burgeoning homeless population in my adopted, divided city.

In February, while on tour in Europe with a mighty flu and listening to presidential campaign news around Hillary Clinton claiming to be more progressive than her opponent at the time, Bernie Sanders, I wrote "If Clinton's A Progressive."

A couple weeks after the March terrorist attack at the Brussels airport I wrote "If You Bomb Somebody" (they just might bomb you back).

In the spring and summer the peace boat, the Golden Rule, was sailing around the west coast of the US.  I sang at a couple events along the way and wrote "The Golden Rule" -- a little history of this infamous boat.

In preparation for my participation in the World Social Forum in Montreal last summer, I wrote a poem about the history of the WSF -- "Come to Montreal (World Social Forum 2016)."

Of the many massacres that took place throughout the USA in 2016, I wrote songs about two of them.  "Orlando" is about the massacre at the Pulse Nightclub.   "If This Were A War" is about the killing of the five police officers in Dallas, Texas.

At the point when the presidential campaign was reaching its most ridiculous, and it was clear that the main two candidates would be an incorrigible couple of elitists, I musically threw my lot in with the Green Party with a campaign song -- "Jill Stein."  (Which the Jill Stein campaign even tweeted about once.)

In September I wrote my first song for cello accompaniment, "Song for a Refugee."  (One of many songs on the subject of refugees I've written over the past few years, but the only one for 2016, it seems.)

On the plane home from my second tour of Europe in 2016, I wrote "Gather Round," in an effort to write a modern labor song.

I had been hearing about the developments in North Dakota for some time, but it was after I got back home to Oregon in November that I wrote "Standing Rock."

In early November, the rhetoric in the presidential campaigns was heating up exponentially.  I was being regularly attacked by HRC supporters for my position that we have to stop with the lesser evilism already -- not next election, but yesterday already.  "Lesser Evil" was my musical response to this debate.

When Trump won, "The Biggest Landlord" was my musical effort to understand the motivations behind many of the people who voted for him.

When Fidel died, I wrote a song about the man and his revolution -- "Commandante Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz."

Reflecting on how my Community-Supported Art scheme has done such a good job of allowing me and my family to survive over the course of these past three years, I wrote a poem -- "In Praise of the CSA."

In a bout of loneliness, home alone in mid-December, I wrote "Five Thousand Friends on Facebook, But."

After hearing an interview with one of her sons, I wrote "The Ghost of Ethel Rosenberg" for the campaign to #ExonerateEthel.


I wrote a lot of essays, all of which appeared in my blog, many of them also in Counterpunch.

In January I wrote Rejected By America, about how I had (and still have) given up on doing major tours of the United States because it is not financially viable.

I spent much of March working on setting up the Song News Network, which I announced in a blog post in April -- Where Are All the Protest Songs?

In June I wrote Senseless Acts of Killing, a brief, musically-annotated exploration of why these things happen so much.

Feeling exasperated by all the people and organizations out there spreading false hope by encouraging us to write letters to politicians, I wrote Don't Write Your Congressperson.

When Bernie Sanders told everybody to support Hillary Clinton and many people I know were feeling lost and betrayed, I tried to help out with my WTF 2016 Q&A.

Reflecting on last summer's Democratic National Convention, I wrote Thoughts on the Conventions: The Republicans and Democrats Have Now Switched Places.

I put out a mobile app for the first time last summer.  I wrote Why An App? in explanation for doing this.

A friend of mine contacted me during the summer, telling me about how he knew Mohammed Atta, the most well-known of the 19 men who hijacked the planes used in the 9/11 attacks.  My friend doesn't want to be publicly identified, so I published his account on my blog -- Mohammed Atta, Israeli moving companies, Psychic Friends and a dead handyman.

In the midst of my second tour of Europe in 2016 I wrote A Portlander in Europe, mostly reflecting on the still-vast differences between life in places like Germany and Scandinavia compared with life in the United States.

In defense of my rejection of lesser-evilism, just before the November election I wrote what would be by far my most-read blog entry of the year (over 7k views) -- For All the Women, Men and Children She's Killed -- the Rantings of a Privileged White Male.

Having thought a Trump win quite likely, I already had a lot of ideas about why lots of people would vote for him.  After the election, I wrote my second-most-read blog entry of the year -- What Just Happened -- National Socialism Wins When Socialism is Abandoned.

In defense of the relevance of culture in light of the election and the way forward, I next wrote What's Next?

My most recent essay for Counterpunch was "Good Cop, Bad Cop" -- Democratic Mayors, Republican Governors, and Us, about how the Democrats and Republicans play ping pong with the people of this country.

Reflecting on the way Facebook essentially caught fire during the first half of November, I wrote Netiquette in the Age of Facebook.

Everything Else

On January 28th, my daughter, Leila, turned 10.  On April 14th, four days after my 49th birthday, my son, Yutaka, was born.  If you weren't aware of these developments, you probably don't follow me on Instagram.  (And maybe you don't want to!)

In between tours, during the first four months or so of Yutaka's life in the spring and summer, in my spare time I wrote a novel -- A Busker's Adventures.  Not my first novel, but the first that I've written under my own name...  Hardly anybody has read it, which is a bit discouraging.  The few who have read it tell me it's really good.  (Mostly my relatives.)

In the midst of changing a lot of diapers and writing a novel, I also got into a car accident, crowdfunded the car repairs, and crowdfunded my new electric cello.  And got physical therapy for whiplash.  (Which never seems to quite go away entirely.)

I did two two-month tours of Europe in 2016.  In spite of the currency markets (strong dollar, weak pound) I made a living in 2016 mostly from touring in Europe.  (And from the ongoing support of my CSA members, and all those who contributed to the crowdfunding campaigns for the car repair, albums, cello, etc.)  I did around 90 gigs, including having the privilege of singing for thousands of folks at the opening ceremony of the World Social Forum in Montreal in August, and getting to sing quite extensively for 65,000 people at a TTIP protest in Hamburg, Germany in September.

I put out three professional-quality recordings in 2016:

In January I did a sort of house concert at Big Red Studio, featuring my latest songs (mostly written in the latter half of 2015) which became the Bandcamp album, 1939.

In March I had a show in Boston which was recorded professionally, in spite of my best efforts to sabotage the process.  This became another Bandcamp album, Letter to My Landlord.

In October I concluded a tour with Scottish singer, Lorna McKinnon accompanying me, by having one of our shows in Ireland professionally recorded.  This became the online full-length concert video, Live in Rostrevor.

In Conclusion

If I impress anyone with any of this, that's great, but my intent here is mainly to summarize 2016 from my vantage point, for whatever that's worth.

And also to give thanks.  For the fact that I have the time and the resources to do all of these things is due mostly to the support of all of you who contributed towards these various aforementioned crowdfunding efforts.  And all of you who have organized gigs for me throughout the year.  And all of you who continue to be members of my CSA.  To all of these folks especially -- and to anyone else who likes what I'm doing enough to have gotten this far in this blog post -- from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

I hope to see you on the road in 2017!

Friday, December 9, 2016

In Praise of the CSA

The CSA is becoming a popular method for both DIY artists as well as family farmers to get by. I wrote a poem for the CSA concept, and for mine in particular...

In Praise of the CSA 

Before the concert's over, allow me if I may
To subject you to a message about my CSA
That's Community-Supported Art, in case you didn't know
Since folks stopped buying records, it's the way to go
If you got a few bucks extra, there are few nicer ways to say
"Keep on doing what you're doing" than to join a CSA

You'll find mine on my website, it's a link up near the top
Just click on there and sign up so each month you can drop
A few bucks in the hat out in cyberspace
If we're busking online then we need a virtual guitar case
Because unfortunately Spotify really doesn't pay
So for some solid solidarity, join a CSA

 Of course there are many ways to support the arts
Many people have to play many different parts
From organizing gigs to finding a palette for the shed
Where a traveler such as I can lay their weary head
But what many of us are hoping for is to see the day
When we have a lot of people join the CSA

 Other folks are doing it, and I think it's pretty cool
At least given the options, it's a useful tool
If state sponsorship of art is too much to expect
Then at least we can set it up so the support can be direct
In return we'll give you all the music we can play
Thanks for your consideration of my CSA

P.S.  You'll also find this rhyming missive pinned to the top of my Facebook page.  Shares, likes, and comments tend to make it more likely that more people see it, so please feel free!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Commandante Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz

When we look at history and how it's all unwound
There are few people on the planet that have been more tightly bound
With the liberation of our troubled human race
Than the man from Santiago with the beard upon his face
Dressed in green fatigues that he wore most of his years
As he led his country longer than any of his peers
And few men have been vilified more often in the news
Than Commandante Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz

Born into a country of Dengue and despair
Ruled by foreign armies ever since Columbus got there
He'd reject his privilege and join humanity
Forced to choose between his species and his family
And when legal means had failed to stop the suffering he saw
He decided it was high time to work outside the law
He organized a revolution with the rifle and the fuse
Commandante Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz

When you win a revolution, you might stop when you're ahead
But in the Havana Declaration the revolutionaries said
Wherever people anywhere are found to be oppressed
As long as we have hearts that beat within our chests
It is our duty to support them – and Cuba sent their troops
And Cuba sent their doctors, in ever-larger groups
And their leader was the one in the track suit and running shoes
Commandante Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz

It could have been someone else, and he might be the first to say
The movement makes the leader, not the other way
But around the world right now, sitting at their dinner plates
There are people praising this man who stood up to the United States
And lived life as a beacon for a new society
With housing, healthcare, education and the human right to dignity
Central to the vision for which he stood accused
Commandante Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz

I can't predict the future, but if the past is any indication
Many more will follow the trail of the little Cuban nation
And soon in Havana, I hope that we may see
A statue of the man, to go beside Jose Marti
But wherefore goes Havana, or Angola, Mozambique
I'll always remember the big man's rosy cheeks
If the world could vote for a leader, how many just might choose
Commandante Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

"Good Cop, Bad Cop" -- Democratic Mayors, Republican Governors, and Us

"Don't pay any attention to the landlord behind the curtain."
I just heard the dude with the nice midwestern accent, Tim Ryan, say on NPR that since the latest election the Democrats are no longer a national party.  Now, he says, the Democrats are a "coastal" party.  What a bunch of bullshit.  What he is trying to do, in a fairly clumsy manner, is to build this narrative of the Democratic Party as a "resistance movement."

In other words, what was for a century the "party of the white man" -- as it billed itself -- the Democratic Party, the historic party of white supremacy, the party run by rich, white men that claimed to represent the white working class (sound familiar?), is now heading up a bold resistance movement against the very personification of evil, Donald Trump and his racist, sexist, homophobic, "alt right" Republican minions.

The existence of the neofascist president-elect and the existence of white supremacist groups is not in doubt.  The question here is what kind of resistance movement Tim Ryan and his Democratic Party intend to mount.  I think the answer is clear -- and it's nothing new, but it bears exploration.

I live in one of the supposed bastions of progressivism in the US -- Portland, Oregon.  Before I moved to Portland, I lived in other cities with supposedly progressive Democratic mayors and city councils -- Seattle, Olympia, San Francisco, Berkeley, Boston, Somerville, Houston, and still others (like many professional musicians, I've lived a very mobile life).

It is being widely publicized on the corporate (and "public") media that the Republicans control both houses of Congress and almost every governor's mansion in the country.  What is somewhat less widely publicized is the fact that now, as usual, the vast majority of US cities are controlled by the Democratic Party.  In most cases, US city governments are essentially one-party institutions, where the Republicans don't even bother putting up a fight, since they never win.

And there's a clear pattern in terms of the governance of all of these cities, and it goes like this:  the more the rents go up, the more shrill the rhetoric of the ruling Democratic Party politicians get.

And who are they criticizing with such enthusiasm?  The real estate speculators and developers who are primarily responsible for the growing misery of so much of their supposed constituencies?  The 48 (out of 50) Republican-controlled state governments who have banned rent control in their states?

No.  They prefer safe targets.  Ones that don't affect the bottom lines of the real estate developers that bought their offices for them.  They proclaim their cities to be "sanctuary cities" -- havens for undocumented people, the struggling human beings in our midst that most Republicans still refer to as "illegal aliens."  They proudly proclaim their allegiance to human rights, and their intention to continue to refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities (not that the Department of Homeland Security actually needs their help in the first place).

Let's unpack this a little.  The mayors of Portland, Seattle and other cities say they will not use their own cops to enforce federal law, at least when it comes to immigration law.  But whenever they're asked by their struggling constituents -- thousands of whom are homeless in each of these cities, with a hundred million others around the country barely holding on, as wages continue to stagnate as the cost of housing skyrockets -- whether they can institute rent control, they say "sorry, can't do that, that would be breaking state law."

They acknowledge that we are having a rent crisis, a housing crisis, and still suffering from the long-term aftermath of the foreclosure crisis.  But they say their hands are tied, nothing much they can do.  Other than making it easier for the developers to build more "low-income" housing -- though "low income" never seems to be defined as something lower than the median income, which would be the sensible definition of such a term.  "Low income" in actual terms means far above the median income.  It is Orwellian doublespeak.  (And it's not a problem we can build our way out of in the first place.)

And why can we break federal immigration law but not state laws barring rent control?  Simple.  Because it is undocumented workers who are building these cities.  If you live in Portland or Seattle or San Francisco and you're not a hermit, you know this.  I'm certainly not going to name names or anything like that, but I know lots of folks from Mexico in this city, and many of them are undocumented.  If it were up to me, they'd all be given citizenship immediately, but that's not my point here.  The point is, they are all super-exploited workers.  Most of them are working at least two full-time jobs in order to make ends meet.  They hardly ever sleep.

What kind of work do they do?  There is a massive boom in building mansions and other high-income housing across this city (and so many other cities).  By my informal estimation as someone who walks around Portland avidly, most of the people building these buildings are from Mexico or Central America.  If their legal status reflects the legal status of the Mexicans I know well enough to have learned what their immigration status is, then most of them are undocumented.  Mexicans I know who are not in the construction industry are working in warehouses or on factory assembly lines (yes, there are lots of factories making things in Portland -- everything from windows and doors to hoses for nuclear reactors).  I don't think I know a single white US citizen who works in a factory or in construction in this city.

Undocumented, terribly exploited workers are the backbone of the Portland construction boom.  The super-profits being made by the real estate speculators and developers are fueled by illegal immigration.  Not that this is unique to the cities -- it's the same in the countryside.  The Republicans who govern the farming areas walk a fine line between terrorizing the Spanish-speaking populations in order to keep them in a proper state of fearfulness (so they won't organize a union) -- while not working too hard to get them deported, lest they destroy their local economy by doing so.  The farm jobs don't pay well enough for anyone else to do this back-breaking work, you see.  At least not since slavery was abolished.

And why not go ahead and break state law and impose some desperately-needed legal controls over the cost of housing?  Simple.  Because these supposedly progressive Democratic politicians don't give a shit about us.  They are bought and sold by real estate developers and other rich people, and they govern on behalf of these scum.

In the 1980's, in response to rising property taxes, property owners formed a lobby, and the Reagan administration passed a law that limited the annual rise in property taxes across the country to 1%.  Why has such a law never been passed for renters?  Because both parties rule on behalf of the (bigger) property owners, not the lowly renters.

The proof is in the pudding.  If these politicians cared about the working class, they would immediately break state laws across the country and institute sensible forms of rent control.  In doing this, they would become tremendously popular among the working class residents of their cities.  They could change the face of the country.  And then of course they would become objects of hatred, victims of smear campaigns led by the real estate developers and property speculators who they would have just betrayed.

Portland has lost most of it's African-American population in between the last two censuses, and statistics in San Francisco, Seattle and elsewhere are similar.  If these Democratic politicians cared about Black people, they'd institute rent control.

Instead, they'll take what they see as the safe road.  They know that most of their constituencies hate Trump and the Republican establishment.  They know that most of their constituencies are life-long Democrats with egalitarian impulses, who voted for Obama, who believe in an inclusive society.  So they'll focus on things we can all agree on -- racism and sexism and fascism are bad.  We stand against these things.  What do we stand for?  Who the fuck knows.  Hope and change, or something.  Entrepreneurship.  Small business.  The middle class, whatever the fuck that is.

But Mexicans, African-Americans, Asians, white people, men and women who are all struggling to make ends meet, who desperately need governments to intervene on their behalf, against the rapacious greed of the landlord class, the big banks, etc.?  Fuck them.  The mayor of Portland, the mayor of Seattle, the mayor of New York City, the mayor of Boston -- that's what they would be saying if they were honest.  Fuck them.  We don't give a shit.

Now go protest against Trump and the governor of North Carolina and racism and sexism some more -- just don't pay any attention to the landlord behind the curtain.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Punk Baroque -- Album and World Tour


Announcing the release of my new album, Punk Baroque! It's free to stream all you want, but if you can donate or Subscribe, this is very much appreciated. And if you like the music, please share it!


The spring tour includes Canada, California, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, England, Scotland and Wales.  Your help promoting a gig that's in your area would be appreciated immensely.  You can tell folks about the gig(s), share this blog post or my website by whatever means, and you can print out this tour poster, fill in the local gig details, and put up copies anywhere you see fit!  No permission needed to help promote a show...  Here are some more ideas on DIY tour promotion.


Friday, March 17th -- Facebook Event page
Grace Memorial United Church
803 East 16th Ave.
Vancouver, BC

Sunday, March 19th, 6 pm
Station -- me and Scrap Matou -- Facebook Event page
1494 Ontario
Montreal, Quebec H2L 1S3

Monday, March 20th -- Facebook Event page
Happy Goat Coffee Co.
35 Rue Laurel Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1Y 4M4

Wednesday, March 22nd, noon -- Facebook Event page
Workshop on legal rights -- I'm singing a few songs
CSU Space (Hall Building, 7th floor)
Montreal, Quebec

Friday, March 31st, 6:30 pm -- Facebook Event page
The Resource Center for Nonviolence
612 Ocean St
Santa Cruz, California

Saturday, April 1st, 7 pm -- Facebook Event page
Cozmic Cafe
594 Main St
Placerville, California

Sunday, April 2nd, 2 pm -- Facebook Event page
Unity of Ukiah
321 North Bush Street
Ukiah, California

Sunday, April 2nd, 8 pm -- Facebook Event page
The Backroom -- Chris Chandler opening
1984 Bonita Ave.
Berkeley, California

Sunday, April 16th, 8 pm -- Facebook Event page
Dronningholmsvej 74
5700 Svendborg

Wednesday, April 19th
Cafe Hellebaek
Nordre Strandvej 95
3150 Hellebæk

Saturday, April 22nd -- Facebook Event page
Dortheavej 61

Monday, April 24th, 7 pm
Enhedslisten building
Fredensgade 20 b
8600 Silkeborg

Thursday, April 27th, 7 pm -- Facebook Event page
Bethaniagade 3

Friday, April 28th -- Facebook Event page
Kattesundet 10

Saturday, April 29th -- Facebook Event page
10 Mindegade

Monday, May 1st, 11 am
Anticapitalist May 1st -- Facebook Event page

Monday, May 1st, 3 pm
Prosa tent

Monday, May 1st, 5 pm
Karens Minde Kulturhus
Wagnersvej 19
2450 Copenhagen

Monday, May 1st, 9 pm
Absalonsgade 26
5000 Odense C

Thursday, May 4th, 7:30 pm -- Facebook Event page
The Door
Voorstraat 142
The Netherlands

Friday, May 5th
Restaurant Hagedis
Waldeck Pyrmontkade 116
Den Haag
The Netherlands

Monday, May 8th, 6 pm
House concert -- email Dirk for more info

Wednesday, May 10th, 8 pm -- Facebook Event page
Postgasshalde 21 (house concert in an office!)

Friday, May 12th, 8 pm
Klub am Besenbinderhof
Besenbinderhof 62

Saturday, May 13th, 2 pm
sans titre e.V. -- I go on at 4 pm at this event for refugees
Französische Straße 18
DE-14467 Potsdam

Saturday, May 13th, 8 pm
Hobel Bar
Emser Str. 124
12051 Berlin

Tuesday, May 16th, 7 pm
Ermekeilinitiative e.V. -- Facebook Event page
Reuterstrasse 61

Wednesday, May 17th, 8 pm
Garten oder Wohnzimmerkonzert
Im Bosseldorn 23

Thursday, May 18th
House concert -- email Peter for more info

Friday, May 19th
Raumstation Rödelheim
auf der Insel 14 (Hinterhof, letzte Treppe)
60489 Frankfurt

Saturday, May 20th
Rothe Ecke Community Center
Naumbergerstr. 20a

Sunday, May 21st -- Facebook Event page
"Het lijkt wel vrede" event with me and others!
Herent -- email Gert for more info

Monday, May 22nd

Vrijplaats Leiden
Middelstegracht 36
2312 TX Leiden

Wednesday, May 24th
Trades Hall
Holme St
Hebden Bridge HX7 8EE

Friday, May 26th
Royal Sovereign -- with the Commie Faggots!
64 Northwold Rd
London E5 8RL

Saturday, May 27th
Old Town Hall
High Street
Merthyr Tydfil CF47 8AE

Sunday, May 28th, 2 pm
Fair on the Square 2017
Memorial Square

Wednesday, May 31st
Kitchen Garden Cafe
17 York Rd
Birmingham B14 7SA

Thursday, June 1st
Saith Seren
18 Chester St
Wrexham  LL13 8BG

Friday, June 2nd
Fred's Ale House
843 Stockport Rd
Manchester M19 3AW

Saturday, June 3rd
Fox and Newt Pub
9, Burley Street
Leeds LS3 1LD

Sunday, June 4th
Little Theatre with Joe Solo
The Avenue
Middlesbrough TS5 6SA

Monday, June 5th, 6 pm
69 Cowgate
Old Town
Edinburgh EH1 1JW

Tuesday, June 6th, 9 pm
MacSorley's Music Bar
42 Jamaica St,
Glasgow G1 4QG

Sunday, June 11th
Buffalo Bar
11 Windsor Pl
Cardiff CF10 3BY

Monday, November 14, 2016

What Next?

"The oxygen that social movements breathe is called optimism."
The sidewalks, living rooms and Facebook pages are full of recriminations, insults, self-doubt, soul-searching, and stuff like that, much more now than usual in these United States.  (And even other places, too.)  I doubt anybody reading this isn't already way too familiar with the phenomenon, as of last week, if not before then.

Understandably enough, many people are feeling responsible, guilty, worried, sickened, and other negative things, for all kinds of different reasons, depending.  In familiar and unfamiliar ways, from those in the highest political offices to folks living under the bridges, the questions of class, race and gender are being pitted against each other, and now everybody seems to be screaming (either that or they literally are screaming).  

What we had was an impossible situation, in terms of this election -- on one side, a Nazi appealing to the "the forgotten class."  On the other side, Wall Street.  The Nazi won, even though Wall Street got more votes.  (The more sensible options weren't, because this is the USA and we don't really do democracy.)

So now what?

Someone on Facebook left a snarky comment (the normal tone lately, across the political spectrum, it seems) after a post relating to Trump's victory, that "at least you'll profit from it."  I wish that were the case, but that's not how it actually works, from my experience.

But it somehow seems like a nice launch pad for what I wanted to say here.  That is, when you look at history, as I am wont to do, you find that what really makes big changes in just about any society, very much including the US, is social movements.  Electoral politics just reacts to social movements -- if they're big, militant, ecumenical, and well-organized.  Electoral politics responds just as readily to the lack of a social movement as well.

I could illustrate this point with loads of examples, but you can read the good history books yourself if you're interested.  (Just ask if you need recommendations.)  Point is, we need a big, militant, ecumenical and well-organized social movement, or we're goners.

How do we do that?

From my reading of the history of societies and social movements throughout the world, there is at least one common thread, and that is optimism.  The oxygen that social movements breathe is called optimism.

So, to take a recent example of a social movement that was imbued with optimism for a few years or so:  at the end of Bill Clinton's second term, a movement took the world stage in the form of the WTO protests in Seattle.  It took a few years of having this "New Democrat" in the White House before enough people started to realize that he was basically just like Reagan, except a lot worse, in all the same ways.  Then after GW Bush took over, the movement against neoliberalism -- the anticapitalist movement, the "anti-globalization" movement, or whatever you want to call it, continued unabated.

In terms of this primarily pre-9/11, global, egalitarian social movement, it didn't much matter who was in the White House, because it was widely understood that those who ran the show in both ruling parties in the US represented the capitalist elite.  (Which was, and is, true.)

The dying gasps of this movement continued for a couple years after 9/11, but for various reasons which I won't go into here, 9/11 was largely responsible for bringing it to an end.

Concurrent with the decline of the anticapitalist movement was the rise of the antiwar movement.  This movement more or less ceased to exist in any significant form early in Bush's second term.  Bush -- a very vilified Republican president (for very good reasons) -- would still be in power for several years, waging wars around the world, but there would be no large-scale protests against his foreign policy in the US after 2005.

Which is all to say that these movements were not just responses to circumstances.  They were responses to "free trade" and imperialism, respectively, for sure -- but there was nothing automatic about these responses happening.  They happened because there was a widespread sense of optimism that they could succeed in changing things in concrete ways.  The movements had goals, and millions of people involved with both of these movements in one way or another had a sense of optimism that success was possible.

So how do we build a movement like that?

If I or anybody else knew the answer to that question, the world would be a very different place.  But one thing is clear to me:  the movement doesn't happen unless the optimism is there first.  Lots of other things, too -- but essentially, the optimism.

So there's of course a place for beating yourself and your neighbors up when things all go haywire, I suppose.  But after all that, what's still needed is a widespread sense of optimism for positive social change to happen, by means of a social movement with a clear set of goals.

No one seems to ever be able to predict where or when these movements will arise.  What's clear is they can happen (or not happen) when the White House is staffed by the most progressive or the most reactionary administrations, during times of peace or times of war, during periods of relative prosperity or during a financial crisis.  What's also clear is all those other things need to be present -- optimism, inclusiveness, massive size, and lots of people willing to get arrested, beaten, and worse (which is what I mean when I use the term "militant").

Where does optimism come from?

OK, so I don't know.  It's always a bit mysterious, in terms of how these things start.  If anybody says differently, they're probably running a cult -- or aspiring to run one.  What's clear is that once the optimism is there, it has a tendency of building.  (Which the powers-that-be understand better than most of us do, so they'll do their best to nip it in the bud in all kinds of very overt and surprisingly underhanded ways when it begins to manifest.)

The reason it has a tendency to build, once it's there, I think, is that an optimistic, inclusive social movement tends to bring with it a sense of community.  We humans are tribal animals, and we yearn for that sense of shared purpose (whether we know it consciously or not).

This need for community can be (and often is) exploited by people like Trump or Clinton -- and institutions as diverse as the US military, MTV or General Mills.  But this yearning for community can also be answered by egalitarian social movements.  (As one of my former bosses once told me when I was young and idealistic, "I joined SDS in college because that's where all the cute guys were.")

So how do we foster that sense of community?

One of the most common ways to foster a sense of community is through music.  Playing music together, organizing musical events, concerts, festivals, protests that include lots of music, etc.  (As you may know, I play music for a living, so hopefully you'll forgive me for engaging in a bit of inevitable self-promotion here.)

Music can inspire people, in lots of different ways.  It can also cure depression, and make you buy a certain kind of cereal as opposed to another one, even though they both taste the same.

Music can teach you things, too.  It can teach you that the only things that matter in life are romance, sex and narcissism (which is what you'll learn if you watch enough MTV).  Or it can teach you about historical events, social movements, methods of organizing, and lots of other useful things -- and it can do that without you even knowing that you're learning about all of those things.  (Cindy Sheehan takes notes at my gigs, but you don't have to.)

There are all kinds of people doing this kind of music.  It's a very old tradition, around the world, in lots of different languages and musical genres.  This kind of music can be very hard to find (even for regular listeners of Democracy Now! -- to say nothing of NPR, BBC or MTV).  If you subscribe to the daily posts on my Song News Network Facebook Page (@songnewsnetwork on Twitter), you'll see that there are lots of people from around the world doing this kind of music -- many of them still living and touring, like me.

A lot of them are really affordable, too, and even do house concerts.  I have a recipe on my website for how to organize a gig -- it applies to me or to other musicians on the DIY, grassroots circuit.

Whatever else you do, sitting at home and sulking is not going to help you or anyone else in the long run.  If that's what you're up to these days, it's perfectly understandable.  But when you get that out of your system, drop me a line, call all your friends and neighbors, and let's do something.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What Just Happened -- National Socialism Wins When Socialism is Abandoned

I was here in Portland, Oregon when Obama won in 2008.  Me and my two-year-old daughter were hanging out in a pub, listening to our favorite local band (the Pagan Jug Band).  The pub and the streets of Portland around it were full of celebration.

"We won!" some very enthusiastic, drunk guy with dreadlocks shouted too close to my sensitive ears.

Wanting to get away from the pandemonium, I carried Leila outside.  A young man dressed in black, standing against the wall, looked like he felt as out-of-place as I did.

"Meanwhile in Afghanistan," he said.

At least there's one sensible anarchist among these very friendly but clueless hippies, I thought.  It wouldn't take long before both of our suspicions of what had just happened were confirmed, as our new Black president appointed a team of rich, old white men to lead the US further down the road of neoliberalism and imperialism.

Fast forward eight years.  Leila is ten now.  Last night a friend and neighbor of hers here in Portland was having a little birthday party, and most of the parents were getting drunk on very good beer (Leila's friend's dad brews his own) and getting high on very good weed (another parent in the neighborhood grows some of Oregon's finest cannabis).  And they were all looking shocked and confused, consulting those who were glued to their phones every minute or so for election updates.

For about 24 hours prior to this, my Facebook page was awash in hundreds of comments related to my prediction that Trump was going to win, and especially to a song and essay I wrote about how I didn't have any idea whether this outcome would be better or worse than the Democratic Party's alternative (of more Clintonian neoliberalism and imperialism).  The comments were all over the map, but many of them expressed complete confidence that Hillary Clinton was going to win, and that she and her party represented the lesser evil.

Why were they all so sure Clinton was going to win?  Well, there were a few who expressed their belief that the election was rigged and that the outcome was predetermined.  (They were wrong, at least on the predetermined aspect.  US democracy is very corrupt and extremely primitive, but it is an oligarchic pseudo-democracy, not a monarchic one.)  Mostly, they were so sure she would win because they don't understand why so many people would vote for Trump.

Why were they so sure that Trump didn't have the widespread support he clearly has?  Because these people live in a bubble.  (Obviously.)  What kind of bubble?

There are many aspects to this bubble, or these bubbles.  Social media tends to be an echo chamber full of people who agree with you, more or less.  I mean, it's all relative -- within a general agreement there can be lots of vitriolic disagreements.  So my Facebook friends and Twitter followers include lots of people who agree with my general assessment of our two-party plutocracy (it's all shit).  This group includes a diverse array of anarchists, socialists, and communists from throughout North America and northern Europe, primarily (not coincidentally, mainly people living in the countries where I tour a lot).  And then there are a lot of people who believe the Democratic Party to be the lesser evil, particularly, it seems, in this most recent election.  Among this group, my friends were divided between those capable of reasonable discourse, and pro-Clinton bullies, flinging largely baseless accusations at anyone who disagreed with them.

Among the hundreds of people commenting on Facebook (drawn from a total of around 10,000 friends and followers, mostly white men from the United States), not one person advocated for voting for Trump.  This is the nature of social media, for better or for worse.  It does not give us a clear vision of any kind of shared reality.  It is, by nature, an echo chamber.  (And sometimes echo chambers have great acoustics!)

If these folks were also getting their news from more traditional forms of corporate-controlled media (aside from corporate-controlled social media), as most of them probably were, then they would have been similarly out of luck.  Most of the media that I listen to, watch and read, such as NPR, BBC, the Guardian, NY Times, etc., was virulently anti-Trump -- in a way that was different from media opposition to any prominent politician in my memory, aside from Bernie Sanders or Ralph Nader.

Personally, I felt so out of touch with what was going on in this country that I subscribed to Donald Trump's YouTube channel, and started listening to his speeches from beginning to end.  Then it all made sense.

All I was ever getting on most corporate, public and community media to date had been the most incendiary quotes from the landlord of landlords from New York City.  And to be sure, xenophobia and racism played a huge role in his campaign.  But what I learned from listening to his speeches was that far from the way he was generally characterized as a flip-flopping madman spewing whatever bile happened to come out of his mouth on a given day, changing his positions with the wind, here was a guy who was staying on message -- and his message was very clearly classic National Socialism.

National Socialism is not a terribly coherent or one-size-fits-all ideology.  It's flexible, depending on various circumstances.  But Trump's version of National Socialism is consistent.  It integrates nationalism with socialism -- that is, it can be hard to separate the nationalism from the socialism.  We want to build a wall to keep out "illegal aliens" because they are "taking our jobs."  That is, we protect our borders (nationalism) in order to lift ourselves up economically by not having this unfair competition represented by non-citizens (socialism, sort of).  We want to Put America First (nationalism) in order to renegotiate trade deals so they're a good deal for American workers (socialism).  We want to stop worrying about protecting Japan and South Korea, pull our troops out of there (an isolationist version of nationalism) in order to spend the savings from not maintaining a huge military presence there on infrastructure in the US (socialism).  The working class -- yes, he frequently used the term that only Sanders dared to use, among leading Democrats -- had been forgotten, and would be forgotten no longer.

These were the sorts of messages he was hammering home day in and day out, to massive crowds throughout the country.  During Bernie Sanders' primary campaign -- which he lost largely because of the DNC's rigged super-delegate system -- he was also attracting huge crowds, hammering home messaging on similar themes, minus the nationalist, racist, xenophobic elements.  But the messages about a fairer system where politicians are not bought and sold by corporations, opposed to TPP, etc., were basically the same.  And the messaging from the media -- that Sanders and Trump were both idealists without any practical proposals, was also the same.

Sanders lost.  Trump won.  Socialism failed -- not due to a lack of popularity, but due to a rigged system.  The National Socialist won -- voted in by many of the same people who would otherwise have voted for Sanders.  There's a lot of history in the world with this phenomenon.

For many of those people who could have gone either way with these two candidates, it seems abundantly clear to me that what they were voting for was for a fairer system that's not rigged by plutocrats.  One of the reasons the polls were wrong and I was right was because there were lots of people who didn't want to admit to pollsters that they were going to vote for Trump.  Because they were shy about their support for him -- because they didn't want people to think they were crazy, since the media was portraying his supporters as being a collection of racist, sexist lunatics.

Here's one thing I don't want to do over the next years:  I don't want to spend my time insulting Donald Trump or his supporters.  I want to be part of building an internationalist, socialist movement that can be more popular than the Trump phenomenon.  I don't believe this movement can or will come from the Democratic Party, since the leadership of this party abandoned the working class in favor of dividing our society into various interest groups, devoid of any awareness of the basic, class-divided nature of this country.

What I know for sure, wherever this movement might come from, is that the road forward does not involve pitting educated urban liberals against the semi-employed denizens of the countryside and the exurbs -- or writing them all off as racists who don't know their ass from their elbow.  The road forward involves recognizing the socialism in National Socialism, and appealing to that aspect of Trump's message -- while also communicating effectively about how many aspects of nationalism (and racism, sexism and xenophobia) are actually inconsistent with socialism.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

For All the Women, Men and Children She's Killed -- the Rantings of a Privileged White Male

I've just been called a privileged white male repeatedly in the past few hours, by privileged white men and women who say I'm [insert expletive of your choice] for saying that the two parties, and their leadership and their presidential candidates are indistinguishably as evil as each other, as far as I can tell.

It started with posting this little rhyme on Facebook and Twitter:

I just see two evil people
Putting on a puppet show
If one of them is lesser

I certainly don't know

What followed almost immediately were dozens of shares and dozens of comments.  A mix of praise, polite disagreement, and lots of vitriol from outraged white people, both men and women, accusing me of not caring about who wins this farcical election because I am a privileged white male and therefore will evidently be less impacted by the rise of fascism in the US that a Trump presidency is going to usher in.  Along with that kind of sentiment were what appeared to be Democratic Party talking points related to the right to abortion and the rights of LGBTQ people, Supreme Court appointments, and random things like the importance of sticking with climate treaties and keeping our national parks.

I think everything has been said about these things already so many times by so many people.  (Most eloquently on Counterpunch.)  But I wanted to show some respect for my critics by responding thoughtfully to you, in a (hopefully) coherent, multi-paragraph kind of explanation, rather than continuing the discussion on Facebook, which has a tendency to devolve into something less than intelligent discourse after the first couple exchanges (or sooner).

First of all, one thing that distresses me about these comments from some of my Facebook Friends (many of whom I've actually met in person at least once or twice) is the inherent nationalism.

When they talk about the rights of women, the right to an abortion, and discrimination against LGBTQ people, they are talking about the United States.  Why does this bother me?  Because whoever runs the United States is not just president of one of the world's biggest countries.  They are someone who will have a horribly negative impact on the rest of the world, too.  They are people who are going to kill lots and lots of women, men and children.  Including LGBTQ ones.  They are people who are going to be cozy with misogynistic dictatorships, where women don't have access to abortions, where it's illegal to be LGBT or Q, such as Saudi Arabia.

We live in an empire.  I feel like I need to say that again.  We live in an empire.  Do you have any idea what that means, you who say I don't care because I'm too white, male, and privileged to give a shit about other people?

Do you know what Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W Bush, and George HW Bush all have in common?  They are all mass murderers.  Collectively, they have killed millions and millions of people, and immiserated billions.  

Daddy Bush bombed Iraq and killed hundreds of thousands of people in a matter of weeks.  Bill Clinton maintained economic sanctions on the country that killed hundreds of thousands more than Bush had killed with bombs and sanctions before him.  Madeline Albright, that great feminist, was one of the great brains behind this policy, which UNICEF said was responsible for killing half a million children.  Most of whom were girls.  Many of whom would have grown up to be lesbians, bisexuals, trans, etc.  And under the government the bipartisan US invaders violently overthrew, the women among them, if they had lived to become women, would have had access to all the abortions they ever needed -- for free.  But no more.  Now they're dead, and living in societies with no functional governments and no government services to speak of.

Then of course W built upon the Bush/Clinton legacy of genocide -- fratricide, matricide, patricide, sororicide (yes, that's a word) -- by invading Iraq more completely and actually overthrowing the government.  And Hillary Clinton voted for this invasion.  And then, under the Obama administration, in which Hillary Clinton played a powerful role as Secretary of State, the US did to Libya what it had done to Iraq, with the same, predictably horrible results.

The lives of Iraqi and Libyan women, girls, men, boys, and everybody else is immeasurably worse now than it was before the Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama decades of genocidal empire-building.  Do they matter?  Do all of those women and girls who are living in crowded, miserable refugee camps throughout the Middle East matter?  When they need to get an abortion, do they matter?  When they are denied an education by their deplorable circumstances, after being born in countries like Iraq and Libya where they used to get free education up to graduate school, do they matter to you?

You are telling me to vote for a mass murderer.  You are voting for a mass murderer.  How do you feel about that?

Ah, but Trump is worse, so I'm a crazy idealist for stating the facts here.  I should be talking up whatever few positive things I can find to say about Hillary Clinton.  Hey, she's never opposed abortion!  Well, she used to oppose marriage equality, like most of her party, like most of the other party, but now she's changed on that.  As has much of the other party, too, but we won't mention that.  We'll only mention the crazier elements of the other party, in order to build this straw man here.  Wow, it burns really well!  Especially when you add a little Democratic fracking gas.

Anyway, back to my critics.  So Clinton has a record of genocide.  Let's just say that that's true (because it is).  But Trump, who has no record of genocide, is worse.  How do we know that?  Because, although Hillary Clinton has presided over the deportations of millions of people from Mexico, Central America, and elsewhere, Trump talks about how much he hates Mexicans.  And who knows what he'll do when he gets in -- maybe deport even more people than Obama/Clinton did!  So, the lesser evil is the one who has actually deported more people than any other administration in US history.  The greater evil is the one who talks about deporting even more people.  That's the discourse, right?

But I say talk is cheap.  Yeah, maybe Trump will be even worse than Clinton.  I don't know -- you don't, either.  Nobody does.  He has no political record to stand on.  He does talk a lot of horrible shit, that's for sure.  Clinton talks horrible shit about him, but otherwise talks about unity, whatever the fuck that's supposed to mean -- "stronger together."  She has presided over the greatest destruction of the welfare state that any society has ever known, aside from the ones she's been involved with invading, where the destruction of better welfare states than we've ever had has been even more complete than what the Clinton welfare reform accomplished at home (yes, she was promoting it -- it's hers, too).  She has been responsible for sending millions and millions of Black and Brown people (and lots of white people, too) to prison.  Including more women than have ever been imprisoned in any society in the history of humanity.  But she talks a good line in order to get elected, and Trump talks shit about everybody who's not white and male and rightwing, so she must be better than him.

Both candidates are surrounding themselves with the traditional cabal of capitalists and empire-builders, just as Obama did before them, just as Bush and Clinton did before him.  But we're supposed to see differences here.

OK, so let's just say the rest of the world doesn't matter.  Who cares about all those Iraqi and Libyan women and girls.  The Republicans are going to ban abortion in the United States.  Never mind the fact that after eight years of Bush, Jr, four years of Daddy Bush, and eight years of Reagan, abortion is still legal in the United States, at least on a federal level.  Never mind the fact that a Republican was president when abortion was legalized by a Supreme Court that was largely appointed by previous Republican presidents.  Fear the Republicans, those who would ban abortion (someday, maybe, when they're finally ready to lose control of the Congress and never get it back).

But it doesn't work that way in reality.  In reality, we don't have a functional democracy (in case you hadn't noticed).  In reality, elections don't change things in this country.  In other countries they do.  Not here.  Here in the USA we have a form of direct corporate rule, and Trump and Clinton and their parties are just two sides of this two-faced coin.  

Abortion was legalized because of the feminist movement here and around the world.  It would have happened regardless of which party was in power, just as it did around the same time in lots of other countries.  Abortion will not be banned nationally because most people are pro-choice, and there would be a massive, militant movement to re-legalize it if it were banned, and the powers-that-be don't want such movements, so they won't do that.  They'll talk about it, in parts of the country where that sells well, because it will help get them elected.  Then they'll stab their Christian evangelical constituency in the back, just as Hillary has repeatedly stabbed her liberal constituency in the back.

When you have a two-party system where both parties are corrupt institutions of a tiny elite, elections are just a joke.  It doesn't matter which of these clowns you vote for -- or if it does matter, nobody knows to what extent it might, because what matters is what they do, not what they say.  And what they do, historically, depends on what we do -- not how we vote.

To wit:  nobody voted to end slavery.  Slaves liberated themselves en masse in the course of the Civil War, and were then declared to be "free" by a government which happened to be led by a Republican.  After that, the party of white supremacy -- the Democratic Party -- ruled the South and much of the rest of the US for a century.

No Democrat or Republican in the White House or the Congress was voted in that caused the US to get things like minimum wage laws, Social Security, workplace safety laws, etc. -- these things were won by the labor movement.  During the Depression, when faced with the very real possibility of a mass, armed revolt, the labor movement had a sympathizer in the White House.  He was also a racist who supported the killing of hundreds of thousands of women and girls and others in Japan, Germany and elsewhere.  He interned thousands of children in camps in the United States.  He was a Democrat.

What about all these homeless women and girls in this country, living in tents after losing their homes because of the Great Financial Crisis that began at the end of the Bush years?  Which itself was a direct result of Bill Clinton's deregulation of the financial sector.  After eight years of Obama and Clinton ruling the country, did any bankers go to prison for that?  Have the people living in tents been given houses?  No?  Not even the women or LGBTQ or Black or Brown tent-dwellers?  But now you expect something different?

Ah, but Trump is a racist and a misogynist and will lower taxes on the rich.  Did you know that taxes on the rich were much higher under Reagan and every previous administration, Republican and Democratic, going back decades before him?  This is not because of who we voted for.  This was because of the times.  There were social movements back then, demanding rights.  There was a post-WWII consensus here and in many other countries that temporarily gave working class people some modicum of dignity under the law.  No longer.  By bipartisan consensus in the early 1970's, as the 1960's social movements were fizzling out or being killed off or imprisoned (or all of the above and more), that all started to change.

But hey, what do I know.  I'm a privileged white male.  And, according to some of you on Facebook, I am therefore voting (and presumably acting in life in general) out of this identity.  Wow -- that's the hardest bullshit to counter of all, because it's so crazy.  Has identity politics devolved to the point where now we think everybody is only acting out of their own self interest?  Is there not even the concept of solidarity in existence among this sorry collection of confused people anymore?  Is there no way to identify oneself except by race, gender and sexual orientation anymore?  Does nothing else matter?

When Hitler came to power, the first thing he did was arrest lots and lots of white people -- men and women.  They were called communists.  Many of them, in fact, were communists.  Communism was and is a political philosophy.  You can be a communist no matter what your race, gender or sexual orientation is.  And if a government comes to power that feels threatened by this historically potent political philosophy, you can be arrested, tortured and killed for being a communist.  Lots of people around the world have been arrested, tortured and killed for being communists.  Most of them were not white.  A very large percentage of them were women.  In Germany they were mostly white.  (By the modern US definition of whiteness, anyway, which includes Jews, I think.  But most of them were even whiter than that.)

Of course, maybe Trump will only arrest the nonwhite, female, or LGBTQ communists.  Maybe he'll blow up the world.  Maybe Clinton will.  Maybe they both will.  I don't know and I know that you don't, either (even Michael Moore and Bruce Springsteen don't know).  You can make whatever assumptions you want to make, and I'll make mine.

But here's one thing I know, which my critics obviously don't:  we live in an evil, capitalist empire, led by evil capitalists like Trump, and their surrogates, like Clinton.  We will never get anywhere by voting for evil people.  We need a mass movement, which, historically, is the only thing that has caused lasting change to occur in this country, aside from global events such as the rise of the Soviet Union.  Democracy is in the streets.  Literally.  I voted for a woman named Jill Stein and a man named Ahjamu Baraka.  Not because I think this or any other national US election particularly matters, but because it only takes a few minutes to fill out a ballot and stick in the mail, and there were some local people worth voting for who might actually get into Portland City Council, which is currently run by "liberal" Democratic pawns of capitalist real estate developers, like so many other US cities.

Now I will get on with more important business of attempting to play my small role in fomenting the kind of movement that we need, to oppose the capitalist empire-builder who occupies the White House now, and who will be occupying the White House on January 21st, 2017.  Whoever he or she may be.

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Portlander in Europe

I live in Portland, Oregon. Whatever it is you're thinking, it's not that place. Like many other cities in the US, it's a place in crisis. A deep crisis, wherein some developers make billions of dollars while thousands are thrown out onto the street, with hundreds of thousands struggling to keep up with their rapidly-increasing monthly rent.

Various politicians position themselves as progressive, and talk about their accomplishments. Such as making the streets very nominally safer by improving signage. Or publicly refusing to go to North Carolina, in protest against that state's discriminatory treatment of trans people.

I'm all for those things. But as for the acute suffering of half of their city's population (the half that rents), none of them seem to have anything approaching a solution to the problem. They talk about investing a little tax money in some new, low income housing. And then they sometimes even acknowledge publicly that this plan of theirs will have essentially zero impact on the housing market, given the 17,000 people moving to the city each year, and the 1% vacancy rate. And the fact that rent control is illegal, and unmentionable, somehow or other.

The evidence that the city is in a crisis is pretty obvious. The homeless population is mushrooming beyond anything I've ever seen outside of the cardboard shantytowns ringing Mexico City. With so many people working two jobs and spending most of their income on rent, other things are clearly getting overlooked, such as expensive things like car repairs. The number of damaged cars that just sit there and stay damaged month after month are mushrooming along with the homeless population. With more and more of those cars inhabited by people who are living in them.

Gentrification without controls, an undeclared class and race war, an ethnic cleansing in all but name, with half of Portland's African-American population lost between the last two censuses. What over 150 years of racist governance in Oregon failed to accomplish, gentrification is accomplishing.

Those increasingly few of us who have lived in the city for more than a few years walk around in a daze, as if we just landed on another planet. Where did all the stores on Division Street go? Where did all these well-dressed yuppies come from?

I listen to a couple of guys in their twenties talking excitedly about having found a two-bedroom apartment for “only” $1,500 a month. I hear a small group of homeowners slumming it in a food cart encampment, disparaging the tenants rights movement of which I am a part. (I leave, not trusting my ability to refrain from physically assaulting the yuppies, and not wanting to go to prison. Yes, I'm serious.)

I hear people talking about how much they like the new train lines, the new bike paths, the new organic supermarkets, the new drug laws. And I want to shout at them. Who cares about these things? They're just making the city more expensive. They only benefit those who own houses. Or renters making six-figure salaries who don't care how much they're paying to live in the city that still has the reputation of being full of artists. Most of whom have actually already left.

Portland, like the rest of the USA, is an everyone-for-themselves kind of place. I mean in terms of how it's run. Housing is a privilege, not a right. The market, I am told repeatedly by yuppies who somehow find their way to my YouTube channel, is sacrosanct, and those who can't afford to live in Portland should go somewhere where they can afford to live. Like one of those many cities where rent is cheap, but there's no work. They don't say that part, but that's what they mean.

The United States is currently designed by law to be a country where if you want to live in a city where there is work, and you weren't fortunate enough to be old enough to have bought a house several decades ago, then you have to spend most of your earnings on rent. And make some people very rich in the process. If you don't want to pay most of your earnings on rent, you can live somewhere where there is no work.

Of course, some of those places where there is no work are still within commuting distance of a city where there is work. So by design – or by lack of design, however you want to frame it – these allegedly “green” cities like Portland develop horrific traffic congestion, because so many people are moving from the city to the exurbs, in a desperate search for rent they can afford. And there aren't any buses or trains out there, so they have to drive to work, which is in Portland. Thus the traffic.

That's where I'm coming from. The land of capitalist chaos and untold suffering. All the police brutality and massacres and such are, to a large extent, a direct result of this kind of rampant inequity and inequality. Inequality, incidentally, is greater now than at any time since the nineteenth century in the USA. That is, you have to go back to the age of the robber barons, way before we had any kind of a welfare state – decades prior to the New Deal reforms of the 1930's – to get to a point in history where there was such gross inequality in the United States.

So then I go to Europe. Twice a year or more, for months at a time. Europe is where I make a living these days. This is the first year where I'm almost entirely making a living from touring Europe. Most of the musicians I know in the US are struggling to make a living, or have gotten other jobs now. Luckily, I have a following in Europe, and I've discovered this year that it's big enough for me to subsist entirely off of the backs of Europeans.

In Europe, many people talk of the same kinds of processes we're being devastated by in the US – gentrification, government spending cuts on social welfare, rising housing prices, rising rents, police brutality, institutional racism, “free trade” bills, xenophobic, far right politicians. And so on. They've got it all. And the rest of what I'm going to write here notwithstanding, I applaud all the Europeans who are fighting against these things, who hold on to their vision of what society could and should be like. Those efforts will prove absolutely necessary for the future of European societies, as with any other societies.

However, for me, coming from Portland to Europe – not just Europe, but specifically, the social democracies of northern Europe where I've been touring for the past month – always reminds me of being one of Frodo's gang in Middle Earth, leaving the realms that have been taken over by the orcs and the evil forces of Mordor, and arriving in the elven forest of Lothlorien.

As in Tolkien's books, you get the distinct feeling that the forces of evil are trying to push their way in – but for the most part they haven't made it yet. I get the feeling that I have gone from a chaotic land of injustice, to a well-organized, prosperous place where there is still a pretty solidly intact sense of living in a cohesive society. One that shares certain values, such as the belief in the right to affordable housing, health care, actual high-quality education, and many other things like that.

I don't pretend to be an investigate journalist or get all my facts straight, but I thought I'd share various random recollections of this past month on the road, some of which will serve to illustrate various differences as well as similarities between different places.

Random recollections. My first stop was Hellebaek in Denmark, a beautiful town right on the Baltic Sea – where I sit right now, the continental Europe segment of the tour ending where it began, as usual. (As in most of the world, it's cheaper to return the rental car in the same country, and often in the same city, as where you rented it.)

Sitting in my room, from where I can see Sweden a couple miles across the straight to the east, I'm in a building that's part of what used to be a sort of boarding school campus. The school doesn't exist anymore (which is a long and interesting tale of its own), but the folks who used to run the school still collectively own the buildings, and do various things with them. One of which is housing Syrian and Eritrean refugees, for which they get money from the local government each month.

Everywhere I go in Europe, people I know are housing refugees, and getting paid by their government to do so. The money is less than they could get if they rented rooms using Air B&B or something, but it's not nothing. (What if we had a program like that for housing refugees in the US, along with the homeless?)

One of the folks at the school who is involved with various projects in Europe and in Africa is from Germany. She's just back from a year in the Berlin area, where she was teaching German to refugees. She says they were generally becoming pretty fluent within six months. In Denmark, she observed, the refugees get free language lessons, too, but they're less frequent than in Germany, and progress is slower.

I scheduled in several days to recover from jet lag with nothing else to do but relax. (Something I've learned to do over the years, the hard way, by hitting the ground running and then getting sick.) I took daily walks into the small city of Helsingor, several miles away. There are several different paths you can take to get from Hellebaek to Helsingor, all of which involve walking for a full hour without crossing a single paved road.

Some of the paths go through private land. A golf course, a conference center, several mansions, including one that belongs to the royal family. The paths are public, though some of the property is not. (Get your head around that concept, my fellow Americans.)

To the south of Hellebaek I'm told you can go towards Copenhagen, on a bike path that either hugs the coast or goes through forest, without crossing a paved road for dozens of miles.

The first gig of this leg of the tour was on the sidewalk outside of an anarchist book store in the center of Copenhagen. Parking the car was easy, but very expensive, like Manhattan prices. Mass transit and bike lanes are everywhere, so combined with expensive parking, not many people drive cars.

It's the biggest city in one of the richest countries in the world. But traffic is fairly light, even during rush hour – though bicycle traffic is very heavy.

How much does the book store pay for rent, here in the city center, I wonder? Less than the equivalent of $1,000 a month, came the response. A fraction of what a business in downtown Portland might expect to pay for their monthly rent. Why so low? The storefront is rented from a housing collective, consisting of hundreds of apartments in five-story buildings that take up an entire block.

Unlike with cohousing developments, you “buy into” these housing collectives simply by moving in and paying what you could call “rent” – but the buildings have already been paid for by the collective, or by one of many foundations that do just this sort of thing, in order to guarantee lots of nice, inexpensive housing in countries like Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands. Who are the landlords? The collective is the collective's landlord.

My next gig was a house concert for a friend who has worked for the Danish labor movement for decades. He lives with his family in a big farmhouse in the Danish countryside. One of the 80% of Danish workers who are union members, he made enough money that it wasn't a problem for him to live in such a big house, or to spend several thousand dollars to throw himself a party with well-paid entertainment, a rented ice cream machine, a top-notch chef, and more.

Next gig was in Christiania. A 900-person urban commune that has existed since 1970 or thereabouts. Residents pay around $20 a month towards various collective expenses to live there. Some live in artistic, home-made dwellings, while others live in somewhat more conventional structures. There are collective baths for those who lack running water in their places, though many people are hooked up to the city water supply as well as the electrical grid. A few years ago, Christiania was officially legalized, so it's no longer a squat – though even as a squat, it maintained its territorial integrity and autonomy the whole time. (Though frequently threatened with “normalization,” these threats were never really carried out by the state).

The next six gigs were in Sweden. Five of them in the Skane region, all within an hour's drive or less from the city of Malmo, just across the bridge from Copenhagen. In each of the towns, my friend Kristian Svensson and I played in places that were owned by the adult education and cultural events wing of the Swedish labor movement, ABF. These gigs were all free entry, often in beautiful theaters – our fees paid for by a combination of the local and regional ABF.

In Gothenberg, the gig was the most well-attended of all, with around 100 people packed in to the top floor of a five-story building called Marx Engels Huset, which is owned and run by the Swedish Communist Party. For this gig there was a door charge.

We stayed in the housing development which is reputed to be the most dangerous place in Sweden. It may be true – there have been a couple of murders there over the years. But by US standards, it's a nice housing development that might be generally associated with the “middle class” – though maybe the “lower” end of that spectrum, and the part that includes immigrants with dark skin.

There are big courtyards with grass, trees and play structures in between each building. The buildings are well-maintained, and largely made of real wood. They even smell good. I'm told there are rats. I even saw one in the courtyard. (They say in New York City, no one is ever more than thirty feet from a rat.)

In the midst of the little tour of Sweden, I took a ferry to the Danish island of Bornholm. The cheapest way to get there is by taking a ferry from the Swedish town of Ystad. On Bornholm lives one of the many people I know in Denmark and elsewhere in Europe who were students when I first met them, and are now leftwing, elected officials. My gig there was sponsored by his party, Enhedslisten (the red-green coalition is how they refer to themselves in English). It took place in a farmhouse that is being fixed up, after being bought by an ex-squatter from Berlin looking for a more rural life. I met many Danes and Germans on Bornholm doing just that. Some of the old farmhouses in the less popular interior of the beautiful island are going for the equivalent of $20,000.
Coming into Sweden, there were immigration agents occasionally glancing at the passports of the cars driving past them. Usually they literally glanced, not asking most of the cars to stop. On the way back into Denmark, and then into Germany, there are still no border controls. From Germany going back into Denmark, there are now, and it's the same sort of thing as when you go from Denmark to Sweden. A glance. (Though for people who “look like refugees” it's often more than a glance.)

My gig in Hamburg was on a Saturday. I parked the car for free, a few hundred feet from the Rathaus – City Hall – where I was to sing at a rally against the “free trade” agreement between the USA and Europe, the TTIP. 65,000 people packed into the Rathausplatz. In six other German cities, similar numbers, though I think Hamburg was the biggest of the simultaneous demos organized by a coalition of labor, environmental, and other organizations and political parties.

Not only were the demos well-attended, but they were well-organized, too. Mostly music on the stages, mostly independent artists, and playing through a state-of-the-art sound system, run by highly-trained professionals. All 65,000 people could hear everything that was going on on the stage, if they were so inclined, and most were.

The last time I played at a big demo like that was also in Germany, a little less than a year ago. The last time I played at a demo anywhere close to that big in the US was ten years ago. And that wasn't a labor-oriented demo like this one. In fact, I don't think we've had a labor-sponsored demo this size anywhere in the US in my lifetime.

Everywhere I went, I rudely asked people how much they paid in rent. Since the rent crisis in Portland really heated up, it's just always on my mind. And when I go to other big cities that lots of people are moving to for lots of different reasons – prosperous cities in rich countries – I have to know how things function there. And every time, the response causes my jaw to slacken. Because in city after city, when people are living in an apartment similar to mine in Portland, they are paying half of what I pay in rent. It's usually in the low hundreds of euros – never in the thousands.

Now, part of that is probably the circles I travel in. I don't know a lot of really expensive sorts of people. But I know a lot of people who live in apartments similar to mine. And although the cities they live in are way more prosperous than Portland, with jobs available that pay way better on the average, where the urban planning, mass transit, bike lanes, etc., are worlds away from our haphazard efforts at development (which are characterized mainly by sprawling parking lots and sprawling, two-story malls), they are paying half the rent that I pay. And I pay less than most people do in Portland for a 2-bedroom.

In the Netherlands, prosperity takes on a whole new meaning. There, they have had a functional welfare state for so many hundreds of years now that much of the population has moved beyond thinking about money entirely. Which can actually be very challenging for a touring musician who is not from the Netherlands. Because most of the events that anybody in my circles is organizing is usually free, in every sense, out of some kind of principle.

Which is all easier to do when the venues where things are taking place are also free, owned by foundations, or semi-legal (or fully legalized) squats. People say it's much harder to squat than it used to be, but squatted buildings are still to be found in every Dutch city. They are places where people live, and places where lots of cultural events take place as well.

I repeatedly had the same conversation with people in the Netherlands who were grappling with their greatest conundrum in life. Namely, how much paid work they should do in order to avoid going over the threshold that would result in their welfare benefits being cut.

This is not a conundrum because they want to do more paid work. They're happy to do volunteer work, too. But they'll take money now and then when it's available. As long as it doesn't amount to too much. Because why get stuck doing paid work that threatens the welfare payments, as opposed to accepting welfare and just doing volunteer work?

And if we're all volunteers (paid by the welfare state) then why shouldn't everyone else be volunteers? The logic only works for Dutch people, as you can see (or people who are independently wealthy through some other means). But it's lovely logic, anyway.

As I've been driving around Europe on this tour, one of the things that's different from prior tours is my phone plan. That is, with my domestic US T-Mobile account, I discovered one day that I can now use my phone on 2G in 120 countries, with unlimited data. Which includes all the countries I ever go to. So now I'm driving around Europe, listening to US, British, German or other English-speaking radio programs in real time, live. Not just podcasts and audiobooks anymore.

So as I'm experiencing Europe, I'm hearing about the latest massacre and the latest racist, killer cop back home. There was a minor disturbance that was dubbed a riot in Rotterdam a year or two ago, when a cop killed a black man there. It's happened in England and Norway and elsewhere in Europe, too. Like once a decade, rather than once a day. There are racist killer cops here, too. Just not as many. And mostly they don't have guns on them.

A very nice Dutch event organizer let me use his apartment for the eight days I was based out of it, doing gigs around the Netherlands and nearby (by American, Australian or Russian standards of distance) Belgium. He stayed with his parents, in the room he grew up in, I believe, a few blocks away. I had his place to myself, and I explored the neighborhood during the days when I had time. Which was most days, since most of the gigs were not more than an hour away.

What was especially notable was that this neighborhood in Dordrecht, a small city near Rotterdam with an industrial past, is known as being one of the roughest neighborhoods in the country. As with the neighborhood in Sweden with this reputation where I had recently stayed, this one had some dark-skinned immigrants in it, too.

For the first week I was there, it entirely failed to live up to its reputation as rough in any way. It was, as far as I could tell, a quiet, nicely multicultural, family-oriented neighborhood, with all the amenities of life within walking distance – a supermarket, a few takeaway places, a bakery, a convenience store. And the beautiful center of town was only a short bike ride away, for lots more amenities.

Most people there lived in nice little apartments as far as I could tell. And there was a big park in the neighborhood, too, with canals in every direction. On the second-to-last day I was there, however, I heard screams, and glass breaking, and a big thud a block away from where I was staying. The event made the local news: there had been a fight between two guys, and one of them had been thrown through a second-story window, and had to be hospitalized. No one died.

There are lots of down sides to Europe – even to the prosperous social democracies of the north. But coming from the USA, they are increasingly hard to see.