Saturday, September 3, 2016

Travers Brothership's newest release "A Way To Survive" is a powerhouse album.

Travers Brothership is experiencing their "Golden Age" says Kyle Travers, half of the twin brother team that leads this impressively soulful project. One only has to spend 10 seconds listening to their new, kickstarter fan-funded album A Way To Survive to believe him.

Boasting the wealth of four songwriters within the band, A Way To Survive takes us back decades to the golden age of rock and roll, when albums were meant to be listened to in one complete sitting. To when bands enjoyed the process of recording and used the recorded album format as a jump-off point for creativity and experimentation. To when the song was a mere starting point, and layers of instrumental interplay were recorded with both care and thoughtful intention.

A Way To Survive opens with "Hold My Name," written and sung by bassist Josh Clark. The teasingly soft bass, organ, and guitar intro lays a quick foundation for the punctuated horn lines to announce the fully realized musical experience that's about to take place. Clark's voice is on the front lines of the Southern Soul and R&B revolution taking place in today's live music scene, with singers like Paul Janeway from St Paul and The Broken Bones.

Listening to A Way To Survive, you can't escape the feeling that this album wasn't made in today's times. It was somehow unearthed from the early 70s, when vocals and song structure were as important, and many times more important, than instrumental prowess. Before prog-rock and jambands, songs were based around the other-world sense of hearing human voices work together. From The Beatles to The Doobie Brothers, you connected with those voices first, simply because the voice is universal. Travers Brothership is reminding us of this lost art.

"Time Will Slip Away," written by Eric Travers, who's primarily on drums, (they regularly switch instruments) is a funk-bass driven rocker that features their "secret weapon," Ian McIsaac, on both keys and percussion. "We didn't want to over-produce it," says Kyle Travers, "but we wanted to add some elements that took it away from the bare-bones Brothership." Half way through, the song morphs into a conga-led percussive breakdown that builds up into the inter-weaving of organ and guitar phrases. A subtle tease of the longer jams you'll find in the Travers Brothership live shows.

While many bands place their stripped down acoustic track at the end of the album, these guys made the bold choice to feature it directly in the middle of the A-side. As a counterbalance to the more complex arrangements, "The Road Interlude" is a two chord groovy meditation on the late night drives and existential adventures of band life throughout the southeastern United States.
Few albums in the last couple of decades have brought forth the spirit of Muscle Shoals as A Way To Survive does here. The guys in Travers Brothership make the complex sound simple, and have the patience and discipline to allow the simple to sound complex--a universal artistic goal that few achieve. Kyle is correct: this is their "Golden Age." All their efforts, along with recording engineer Matt Williams in his studio Eagle Room, have produced an album powerful enough to raise their sound from the southeast into the national scene. There are hundreds of great bands aiming for the major leagues, but few of them bring such a complete package as Travers Brothership. In this horse race, I've found where I'm putting my money.
Find Travers Brothership tour dates here.

Listen to the Lonesome Banjo Chronicles podcast with Kyle Travers here (for iphone) or here (for android)

--Brian Paul Swenk

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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Ep. 13 of LBC Podcast -- Kyle Travers of the Travers Brothership

**If you're new to podcasts, check out the explanation at the bottom of the page**

In this episode, I catch up with Kyle Travers, one of the twin brothers that leads the Asheville based band Travers Brothership.

This is a band you're almost guaranteed to love from the moment you hear the first song. A funky, soulful, southern inspired groove that uses horn lines and 4-part harmonies with ease and playfulness.

We talk about how their dad inspired them to dive headfirst into music and how removing the ego is the best way to create great moments in the studio.

Download from iTunes here (and subscribe in your podcasts app!)
Android phones download from Stitcher
Or stream from Soundcloud below

We listen to 5 songs from their new album "A Way To Survive"
1. Hold My Name -- 14:38
2. Time Will Slip Away -- 37:37
3. Be Here Now -- 57:03
4. The Road Interlude -- 1:22:34
5. Clothes On My Back -- 1:24:25

This is our last week of partnering with Front Porch Fest for 2016. The festival is Sept 2-4 and my band, Big Daddy Love, will be playing Saturday evening from 7:00-8:30pm.
We want to thank them for everything and look forward to seeing everyone there this weekend!

--Brian Paul Swenk

If you enjoy, please sign the email list on the left and follow:

***If you are new to podcasts here is a quick explanation. Podcasts are basically a recorded radio/audio show that can be downloaded and/or streamed to your phone, tablet, or computer.  If you have an iPhone, you have a podcast app on there already. Open it and search "Lonesome Banjo Chronicles." If you click "subscribe," the latest episode will download automatically when you're connected to wifi, or you can manually download any episode whenever you like. If you have any other type of phone, download the Soundcloud app, or the Stitcher App and search for Lonesome Banjo Chronicles, and you can stream from there.  Hope this helps. Thanks for the support!***

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Religious Right's Last Gasp by Kerry Walters

Kerry Walters, author of over 40 books in philosophy, theology, and history, explains how the Religious Right has usurped Christianity in its insatiable quest for power and social control. As the number of people who regularly attend church plummets, and the number of people claiming "none" for religious preference rises, we look in many directions for the causes.  The marriage of Christianity and the extreme conservatism of the Religious Right is not the lone reason, but will be seen as one of the main ones. 
The Religious Right's Last Gasp
--Kerry Walters
I can think of nothing that’s done more damage to American Christianity than the Religious Right. 
Despite what the movement’s prophets sanctimoniously shout from their pulpits, it’s not secular humanism, gay marriage, abortion, the ACLU, evolution, porn, or the ban against school prayer that’s most eroded Christianity in this country. 
What’s emptied churches is the unseemly ambition of Religious Right leaders like Jerry Falwell (father and son), James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, and Franklin Graham to crown themselves moral police and political powerbrokers.  Make no mistake about it:  politics is the tail that wags this dog.  From Day One, the Religious Right cynically hijacked Jesus as a front man for its political agenda.  
But the Religious Right has now jettisoned any pretense to being genuinely Christian. How else to explain its embrace of a presidential candidate who’s as far from being a Christian as a starfish is from being a star?  The endorsement has the feel of a last-ditch, at-any-cost attempt to hold onto the political power the movement’s enjoyed for nearly forty years.
God willing, it’s the Religious Right’s final gasp.
I don’t say this because I’m one of those liberal Christians who, as a clerical colleague of mine hyperbolically states, “believe whatever they want to as long as it makes them feel good.”  I’m actually a pretty traditional Christian, although not, perhaps, enough of one for my conservative friends and certainly too much of one for my liberal friends.   
I subscribe to what C.S. Lewis called “mere Christianity”:  a holding fast to central doctrines, identifiable through revelation and reason, coupled with a willingness to welcome or at least hear out a wide breadth of moral, spiritual, and theological positions.  Mere Christianity embraces the humble spirit of St. Augustine’s “in necessary things unity; in uncertain things freedom; in everything charity.” 
Augustine’s counsel sticks in the craw of the Religious Right, whose leaders demand lockstep fidelity to the political goals they morph into “Christian” principles.
When challenged, the Religious Right exhibits the denunciatory spirit of the Taliban, even if it stops short of the latter’s nasty practices.  From the 1979 launch of the Moral Majority to the present day, the movement has thunderously called down God’s judgment on anyone who refuses to embrace That Old Time Religion version of Christianity it hucksters for political gain.
For all its Bible-thumping, the Religious Right shows scant respect for scripture, cherry-picking scriptural passages that best fit its social and political agenda and ignoring others. 
Both Testaments, for example, call for radical hospitality to the stranger.  The Religious Right wants to close the borders. 
Jewish and Christian Scripture obliges us to care for the orphaned, widowed, and poor.  The Religious Right despises “welfare bums.” 
The two Testaments consistently warn against the abuse of power, while offering only a handful of observations about sexual conduct.  The Religious Right obsesses over sexual morality to the point of lechery, but remains relatively silent about social injustice.
Jesus’ moral teachings in the Gospels center on nonviolent love.  The Religious Right never saw a weapons procurement bill it didn’t back.
Again and again, despite its biblical rhetoric, the Religious Right favors Caesar over God.  This arrogant doublespeak has not gone unnoticed, and it’s undermined the credibility of Christianity in America.
Because the media can’t seem to get enough of the Religious Right’s antics—after all, reportage of outrageous sectarian positions makes for good copy—thousands of otherwise thoughtful people now believe that the Religious Right and Christianity are synonymous.  Thanks to this confusion, those who otherwise might have explored the faith with open minds and hearts are repelled by it.
Moreover, national surveys routinely reveal that Millennials turn away from Christianity primarily because they’re turned off by the Religious Right’s joyless puritanism.  Data also show that a sizable portion of once-churched Christians―”nones”―leave because of the Religious Right’s splenetic intolerance and transparent politicking.
But the good news is that the tide seems to be turning. The Religious Right’s jaundiced presidential endorsement can’t but reveal the movement for what it is:  an unscrupulous political machine that has nothing to do with genuine Christianity and everything to do with lust for power.  This exposure surely numbers its days.
Now, for we mere Christians, begins the uphill work of rehabilitating the faith that the Religious Right so besmirched.
--Kerry Walters

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Friday, August 12, 2016

Ep. 12 of LBC Podcast -- Jeff Jackson, NC State Senator, 37th District

**If you're new to podcasts, check out the explanation at the bottom of the page**

Jeff Jackson in Afganistan 
In this episode, we talk with Senator Jeff Jackson of NC Senate District 37. Jeff talks about the realities of being a Democratic Senator in a state government that's beholden to far right interests and how he's fighting for an independent commission to redraw district lines to better reflect the bipartisan realities of the state.

Jeff talks about how a master's degree in philosophy and his experience as a state prosecutor make him a better senator. He also breaks down the North Carolina gubernatorial election and gives tips on finding the humanity in local politics.

Download the podcast from iTunes here (subscribe in your podcasts app on your iPhone!)
Android phones download from Stitcher
Or stream from Soundcloud below.

In the podcast, we listen to the speech Jeff gave to the general assembly about the unfairness of releasing budgets written without any minority input. If you don't listen to the full podcast, at least listen to this speech.

We want to thank our two sponsors this week:
The Photobooth: by Andy Cox Photography
This is a full-service mobile portrait studio. Unlike those other "touch-screen" boxes they offer a professional studio photography experience with a professionally trained photographer. Prints are produced within minutes of a portrait session so that guests can leave after a session with a souvenir.

Front Porch Fest:  Sept 2-4 near Stuart, VA.
Headliners include Zach Deputy, The Hip Abduction, Laura Reed, Trongone Band and Big Daddy Love.

--Brian Paul Swenk

If you enjoy, please sign the email list on the left and follow:

***If you are new to podcasts here is a quick explanation. Podcasts are basically a recorded radio/audio show that can be downloaded and/or streamed to your phone, tablet, or computer.  If you have an iPhone, you have a podcast app on there already. Open it and search "Lonesome Banjo Chronicles." If you click "subscribe," the latest episode will download automatically when you're connected to wifi, or you can manually download any episode whenever you like. If you have any other type of phone, download the Soundcloud app, search for Lonesome Banjo Chronicles, and you can stream from there.  Hope this helps. Thanks for the support!***

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration featuring Warren Haynes, Bethel, NY, 8/6/16 FULL SHOW

Set 1:
Dark Star
Bird Song
Crazy Fingers
Shakedown Street
Here Comes Sunshine
China Cat Sunflower
Scarlet Begonias
Morning Dew

Set 2:
Uncle John's Band
Touch of Grey
Days Between
West L.A. Fadeaway
Blues for Allah
Terrapin Station
Terrapin Refrain

--Brian Paul Swenk

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Best Music, Shows, and Books of the Summer (2016)

Will 2016 go down in history as "The Year of Donald Trump" or "The Year of Stranger Things?"

One is about a horrific monster from the netherworld with a distorted, blood-sucking face coming up to feed on the weak, and the other is a fantastic 80s throwback TV show that everyone is raving about.

In fact, 2016 is a great year to experience American culture through art, music, and storytelling.

Here are a few highlights:

Stranger Things (Netflix) -- If I had gotten this article together 3 weeks ago, I would have been in front of at least some of you on the near-perfection of this show. But at this point, you've either watched it or are planning to watch it. This show deserves all of the accolades being thrown at it, but I'll just add this: whatever show you're currently into will immediately take a backseat until you finish Stranger Things. It's not just a show of great writing and acting, but it's just so damn fun from beginning to end.

Mr Robot -- A dark, stylistic show that explores the fine line between genius and madness while throwing in some computer hacking, S&M, and anti-corporatism to keep things interesting and topical.

The Americans -- After hearing this show consistently mentioned in the "best of" conversations, we started watching it and are in the middle of the 2nd season. It definitely lives up to the hype and does a great job blurring the lines of what we hold to be true in the Cold War.

Phish 2016 Summer Tour-- While Dead and Company were receiving all the attention of the jam band community, little ole Phish was quietly moving from East to West playing some of the best shows of their career. The only question left to be asked is, "Is 2016 the best tour ever or just one of the best?" Many are comparing it to their mid-90s tours, and as far as energy goes, they are comparable, but in my opinion, for pure inspired on-the-spot creativity, 2016 will go down as the best yet. If you love Phish, do whatever you can to get the recordings--especially shows from SPAC, The Gorge, and San Francisco. The band played 205 songs in 20 shows, 84 of them were only played once during the tour. The Phish is on The Fire.

7/15/16 The Gorge Amphitheater, George, WA, Full Show

Dead and Company -- of course.  This formation has exceeded even the highest expectations in both the quality of music and, even more surprisingly, the acceptance from the Deadhead community that holds the playing of Garcia on a sacred level. Oteil and Mayer have proved to be the perfect combination to revive the original spirit of the music, much like Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks did for the Allman Brothers.

Small Music Festivals -- With many national festivals canceling for financial reasons, smaller, local festivals are growing by giving fans and bands a more engaging experience. Find one near you and take a chance with it.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari -- This book was first published in English in 2014 and has slowly made its way up to the national level by being featured on various NPR shows and being consistently labeled a "must-read" by intellectual explorers. Most recently Bill Gates included it on his "10 books to take if you were marooned on a desert island" list.

Harari is an expert at conveying the grand historical theories with ease and excitement. But unlike many experts, Harari is not afraid to argue his opinions with confidence, knowing he doesn't have the watertight evidence to fully back them up. I love when smart people are willing to take intellectual chances; even when you see the obvious holes in the arguments, you're still better off for experiencing them fully. This aligns with one of the greatest questions you can ask someone: What do you believe that you can't prove?

Tribe by Sebastian Junger. Junger is one of the many writers listing Sapiens as one of the most important books of modern times, and Tribe is basically a spinoff of it. Junger explores the deep psychological and emotional connection soldiers form with each other during battle. We assume war must be the worst experience possible, but why do so many returning soldiers want to go back? Junger believes that the bonds formed within a combat unit tap into the evolution of millions of years of tribal living, and the tight emotional connections are powerful enough to overcome the daily danger and possible death.

Revisionist History, by Malcolm Gladwell. The premise of this great show is to look back at events and institutions with fresh eyes and discover hidden truths about their functions and societal effects. The first three episodes look at education, from gifted inner-city kids to the multi-million dollar university donations. You won't look at college costs the same way. In one of the more compelling episodes, Gladwell investigates with "stuck accelerator" phenomenon in vehicles that was responsible for over a dozen deaths and billions of dollars of fines and recalls. Be sure to start from the first episode.

Trumpcast by Jacob Weisberg. As bad as things are in today's Presidential race, the rise of Trump can teach us more about who we are and what we want, both good and bad, politically and culturally than any other event. This podcast does a great job exploring every angle, and hearing trump impersonator John Di Domenico read his actual tweets is worth the download alone.

Outside of the political climate, 2016 is a great year for American music, arts, and culture. We are experiencing a true Golden Age of Writing that's easily accessible in television, podcasts, fiction, and non-fiction. Each discovery leads to another mind-blowing book, show, or set of ideas and theories from some of the most fascinating minds alive. In the age of the internet, there's no excuse not to find them and enjoy every second.  

--Brian Paul Swenk

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Visit Lonesome Banjo Chronicles Podcast to stream and download podcasts

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Reality of Voting 3rd party in 2016

As this country chooses a President, we are faced with deciding between two candidates that both have historically high negative ratings. If you go anywhere near social media political posts you'll notice people are practically screaming their refusal to vote for either Trump or Clinton and will, instead, vote 3rd party. In most elections these well-intentioned voting protesters are brushed aside beside the 9/11 truthers and chemtrail conspiracy theorists. In some years, when a 3rd party actually influences an election, such as Perot in 1992 and Nader in 2000, the 3rd party voters rest easy thinking they've sent a strong message to the party elites that will fundamentally reshape the party, which, unfortunately, never seems to happen.

But in 2016, with serial-liar and sociopath Donald Trump one election mishap away from being able to launch nuclear weapons toward someone that insulted him on twitter, the 3rd party voting option becomes a matter of public safety (and for once we can use that phrase in the literal sense.)

Writer Clay Shirky has written the best piece about what 3rd party voting actually means that I've seen yet. Good writing has the power to alter your choice or behavior, great writing has the power to blow through the walls of the reinforcing narratives we continuously tell ourselves so we can make a more enlightened decision. This, I believe, is the latter.

There’s No Such Thing As A Protest Vote
(Italics emphasis mine)

We’re in the season of protest vote advocacy, with writers of all political stripes making arguments for third-party candidates (Jill Stein, Gary Johnson), write-in votes (Bernie Sanders, Rod Silva), or refusing to vote altogether (#NeverTrump, #BernieOrBust.) For all the eloquence and passion and rage in these arguments, however, they suffer from a common flaw: there is no such thing as a protest vote.

The authors of these pieces rarely line up their preferred Presidential voting strategies — third-party, write-in, refusal — with the electoral system as it actually exists. In 2016, that system will offer 130 million or so voters just three options:

A. I prefer Donald Trump be President, rather than Hillary Clinton.
B. I prefer Hillary Clinton be President, rather than Donald Trump.
C. Whatever everybody else decides is OK with me.

That’s it. Those are the choices. All strategies other than a preference for Trump over Clinton or vice-versa reduce to Option C.

People who believe in protest votes do so because they confuse sending a message with receiving one. You can send any message you like: “I think Jill Stein should be President” or “I think David Duke should be President” or “I think Park Eunsol should be President.”

Similarly, you can send any message you like by not voting. You can say you are sitting out the election because both parties are neo-liberal or because an election without Lyndon LaRouche is a sham or because 9/11 was an inside job. The story you tell yourself about your political commitments are yours to construct.

But it doesn’t matter what message you think you are sending, because no one will receive it. No one is listening. The system is set up so that every choice other than ‘R’ or ‘D’ boils down to “I defer to the judgement of my fellow citizens.” It’s easy to argue that our system shouldn’t work like that. It’s impossible to argue it doesn’t work like that.

This is frustrating, of course, but that’s how our Presidential elections are set up. Democracies alternate the coalition in power, but different systems do so in different ways. In multi-party systems, voters get the satisfaction of voting for smaller, ideologically purer factions — environmental parties, anti-immigrant parties, and so on. The impure compromises come when those factions are forced to form coalitions large enough to govern. The inevitable tradeoffs are part of the governing process, not the electoral process.

In America, by contrast, the coalitions are the parties. Our system also produces alternation of power, and requires compromises among competing interests, but those compromises happen within long-standing caucuses; issues come and go, but the two parties remain. This forces the citizens themselves to get involved in the disappointing tradeoffs, rather than learning about them after the fact. No one gets what they want in a democracy; two-party systems simply rub voters’ noses in that fact.

People who plan to throw away their vote on Option C usually argue that their imagined protest won’t be futile, by offering one of three theories of change: their protest will work as a boycott, or as a defection, or as a step to third-party victory.

The first theory of change, the boycott, assumes that if people simply refuse to vote, it will threaten the establishment with loss of legitimacy. This will in turn cause that establishment to become more responsive to the demands of the boycotters.

Boycotts can work in countries where voting is mandatory, because not voting can be an act of civil disobedience. In the United States, however, voting is not and has never been required. (Our elites have always preferred minimal participation, and laziness is a cheaper tool than suppression.) In Presidential elections, non-voters always outnumber voters who choose the winning candidate. With that much passive non-participation, active non-participation gets lost.

The second theory of change is defection, where voters believe they can force a loss on either the Democrats or the Republicans, and thus make that party adopt their preferred policies, rather than face another such loss in the future.

Damage from defection has sometimes happened, as with James Weaver taking votes from Benjamin Harrison in 1892, but the two most widely-discussed recent cases — Ross Perot taking votes from George H.W. Bush in 1992 and Ralph Nader from Al Gore in 2000 — are not clear cut. In Perot’s case, he drew votes from Clinton and Bush; in Nader’s case, it’s not obvious how many of his voters would otherwise have stayed home.

Furthermore, even in rare cases where there was the damage, the losing parties did not heed the defecting voters: the Republicans did not become notably friendlier to urban workers after Weaver, nor did the Democrats become more notably anti-corporate from the perceived threat of Nader.

The third theory of change from protest voting is the obvious one: outright victory. This has never happened. Third-party candidates come in third, for the obvious reason.

In two centuries of American politics, only 54 such candidates have ever received over one vote in a hundred. None won, and the only second place loss, Teddy Roosevelt, had already been President twice, before he ran as an outsider against his hand-picked successor, William Taft. He failed at the election, but succeeded in splitting the Republican vote so badly a Democrat became President for the first time in twenty years.

It’s clear why third-party candidates want votes, but it’s not clear why voters would want third parties. The Green Party, for example, hasn’t elected so much as a member of Congress, much less fielded a credible Presidential candidate, and their organization does no actual environmental work. Greenpeace helps the environment more in any given week than the Green Party has in its entire existence, a problem common to third parties generally. If you’re a Libertarian, you’re better off donating to Cato than voting for Gary Johnson. If you’re a paleoconservative, you’re better off donating to the Rockford Institute than voting for Darrell Castle.

This is the legacy of protest votes: None of the proposed theories of change change anything. Boycotts don’t work, since non-voting is a normal case. Defection elects the greater of two evils from the voter’s point of view — and that’s if it works — while doing little to the parties. And victory never happens; not one third-party candidate has ever won, or come close. Advocates of wasted votes don’t bring up this record of universal failure, because their votes aren’t about changing political results. They’re about salving wounded pride.

Throwing away your vote on a message no one will hear, and which will change no outcome, is sometimes presented as ‘voting your conscience’, but that’s got it exactly backwards; your conscience is what keeps you from doing things that feel good to you but hurt other people. Citizens who vote for third-party candidates, write-in candidates, or nobody aren’t voting their conscience, they are voting their ego, unable to accept that a system they find personally disheartening actually applies to them.

The people advocating protest votes believe they deserve a choice that aligns closely with their political preferences. With 130 million voters, hundreds of issues, and just two candidates, this idea doesn’t even make mathematical sense, much less political sense. No matter who you are, voting isn’t about you. You are not promised a candidate you love, or even like, because no one is guaranteed that. Presidential voting is an exercise in distinguishing the lesser of two evils. Making that choice is all that’s asked of us, and all that’s on offer.

Picking the lesser of two evils is an easy choice to dislike (who likes it?) but when a winning candidate has to appeal to 65 million or so citizens with diverse interests, that’s a forced move for most voters most of the time. People who choose Option C aren’t being purer about their political choices — they’ve abandoned politics altogether. (The strategy of voting third-party in safely red or blue states just makes this explicit; those voters only indulge their fantasy that their vote will make a difference if they’re guaranteed it won’t.)

None of this creates an obligation to vote, or to vote for one of the two viable candidates. It is, famously, a free country, and you can vote for anyone you like, or for no one. But if you do, don’t kid yourself — and certainly don’t try to kid anyone else — that you are creating some kind of positive political change. Noisily opting out as a way of demonstrating your pique is an understandable human act. It’s just not a political act. It’s an elaborate way of making the rest of us do the work of deciding.


We don't need a 3rd party revolution, we need a voting revolution in the primaries and in the state and local races.  We need to support strong, principled leaders year after year, not the attention seeking political whores that only pop up every 4 years to suckle on the anger of the American people. I guarantee that if you make the effort you will find young, smart, hardworking people in your state legislature that are barely clinging on to their office because so few people vote in non-presidential years.  If you want a political revolution, that's where we should start.    

--Brian Paul Swenk

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