a musical verano pt. 1
Señores Ladrones by Tomasito
Refreshed and republished August 29, 2022, my 29th birthday.
This is the introductory installment to a series reflecting on summer experiences, with music that inspires me to feel what’s real, move with it and embrace it.
Living document, last updated Sept. 23, 2022.
Part I: Señores Ladrones by Tomasito
Is there anything better than concerts in the summertime?
Dancing, toasting, rejoicing under the warm setting sun, cool rising moon. I don’t feel more connected to what’s real anywhere else. Being outside with friends and family, food and music, makes me love being alive. Perhaps these are my utopias.
Tomasito came to town a few months back for one such gathering. A festival with ten different performers put on by the good people of Anzuelo, our favorite fish joint.
We got there about six in the evening. I didn’t know what to expect, but was blown away. The performers, the venue, the tough Spanish sun descending beyond the dry, rugged mountains, the food, family, friends, refreshments—it was all perfect.
The stage lost power at one point. Elena Sanguero, performing at the time, didn’t hesitate. She stepped down and kept singing while Aitor, a local musician, strummed the acoustic guitar con gusto. Perdónanos, they said. With passion and purpose, they brought the power back. We all got a little closer and kept dancing.
Tomasito hit the stage about midnight. Wikipedia describes his music well: “a very personal mixture of flamenco, pop, hip hop, funk, and other rhythms.”
Truly one of a kind. Captivating energy, creativity, and humor. Bailando flamenco with elegance and character like only he could: in a leopard suit, or just his underwear, as he did for a song or two that night.
I woke up the next morning recalling a zenith moment, when we all joined together, bouncing about, and singing along to Señores Ladrones:
Tiburones, que son tiburones, que son tiburones, que son….
Tomasito had been robbed of everything except the smell of cheese and a couple cubes of chicken bouillon. In shock, he writes the thieves a note. Singing with a desperate though jubilant sway, like that of a crowd joined arm-in-arm at a local pub:
Señores ladrones no me roben la cartera, ni me vacien la nevera que la cosa está muy mal Que estamos en crisis y la cosa está difícil y hasta aquí ya hemos llegao y no paramos de curra’
Señores ladrones no me roben la cartera, ni me vacien la nevera que la cosa está muy mal Que estamos en crisis y hasta al curro voy en bici y hasta aquí ya hemos llegao y no paramos de curra’
Don’t steal my wallet or the food from my fridge, he pleads. We’re in an economic crisis and I’m barely getting by. Yo soy un pobre mas de esta nación. I’m just another of the poor in this nation. We work non-stop. It’s gotten to the point I have to bike to work. Gimme a break, would ya?
Señores ladrones otra vez que entren, cierren la nevera y apaguen to’ las velas.
Eventually, Tomasito just asks them to clean up and put the candles out when they’re done. He ends with an appeal for solidarity:
Señores ladrones somos buena gente.
We’re good people, he sings. You know who aren’t good people?
Son los políticos y banqueros que en ve’ de arregla’ el panorama, nos roban los dinerol, se ríen de nosotros, se forran de millones, porque son, SON…
Son tiburones, son tiburones, … son … tiburones!!!
The politicians and bankers. Private equity. They’re the sharks. They’re the real criminals. Instead of fixing anything, they rob us of everything, he denounces. They laugh at us as they get rich. He sees through the charade and calls it out.
Those sharks exercise power without accountability, causing crises and widespread suffering with impunity. They get subsidized and bailed out. Their debts are always forgiven. Our debts are their assets. (Though as the Debt Collective shows, they can be our assets too—our leverage for structural change.1)
Nevertheless, the question remains: who is robbing who?
This gets us toward another idea: who or what is criminalized, and who or what is not has, in reality, little or nothing to do with the relative harm caused.
That’s because, as civil rights lawyer Alec Karakatsanis explains:
…our criminal laws are not an objective mechanism for increasing overall well-being by efficiently reducing harmful behavior. Our criminal laws are based on some of the most arbitrary aspects of human existence, like power, racial bias, and economic self-interest—they reflect our demons, past and present.2
The law is not neutral, and never has been. Race is a fiction the law made materially real, for example. The law enforced this fiction through terror and bondage, policing and prisons, segregation and discrimination. But the truth remains: race is not real. It is a made up distinction to isolate empathy and concentrate suffering.
The so-called “doctrine of discovery” is another fiction used to both legally and morally justify colonial brutality (genocide) and dispossession (theft) of sovereign indigenous nations’ self-determination. Tearing the land from the people, and the people from the land, as Antonia Malchik distills in a recent essay. Although it has no basis in reality, the “doctrine of discovery” is still good law too.
Today, multibillion-dollar industries mold and manipulate law to their benefit through sophisticated media, marketing, lobbying, co-optation and capture strategies.
In a healthy democracy, these activities would be considered bribery, distortion, corruption, even conspiracy or collusion—and they’d be resolved accountably and reparatively. Instead, in 2010 (and 1976), SCOTUS decided these activities are “free speech”. 3 Now that is the supreme Law of the Land—and Senators are for sale again.
We call enforcement of this undemocratic power “policing” and “law enforcement,” but seldom ask what they are enforcing, and on whose behalf?
Karakatsanis provides a concrete comparison, illustrating the incongruence between criminalization and harm, exposing the laws’ double standards and the global nature of money and power:
Consider, for example, that it is a “crime” in most of America for the poor to wager in the streets over dice. Wagering over international currencies, entire cities’ worth of mortgages, the global supply of wheat needed to avoid mass starvation, or ownership of public corporations is accepted behavior. Dice-wagerers become bodies to seize, search, confine, and shun. Their private cash is “forfeited” to government ownership. Wheat-wagerers become names on the wings of hospitals and museum galleries. Their cash makes them heroes, and charitable organizations providing legal services to low-income dice-wagerers in criminal prosecutions give them philanthropic awards at banquets.4
This contrast is especially important to keep in mind as corporate media beckons of a crime wave, using words like ‘crime’ and ‘homelessness’ interchangeably, and referring to politicians or policies that expand and intensify caging and surveillance as “tough on crime.”5 This is a foundational myth, as Karakatsanis writes in his newsletter:
There is no scientific dispute that reducing inequality and investing in things families and communities need is the most significant thing we can do to improve safety across the board. People advocating for those investments are actually the ones being “tough on crime.”
…who the media calls “tough on crime” actually ignore *most* crimes committed by *most* people. They only choose to harshly enforce *some* crimes by *some* people, almost all of whom are poor.
At least eighty percent of the people charged with crimes in the U.S. cannot afford a lawyer. Meanwhile, tens of trillions of dollars sit in global tax havens, feeding autocracy, while billions of people starve.
Under this global arrangement of power, the bankers and politicians are indistinguishable—and far from accountable to anyone.
Blackrock, for example, controls roughly $10 trillion worth of global assets, more than every country but the U.S. and China. They also provide consulting services to governments, for fees, often advising on the management of assets they own.
We don’t hear much from the “tough on crime” folks about fraud or tax evasion, pollution and natural resource destruction, the pandemic profiteering and price gouging; nothing about wage theft, labor exploitation, or monopolies and market manipulation. Even though it is these activities that create precarity and underly most self- and interpersonal harms.
We get nothing but thoughts and prayers from the for the mass shootings happening everywhere from schools and grocery stores, to concerts and clubs. Nothing on police shootings.
Nothing from these phonies on private equity firms hijacking every aspect of life today. From housing, food chains, hospice care, institutions of education and journalism; to pensions, prisons, pro-sports teams, dental clinics, and department stores—everything.
The consequences of this are grave and indefensible. A study performed by economists at the University of Pennsylvania, for example, found that when private-equity firms acquired nursing homes, deaths among residents increased by an average of ten percent. Death for money.
Money Over Love. In what world is that okay?
Right now, this one. This blind and ceaseless capital amalgamation causes only calamity: cyclical crises like the one Tomasito sings about, and within which we find ourselves almost constantly—intensified by an increasingly unstable natural environment. Industrialization.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can see through this evil sham—see these sharks for the liars they are. Tomasito does, and he mocks them. We should too. We should take them as seriously as they take justice and democracy, safety and peace.
Each of these values can be real. They can guide our social organization, grounding our relationships in love, and building from there. Regenerating.
Señores Ladrones reminds me that there is music and joy in this creation of justice. In this revolution of love. It also reminds me that nothing can be more real than the time, space, and memories we share with friends and family.
I’ll always have that night in utopia, singing and dancing with Macarena, Tomasito, and our community friends under the warm Spanish moon.
What could be better than that?
Special thank you to my friend and editor Madeleine Brink for her help with this essay.
a musical verano:
Prologue: bouncing back, with love as always
Part I: Señores Ladrones by Tomasito
For the featured songs and more, check out the blue world tunes playlist. It’s collaborative, so anyone can add to it. So far, it’s just been Mom and I, which I love. But check it out, contribute a tune about life and love if you can.
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As the Debt Collective declares in Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay (free ebook on Haymarket Books), and regularly demonstrates in practice: “Debtors’ unions can harness the power of debt and wield it strategically. Individually, our debts overwhelm us. But together they make us powerful. Creditors are already organized—that’s why they got bailed out in 2008 and 2020 and have more influence over lives than ever before. The time has come for debtors to get organized, too.”
Alec Karakatsanis, The Punishment Bureaucracy: How to Think About “Criminal Justice Reform”, Yale Law Journal Forum, March 28, 2019, pgs. 861-62, and n. 48.
SCOTUS has always been quite friendly to corporations. America was actually a corporation before it was a country. See Adam Winkler, We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights (2018). The Fourteenth Amendment, vital to the Reconstruction project after the Civil War, enshrined equal protection of the law for all with formerly enslaved peoples in mind. Yet, between 1868 and 1912, more than half of the Fourteenth Amendment cases decided by SCOTUS involved corporations successfully striking down minimum wage laws, zoning laws, and child labor laws.
Karakatsanis, supra note 2, pgs. 854-55.
For a long list of examples, see Karakatsanis, supra note 2, pgs. 885-95.