DIGITAL MUSIC NEWS

Record Label Coalition Asks Appeals

Court To Uphold Verdict Against Vimeo

 

Gavel      Emboldened by last month’s ruling that SiriusXM was financially liable for playing music recorded prior to 1972, a coalition of record labels now is asking the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a ruling issued earlier this year by U.S. District Court Judge Ronnie Abrams in New York. In that decision Judge Abrams said online music service Vimeo was ineligible for the Digital Millennium Copyright Harbor Act’s safe harbor protections for any user-uploaded clips with pre-1972 music. As reported by MediaPost, the labels this week filed papers asking the 2nd Circuit to uphold Abrams’ ruling, arguing that the “plain language” of the Copyright Act supports the idea that Congress intended for pre-1972 music to be treated differently from music recorded after that date.

Vimeo is appealing Abrams’ ruling, arguing that it has no practical way to distinguish pre-1972 recordings from newer ones. Moreover, the company says the Digital Millennium Copyright Act contains safe harbor provisions that give online companies immunity from infringement liability for material uploaded by users, as long as the companies meet certain requirements – including that they remove infringing material upon request of the copyright owner. However, the Copyright Act of 1976 – which overhauled U.S. copyright law – says it doesn’t annul any “common law” rights that existed before Feb. 15, 1972. Thus, the labels insist the provision preserving pre-1972 common-law rights means that the DMCA’s safe harbors don’t apply to older music.

Different judges have reached different conclusions about this issue, and a number of Silicon Valley companies, including Google, Facebook, and Twitter, have supported Vimeo in the dispute. Additionally, digital rights groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation have filed papers supporting Vimeo. In a friend-of-the-court brief, the EFF said treating pre-1972 and post-1972 music differently would “create an impossible burden for service providers and would stifle innovation.” 

Apple Says iTunes Store Revenue

Grew, But Overall Music Sales Dropped

 

Increase and Decrease      In an 88-page annual report filed Monday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Apple Inc. revealed the iTunes Store overall took in more revenue in its 2014 fiscal year – which ended September 27 – than it did last year, despite the fact that music sales have fallen. “The iTunes Store generated a total of $10.2 billion in net sales during 2014 compared to $9.3 billion during 2013,” Apple said. “Growth in net sales from the iTunes Store was driven by increases in revenue from app sales, reflecting continued growth in the installed base of iOS devices and the expanded offerings of iOS Apps and related in-App purchases. This was partially offset by a decline in sales of digital music.”

As noted by CNET, Apple didn’t give specifics on how much digital music sales have declined, but the Wall Street Journal last week cited “people familiar with the matter” who said such sales have skidded 13% to 14% since January 1. In a statement that seems to support this estimate, Apple said, “The company’s digital content services have faced significant competition from other companies promoting their own digital music and content products and services, including those offering free peer-to-peer music and video services.” The Journal pinned the blame on growing competition from cheap music sources, such as free videos and $10-per-month unlimited music subscription plans.

A drop in digital music sales is having an impact on global music sales, as listeners to streaming services are buying fewer digital albums and tracks. Apple took steps earlier this year to counteract this shift by acquiring Beats Music, which the company hopes will help it regain prominence as the #1source for digital music. Rebranding the Beats service and integrating it with iTunes should help do this. 

Music Fans Will Come Back To

Apple For These 3 Reasons

 

Apple      Apple is in danger of losing its music industry dominance. That’s the hypothesis of the analysts at Tech Cheat Sheet, which this week reiterated that the digital music downloads market has been in a steady decline over the past year, as more consumers shift from buying digital music files to subscribing to streaming music services. Citing and Nielsen’s and Billboard‘s 2014 Mid-Year Music Industry Report, they noted that individual digital track sales and digital album sales fell by 13% and 11.6%, respectively, in the first six months of 2014 vs. the same period last year. At the same time, on-demand audio streaming grew by 50.1%.

Although Apple has been able to buck trends in the wider smartphone and PC markets, a recent report from The Wall Street Journal suggested the company has not been as fortunate in the digital music download market. Still, the company is not about to surrender its dominance of the retail music market without a fight, and the Cheat Sheet gurus offer three steps Apple is taking to regain its prominence in the digital music universe:

  1. Integrating Beats Music into iTunes: It appears Apple has plans to fully integrate the music streaming service into its iTunes Radio service; rebranding the newly acquired subscription-based music streaming platform with the iTunes label may help the company garner more users who are familiar with Apple’s iconic brand.
  2. Undercutting the competition. Apple is pushing record labels to give it a discount rate that would allow it to offer Beats Music subscriptions for only $5 per month, instead of the $10 per month standard charged by most other competitors.
  3. Apple may be introducing a new digital music format. There are numerous indications that Apple is working on a digital music format that, according to U2 frontman Bono, “will prove so irresistibly exciting to music fans that it will tempt them again into buying music – whole albums as well as individual tracks.

New Tidal Streaming Platform To Compete

Against Spotify With “Lossless” Digital Music

 

Mobile increase      In a gamble (of sorts) that pits quality against quantity, a new streaming music service known as Tidal launched in the U.S. and U.K. this week in an effort to compete directly with such online platforms as Spotify, Deezer, and Beats Music. Developed by Scandinavian technology company Aspiro, Tidal’s monthly subscription is twice the price of most of those rivals – $19.99 vs. $9.99 – with the firm hoping that its promise of “hifi-quality” music induces music fans to pay the extra cost. The service will stream tracks at “lossless” quality – FLAC/ALAC 44.1kHz / 16 bit files at 1411 kbps, to be specific – with distribution partnerships already signed with a range of hi-fi manufacturers that include Sonos, Denon, and Harman.

As reported by The Guardian, Tidal is betting on more than just high-quality audio. It has 25 million individual tracks in its library, as well as 75,000 music videos and a team of editors writing features and interviews about established and emerging artists. “The music is just one part of the service,” Andy Chen, Tidal’s chief executive, said in a statement. “The expert editorial educates, entertains, and enriches the music experience while the music videos complement the music perfectly. We are sure that Tidal will quickly become the music streaming service of choice for all who appreciate high quality at every level.”

Unlike other subscription-based services, Tidal is not offering a separate “introductory” version supported by advertising. Parent company Aspiro has signed licensing deals with all three major labels, as well as independent labels and collection societies in the U.S. and U.K. According to company information, Tidal’s roots lie in WiMP, the Aspiro-owned service that is a rival to Spotify in Scandinavia, and which has its own double-price WiMP HiFi tier offering lossless-quality streams. At the end of June 2014, WiMP had 580,000 paying users, including 17,000 signed up to its HiFi version. 

Motley Fool: With Audio Cards Twitter

May Have “Done Music Right”

 

Twitter Music     It’s been a tough week so far for Twitter, which reported on Monday that its usage numbers stalled in the third quarter, and the number of new users has slowed dramatically. This news didn’t keep the Motley Fool from noting that the social media giant finally may have gotten its music platform moving in the right direction, following last year’s #Music debacle that shut down less than 12 months later.

As the Fool reported, Twitter is giving music a second chance with its rollout of Audio Cards, which were developed to fix the numerous problems users had with #Music. Audio Cards offer a simple solution for users to share music simply by pressing a play button. Not only can they launch a song in a new window, but they can “dock” it so they can continue browsing their timeline. To do this, Twitter enlisted the help of Soundcloud, which is highly popular with social media users and has been an acquisition target in the past. With a new round of debt funding, Twitter may make another go at Soundcloud soon, Motley Fool says.

Twitter also is partnering with Apple, allowing any song on iTunes to stream through Twitter, ad giving users the choice to easily purchase downloads through their timeline with just a few taps. Apple was quick to join up with Audio Cards as a way to help boost activity in its iTunes store, and the company is hoping its early adoption helps spur digital music sales. 

New Microsoft “Music Deals” App Offers

Select Albums At Heavy Discounts

 

Music Business      Windows Phone, PC, and tablet users can look forward to scoring some new music on the cheap as Microsoft has unveiled an app that offers albums for as little as $0.99. Silicon Republic reports the Microsoft Music Deals app allows 101 albums to be downloaded every Tuesday, with newer records available for $0.99 and older LPs costing $1.99. For instance, some of the albums available for next to nothing this week are Slipknot’s latest album .5: The Gray Chapter, Maroon 5’s V, Prince’s Purple Rain, and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors.

     Once an album is purchased via the app it’s added to a user’s Xbox Music account, where it can be downloaded for listening. The app is only available within the U.S., with no announced plans for a worldwide rollout.

The news follows recent reports of Apple re-branding its Beats Music platform and integrating it with iTunes Radio, with new licensing arrangements that allow it to undercut the competition. (See story, above.) If this is the case and Apple is able to lower the cost of music streaming (and/or downloads), it would seem the two tech giants might become engaged in a digital music price war.

 

A publication of Bunzel Media Resources © 2014

 

After the US election, an escalation of the Mideast war

http://kielarowski.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/51cf9-syriawar.jpg?w=378&h=245

29 October 2014

Last week, the Pentagon announced the death of a 19-year-old Marine, the first fatality among the estimated 1,900 US troops currently deployed in the new US war in the Middle East. This will undoubtedly be only the first of many American casualties in this war, a death toll that will be multiplied many times over for the Iraqi and Syrian men, women and children who will lose their lives in this latest imperialist intervention.

Less than one week before the midterm elections in the US, it is becoming ever more clear that, whatever the results in terms of the breakdown of Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives and the Senate, the Obama administration will embark on a major escalation of military operations once the voting is done.

Already there is a mounting drumbeat from within Washington’s vast military and intelligence apparatus—and those in politics and the media who voice its demands—for stepped-up bombing and more US “boots on the ground” in both Iraq and Syria.

This campaign for military escalation was summed up in a lead editorial published in Monday’s Washington Post entitled “Mr. Obama’s half-hearted fight against the Islamic State.” The editorial asserts that “an unlikely consensus is emerging across the ideological spectrum” in Washington that the Obama administration’s current strategy in the war on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is “unworkable,” and that “the military means the president has authorized cannot accomplish his announced aims.”

The editorial criticizes the “modest tempo of airstrikes” as well as “the absence of ground trainers and special forces who could accompany Iraqi and Syrian forces.” It cites an unnamed senior Pentagon official as stating that the aim of fielding a new mercenary army of “rebels” in Syria is impossible “if you’re not on the ground to advise and assist them.”

“The United States will have to broaden its aims and increase its military commitment if the terrorists are to be defeated,” the editorial concludes. This means “a strategy to counter the Assad regime” and deploying special operations troops in combat together with Iraqi and Syrian proxy forces.

The editorial follows a report in the Post last week that US and Iraqi officials recently discussed increasing the number of US military “advisers” in Iraq, and that deploying them “in the field with the Iraqis” is under consideration, given the abysmal record of Iraqi security forces collapsing in the face of ISIS advances.

Along similar lines, Anthony Cordesman, a former Pentagon official and adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has written of US strategy in the Iraq-Syria war “imploding” and dismissed the campaign of air strikes in both countries as “military tokenism.” He insists that “advisers” must be deployed alongside Iraqi troops “as soon as possible,” and that the US must accept “risking combat losses.”

Then there is Lt. Col. John Nagl (ret.), the co-author of the Army’s Counterinsurgency Manual, who states that some 15,000 US “advisers” are needed on the ground, and that the war in Iraq and Syria will have to go on “for at least a generation and probably longer.”

The Vietnam War provides an instructive precedent for the steady escalation in the number of “advisers” deployed in a US overseas intervention. John F. Kennedy deployed several hundred to the country shortly after taking office. By the time he was assassinated in November 1963, they numbered 16,700. Within barely two years, 200,000 US troops had been thrown into the war, and by 1968 the number was well over half a million.

Obviously, there are vast differences between Vietnam, where Washington intervened in an attempt to crush a popular anti-colonial struggle, and Iraq and Syria, where it confronts a crisis entirely of its own making, forged through the destruction of Iraq in nearly nine years of war and the devastation of Syria by the Islamist militias that the US and its allies have armed and supported.

What they have in common, however, is that the existing forces on the ground, the Iraqi army and the so-called Syrian “moderate rebels,” are—like the South Vietnamese Army before them—wholly inadequate (or non-existent) instruments for achieving US aims. Thus, the demand for US “boots on the ground”—plenty of them and in short order.

Once again, the American people are being dragged into a criminal war of aggression based upon lies. While this war is being sold with propaganda about ISIS atrocities against minorities, beheadings, etc., the real objective is the use of military force to assert US hegemony over the strategically vital and oil-rich Middle East.

The aims of this war, which spans national boundaries, involves not only the re-occupation of Iraq, but also the overthrow of the government of Syria and its replacement with a pliant US puppet regime. These war aims, in turn, place US imperialism on a clear trajectory for military confrontation with Iran and Russia, posing the real threat of a Third World War.

Every step has been taken to preclude next week’s midterm elections from providing the slightest possibility for the American people to express their will in relation to the most important political question, that of a war which we are told may last for more than “a generation.”

Just before the bombs began falling in Iraq, the members of the US Congress scurried out of town for a two-month campaign season recess without taking any vote to authorize a war that is both unconstitutional and in violation of international law. Any vote that is taken will be held after the election in a lame-duck session of Congress, thereby assuring that no one will be held politically accountable. In the election campaign itself, the war—like virtually every other social question of vital importance to the masses of working people—is not even an issue.

Nothing could more clearly expose the entirely rotted-out character of the American political system, which is controlled lock, stock and barrel by a financial aristocracy, and in which decisions on imperialist war abroad and repression at home are made by an unelected cabal of military and intelligence officials for whom Obama serves as a mouthpiece.

The corrupt capitalist two-party system offers no means to resist the drive to war. The working class must intervene independently, mobilizing its objective strength in a mass antiwar movement based upon a socialist and internationalist program to put an end to capitalism, which is the source of war.

Bill Van Auken

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/10/29/pers-o29.html

Journalist Matt Richtel’s ‘Deadly Wandering’ tells a harrowing story of technology’s dangers

By Wallace Baine, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Matt Richtel

Matt Richtel

On an early Friday morning in September 2006, a young man named Reggie Shaw climbed into his Chevy Tahoe for his long commute to work in Logan, Utah. Somewhere on a highway east of Logan, with the sky just beginning to lighten, Reggie veered over the yellow line and sideswiped a Saturn coming from the opposite direction. The Saturn spun out and was “T-boned” by a Ford pick-up, killing the two men riding in the Saturn.

From that tragic event comes the story at the center of Matt Richtel’s new book “A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention” (Wm. Morrow).
Reggie Shaw, it was later determined, was texting on his flip phone at the time of the accident, which he initially denied. What followed was the seminal legal case that defined the debate about texting and driving.
Richtel, a reporter at the New York Times, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for his reporting on the risks of distracted driving. In his book, he lays out the narrative of the Shaw case, what happened to Reggie and to the families of the victims, and how the events of that morning led lawmakers to look for a proper legal response to what can be a deadly habit.
At the same time, “Deadly Wandering” probes into the neuroscience of distraction, and the deeply seated neuro-chemical appeal of our ubiquitous hand-held devices.
“I didn’t want to write a book just about texting and driving,” said Richtel, who comes to Bookshop Santa Cruz to discuss his book Nov. 5. “What we’re talking about here goes well beyond what happens in the car. Why are we checking our devices all the time? Why can’t we stand idly in line at the grocery store, or at a stoplight, or with our homework, or with the spouse that sitting right across the table, without feeling that itch to look at our device?”
Chapters on what science is learning about how smart-phone and tablet technology are changing our brains are interspersed within the longer story of Reggie Shaw who later went to jail.
“This is not a screed against technology,” said Richtel of his new book. “It’s a wake-up call to be informed about the power of the neuro-chemical power of these things, in the same way we want to be informed about anything that has lots of power over our lives.”

Research suggests that checking in on your smart phone may release a dose of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that regulates the pleasure centers of the brain. “Ninety-six percent of people say that you shouldn’t text and drive, and yet, 30 percent do it anyway,” said Richtel. “The only other disconnect I can find that is that stark is with cigarettes. Every smoker says it’s bad for you, yet they keep doing it. Why do these devices have such a lure over us.”

Today, Shaw is a crusader against texting while driving. “Deadly Wandering” is an often harrowing chronicle of how Shaw got to the point where he could admit his wrongdoing and atone for causing the death of two fathers and husbands.

“The Reggie story is so compelling because we can connect to him easily,” said Richtel. “The battle that happened after his deadly wreck is a metaphor for our own internal battle about how to pay attention, particularly on the roads.”

This is not, however, a morality tale. Instead of talking about the problem of texting while driving as an issue of responsibility and willpower, Richtel asserts that our powerful and appealing technological devises are changing our behaviors on a neurological level.

“People are getting in their cars every single day, people who are not malicious, who are not bad people, and yet they’re winding up in these deadly wrecks. Driving feels boring a lot of the time. And with every passing moment, we are becoming less tolerant of boredom than we’ve ever been. This thing is constantly beckoning us.”

Matt Richtel

http://www.mercurynews.com/entertainment/ci_26823138/journalist-matt-richtels-deadly-wandering-tells-harrowing-story?source=rss

 

Jian Ghomeshi to #Gamergate: Our culture’s toxic masculinity crisis on display

When do we get to talk seriously about misogyny and violence against women? A list of opportunities we should take

 

Jian Ghomeshi to #Gamergate: Our culture's toxic masculinity crisis on display
Jian Ghomeshi (Credit: Reuters/Mark Blinch)

We don’t often get to talk about misogyny, toxic masculinity and male sexual entitlement outside of certain feminist and progressive spaces, whether those spaces are online or offline. In fact, just use the words “toxic masculinity” in a sentence and you’re bound to lose a lot of people straight out of the gate. People, even people who think rape is bad and that mass shootings are terrifying and preventable and that men shouldn’t threaten women with death for critiquing video games, bristle when you direct these conversations back to what seems to connect most of them, if not all of them.

But try to talk about toxic masculinity and you’re likely to get dismissed as a cynical opportunist pushing an agenda. Or a misandrist. (A “creeping” misandrist, even.) I saw that happen a lot over the weekend when women I follow on Twitter tried to talk about the Seattle shooting, in which a 14-year-old boy killed a girl and badly injured four other students, as part of a pattern we’ve seen before. It was a familiar script. When I wrote about Elliot Rodger’s misogyny after he killed six people in Isla Vista, California, I received a lot of angry emails telling me that I was politicizing a tragedy. It seems that, even when a killer leaves hundreds of pages detailing his racist and misogynistic worldview, we aren’t supposed to talk about those things. (We also aren’t supposed to talk about the data we have showing that 98 percent of shooters are men. Or, as the Guardian’s Jessica Valenti pointed out on Monday, research that shows that responses of “explosive anger” are ”two to three times more likely to occur in male teens, and twice as likely in adult men.”)

There is a dangerous and deadly pattern at play, and every day I read something that I file away as part of the growing list opportunities to talk about toxic masculinity, opportunities we should take. Because these aren’t isolated incidents, but the product of something more insidious and more dangerous. Sometimes, I keep actual lists. This week, my list looked like this:



1. Cop stole arrested women’s nude photos as ‘game’: docs

2. Teenage Boy May Have Shot Up His School Because His Girlfriend Broke Up With Him

3. Is GamerGate About Media Ethics or Harassing Women? Harassment, the Data Shows

4. Oklahoma City police officer accused of sex crimes released from jail for second time

5. CBC fires Jian Ghomeshi over sex allegations

Now unless you are of the belief that men are wired to be violent (I am not), then talking about our culture, how boys are raised to view themselves and others around them, seems pretty important. And to talk about this does not mean that all men are rapists or violent killers. And to talk about allegations of rape does not mean we are convicting men in the “court of public opinion.” It just means that there is something going on here, that these stories tell us something, and that the response to these stories reveal something, too. We need to look at and challenge those things.

So maybe we look at the story of cops stealing photos and treating a gross violation like a fun activity or an Oklahoma cop who is alleged to be a serial rapist and we question abuses of power and abuser dynamics in law enforcement. Maybe that can shape some of our thinking about why women don’t always report sexual violence to the cops. And while it may be impossible to know what drove Jaylen Fryberg to kill another student and himself, we have a very familiar set of circumstances that we can talk about instead of running away from them. We can look to the tragedy in Seattle and situate it as part of a larger pattern of violence that has revealed itself again and again and begin thinking about what addressing that violence might actually look like. Whether it’s gun control or healthy masculinity or both of these things.

And maybe then we can think about Gamergate and the harassment that has come to define this “movement” and we can question why so many people seem willing to look past that and lend credibility to serial harassers who have forced women offline and out of their homes. And while we wait to learn more about the allegations against Ghomeshi, we can still think about where our allegiances reflexively go when we learn about high-profile assault cases. Whom we believe and whom we don’t. We can ask questions about how the details included and excluded in reporting on allegations shape our view of those allegations. And we can listen to women who say that they didn’t speak out about harassment or violence they endured because they were scared that doing so would lead to more harassment.

Answers don’t always come easily. But a willingness to sit with and try to answer difficult questions is a minimum standard. Sadly, it’s one we’re failing to meet again and again and again.

Katie McDonough is Salon’s politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

http://www.salon.com/2014/10/27/jian_ghomeshi_to_gamergate_americas_toxic_masculinity_crisis_on_display/?source=newsletter

The dangerous American myth of corporate spirituality

How invocations of “karma” and Zen are being used to justify deeply unequal systems of power

The dangerous American myth of corporate spirituality
Steve Jobs, Satya Nadalla (Credit: AP/Paul Sakuma/Brendan McDermid/rnl, Kaveryn Kiryl via Shutterstock/Salon)

Recently, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella gave some shocking advice to a young businesswoman who was concerned that her male peers were passing her up for promotions: Don’t question the systemic sexism of corporate America, just trust in “good karma” to get you ahead. While his attitude made waves in the blogosphere, in fact it accurately represents a form of spirituality that is becoming popular in the West.

You know what I’m talking about. When I go to yoga, I’m often surrounded by wealthy white women who can afford expensive classes and Lululemon threads. When I scroll through my Facebook feed, I see exclamations of bourgeois spirituality (“Staying at the Waldorf tonight! #gratitude #blessed #100happydays #livelife”). Moreover, my actor friends seem to use karma and positivity as tools to help them achieve commercial success.

We might call this a belief in spiritual meritocracy. The implicit idea here is that our professional and financial growth depends on our spiritual merit, not on the presence or absence of social structures and biases. We are told that if we are grateful enough, if we put enough happy energy into the universe, then we will be rewarded with material wealth and earthly pleasures. (Think “The Secret.”) We are told that we actually can have it all: a rich spiritual life, leading to a rich material life.

Of course, this is just the new-agey equivalent of the same old meritocracy myth that’s been floating around America since at least the 19th century; that in the land of the free, anyone can become rich if they just work hard enough, if they use the right brand of elbow grease.

Unless you are a rich Republican, decades of widening economic inequality should tell you how faulty this story is. While it is true that most successful people work hard, the meritocracy myth works more to justify an existing social hierarchy than to inspire us to make positive social changes.

So, for the same reason we look suspiciously on Horatio Alger-esque theories of social mobility, we ought to also be skeptical of their spiritual version, which says that underserved groups can get ahead not by standing up to power, but by focusing on love and positivity.



It’s times like these when I am reminded of Slavoj Zizek’s summary dismissal of “Western Buddhism.” Zizek cautions that while meditation may seem to come from an edgy counterculture, in fact Americans practice it in a way that is often consistent with consumerist capitalism:

“… although ‘Western Buddhism’ presents itself as the remedy against the stressful tension of capitalist dynamics, allowing us to uncouple and retain inner peace and Gelassenheit, it actually functions as its perfect ideological supplement … One is almost tempted to resuscitate the old infamous Marxist cliché of religion as the ‘opium of the people,’ as the imaginary supplement to terrestrial misery. The ‘Western Buddhist’ meditative stance is arguably the most efficient way for us to fully participate in capitalist dynamics while retaining the appearance of mental sanity … ”

In other words, rather than helping yogis become more socially conscious spiritual warriors, Buddhist meditation can get hijacked by the status quo. It only brings us a shallow peace that makes us less likely to question what counts as normal.

For the last seven years I have dedicated myself to a Buddhist meditation practice, and I believe that there is some truth to Zizek’s harsh critique. As I have become more skilled, I have enjoyed moments of sublime bliss. And the more mindfulness I developed, the better I got at daily activities. I got a little better at surfing, playing poker, driving; the truth is, meditation helps me achieve whatever goals I set for myself, whether that’s being kinder to my friends and family, or earning more money.

One problem with a capitalist-inflected Buddhism is that it can lead us to a kind of spiritual cul de sac. I found that my practice was in an uneasy tension with my leftist politics. I found myself attracted to a glamorous Santa Barbara lifestyle that left me feeling unfulfilled and disappointed. I found that it became easy to deal with disturbing images in the news by dismissing the suffering of others as the karmic products of their own poor decisions. (They’re just not being positive enough!)

Yes, I found myself tempted by tales of spiritual meritocracy.

Overall, I am happy that my Facebook friends and yoga moms are finding spiritual enrichment. But I believe that focusing only on the joyful aspects of spirituality can get us into trouble, if we aren’t careful. Every religion can get appropriated by the West’s consumerist ideology, and Buddhism is no exception. When we cultivate gratitude for our material wealth and ignore compassion for those less fortunate, comments like those of Nadella are a natural consequence.

In traditional forms of Buddhism, there are bits and pieces of teachings on karma that capitalism loves to pick up on. Our society emphasizes an interpretation of Eastern spirituality that does not threaten its own internal logic. It’s true, for example, that the Buddha taught that money was a blessing, and that one effect of an ethical way of life would be material prosperity. But it is hard for me to believe the Buddha would say that wealth inequality is solely the result of karmic patterns, and that we should ignore its hidden histories of slavery, colonialism and patriarchy.

The good news is that there may be a spiritual antidote for what Tibetan teacher Trungpa Rinpoche called “spiritual materialism.” And I’m not talking about intermittent bouts of Catholic guilt. I’m suggesting that if we work to complement our gratitude with mercy and compassion for those who are less fortunate, we can move away from the surface-level spirituality that is really just materialism in disguise. And this may be what the world needs more than ever.

There are plenty of opportunities for us to be compassionate. For example, as scientists’ long-term projections of the effects of climate change become more and more dire, somehow American denial of anthropogenic global warming is on the rise. This kind of denial is only possible if it is not met with compassion for those who are already facing the extreme weather of hurricanes like Sandy and Katrina, like the hard-hit women who are struggling to survive after flash floods destroy their communities. Cultivating compassion for those we usually ignore — whether that’s women in the global south who are facing the ugly end of natural disasters, inmates of American prisons, or businesswomen who make 20 percent less than men who do in the same job — is therefore both a spiritual and political imperative.

The point is not that we give up on Western spirituality, as Zizek seems to suggest. The teachings of Eastern religions are becoming more mainstream in America, but this is an opportunity as well as a cautionary tale. As we develop a more conscious lifestyle, let’s ask ourselves if we are deepening our spirituality, or just falling for the myth of spiritual meritocracy. May all beings be free from pain and suffering.

http://www.salon.com/2014/10/26/the_dangerous_american_myth_of_corporate_spirituality/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

 

7 facts that show the American dream is dead

A living wage, retirement security and a life free of debt are now only accessible to the country’s wealthiest

, AlterNet

7 facts that show the American dream is dead
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNetrecent poll showed that more than half of all people in this country don’t believe that the American dream is real. Fifty-nine percent of those polled in June agreed that “the American dream has become impossible for most people to achieve.” More and more Americans believe there is “not much opportunity” to get ahead.

The public has reached this conclusion for a very simple reason: It’s true. The key elements of the American dream—a living wage, retirement security, the opportunity for one’s children to get ahead in life—are now unreachable for all but the wealthiest among us. And it’s getting worse. As inequality increases, the fundamental elements of the American dream are becoming increasingly unaffordable for the majority.

Here are seven ways the American dream is dying.

1. Most people can’t get ahead financially.

If the American dream means a reasonable rate of income growth for working people, most people can’t expect to achieve it.

As Ben Casselman observes at fivethirtyeight.com, the middle class hasn’t seen its wage rise in 15 years. In fact, the percentage of middle-class households in this nation is actually falling. Median household income has fallen since the financial crisis of 2008, while income for the wealthiest of Americans has actually risen.

Thomas Edsall wrote in the New York Timesthat “Not only has the wealth of the very rich doubled since 2000, but corporate revenues are at record levels.” Edsall also observed that, “In 2013, according to Goldman Sachs, corporate profits rose five times faster than wages.”

2. The stay-at-home parent is a thing of the past.

There was a time when middle-class families could lead a comfortable lifestyle on one person’s earnings. One parent could work while the other stayed home with the kids.



Those days are gone. As Elizabeth Warren and co-author Amelia Warren Tyagi documented in their 2003 book, The Two-Income Trap, the increasing number of two-earner families was matched by rising costs in a number of areas such as education, home costs and transportation.

These cost increases, combined with wage stagnation, mean that families are struggling to make ends meet—and that neither parent has the luxury of staying home any longer. In fact, parenthood has become a financial risk. Warren and Tyagi write that “Having a child is now the single best predictor that a woman will end up in financial collapse.” This book was written over a decade ago; things are even worse today.

3. The rich are more debt-free. Others have no choice.

Most Americans are falling behind anyway, as their salary fails to keep up with their expenses. No wonder debt is on the rise. As Joshua Freedman and Sherle R. Schwenninger observe in a paper for the New America Foundation, “American households… have become dependent on debt to maintain their standard of living in the face of stagnant wages.”

This “debt-dependent economy,” as Freedman and Schwenninger call it, has negative implications for the nation as a whole. But individual families are suffering too.

Rani Molla of the Wall Street Journal notes that “Over the past 20 years the average increase in spending on some items has exceeded the growth of incomes. The gap is especially poignant for those under 25 years old.”

There are increasingly two classes of Americans: Those who are taking on additional debt, and the rich.

4. Student debt is crushing a generation of non-wealthy Americans.

Education for every American who wants to get ahead? Forget about it. Nowadays you have to be rich to get a college education; that is, unless you want to begin your career with a mountain of debt. Once you get out of college, you’ll quickly discover that the gap between spending and income is greatest for people under 25 years of age.

Education, as Forbescolumnist Steve Odland put it in 2012, is “the great equalizer… the facilitator of the American dream.” But at that point college costs had risen 500 percent since 1985, while the overall consumer price index rose by 115 percent. As of 2013, tuition at a private university was projected to cost nearly $130,000 on average over four years, and that’s not counting food, lodging, books, or other expenses.

Public colleges and universities have long been viewed as the get-ahead option for all Americans, including the poorest among us. Not anymore. The University of California was once considered a national model for free, high-quality public education, but today tuition at UC Berkeley is $12,972 per year. (It was tuition-free until Ronald Reagan became governor.) Room and board is $14,414. The total cost of on-campus attendance at Berkeley, including books and other items, is estimated to be $32,168.

The California story has been repeated across the country, as state cutbacks in the wake of the financial crisis caused the cost of public higher education to soar by 15 percent in a two-year period. With a median national household income of $51,000, even public colleges are quickly becoming unaffordable

Sure, there are still some scholarships and grants available. But even as college costs rise, the availability of those programs is falling, leaving middle-class and lower-income students further in debt as out-of-pocket costs rise.

5. Vacations aren’t for the likes of you anymore.

Think you’d like to have a nice vacation? Think again. According to a 2012 American Express survey, Americans who were planning vacations expected to spend an average of $1,180 per person. That’s $4,720 for a family of four. But then, why worry about paying for that vacation? If you’re unemployed, you can’t afford it. And even if you have a job, there’s a good chance you won’t get the time off anyway.

As the Center for Economic and Policy Research found in 2013, the United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not require employers to offer paid vacations to their workers. The number of paid holidays and vacation days received by the average worker in this country (16) would not meet the statutory minimum requirements in 19 other developed countries, according to the CEPR. Thirty-one percent of workers in smaller businesses had no paid vacation days at all.

The CEPR also found that 14 percent of employees at larger corporations also received no paid vacation days. Overall, roughly one in four working Americans gets no vacation time at all.

Rep. Alan Grayson, who has introduced the Paid Vacation Act, correctly notes that the average working American now spends 176 hours more per year on the job than was the case in 1976.

Between the pressure to work more hours and the cost of vacation, even people who do get vacation time—at least on paper—are hard-pressed to take any time off. That’s why 175 million vacation days go unclaimed each year.

6. Even with health insurance, medical care is increasingly unaffordable for most people.

Medical care when you need it? That’s for the wealthy.

The Affordable Care Act was designed to increase the number of Americans who are covered by health insurance. But health coverage in this country is the worst of any highly developed nation—and that’s for people who have health insurance.

Every year the Milliman actuarial firm analyzes the average costs of medical care, including the household’s share of insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs, for a family of four with the kind of insurance that is considered higher quality coverage in this country: a PPO plan which allows them to use a wider range of healthcare providers.

Even as overall wealth in this country has shifted upward, away from middle-class families, the cost of medical care is increasingly being borne by the families themselves. As the Milliman study shows, the employer-funded portion of healthcare costs has risen 52 percent since 2007, the first year of the recession. But household costs have risen by a staggering 73 percent, or 8 percent per year, and now average $9,144. In the same time period, Census Bureau figures show that median household income has fallen 8 percent.

That means that household healthcare costs are skyrocketing even as income falls dramatically.

The recent claims of “lowered healthcare costs” are misleading. While the rate of increase is slowing down, healthcare costs are continuing to increase. And the actual cost to working Americans is increasing even faster, as corporations continue to maximize their record profits by shifting healthcare costs onto consumers. This shift is expected to accelerate as the result of a misguided provision in the Affordable Care Act which will tax higher-cost plans.

According to an OECD survey, the number of Americans who report going without needed healthcare in the past year because of cost was higher than in 10 comparable countries. This was true for both lower-income and higher-income Americans, suggesting that insured Americans are also feeling the pinch when it comes to getting medical treatment.

As inequality worsens, wages continue to stagnate, and more healthcare costs are placed on the backs of working families, more and more Americans will find medical care unaffordable.

7. Americans can no longer look forward to a secure retirement.

Want to retire when you get older, as earlier generations did, and enjoy a secure life after a lifetime of hard work? You’ll get to… if you’re rich.

There was a time when most middle-class Americans could work until they were 65 and then look forward to a financially secure retirement. Corporate pensions guaranteed a minimum income for the remainder of their life. Those pensions, coupled with Social Security income and a lifetime’s savings, assured that these ordinary Americans could spend their senior years in modest comfort.

No longer. As we have already seen, rising expenses means most Americans are buried in debt rather than able to accumulate modest savings. That’s the main reason why 20 percent of Americans who are nearing retirement age haven’t saved for their post-working years.

Meanwhile, corporations are gutting these pension plans in favor of far less general programs. The financial crisis of 2008, driven by the greed of Wall Street one percenters, robbed most American household of their primary assets. And right-wing “centrists” of both parties, not satisfied with the rising retirement age which has already cut the program’s benefits, continue to press for even deeper cuts to the program.

One group, Natixis Global Asset Management, ranks the United States 19th among developed countries when it comes to retirement security. The principal reasons the US ranks so poorly are 1) the weakness of our pension programs; and 2) the stinginess of our healthcare system, which even with Medicare for the elderly, is far weaker than that of nations such as Austria.

Economists used to speak of retirement security as a three-legged stool. Pensions were one leg of the stool, savings were another and Social Security was the third. Today two legs of the stool have been shattered, and anti-Social Security advocates are sawing away at the third.

Conclusion

Vacations; an education; staying home to raise your kids; a life without crushing debt; seeing the doctor when you don’t feel well; a chance to retire: one by one, these mainstays of middle-class life are disappearing for most Americans. Until we demand political leadership that will do something about it, they’re not coming back.

Can the American dream be restored? Yes, but it will take concerted effort to address two underlying problems. First, we must end the domination of our electoral process by wealthy and powerful elites. At the same time, we must begin to address the problem of growing economic inequality. Without a national movement to call for change, change simply isn’t going to happen.

Richard (RJ) Eskow is a writer and policy analyst. He is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future and is host and managing editor of The Zero Hour on We Act Radio.

 

http://www.salon.com/2014/10/25/7_facts_that_show_the_american_dream_is_dead_partner/?source=newsletter

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