Lyn Jensen's Blog: Manga, Music, and Politics

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Location: Anaheim, California, United States

Regular contributor ("Carson City Limits" and other content) for Random Lengths (circulation 56,000) in San Pedro, CA, 2001-present. Manga reviewer: LA Alternative (circulation 150,000), 2005-2006. Some manga reviews also ran in NY Press around this time. Entertainment reporting: Music Connection (circulation 75,000), 1983-1906. Travel writing: Oakland Tribune (1998) and Life After 50 (2006). Other bylines: Goldmine, Star Hits, Los Angeles Reader, Los Angeles Times, Long Beach Press Telegram, Blade, BAM, Daily Breeze, LA Weekly. Specializations include community news reporting, writing reviews (book, theater, concert, film, music), copywriting, resumes, editing, travel writing, publicity, screenwriting, lecturing, and content development. Education: B. A. Theater Arts, UCLA. Post-grad work, Education, Chapman University.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Book Review: Dollar Democracy

In his current book, Dollar Democracy:  With Liberty and Justice for Some, Long Beach political professor and oft-time Democratic candidate Peter Mathews argues government would have more than enough money to invest in healthcare, education, and environmental protection if corporate tax loopholes were closed and a progressive income tax reinstated on incomes over $1 million.
“Legalized tax avoidance and regulation avoidance are not victimless acts,” Mathews argues.  He cites studies (done in the eighties) to show campaign contributors get their way on how their chosen legislators vote about eighty percent of the time.

Mathews relates his own experience with corporate campaign funding as one example of how corporations get their way with politicians. In 1994 when he was running for what at the time was California’s Thirty-eighth Congressional District, ARCO PAC wouldn’t give him any money after he frankly told them he wanted to close corporate tax loopholes.

What Mathews calls "Dollar Democracy" resulted, hence, his book's title.  He was unable to fund his progressive grassroots campaign because the non-profit California League of Conservation Voters wouldn’t give him any money, either. Despite giving him a 100% favorability rating, they decided he wasn’t “financially viable.” The reasoning was that since his opponent raised money from corporations and Mathews didn't, Mathews couldn't compete as a serious candidate.

Much of the book discusses how Dollar Democracy victimizes California’s higher education system which Mathews, being an educator, knows first-hand. Mathews argues closing corporate tax loopholes would provide the state with $90 billion—and with $5 billion, every community college in the state could provide free education. (Just think what could be done with the other $85 billion.) The United States government could gain $1 trillion by closing corporate tax loopholes. For $400 billion, all American colleges and universities could be free, with $600 billion leftover.

California could close its oil severance tax loophole without damaging its economy, Mathews notes, as Alaska, Texas, and Louisiana have done.  He demonstrates how Dollar Democracy has defeated efforts to do so. Dollar Democracy is also how the Halliburton Corporation spent $747 billion lobbying politicians and in return got hydraulic fracturing exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Another notable example of Dollar Democracy, according to Mathews, may be found in the passage of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which was structured to benefit corporations--and they didn't like it anyway. He thoroughly discusses how Obama and the Democratic leadership caved to the healthcare industry’s heavy financing of many congress members.

Mathews observes, “The president never attempted to fight for a truly universal single-payer Medicare-for-all system.” As a result America remains the only major country with no universal healthcare, and Dollar Democracy allows corporate-funded politicians to get away with it.

Saddest of Mathews' many examples may be the effect of Dollar Democracy on Americans' jobs, as corporations outsource labor.  They do this by either moving to third-world countries, or being allowed to import third-world workers willing to work for near-poverty wages, because that's all those workers know in their home countries. Mathews vividly describes how Chinese factory laborers who cut iPhone glass work in conditions very much like nineteenth-century sweatshops.

Corporate politicians look the other way while corporations outsource jobs, and for former Long Beach resident Kevin Flanagan, outsourcing resulted in his death. He was a computer programmer at Bank of America’s Concorde office. He committed suicide after being ordered to train his replacement—an Indian immigrant that a government program allowed the banking giant to hire for barely above minimum wage. It wasn't the Indian immigrant who took Flanagan's job away--it was Bank of America, with a little help from Dollar Democracy. 

As a solution to Dollar Democracy, Mathews advocates public campaign funding (state and federal "clean money" laws), more citizen involvement, and more transparency. He suggests visiting the Web sites and for information on politicians’ support from the oil industry, for example.

Where Mathews’ book falls short is that it tries to argue every last subject that has anything to do with Dollar Democracy. It ranges across topics from labor to education to GMOs.  At the same time it neglects to argue thoroughly all sides of public campaign financing. It needs balance, giving little time for any solution other than the movement to reverse the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. 

Mathews does allow a counter-argument of sorts from Mark Spitzer, who originally was against government-funded campaigns. “I thought that the proponents were trying to take politics out of politics and that just doesn’t work,” Spitzer is quoted in one passage.

As for presenting a balanced argument, however, even the passage on Spitzer can't be counted.  Spitzer had doubts but he changed his mind when he campaigned for the Arizona Corporation Commission.  He’d have been vulnerable to conflict-of-interest charges had he accepted corporate money. He won, Mathews argues, thanks to Arizona's "clean money" law and nothing else.

Neither does Mathews say much about how politicians can win on ideas, not money, sometimes. He spends a considerable portion of Dollar Democracy discussing the campaigns of Paul Wellstone, the late senator from Minnesota who was outspent seven-to-one in his 1990 campaign but won on ideas. That actually may be the American public's best weapon against Dollar Democracy. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

News Link: Treasurer's Race in Carson

Here's a direct link to my round-up of candidates for treasurer in the City of Carson, which ran in the Jan. 22-Feb. 4, 2015 Random Lengths:

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

News Link: "Recapping Carson's 2014 Reality Show"

I have a direct link (at least for now) to my news round-up that ran in the Jan. 9-22, 2015 Random Lengths News.  It's titled, "Recapping Carson's 2014 Reality Show" and it's a summary of the news that happened in Carson, California, in 2014:

Friday, December 26, 2014

BAM Review: American Martyrs (1987)

Of all the dozens of unsigned rock artists I reviewed back in the eighties, one of  the ones I most often wonder "whatever happened to?" is the American Martyrs.  They were named after their Catholic school in Manhattan Beach, so maybe someone there knows.  The lead singer's name, Mike Kelly, is too common to easily single out on social media.  Things ended badly with their one-time manager and she (the last I knew) severed all ties with them, so she probably wouldn't know either. To represent my body of live club/concert reviews in those years--I've posted below my review of the American Martyrs that ran in BAM, Sept. 25, 1987. 

With a college-circuit popular EP behind them and four years of experience, the American Martyrs are poised to follow in Wall of Voodoo's footsteps.  The two groups are similar enough to attract the same audiences, and like Voodoo singer Stan Ridgeway, Martyrs singer Mike Kelly is more a talker, with sharp-imagined New Wave poetics, while his moves have that herky-jerky quality.

However, to say American Martyrs are simply Wall of Voodoo types would be inadequate, for they have enough variety in their overall sound and image that they can appeal to a broad spectrum with sounding schizophrenic.  They're folksy without being New Folk, they're energetic enough to dance to, and relaxing enough they'll lull you into a satisfied stupor if you're not careful. 

Putting their most compelling song first tonight, their college turntable hit, "Soldier," got their set off perfectly. Unfortunately their entire set was not perfect--and here's a group that perfection's not too much to ask of.  The pace was rough--not slow, just rough--and some of the songs could use some revamping and editing--notably "Spare Friend" and "No Politics."  The American Martyrs remain a group to be recommended highly, because of their eccentric-without-even-trying visual style, and their, well, melodic melodies over punk rhythms.

Friday, November 21, 2014

X Plays Folk Fiasco: 7/30/81 at the Whiskey

Here's a slice of what the seventies-eighties Los Angeles music scene was like in all its goodness, badness, and ugliness—mostly its badness and ugliness.  In 1981 I sent this review (of Los Angeles punkers playing unplugged, billed as a "folk night" at the Whiskey on Sunset) to BAM. (Remember that paper? It stood for Bay Area Music but covered Los Angeles, too.) The editor didn't get it. He sent it back with snide remarks written all over it, and I didn't write for BAM as long as that editor was around. I still think it's hilarious, though. Critical language is best when it's critical!

Good ideas should make a good show. The line-up and idea at the Whiskey on July 30 (1981) looked good. The bill said Phranc (the 'female Tom Robinson"), Tito Larriva (leader of the Plugz), and Exene and John Doe (who lead X) were getting together for an acoustic "folk music night."

How nice to see punk-rockers going back to folk! In this era it sometimes seems all music has to be amped-up and "original," like a song written by somebody else is no good. Maybe I'm too old (as in out of college) but I remember what folk shows were like in the pre-Beatle sixties. 

To me, a folk show means jamming, improvising, surprises, solos, duos, trios, and songs that have survived decades and even centuries. I don't think I was expecting too much.  I don't think anything could have prepared me for what the Whiskey passed off as a show.

For the first hour after the billed start time, nothing happened except projections of old TV commercials that appeared to be courtesy of someone's Beta Max. If I wanted to watch TV, I'd have stayed home. 

I didn't catch the name of the first guy that (finally) got on the stage and I don't think we need to publicize his appearance by publishing his name, anyway. I have nothing against sexy literature but what this guy read was the definition of "utterly without redeeming social value." It was just certain four-letter words thrown together for shock value. It wasn't poetry or literature--it had no rhyme, no rhythm, not even any expression or emotion. If a little kid wrote or said these things, he'd be spanked and sent to his room. Somebody allowed this grown man to get on a legit stage and say these things. If I want this kind of entertainment, I'll read the Whiskey's bathroom walls. 

Then came another interminable, inexcusable break for more Beta Max viewing--like anybody who wants to watch Beta Max is going to pay good money to come down to the Whiskey to do it.  Finally someone who was introduced only as “Hal” showed up with a guitar, looking like a prom-going extra from the TV show Happy Days (more TV that we left the house to get away from). 

“Hal” sang three of his own songs (I guess that’s what they were because I sure didn’t recognize them) and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.”  He left.  Another break that must have lasted an hour—and this time, instead of a Beta Max, was a recording of a squawking woman telling racy jokes to a shrieking audience. If I want to hear squawking and shrieking, I’ll stay home and watch my parents fight.

Tito Larriva finally showed up, but it was a different image from the Larriva with flashing dark eyes and glistening good hair. He wasn’t anything like that Larriva that leads the Plugz through hard-rocking swinging music.  This Larriva wore a suit and his hair was greased, and he barely looked up as he sang his signature song “La Bamba” and two other songs in Spanish. He acted like his guitar wasn’t plugged in meant he wasn’t alive.

He left after being on-stage for perhaps ten minutes. Listen, I’m glad he performs songs from his Hispanic heritage, that’s all well and great, more power to him—but he wasn’t singing to a Hispanic audience. Would it have killed him to stay around an extra three minutes and sing a song in a language his audience could understand?

At this point we were three hours past the billed starting time and we’d seen maybe a half-hour total of anyone doing anything on-stage. Finally three-quarters of X (John Doe, Exene, and Billy Zoom-- plus a guy on bass fiddle) gave us a faint glimmer of what we’d expected—but only with four songs. 

John Doe sang “God Made Me, He Made a Travellin’ Man” and “Rock Island Line.” Then it was Exene’s turn, and she, dressed humorously like a Dust Bowl Okie, sang “Broken-hearted Me.” They sang a duet of “Jackson” (the duet Johnny Cash and June Carter did in the sixties). Exene danced. Billy Zoom actually looked at the audience and smiled as he played rockabilly guitar.

Did they continue?  Did they introduce the acoustic bass guy or give Billy a solo spot or call back Tito for a guest vocal?  Are you kidding?

Back to another interminable inexcusable delay—and nearly midnight. In four hours we’d seen perhaps 45 minutes of live music, and Phranc still hadn’t shown. This writer gave up and went home.

So many questions! How many people will never go to a show billed as “folk music” ever again after this exercise in audience masochism? This was a folk show—an acoustic show—no big tech demands, so why on earth were the breaks so long and the sets so short? Lastly, who’s responsible for (dis)organizing this fiasco? If he/she’s planning another one, it better be called “Boredom Night” or someone’s likely to charge false advertising.