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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Debt-Free, But Too Stoned To Notice

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco has introduced a bill to legalize Marijuana for recreational use; a previous proposition made medicinal marijuana legal in 1996. Apparently Mr. Ammiano has been partaking if that's the best idea our local government can come up with as a solution to recovering from its massive debt. It's no surprise that the idea comes from a representative of the city known for heavy usage and high tolerance for it. Previously in 2006, Ammiano introduced similar legislation based on a measure passed by 64 percent of city voters back in 1978 that called for an end to marijuana arrests and prosecutions. "The public would be better off to stop wasting money arresting, prosecuting and imprisoning people for marijuana, and to start collecting tax money from them instead," said Dale Gieringer of NORML's California chapter (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).

The new proposal from Ammiano would regulate marijuana like alcohol, with people over 21 years old allowed to grow, buy, sell and possess cannabis (all of which is barred by federal law). According to an Obama transition team blog, the president "is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana". That basically means that any outcome from this new proposal will still be subject to Federal consideration. The idea is definitely facing its fair share of disapproval; a lobbyist for key police associations in the state called it "a bad idea whose time has not come." John Lovell, who represents the California Peace Officers' Association, California Police Chiefs Association and California Narcotic Officers' Association, said "The last thing our society needs is yet more legal intoxicants. We've got enough social problems now when people aren't in charge of all five of their senses."

However, Ammiano has the support of San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey, and Betty Yee who chairs the state Board of Equalization which collects taxes in California. An analysis by the agency concluded the state would collect $1.3 billion a year from tax revenues and a $50-an-ounce levy on retail sales if marijuana were legal. The analysis also concluded that legalizing marijuana would drop its street value by 50 percent and increase consumption of the substance by 40 percent. A spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates for reform in marijuana laws and is backing Ammiano's proposal, said any expected increase in consumption is a "false notion."

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
In what imaginary world would the increased accessibility to a popular, mind-numbing drug not increase the number of users and its consumption in general? The war on drugs has cost hundreds of billions of dollars over a long period of time, and now actual lawmakers are telling us to ignore decades worth of anti-drug campaigns as they roll over in order to make a profit. According to DrugSense.org, the U.S. federal government spent over $19 billion dollars in 2003 on the War on Drugs, at a rate of about $600 per second and another $30 billion was spent by state and local governments. More than 3 billion dollars (and counting) has been spent on the war on drugs so far this year. Personally, I feel that marijuana usage plays a huge role in every problem our society faces today. Many users are unmotivated, unable to hold steady employment, and careless about following the law (obvious being that recreational use is illegal). I have known people who have used on a regular basis, and some who cannot go a single day without it. Above The Influence provides detailed information about the effects of marijuana use and all risks involved, as well as many other drugs.

My main concern with the proposal of legalized marijuana is that many kids will have much easier access to the drug if anyone over 21 can purchase it legally. Drugs are basically a vehicle for irresponsibility, as the primary purpose of using is to fall under the blanket of a mind-numbing stupor. Just as alcohol impairs judgement and lowers inhibition, legal users will be much more likely to pass the habit on to underage friends. That means hard-working students, even in their early teens, will become increasingly approached by users who got drugs from older friends/family and now try to pass it around or pressure others to use. The notion that only those of age will be the ones using the drug is just as absurd as the idea of legalizing it, and an increase of consumption is not only likely, it's certain. I'm sure popular fast-food restaurants such as Taco Bell, and the makers of all snack food and frozen foods, would enjoy the huge boost in revenue as a result of legalization as "the munchies" take hold of its users. However, if people weren't spending their money to get high in the first place, they'd be doing their part to boost the economy or at least paying the bills they avoid so they can afford their next fix. I'd love to hear your opinion on this, whether in favor of legalization or opposed.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Chickenfoot & A Brief History of Supergroups

Supergroup is the title given to a group of established musicians who form a band and collaborate on an album, or even a song. Typically, the projects last as long as 2 or 3 albums before the artists return to their previous situation but the music spawned by these collaborations is typically greater than the sum of its parts. Here are a few of the most well-known supergroups.

CHICKENFOOT
The newest group to follow this trend is Chickenfoot, a collaboration of Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony of Van Halen fame joined by drummer Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and guitar virtuoso Joe "Satch" Satriani. While their first project is not due out until April, my early prediction is that this album will be a huge success, perhaps the best rock album of the year. As a longtime Van Halen fan, mostly during Hagar's era, I've been very pleased to see Sammy and Michael remain bandmates and friends in the aftermath of rock's most notorious breakup. They tour together regularly and Michael has become an almost permanent fixture of Sammy's lineup. Cabo Wabo, the bar that Sammy purchased from Van Halen after the group opened it together in the late 80's, sees its share of guest performers during Sammy's birthday bash and New Year's Eve shows. Chad Smith is among the regular guests that come to jam with Sammy and his band, The Waboritas. While The Wabos remain Sammy's official band, he definitely enjoys collaborating with many artists like Smith, along with Kenny Chesney, Chad Kroeger of Nickelback and more.

Chad Smith is one hell of a drummer and a perfect fit for the energy of this group. The funk influence he brings from the Chili Peppers sound will add a new dimension to the guitar-driven rock that we're used to hearing from Sammy and Joe Satriani. Hearing Joe perform as part of a group will be an interesting transition to witness as he is known for guitar instrumentals. A short-lived supergroup which was an early form of Chickenfoot, known as Planet US, included Hagar and Anthony with Neal Schon and Deen Castronovo from Journey; Satriani was to be included in the Planet Us lineup after Slash declined the offer to join. Hagar previously worked with Schon on his solo albums and on the single album released by Hagar Schon Aaronson Shrieve, known as HSAS in 1984.

AUDIOSLAVE
Before Chickenfoot, there have been a number of noteworthy supergroups. The most recent example was Audioslave, which consisted of Rage Against The Machine with Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell in place of original member Zach De La Rocha. Audioslave recorded three albums, toured extensively, and made history as the first American rock band to play in Cuba. Their music boasted the typical ferocity of the RATM sound with a more melodic vocal approach provided by Cornell, in place of the rap-style delivery of De La Rocha. Their self-titled debut was brilliant from start to finish, followed by unworthy followup album "Out Of Exile". The band finished strong with "Revelations" before ending their relationship and Rage went on to reconcile with their original singer in time to headline the Coachella Music Festival for a one-time reunion.

VELVET REVOLVER
Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum of Guns N Roses formed Velvet Revolver in 2002 with singer Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots. They went on to record two albums and tour before Weiland's behavior led to his return to STP while the others continue looking for a new frontman.

TEMPLE OF THE DOG
Formed as a tribute to the late Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone, Temple Of The Dog joined key members of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam for one album. Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron of Soundgarden, along with Mike McCready, Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam recorded an album that epitomizes the Seattle sound that was dominating the radio at the time. The sound is very guitar-driven but incredibly melodic at the same time, mainly in part to the poetic delivery of singer Chris Cornell. Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder joined Cornell on the radio hit "Hunger Strike", but the album boasts a number of strong tracks, many of which received heavy rotation. This album is a must-have for any fan of Pearl Jam or Soundgarden, or any fan of good rock music.

COVERDALE/PAGE
Less of a supergroup and more of an incredibly dynamic duo, Coverdale/Page recorded one amazing album. Of course the duo was Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Whitesnake frontman David Coverdale. Coverdale's vocals were eerily similar to Robert Plant on the album and the guitar playing was some of Page's best blues-rock riffs. The album mixed electric and acoustic guitars with Coverdale's rustic and blues-laden vocals effortlessly and remains one of my favorite rock albums ever released.

DAMN YANKEES
Damn Yankees, one of my favorite supergroups, released their double-platinum selling self-titled debut in 1990. The group was formed by Jack Blades of Night Ranger and Tommy Shaw of Styx, along with Ted Nugent and drummer/painter Michael Cartellone. Their hit "High Enough", a rock ballad from the debut album, was Nugent's only #1 single to date despite a long and successful solo career leading up to joining Damn Yankees. The second album also went platinum with lead single and title track "Don't Tread" but the album mostly relied on ballads as the band departed from its bluesy guitar rock from the first release. They only recorded the two albums before Nugent revived his solo career leaving Shaw and Blades to record their own album later.

TRAVELING WILBURYS
The earliest example of a supergroup I can think of came in the form of the Traveling Wilburys, made up of Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and George Harrison. The collaboration was known as a "happy accident" starting with a meal between Roy Orbison, George Harrison and Jeff Lynne. The group came together at Bob Dylan's home studio to record a b-side for the single release of Harrison's "This Is Love". Tom Petty's involvement came by chance as Harrison had left his guitar at Petty's house. The band decided that the resulting song, "Handle With Care", was too good to be released as "single filler" and a full album was recorded and released in 1998 just before Orbison's death. The album, "Volume 1" was a surprise hit of the year, earning a Grammy for Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group. A second album was recorded and released two years later, titled "Volume 3" as a joke by George Harrison and was the last album of new material released by the band.

For me, the most intriguing aspect of a supergroup is the chance to see performers collaborate with others and create music that they may have never thought to attempt before. The best supergroups utilize each member's key strengths to create true collaborations, and I think that is what we can expect from Chickenfoot. Sammy Hagar has likened the strength of their music to that of Led Zeppelin simply stating "it's that good" while Michael Anthony says that hearing Satriani play as part of a band and collaborating with the other members will amaze people. There is no telling if this will be a "one-off" project, meaning it will only generate one album before the members return to their solo career or band. To hear a sample of what to expect from the Chickenfoot album coming in April, visit their webpage at www.chickenfoot.us.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Confidence Pays......in Billion$

While driving by the row of car dealers in my area, it's easy to see why automakers needed the multi-billion dollar bailout they received as their massive new car inventory sits in the rain; a sign of overzealous forecasting amidst a crashing economy.

The auto industry relies largely walk-in customers buying impulsively, but I don't see the necessity for dealerships to have every model they make, in every color, with every option package, all sitting on their lot. I suppose the automakers were either oblivious to the economic free fall which dominated headlines in every publication available, or ignored it completely. Reports have stated that CEO's and their excessive use of company perks are to blame. I'm bad with money too, but I've yet to receive money from taxpayers to resolve my shortcomings.

I've seen reports of automakers laying off employees by the thousands, while other companies close specific locations in an attempt to cut losses down. Perhaps if millions of dollars in new car inventory weren't sitting out in the rain, people would still have jobs, could still afford their mortgage and would still feel secure enough to do their part in boosting the economy and investing. Instead, the big shots of these car companies are taking vacations, using limousines to get from one place to another, and then getting it all paid for by YOU AND ME when the company's balance sheet dips into the red.

I remember a store called Consumers from my early years, where everything was bought from a catalog and you basically walked up to a counter and picked up your item. Of course if the automakers only built cars to fill orders, they'd never survive. However, if an inventory cap were placed on dealerships, automakers would not have such a surplus of cars sitting on the lot which would mean much less impact if sales stop or slow down at any point. As a result, companies could afford to keep their employees on being that they don't have years' worth of salaries invested in rows of cars sitting on the back lot of dealerships everywhere.

I'm no expert in economics, but this is a simple matter of supply vs. demand and the anyone who's been paying attention to the economy during Bush's last years could easily see that demand went down as the recession continues. Now that these car companies got their massive stimulus package AKA bailout, it's time they take responsibility for their mistakes and end the greedy ways of thinking that got them into their situation.