Monday, July 17. 2017
Music: Current count 28428  rated (+38), 364  unrated (+3).
Sad to note that Joe Fields, still active at 88, died last week.
Since the 1960s, when he started out with Prestige Records, he has
been responsible for an extraordinary number of great mainstream
jazz records. He founded a series of labels -- Cobblestone, Muse,
Onyx, High Note, and Savant, running the latter two with his son
Barney since 1996. Along the way he cultivated many artist careers --
perhaps most notably, Houston Person started with him at Prestige
and followed him through Muse and High Note. If Fields had a
signature, it was picking up artists discarded from major labels
and giving them second (or third) careers.
Pending queue only has six albums in it, including the four that
arrived last week. I only reviewed three records from CD last week
(two came up A- after I played them a dozen or more times -- the
other A- got three spins on Napster). Still, a pretty high rated
count, so not much else got that kind of attention -- and the six
EPs went especially fast.
As promised, I got into the download queue last week: 10 albums,
mostly from ECM, none as good as Craig Taborn's Daylight Ghosts
last week. I probably have another dozen saved up, and could dig up
more if I went through my mail (although some may have expired). A
few of the items below came from mid-year lists by Phil Overeem and
Matt Rice (linked to last week). Others came from thumbing through
the August DownBeat.
The latter has their 65th Annual Critics Poll results, which I
voted in and annotated my
ballot back in April.
Especially pleased to see Don Cherry and Herbie Nichols added to
their Hall of Fame (along with George Gershwin and Eubie Blake --
no complaints there either; the latter three came from their
Veterans Committee). The category winners -- minus a few I
care less about; RS = Rising Star; in parens: first number is
my 1-2-3 pick (if winner on my ballot), otherwise my pick and
finish (if on list); ergo: (1) means my pick won:
- Trumpet: Wadada Leo Smith (1); RS: Taylor Ho Bynum (1).
- Trombone: Steve Turre (8 Roswell Rudd); RS: Marshall Gilkes (9 Joe Fiedler).
- Soprano Saxophone: Jane Ira Bloom (8 Sam Newsome); RS: Christine Jensen (16 Mike Ellis).
- Alto Saxophone: Rudresh Mahanthappa (François Carrier); RS: Matana Roberts (13 Dave Rempis).
- Tenor Saxophone: Charles Lloyd (14 David Murray); RS: Noah Preminger (5 Ellery Eskelin).
- Baritone Saxophone: Gary Smulyan (4 Hamiet Bluiett); RS: Dave Rempis (5 Gebhard Ullmann).
- Clarinet: Anat Cohen (5 Ben Goldberg); RS: Oscar Noriega (19 Avram Fefer).
- Piano: Kenny Barron (Irène Schweizer); RS: Kris Davis (1).
- Guitar: Mary Halvorson (2; 8 Marc Ribot); RS: Gilad Hekselman (Samo Salamon).
- Bass: Christian McBride (6 William Parker); RS: Eric Revis (7 Ingebrigt Håker Flaten).
- Violin: Regina Carter (8 Jason Kao Hwang); RS: Sara Caswell (10 Szilard Mezei).
- Drums: Jack De Johnette (Gerry Hemingway); RS: Jeff Ballard (20 Paal Nilssen-Love).
Looking back, several of my picks were just whims. I probably should
have voted for Bloom over Newsome, and I can't fault De Johnette (cf.
this week's record -- drumming is amazing there, something I can't
imagine anyone else matching) or Revis, or begrudging any recognition
of Barron. Rempis started on alto, but I think his tenor sax is his
main instrument now -- still, I don't think of him on baritone at all,
so that came as a surprise. Two of my picks were write-ins (Schweizer
and Salamon -- both serious ballot omissions), so of course they didn't
finish. Smith and Halvorson also won other categories, so they were
featured in articles.
Preminger was well down my list at tenor sax (a long list), but he's
put together a fine series of relatively mainstream albums (two A-,
one ***, two **), so I shouldn't be surprised that he's getting some
recognition. I also credit Mahanthappa with six A- (or in one case A)
albums, so he's a pretty reasonable pick (albeit in a real competitive
category: Carrier has 10 A- records, Anthony Braxton 19, Steve Lehman
5 + 3 in Fieldwork + 1 with Mahanthappa [the A], not that I counted
Continuing to make progress on compiling my jazz reviews into two
guides: a haphazard retro-survey of the 20th century, and a somewhat
more systematic guide to post-2000 (21st century) jazz. I started by
collecting the reviews from their various column sources into a huge
text file. Since then I've been scanning through my
database files, adding dates and
instruments where I had them, pulling out whatever reviews I had, and
adding any other rated but unreviewed records. It took many weeks to
Jazz '80s-'90s (1516
artists). Since then, I picked up three much shorter files:
Latin Jazz (147),
Pop Jazz (249), and
The pop jazz list was rather depressing, as it is far from
comprehensive: in fact, mostly concentrated in the early Jazz CG
days (2004-06) after which it became clear that I wasn't likely
to review those records favorably. It would probably be easier
to cut them out than it would be to cover them anywhere near as
comprehensively as I cover mainstream and avant jazz. One saving
grace was that it lowered the grade curve, although probably not
The "avant-garde" list was more interesting, but again is far
from comprehensive. The definition I tended to follow was AMG's
genre classification, which itself stradled minimalism, experimental
rock, and modern (or, a term I prefer, post-classical) composition,
but only rarely avant-jazz. I tried to take an interest in such music
back in the 1970s, so one thing I noticed was that several dozen LPs
I vaguely recall never got into the database (e.g., I probably had
five or so albums by Karlheinz Stockhausen, but none were listed).
On the other hand, the "shopping list" included quite a few albums
from Kyle Gann's 1998-99 Consumer Guides -- most by people I hadn't
heard of otherwise.
The compilation files are now up to 746 pages (20th century, 288k
words) and 827 pages (21st century, 403k words). There are a few odds
and ends that I've been including but were tucked away in odd database
files (e.g., Astor Piazzolla in "latin," John Fahey in "folk"), but
basically the 20th century compilation is about as large as it's going
to get. Page sizes are different, but that probably makes it about
25% of the size of The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings -- a
human impossibility to match. On the other hand, the 21st century book
will continue to grow, perhaps considerably. The
Jazz (2000-) file will add 2248
Vocals (2000-) has another 484
Back in April I estimated that I might have the compilation done
sometime from August to October. Looks like the most I can do in a
day is about 150 artists, so I'm looking at another 20 days actual
work time -- for various reasons I've had trouble spending more than
4 days/week on this, so let's figure another 5 weeks. Labor Day?
Maybe. Not sure what happens then, but I'll try to convert it to
some distributable format. Still needs a massive amount of editing
to be publishable. Don't know when/if that will ever happen.
New records rated this week:
- John Abercrombie Quartet: Up and Coming (2016 , ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
- Sebastien Ammann: Color Wheel (2015 , Skirl): [cd]: A-
- Theo Bleckmann: Elegy (2016 , ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
- Jaimie Branch: Fly or Die (2017, International Anthem): [r]: B+(**)
- Charly Bliss: Guppy (2017, Barsuk): [r]: B+(**)
- Avishai Cohen: Cross My Palm With Silver (2016 , ECM): [r]: B+(**)
- Jack DeJohnette/Larry Grenadier/John Meddeski/John Scofield: Hudson (2017, Motéma): [r]: A-
- Bill Frisell/Thomas Morgan: Small Town (2016 , ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
- Golden Pelicans: S/T (2014, Total Punk, EP): [r]: B+(***)
- Golden Pelicans: Oldest Ride Longest Line (2015, Total Punk, EP): [r]: B+(**)
- Golden Pelicans: Disciples of Blood (2017, Goner, EP): [r]: B+(***)
- Giovanni Guidi: Ida Lupino (2015 , ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
- Benedikt Jahnel Trio: The Invariant (2016 , ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
- Sean Jones: Live From Jazz at the Bistro (2017, Mack Avenue): [r]: B+(*)
- Aaron Parks/Ben Street/Billy Hart: Find the Way (2015 , ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
- Nicki Parrott: Dear Blossom: A Tribute to Blossom Dearie (2017, Arbors): [r]: B+(*)
- Nicki Parrott: Unforgettable: The Nat King Cole Songbook (2016 , Venus): [r]: B+(**)
- Chris Potter: The Dreamer Is the Dream (2016 , ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
- Karriem Riggins: Headnod Suite (2017, Stones Throw): [r]: B+(**)
- Louis Sclavis: Asian Fields Variations (2016 , ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
- Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: Ruler Rebel (2017, Stretch Music/Ropeadope): [r]: B+(**)
- Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: Diaspora (2017, Stretch Music/Ropeadope): [r]: B+(**)
- Sex Mob: Cultural Capital (2016, Rex): [r]: B+(**)
- ShitKid: ShitKid (2016, PNKSLM, EP): [bc]: B-
- ShitKid: EP 2 (2017, PNKSLM, EP): [bc]: B
- ShitKid: Fish (2017, PNKSLM): [bc]: B+(*)
- Rotem Sivan: Antidote (2017, Alma): [r]: B+(**)
- Bria Skonberg: With a Twist (2017, Okeh): [r]: B+(*)
- Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet: December Avenue (2016 , ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
- Katie Thiroux: Off Beat (2016 , Capri): [cd]: A-
- Florian Wittenberg: Don't Push the Piano Around (2017, NurNichtNur): [cd]: B+(**)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
- Miracle Steps: Music From the Fourth World 1983-2017 (1983-2017 , Optimo): [bc]: B+(***)
- Allen Ravenstine + Albert Dennis: >Terminal Drive (1975 , Smog Veil, EP): [dl]: B
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- Satoko Fujii/Natsuki Tamura: Kisaragi (Libra)
- Hal Galper and the Youngbloods: Live at the Cota Jazz Festival (Origin)
- Laszlo Gardony: Serious Play (Solo Piano) (Sunnyside)
- Brian Landrus Orchestra: Generations (BlueLand): July 28
Sunday, July 16. 2017
Might as well go back to my original title, since this week I have
more comments (albeit fewer than usual links), and "Week Links" never
was a very good title. Browser limits are still keeping me from seeing
as much as I used to, but now that I've figured out how to work around
a couple serious bugs in Chromium I'm getting more done. Mostly rounded
these up on Saturday -- good thing since I chewed up most of Sunday
cooking a small dinner-for-two (a cut-back version of
jambalaya) and doing some
tree trimming (much too hot here to do that).
Getting very close to the end of Bernie Sanders' Our Revolution:
A Future to Believe In. First half is a campaign journal where it
turns out he was as delighted meeting us as we were finding him. Second
is a policy manual which doesn't venture as far as I would but strikes
me as a well-reasoned merger of the viable and the practical. I really
don't get people who see him as too idealistic, or as too compromised.
One thing that's missing is any real treatment of foreign policy. Some
ambitious Democrat needs to stake out a radical shift there, returning
to the belief in international law that Wilson and Roosevelt advocated,
while paring back America's penchant for military and/or clandestine
intervention. But while he touches most other bases, I do believe that
Bernie is correct that inequality is the central political issue of our
times, and the more we do on that, the better most other things will
Dean Baker: Obamacare is only 'exploding' in red states: Most of
the problems with ACA private insurance exchanges are concentrated in
states with Republican governors/legislatures, who were also culpable
for failing to expand Medicaid, leaving millions of poorer Americans
without health care insurance. "Where Republican governors have sought
to sabotage the program, they have largely succeeded. Where Democratic
governors have tried to make the ACA work, they too have largely
succeeded." That Trump thinks ACA is a disaster says more about the
bubble he gets his information from.
Dean Baker: How Rich Would Bill Gates Be Without His Copyright on
Windows? Gates' personal fortune is estimated at $70 billion,
and the copyright is at the root of that, followed by various
patents and business practices that led to Microsoft's conviction
for violating antitrust laws -- the last major antitrust case any
administration in Washington bothered to prosecute. As so-called
intellectual property goes, copyright is a minor problem, as long
as we're talking about works of art -- the latest extended terms
are way too long, and we would be better off with a program to buy
up older copyrights and move work into the public domain. Copyright
of software code has rarely proved a problem: what killed Novell's
efforts to produce a compatible DOS wasn't copyright: Microsoft's
illegal/predatory business practices protected their monopoly. The
real alternative is free software, which has been very successful
even without public funding -- fairly modest investments there
would pay huge dividends to the public. Baker also talks about
patents, which are a much more daunting problem, even beyond their
obvious costs. ("The clearest case is prescription drugs where we
will spend over $440 billion this year for drugs that would likely
sell for less than $80 billion in a free market.") Patents allow
owners to stake out broad claims and sue others for infringement
even when the latter developed innovations completely independently.
Patents made more sense when they protected capital investments for
manufacturing, but that's never the case for software patents --
they exist purely to line corporate pockets by harassing potential
competition (including from free software).
Cristina Cabrera: Poll: Majority of Republicans Now Say Colleges Are
Bad for America: The poll question is are colleges and universities
having a "negative effect on the way things are going in the country."
In 2015, 37% of Republicans thought that; today 58%. Before 2015, the
Republican figures were relatively stable (56% favorable in 2010, 54%
in 2015), and Democrats have become slightly more favorable, 65% in
2010, 72% today. The shift in Republican views coincided with the
realization that the Republican presidential primaries would turn
into contests between dumb and dumber, where candidates competed to
show how little they understood the modern world and how everything
worked (or, increasingly often, didn't work). As I recall, the first
to stake out an anti-college position was Rick Santorum, and at the
time I found his position shocking. For starters, it ignores the
fact that we completely depend on science and advanced technology
for nearly every aspect of our way of life -- what happens to us
when we stop educating smart people to develop and maintain that
technology? Nor is it just technology: the right's prejudices have
a tough time surviving any form of open debate -- which is why
conservatives have increasingly retreated into their own private
institutions. Still, this is anomalous: colleges have always been
institutions of, by, and for the elites, dominated by old money
while occasionally opening the doors to exceptionally talented
outsiders -- especially ones eager to join the system (Clinton
and Obama are obvious examples, ones that have left an especially
bitter taste for Republicans). And while the post-WWII expansion
opened those doors wider for middle class Americans, if anything
the trend has reversed lately, as prohibitive pricing is making
college more elitist again. Still, this shows an increasingly
common form of disconnect between Republican elites and masses:
the latter are driven mostly by pushing their hot buttons, and
all they have to do is get people so worked up they won't realize
the incoherency of anti-elite and anti-diversity positions, or
the fact that the rich still have their legacy privileges, so
will be the last to be deprived of higher education's blessings.
Jason Ditz: House Approves $696 Billion Military Spending Bill:
Includes $75 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, which is
subject to change if Trump approves more "surges." Of all Trump's
budget changes, more Defense spending struck me as the easiest to
pass, because the War Lobby extends beyond Republicans and well into
the Democratic Party. More Ditz pieces:
House NDAA Amendments Would Limit US Participation in Yemen War;
Trump Wants Authority to Build New Bases in Iraq, Syria.
Dahlia Lithwick: Trump's election commission has been a disaster. It's
going exactly as planned.
As Kobach put it to Ari Berman last month, his whole master plan for
world dominion was so simple: to create in Kansas -- where he is running
for governor and has been secretary of state for a number of years --
a template for programmatic vote suppression nationwide. If he created
"the absolute best legal framework," other states and the federal
government would follow. Somehow, though, Trump's "election integrity"
commission turned into one of the most colossal cockups in an
administration already overflowing with them.
Marc Lynch: Three big lessons of the Qatar crisis.
Reza Marashi/Tyler Cullis: Trump Is Violating the Iran Deal
Josh Marshall: A Theory of the Case [07-08]:
During the election I frequently referenced one of my favorite quotes
and insights from the insight, which came from Slate's Will Saletan:
"The GOP is a failed state. Donald Trump is its warlord." To me this
clever turn of phrase captures at a quite deep level why Trump was
able to take over the GOP. The key though is that once Trump secured
the Republican nomination, once he became the Republican and Hillary
Clinton the Democrat, all the forces of asymmetric partisan polarization
kicked into place and ensured that essentially all self-identified
Republicans and Republican-leaning independents fell into line and
supported Trump. . . .
Trump embodies what I've come to think of as a "dominationist"
politics which profoundly resonates with the base of the GOP and has
an expanding resonance across the party. Party leaders made the
judgment that since they couldn't defeat Trump they should join him,
hoping he would deliver on a policy agenda favoring money and using
public policy to center risk on individuals. That hope has been
Jack O'Donnell: Trump put family first when I worked for him. It was
Julianne Schultz: The world we have bequeathed to our children feels
darker than the one I knew
Tim Shorrock: Kushner and Bannon Team Up to Privatize the War in
Afghanistan: Also Erik Prince and Stephen Feinberg, who stand
to make most of the money in the deal.
Tierney Sneed: Insurers Torch New Cruz Provision in TrumpCare: 'Simply
Unworkable': The Cruz amendment that was supposed to save McConnell's
Obamacare repeal/replace bill would allow insurance companies to offer
lower-priced plans that don't meet minimal federal guidelines for health
insurance. Of course, what makes such plans cheaper is that they don't
adequately insure the people who buy them.
Timothy Snyder: Trump is ushering in a dark new conservatism: A
historian stuck in Eastern Europe's "Bloodlands" between Hitler and
Stalin tries to drive a wedge between conservatives and Trump:
In his committed mendacity, his nostalgia for the 1930s, and his acceptance
of support from a foreign enemy of the United States, a Republican president
has closed the door on conservatism and opened the way to a darker form of
politics: a new right to replace an old one.
Conservatives were skeptical guardians of truth. . . .
The contest between conservatives and the radical right has a history
that is worth remembering. Conservatives qualified the Enlightenment of
the 18th century by characterizing traditions as the deepest kind of
fact. Fascists, by contrast, renounced the Enlightenment and offered
willful fictions as the basis for a new form of politics. The
mendacity-industrial complex of the Trump administration makes
conservatism impossible, and opens the floodgates to the sort of
drastic change that conservatives opposed.
Pace Snyder, I'm not inclined to equate Trump with Hitler, but I'm
also unwilling to credit "conservatives" with the moral or intellectual
conscience or coherence to oppose either. The one constant in the whole
history of conservatism is the belief that some people should rule over
others, and more often than not they're willing to discard any principles
they may previously have found convenient to accomplish their goal. You
see that in how willingly pretty much the whole right, and not just in
Germany and Italy, admired Hitler and Mussolini. Trump, too, captured
the right by offering the one thing it most wished for: victory. But
there is a difference: Hitler had his own agenda, one rooted in the
smoldering resentments of the Great War and the collapse of Germany's
Empire. Trump's notion of America the Great may not be much different,
but his ideas and plans are strictly derivative, a parroted, almost
cartoonish distillation of recent conservative propaganda -- a bundle
of clichés and incoherent rage, selected purely because that's what
seems to work. No doubt some Trump supporters, especially among the
"alt-right" white nationalists, can dress this up darkly. One thing
we can be sure of is that we won't be saved by conservatives.
Jeff Stein: The Kodiak Kickback: the quiet payoff for an Alaska senator
in the Senate health bill: Looks like the fix is in for "moderate"
Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski:
Buried in Senate Republicans' new health care bill is a provision to
throw about $1 billion at states where premiums run 75 percent higher
than the national average.
Curiously, there's just one state that meets this seemingly arbitrary
designation: Alaska. . . .
Republicans' health care bill will cost Alaska Medicaid recipients
about $3 billion. In exchange, they're trying to buy off Murkowski with
far less in funding for the Obamacare exchanges. We'll know soon if it
Jonathan Swan: Scoop: Bannon pushes tax hike for wealthy: Technically,
Bannon fills the same role as Karl Rove, but I've never seen anyone refer
to him as "Trump's Brain," even though Trump clearly needs one. Rove was
a political strategist in the conventional sense, a role that became more
prominent under Bush than under Clinton or Obama because it was clearer
that Bush needed one. So does Trump, but whereas Rove had a pretty good
sense of public opinion even if only to manipulate it, Bannon seems to
pull his ideas straight out of his arse. Besides, Trump's subcontracted
every policy issue to his straight conservative fellow travelers, leaving
Bannon isolated. So that Bannon wants something doesn't clearly mean a
thing. Still, higher taxes on the superrich would be a popular (and for
that matter populist) move, but don't stand a chance in a Republican
Congress almost exclusively dedicated to the opposite. Besides, as this
piece makes clear, Trump has others -- Gary Cohn and Steven Mnuchin are
prominent names here -- pulling in the other direction. Biggest
non-surprise in the article: "They're becoming far less wedded to
Matt Taibbi: Russiagate and the Magnitsky Affair, Linked Again:
Much interesting background on the Magnitsky thing, which goes a long
way to explaining why Putin remains so suspicious and ominous even if
you reject the neocons' "new cold war" aspirations. I personally think
the Trump Jr. meeting/emails are "no big deal" but also suspect that
the Trumps would love to get in on Putin's corruption scams.
Jonathan Taplin: Can the Tech Giants Be Stopped? WSJ story, but
you can read more of it in the link I provided. E.g.:
The precipitous decline in revenue for content creators has nothing to
do with changing consumer preferences for their content. People are not
reading less news, listening to less music, reading fewer books or
watching fewer movies and TV shows. The massive growth in revenue for
the digital monopolies has resulted in the massive loss of revenue for
the creators of content. The two are inextricably linked.
The numbers cited for internet ad revenue are much larger than I
expected, and seem to be almost exclusively concentrated in a handful
of companies. Meanwhile, we need a new and different model, both for
content creation and for internet services. What we have now is little
more than a siphon for draining our money and concentrating it in the
hands of a few vultures. I suppose WSJ thinks they're fighting this
with their paywall, but they're just adding to the problem.
Kenneth P Vogel/Rachel Shorey: Trump's Re-Election Campaign Doubles Its
spending on Legal Fees: So does this mean the campaign is at this
stage mostly a slush fund to defray Trump's legal costs? Too bad Clinton
couldn't run in 2000 when he needed something like to handle that sordid
impeachment affair. As it was, he had to go bankrupt, then recoup his
losses making post-presidential speeches.
Melissa Batchelor Warnke: Democrats are doubling down on the same
vanilla centrism that helped give us President Trump.
Matthew Yglesias: The most important stories of the week, explained:
Senate Republicans released a new health bill; Donald Trump Jr. has a
problem; Christopher Wray is set to be the next FBI director; the CBO
scored Trump's budget. Yglesias previously covered the same stories in
The revised health bill cuts taxes less without doing anything to boost
I don't believe Donald Trump Jr., and neither should you; and
CBO: Trump plan won't balance the budget even with his fake revenue-neutral
Poddy looks into the Kristol Ball of Counterfactuals [No More Mister
Nice Blog]: Attempts to counter an op-ed from John Podhoretz (link in
article) called "Hillary's White House would be no different from
Trump's," which argues:
Trump hasn't done anything in office, other than nominating a Supreme
Court justice and sending a raid to Syria, and Clinton wouldn't have
been able to do anything either, with both Houses of Congress run by
Republicans. Of course she would be more boring than Trump, since she
is evil but not a sower of chaos, but we wouldn't know what we were
missing. The Clinton family melodrama would resemble that of the
Trumps in its ethical compromises, with Clinton Foundation donors
hovering around the White House, which is identical to President
Trump spending every weekend hovering around the golfers and hotel
guests filling his personal coffers.
Podhoretz has one valid point here: that Clinton was going to
have a hard time separating herself and her administration from
the taint of corruption surrounding the Clinton Foundation. Nor
can we really credit much her promises to do so, given how Trump
has found it impossible to fulfill his own promises to isolate
himself from his business interests. Even so, with Clinton the
thicket of corruption complaints would be mostly laughable, blown
up by the hysterical "right-wing noise machine," whereas Trump's
numerous conflicts of interest alrealdy seem to try the patience
of mainstream journalists who'd rather play "gotcha" with Russia.
As for everything else, what Trump has actually managed to do --
even discounting things that Clinton might also have done, like
escalating the wars in Syria and Afghanistan -- has actually been
pretty astonishing. Trump has signed dozens of executive orders
reversing hard-won gains from Obama. He's signalled that the US
government won't be enforcing its civil rights laws anymore. He's
reversed some key openness protections for the Internet. He's
launched a monstrous commission on "voting fraud" that's already
having the effect of reducing voter registration. He's raising
money for a "re-election campaign" four years off, and using that
money to pay his legal bills. His Supreme Court pick is already
paying dividends for the extreme right. He may not have a lot of
legislative accomplishments yet, but he's perilously close on a
measure to repeal Obamacare that will cost more than 20 million
Americans their health insurance, while making health care more
expensive and less accessible for pretty much everyone. That
measure would be a tax bonanza for the very rich, and Republicans
are working on more of those.
The article also posits that a Clinton win would also have tipped
the Senate to the Democrats. Perhaps, but I'd shift the focus a bit:
a Democratic win in the Senate (and even more so one in the House)
would have tipped the presidential election to Clinton. Perhaps she
should have run on that, instead of trying to appeal to suposedly
moderate suburban Republicans to split their ballots and let Clinton
save us from that ogre Trump. Turns out Republicans are too shameless
to care -- anything to get their tax breaks and patronage favors and
to grind workers and their spouses and children to dust.
Still, one lesson Democrats should draw is to never again nominate
anyone so easily viewed as compromised and corrupt.
Monday, July 10. 2017
Music: Current count 28390  rated (+31), 361  unrated (-5).
Not much to say here. The
Pending list is down to five albums,
including this week's three arrivals. The new Free Radicals album spent
several days in the CD changer, finally replaced by some golden oldies --
"We Need a Revolution" emerged as the perfect soundtrack
for reading Bernie Sanders Our Revolution. I was delighted enough
by the new Free Radicals album I went back and checked out their five
previous albums. Houston band with many hangers-on, similar to Boston's
Club D'Elf though less into world music and more into hip-hop.
Aside from Free Radicals, only three more records were reviewed from
CD (or CDR), including Chris Pasin's Xmas album, release date October 6.
So I spent most of the week scrounging around on Napster, checking out
various pop albums including Amber Coffman and Bleachers -- recommended
last Friday in Robert Christgau's
Expert Witness. Having given Lorde's Melodrama an A-, and
Dirty Projectors a C (fairly generous I thought), I've rarely
found an EW more out of sync with my ears. Nor did other well-regarded
recent albums turn out to be very appealing. I even slogged through
The Bob's Burgers Music Album, recommended high in
Matt Rice's Mid-Year Top 30 (five more albums I haven't heard on
that list, though I'm not in a big hurry to get to At the Drive-In).
One thing I looked for was William Parker's Quartets album
here by Tim Niland). I didn't find it, but did notice several
Parker albums I hadn't heard, especially on the Italian Splasc(H)
label, which led me to the albums by Matthew Shipp, Hamid Drake,
Daniel Carter, Albert Beger, and Willem Breuker. I gave up on the
latter when two Penguin Guide ***(*) records didn't pan out.
Finally, I broke down and started playing some of the downloads
I had picked up over the year, including very well regarded albums
by Craig Taborn and Harriet Tubman (number two on
Chris Monsen's 2017 Favorites list, and number three for
Phil Overeem). I still have a couple dozen on the computer, and
probably more untapped in my mail files, so I should keep plugging
away at this. Playing the new Tomasz Stanko as I write this. Should
also see what else (aside from the Mat Maneri) Clean Feed didn't
I'll also note my surprise that both Overeem and Rice are big
fans of Zeal & Ardor's Devil Is Fine (number 1 and 2,
respectively). Christgau liked the album back in
April, and even I gave the record a B+(***) in
May, noting: "fuses black
field hollers (or chain gang chants) with black metal (and a little
xylophone) -- a fairly amusing rather than overbearing combination."
Also, I should issue a correction: Overeem lists (at 12) Dalava:
The Book of Transfigurations, which
last month I incorrectly
identified as "self-released." The label is Songlines.
New records rated this week:
- Bleachers: Gone Now (2017, RCA): [r]: B+(*)
- Brother Ali: All the Beauty in This Whole Life (2017, Rhymesayers): [r]: B+(**)
- Amber Coffman: City of No Reply (2017, Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
- Chano Dominguez: Over the Rainbow (2012 , Sunnyside): [dl]: B+(*)
- Free Radicals: Outside the Comfort Zone (2017, Free Rads): [cd]: A-
- Future Islands: The Far Field (2017, 4AD): [r]: B+(*)
- (Sandy) Alex G: Rocket (2017, Domino): [r]: B
- Goldfrapp: Silver Eye (2017, Mute): [r]: B+(*)
- Vitor Gonçalves: Vitor Gonçalves Quartet (2017, Sunnyside): [r]: B+(*)
- Marika Hackman: I'm Not Your Man (2017, Sub Pop): [r]: B+(**)
- Dusan Jevtovic: No Answer (2016 , Moonjune): [cd]: B+(*)
- Mat Maneri/Evan Parker/Lucian Ban: Sounding Tears (2014 , Clean Feed): [cdr]: B+(*)
- Chris Pasin and Friends: Baby It's Cold Outside (2016 , Planet Arts): [cd]: B
- Craig Taborn: Daylight Ghosts (2016 , ECM): [dl]: A-
- Harriet Tubman: Araminta (2013 , Sunnyside): [dl]: A-
- Glenn Zaleski: Fellowship (2014 , Sunnyside): [dl]: B+(*)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
- Battle Hymns (2017, Quasi Band): [dl]: B+(**)
- The Bob's Burgers Music Album (2010-16 , Sub Pop, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
Old music rated this week:
- Albert Beger's 5: Listening (2004, Earsay): [r]: B+(**)
- Albert Beger/Gerry Hemingway: There's Nothing Better to Do (2011 , OutNow): [bc]: B+(*)
- Willem Breuker Kollektief: In Holland (1981, BV Haast): [r]: B
- Willem Breuker Kollektief: To Remain (1983-89 , BV Haast): [r]: B-
- Daniel Carter/Toby Kasavan/Mark Hennen/William Parker: Feels Like It (2000 , BDE-BDOP): [r]: B+(*)
- Hamid Drake/Albert Beger/William Parker: Evolving Silence Vol. 1 (2005, Earsay): [r]: B+(***)
- Hamid Drake/Albert Beger/William Parker: Evolving Silence Vol. 2 (2005, Earsay): [r]: B+(**)
- Free Radicals: The Rising Tide Sinks All (1998, RWE): [r]: A-
- Free Radicals: Our Lady of Sunny Delights (2000, Rastaman Work Ethic): [r]: B+(**)
- Free Radicals: Aerial Bombardment (2004, Rastaman Work Ethic): [r]: B+(**)
- Free Radicals: The Freedom Fence (2012, Free Radicals): [r]: B+(**)
- Free Radicals: Freedom of Movement (2015, Free Radicals): [r]: B+(***)
- William Parker & the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra: Spontaneous (2002 , Splasc(H)): [r]: B+(*)
- William Parker Bass Quartet Featuring Charles Gayle: Requiem (2004 , Splasc(H)): [r]: B+(**)
- Matthew Shipp Trio: The Trio Plays Ware (2003 , Splasc(H)): [r]: B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- Dave Stryker: Strykin' Ahead (Strikezone): September 1
- Katie Thiroux: Off Beat (Capri): August 17
- Florian Wittenberg: Don't Push the Piano Around (2017, NurNichtNur)
Sunday, July 9. 2017
Not much to show this week. One problem is that I'm still cramped
in terms of what I can search out. Another is that I wasted most of
Sunday on a plumbing task instead of putting the time in here. And I
must admit that said plumbing task -- installing a new kitchen faucet --
left me embarrassed and exhausted: I figured it might take an hour,
but it chewed up more like six (pretty much everything that could go
wrong did go wrong -- from the shutoff valves not working to the
supply hoses not being long enough to the drain plumbing not fitting
back together again properly) and it involved physical contortions
that I'm going to be feeling for at least a week. Moreover, I'm not
even sure I like the fancy "touchless" feature, so it's beginning to
look like a bad shopping decision -- which may be even more
Normally I feel good upon completing a house project (and, indeed,
everything seems to be working properly here, except my shoulders and
hips). So maybe more general depression is taking its toll. No doubt
many of the links below contributed, although there is an evident
shift from stories about the horrors Trump and the Republicans are
scheming to thoughts about how best to resist them, and how to build
an effective, comprehensible alternate vision.
Candice Bernd: How the Koch-Backed Effort to Privatize the Veterans Health
Administration Jeopardizes Everyone's Health Care Future
Brian Beutler: Bernie Sanders and the Progressive Left's Selfless
Defense of Obamacare:
It is easy enough to divide liberals between those who think Obamacare
was an unlovely half-measure that nevertheless improved on the pre-Obamacare
status quo and those who think it was a remarkable achievement on its own
(though there is considerable overlap between these two factions). It is
nearly impossible to find liberals or leftists of any influence who would
sit out the fight over Trumpcare, or join the fight to repeal Obamacare,
in order to make things worse in the short term (more than 20 million
Americans would lose health insurance) for the better in the long run
(single payer). In other words, the left isn't making the perfect the
enemy of the good.
The same cannot be said of conservatives, who define themselves
largely by the things they oppose. It is not a coincidence that
Republicans failed to develop and build support for an Obamacare
alternative over all the years they railed against it. . . . Once
again, the left is prioritizing the public interest over expediting
its defining ideological priorities, and once again the right is
doing just the opposite.
As the Ryan and McConnell bills have shown, Republicans cannot
define a replacement for Obamacare without (a) pointing out many
of the concrete achievements of the ACA, and (b) showing people
how much they have to lose by repeal/replace.
Jamelle Bouie: The white nationalist roots of Donald Trump's Warsaw
speech; also on the same speech:
Walter Shapiro: Donald Trump's warning about 'western civilisation'
evokes holy war.
Elizabeth Douglass: Towns sell their public water systems -- and come to
Tom Engelhardt: Aiding and Abetting the Tweeter-in-Chief.
TomDispatch also published
Danny Sjursen: Fighting the War You Know (Even if It Won't Work),
about Trump's "support" for his generals in Afghanistan.
Henry Farrell: Trump's plan to work with Putin on cybersecurity makes
no sense. Here's why.
Henry Grabar: St Louis Gave Workers a Wage Hike. Missouri Republicans
Are Taking It Away:
Republican-run states forcing Democrat-run cities to not raise the
minimum wage is a story we've seen before, of course. Alabama thwarted
Birmingham's efforts in February of last year; Ohio stopped Cleveland
in December. More than a dozen other states have passed pre-emptive
pre-emptions, abolishing municipal wage laws before any cities or
counties consider them. GOP politicians usually say minimum wage
ordinances won't actually help workers, but they also defend the
pre-emptions in principle, because they preserve a "uniform
Dilip Hiro: Trump and Saudi Arabia Against the World.
Christopher Ketcham: The Fallacy of Endless Economic Growth:
The idea that economic growth can continue forever on a finite planet
is the unifying faith of industrial civilization. That it is nonsensical
in the extreme, a deluded fantasy, doesn't appear to bother us. We hear
the holy truth in the decrees of elected officials, in the laments of
economists about flagging GDP, in the authoritative pages of opinion,
in the whirligig of advertising, at the World Bank and on Wall Street,
in the prospectuses of globe-spanning corporations and in the halls of
the smallest small-town chambers of commerce. Growth is sacrosanct.
One reason American politicians of both parties stress growth so
much is that it's the magic elixir that turns pro-business policies
into something we can pretend is good for everyone (you know, "trickle
down" and all that). Without growth, the only way anyone can improve
their lot is at the expense of someone else. But haven't we already
been running this experiment for the last forty years, since growth
rates in the former "first world" dropped in the 1970s, triggering a
feeding frenzy among the rich as they sought to hold their profits up
at the expense of workers and customers?
Mike Konczal: What the stock market's rise under Trump should teach
Democrats: Quotes Kevin Phillips describing the Democrats as
"history's second-most enthusiastic capitalist party." Lots of folks
expected the stock market to do better under Hillary Clinton, but
it's actually boomed under Trump, fattening up with the promise of
deregulation boosting profits and tax cuts keeping them safe from
the government. Turns out that being "second-most" doesn't get you
much support from the capitalists even if historically you've run
much stronger growth, and defining yourself as a "responsible
steward" of the economy doesn't satisfy anyone.
This approach hit two serious walls in 2016. The first was that people
weren't happy with the economy. Nearly three-fourths of people said the
country was on the wrong track, with similar numbers describing the
economy as rigged. Median household incomes in 2016 had finally inched
back to 2007 levels. This lead to a year of awkward juxtapositions,
with "America is Already Great" headlines running next to reports on
how much life expectancy is falling for white workers. Democrats
attacked Trump as a poor steward, someone too unstable and chaotic to
run the economy as it was. But that message doesn't motivate voters
when they believe the economy isn't working for them.
Shawn Richman: How Union-Busting Bosses Propel the Right Wing to Power:
Book review of the essay collection, Against Labor: How US Employers
Organized to Defeat Union Activism.
Joseph Stiglitz: Tell Donald Trump: the Paris climate deal is very good
for America; also:
Trump's reneging on Paris climate deal turns the US into a rogue state.
Matt Taibbi: North Korea Isn't the Only Rogue Nuclear State.
Yanis Varoufakis: A New Deal for the 21st Century:
Outsiders are having a field day almost everywhere in the West -- not
necessarily in a manner that weakens the insiders, but neither also in
a way that helps consolidate the insiders' position. The result is a
situation in which the political establishment's once unassailable
authority has died, but before any credible replacement has been born.
The cloud of uncertainty and volatility that envelops us today is the
product of this gap.
For too long, the political establishment in the West saw no threat
on the horizon to its political monopoly. Just as with asset markets,
in which price stability begets instability by encouraging excessive
risk-taking, so, too, in Western politics the insiders took absurd
risks, convinced that outsiders were never a real threat.
One example . . . was building a system of world trade and credit
that depended on the booming United States trade deficit to stabilize
global aggregate demand. It is a measure of the sheer hubris of the
Western establishment that it portrayed these steps as "riskless."
I don't really understand how Varoufakis' notion of a new New Deal
works. Rather, it looks to me like the outsiders he notes, from Trump
to Macron, offer no alternative whatsoever to neoliberal orthodoxy.
Meanwhile, when a real challenger, like Varoufakis' party in Greece,
does manage to win an election they still get beat down.
George Yancy/Noam Chomsky: On Trump and the State of the Union:
An interview with Chomsky, part of "The Stone" series.
Matthew Yglesias: The most important stories of the week, explained:
Trump went to the G20; North Korea tested a missile that could theoretically
reach Alaska; CNN and Trump continued their feud; Ted Cruz floated an idea
to resurrect Obamacare repeal; the top federal ethics official resigned.
Bernie Sanders is the Democrats' real 2020 frontrunner.
One thing I meant to touch on was the term "neoliberalism": my wife
got worked up over something Josh Marshall said about that, but as far
as I can tell it was only a tweet. I did find this piece from [2016-04-27]:
Corey Robin: When Neoliberalism Was Young: A Lookback on Clintonism
before Clinton. One thing I learned here was that Charles Peters
re-invented the term in the 1970s to describe a faction of pro-business,
anti-union, anti-communist, but socially liberal Democrats, which would
parallel the evolution of neo-conservatism (pretty much the same cocktail
with more emphasis on projecting American military might, and fewer
scruples about the company they kept). I had read Peters' Washington
Monthly in its infancy and had always admired Peters, so I was a
bit taken aback (although I will note that Peters' preference for
employee ownership of business over unions is one I share, just not
one I espouse in anti-union terms). My own acquaintance with the term
"neoliberal" dates from the 1990s, when I associated it with what was
then called "the Washington consensus" -- the chief dogma of the IMF
and World Bank. As such, it appeared to be defined in terms of US
foreign policy: it was basically the carrot as opposed to the neocon
stick, although neoconservatives would often adopt it whenever they
wanted to present a prettier face (and actually in the IMF's austerity
conditions, the veiled threat was often quite palpable).
Until recently, about the only place I ran across "neoliberal"
was from left-oriented British critics. I don't have time to try
to unpack this here, but outside of the US it's common to regard
conservatives as relics and guardians of aristocratic privilege,
liberals as individualists who advanced through bourgeois revolts,
and the left as more-or-less democratic socialists who tend to
favor limiting individual freedom when it conflicts with public
good. What distinguishes neoliberals from liberals is that their
focus has shifted from the rights of individuals to the demands
In the US, we've tended to merge our ideas of individual rights
and public good, a point reinforced by a history where virtually
everything we cherish (as opposed to various things like slavery
and ethnic cleansing that fill us with shame) comes from this
liberal-left synthesis. On the other hand, there is a small but
well-heeled and politically influential faction among Democrats
that repeatedly sacrifices the public good for the desires of
capital, and "neoliberal" would seem to distinguish them both
from people-oriented liberals and from the public-minded left.
Certainly not a very elegant term, but until we come up with
something better it serves that purpose. Not clear to me whether
"neoliberal" as I'm using it here dates back to Charles Peters,
but certainly Bill Clinton is an example, as is Andrew Cuomo,
and indeed the idea is tempting to any Democrat who depends on
Saturday, July 8. 2017
Mark Penn/Andrew Stein: Back to the Center, Democrats: Penn was
Hillary Clinton's "senior adviser" for her 2008 campaign, which he
did more than anyone to destruct and disgrace. Stein was Manhattan
Borough president back in the 1990s. Neither figure has any import
even among the Clinton faction of the Democratic Party, so it may
be unnecessary even to bother with their half-hearted efforts to
herd the Democratic Party back toward the "center" -- there must be
others who are other who can articulate such views more coherently,
but their raw instincts are little different. The one thing they
all have in common is a visceral hatred for the left, although in
particulars it could take any form that seems convenient. For Penn
and Stein, this is built on selective memory:
The path back to power for the Democratic Party today, as it was in
the 1990s, is unquestionably to move to the center and reject the
siren calls of the left, whose policies and ideas have weakened the
In the early 1990s, the Democrats relied on identity politics,
promoted equality of outcomes instead of equality of opportunity
and looked to find a government solution for every problem. After
years of leftward drift by the Democrats culminated in Republican
control of the House under Speaker Newt Gingrich, President Bill
Clinton moved the party back to the center in 1995 by supporting
a balanced budget, welfare reform, a crime bill that called for
providing 100,000 new police officers and a step-by-step approach
to broadening health care. Mr. Clinton won a resounding re-election
victory in 1996 and Democrats were back.
In 1996 Clinton's "resounding re-election" came with 49.2% of
the vote, leaving Gingrich and the Republicans in complete control
of Congress -- "back" only if your entire conception of the Party
was Clinton himself. The only bills Clinton was able to pass during
his second term were ones the Republicans calculated would hurt and
disillusion the Democratic Party base -- "welfare reform," repeal
of Glass-Steagall, a capital gains tax cut, a bill which declared
"regime change" in Iraq to be US policy. But in wasn't "leftward
drift" that cost the Democrats control of Congress in 1994: it was
Clinton's "triangulation" (his efforts to win over business support
by attacking the party base, especially unions), as exemplified in
his decision to prioritize NAFTA over health care, and to forsake
traditional Democratic health care proposals in favor of a system
that catered an increasingly predatory health care industry.
Still, if Clinton's second term was such a golden age for the
Democratic Party, how come they lost two elections to Bush, with
the Republicans maintaining control of Congress up to 2006 -- when
wild-eyed Howard Dean took control of the DNC? And while Obama won
decisively in 2008 with his promise of change (and less soundly in
2012 running on "no change"), it's quite a stretch to blame Hillary
Clinton's epic collapse in 2016 on the party's "leftward drift."
While Republicans have made huge gains since 2010, you have to ask
whether this was abetted by fear of the Democratic left or disgust
over the corruption and ineptness of Democratic centrists. One hint:
Trump's nickname for Clinton was "Crooked Hillary."
Penn and Stein are not just deluded about history, they've come
up with some peculiar ideas about what a "winning strategy" for the
Democrats might entail. For instance, they think Democrats can win
back the working class through a combination of Trumpian prejudices
and "moderate" trade and immigration policies:
Central to the Democrats' diminishment has been their loss of support
among working-class voters, who feel abandoned by the party's shift
away from moderate positions on trade and immigration, from backing
police and tough anti-crime measures, from trying to restore
manufacturing jobs. . . .
On trade, Democrats should recognize that they can no longer
simultaneously try to be the free-trade party and speak for the
working class. They need to support fair trade and oppose
manufacturing plants' moving jobs overseas, by imposing new taxes
on such transfers while allowing repatriation of foreign profits.
Penn and Stein never mention Clinton's signature NAFTA treaty,
which was a direct attack on the working class, and the cause of
a massive wave of Mexican emigration -- the other major source of
immigrants (poor ones, anyway) has been US wars and US-sponsored
dictators around the world. The single most important reason
Democrats lost so much of the working class was their failure to
protect and support unions -- they were just too busy chasing
business donors. Republicans took advantage of that lapse by
playing to white prejudices -- their only option, because they
don't have any economic answers (but neither do the "centrist"
Democrats, despite empty cant like "fair trade").
The reason this op-ed has generated any interest at all is
that it raises a real question, obscures another, and is stupid
enough it begs you to argue the opposite.
The real question actually has three parts: is the assumption
that American politics is laid out on a left-right axis true; if
so, is it true that the center has shifted right in recent years;
and if so, can the Democrats gain voter share by moving right to
recapture that center? "Centrism" depends on all three being true,
but there are many problems with each. Many people don't think in
terms of left-right (e.g., they consider other terms like integrity,
or they focus on non-economic issues). The statistical center has
moved different directions on different issues. And both parties
obfuscate (rather than change) unpopular positions. But also 30-50%
of eligible voters don't vote, so they defy categorization. If you're
on the left, you probably think that's because mainstream Democrats
haven't given many people credible reasons to vote. That's unproven,
but one data point is that Sanders has consistently polled better
against Trump than Clinton did. That argues against Penn and Stein.
The obscured question is whether actual Democrats have done better
when they moved to the center. Clinton's 1992 campaign was distinctly
populist, and Obama seemed to embrace progressive liberalism in 2008.
Both moved sharply center/right after those elections, and both lost
Congress after two years. Even though both were re-elected, neither
regained Congress, and neither managed to get a successor elected.
Both oversaw periods with reasonable economic growth which accrued
almost exclusively to the very rich, resulting in greater inequality.
Both saw (and contributed to) the decline of the public sector, and
the deterioration of the safety net -- as a result, average Americans
(by definition, the "center" of the electorate) saw their relative
welfare decline, their risks increase, and their children's futures
diminish. You might argue that median welfare declined less under
Clinton and Obama than it did under the Bushes, but in absolute terms
the only upward indicator "centrist" Democrats can point to is the
personal wealth of the dealmakers at the top. As the quotes above
make clear, Penn and Stein do their best to obfuscate this legacy.
The opposite argument -- that Democrats are more likely to win when
they move left -- actually has quite a bit of historical support. Both
Clinton (in 1992) and Obama (in 2008) ran successful campaigns that
promised much more than they delivered or even attempted when they
entered office. The Democrats' best election of the last 25 years
was in 2006 (actually before the recession in 2008), when the DNC
was run by Howard Dean, the self-described champion "of the democratic
wing of the Democratic Party." And again, all available evidence shows
that Sanders would have fared better than Clinton against Trump.
Would be "centrists" have trouble grasping this because they fail
to understand how the current political dynamic destroys any ground
the "centrists" try to claim. This is because the two parties are very
different in goals and methods. The Republicans were taken over by a
faction which relentlessly and insatiably pushes everything to the
right, in large part by never conceding anything important to the
other side. This doesn't preclude compromise deals, but they always
exact a high price from the Democratic Party base, and as such lead
those voters to become disenchanted with the Party leadership. They
can do this because their policies are compatible with the beliefs
of their donors -- to increase corporate power over everyday life,
making the rich richer, and punishing whoever stands in their way.
One could imagine a similar dynamic on the left, but as politicians
became ever more dependent on donors there has never been a comparable
funding option for the left. Instead, what's happened is that "centrist"
Democrats have filled the breech, banking the votes of the base while
cutting deals with their favored donors -- sometimes incredibly bad
deals, like NAFTA and the repeal of Glass-Steagall. In this dynamic,
rich donors naturally pressure Democrats to settle with Republicans,
yet in the end they wind up backing the Republicans because they can't
resist the promise of getting more and more power and wealth. So in
this dynamic, the "centrists" screw themselves two ways: they betray
their base voters, and they never really get the business support they
bargained for. And after repeated failures, it starts to get obvious
that they really have nothing to offer. (Hence Penn and Stein wind up
pushing "fair trade" and "trying to restore manufacturing jobs.")
There are a few more angles to all of this -- e.g., Democrats hurt
themselves enormously when they jump into foreign wars -- but this is
the basic dynamic. Penn and Stein don't begin to understand it. For
another view on the piece, and some background on who these jokers are,
Alex Pareene: Mark Penn's Bad Column Also Makes No Goddamn Sense.
Nicholas Lemann offers a sympathetic portrait of the Clintons in
his New York Review of Books piece,
What Happened to Clintonism? (mostly behind their paywall),
based on four recent books: Daryl A Carter: Brother Bill: President
Clinton and the Politics of Race and Class; Michael Tomasky:
Bill Clinton; William H Chafe: Hillary and Bill: The
Clintons and the Politics of the Personal; and Joe Conason:
Man of the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton.
He does manage to make Clinton seem less sinister than he appears
now. To some extent the "political winds" in the early 1990s were
blowing in a way that favored someone like Clinton (or Gore), so
to some extent he just happened to be in the right place at the
right time. (This is not the same thing as popularity within the
party. I remain convinced that Jesse Jackson would have won most
primaries in 1992 had he run, but I doubt he would have won, and
the Party kingmakers were desperate for someone who could win.)
And after twelve years of Reagan and Bush, Clinton's centrism
still had an aura of plausibility: indeed, if he had a free hand
he might have expanded and strengthened the safety net, rolling
back the decline of the middle class, while still pursuing his
pro-business initiatives. The Republicans deserve much credit (or
blame) for wrecking his dream programs, but he shares blame for
echoing and legitimizing their concerns and compromising with
Conason's book covers the post-presidential years, mostly Clinton's
unique combination of vanity and altruism embodied in his Foundation,
probably without examining too closely how much money stuck to his
fingers on its way from Davos-class donors to the world's needy. It
isn't surprising that someone who worked so hard to help his wealthy
benefactors make even more should aspire to be one with them, but
such upward mobility has neither sharpened his political instincts
nor his human empathies -- which in 2016 turned into a liability for
Hillary, whose own political ambitions made his philanthropy look
more like some kind of political slush fund. Had the Clintons just
quietly receded into their newfound wealth few people would have
cared much, but having grown wealthy from being president and making
their supporters billions of dollars, running again just made them
look greedy, and pretending they were running for us just added the
insult of hypocrisy.
That Hillary Clinton ultimately lost the election to Donald Trump,
and largely because she was the one perceived to be "crooked," is much
more than ironic. Given Trump's history and personality, it should have
been easy to depict him as greedy and egotistical -- a man who had spent
every waking moment of the last fifty years pursuing fame and fortune,
one who could hardly be expected to change his stripes the moment he
nominally became a public servant. Even looking back it's not clear
why Clinton's campaign failed to drive that point home -- it's not so
much that they didn't try as didn't manage to be convincing. And while
there are many possible reasons for this, the big one was that they
spent so much of the campaign being defensive, reeling from the constant
barrage of email and foundation scandals.
On the other hand, the Republicans seem to have figured out a very
effective way to drive home their "crooked Hillary" meme: social media.
Probably the most convincing (and disturbing) piece I've read to date
on the campaign is Sue Halpern's
How He Used Facebook to Win. The important thing about social media
advertising is the degree to which ads can be targeted, so that Trump's
people could deliver very precise messages meant to push different user
buttons. This, of course, builds on a strategy Republicans have depended
on for years now: cultivating single-user voters and stoking their fears
to rally them against the Democrats. (Crime comes and goes, but guns and
abortion have been especially reliable issues.) There is, of course, a
risk in doing this too publicly: it generates a backlash. But highly
targeted social media advertising limits unintended visibility, while
providing a multiplier effect as fans forward their favored memes to
their friends and followers. Here's a sample from the article:
In the early phase of the primaries, Parscale launched Trump's digital
operation by buying $2 million in Facebook ads -- his entire budget at
the time. He then uploaded all known Trump supporters into the Facebook
advertising platform and, using a Facebook tool called Custom Audiences
from Customer Lists, matched actual supporters with their virtual
doppelgangers and then, using another Facebook tool, parsed them by
race, ethnicity, gender, location, and other identities and affinities.
From there he used Facebook's Lookalike Audiences tool to find people
with interests and qualities similar to those of his original cohort
and developed ads based on those characteristics, which he tested
using Facebook's Brand Lift surveys. He was just getting started.
Eventually, Parscale's shop was reportedly spending $70 million a
month on digital advertising, most of it on Facebook. (Facebook and
other online venues also netted Trump at least $250 million in
While it may not have created individual messages for every voter,
the Trump campaign used Facebook's vast reach, relatively low cost,
and rapid turnaround to test tens of thousands and sometimes hundreds
of thousands of different campaign ads. According to Issie Lapowsky
of Wired, speaking with Gary Coby, director of advertising at
the Republican National Committee and a member of Trump's digital team:
On any given day . . . the campaign was running 40,000 to 50,000 variants
of its ads, testing how they performed in different formats, with subtitles
and without, and static versus video, among other small differences. On the
day of the third presidential debate in October, the team ran 175,000
variations. Coby calls this approach "A/B testing on steroids."
And this was just Facebook. The campaign also placed ads on other
social media, including Twitter and Snapchat, and ran sponsored content
on Politico. According to one estimate by a campaign insider, the Trump
team spent "in the high eight figures just on persuasion." . . .
There were other digital innovations as well. On election day, for
example, the Trump campaign bought all the ad space on YouTube and ran
a series of five thirty-second videos, each hosted by a different Trump
surrogate representing a particular segment of the Trump base. We
"learned that putting Mr. Trump on persuasion ads was a bad idea,"
Cambridge Analytica's Oczkowski said in April at a meeting of the
Association for Data-Driven Marketing and Advertising in Melbourne,
Australia. Instead, there was Ivanka Trump, representing mothers and
business women; Willie Robertson, the star of the television show
Duck Dynasty, to appeal to southerners and hunters; Milwaukee
sheriff David Clarke, representing law and order and diversity (he
is African-American); the former Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell to appeal
to veterans and their families; and Ultimate Fighting Championship
president Dana White, a tough, aggressive guy's guy.
"There was no targeting," Oczkowski explained. "Every single American
who [went] to YouTube that day [saw these ads]." And, he continued, once
viewers watched one of the thirty-second videos to the end, they landed
on a screen with a polling place locator. "We had tens of millions of
people view the videos and hundreds of thousands of people use the 'find
your polling place' locator. When you're talking about winning by thousands
of votes, this stuff matters," Oczkowski said.
Parscale's strategy of using Facebook's "dark posts" also turned out
to matter, enabling the Trump campaign to attack Clinton with targeted
negative ads that flew below the public radar.
Nor was Trump's digital advertising limited to pushing buttons to
get potential supporters to come out and vote for him. It was also
directed at undermining Hillary Clinton's support by turning potential
voters for her off:
"We have three major voter suppression operations under way," a senior
campaign official told Bloomberg's Green and Issenberg. One targeted
idealistic white liberals -- primarily Bernie Sanders's supporters;
another was aimed at young women -- hence the procession of women who
claimed to have been sexually assaulted by Bill Clinton and harassed
by the candidate herself; and a third went after African-Americans in
urban centers where Democrats traditionally have had high voter turnout.
One dark post featured a South Park-like animation narrated by Hillary
Clinton, using her 1996 remarks about President Bill Clinton's anti-crime
initiative in which she called certain young black men "super predators"
who had to be brought "to heel."
"We've modeled this," the unnamed senior campaign official told Green
and Issenberg. "It will dramatically affect her ability to turn these
people out." And it did. Democratic turnout in battleground states was
weak, which was crucial to Trump's victory. Tallying it up three days
after the election, David Plouffe, Obama's 2008 campaign manager, noted:
In Detroit, Mrs. Clinton received roughly 70,000 votes fewer than Mr.
Obama did in 2012; she lost Michigan by just 12,000 votes. In Milwaukee
County in Wisconsin, she received roughly 40,000 votes fewer than Mr.
Obama did, and she lost the state by just 27,000. In Cuyahoga County,
Ohio, turnout in majority African-American precincts was down 11 percent
from four years ago.
Some of these approaches had been worked by Obama's campaign in 2008
and 2012, especially in terms of micro-targeted get-out-the-vote efforts.
But there's an essential asymmetry between Republican and Democratic
agendas and strategies: Democrats at least try to present a coherent
program that offers tangible benefits to voters (even though they,
especially recently, have a poor track record of delivering on their
promises, nearly every popular benefit ever dates back to Democrats).
Republicans, on the other hand, favor intrinsically unpopular policies
of increasing the power and wealth of a tiny coterie of elites, so
they have few options other than to dissemble and misdirect -- indeed,
what seems to work best for them is driving voters into blind rage.
The article quotes Laura Quinn, explaining: "Trump didn't have a lot
of 'Here is my agenda, here is my narrative, I have to persuade people
of it,' . . . The Trump world was more like, 'Let's say a lot of
different things, they don't even necessarily need to be coherent,
and observe, through the wonderful new platforms that allow you to
observe how people respond and observe what works, and whatever
squirrel everyone chases, that's going to become out narrative,
our agenda, our message.'"
It's tempting to blame all this -- literally the undermining of
democracy by special interests spreading unchecked misinformation --
on social media. Indeed, the business model of paying for social
media through advertising is quickly becoming as annoying and as
distorting as the same model has long been in broadcast media.
(Print advertising is somewhat less so because it's easier to pass
over -- for that same reason, it is often more informative and less
manipulative.) I have an even lower view of advertising, not just
because that industry has been the source of such all pervasive
techniques as message framing, focus groups, polling, targeting,
but because the whole industry is built on the notion that truth
is maleable to whatever special interests want it to be. As more
and more money is put into the process of manipulating public
opinion, actual policies become afterthoughts, not something we
agree on because we want or need them, but perks for the political
parties most skilled at provoking or stroking our psyches.
Hillary Clinton was unable to defend us from these machinations,
partly because her naive faith in the establishment, garnered by
living so many years in its bubble, didn't prepare her for such a
dirty campaign, and partly because she was so complicit in so many
failures of that establishment that she wound up bearing more than
her share of the blame -- she even managed to make Donald Trump
look like an outsider, an insurgent, a vanquisher (all ridiculous
views if you give them a bit of thought). The silver lining in the
election is that it frees us from the notion that all is fine and
nothing has to change. Had she won, we'd still be struggling with
that notion, and the Republicans would still look like a possible
way out -- even though they have nothing to offer but worse. Finally,
the Democrats can cast off the worst of their legacy (Mark Penn and
Andrew Stein, for starters). The center is no longer an option: it's
too late, and offers too little.
Monday, July 3. 2017
Music: Current count 28359  rated (+35), 366  unrated (-2).
Most of the week's new finds made it into the June
Streamnotes post which
came out on Friday -- the best new one is yet another good one from
François Carrier. The Streamnotes post included a 30-album wild-ass
guess at what a mid-year critics poll list might look like, with my
grades for the 27 albums I had checked out. I've since added the 3
I had missed, so the top-30 grade curve looks like this:
Kendrick Lamar, Lorde, The XX, Syd, Run the Jewels,
Khalid, Joey Bada$$
Migos, Spoon, Chris Stapleton, Paramore,
Future, Vince Staples, SZA, Japandroids,
Sampha, Drake, Thundercat, Jay Som, Mount Eerie,
Slowdive, Laura Marling, Stormzy
Father John Misty, Perfume Genius,
That's still pretty left-shifted from normal, but note I decided to
include Jens Lekman and Magnetic Fields (both Christgau picks) instead
of artists with more supporting data such as Ryan Adams, Julie Byrne,
Alex G, and/or Harry Styles. I'll also concede that I can imagine other
people liking most of the bottom half of the list more than I do (well,
Perfume Genius and Dirty Projectors seem pretty hard to like).
I got a couple of reprieves from my computer problems. The website
ISP found a bit of free disk space, but at 95% used it could go away
fast, and the company has become impossible to communicate with. I
got around my local browser problem by switching to Chromium, which
has held up fairly well, although I haven't put anyway near the load
on it I used to do with Firefox. I still need to save everything off,
do a fresh operating system load, and put it all back together again,
but it's tempting to keep muddling by for a while until I face up to
all that. It would be good, for instance, to update the
Christgau website before I
break my local copy. It would be even better if I could migrate the
website to HTML5 and UTF-8 when it comes back. Presumably there are
tools that help with that sort of thing, but I haven't searched them
out yet. We've also talked a bit about making it more phone-friendly
or even converting it to some kind of phone ap, but that's another
learning curve. Anyone who has advice or suggestions about this,
please get in touch through normal channels.
Tried turning on the old Dell laptop today, but it came up with an
ominous message about the "disk drive failing" that suggests it's soon
to be a goner. It's running Ubuntu 10.04, so it's even further behind
than my main machine. For most practical purposes I replaced it with
a Chromebook a few years ago, but I never got into the habit of using
cloud storage, so I really just use it for web surfing. I suppose a
new real laptop is in order.
Meanwhile, about the only thing I've actually been enjoying has been
cooking. The hardest thing has been lining up guests so I get an excuse
to stretch a little -- I still haven't done the big Korean bash I planned
out 3-4 months ago. I did cook Indian for my sister's birthday, but that's
about all. On the other hand, I've been picking up small packages of meat
and scattered vegetables that I can cook for the two of us. Today I turned
a pound of hamburger into
sort of a Cuban sloppy joe mix -- served with pan-fried potatoes and
fried egg (a "caballo").
Lately I've found myself going back to Chinese recipes, some I haven't
made in years. On Sunday I made a version of sweet & sour pork and
some fried rice. I made lettuce wraps with a chicken and pine nut filling
and fried cellophane noodles. I found some frozen pork chops and turned
them into pork & pickle soup (the "pickle" is Szechuan preserved
vegetable -- mustard stem), adding some dried mushrooms. Another time
I made braised pork ribs with fermented black beans. Then there was the
"hoisin-exploded" chicken. I have a pretty good pantry of Chinese odds
and ends, so I can usually turn a package of meat or fish and whatever
vegetables are handy into a remarkably tasty meal. The hard part is
keeping fresh scallions and ginger on hand.
My mother was the master of always having a pantry (and two freezers)
stocked with anything she might need should, say, a relative show up
in need of a full meal and maybe a pie or cake. After she died, I made
three typical cakes, knowing that all the ingredients would be on hand.
We grew up on stories of Aunt Hester receiving guests at 3AM with full
meals prepared on her wood-fired stove. I don't think Mom ever had to
do that, but she was prepared.
New records rated this week:
- Algiers: The Underside of Power (2017, Matador): [r]: B-
- Sheryl Bailey & Harvie S: Plucky Strum: Departure (2017, Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(*)
- Erik Bogaerts/Hendrik Lasure/Pit Dahm: Bogaerts & Lasure + Dahm (2016, self-released): [bc]: B-
- Burial: Subtemple/Beachfires (2017, Hyperdub, EP): [r]: B
- Julie Byrne: Not Even Happiness (2017, Ba Da Bing): [r]: B+(**)
- François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Rafal Mazur: Oneness (2015 , FMR): [cd]: A-
- Playboi Carti (2017, AWGE/Interscope): [r]: B+(*)
- Cashmere Cat: 9 (2017, Mad Love/Interscope): [r]: B+(*)
- Dirty Projectors: Dirty Projectors (2017, Domino): [r]: C
- Silke Eberhard Trio: The Being Inn (2016 , Intakt): [cd]: A-
- Emperor X: Oversleepers International (2017, Tiny Engines): [r]: B+(***)
- Noga Erez: Off the Radar (2017, City Slang): [r]: B
- The Feelies: In Between (2017, Bar/None): [r]: B+(**)
- Forest Swords: Compassion (2017, Ninja Tune): [r]: B-
- Llop: J.Imp (2017, El Negocito): [cd]: B+(*)
- Lorde: Melodrama (2017, Lava/Republic): [r]: A-
- Father John Misty: Pure Comedy (2017, Sub Pop): [r]: B-
- Oddisee: The Iceberg (2017, Mello Music Group): [r]: A-
- Aruán Ortiz: Cubanism: Piano Solo (2016 , Intakt): [cd]: B+(**)
- Mike Reed: Flesh & Bone (2016 , 482 Music): [cd]: B+(***)
- Smino: Blkswn (2017, Zero Fatigue/Downtown): [r]: B+(**)
- Songhoy Blues: Résistance (2017, Fat Possum): [r]: B+(**)
- Sorority Noise: You're Not as ___ as You Think (2017, Triple Crown): [r]: B+(**)
- Vince Staples: Big Fish Theory (2017, Def Jam): [r]: B+(**)
- SZA: Ctrl (2017, Top Dawg/RCA): [r]: B+(**)
- Mat Walerian/Matthew Shipp/William Parker: Toxic: This Is Beautiful Because We Are Beautiful People (2015 , ESP-Disk): [r]: B+(**)
Old music rated this week:
- Emperor X: Tectonic Membrane/Thin Strip on an Edgeless Platform (2004, Discos Mariscos): [r]: B+(**)
- Wallace Roney: According to Mr. Roney (1988-91 , 32 Jazz, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
- Wallace Roney: No Job Too Big or Too Small (1987-93 , Savoy Jazz): [r]: B+(***)
- Wallace Roney: Mistérios (1994, Warner Brothers): [r]: B-
- Wallace Roney: No Room for Argument (2000, Stretch): [r]: B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Rafal Mazur: Oneness (FMR)
- Free Radicals: Outside the Comfort Zone (Free Rads): September 23
- Dusan Jevtovic: No Answer (Moonjune)
- Chris Pasin and Friends: Baby It's Cold Outside (Planet Arts): October 6
- Talinka: Talinka (Moonjune)
Sunday, July 2. 2017
Last week I contemplated suspending Weekend Roundup. Partly I was
having grave computer problems that made surfing the web ever more
painful, and partly I was just disgusted with all the insane things
Trump and the Republicans are doing. Since then I tried Google's
Chromium browser and it's working better (although not perfectly,
never had to deal with before).
So I figured I'd compromise by just jotting down a few links
without comments, although sometimes I couldn't help myself.
Also because shit's happening so fast, I figured I should jot
down a date for each linked page (when I remembered to do so).
Then I wrote an introduction.
Meanwhile, I slogged through Noam Chomsky's essay collection,
Who Rules the World? I didn't learn a lot I didn't already
know, but I started out in a bad mood about America's many wars,
so I didn't mind Chomsky being even harsher than I would be.
Still, I wanted something lighter next, and settled for Bernie
Sanders' post-campaign book. Only about 100 pages into it --
still pre-Iowa, when he was a very longshot, yet still no more
improbable than the mess we wound up with. I talked to a friend
last week who was still complaining about "Bernie or bust" --
people who held out for something more while most of us were
willing to settle for much less (damn near nothing).
Five months in, I think we can draw some clear conclusions about
Donald Trump as President. One is that he's a lot more ignorant about
everything a national political leader does (or should do) than pretty
much anyone imagined -- including those of us who have long feared
what we thought would be the worst. One manifestation of this is that
he has no clue how to get anything done, and his ideas about what to
do rarely rise above his sociopathic prejudices.
The second, which was easier to predict from his campaign, is that
his shameless disregard for truth is orders of magnitude beyond anything
Washington -- a notorious haven for dissemblers -- has ever encountered.
The media literally have no idea where to begin, because there are no
fixed points to navigate by.
The third is that Trump has belied every intimation he made on the
campaign trail that he might break with Republican Party orthodoxy and
forge a new direction: nationalist, for sure, but giving government a
more humane role at home and a less aggressive one at home. This not
only didn't happen; as many of us suspected, it never had a chance.
Trump's trifecta of ignorance, incompetence, and dishonesty (for lack
of a better word -- mendacious implies he's somewhat clever, and even
bullshit suggests a hidden agenda) has left his administration in the
malevolent hands of Republican apparatchiks and their billionaire
His only authentic (in the sense of things he personally decided)
moves so far have been hiring relatives and touring his personal
properties -- things he's been doing for decades. And when he's not
indulging his oversized ego, he's doing what he's always tried to do:
make money. He's not responsible for creating Washington's ubiquitous
culture of graft, but he exemplifies it, especially by making sure
he's getting his cut.
Still, since Mitch McConnell unveiled his hitherto secret health
care bill (the BRCA, like the breast cancer gene -- it seems immune
to adding a "Care" suffix because it clearly doesn't), Trump's own
personal garishness has taken a back seat (despite eruptions like
the Mika Brzezinski flap) to his adopted party's crusade not just
to coddle and elevate the rich but also to demean and hurt the poor
(and anyone else they can organize their disdain against). This
should have been clear years ago, but centrist Democrats and the
bought-and-aid-for media have perpetuated the myth that they can
work with moderate counterparts among the Republicans. But while
Clinton and Obama never pointed to the obvious, Trump inadvertently
made the point when he complained of not having a chance to get a
single Democratic vote for his "repeal-and-replace Obamacare" bill.
At least this answers the thought experiment: how bad does a bill
have to be to not get a single sell-out Democrat?
Still, Republicans are using their thin Congressional margins,
the conservative-leaning Supreme Court, and anything that can be
done through executive orders (or not done by turning a blind eye
to enforcement on matters like civil rights, environment, and
antitrust), to push its anti-popular (and frequently downright
unpopular) agenda through. Just this last week, Trump's travel
ban order got a reprieve from the Supreme Court, and the House
passed two anti-immigrant bills (certain to fall short of the 60
votes the Senate used to require, but McConnell may still get
It's hard to say whether Trump's chaos (for lack of a better
word, although I was tempted by "insanity") is making their
efforts easier or harder. Matthew Yglesias sums this up in
Why Donald Trump can't make deals in Washington:
It seems paradoxical that you could combine the party discipline needed
to push controversial and unpopular legislation through on a party line
vote with total disengagement on the part of the party's top leader. But
the Trump administration seems to feature just the right mix of chaos
and conventionality to make it work. Both Vice President Mike Pence and
Chief of Staff Reince Priebus are very conventional Republicans with
deep ties to the congressional party. That seems to be good enough to
ensure that Trump will take his cues from Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell
regardless of his personal instincts. Trump triumphed over the GOP's
leadership during the 2016 primary, but he has largely surrendered to
them on policy questions.
The result is that deals get done -- or not -- by the party's
congressional leadership. The ability to legislate hinges on Ryan and
McConnell being able to agree among themselves. Trump serves as an
ineffectual figurehead, talking tough but not really being able to
engage with the policy details enough to properly negotiate an
unprecedented rollback of the welfare state.
Here's another writer who understands that no matter how
personally noxious Donald Trump may be, his administration is
doing pretty exactly what any Republican administration would
be doing given the same powers:
Alex Pareene: This Is Normal:
What most of the worst people in Donald Trump's administration have
in common is that they are Republicans. This simple fact is obscured
sometimes by the many ways in which Trump is genuinely an aberration
from the political norm -- like his practice of naked nepotism rather
than laundering the perpetuation of class advantage through a
"meritocratic" process -- and by the fact that many of the most vocal
online spokespeople for "the resistance" ignore the recent history of
the Republican Party in favor of a Trump-centric theory of How Fucked
Up Everything Is.
But it is necessary for liberals, leftists, and Democrats to actually
be clear on the fact that the Republican Party is responsible for Trump.
The Democrats' longterm failure to make a compelling and all-encompassing
case against conservatism and the GOP as institutions, rather than making
specific cases against specific Republican politicians, is one of the
reasons the party is currently in the political wilderness. . . .
Next time you boggle at the sight of the president's unqualified
son-in-law flying to Iraq to get briefed by generals on the facts on
the ground, remember that George W. Bush sent a business school chum
to privatize Iraq's economy and a 24-year-old with no relevant experience
to reopen the Iraqi stock market.
The worst members of Trump's cabinet -- Jeff Sessions, Scott Pruitt,
Betsy DeVos -- are Republicans. Their analogues in any possible alternate
Republican presidency would've been basically identical in how they
carried out their work. Jeb Bush would've signed the AHCA. Marco Rubio
would've sold arms to Saudi Arabia. John Kasich would've abided the theft
of a Supreme Court seat and selected a justice just as conservative as
Neil Gorsuch, if not Gorsuch himself.
None of those men would've lobbed crude personal insults at cable show
hosts. They wouldn't have been as cartoonishly, personally corrupt in
their business dealings (though scores of their appointees would have
been). But even the most consequential way in which Trump differs from
a hypothetical alternate Republican president, his blatant obstruction
of the investigation into whether or not he is somehow compromised by
or in league with the Russian government, has almost no real-world
consequences, compared to his (bog-standard Republican) international
and domestic policy agendas. When Mitch McConnell's underhanded
legislative maneuvering is included in a list of ways in which Trump is
normalizing authoritarianism, you give the president far too much credit
and the Republican Party far too little.
Meanwhile, here are links (mostly without comments) to some
stories I noticed:
Zeeshan Aleem: Trump just made a humiliating economic error in front
of South Korea's president [06-30]: Confusing trade deficits with
national debt. The bigger problem -- assuming confirmation of Trump's
duncehood is no surprise -- is that US has historically bought South
Korean alliance by supporting its export-driven economic growth, a
strategy undercut by Trump's "America First" demagoguery -- oddly at
a time when Trump's blundering has triggered another confrontation
with North Korea. Also see:
Jason Ditz: Trump: North Korea Should Be Dealt With Rapidly:
but how? "South Korea and China had both been said in recent weeks
to have presented the Trump administration a diplomatic resolution,
but to have been dismissed out of hand, with the administration
ruling out any deal that reduces the 'military pressure' on North
Zack Beauchamp: This chilling NRA ad calls on its members to save
America by fighting liberals
Ari Berman: The Trump Administration Is Planning an Unprecedented Attack
on Voting Rights
Aaron Blake: Kellyanne Conway would like to question the media's patriotism --
because Mika Brzezinski questioned President Trump's [06-30]
Esme Cribb: No Staff Members Left in Science Division of White House
Chas Danner: Christie Shuts Down New Jersey Government, State Beaches
and Parks Closed [07-01]
David A Farenthold: A Time magazine with Trump on its cover hangs in his
golf clubs. It's fake. [06-27]
Michelle Goldberg: Trump No Longer Seems Able to Hide His Raw
Richard Goldstein: Jupiter Rising: On Macron and France.
Glenn Greenwald: CNN Journalists Resign: Lastest Example of Media Recklessness
on the Russia Threat
William Greider: Worried About Those Global Cyber Attacks? They Were
Started by Washington
Alex Isenstadt/Josh Dawsey: Senate GOP seethes at Trump impulsiveness
[06-27]: Sour grapes about Trump's inadvertent mucking with 2018 Senate
prospects; e.g., his PAC attacks against Dean Heller (R-NV), who must be
one of the most endangered Republican incumbents (otherwise why would he
break with Trump over gutting of ACA?).
Annie Karni/Nahal Toosi: Tight circle of security officials crafted
Trump's Syria warning [06-27]: Curious that Trump's claim that
"new intelligence" indicated that Syria was planning on launching a
chemical weapons attack appeared almost immediately after Seymour
Hersh reported that US intelligence agencies didn't believe reports
of a previous attack that Trump used as pretext for his cruise missile
volley against a Syrian Air Force base (see:
Trump's Red Line). Also note that Trump and company claimed their
warning had worked a mere two days after it was issued (see:
Michael D Shear: White House Warning Halted Syria Chemical Attack,
Officials Say [06-28].
Jeremy Kryt: Inside Trump's Disastrous 'Secret' Drug War Plans for Central
Martin Longman: And Now the Trump Presidency Begins to Fail for Real
[06-29]: Well, Trump has settled on a strategy of trying to pass everything
with straight party votes, further angering Democrats by using executive
power to reverse virtually everything associated with Obama -- in effect,
he's not only set out to erase the last eight years, he's more explicit
about that than any president ever. (Too bad Obama did just the opposite,
even though GW Bush left him a lot that should have been rolled back.)
Health care is merely the most obvious example, because Republicans made
it one eight years ago, leaving Democrats with no option other than to
pass the ACA on a straight party vote. But this dynamic applies to lots
of things, and there's no reason to think taxes, infrastructure, or
immigration will turn out any different. And note that a big part of
Trump's problem with pressing his partisan majority is that he can't
win without support of the tea party faction (or whatever they call
themselves these days) and those guys have learned to leverage their
numbers, basically to block anything that isn't extreme enough. Thus,
the House AHCA initially failed, only to pass after the leadership
made it more hurtful and even less popular. Needless to say, that
just encourages the extreme right to become even more aggressive.
On the other hand, Trump closed off the option (if it ever existed)
of moving toward the center when he staffed his administration and
started his Obama purge. So, yeah, getting things done is going to
be difficult for Trump. On the other hand, his capacity to wreck our
world is still quite extraordinary, so I wouldn't start celebrating
German Lopez: Trump's "election integrity" commission wants every voter's
name, party ID, and address [06-30]: This is Kris Kobach, a reach
which far exceeds anything Russia has been accused of trying to hack.
Such a database would be very useful for political operators. Article
has much background info on Republican voter suppression efforts, which
is what "voter fraud" is really all about. Aside from the politics,
another obvious problem is noted here:
Eric Geller/Cory Bennett: Trump voter-fraud panel's data request a gold
mine for hackers, experts warn. Meanwhile, instead of backing away
from such an obviously bad idea, Trump is doubling down:
Esme Cribb: Trump Rails Against States Rejecting His Shady Election
Hugh Miles: Al-Jazeera, insurgent TV station that divides the Arab world,
faces closure: Shutting down the closest thing the Arab world has
to a free press is one of Saudi Arabia's key demands before they will
consider calling off their blockade of Qatar, and the one that's most
clearly offensive to anyone in any country that has a relatively free
Mark Perry: Tillerson and Mattis Cleaning Up Kushner's Middle East
Brad Palmer/Nadja Popovich: As Climate Changes, Southern States Will
Suffer More Than Others: Florida, of course, but Texas and Arizona
are conspicuously red on this map. Authors argue that the poorest
counties will suffer most, but it seems obvious to me that relatively
rich individuals will be hardest hit -- e.g., it's not poor people
who own all that beachfront property soon to be submerged. Another
Carbon in Atmosphere Is Rising, Even as Emissions Stabilize.
Alex Pareene: Donald Trump Is Getting Played Like a Sucker by His Own
Budget Guy [05-26]: "Democrats dream of running against budgets
like the one drawn up by Mulvaney. It neuters Trump's single greatest
political advantage, which is that a sizable number of whites in the
Rust Belt convinced themselves that Trump was something other than a
Mitt Romney-style plutocratic Republican." I had lost track of Pareene,
but looks like he's been at
Fusion for some time. Some older posts that caught my eye:
Maybe We Need That Hillary Clinton Dark Money Group Now [06-21];
Alex Pareene: Stop Enabling the Nihilist Republican Shrug [06-01];
Actually, Why Not Cancel the White House Press Briefing? [05-12]
("A room full of people who know the man answering their questions cannot
possibly truthfully answer their questions makes for great TV, but it does
not make for meaningful coverage of the White House");
Airlines Can Treat You Like Garbage Because They Are an Oligopoly [04-11];
I Don't Want to Hear Another Fucking Word About John McCain Unless He Dies
or Actually Does Something Useful for Once [02-17]. Perhaps best is
The Long, Lucrative Right-wing Grift Is Blowing Up in the World's Face
Trump was always venal, dishonest, genuinely deluded about his financial
acumen and business success, and, you know, a wildly misogynistic accused
rapist and sexual harasser. But for most of his public life, he also
clearly knew the right sorts of things to say to sound like a reasonable
person, albeit a mostly ridiculous one. Donald Trump the deranged believer
of bizarre untruths about the world at large is actually a fairly recent
development. . . . Trump learned what to think about the world at large
from the media, and for most of his life, he was a consumer of the
Donald Trump today is a cruel dolt turned into a raving madman by cable
news and Breitbart.com. You could see the descent happen during the Obama
era, in concert with the broader maddening of the GOP. The major difference
between Trump and the other old white men who've been radicalized by the
conservative press is that his was a strangely self-directed conversion,
based on his desire to make himself known as a plausible Republican
presidential candidate. . . .
Now, and for the foreseeable future, the grifter-in-chief sits alone
in the White House residence every night, watching cable news tell him
comforting lies -- that he's a hugely popular president, that responsibility
for his myriad setbacks and failures lies with the many powerful enemies
aligned against him a grand conspiracy -- in between the ads for reverse
mortgages and "all-natural male enhancement." There's an image of America
in the age of the complete triumph of bullshit. You spend a few years
selling lousy steaks to suckers, then one morning you wake up and you're
the sucker -- and the steak.
Frank Rich: Nixon, Trump, and How a Presidency Ends: More on Nixon
than on Trump, but the relevance is clear. One note I wasn't aware of
is that the House impeachment committee considered charging Nixon with
violating the "emoluments clause," which Trump has flagrantly violated
since taking office. Another is a Gary Wills quote about Nixon's help:
"a world of little men using large powers incompetently from a
combination of suspicion and panic." As I recall, Nixon and his "little
men" were less worried about what was being investigated than what else
the investigators might find, and that's surely true of Trump too.
Corey Robin: If Republicans lose the healthcare fight, it's the beginning
of the end: One note here is that in 1977, 1983 and 1993 "the federal
government launched a major retrenchment of Social Security" -- all three
were bipartisan efforts, two signed by Democratic presidents, but this
time Democrats aren't going to give Republicans cover for their cuts and
the misery they cause. This makes me think Republicans should worry more
about passing their bill, but they're pretty locked into their delusions.
Still, note this:
One reason the Republicans are having such a hard time of it is that the
public is overwhelmingly against the Senate bill. As Politico recently
reported, Senate phones have been ringing off the hook -- almost entirely
from citizens opposed to what the Republicans are doing.
A staffer for Mississippi senator Thad Cochran claims his office
received 226 constituent calls over a four-day period: two in favor of
the Republican bill, 224 against. And, yes, you read that correctly.
Not Massachusetts. Mississippi.
Jordan Rudner: Donald Trump's Supreme Court Justice Did a Lot of Horrible
Things Today [06-26]: Subheds: He opposed a ruling that gave same-sex
parents equal rights; He made it clear how he'll side on Trump's travel
ban; He helped vote to send a man to death in Texas; He tried to take on
a case that could further weaken gun control laws; He voted to strike
down a barrier between church and state
Christopher Sellers: Trump and Pruitt are the biggest threat to the EPA
in its 47 years of existence [07-01]
Matt Taibbi: With CNN Flap, Media's Trump-Era Identity Crisis Continues
[06-28]: "Donald Trump's great talent as a politician -- some might call it
an anti-talent -- is his ability to bring everyone down to his level." Also
Megyn Kelly Vivisects Bloated Conspiracy Hog Alex Jones [06-20].
Jeffrey Toobin: The National Enquirer's Fervor for Trump: "Throughout
the 2016 Presidential race, the Enquirer embraced Trump with
sycophantic fervor. The magazine made its first political endorsement
ever, of Trump, last spring." Related:
Gabriel Sherman: What Really Happened Between Donald Trump, the Hosts
of Morning Joe, and the National Enquirer [06-30].
Matthew Yglesias: The most important stories of the week, explained
[06-30]: CBO released its analysis of Senate GOP health bill; Trump's
travel ban finally went into effect; the EU slapped Google with a $2.7
billion fine; Elizabeth Warren endorsed single-payer health care;
Donald Trump held his first Trump fundraiser at the Trump hotel. Google
was found in violation of EU antitrust laws for perverting its search
results in favor of its advertisers. That should be illegal here, too.
The fundraiser may have struck people as odd given that he famously
self-financed his 2016 campaign. Yglesias writes:
While some politicians would go the extra mile to avoid even the
appearance of personally profiting from the presidency, this was
the clearest sign yet that Trump revels in it -- donors know they
are putting money directly in Trump's pocket via the hotel fees,
Trump knows it too, and the donors know that he knows it.
Yglesias also wrote:
Republicans' health bill saves its most severe Medicaid cuts for
outside the CBO's scoring window;
The 3 leading conservative cases for the Senate health bill,
explained. Needless to say, those "cases" range from bad to fraud.
From the second article:
One key thing to understand is that even though the bill would set
Medicaid on a course that makes cuts to coverage and services inevitable,
it defers all the actual decision-making to governors and state
legislatures. The effect is that the political pain for making the
cuts will probably fall on state-level actors rather than congressional
ones, letting the members of Congress whose actions made the cuts
inevitable evade accountability.
Note: It was impossible for me to follow various links that loooked
interesting due to aggressive gatekeeping. This included
The Wall Street Journal.
The Nation. I subscribe to The Nation, so should be able to work
around that, but the new browser doesn't have the right account info.
Friday, June 30. 2017
Ran up against the end of the month again, although this month has
more records than any since February, when I finally started running
out of interest in 2016 EOY lists. This month's resurgence is probably
related to having looked through a couple dozen mid-year lists --
they've become almost as automatic in the music press as EOY lists.
Lot of records below I wouldn't have noticed otherwise. On the other
hand, those lists are no guarantee of merit. Back on
June 12, I published my wild-ass guess how the top-20 of list
aggregate might look. Here's a slightly revised top-30 with some
recent releases and a few longer-shots (my grades in brackets):
- Kendrick Lamar: Damn (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope) [A-]
- Sampha: Process (Young Turks) [*]
- Lorde: Melodrama (Lava/Republic) [A-]
- The XX: I See You (Young Turks) [A-]
- Drake: More Life (Young Money/Cash Money) [*]
- Syd: Fin (Columbia) [A-]
- Father John Misty: Pure Comedy (Sub Pop)
- Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels 3 (Run the Jewels) [A-]
- Migos: Culture (QC/YRN/300) [***]
- Thundercat: Drunk (Brainfeeder) [*]
- Spoon: Hot Thoughts (Matador) [***]
- Future: Hndrxx (Epic/A1/Freebandz) [**]
- Jay Som: Everybody Works (Polyvinyl) [*]
- Mount Eerie: A Crow Looked at Me (PW Elverum & Sun) [*]
- Vince Staples: Big Fish Theory (Def Jam)
- Khalid: American Teen (Right Hand/RCA) [A-]
- Chris Stapleton: From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville) [***]
- SZA: Ctrl (Top Dawg/RCA) [**]
- Perfume Genius: No Shape (Matador) [B-]
- Slowdive: Slowdive (Dead Oceans) [*]
- Dirty Projectors: Dirty Projectors (Domino)
- Paramore: After Laughter (Fueled by Ramen) [***]
- Jens Lekman: Life Will See You Now (Secretly Canadian) [***]
- Laura Marling: Semper Femina (More Alarming) [*]
- Japandroids: Near to the Wild Heart of Life (Anti-) [**]
- Arca: Arca (XL) [B]
- Cloud Nothings: Life Without Sound (Carpark) [**]
- Joey Bada$$: All Amerikkkan Bada$$ (Pro Era/Cinematic) [A-]
- Stormzy: Gang Signs & Prayer (Merky) [*]
- The Magnetic Fields: 50 Song Memoir (Nonesuch) [B-]
I'll probably get to the three unrated albums shortly. Lorde has only
made five MY lists (vs. 13 for The XX and 15 for Drake) but she's currently
number two at
Album of the Year, with a 92/27 just behind Kendrick Lamar's 92/28.
Took me a long time to get to A- but I finally did (much longer than it
took me with Lamar). Drake has more/better lists than XX but I think we
have a hip-hop selection bias (unlike the norm for EOY lists) -- plus
I've heard the album and can't quite see what people like so much about
it. Vince Staples is currently number 4 at AOTY (88/18), and SZA is at
11 (85/10) -- SZA has done better on lists so far, but had a two-week
Of course, most of the good records I found don't show up on those
MY lists. For country, I got some tips from
Saving Country Music (Jason Eady, John Moreland, Colter Wall --
not that I wasn't already on Moreland).
Christgau has reviewed
Chuck Berry, Steve Earle, Oumou Sangaré, and Starlito (and written
about without reviewing
Omar Souleyman), but not my other two rap picks (Joey Bada$$
and Oddisee) or the electropop (Sylvan Esso, Charli XCX). Three
of five jazz albums came from my queue, but I had to go to Napster
for Jimmy Greene and to Bandcamp for Joshua Abrams. I was so
delighted with the latter I played all of his Eremites on Bandcamp
(but didn't find any more Ari Brown sax).
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records
from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets).
They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since
my last post along these lines, back on May 31. Past reviews and
more information are available
here (9774 records).
Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society: Simultonality
(2014-15 , Eremite): Chicago bassist, appeared in avant-garde
circles around 2002 but at this time highly patterned, repetetively
rhythmic music, close in spirit to minimalism but subtly more complex.
Abrams himself is also credited with guimbri, small harp, and bells,
and is joined by Lisa Alvarado (harmonium, Leslie, percussion), Ben
Boye (chromatic electric autoharp, piano, Wurlitzer), Emmett Kelly
(electric guitar), and two percussionists (Michael Avery and Frank
Rosaly) -- plus a real nice closing track tenor sax spot (Ari Brown).
Ambrose Akinmusire: A Rift in Decorum: Live at the Village
Vanguard (2017, Blue Note, 2CD): Trumpet player, born and
raised in Oakland, now 35 -- as one reviewer noted, the same age
as Coltrane when he recorded his own Live at the Village Vanguard
in 1961. Highly regarded: he topped DownBeat's Critics Poll
for Best Trumpet last year, following his third studio album, which
placed 3rd in 2014's Jazz Critics Poll. (Say, didn't Coltrane have a
couple dozen albums by 1961?) Quartet, with Sam Harris (piano), Harish
Raghavan (bass), and Justin Brown (drums). (Coltrane's Quartet members
weren't any more famous at the time, and extra Eric Dolphy had only
cut his first albums the year before.) I've never been much impressed,
at least until I heard "Trumpet Sketch (milky pete)," the intense
trumpet-drum parlay that closes the first disc. Still, took a long
time to warm up to that point, and the second disc only comes close
to reprising it on the last track. This leaves me with two thoughts:
first, this could have benefited from a lot of editing, and second,
this group isn't able to sustain their few moments of excitement
over a set or a side.
Tony Allen: A Tribute to Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers
(2017, Blue Note, EP): Drummer from Nigeria, best known for his work
with Fela Kuti. Can't recall him ever playing on a jazz record before,
but also can't imagine any reason he wouldn't admire the principal
inventor of hard bop, especially as Blakey himself developed a
fascination with African drumming. Four tracks, 24:34, including
Blakey's own "The Drum Thunder Suite." Septet based in Paris, the
horns a bit light and flighty, the rhythm more skittish than hard.
Joey Bada$$: All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ (2017, Pro
Era/Cinematic): Brooklyn rapper Jo-Vaughn Scott, second studio
album after three mixtapes. Despite his fondness for dollar signs,
this finds him thinking hard about injustice in the nation, and
while the "three K's" isn't deep, I don't mind him dropping a
little kitsch into the dialectic. Nor an occasional obscenity,
like "fuck Trump."
Ignacio Berroa Trio: Straight Ahead From Havana
(2017, Codes Drum Music): Drummer, from Cuba, left in 1980, joined
Dizzy Gillespie in 1981 until his death. First album, Codes
(2006) was superb, but I haven't heard anything since. This is a
piano trio featuring Martin Bejerano with Josh Allen on bass,
playing Cuban tunes recalled from Berroa's childhood in a very
straightforward bop style, a little extra percussion on a couple
tracks, and a Ruben Blades vocal on one.
Chuck Berry: Chuck (1991-2014 , Dualtone):
Legend, content to rest on his laurels since Rock It in 1979,
then announced this album on his 90th birthday, but didn't live long
enough to see its release. Eight originals, two fair approximations.
Of the originals, two are obvious glosses on classics ("Lady B.
Goode," "Jamaica Moon") but "Wonderful Woman" veers just far enough
from "Back in the USA" to seem like a new hit. A couple others offer
off-handed surprises, and nowhere does he struggle to top himself
like on his '70s albums.
Steve Bilodeau: The Sun Through the Rain (2017,
self-released): Guitarist, from Boston, has a half-dozen previous
albums (all on Bandcamp). This is a trio, with Richard Garcia on
sax and Dor Herskovitz on drums. Neither free nor fusion, a more
complex form of ambience, dense and rather dark.
Scott H. Biram: The Bad Testament (2017, Bloodshot):
Singer-songwriter from Texas, country drawl with a harder edge,
started out in 1998 as The Dirty Old One Man Band, fourth album
got picked up by Bloodshot in 2005, and this is his fifth since
(ninth overall). Seems incapable of putting together an album
without rough patches or gratuitous offense, but sometimes just
that works best -- as on the gospel singalong or the closing
Mary J Blige: Strength of a Woman (2017, Capitol):
I've never had a good ear or much patience for this r&b star,
but she hit it big in 1992, and while she hasn't gone platinum
since 2007 that's more the industry's fault: she projects great
strength and perseverance, even when wielding the "survivor"
cliché, and she hasn't let up one iota here. Of course, I'm
tempted to say she oversings and overpowers everything, but
that's just how she rolls.
Blondie: Pollinator (2017, BMG): A New York group
I loved in the 1970s, up to and including their oft-maligned 1980
album Autoamerican. Their big hiatus was between 1982-99,
but I didn't notice their last two albums (2011, 2014). This one
makes a strong, distinctive pop impression, but leaves me wondering
what they really have to say.
Erik Bogaerts/Hendrik Lasure/Pit Dahm: Bogaerts & Lasure +
Dahm (2016, self-released): Sax, piano, and drums, although
the latter is so quiet I've already forgotten it, leaving a rather
chamber-ish piano-sax dialogue. Bogaerts is from Antwerp, Belgium.
The Brother Brothers: Tugboats E.P. (2017,
self-released, EP): Country/folk group from Brooklyn, brothers
are Adam and David Moss. Six tracks, 18:43, harmonies can be
Everly, main instruments are fiddle and cello, the one cut
where they drop them for something accordion-like is a must to
Burial: Subtemple/Beachfires (2017, Hyperdub, EP):
William Bevan, British dubstep producer, released two albums 2006-07,
the latter to much acclaim, but since then has only dribbled out EPs
or singles -- this one skimpier than most, the two songs total 17:13.
Rather glum and obscure, makes one wonder why we should bother.
Burning Ghosts: Reclamation (2017, Tzadik): LA-based
jazz-metal fusion quartet, second album: Daniel Rosenboom (trumpet),
Jake Vossler (guitar), Richard Giddens (bass), Aaron McLendon (drums).
Trumpet player is terrific -- he's building a very interesting career,
mostly behind group aliases but his Astral Transference and Seven
Dreams is worth searching for. The metal offers some solid crunch
but not a lot of flash.
Julie Byrne: Not Even Happiness (2017, Ba Da Bing):
Singer-songwriter from Buffalo, second album, rather short (9 songs,
32:37). Plays guitar and sings, so a folkie by default, dressed up
with an aura of strings. Doesn't seems like much, especially given
a first instinct to compare her to Joni Mitchell, but grows on you.
Gerald Cannon: Combinations (2017, Woodneck):
Mainstream bassist, one previous album in 2003, numerous side
credits back to 1995, has trouble working all his friends in
so they're rotated with a few cuts each: alto saxophonists Gary
Bartz, Sherman Irby, and Steve Slagle; trumpeters Duane Eubanks
and Jeremy Pelt; pianists Rick Germanson and Kenny Barron. Willie
Jones III gets most of the drum work, but Will Calhoun gets one
cut, and guitarist Rick Malone gets three. Five originals, six
Regina Carter: Ella: Accentuate the Positive
(2017, Okeh/Masterworks): Violinist, ten albums since 1995, won
a MacArthur "genius" grant in 2006. This coincides with the 100th
anniversary of Ella Fitzgerald's birth, but it's hard to see an
organic connection to Carter's work -- I suspect it was the label's
idea (like when they directed her cousin to Billie Holiday), and
with its ready-made songbook seemed easy. Two vocals (Miche Braden
and Carla Cook, spread wide), the rest instrumentals featuring the
leader backed with guitar, keyboards, bass, and drums.
Playboi Carti: Playboi Carti (2017, AWGE/Interscope):
Atlanta rapper Jordan Terrell Carter, previously dba $ir Cartier,
first mixtape. Rhythmically resembles Young Thug, but hasn't really
found message or meaning yet.
Chastity Belt: I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone
(2017, Hardly Art): Indie band, four women from Walla Walla,
Washington, so post-punk they're almost lackadaisical, which
is not because they're boring, let alone happy.
Chicano Batman: Freedom Is Free (2017, ATO): Los
Angeles band, third album, mostly in Spanish, started out sounding
erratically dissonant, or maybe just out of tune, then started to
cohere somewhat -- even got interesting on one song I could follow
("The Taker City").
Gerald Clayton: Tributary Tales (2017, Motéma):
Pianist, son of bassist John Clayton, fourth album. Group includes
three saxes (Logan Richardson, Ben Wendel, Dayna Stephens), bass,
and drums. The saxes provide some attractive big band harmonics,
but this doesn't generate much lift or propulsion.
Steve Coleman's Natal Eclipse: Morphogenesis (2016
, Pi): Alto saxophonist, thirty-some albums since 1985, has
broken new ground several times and this is probably another --
I've played it many times, never really making up my mind as it
keeps shifting in unexpected directions. Large group with a chamber
jazz air -- only has percussion on 5/9 tracks, never significant,
although there are many sources of rhythm -- three reeds, trumpet,
violin, piano, bass, with Jen Shyu's voice shadowing.
Bill Cunliffe: BACHanalia (2013-16 , Metre):
Pianist, has a dozen or so records since 1993 (e.g., Bill Plays
Bud, Bill in Brazil, A Paul Simon Songbook), has
worked in big bands, and has written five books. This was recorded
over three sessions, some with big band. Two (of eight) titles
credit JS Bach, one more CPE Bach, but nothing here triggers my
Bach reflex -- nor does the Prokofiev, but I only recognized the
Cole Porter when the singer took over, so none of this strikes
me as very clear (or inspiring). Featuring credits for singer
Denise Donatelli and trumpeter Terell Stafford, who also gets
a shout-out from the leader.
Dálava: The Book of Transfigurations (2016 ,
Songlines): New York guitarist Aram Bajakian, of Armenian heritage
but I'm not finding much biography, nor credits here. He has a previous
Dálava album (2014): Moravian folk songs, sung by his wife Julia
Ulehla, transcribed by her great-grandfather over a century ago. Figure
this for more: while the vocals harken back to an age that aspired to
opera, the guitar is decidedly new.
Roger Davidson Trio With Hendrik Meurkens: Oração Para
Amanhã/Prayer for Tomorrow (2016 , Soundbrush): Pianist,
based in New York but fell hard for Brazilian music long ago, something
he has in common with the German vibraphonist/harmonica player. With
Eduardo Bello on bass, Antonio Santos on drums, for fast sambas with
Rick Davies: Thugtet (2015 , Emlyn): Trombonist,
originally from Albuquerque, played Latin jazz for many years in New
York, recorded this three weeks before his death in December 2015.
Billed as "an energetic meld of danceable Latin with jazz and a good
taste of funk," features Alex Stewart (tenor sax) and Ray Vega (trumpet)
as guests, doubling up on the congas.
Joey DeFrancesco and the People: Project Freedom
(2017, Mack Avenue): Names his band but the publicist doesn't bother
to list credits. Some sleuthing suggests the leader plays his usual
organ plus some trumpet, along with Troy Roberts (tenor/soprano sax),
Jason Brown (drums), and Dan Wilson (probably guitar). Starts with
a whiff of "Imagine," and includes titles like "Lift Every Voice and
Sing," "A Change Is Gonna Come," and "Stand Up" -- probably some
The Deslondes: Hurry Home (2017, New West): New
Orleans group, generically Americana, draws on country rock with
Cajun flavors including a guy who doubles on fiddle/pedal steel.
Dalton Domino: Corners (2017, Lightning Rod):
Singer-songwriter, alt-country division, has some grit in his
voice and in his songs. Last few songs do tend to blur together.
Drake: More Life: A Playlist by October Firm (2017,
Young Money/Cash Money): Canadian rapper, destined to be a big deal
in 2010 but he's never really delivered, even though he's been rather
prolific. Probably his most critically acclaimed album since Thank
Me Later, but it's packaged as a throwaway and that's pretty much
what he delivers. I'm sure there are other rappers who are as regularly
upstaged by guests and samples, but I can't recall their names.
Jason Eady: Jason Eady (2017, Old Guitar): Country
singer-songwriter, born in Mississippi but seems to be associated
with Texas, with a half-dozen albums since 2005 on obscure labels.
Picks his way through unassuming songs, easy and graceful, most
with stories to tell.
Justin Townes Earle: Kids in the Street (2017,
New West): Singer-songwriter, drawl much weaker than his father's
which shades him away from country toward folk, and personality
seems less commanding as well. Nice record, though.
Steve Earle & the Dukes: So You Wannabe an Outlaw
(2017, Warner Brothers): There's nothing glamorous about those outlaw
songs, but the roots grow thick, not least with the fiddle.
Silke Eberhard Trio: The Being Inn (2016 ,
Intakt): Plays alto sax and bass clarinet (here), based in Berlin,
has done tributes to Dolphy, Coleman, and Mingus; credited with
writing everything here, although I hear echoes of Ornette. Trio
with Jan Roder (bass) and Kay Lubke (drums).
Eliane Elias: Dance of Time (2017, Concord): Brazilian
pianist, early albums from 1985 on were instrumental but at some point
she started to sing -- most winningly on 1998's Eliane Elias Sings
Jobim -- and lately it's turned into her shtick, light and charming.
The Four Bags: Waltz (2017, NCM East): With no drums,
I suppose you could characterize this as chamber jazz, just not very
formal or polite. Trombone (Brian Drye), accordion (Jacob Garchik),
clarinet (Mike McGinnis), and guitar (Sean Moran) -- all leaders on
their own (Garchik primarily on trombone), each contributing pieces
here (plus three takes of "Valse des As" by G. Jacques).
Art Fristoe Trio: Double Down (2017, Merry Lane, 2CD):
Piano trio, seems to be pianist Fristoe's debut, a double, with Tim Ruiz
on bass and Richard Cholakian or Daleton Lee on drums. Six originals,
mostly on the second disc, plus eleven covers, opening with "Smells Like
Teen Spirit" and closing with "Speak Low." For some reason he decides
to sing "Blackbird," and it's not pretty.
Future: Future (2017, Epic/A1/Freebandz): Rapper
Nayvadius Cash, fifth studio album since 2012 (he also has a dozen
mixtapes and 62 singles). Stretches himself thin over 17 tracks,
62:47, and still wasn't done.
Future: Hndrxx (Epic/A1/Freebandz): And, dropping a
week after Future, his Sixth studio album. Most critics, including
Christgau, regard this as the better half. It does start stronger, but
once he settles into his slack groove it's hard for me to discern any
Gabriel Garzón-Montano: Jardin (2017, Stones Throw):
Brooklyn-born, father French, mother Colombian. Album has a soul vibe
but can slow down to just airy.
Gato Libre: Neko (2016 , Libra): Trio, seventh
album since 2004, led by trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, with Yasuko Kaneko
on trombone and Satoko Fujii on accordion -- sort of a miniature/avant
brass band, the accordion adding a folkish flair. Some lovely passages,
especially toward the end, but it rarely jumps out at you.
Kate Gentile: Mannequins (2016 , Skirl):
Drummer, also plays vibes, from Buffalo, based in New York since
2011. First album, quartet with Jeremy Viner (clarinet/tenor sax),
Matt Mitchell (piano/electronics), and Adam Hopkins (bass). All
original material by Gentile, interesting mix of rhythmic vamps
and free jazz, both good for the pianist. Runs long: 72 minutes.
Terry Gibbs: 92 Years Young: Jammin' at the Gibbs House
(2016 , Whaling City Sound): Vibraphonist, born 1924, cut his
first record in 1949 (or 1951), led an outfit he called the Dream Band
circa 1959 (his son, drummer Gerry Gibbs, present here, has his own
Dream Band). First record since 2006, cut in his living room with John
Campbell on piano and Mike Gurrola on bass, mostly swing and early bop
standards, and indeed they are delightful.
The Brett Gold New York Jazz Orchestra: Dreaming Big
(2016 , Goldfox): Big band, 18 pieces when the guitar's present,
Gold composed and arranged but doesn't play, more than half of the
New York musicians are recognizable from their own careers. Certainly
has some exciting passages, especially when the trombones come out.
Alex Goodman: Second Act (2017, Lyte): Guitarist,
from Canada, first album nominated for a JUNO as "Contemporary
Jazz Album of the Year" -- probably doesn't mean pop jazz -- at
least this isn't -- but fancy, intricate, thoughtful postbop,
impressive but not especially interesting. Band here includes
sas/EWI (Matt Marantz), keyboards, bass, drums, vocal credits
I never quite noticed in two plays, fluffed out to 75 minutes.
The Great Harry Hillman: Tilt (2017, Cuneiform):
Swiss group, from Luzern: Nils Fischer (reeds), David Koch
(guitar/efx), Samuel Huwyler (bass), Dominik Mahnig (drums).
Namesake was a sprinter who won three gold medals in the 1904
Olympics. Hard to pigeonhole this -- hype sheet compares them
to postrock bands like Radian and Tortoise, throwing in a little
Mary Halvorson, which may be the idea, but the actuality is less
settled, or predictable.
Jimmy Greene: Flowers: Beautiful Life, Volume 2
(2017, Mack Avenue): Tenor saxophonist, based in Sandy Hook, CT,
where his 6-year-old daughter was among those murdered in the
infamous school shooting there. He bounced back with his 2014
album Beautiful Life and won a Grammy, but I prefer this
edgier album, full of probing, searching saxophone. Two piano
trios split the backing (Renee Rosnes/John Patitucci/Jeff "Tain"
Watts vs. Kevin Hays/Ben Williams/Otis Brown III), and two songs
get guest vocals.
Halsey: Hopeless Fountain Kingdom (2017, Astralwerks):
Young pop singer from New Jersey, Ashley Frangipane, second album
after her debut, Badlands, went platinum (and made my A-list).
This isn't as immediately appealing, perhaps because the fated lovers
saga seems contrived, borrowed, or just too much trouble. Still has
a knack, though.
Louis Hayes: Serenade for Horace (2017, Blue Note):
Drummer, was still in his teens in 1956 when he joined the Horace
Silver Quintet -- for the next decade one of the greatest of all
hard bop groups. Hayes moved on to Cannonball Adderley in 1959,
and Oscar Peterson in 1965-67 and 1971, and led his own groups
from 1972 on, sometimes sharing billing with Junior Cook or Woody
Shaw. David Bryant plays piano, Josh Evans trumpet, Abraham Burton
tenor sax, Steven Nelson vibes, Dezron Douglas bass. Silver's tunes
still sound terrific, especially when Burton takes charge (he even
salvages the Gregory Porter vocal), with the vibes accenting the
Wade Hayes: Old Country Song (2017, Conabor):
Country singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, first two records (1995-96)
went gold, next two charted, fifth was self-released nine years
later, and since then he's had a close call to cancer. Neotrad,
not especially inspired, but I rather like "I Don't Understand"
("all I know about love"). Also "Going Where the Lonely Go."
The Heliocentrics: A World of Masks (2017, Soundway):
London jazz-funk group "based around" drummer/producer Malcolm Catto,
name derived from Sun Ra, have done especially notable work in their
surprising collaborations (Mulatu Astatke, Lloyd Miller, Orlando
Julius, Melvin Van Peebles). Dense world fusion, front-loaded with
vocals (Barbora Patkova, from Slovakia).
Joseph Huber: The Suffering Stage (2017, self-released):
Singer-songwriter from Milwaukee, played banjo in .357 String Band,
considered folk or country but rocks pretty hard for the former.
Bandcamp has two bonus tracks.
Innocent When You Dream: Dirt in the Ground (2017,
self-released): Canadian group, evidently led by Aaron Shragge,
credited with "dragon mouth trumpet/shakuhachi," joined by tenor
sax (Jonathan Lindhorst), guitar (Ryan Butler), bass (Dan Fortin),
drums (Nico Dann), and on most tracks pedal steel (Joe Grass).
Not quite pop, but they maintain a groove and soar a little.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: The Nashville Sound
(2017, Southeastern): Alabama boy, one of the songwriters in the
Drive-By Truckers, left ten years ago for a solo career still yoked
to a band name. Christgau likes his last four albums more (sometimes
a lot more) than I do, which probably means I should pay more heed
to the lyrics and worry less about the unexceptional music -- here
nothing I would chalk up as "Nashville sound" even given that as
Nashville pursues the arenas they've been rocking harder than ever.
But Isbell doesn't rock hard, nor does he play up his roots, and
while a couple songs are clear and poignant, others pass right by.
Japandroids: Near to the Wild Heart of Life (2017,
Anti-): Canadian garage punk duo/group, third record, five years
after their second. Brash and loud, works for them.
The Jesus and Mary Chain: Damage and Joy (2017,
ADA/Warner): Scottish noise-pop band, principally brothers Jim
and William Reid, a big deal in 1985-94, broke up after their 1998
album flopped, reunited for lack of anything better to do in 2007
but didn't rush into the studio: this is their first album in 19
years. Easily a return to form, one I thoroughly enjoyed without
being much impressed (well, until "Get On Home" came on).
J.I.D: The Never Story (2017, Dreamville/Interscope):
Atlanta rapper Destin Route, signed to J Cole's label, first album
after an EP, trips lightly through ten producers, who don't treat
him quite as well.
Kano: Made in the Manor (2016, Parlophone): British
rapper, file under grime, fifth album since 2005, snagged a Mercury
nomination and made some UK EOY lists last year, tied for 211 in my
EOY aggregate so I noticed it but failed to check it out (note that
I graded 9/17 records at that level, 5 of them A-).
Ryan Keberle & Catharsis: Find the Common, Shine a
Light (2017, Greenleaf Music): Trombonist, fifth album
with this group -- Mike Rodriguez (trumpet), Jorge Roeder (bass),
Eric Doob (drums) -- with former guest singer Camila Meza (also
plays guitar) moving into center stage. Beatles ("Fool on the
Hill") and Dylan ("The Times They Are A-Changin'") covers are
surprisingly striking, the original material more mixed.
Zara Larsson: So Good (2017, Epic/TEN): Swedish
pop singer, still a teenager first album a hit in Scandinavia,
this second an international breakout. In English, primed for
the world market, danceable but not as hot, say, as Robyn. Not
unthoughtful either. Still, how come the lyric I noticed was "you
can be the next female president"? Then the refrain went "make
that money girl" -- as if that's the ticket.
Llop: J.Imp (2017, El Negocito): Quartet, Belgian
(I think): Erik Bogaerts (sax), Benjamin Sauzereau (guitar), Jens
Bouttery (drums, electronics), Brice Soniano (bass). Mostly improv,
surprisingly ambient, pleasant even.
Lord Echo: Harmonies (2017, Soundway): From New
Zealand, aliases Mike August and Mike Fabulous, bills himself as
"underground super-producer." Sounds more soul than anything but
not as retro as Mayer Hawthorne, but you might triangulate that
with disco and nu and rocksteady and find something fresh.
Lorde: Melodrama (2017, Lava/Republic): Pop star from
New Zealand, cut her first album in her teens, released this second album
to much acclaim at 20. Co-writes most of her songs with Jack Antonoff,
avoids the big producer-centric glitz most pop artists aim for, even
has a way of talking her way into them that recalls Lily Allen. Not as
fucking brilliant, but already pretty damn sharp.
Low Cut Connie: "Dirty Pictures" (Part 1) (2017,
Contender): Philadelphia alt/indie band named for a memorable
waitress, fourth album, led by Adam Weiner, who has lately shifted
focus from guitar to piano, gaining a raucous honky-tonk sound.
The piano is more central than ever here, but that only helps
when they keep it upbeat, not when maturity turns to flab.
Alex Maguire/Nikolas Skordas Duo: Ships and Shepherds
(2016 , Slam, 2CD): Pianist Maguire has been around, playing in
Hatfield and the North, Elton Dean's Newsense, Pip Pyle's Bash, Sean
Bergin and M.O.B., a couple albums with Michael Moore. This seems to
be the debut for Skordas, who plays tenor/soprano sax, gaida (bagpipe),
tarogato, flutes, bells, and whistles. He doesn't exactly put his best
foot forward by starting with the bagpipe, a harshness that recurs as
part of their volatile chemistry.
Brian McCarthy Nonet: The Better Angels of Our Nature
(2016 , Truth Revolution): Alto/soprano saxophonist, second album.
Nonet arrays trumpet, trombone, four saxes, and piano-bass-drums for
rich and varied textures, occasionally dipping into Civil War-vintage
tunes -- the title draws on Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural address.
John McLean/Clark Sommers Band: Parts Unknown (2017,
Origin): Guitar and bass, both have other albums as leaders. Front
cover also mentions Joe Locke (vibes) and Xavier Breaker (drums).
By turns, slick, slinky, and frothy.
Tift Merritt: Stitch of the World (2017, Yep Roc):
Singer-songwriter, usually taken for country but that doesn't seem
Molly Miller Trio: The Shabby Road Recordings (2017,
self-released): Guitar-bass-drums trio, young enough to consider
Jackson Browne and Tom Waits tunes standards, plus some more trad
fare (even beyond Smokey Robinson). Ten songs, 29:22.
Charnett Moffett: Music From Our Soul (2017, Motéma):
Bassist, more than a dozen albums since 1987, many side credits (only
7 listed on his Wikipedia page but AMG's credits table runs 290 lines).
Group here includes Pharoah Sanders (tenor sax), Cyrus Chestnut (piano),
Stanley Jordan (guitar), and rotates between three drummers (Jeff "Tain"
Watts, Mike Clark, Victor Lewis). The big three do what you'd expect,
with Sanders all sharp edges, Jordan polished grooves, and Chestnut
richly florid vamps. Could have used more Sanders, but he sounds great
when he gets the chance.
Thurston Moore: Rock N Roll Consciousness (2017,
Caroline): Sonic Youth guitarist, side projects date back to circa
1995 but were usually experimental and minor until the band broke
up. This seems in between, only five songs, two over 10 minutes
(total 42:51), the words coming late and reluctantly.
John Moreland: Big Bad Luv (2017, 4AD): Country
singer-songwriter, born in Texas, moved around a lot including
a spell in Kentucky but counts Tulsa as his home. Title was a
throw-away line in the upbeat closer but his non-Nashville label
must have dug it. Fine collection of songs, some fast, some slow,
he does it all.
Gurf Morlix: The Soul & the Heal (2017, Rootball):
Singer-songwriter, played with and produced Lucinda Williams, cut his
first album in 2000 and is up to ten here. Pretty good songs rooted in
Austin's view of the country.
Kyle Motl: Solo Contrabass (2016 , self-released):
Bassist, top two associations are with Abbey Rader and Peter Kuhn, so
avant and not so famous; also has a duo album with Adam Tinkle and two
group albums led by Drew Ceccato. Solo bass albums tend to be more
about drawing sounds out of their instrument than music, but this
The Mountain Goats: Goths (2017, Merge): John Darneille's
group front, in business since 1991, sixteenth album. Name drops various
groups he grew up listening to, while remaining truthful to his own
MUNA: About U (2017, RCA): Los Angeles guitar band,
three women, genre said to be "dark pop," got a rave review in The
Nation but two plays slipped by me without leaving a lasting
impression, other than certainly, not bad.
Amina Claudine Myers: Sama Rou: Songs From My Soul
(2016, Amina C): Pianist-organ player-vocalist, originally from Arkansas,
steeped in church music, moved to Chicago and joined AACM, then on to
New York. First two albums focused in Marion Brown and Bessie Smith,
a range she's stradled ever since -- at least up to 2000, when the
discography fizzles out. This is solo and seems to be new, released
after she turned 74. Most striking on the back half's spirituals.
Quinsin Nachoff/Mark Helias/Dan Weiss: Quinsin Nachoff's
Ethereal Trio (2016 , Whirlwind): Tenor saxophonist,
several albums since 2006, this sax-bass-drums trio by far his best.
Original pieces, mostly mid-tempo, nothing fancy or frantic, but
it holds together superbly.
The Necks: Unfold (2017, Ideologic Organ): Exceptionally
long-running Australian piano trio -- Chris Abrahams (piano), Tony Buck
(drums), Lloyd Swanton (bass) -- with 22 albums going back to 1989. This
was designed for 2-LP with four side-long pieces 15:35-21:47. Less jazz
than shimmering, resplendent ambient, nicely pitched for a label handled
by Editions Mego.
Vadim Neselovskyi Trio: Get Up and Go (2017, Blujazz):
Ukrainian pianist, based in New York but teaches at Berklee in Boston.
Third album, a tightly melodic piano trio with some vocal shadowing
I neither like nor mind.
Ed Neumeister & His NeuHat Ensemble: Wake Up Call
(2014 , MeisteroMusic): Trombonist, a veteran of many big bands
from the 1980s, with several albums as leader. This is a big band
thing, with Dick Oatts and Rich Perry in the reeds, Steve Cardenas
on guitar, John Hollenbeck on percussion -- more than half of the
players are names I recognize.
The New Vision Sax Ensemble: Musical Journey Through Time
(2017, Zak Publishing): Saxophone quartet: Diron Holloway (soprano/alto
plus clarinet), James Lockhart (alto), Jason Hainsworth (tenor), Melton
Mustafa (baritone). Their journey proceeds back through time, starting
with a Bobby Watson piece, then "Night in Tunisia" and "'Round Midnight"
through a Gershwin medley and "These Foolish Things" and on to Scott
Joplin and "Amazing Grace" -- crowd pleasers that let them show off
their clever layering.
Larry Newcomb Quartet With Bucky Pizzarelli: Living Tribute
(2016 , Essential Messenger): Guitarist, got a PhD from University
of Florida in 1998, CV and "musical influences" mostly rock but he comes
off more as a soul/swing guy here, or maybe that's just his new mentor
Pizzarelli. Quartet includes Eric Olsen on piano. Starts with standards,
then moves into originals, which continue the vibe. Two nice vocals toward
the end, by Leigh Jonaitis.
North Mississippi Allstars: Prayer for Peace (2017,
Legacy): Brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson, sons of Memphis producer
Jim Dickinson, formed this band in 1996 although Luther also plays
for Black Crowes. Southern rock with more nostalgia for Martin Luther
King than for Dixie, dipping more than a few times into old blues --
I actually had "Stealin'" in my head before I heard this delightful
Oddisee: The Iceberg (2017, Mello Music Group):
Amir Mohamed el Khalife, rapper born in Maryland, based in DC,
father from Sudan, prolific since 2005 (Wikipedia counts 11 studio
albums, 10 mixtapes). Beats acoustic, band rocks, even swings a
little, the raps fast and impressively level-headed.
Zephaniah OHora & the 18 Wheelers: This Highway
(2017, MRI): Country singer-songwriter from Brooklyn, uses a lot of
old-fashioned pedal steel but lacks that old-time twang in his voice,
which gives his oft-effortless crooning a peculiar air. And when he
goes for a cover, he comes up with "Something Stupid."
Aruán Ortiz: Cubanism: Piano Solo (2016 ,
Intakt): Pianist, b. 1973 in Cuba, based in Brooklyn, half-dozen
albums since 2005. Last year's trio Hidden Voices was
especially well regarded, and this solo effort is every bit as
thoughtful. Original pieces, oblique references to Afro-Cuban,
nothing too obvious.
Jeff Parker: Slight Freedom (2013-14 , Eremite):
Jazz guitarist from Chicago, plays in avant groups but also in post-rock
Tortoise. Solo guitar with effects and sampler -- the latter adds some
beat, which makes this attractive without a lot of virtuosity.
Perfume Genius: No Shape (2017, Matador): Stage
name for Mike Hadreas, has several albums that strike me as fey
and arty -- this one even more so.
Errol Rackipov Group: Distant Dreams (2015 ,
OA2): Plays vibraphone and marimba, studied at Berklee and Miami,
second album -- had a song on a Jazziz sampler in 1997 but
only source I've found on the album gives its date as 2015. Group
has two saxophones, piano, bass, and drums -- very energetic with
Rag'n'Bone Man: Human (2017, Columbia): British
singer-songwriter Rory Charles Graham, first album, title single
works the cliché that the definition of being human is fucking up.
He has an impressive voice that I can't peg in any genre -- it
belies any possible claim to blues or gospel, reminding me more
than anything of a Marine Corps drill sergeant, an effect only
enhanced by the backup singers. It's the sort of record that
sounds impressive first, but you grow tired of quickly.
Mason Razavi: Quartet Plus, Volume 2 (2016 ,
OA2): Guitarist, based in San Francisco area, has a couple previous
albums. Quartet adds piano/keyboards, acoustic/electric bass, and
drums, the "plus" expanding into a smallish big band (three reeds,
one each trumpet/trombone) for the second half, most obvious (if
not best) on the sole cover, "Caravan."
Mike Reed: Flesh & Bone (2016 , 482 Music):
Chicago drummer, has done a heroic job of absorbing and furthering
the avant-jazz tradition of his city, usually attributing his work
to two groups rather than appearing on the masthead alone. Of course,
he's not alone: the credits are structured as a two-sax quartet (Greg
Ward and Tim Haldenam), with Jason Roebke on bass, but two more horns
spread out the sound: Jason Stein on bass clarinet and Ben Lamar Gay
on cornet. Reed refers to this as "my dream-like reflections" and
that's the weak spot, when it gets too dreamy. But things wake up
with Marvin Tate's spoken word rants and ravings -- I sneered at
first, then found them interesting, and ultimately decided they
were an intrinsic part of the album's musicality.
Jeremy Rose: Within & Without (2016 ,
Earshift Music): From Australia, plays alto sax and bass clarinet,
has at least three albums. Plays off here against Kurt Rosenwinkel's
guitar, backed by piano-bass-drums.
Samo Salamon Sextet: The Colours Suite (2016 ,
Clean Feed): Guitarist from Slovenia, has consistently produced
interesting records. Wrote eight pieces named for colors, and brought
this sextet for Jazz Festival Ljubljana, with "two of my favorite
drummers" (Roberto Dani and Christian Lillinger), Pascal Niggenkemper
(bass), Achille Succi (bass clarinet), and Julian Arguelles (tenor
and soprano sax). The horns contrast well, the sharper sax piercing
the airier bass clarinet, most impressively when they crank it up.
Oumou Sangaré: Mogoya (2017, No Format): Wassoulou
singer from Bamako, the capitol of Mali. She's recorded super albums
since 1991's Moussolou. While Christgau detects a loss of
"engagement" here, I find myself enjoying it just fine.
Scenes: Destinations (2016-17 , Origin):
Guitar-bass-drums trio -- John Stowell, Jeff Johnson, John Bishop --
have a number of albums together. Stowell is an intricate stylist,
and gets helpful but unimposing support.
Shinyribs: I Got Your Medicine (2016 ,
Mustard Lid): Country-soul, swamp-funk band from Austin, originally
just Kevin Russell (vocals, guitar, ukulele, mandolin) but nowadays
they got horns and backing singers which lets them swing a little.
Sample verse: "he once was a verb, now just a noun." On the other
hand, great cover of "A Certain Girl." Also recommended: "I Don't
Give a Sh*t."
Sleaford Mods: English Tapas (2017, Rough Trade):
British duo -- rapper Jason Williamson and musician Andrew Fearn --
with their postpunk beats and working class screeds. Been around
long enough they're starting to get automatic, and been successful
enough you start to wonder if they're losing their edge. They are,
somewhat, but still can catch a riff and/or a rant often enough
to remind you how unique they are.
Slowdive: Slowdive (2017, Dead Oceans): British
shoegaze/dream pop group led by singers Neil Halstead and Rachel
Goswell, released three albums 1991-95, broke up, regrouped and
after 22 years came up with their fourth album -- like Jesus and
Mary Chain, except not so famous (or good). Short on fuzz, but
enough shimmer to drown in.
Smino: Blkswn (2017, Zero Fatigue/Downtown):
Rapper from St. Louis, Christopher Smith, debut album after a
couple EPs. Small voice, small beats, likes to sing, which
occasionally threatens to get catchy but more often is just
Jay Som: Everybody Works (2017, Polyvinyl): Alias
for Melina Duterte, born in Oakland, parents Filipino. Sort of a
DIY pop thing, a novel, interesting voice.
Omar Souleyman: To Syria, With Love (2017, Mad Decent):
Syrian wedding singer, a style known as dabke, currently based in Turkey,
was introduced to the United States in 2006 via the first of four Sublime
Frequencies comps, and has since become an international star. Hard to
choose between his last three albums, but this is the hottest, heaviest,
most frenetic albums I've heard this year, so it stands out clearly from
Chris Stapleton: From a Room: Volume 1 (2017,
Mercury Nashville): Country singer-songwriter, maybe "alt" but
he's so died-in-wool I wouldn't dare quibble. Solid bunch of
songs, mostly down-and-out, but that's realism these days.
Starlito & Don Trip: Step Brothers Three (2017,
Grind Hard): Two rappers from Tennessee, Nashville and Memphis,
released their first Step Brothers in 2011. Midtempo beats,
rhymes unroll methodically, everything so loose you're surprised
to find it holding together. Christgau tweeted "best hip-hop album
of a year that should damn well be generating better ones." Took
me three plays and I'm still not convinced, but desperate times
are upon us.
John Stein/Dave Zinno: Wood and Strings (2016 ,
Whaling City Sound): Guitar and bass duets, mostly standards (4 Stein
pieces, 1 Zinno, 9 others, with Sam Rivers the outlier). Very intimate,
the bass resonant, the guitar light as a feather.
Dayna Stephens: Gratitude (2017, Contagious Music):
Tenor saxophonist. Eighth album as leader, although it seems like I
run into him more often in others' side credits. Quintet is likely
better known: Brad Mehldau (piano), Julian Lage (guitar), Larry
Grenadier (bass), and Eric Harland (drums). Marvelous tone, on the
upbeat pieces anyway -- when they slow down the guitar tends to
get in the way.
Becca Stevens: Regina (2017, GroundUp): Singer-songwriter,
fourth album, has some jazz cred but I'm not particularly hearing that
here, and "Mercury" is flat-out pop. Guest spots for Laura Mvula, Jacob
Collier, and David Crosby. Two covers, one from Stevie Wonder (botched).
Matthew Stevens: Preverbal (2017, Ropeadope):
Guitarist, from Toronto, studied at Berklee, based in New York,
second album, a trio backed with bass (Vicente Archer) and drums
(Eric Doob). Too uncertain for fusion. Last track goes verbal,
feat. Esperanza Spalding.
Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives: Way Out West
(2017, Superlatone): A long-time bluegrass stalwart, leans here toward
the Western end of C&W, which sounds fine at first but somehow gets
lost in the tumbleweeds.
Sylvan Esso: What Now (2017, Loma Vista): Electropop
duo from North Carolina, singer Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn.
Second album. Terrific.
SZA: Ctrl (2017, Top Dawg/RCA): Neo soul singer Solana
Rowe, first album after two mixtapes and an EP, an instant hit although
not so obvious to me -- certainly likable, with guests like Travis Scott
and Lamar Kendrick checking in to mix it up.
Tamikrest: Kidal (2017, Glitterbeat): Tuareg band
from in/around Kidal in northeast Mali, on their fifth album here.
A remarkably calming record, in stark contrast to the rhythmically
similar (but fancier) Omar Souleyman or even other Saharan groups
(e.g., Mariem Hassan's). I count that as a plus, but a limited one.
Dylan Taylor: One in Mind (2015-16 , Blujazz):
Plays bass and cello, second album, wrote 3/10 songs here, fewer
than his more famous sideman, the late guitarist Larry Coryell (5),
who provides the sweet tooth here. Also with drummer Mike Clark.
Thundercat: Drunk (2017, Brainfeeder): Stephen
Bruner, mostly plays bass guitar, started more as a producer, has
dozens of side-credits including Flying Lotus and Kendric Lamar,
but three albums in has evolved into some kind of soul man, just
very hard one to pin down. Runs through 23 tracks in 51:24.
Thurst: Cut to the Chafe (2017, self-released):
Los Angeles post-punk band, two siblings, Kory and Jessie Seal --
he does most of the vocals and she drums -- plus a bass player.
Rough, but I suppose that's the point.
Trombone Shorty: Parking Lot Symphony (2017,
Blue Note): New Orleans trombonist, albums date from 2002 but
he took off when Verve picked him up in 2010. Also credited
here with vocals and another dozen instruments, backed by
another dozen musicians and a choir. Basically soft soul,
with delusions of grandeur. I moved him into my pop jazz file
a while back, but he's not even that anymore.
Urbanity: Urban Soul (2017, Alfi): Australian duo,
Phil Turcio (keyboards) and Albert Dadon (guitars, aka Albare).
Genial, pleasant groove music.
The Vampires: The Vampires Meet Lionel Loueke (2016
, Earshift Music): Hard for me to see Loueke as making for an
especially momentous meeting, although he does what he usually does
here, adding some sinewy, sweet guitar and (eventually) vocals. The
group is a two-horn quartet, Jeremy Rose (alto/tenor sax, bass
clarinet) and Nick Garrett (trumpet), plus bass and either of two
drummers. The strike me as typical rock fans who moved on to jazz
because it's more demanding, and don't want to hear about fusion.
Carlos Vega: Bird's Up (2016 , Origin):
Saxophonist (tenor/soprano), from Miami, teaches in Tallahassee,
recorded this in Chicago. Second album, both with "Bird" in the
title. Impressive on a straight charge, although I find the
various change ups (including a guest vocal) a bit muddled.
Mat Walerian/Matthew Shipp/William Parker: Toxic: This Is
Beautiful Because We Are Beautiful People (2015 ,
ESP-Disk): Polish alto saxophonist (also bass clarinet, soprano
clarinet, flute), with piano and bass legends; Walerian's third
album for the label, each with a group name that I've slid into
the title (not that it makes much sense this time). Five long
pieces, 79:11. Leader strikes me as more tentative here than on
the previous albums, but Shipp and Parker think of lots of ways
to amuse themselves.
Colter Wall: Colter Wall (2017, Young Mary's):
Young (21) singer-songwriter from Saskatchewan, first album, has
a deep voice which sounds much older, especially on slow ones
(i.e., most of the time). Has some DJ patter in the middle,
something about flipping the record over, which makes him out
to be a much bigger deal than he is. Then the second half makes
me think maybe he should be.
Charlie Watts/The Danish Radio Big Band: Charlie Watts Meets
the Danish Radio Big Band (2010 , Impulse): Drummer for
the Rolling Stones, has released eleven albums on his own since 1986,
mostly jazz. Gerald Presencer arranged the pieces, opening with "Elvin
Suite" and including two Stones pieces ("You Can't Always Get What You
Want" and "Paint It Black") -- both highlights, especially for Per
Shea Welsh: Arrival (2017, Blujazz): Guitarist. based
in Los Angeles. Seems to be his first album. Groups vary, including
two vocalists, and dropping down to solo guitar on "Both Sides Now"
and "Moonlight in Vermont."
Wire: Silver/Lead (2017, Pink Flag): England's first
postpunk group, timed this album release for the 40th anniversary of
their "first proper Wire gig" -- their label-defining debut Pink
Flag came out later in 1977. Trademark sound, but they don't push
it very hard.
Jaime Wyatt: Felony Blues (2017, Forty Below, EP):
Singer-songwriter from Los Angeles. I see more comparisons of her to
Linda Ronstadt than to country singers, but more still buy into her
outlaw thing. Probably the big voice and big production. Seven cuts,
but only one less than 4:00 so they add up to 29:57.
Charli XCX: Number 1 Angel (2017, Asylum): British pop
singer Charlotte Aitchison considers this a mixtape though why is unclear
to me. Same for the characterization as "avant-pop" -- possibly looking
for something that conveys how beyond ordinary it is.
Young Thug: Beautiful Thugger Girls (2017, 300/Atlantic):
Rapper Jeffrey Williams, first studio album after scads of mixtapes, so
he's settling into the more modest release pace of a major label star --
gets him more guests, but not necessarily better songs. Takes a while to
get going, but his comic voice and rapid fire vocal rhythm finally wins
out. Still hard for me to tell if there's anything special here.
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
American Epic: The Soundtrack (, Columbia/Third
Man/Legacy): Tied into a three-part PBS program on the early recording
history of American music, which the labels plan on expanding to a whole
cottage industry, this being the most select, most succinct product: 15
songs [14 on Napster, dropping "Jole Blon"], all stone cold classics,
skewed toward an oft-overlooked diversity (not just blues and country
but Latin, Cajun, Hawaiian, and Native American -- but no jazz),
expertly remastered. Too short, especially compared to the voluminous
treasure troves Harry Smith and Allen Lowe have compiled, and I don't
yet have an opinion on the series' 5-CD box set. But extraordinary.
Maybe America was indeed once great.
Alice Coltrane: The Ecstatic Music of Turiyasangitananda
[World Spirituality Classics 1] (1982-95 , Luaka Bop):
Title can be parsed variously, often with her name (larger print)
in the middle, and I've seen the label's series moniker placed first,
but I've generally preferred to bracket it last. She was pianist
Alice McLeod, from Detroit, before she married John Coltrane,
recorded a dozen or so jazz albums on her own, dove into Indian
religion and adopted the Sanskrit Turiyasangitananda (sometimes
just Turiya Alice Coltrane). These tracks come from a series of
recording she made for Avatar Book Institute, originally produced
in small quantities for members of her ashram. She plays organ,
synthesizer, and harp, backed with strings, percussion, and many
singers. Oddly, I'd say surprisingly, uplifting.
Dave Liebman/Joe Lovano: Compassion: The Music of John
Coltrane (2007 , Resonance): Two major tenor saxophonists,
Liebman also playing soprano, Lovano working in alto clarinet and
Scottish flute, backed by Phil Markowitz (piano), Ron McClure (bass),
and Billy Hart (drums). Liebman has released a number of Coltrane
tributes over the years, including a blast through Ascension,
so this seems to be his thing.
Hayes McMullan: Everyday Seem Like Murder Here
(1967-68 , Light in the Attic): Delta bluesman, born and
lived in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. Played with Charley
Patton in the 1920s but never recorded until these sessions,
which in turn weren't released until now. Just guitar and voice,
a fair amount of talking, nothing here that really distinguishes
McMullan from better-known contemporaries like Skip James (also
born in 1902) or Furry Lewis (b. 1893), but nice to hear something
new this old.
The Rolling Stones: Some Girls: Live in Texas '78
(1978 , Eagle Rock): DVD released in 2011, packaged with a CD
which only recently became available on its own. You may recall 1978
was the year when they got past their aging anxieties and released
Some Girls, their best album since 1972's Exile on Main
Street (still true). The key there was Keith inserting some
country twang, but live they turn the new songs into long vamps --
best is "Miss You" but they can wear thin, and "Far Away Eyes" just
gets cornier -- and they push out the old songs, though not two
Chuck Berry covers.
The Rolling Stones: Totally Stripped: Paris (1995 ,
Eagle Rock): Their 1995 Stripped album was based on studio sessions in
Tokyo and Lisbon plus live "small venue" performances in Amsterdam, Paris,
and London. This year they've rounded up all of that for a variety of
product configurations -- Discogs lists 14 and that doesn't include this
one, which seems to be a carve-out of the Paris concert. The 1995 album
sounded remarkable, but the completeness here adds both weakness and
redundancy. No doubt they do, however, put on one helluva show.
The Rough Guide to Hillbilly Blues (1920s-30s ,
World Music Network): As with the Jug Band Blues compilation
below, this strong compilation of white country blues includes a
handful of fairly well known pieces and a lot of background context,
perfect for beginners, sufficient for most (although certainly not
the last you need to hear from Jimmie Rodgers or Charlie Poole).
The Rough Guide to Jug Band Blues (1920s-30s ,
World Music Network): I should track down these dates -- always a
problem with this label, but at least it's possible with old blues,
unlike much world music -- but this does a nice job of rounding up
a coherent style, highlighted by outfits like the Memphis Sheiks,
Cannon's Jug Stompers, the Memphis Jug Band, and various bigger
names backed by Jug Bands (Tampa Red, Memphis Minnie, Jimmie
Umoja: 707 (2017, Awesome Tapes From Africa, EP):
Group is South African, led by Alec Khaoli, but adopted a Swahili
(East African) word for its name, signifying "unity." They cut a
half-dozen records from 1982-91, including this little post-disco
EP, four cuts, 18:01 (dropping two remixes from the original LP).
Pick hit: "Money Money (Bananas)."
Sun Ra & His Arkestra: Thunder of the Gods
(1966-71 , Modern Harmonic): Previously unreleased, three
cuts, dates uncertain but the tapes were found among others that
establish this range (1966's Strange Strings, 1971's
Universe in Blue). Big band, but most of the time they're
switching off to strings or percussion, so horns are minimal
and swing is non-existent.
Joshua Abrams: Natural Information (2010-12 ,
Eremite): Bassist, made his initial impact on the Chicago avant
scene but sometime around here moves off in another direction
that emphasizes repetitive rhythms and exotic instruments -- his
other credits here include bells, dulcimer, guimbri, kora, harmonium,
sampler, synthesizer, and that catchall percussion. Others on the
original six-track 2010 LP play drums and sometimes guitar. Two
later tracks with a larger group added to CD reissue. Rougher and
more intense than his latest album, which moves this album name
into the credit slot.
Joshua Abrams: Represencing (2011 , Eremite):
Follow-up to Natural Information, although the later extra
tracks there mess up my sort order. This, too, originally came out
on vinyl (2012 vs. 2011), and the later CD adds a 24:46 live bonus.
Recorded at home, with widely varying lineups for scattered effects --
the usual crew, plus several Chicago notables show up for a track
each: Nicole Mitchell, Jeff Parker, Tomeka Reid, Jason Stein, Chad
Taylor, Michael Zerang.
Joshua Abrams: Magnetoception (2013 ,
Eremite): Alternates between beat pieces, which remain fascinating,
and ambient ones, less so even if that's the idea. Abrams plays
bass, celeste, clarinet, guimbri, small harp, and bells, and gets
major help from Hamid Drake on tabla and various drums; also
Emmett Kelly and Jeff Parker on guitar, Ben Boye on autoharp,
and Lisa Alvarado on harmonium.
Amina Claudine Myers: Salutes Bessie Smith (1980,
Leo): Pianist, originally from Arkansas, moved to Chicago and joined
AACM, then on to New York. Second album after a set based on Marion
Brown's piano music. Also plays organ and sings here, backed with
bass (Cecil McBee) and drums (Jimmy Lovelace), starting with four
Bessie Smith songs, t
Monday, June 26. 2017
Music: Current count 28324  rated (+31), 368  unrated (-5).
I have six computers in my office, but mostly I use two. One I do
my writing, website development, email, and most of my browsing on. I
built it several years ago, and installed Ubuntu 12.04 on it. Somehow
I never updated it as Ubuntu moved through several more releases.
That's only been a problem in one respect: the Firefox web browser
for quite some time it would slow down and eventually crash. I've
tried to combat this by running NoScript, an extension which lets
basis. I also wound up banning several websites altogether, only
viewing Amazon and Facebook on other computers. This worked fairly
well for a long time, but as a great many websites became mired
more, and that tended to browser's reduce the between-crash time.
This situation got markedly worse a week or two ago -- possibly
coinciding with a redesign of Twitter, although banishing Twitter
didn't fix the problem, nor did radically reducing the number of
tabs I keep open (normally 40-50, down to 5-10). Firefox crashed
3-5 times a day, or sometimes just hung until I would kill it. The
obvious solution was to upgrade the Ubuntu release, but getting
from 12 to 16 probably couldn't be done incrementally. Rather, I
would have to do a fresh install, which meant backing everything
up, cleaning the system out, loading the new release, reconfiguring,
and restoring my data. No real reason why I can't do that, but it
would be a major disruption in my work and life, so I've been
putting it off.
I did find an interim fix, which is to switch from Firefox to
Chromium. The good news there is that Chromium actually runs much
faster than Firefox ever did -- probably because the program is
multithreaded, so it's making much more efficient use of my 8-core
CPU. Downsides were that I had to reconfigure lots of things, and
I haven't found a satisfactory ad blocker yet -- AdBlockPlus
doesn't work, so I tried Ad Remove (which seems to require me to
identify all of the offending ads) then Fair Adblocker (which
blocks pop-ups but otherwise doesn't seem to block anything at
all). Trying one called Ads Killer now, but too soon to tell.
Meanwhile, I've been shocked (and disgusted) at the extent to
which advertising has taken over the web. Reminds me that I
need to write that essay on why advertising is the root of all
our problems. Also, Chromium crashed twice while I was writing
this, but both times involved the same path, so it's an easily
With these browser problems, I skipped Weekend Roundup this
past week, but I may not bother restarting even when I get the
browser problems fixed. But that's another story. Meanwhile I
had a fair week listening to music. The second main computer
I have is running Ubuntu 16.04, so it's reasonably up to date.
I run AdBlockPlus on it, but not NoScript, but I rarely have
two windows or more than a dozen tabs, so it's not getting a
heavy workout. I stream music from Napster and Bandcamp there,
occasionally download things to play through VLC, and keep a
tab open for Facebook. So I had plenty of music available,
even though the CD queue seems to be drying up with the summer
Pending list is currently
down to 9 records. Only one of this week's A- records came to
me as a CD, and that thanks to the musician, not the label.)
Two A- records this week from Christgau's
Expert Witness --
the Chuck Berry a late arrival on Napster. (Could be I didn't
give Kano enough time, but I could also say that for Young
Thug; neither got the three plays it took to nudge Starlito
& Don Trip over the line.) Most of the alt-country albums
came from Saving Country Music's
mid-year list -- Jason Eady and Colter Wall were the finds
there. I went after the Joshua Abrams backlog giving an A- to
this year's Simultonality, which I can now assure you
is his best-to-date. I decided to try the Rolling Stones' live
shots when I was most depressed last week, and they did help
to cheer me up, even if ultimately they didn't seem essential.
Both were audio derivatives from DVD products.
Sylvan Esso was one of those records I picked out from my
Music Tracking list -- one
of those things someone likes somewhere, but I'm rarely this
impressed by what I find there.
I looked up Steve Pistorius while working on the Jazz Guides
(currently 696 + 647 pages, still in
Jazz '80s-'90s, up
to Norbert Stein). Still working on it, not least because it's
a fair low energy project -- much easier than trying to write
something new. Still got a long ways to go, and it's not going
to look very pretty once this pass is done. Most obvious problem
is that I repeat myself a lot from record to record, useful in
separate columns but redundant when all of an artist's records
are stacked up.
I had a crisis with the website a week ago, when I couldn't
update files due to no free disk space. I resolved at that point
to move my website, which is probably still the right idea, but
the hosting company opened a bit of space up so I can hold off
a bit. I have made some progress on a few other problems, most
importantly getting a lot of CD filing done. Also managed (last
night) to copy a bunch of downloaded music from an old machine
to the one with speakers, so I should start to check that out
Expect a Streamnotes by the end of the month. Currently 131
records in the draft file, so I'm already up a bit from recent
months (111, 115, 114; February had 153, January 156).
New records rated this week:
- Chuck Berry: Chuck (1991-2014 , Dualtone): [r]: A-
- Scott H. Biram: The Bad Testament (2017, Bloodshot): [r]: B+(**)
- The Brother Brothers: Tugboats E.P. (2017, self-released, EP): [r]: B-
- Burning Ghosts: Reclamation (2017, Tzadik): [cdr]: B+(***)
- The Deslondes: Hurry Home (2017, New West): [r]: B
- Dalton Domino: Corners (2017, Lightning Rod): [r]: B+(**)
- Justin Townes Earle: Kids in the Street (2017, New West): [r]: B+(**)
- Eliane Elias: Dance of Time (2017, Concord): [r]: B+(*)
- The Four Bags: Waltz (2017, NCM East): [cd]: B+(*)
- Kate Gentile: Mannequins (2016 , Skirl): [cd]: B+(***)
- Joseph Huber: The Suffering Stage (2017, self-released): [r]: B+(***)
- Kano: Made in the Manor (2016, Parlophone): [r]: B+(***)
- Alex Maguire/Nikolas Skordas Duo: Ships and Shepherds (2016 , Slam, 2CD): [cd]: B
- Molly Miller Trio: The Shabby Road Recordings (2017, self-released): [cd]: B
- Jeff Parker: Slight Freedom (2013-14 , Eremite): [bc]: B+(**)
- Jeremy Rose: Within & Without (2016 , Earshift Music): [cd]: B+(*)
- Samo Salamon Sextet: The Colours Suite (2016 , Clean Feed): [cd]: A-
- Shinyribs: I Got Your Medicine (2016 , Mustard Lid): [r]: B+(*)
- Starlito & Don Trip: Step Brothers Three (2017, Grind Hard): [r]: A-
- Sylvan Esso: What Now (2017, Loma Vista): [r]: A-
- Trombone Shorty: Parking Lot Symphony (2017, Blue Note): [r]: B-
- The Vampires: The Vampires Meet Lionel Loueke (2016 , Earshift Music): [cd]: B+(*)
- Colter Wall: Colter Wall (2017, Young Mary's): [r]: A-
- Young Thug: Beautiful Thugger Girls (2017, 300/Atlantic): [r]: B+(***)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
- The Rolling Stones: Some Girls: Live in Texas '78 (1978 , Eagle Rock): [r]: B+(**)
- The Rolling Stones: Totally Stripped: Paris (1995 , Eagle Rock): [r]: B+(**)
Old music rated this week:
- Joshua Abrams: Natural Information (2010-12 , Eremite): [bc]: A-
- Joshua Abrams: Represencing (2011 , Eremite): [bc]: B+(**)
- Joshua Abrams: Magnetoception (2013 , Eremite): [bc]: B+(***)
- Steve Pistorius & the Mahogany Hall Stompers: 'Taint No Sin (1989 , GHB): [r]: A-
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- Sheryl Bailey & Harvie S: Plucky Strum Departure (Whaling City Sound)
- Silke Eberhard Trio: The Being Inn (Intakt)
- Aruán Ortiz: Cubanism: Piano Solo (Intakt)
Sunday, June 25. 2017
I'm going to suspend Weekend Roundup. Part of the reason is technical,
which I may (or may not) explain in Music Week tomorrow. Suffice it to
say that it's nearly impossible for me to search out the various links
that the posts are based on. But also I find myself wanting to give in
to depression, which has both personal and political dimensions. Maybe
I'll write about the personal sometime -- I've been toying with a plan
to write an autobiography, and it looms large there -- but my political
despair got a huge boost on Tuesday when Georgia voters turned against
Jon Ossoff in the GA-6 congressional election to replace Tom Price. At
the time, I wrote the following in my notebook:
Democrat Jon Ossoff lost the GA-6 race (48.1% to 51.9%), possibly
losing ground from his primary showing (where he got 48.12%). Both
candidates spent a lot of money -- not sure much, but Ossoff spent
$8 million in primary, and I've seen this described as the most
expensive House election ever.
[Hillary] Clinton famously trailed Trump by only 2% in the district,
so DNC thought they had a real chance with a Clinton-esque candidate.
FiveThirtyEight, however, considers the district R+9.5, and Tom Price
ran better than that in 2016. Given that district is upscale and
suburban, it is credible that a pro-Sanders Democrats might not have
done as well in this particular district, but pro-Sanders Democrats
did much better than district expectations in recent contests in
Kansas and Montana, with embarrassingly slim support from DNC/DCCC.
I also tweeted:
Ossoff loss tells me that Democrats failed to make case that it's
not just Trump but all Republicans out to hurt the majority of
Also, a second tweet I thought then but only posted today:
It would be easier to resist Trump if Republicans are getting
beat at the polls; otherwise all R's have to fear is their own
I'm not an ideological purist, so I'm not much bothered when a
Democrat (or, more rarely, a Republican) tries to tailor his/her
message to the prejudices of his/her district. Still, one worries
that Democrats too readily give up not just principles but any
sort of vision that life could be made better for their voters,
and in doing that they lose credibility -- both that they know
what to do and that they even care.
Still, one suspects that the problem with Ossoff's campaign
wasn't that he tailored his message to voters so much as to the
constituency he clearly cared most about: donors. He wound up
raising and spending (and, given the results, wasting) some $26
million -- about 70 times as much money as James Thompson had to
work with here in Kansas. Obviously, there are limits to what
money can buy in an election, but there is also a lesson: when
Democrats focus more on donors than on voters, they lose --
even if they're fabulously successful with donors (as Ossoff
and Hillary Clinton undeniably were). And while their campaign
compromises undermine voter trust, their de facto losses are
destroying a second credibility front: the notion that those of
us who lean further left have to support cowardly Democrats
because they're the only ones who can win and protect us from
the ever more vile Republicans.
Still, no matter how much those centrist, donor-supplicant
Democrats demand allegiance from left-leaning voters, somehow
they can't bring themselves to critique Republicans with even
a tiny fraction of the vitriol Republicans heap on them. For
example, Republicans have run attack ads in every House race
trying to link the Democrat to Nancy Pelosi and her "radical
agenda." I can't even imagine what they mean by that -- as far
as I've been able to tell, she's an utterly conventional hack,
her "leftist" more due to her representing San Francisco, a
district which could certainly to better. But they've worked
for years turning her into a bait word. So why don't Democrats
turn the tables on Paul Ryan, who really does have an agenda?
(By the way, I'd say that from a purely tactical view, Pelosi
is done. Sure, they did the same thing to Tom Daschle and Harry
Reid, but why not make them work a little?)
Or to pick another current example, Hillary Clinton tweeted:
"If Republicans pass this bill, they're the death party."
Why wasn't writing the bill reason enough for that tag? Does she
still think that by leaving the door open enough Republicans will
come to their senses to make a difference? Wasn't it true that
thousands of people died needlessly in the years before they
gained insurance through the ACA? Weren't the Republicans "the
death party" when every single one (ok, except for the guy who
won a freak election in New Orleans) voted against it? I do have
quibbles about "death party" -- "pro-life" Republicans use that
against Democrats who defend abortion rights, and both parties
are tainted by their kneejerk support of war and arms sales.
I'm not advocating a coarsening of political discourse, but
one needs to recognize that it's already happened, and that it's
been remarkably successful for Republicans, getting many (if not
most) Americans to turn their backs on everything that's worked
to make this a decent country, as well as to ignore (or worsen)
the many bad things we've done. I doubt there's a single solution
to this, but Democrats need to develop some backbone, and start
breaking through the shells that right-wing media have constructed
to shelter the Republicans from the effects of their actions.
Somehow I didn't even notice the House election in South Carolina
to fill Nick Mulvaney's seat. It was expectedly won by a Republican,
but it turns out the race there was as close as in Georgia, with
Democrat Archie Parnell losing 47.9-51.1%. In 2016, Trump won this
district by 18.5%, and Mulvaney won by 20%. One might argue that
the four House elections so far show the Democrats running better
than in 2016, but it still hurts that all four elected Republicans.
(Actually, the Democrats did win one: Jimmy Gomez in CA-34, but it
was a solidly Democratic seat and the "top two" primary led to a
runoff between two Democrats.)
Since Tuesday's election debacle, following several weeks of
Russia nonsense (which despite the media obsession doesn't seem
to bother voters much), political news took a remarkable turn
toward reality with the publication of Mitch McConnell's health
care bill. Crafted behind closed doors, given a new name (the
"Better Care Reconciliation Act" to avoid the stink of the House
AHCA bill -- although it shares an acronym with the "breast cancer
gene"), with McConnell promising a vote before Congress goes into
recess for July 4. The secrecy did manage to keep it out of the
news, but now that we can see what's in it's still time to panic.
Some details vary, but the overall outline is the same as the
House bill, which Trump initially applauded then admitted was "mean,
mean, mean." It starts with a massive tax cut for the rich, which
is balanced out by cutting subsidies and Medicaid, and it's stacked
so that the tax breaks are retroactive while the service cuts are
phased in over several years -- maybe you'll forget who caused them?
While the CBO hasn't had time to score it yet, the advertised hope
was that the number of people losing their insurance could be reduced
from 23 to 20 million. Trump's campaign promises of cheaper policies,
lower deductibles, and better coverage are still jokes.
Not surprisingly, the far right attacked the bill first, wanting to
make it even meaner. I read one piece that said AFP (the Koch network
campaign operation) was angling for two amendments: one is to free
insurance companies from minimum coverage regulation -- the effect
will be to let them sell fraudulent policies which don't cover many
costs so will lead to many more bankruptcies; the other is for more
"health savings accounts" -- a tax dodge only of interest to the
rich. As you may recall, Ryan's House bill originally failed to get
a majority, but while you heard some grumbling from "moderates" that
the bill went too far, the winning margin actually came from the far
right after Ryan agreed to make the bill more draconian. The Kochs
are looking for the same dynamic in the Senate.
This should be a field day for the Democrats, but as Matthew
Yglesias points out,
The health bill might pass because Trump has launched the era of
Nothing Matters politics. I've found two things especially
disturbing in the last week: one is how shamelessly Republicans
are lying about their bill; the other is how the media has been
falling for the line that this bill is a test of whether Trump and
the Republicans are able to deliver on their campaign promises.
The obvious counter to the latter is that there are a lot of very
dumb things Trump campaigned for that he cheerfully forgot once
When I started this I didn't plan on writing this much, least of all
about McConnell-Miscare, though I thought I might mention something about
Russia -- not the hacking scandal (which regardless of how bad it was
pales in comparison to what the Republicans have been doing in state
legislatures to suppress votes) but about the dangerous games of chicken
our respective air forces have been playing (for some on this, and more
on health care, see Yglesias'
The most important stories of the week, explained). I should also
point you to
Seymour M Hersh: Trump's Red Line, on Trump's escalation of the Syria
War, which directly led to the later conflicts with Russia.
I have little doubt that had technology permitted I could have built
a list of links to major Trump scandals and other misdemeanors this week,
as I have every week since inauguration. If you need a reminder of the
price Americans are paying for having hated Hillary Clinton and the
Democrats so much that they figured they had nothing to lose by turning
the federal government over to a bunch of con men and crooks, you're
free to look at my posts (most of which portend the future more than
they examine the past):
I don't know whether the Roundup will continue (although I'll probably
file some links in the notebook for possible future reference). Feels
like I'm shouting into the void. I often think back to an essay I read
as a teenager, by R.D. Laing, called "The Obvious": his point was that
everyone has their own idea of what's obvious, a condition which in no
way undermines our conviction of its obviousness. My writing starts
with a number of principles which I think I can justify but really
just seem obvious to me. If you share them, you will like what I have
to say, and if not, you won't. Clearly, a lot of people don't, and I
have no idea how to get to them. And while I'm not necessarily writing
for those who don't understand (or care), it's not very gratifying
when they don't.
Monday, June 19. 2017
Music: Current count 28293  rated (+39), 373  unrated (-12).
Covered a lot of records last week, came up with a nice mix with
more than usual highly recommended. Once again, streaming played a
large roll: only one of three A-list jazz albums came in the mail
(Steve Coleman, the most marginal, the one that took the most work,
but regardless of my reservations I predict a top-five poll finish).
latest featured "a flood of new country" -- especially Jason
Isbell, who I've never gotten and still don't, and Steve Earle,
for the week's easiest pick. But I've been working on another
country list, thanks to
Saving Country Music, which brought me to Jason Eady, Zephaniah
OHora, Marty Stuart, Jaime Wyat, and some others we'll get to soon --
Joseph Huber, Colter Wall, Dalton Domino, the Brother Brothers,
Shinyribs, and possibly more in the fine print. (I'd already checked
out Sunny Sweeney, John Moreland, Willie Nelson, Rodney Crowell,
Whitney Rose, Chris Stapleton, Angaleena Presley).
The latest Downbeat steered me to Jimmy Greene, Gerald
Clayton, Ambrose Akinmusire, Regina Carter, and Louis Hayes. I've
seen some raves about Akinmusire, but only one or two cuts come
close to justifying them. His last album came in 3rd in Jazz Critics
Poll (I gave it a B-), so this one might too. At least I feel like
I can hear what Coleman's doing, even if I'm not wild about it.
Greene's previous album was also hugely admired, but I didn't
like it nearly as much as I do this one. The featured reviews
also includes a new one by Tomasz Stanko, which I've snarfed a
download of but haven't bothered with yet. (Actually, I've yet
to play a single ECM download this year, although I have most
of them somewhere -- I think mostly on the wrong computer.)
Speaking of computers, I'm running into big problems with the
ISP that hosts
tomhull.com. I struggled getting yesterday's posts up because
the server ran out of disk space. I'm using 398MB on a virtual
server disk partition with 67GB, so my slice is a mere 0.59% of
the partition, and the server has another 141GB partition that's
only 56% used (but inaccessible to me). I've filed a problem
report but they haven't responded let alone done anything. The
company is Addr.com. I've been there a long time, and they've
become increasingly dysfunctional, so I should move -- in fact,
should have moved years ago, but didn't because it's not actually
possible to get a clean dump of the blog database. I do have all
the flat files elsewhere, but it would be a huge job to rebuild
the blog database (probably not even worth doing since almost
all of the writing is in the
Notebook and there never have
been many comments).
Compounding this is my main working computer, which is stuck
on a very old release of Ubuntu. The main reason that's a problem
is that that particular version of Firefox seems to be real buggy
The result is that the program quickly becomes bogged down -- as
I'm currently writing this it's just sitting idle but top reports
it's using 102% of CPU -- and soon crashes. I had it hang or crash
three times yesterday, which means it's getting worse -- over the
last few months it's usually managed to stay up about 2-3 days at
a time. What I need to do is to copy everything off, load a fresh
batch of software, and restore all the websites and writing and
archives and so forth. Ugh.
I've known I've had to upgrade for some time, but have held
back due to the general mess in the office. I finally made a
small amount of progress last week on getting the mountains of
CDs organized and filed, and hope to continue working on that
this week. In the meantime, there's some possibility that the
website will temporarily go away.
I did make some progress early last week on the Jazz Guides,
but that got stalled mid-week. Current page counts: 682 + 599.
Still in the
Jazz '80s file, up
to Adam Pieronczyk. I took a dive into Amina Claudine Myers'
back catalogue while working on this: mostly AACM-meets-Bessie
Smith. The Leo album was a Penguin 4-star, and really takes
off on the backstretch.
Incoming mail took a nosedive last week, although I got two
new releases from Intakt today. There's usually a seasonal dip
later in the summer, but as the trawl through Downbeat
demonstrated, I'm no longer getting a lot of new jazz (9/35
records individually reviewed this month). Looks like I'm no
longer getting records from Clean Feed, which I've regarded
as a reason to carry on. Maybe I'll find some on Napster.
New records rated this week:
- Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society: Simultonality (2014-15 , Eremite): [bc]: A-
- Ambrose Akinmusire: A Rift in Decorum: Live at the Village Vanguard (2017, Blue Note, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
- Ignacio Berroa Trio: Straight Ahead From Havana (2017, Codes Drum Music): [cd]: B+(**)
- Steve Bilodeau: The Sun Through the Rain (2017, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
- Gerald Cannon: Combinations (2017, Woodneck): [cd]: B+(**)
- Regina Carter: Ella: Accentuate the Positive (2017, Okeh): [r]: B+(*)
- Gerald Clayton: Tributary Tales (2017, Motéma): [r]: B
- Steve Coleman's Natal Eclipse: Morphogenesis (2016 , Pi): [cd]: A-
- Dálava: The Book of Transfigurations (2016 , Songlines): [r]: B+(*)
- Roger Davidson Trio With Hendrik Meurkens: Oração Para Amanhã/Prayer for Tomorrow (2016 , Soundbrush): [cd]: B+(**)
- Rick Davies: Thugtet (2015 , Emlyn): [cd]: B+(**)
- Jason Eady: Jason Eady (2017, Old Guitar): [r]: A-
- Steve Earle & the Dukes: So You Wannabe an Outlaw (2017, Warner Bros.): [r]: A-
- Alex Goodman: Second Act (2017, Lyte): [cd]: B
- The Great Harry Hillman: Tilt (2017, Cuneiform): [cdr]: B+(**)
- Jimmy Greene: Flowers: Beautiful Life Volume 2 (2017, Mack Avenue): [r]: A-
- Louis Hayes: Serenade for Horace (2017, Blue Note): [r]: B+(***)
- Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: The Nashville Sound (2017, Southeastern): [r]: B+(**)
- Tift Merritt: Stitch of the World (2017, Yep Roc): [r]: B+(*)
- Amina Claudine Myers: Sama Rou: Songs From My Soul (2016, Amina C): [r]: B+(*)
- Ed Neumeister & His NeuHat Ensemble: Wake Up Call (2014 , MeisteroMusic): [cd]: B+(*)
- The New Vision Sax Ensemble: Musical Journey Through Time (2017, Zak Publishing): [cd]: B+(*)
- North Mississippi Allstars: Prayer for Peace (2017, Legacy): [r]: B+(***)
- Zephaniah OHora & the 18 Wheelers: This Highway (2017, MRI): [r]: B+(**)
- Perfume Genius: No Shape (2017, Matador): [r]: B-
- Errol Rackipov Group: Distant Dreams (2015 , OA2): [cd]: B+(*)
- Rag'n'Bone Man: Human (2017, Columbia): [r]: B-
- Oumou Sangaré: Mogoya (2017, No Format): [r]: A-
- Scenes: Destinations (2016-17 , Origin): [r]: B+(*)
- Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives: Way Out West (2017, Superlatone): [r]: B
- Thundercat: Drunk (2017, Brainfeeder): [r]: B+(*)
- Thurst: Cut to the Chafe (2017, self-released): [bc]: B+(**)
- Carlos Vega: Bird's Up (2016 , Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
- Jaime Wyatt: Felony Blues (2017, Forty Below, EP): [r]: B+(*)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
- Dave Liebman/Joe Lovano: Compassion: The Music of John Coltrane (2007 , Resonance): [cd]: B+(***)
Old music rated this week:
- Amina Claudine Myers: Salutes Bessie Smith (1980, Leo): [r]: A-
- Amina Claudine Myers Trio: The Circle of Time (1983 , Black Saint): [r]: B+(***)
- Amina Claudine Myers Trio: Women in (E)Motion (1988 , Tradition & Moderne): [r]: B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- Llop: J.Imp (El Negocito)
- Mike Reed: Flesh & Bone (482 Music): August 25
Sunday, June 18. 2017
I thought I'd start with some comments on the Trump-Russia mess.
As far as I can tell (and this isn't very high on the list of things
I worry about these days), there are four separate things that need
to be investigated and understood:
What (if anything) Russia did to affect the course and outcome
of the 2016 elections, and (harder to say) did this have any actual
impact on the results. You might want to delve deeper and understand
why they did what they did, although there's little chance they will
be forthcoming on the subject, so you're likely to wind up with little
but biased speculation. [I suspect the answer here is that they did a
lot of shit that ultimately had very little impact.]
Did the meetings that various people more/less tied to the Trump
campaign had with various Russians (both officials and non-officials
with ties to the Russian leadership) discuss Russian election ops. In
particular, did Trump's people provide any assistance or direction to
the Russians. [Seems unlikely, but hard to tell given that the people
involved have repeatedly lied, and been caught lying, about meetings,
so what they ultimately admit to isn't credible -- unless some sort of
paper trail emerges, such as Sislyak's communiques to Moscow.]
Did Trump's people, in their meetings with various Russians,
make or imply any changes in US policy toward Russia that might reward
or simply incline the Russians to try to help Trump's campaign and/or
hinder Clinton's campaign? [This seems likely, as the campaign's public
statements imply a less punitive tilt toward Russia, but it could be
meant for future good will rather than as any sort of quid pro quo for
campaign help. The Russians, of course, could have found this reason
enough to help Trump vs. Clinton. Again, we don't know what transpired
in the meetings, and the fact that Trump's people have lied about them
doesn't look good.]
Did Trump and/or his people seek to obstruct the investigation,
especially by the Department of Justice, into the above? [It's pretty
clear now that they did, and that Trump was personally involved. It's
not clear whether this meets the usual requirements for prosecution --
for instance, it's not clear that there has been any fabrication of
evidence or perjury, but there clearly have been improper attempts to
apply political pressure to (in the quaint British phrasing) pervert
the course of justice.]
The problem is that even though these questions seem simple and
straightforward, they exist in a context that is politically highly
charged. Again, there are several dimensions to this:
Clinton and her supporters were initially desperate to find any
reason other than their candidate and campaign to explain her surprise
loss to one of the most unappealing (and objectively least popular)
major party candidates in history, so they were quick to jump on the
Russian hacking story (as well as Comey's handling of the email server
fiasco). Early on, they were the main driving force behind the story.
[This made it distasteful for people like me who thought she was a bad
candidate, but also helped turn it into a blatantly partisan issue,
where Trump supporters quickly became blindered to any attacks on their
A second group of influential insiders had reason to play up a
Russia scandal: the neocon faction of the security meta-state, who have
all along wanted to play up Russia as a potential enemy because their
security state only makes sense if they can point to threats. If Trump
came into office thinking he could roll back sanctions and reverse US
policy on Russia, they would have to hustle to stop him, and blowing
up his people's Russia contacts into a full-fledged scandal helped do
the trick. [This is pretty much fait accompli at this point, although
Trump himself isn't very good at sticking to his script. But while some
Republicans chafe, the Democrats have been completely won over to a
hard-line policy on Russia, even though rank-and-file Democrats are
overwhelmingly anti-war. One result here is that by posturing as hawks
Democrat politicians are losing their credibility with their party's
base -- recapitulating one of Clinton's major problems in 2016.]
As the scandal has blown up, Democrats increasingly see it as
a way of focusing opposition to Trump and disrupting the Republican
agenda. Meanwhile, Republicans feel the need to defend Trump (even to
the point of crippling investigation into the scandal) in order to get
their agenda back on track. Thus narrow legal matters have become
broad political ones, turning not on facts but on opinions.
[This makes them impossible to adjudicate via
normal procedures, and guarantees that whatever investigators find
will be dismissed to large numbers of people who put their allegiances
ahead of the facts. Ultimately, then, the issues will have to be weighed
by the voters, who by the time they get a chance will have plenty of
other distractions. Meanwhile the Democrats are missing countless
scandals and even worse policy moves, while Republicans are getting
away with -- well, "murder" may not be the choicest word here, but
if Republicans pass their Obamacare repeal many more people will die
unnecessarily than even America's itchy trigger-fingers can account
Here are some links on subjects related to Trump/Russia:
Devlin Barrett et al: Special counsel is investigating Trump for possible
obstruction of justice, officials say
Nicholas Confessore/Matthew Rosenburg/Danny Hakim: How Michael Flynn's
Disdain for Limits Led to a Legal Quagmire
Esme Cribb: Pence Hires Outside Counsel to Guide Him Through Russia
Investigations: Best case scenario: he becomes president. Worst:
Karoun Demirjian/Anne Gearan: Senate overwhelmingly votes to curtail
Trump's power to ease Russia sanctions: Vote was 97-2, with Rand
Paul and Mike Lee dissenting, so no Democrats (or Bernie Sanders).
Sanders, along with Paul, did vote against a bill that combined Iran
and Russia sanctions (see
Senate Votes 98-2 to Impose New Sanctions on Iran, Russia), as
not a single Democrat voted to protect Obama's nuclear deal with
Iran (that's what happens when you get so worked up over Russia).
Elizabeth Drew: Trump: The Presidency in Peril
Noah Feldman: One Trump Tweet Can Shake Up the Justice Department:
So now Rod Rosenstein needs to recuse himself, just because Trump
tweeted about him? That would make Rachel Brand the one person who
can legally dismiss Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and that could
be the hope.
Garrett M Graff: Robert Mueller Chooses His Investigatory Dream
Sari Horwitz et al: Special counsel is investigating Jared Kushner's
Bob Inglis: I Helped draft Clinton's impeachment articles. The charges
against Trump are more serious.
Allegra Kirkland: Close Manafort Ally Is Latest Trump Campaign Figure
Caught in Russia Mess: Rick Gates.
Lachlan Markay/Asawin Suebsaeng/Spencer Ackerman: Even Trump's Aides
Blame Him for Obstruction Probe: 'President Did This to Himself':
Trump keeps doing things that guilty people do -- at least, guilty
people who aren't much good at hiding the fact. He may not have
obstructed justice when he told Comey he "hoped" the Flynn thing
would go away, but firing Comey showed the world that he wasn't
just hoping. And firing Mueller, which he's threatened to do,
would make him look even guiltier. (Just look at how long Nixon
lasted after he fired Archibald Cox.)
William Saletan: Jeff Sessions Isn't Trying to Protect Trump. He's
Mark Joseph Stern: Robert Mueller's Probe Will Reveal Loads of Dirt From
Trump's Financial Past. Uh Oh.
Richard Wolffe: Jeff Sessions: a poor, misunderstood man exempt from
Matthew Yglesias: Trump's media allies are making the case for firing
Robert Mueller; Yglesias also wrote:
Donald Trump is really sad he's not running against Hillary Clinton
anymore, where he quotes this June 15 Trump tweet: "Why is it
that Hillary Clintons family and Dems dealings with Russia are not
looked at, but my non-dealings are?" I've never heard of any such
dealings, although I know Bill Clinton was chummy with Boris Yeltsin
back in the 1990s when the latter was drunk-driving Russia into a
ditch, a national disaster which made Putin look good. Still, the
real point is that whenever Trump or many other Republicans look bad,
their first instinct is to blame some Democrat (cf. the Steve King
And somewhere, I should mention Yglesias'
The week explained: a shooter, sanctions, Sessions, and more:
Subtitled "A brief guide to what you need to know," he actually
misses a lot of things I touch on further down below (although I
hadn't noticed the Uber story).
Someone named James T Hodgkinson took a rifle to a baseball field in
Arlington, VA where several Republican members of Congress (and a few
hangers-on) were practicing for a charity baseball game, and started
shooting. He wounded five, most seriously Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA)
before he in turn was shot and killed by police. Hodgkinson had a long
history of writing crank letters-to-the-editor, as well as a history
of run-ins with the law, including complaints of domestic abuse and
shooting guns into trees, but he was also virulently anti-Trump, so
right-wing talking heads had a field day playing the victim. Still,
it's doubtful that this brief experience of terror will move any of
the Republicans against the wars we export abroad, let alone question
their vow of allegiance to the NRA. Some relevant links:
Angelina Chapin: The Virginia gunman is a reminder: domestic abusers
are a danger to society
Esme Cribb: Steve King Partly Blames Obama for Divisive Politics That
Led to Shooting
David Frum: Reinforcing the Boundaries of Political Decency:
He declares that "across the political spectrum, there is only
revulsion" to acts like the shooting members of Congress, he
notes that we're much less repulsed when our politicians and
commentators threaten violence:
In the wake of this crime, as after the Gabby Giffords attack in 2011,
we'll soon be talking about whether and when political rhetoric goes
too far. It's an important conversation to have, and the fact that the
president of the United States is himself the country's noisiest inciter
of political violence does not give license to anyone else to do the
same. Precisely because the president has put himself so outside
the boundary of political decency, it is vitally important to define
and defend that border. President Trump's delight in violence against
his opponents is something to isolate and condemn, not something to
condone or emulate.
What Frum doesn't note is that while assassination is still frowned
on here inside America, it is official government policy to hunt down
and kill select people who offend us abroad, as well as anyone else
who happens to be in the vicinity of one of our targets.
Charlie May: Trump's favorite right-wing websites aren't listening
to his calls for unity following GOP shooting: As Alex Jones
put it: "The first shots of the second American Civil War have already
been fired." Nor was it just the alt-right that wanted to jump on the
shooting to score cheap shots against the left: see
Brendan Gauthier: New York Times tries, fails to blame Virginia shooting
on Bernie Sanders.
Heather Digby Parton: Don't miss the point on Alexandria and San Francisco:
There is a solution for mass shootings: The San Francisco shooting
didn't get anywhere near the press of the one in Alexandria, despite
greater (albeit less famous) carnage: "an angry employee went into a
UPS facility and opened fire, killing three co-workers and himself."
Mother Jones gathers data on mass shootings and has pretty strict
criteria for inclusion: The shooting must happen in a public place and
result in three or more deaths. This leaves out many incidents in which
people are only injured, such as the
shooting of 10 people in Philadelphia last month, or those that take
place on on private property, such as the recent
killing of eight people in Mississippi during a domestic violence
shooting spree. (The
Gun Violence Archive collects incidents that involve the shooting
of two or more victims. It is voluminous.)
According to the Mother Jones criteria, yesterday's Virginia shooting
doesn't even count since it didn't meet the death threshold. The San
Francisco UPS shooting does, bring the total of such mass shootings to
six so far this year. . . .
Meanwhile, 93 people on average are shot and killed every day in
America, many of them in incidents involving multiple victims.
More than 100,000 people are struck by bullets every year. President
Donald Trump was right to speak about "carnage" in America in his
inaugural address. He just didn't acknowledge that the carnage is
from gun violence.
OK, another boring gun control piece ensues. And no doubt fewer
guns (better regulated, less automatic) would reduce those numbers.
Still, there are other reasons why America is so trigger-happy, and
change there would also help. For starters, we've been at war almost
continuously for seventy-five years, with all that entails, from
training people to kill to cheering them when they do, and making
it easier by dehumanizing supposed enemies. We've internalized war
to the point that we habitually treat projects or causes as wars,
which often as not leads to their militarization (as in the "war
on drugs"). We've increasingly turned politics into a bitter, no
holds, drag out brawl; i.e., a war. And we've allowed corporations
to be run like armies, which is one reason so many mass shootings
are job-related (or loss-of-job-related). Another is that we've
increasingly shredded the safety net, especially when it comes to
getting help for mental health problems. (Veterans still get more
help in that regard, but not enough.) It might help to require
companies to provide counseling to laid-off workers (or if that's
too much of an imposition, let the public pick up the tab). Free
(or much cheaper) education would also help. Decriminalizing drugs
would definitely help. And then there's this notion, from a tweet
by Sen. Rand Paul:
Why do we have a Second Amendment? It's not to shoot deer. It's to
shoot at the government when it becomes tyrannical!
That notion proved impractical as early as the 1791 Whiskey Rebellion.
The Second Amendment actually spoke of well-regulated militias, which
the various states maintained up to the Civil War. Once that was over,
the role for such militias (and as such the Amendment) vanished, until
it was refashioned by opportunistic politicians and activist judges to
give any crackpot a chance to kill his neighbors. As Alexandria shows,
that right doesn't help anyone. But then the left half of the political
spectrum already knew that, partly because they've much more often been
the targets of crackpots, and partly because they've generally retained
the ability to reason about evidence.
Charles Pierce: When White People Realize American Politics Are Violent:
"It's not news to anyone else." He notes America's long history of political
violence, including lynchings and a couple of wholesale racist massacres,
but also mentioning an attack on miners in Colorado. Pierce then turned
around and wrote:
This Is Not an Ideal Time to Have White Supremacists Infiltrating Law
Enforcement. Come on, is there ever a time when it was harmless
much less ideal? I recalled a prime example from fifty-some years ago,
a guy named Bull Connor. (By the way, when I went to check the name,
I also found this story:
Deputy shoots dog after many loses everything in trailer fire.
The man was then charged with disorderly conduct, but acquitted. One
of many understatements: "The Madison County Sheriff's Department
has seen greater problems than the shooting of a dog.")
Some scattered links this week in Trump's many other (and arguably
much more important) scandals:
Dean Baker: Going Private: The Trump Administration's Big Infrastructure
But Trump's big ace in the hole is that he will rely on the private sector
to provide funding for infrastructure beyond the amount he put in the budget.
This is the idea that we will privatize assets like highways and water
systems so that the private sector can profit from them.
This sounds like a great idea for someone who has spent a lifetime
running rip off schemes. We actually have considerable experience with
privatizing public assets and most of it is not good. . . .
If we think the government is run by buffoons who can't do anything
right, it is hard to see how the buffoons are supposed to rein in the
fast-moving contractors in the private sector. Putting private firms
in a position to take advantage of the lack of effective oversight is
likely to make things worse, not better.
This is a lesson we have seen repeatedly in the United States and
throughout the world. Donald Trump is incredibly ignorant of history
and almost everything else, but Congress isn't.
We should expect better of Congress. The story of mass privatization
of assets is a story of rip offs and corruption.
Kate Brannen et al: White House Officials Push for Widening War in
Syria Over Pentagon Objections: Specifically, they want to go after
Iranian forces allied with Assad. Or maybe they just want to start a
shooting war with Iran. Meanwhile, see:
Elliot Hannon: Iran Launches Missile Strikes Targeting ISIS in Syria,
Dramatically Escalating Role in Syrian Conflict. Also:
Russian Military: Airstrike Last Month Might Have Killed ISIS Leader.
On the other hand, fighting against the anti-ISIS Syrian government:
US Warplane Shoots Down Syria Jet Over Eastern Syria. And US-backed
Saudi Airstrikes on Saada Market Kill Dozens of Civilians.
Margaret Brennan/Kylie Atwood: Trump sells Qatar $12 billion of U.S.
weapons days after accusing it of funding terrorism: Does North
Korea realize all they have to do to get on Trump's good side is buy
a bunch of F-15s?
David Dayen: Betsy DeVos Moves to Help For-Profit Schools Defraud
Chauncey DeVega: Groveling before the mad king: Donald Trump's Cabinet
of sycophants: Probably the most demeaning day for a US Cabinet
since Bill Clinton got impeached and rounded up his for a forced display
of unity. For more:
Isaac Stone Fish: Emperor Trump's sycophantic cabinet meeting stinks of
Tom Engelhardt: The Making of a Pariah Nation: When I started working
on an autobiography a while back, I noted that my birthdate nearly coincided
with "the maximal state of American power in the world": the US had nearly
routed the Communists in North Korea and were closing in on the northern
border with China. Within a week, the Chinese counterattacked, and US forces
started their retreat, finally signing an armistice (but pointedly no peace
treaty) in 1953, ending (or suspending) the war as a stalemate. After WWII
the US emerged as a very rich country, with something like 50% of the world's
wealth, while Europe and East Asia were totally devastated. George Kennan
argued at the time that the point of American foreign policy should be to
preserve that discrepancy and dominance. Alas, that didn't happen, nor
could it. While the US economy enjoyed remarkable growth up to 1970, the
world economy grew even faster -- especially in Western Europe and the
Pacific Rim, where the US found business allies, treated favorably to
steer them away from the Communist bloc. After 1970, the US economy
stalled and sputtered, while the US flat-out lost its misbegotten war in
Vietnam. And alongside this economic decline, there has been a loss of
morals and decency, which we've seen play out both through a series of
Republican presidents (Nixon, Reagan, the Bushes, now Trump), although
you can see its effects nearly as well in the Democrats (Carter, Clinton,
Obama). So in a sense, my entire life experience has been touched by
national decline and degeneracy. As best I recall, Engelhardt is only
a few years older than I am, so this must be his lifelong experience
too. Sure, this decline has been long denied: Reagan's "morning in
America" made it clear that our future would be based on fraud, which
for sure was America's only booming industry during his tenure; even
last year Hillary Clinton's "America's always been great" collapsed
with her delusional campaign. Even today, Engelhardt hedges his view
of "Trump, in real time, tweet by tweet, speech by speech, sword
dance by sword dance, intervention by intervention, act by act, in
the process of dismantling the system of global power" by which the
US "made itself a truly global hegemon." The problem, of course, is
that even as Americans feel pinched and belittled, even as we've
grown ever more self-centered and contemptuous of the rest of the
world, the US is still a very dangerous, very ominous force in that
world. Moreover, although Trump starts with a sense of America's
diminish stature and role, he has no clue as to how to engineer a
more graceful landing. Rather, he's actively picking totally useless
(indeed embarrassing) fights with Cuba, Iran, and North Korea, while
subcontracting US policy in the Middle East to Israel and Saudi Arabia
(or Qatar if the price is right), and pouring more resources into the
quicksand of Afghanistan. He's undermined NATO, and sought to weaken
the EU, and his rejection of the Paris Accords has offended everyone.
While Trump will henceforth be associated with failed slogans, ranging
from "Drain the Swamp" to "Lock Her Up," "Make America Great Again"
will prove even more vexing. At least no one really knows what "Great"
means. Had he been more modest and said "Make America Good Again," it
would be clear how badly he's failing.
Meanwhile, the foreign policy gurus are desperately struggling to
scale back the damage Trump is doing. It's a difficult task, as Max
Boot admits in
Donald Trump Is Proving Too Stupid to Be President; also
Richard Evans: The Madness of King Donald, which takes a longer, more
historical view of incompetent rulers; and
Daniel Shapiro: Trump Is Letting America Get Pushed Around by Saudi
Arabia -- but they let him play with swords and touch their orb.
Thomas Erdbrink: Raising Tensions, Iranians Again Link Saudis to Terror
Attacks in Tehran
Lee Fang: Trump Officials Overseeing Health Care Overhaul Previously
Lobbied for Health Insurance Firms: Title is a little obscure,
but the gist of the article is how Trump and Secretary Tom Price are
stocking HHS with a long list of industry lobbyists (Eric Hargan,
Paula Stannard, Randolph Wayne Pate, Lance Leggitt, Keagan Lenihan
are the ones mentioned and documented).
Lee Fang: Trump Officials Overseeing Amazon-Whole Foods Merger May
Face Conflicts of Interest: May?
President Donald Trump's pick to lead the Justice Department's antitrust
division, Makan Delrahim, has worked since 2005 as a lawyer and lobbyist
at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a firm that is registered to lobby
on behalf of Amazon. . . .
Delrahim, however, isn't the only official with ties to the merger.
Abbott Lipsky, appointed in March as the new acting Director of the FTC's
Bureau of Competition, which oversees antitrust, previously worked as a
partner in the antitrust division of the law firm Latham & Watkins.
Lipsky's former law firm has been tapped by Whole Foods' financial adviser,
Evercore, to help manage the merger with Amazon, according to Law360.
And finally, Goldman Sachs has stepped up to provide bridge financing
for the merger. The investment bank maintains a broad range of connections
to multiple officials within the Trump administration, most salient of whom
is Gary Cohn, the former chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs. As the
chief economics adviser to the president, Cohn will likely weigh in on the
Karen J Greenberg: Donald Trump Is Waging a War on Children: "America's
never-ending 'war on terror' wreaks havoc on the physical, mental, and
emotional health of kids around the world."
Jeff Hauser/Brian Dew: The Trump Administration's Underrated Threat to
the IRS: First, funding cuts targeted against enforcement. Then there
And in particular, that temporary head could make a big headache go away
from one very influential person, hedge fund billionaire and Breitbart
investor Robert Mercer. In a too-little noticed McClatchy piece last
month, it was reported that "The Internal Revenue Service is demanding
a whopping $7 billion or more in back taxes from the world's most
profitable hedge fund, whose boss's wealth and cyber savvy helped Donald
Trump pole-vault into the White House." The IRS demand is hardly
controversial, as Mercer's Renaissance Technologies attempts to use
an obviously problematic loophole to pretend that's its rapid-fire
trading constitutes long term investing that is taxed at a far lower
Jessica Huseman/Annie Waldman: Trump Administration quietly rolls back
Civil Rights efforts across federal government: Not sure how quiet
this has been, but it's not just Jeff Sessions, although he bears much
Fred Kaplan: Trump, Still Unfit for President, Is Letting His Defense
Secretary Decide Strategy in Afghanistan. This includes
US to Send 4,000 More Ground Troops to Afghanistan, nearly a 50%
increase over the 8,500 already there. Later reports suggest that
Trump will wind up sinking even more troops:
General Urges Up to 20,000 More US Troops in Afghanistan. Also:
William J Astore on Trump and the Afghan War; and
Ahmed Rashid: Afghanistan: It's Too Late.
David D Kirkpatrick: Trump's Business Ties in the Gulf Raise Questions
About His Allegiances
Sarah Kliff: I've covered Obamacare since day one. I've never seen lying
and obstruction like this. On the other hand, Ezra Klein thinks:
Republicans are about to make Medicare-for-all much more likely:
not, of course, by advocating it -- they're much too dedicated to
increasing corporate graft opportunities for that -- but by exposing
all of the other alternatives to Obamacare as impossible.
Stephen Ohlemacher: GOP Tax Plan in Trouble as Republicans Increasingly
Reject Import Tax: Article mentions "strong opposition from retailers,
automakers and the oil industry." As I recall, it's also opposed by the
Kochs and their AFP front group. On the other hand, the corporate cuts
are predicated on raising revenues elsewhere, and the import tax was the
bill's main offset.
Miriam Pensack: Trump to Reverse Obama Openings to Cuba Under the False
Flag of Human Rights. More on Cuba:
Marjorie Cohn: Trump Takes Aim at Obama's Détente With Cuba;
Peter Kornbluh: Normalization With Cuba Has Been a Smashing Success -- but
Trump Wants to Destroy It. For some reason this Cuba story is making
me exceptionally sad. For nearly sixty years the US has had head stuck up
ass on this, and Obama finally pried it loose. During that time America's
standing in the world has been tarnished by many things, but with Cuba it
mostly showed the extremes to which our politicians would go to further
a grudge (and not admit any culpability -- let's face it, US treatment of
Cuba from 1898-1958 was why there was a revolution). And now it seems like
the only real reason Trump has is his desire to erase everything that Obama
ever did. (Well, except for the Afghanistan Surge, which he now seems bound
to recapitulate.) And he's getting away with this because we've created
this Imperial Presidency where the guy in charge -- even though he lost
the popular vote, even though his current approval rate is around 38% --
enjoys this incredible, arbitrary power to fuck up the world. Also note:
Richard Lardner: Not all GOP Lawmakers Pleased Trump Rolled Back Some
Obama Cuba Policies.
Nick Penzenstadler et al: Most Trump real estate now sold to secretive
Corey Robin: Trump can stack the judiciary for years. That's why
Republicans stick with him; or as Dahlia Lithwick puts it:
Trump Is Trying to Stack the Federal Courts With Wackadoos.
Mustafa Santiago Ali: Trump's planned EPA cuts will hit America's
And finally some other items that caught my eye:
Andrew J Bacevich: The 'Global Order' Myth: Unusually confused
summary of Trump and the foreign policy mandarins -- dissidents
because they cling to their treasured myths and clichés, which
Trump himself shows no evidence of believing in or caring for
(unlike Obama and Clinton, who bought into every absurd concept).
On the other hand, Trump's actual foreign policy is more crazed
but not fundamentally different -- probably because he subcontracts
it to the usual suspects.
Dan Berger: Welfare and Imprisonment: How "Get Tough" Politics Have
Excluded People From Society: Review of Julilly Kohler-Hausmann's
new book, Getting Tough: Welfare and Imprisonment in 1970s America.
Tom Cahill: A New Harvard Study Just Shattered the Biggest Myth About
Bernie Supporters: "a new poll finds that [Sanders'] popularity is
greater among minorities and women than among whites and men." Still,
lowest group listed was 52%.
Nithin Coca: Meet Gov, the Open Source, Digital Community Transforming
Democracy in Taiwan
Max Ehrenfreund: Kansas's conservative experiment may have gone worse
than people thought.
Phil Giraldi: Resist this: How Hillary lost, in her own words:
Giraldi was fool enough to vote for Trump, because, as he puts it,
"he wasn't the war candidate" -- so no surprise his enthusiasm for
a book edited with commentary by Joe Lauria called How I Lost
By Hillary Clinton, based on Clinton speeches and leaked emails
from John Podesta and the DNC brain trust, The two central themes
were "Hillary as an elitist and Hillary as a hawk" -- obviously (at
least to a non-conservative) not the full gamut of Clinton's views,
but certainly a facet she had a hard time shaking, perhaps because
she spent more time raising money than appealing for votes, and
because so much of her campaign pitch was built around what she
called "the Commander-in-Chief test."
Sarah Leonard: Why Are So Many Young Voters Falling for Old Socialists?
Corbyn? Sanders? You have to ask? First, they're the only politicians to
have survived the last 35 years of neocon/neolib bullshit with integrity
intact. Second, they've established a track record of being consistently
right in understanding how that neocon/neolib bullshit would blow up.
Third, they actually have practical programs that would help most people
enjoy better lives, while making it harder for the rich and powerful to
abuse their money and power.
Mike Ludwig: In an Aging Nation, Single-Payer Is the Alternative to
Dying Under Austerity.
Alec Luhn: Russia's Massive Protests Reveal a Government Playing by
Outdated Rules; and
Nadezda Azhgikhina: Russia Is Experiencing the Largest Anti-Government
Protests in Half a Decade.
Timothy Noah: Manufacturing Won't Save Us: Review of Luis Uchitelle's
new book, Making It: Why Manufacturing Still Matters. Unfortunately,
tagline ("But it's maddeningly difficult to make an evidence-based case for
rescuing it") suggests that Noah disagrees. In point of fact, manufacturing
has mostly been rescued in America, mostly by driving labor costs down, by
breaking and avoiding unions. But rescue like that is turning large swathes
of America into a third world nation. The problem has less to do with what
business make and do than with a business model that focuses exclusively
on draining profits from workers and customers while doing nothing for
communities and the country.
Feargus O'Sullivan: The Grenfell Tower Fir eand London's Public-Housing
Crisis: It was a 24-floor apartment tower in west London, home to
600 people, now destroyed by fire, with
58 people missing and presumed dead (including and superseding the
previously announced 30 dead). The building was public housing, but
managed by a for-profit company, with some/many apartments sold to
residents and flipped for profit.
In a trend now typical across London, the borough contracted KCTMO to
refurbish the tower, in part to increase the number of apartments
available for private rent or sale. That work left the tower with
just one staircase and exit -- an exit that the management company
has failed to keep clear. Protests about the safety of the people
living in the tower fell on deaf ears. . . .
Redeveloping projects like these is especially attractive to
cash-strapped boroughs because it helps them manage severe austerity
cuts imposed by the central government. By attracting buyers to these
properties, the boroughs can generate direct profits and attract
wealthier residents who pay higher taxes and use fewer public services.
Redeveloping or remodeling public projects also means that boroughs
and developers can squeeze out extra revenue by adding homes for the
private market, or "affordable" homes that, while cheaper than market
rates, still generate some profit.
In order to maximize these profits, there is pressure to remove as
many poorer public-housing tenants as possible, to make more room for
market-rate apartments. . . .
If Grenfell Tower hadn't been rearranged to create more apartments
and re-clad to make it look newer, there's a good chance it would
still be standing intact. . . .
The reports of neglect, threats, and indifference by the
Conservative-held local council toward low-income tenants seem
especially bitter given the incredible wealth of the area as a whole.
On a national level, the media has already noted that May's new chief
of staff sat on a report that exposed serious concerns about the fire
safety of residential towers. It would still be inaccurate to present
Grenfell Tower's neglect as a Conservative issue alone. Most inner-London
boroughs are in fact held by the Labour Party, and report similar
experiences of low-income displacement, public housing neglect, and
officially sponsored gentrification. These have been powder-keg issues
in London for years, with activists warning that some crisis would come
sooner or later. It's now arrived, in the worst possible way imaginable.
For more on the political fallout (Prime Minister Theresa May seems
to have handled this especially badly), see:
Jonathan Freedland: Grenfell Tower will forever stand as a rebuke to
Lynsey Hanley: Look at Grenfell Tower and see the terrible price of
Polly Toynbee: Theresa May was too scared to meet the Grenfell survivors.
She's finished (she reminds us that "George W Bush was similarly
exposed by his clueless reaction to Hurricane Katrina"). Also:
Seraphima Kennedy: When I worked for KCTMO I had nightmares about burning
Rebecca Solnit: Victories against Trump are mounting. Here's how we deal
the final blow: Reasons to be cheerful, or at least harbor a faint
glint of hope. Still, I'm not seeing the glass half full, let alone
Matt Taibbi: Goodbye, and Good Riddance, to Centrism: On Jeremy
Corbyn and the British election.
Douglas Williams: Flint officials may face jail for water crisis.
That's bittersweet news
Matthew Yglesias: The Fed just took action to slow job creation despite
low inflation: The Fed bumped up their basic rate by a quarter-point,
despite the fact that inflation is below its 2% target, and low unemployment
is mostly the result of people giving up looking.
I noticed this letter by Stu Blander in the New York Times Book Review,
a response to a review by Gal Beckerman,
50 Years On, Stories of the Six Day War and What Came After, and saw
that it provided a brief set of talking points meant to defend Israel's
50-years-and-counting Occupation. I thought I'd quote these points (in
bold below) and see how well they hold up:
- the historical connection between the Jewish people and the
land of Israel (both sides of the Green Line, e.g., Hebron) spans two
millenniums; As expressed this may be true but carries no weight.
Many peoples have comparably long historical connections to this or
other lands, but that doesn't give them any right to claim land and
subjugate and/or eject those living there -- as Israelis have done.
The louder form of this argument, one often heard from Israelis, is
that God gave them the land, but while that may be an article of
faith for Jews it is arbitrary and unconvincing to anyone else.
(Those Christians who are pro-Zionist are more likely to base their
views on Revelations than on Exodus. But aside from the British of
1922-39, Christian rulers of Palestine -- Romans, Byzantines, and
Crusaders -- prohibited Jewish immigration, in contrast to the Arabs
and Ottomans, who allowed it).
- the Green Line was intended as a temporary armistice line, not
a final border;
The UN's 1947 Partition Resolution was intended to be a final border,
but Israelis, while campaigning hard for UN approval, rejected it when
they declared independence without specifying any borders and launched
Plan D to seize West Galilee, Jerusalem, and environs -- indeed to
seize as much land as they could without too many Palestinian Arabs.
The "temporary borders" of the UN-brokered armistice agreements were
expected to be finalized in peace agreements, which Israel didn't
make any effort to negotiate in good faith. That is primarily because
David Ben Gurion and his successors always contemplated seizing and
annexing more territory by armed force. Regardless of Israeli intent,
the Green Line did over nearly 20 years come to be regarded as a de
facto border, as recognized in UNSCR 242 following the 1967 War, and
it was eventually accepted by all nations of the Arab League, by the
PLO, and finally Hamas. It is only Israel that isn't satisfied with
the Green Line as a border.
- the territories were acquired in a defensive war; The
1967 War was initiated in a surprise attack by Israel, and followed
a plan aimed at rapidly conquering territory previously held or
administered by Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. Egypt provoked a crisis
by demanding that UN monitor troops leave their territory in the
Sinai Peninsula, and once that happened by closing the Straits of
Tiran to Israeli shipping. Both of those reversed concessions that
Egypt had made following Israel's attack on Egypt in 1956. There
is no reason to think that Egypt (or any other Arab country) would
have attacked Israel at that time, and it is likely that had Israel
not attacked the crisis would have been resolved diplomatically.
Syria and Jordan were dragged into the war because they had signed
mutual defense deals with Egypt -- a failed attempt at deterring
Israeli attack. Even if they fired on Israel first, it was only
after Israel had attacked Egypt, and Israel responded with an
aggressive campaign to seize strategic territory.
- Security Council Resolution 242 contemplates the retention of
some of the territories; The preamble very clearly refers to the
"inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war," so there
is no reason to think that the Resolution "contemplates the retention
of some of the territories." While Israel officially accepted the
Resolution, they thought they had a loophole, arguing that the lack
of a definite article (withdrawal "from territories occupied in the
recent conflict" instead of withdrawal "from the territories"). By
that bit of nitpicking, Israel could claim to respect international
law while "creating facts on the ground" to carve out territories
they would refuse to ever withdraw from. The first such "fact on the
ground" -- the razing of a Palestinian neighborhood adjacent to the
Western Wall of the Temple Mount -- took place before the war ended,
and Israeli annexation of a greatly expanded Jerusalem very shortly
after. As internal documents from the time were declassified, it has
become clear that Israeli leaders never intended to give up various
- the 1948-49 war resulted in the destruction of existing Jewish
settlements (e.g., Gush Etzion) to which Israelis returned after 1967;
The massacre at Gush Etzion is a rare case where Arab militia were able
to destroy an isolated Jewish settlement. On the other hand, Israeli
forces destroyed some 700 Palestinian villages, and forced some 700,000
Palestinians to flee. The net effect of the 1948-49 was was that Israel
expanded its territory from 55% offered in the UN Partition Resolution
to 72% while at the same time reducing the non-Jewish population from
45% to 20% -- a massive demographic shift that nowadays we commonly
refer to as "ethnic cleansing." No doubt the massacre at Gush Etzion
was unjust, as was the 1929 attack on the Zionist settlement in Hebron,
which resulted in its retreat, and another early post-1967 settlement.
But if you want to redress those acts, you need to do it for both sides,
which would mean allowing 700 resettlements of Israel by Palestinian
refugees. Otherwise, those settlements are just land grabs by the
superior military force.
- there are significant security reasons for continued control of
the territories; Maybe there were some valid reasons in 1967, and
possibly up to the 1977 Peace Treaty with Egypt, but Israel has not
faced any significant border threats since roughly that time. Israel
created a problem with Lebanon when Israel intervened there in 1978
and especially 1982, and when Israel escalated a minor border incident
in 2006 into a major war, but all of those were preventable or could
have been handled otherwise. And Israel's Occupation creates far more
dissent and resistance, and far more immediate threats, than allowing
those territories to develop independently (as, for instance, the Oslo
Accords promised but never delivered, again due to Israeli sabotage).
- international law is far from clear as to which side has the
better of the "legal" argument; One point international law is
very clear on is that the Jewish-only settlements Israel has been
building on territory seized by force in the 1967 War are illegal.
A second point is that Israel has refused to permit refugees from
the 1948-49 and 1967 Wars to return to their homes or compensate
them for their losses, contrary to UN Resolution. There are also
various laws regarding treatment of people in Occupied Territories
that Israel is likely to have violated. Israel runs a very coercive
and invasive Occupation regime, which systematically discriminates
against civil and human rights of Palestinians. Israel routinely
practices collective punishment against Palestinians. It's not
clear to me what the "legal" arguments on the other side may be,
or how they can possibly offset these complaints.
I can see some merit in some of these points, especially up through
the 1967 War. European settler colonies have either succeeded or failed
depending on whether they were able to establish a demographic majority --
as they clearly did in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, but
as they failed to do in Algeria, South Africa, Rhodesia, or Kenya.
Until the 1948-49 War, the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine was limited to
about 32% of the total population, which didn't bode well. This is why
Ben Gurion and the Zionist leadership embraced Partition and Transfer
as well as open Jewish immigration (which the British had suppressed
since 1939, and earlier from Arab countries). That they emerged from
the war with 72% of the land in Palestine and an 80% majority ensured
their survival, but it took some years after that before the lesson
was impressed on the Palestinians and neighboring Arabs. Algeria, for
instance, rejected the French only in 1964, and it took another 25
years for white South Africans to give up their system of Apartheid.
So Zionism won the struggle for existence and statehood in 1948-49,
but like so many successful people, they didn't stop there. They got
greedy: both in terms of expanding their territorial grasp and in
how completely they were able to dominate their opponents. The result
has been an extraordinary human tragedy, both for the oppressed and
for the souls of the dominators.
Blander's letter continues:
I do not think that these arguments (individually or in
combination) dictate continued retention of the territories and
perpetuation of the occupation. But it is frankly absurd to
characterize the current situation as, say, akin to that of France in
Algeria or the British in India.
Aside from demography, the other settler colony consideration is
whether you can return, as the British in India and the French in
Algeria clearly could. Boers in South Africa might have been able to
return to the Netherlands, but (unlike the English in South Africa)
were long separated from those roots -- which is one reason they
hung on so dearly. Jews in Palestine/Israel had few other options --
Americans could come and go, and some others did move on to Western
Europe, but the majority from East Europe and the MENA countries had
few options and little appetite to return.
On the other hand, if you don't recognize Zionism to be a creed
of settler colonialism, you'll miss the underlying rationales for
why the Zionist settlers did what they did, and why they've gone on
to create a regime that systematically denies the native population
any semblance of human or civil rights, a system which it regularly
reinforces with violence. Otherwise, you might just think their
racism and militarism derive from some intrinsic evil. As a white
settler American (albeit 4-10 generations removed from Europe), I
can relate, but I also understand the trap such identity sets, and
the need to outgrow that. Israelis have succeeded in transplanting
themselves to the Middle East, but not for as long, and with a more
precarious majority, than we have, so it's understandable that they're
much more on edge (plus there's the Holocaust, which they've preserved
memory of to an unhealthy degree -- kind of like the way the Civil War
was remembered in the US South well into my lifetime, whereas we've
done a pretty good job of sweeping traumas to minorities like slavery
and the Indian wars under the rug).
I guess this is why I find the last paragraph of Blander's letter
One more thing. After a couple of pages of essentially holding
Israel responsible for the continued occupation, the essay ends with a
plea by Raja Shehadeh that until the Israelis "accept that the land
must be shared and that both people have the right to self-determination,
peace will remain elusive." Maybe so. But how to square that with Nir
Baram's conclusion (apparently endorsed by Beckerman) that the conflict
is not about "final borders" and there remains "total and irreconcilable
difference" between the parties?
You can't really square away those and dozens of other things people
say, each coming from a limited and parochial vantage point. It would
helps to see where the Zionists came from, what they sought and hoped
for and built, and how they coped with real and imagined threats, but
one also needs to accept the Palestinians as they were and have become,
to put their words and actions into a historical context and understand
how their options have been severely constrained. The next line might
be something about how if they could all just learn to understand and
empathize with each other the conflict would be easy to resolve. But
that won't happen, at least broadly: the views are too limited and the
experiences too raw. It often takes distance to be able to see both
sides clearly, to find some common ground or viable modus vivendi.
I think that's the point of Nathan Thrall's new book, The Only
Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine.
Thrall is taking a line that Israelis have often said about Arabs --
one of many things Zionist colonizers learned from their British
patrons (along with house demolitions and other forms of collective
punishment, and indeed the legal code Israel built its Occupation on),
and reflecting it back. The saying usually ends with "is violence,"
which Thrall left out, because he realizes that force can take other
forms. In The One-State Condition: Occupation and Democracy in
Israel/Palestine, Ariella Azoulay and Adi Ophir make a distinction
between "eruptive violence" (what you normally think of as violence)
and "potential violence" (what you feel when you see an Occupation
soldier, or are arrested, or served with a warrant by a state that
depends on arms for enforcement, or even a veiled threat). Israeli
society positively seethes with "potential violence" like this. The
closest analogy I can think of, one that Americans should (but often
cannot) be able to relate to, is how the all-pervasive legal strictures
of the Jim Crow South were reinforced with lynching (and note that many
white Southerners had their own "Holocaust memories" dating from Civil
War and Reconstruction, their own sense that their renascent power was
only achieved through violent struggle).
As someone who abhors violence in all forms and degrees, I find it
disturbing to note that Jim Crow was only dismantled because a superior
force -- the US federal government -- intervened. (Same for slavery a
century earlier, much more violently.) Similarly, it is hard to see
any glimmer of hope that Israeli society might voluntarily dismantle
its own "matrix of control" (Jeff Halper's
and thorough analysis) without the application of considerable
external pressure. One problem is that the world isn't much good at
this: partly because many powers are convinced they can solve their
international problems through violence, and partly because the
targets of that violence are more likely to hunker down and carry on
than to give up. Germany and Japan gave up their imperial ambitions
only after utter devastation, but Vietnam and Afghanistan suffered
comparable ruin and carried on. And while economic sanctions seem
less brutalizing, about the only case you can point to where they
worked was South Africa (which at least is much more similar to
Israel than such failed sanctions targets as Cuba, North Korea,
Iraq, and Iran). The BDS movement is promising not su much because
it punishes Israel for misbehaving as because it shows that the
world no longer considers Israel's violent repression of millions
of people subject to its power to be morally acceptable.
As fascinating as the past is, this is a conflict which can only be
resolved in the present, and the key to that is to stop treating each
other badly. To do that we need to condemn every transgression on every
side, and we need to refuse to allow either side's misdeeds to justify
the other. Most obviously, Israel's "right to defend itself" doesn't
extend to bombing, shooting, bulldozing, kidnapping or starving -- all
typical Israeli acts justified under the "self-defense" umbrella. One
could even imagine a simple and elegant system where, for instance,
every time someone in Gaza shoots a rocket over the wall Israel can
present the authorities in Gaza with a bill for damages and a warrant
for the arrest of whoever's responsible. Of course, Gaza could do the
same every time Israel lobs a shell or drops a bomb on Gaza. While
the warrants may be difficult to satisfy, the damages at least could
be deducted from the streams of aid both Israel and the Palestinians
receive. The formalities themselves would both publicize infractions
and deter against them. Moreover, this wouldn't require a grand deal
to establish a "final status" verdict. All it would require is mutual
agreement that shooting and bombing is something that shouldn't be
allowed or excused any more.
We also need to lighten up and let go of things. You can't go
back and rectify the past, but you can start again and try to get
it right from here on out. No one starts with a clean slate, and
I'm not sure that one is even possible, but a little self-awareness
and a little more effort to respect others can go a long ways. I
know, for instance, that I'm not free of the racism and sexism and
Christianity and American jingoism I grew up with, but I've managed
to contain them to the point where I'm not much of a problem for
other people. That much seems doable, even if it's not done often
But one last point: we should understand why ending (or at least
ameliorating) this conflict matters. It's not just that mistreatment
anywhere is bad, or even that Israel is bucking a worldwide trend
toward deconialization (not so much a return of settlers to Europe
as a general blurring of racial and ethnic identities all around
the world), but especially for us in America a recognition that
Israel's all-encompassing belief in using violence to perpetuate
inequality infects us as well (or in some cases, such as Jim Crow,
even originated here). America's self-destructive lurch to the
right parallels and feeds off Israel's, and it's unlikely we can
stave off the one without at least separating it from the other.
For another review of Thrall's book and several others, see
David Shulman: Israel's Irrational Rationality (or as the cover
put it: "Israel: From Military Victory to Moral Failure"). Here's a
By far the most cogent of the new books, however, is Nathan Thrall's
The Only Language They Understand, which surveys the last five
decades and comes to a remarkable conclusion: the only way to produce
some kind of movement toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
is to apply significant coercive force to the parties involved, and in
particular to Israel.
No amount of coddling and reassuring, no increased bribes in the
form of more money or military aid, will have any effect on Israeli
policy for the simple reason that Israel considers any sacrifice that
would be necessary for peace far worse than maintaining the current
situation. As Thrall writes, "no strategy can succeed if it is premised
on Israel behaving irrationally." In this reading of the worldview that
has driven all Israeli governments -- right, pseudo-left, or center --
over these decades, "it makes no sense for Israel to strike a deal today
rather than wait to see if . . . imagined threats," such as an apartheid
state ruling over a Palestinian demographic majority, and thus the end
of Israeli democracy, "actually materialize." The assumption that Israel
genuinely wants a peace agreement is simply wrong; the costs of such an
agreement are tangible, immediate, and perhaps overwhelming, involving
the loss of territory, an end to colonization, and potential political
collapse, whereas the costs of maintaining the status quo are for many
Israelis, if at times unpleasant, eminently bearable.
Also, further down, after detailing the author's personal experiences
with Israeli settlers near Hebron:
A diary that kept track of such assaults on Palestinians would run to
thousands of pages, with daily, perhaps hourly, entries. And I have not
yet mentioned the endless demolitions of Palestinian houses -- entire
villages, such as Susiya and Umm al-Khair, are in danger of extinction --
or the remorseless processes of expulsion and ethnic cleansing that we
see everywhere in the occupied territories. The occupation is also a
surreal world of denial, where lies mask themselves as truth and truth
can't be uttered, at least not by the officers and politicians who hold
power. I recommend the graphic and moving descriptions of the current
situation in the West Bank and Gaza in Kingdom of Olives and Ash,
a volume of personal essays by well-known writers, including the Nobel
laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, edited by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman
and published to coincide with the fifty-year anniversary.
The settlers themselves, however obnoxious, bear only a portion of
the blame for the atrocities they commit. They carry out the policies
of the Israeli government, in effect maintaining a useful, steady level
of state terror directed against a large civilian population. None of
this can be justified by rational argument. All of it stains the character
of the state and has, in my experience, horrific effects on the minds and
hearts of young soldiers who have to carry out the orders they are given.
A few unusually aware and conscientious ones have had the courage to speak
out; as always in such situations, most people just go along.
Shulman also mentions a "binational" scheme which is close to where
my own thinking has led me:
There exist other templates for some sort of resolution. The most
interesting and creative is probably the
Two States One Homeland proposal by Meron Rapoport, Awni al-Mashni,
and the group of Palestinians and Israelis they have gathered around
them. They envision two states within a single geographical space and
a movement toward simultaneous sharing and separation. The blueprint
speaks of two independent polities with Jerusalem as their capital;
freedom of movement and even freedom to settle on both sides of the
border, subject to agreement on the number of citizens of each state
who will become permanent residents of the other; a Joint Court for
Human Rights, a Joint Security Council, and other common institutions
functioning alongside the institutional structures of each state.
Of the other books reviewed, Matti Steinberg's In Search of
Modern Palestinian Nationhood strikes me as possibly the most
interesting. The author "served for many years as a senior adviser
to the heads of the Shin Bet" and he seems to have made a careful,
nuanced study of what Palestinian writers were actually thinking
as their view of Israel evolved from "roughly 1973" on. There is
an interesting movie called
The Gatekeepers of interviews with five former Shin Bet
heads, showing in each case a career evolution from youthful hawk
to aged, wizened dove, so one imagines that even while they towed
the standard political line, they actually learned real things
about the people they were spying on. Unfortunately, the more they
learned, the more they regretted, the more likely they were to be
replaced with someone younger and more reckless. I think that rule
often applies to Israeli politicians as well, although Netanyahu
has managed to be single-mindedly obstructionist for what seems
Monday, June 12. 2017
Music: Current count 28254  rated (+29), 385  unrated (+2).
Barely less than the thirty that for me marks a productive week,
but close enough, especially given that my cutoff for the week's
report was relatively early, and since then I'm already as I write
this up to seven records for next week. I've continued to add items
Music Tracking file, especially
from early "so far" lists (although I ran out of patience when I
tried to scoop up the 2017 jazz review list from All About Jazz).
I've been picking promising (well, in some cases just much touted)
records from the list, and getting the usual hit-and-miss results.
I found two A- records there: a rapper who surprised me, and a pop
star who still sounded convincing after four plays. The hardest
call was the Mountain Goats' Goths, which probably got six
plays without clearly making the grade -- still, a damn nice album.
Two records I didn't spend much time on but you might turn out to
be more to your taste: MUNA and Jay Som.
The other A- is American Epic: The Soundtrack, which is
the tip of an iceberg that includes much more I haven't found time
to deal with, notably a 5-CD box and a bunch of individual artist
compilations for genres (Blues, Country) and artists I already have
serviceable anthologies by (Carter Family, Mississippi John Hurt,
Blind Willie Johnson, Leadbelly, Memphis Jug Band). Chances are
any of those would do you well. But the box is a lot to focus on
coming off the computer, and I wouldn't be able to review the doc --
always important with reissues -- without actually getting my hands
on the product. As for the original music, I haven't seen the PBS
shows, and don't know where to begin. The whole thing is much like
the Ken Burns jazz and Martin Scorsese blues campaigns, except I'm
much less engaged.
As for the mid-year lists (and obviously we're still close to
a month shy), so I'm working from a short and arbitrary sample.
Without resorting to math, I'll give you my subjective impression
of how this list would shape up if we had more data. Also, I've
included my grades, where known, in brackets:
- Kendrick Lamar: Damn (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope) [A-]
- Sampha: Process (Young Turks) [*]
- The XX: I See You (Young Turks) [A-]
- Father John Misty: Pure Comedy (Sub Pop)
- Syd: Fin (Columbia) [A-]
- Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels 3 (Run the Jewels) [A-]
- Mount Eerie: A Crow Looked at Me (PW Elverum & Sun) [*]
- Drake: More Life (Young Money/Cash Money) [*]
- Spoon: Hot Thoughts (Matador) [***]
- Thundercat: Drunk (Brainfeeder) [*]
- Migos: Culture (QC/YRN/300) [***]
- Jay Som: Everybody Works (Polyvinyl) [*]
- Khalid: American Teen (Right Hand/RCA) [A-]
- Perfume Genius: No Shape (Matador) [B-]
- Chris Stapleton: From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville) [***]
- Slowdive: Slowdive (Dead Oceans) [*]
- Dirty Projectors: Dirty Projectors (Domino)
- Jens Lekman: Life Will See You Now (Secretly Canadian) [***]
- Laura Marling: Semper Femina (More Alarming) [*]
- The Magnetic Fields: 50 Song Memoir (Nonesuch) [B-]
The top slot is a slam dunk. The next three could go any way, with XX
a clear leader in UK, Misty in US, and Sampha broader (but not so deep)
everywhere. I think RTJ3 is underrepresented, probably because its
release straddled the New Year. The sample is skewed toward hip-hop, so
I tended to slide those records back a bit (especially Drake, which showed
up on the third most lists). Also I pushed Christgau favorites Lekman and
Magnetic Fields up (onto) the list (the latter quite a bit, but also note
that its Metacritic score is very high).
Some other, somewhat less likely, possibilities:
Ryan Adams: The Prisoner;
Joey Bada$$: All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ [A-];
Cloud Nothings: Life Without Sound [**];
(Sandy) Alex G: Rocket;
Japandroids: Near to the Wild Heart of Life [**];
Kehlani: SweetSexySavage [*];
The New Pornographers: Whiteout Conditions [***];
Paramore: After Laughter [***];
Priests: Nothing Feels Natural [**].
Also on my "first pass" list:
Mary J. Blige: Strength of a Woman [***];
Julie Byrne: Not Even Happiness;
Charly Bliss: Guppy;
Feist: Pleasure [B];
Future Islands: The Far Field;
Girlpool: Powerplant [B];
Jlin: Black Origami [**];
Aimee Mann: Mental Illness;
Rick Ross: Rather You Than Me;
Sorority Noise: You're Not as ___ as Your Think;
Stormzy: Gang Signs & Prayer [*].
More 2017 best of (so far) lists:
I should also note that Robert Christgau has a review of several books
by Terry Eagleton:
With a God on His Side.
New records rated this week:
- Joey Bada$$: All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ (2017, Pro Era/Cinematic): [r]: A-
- Chicano Batman: Freedom Is Free (2017, ATO): [r]: B-
- Bill Cunliffe: BACHanalia (2013-16 , Metre): [cd]: B-
- Joey DeFrancesco and the People: Project Freedom (2017, Mack Avenue): [r]: B+(**)
- Drake: More Life (2017, Young Money/Cash Money): [r]: B+(*)
- Art Fristoe Trio: Double Down (2017, Merry Lane, 2CD): [cd]: B
- Gabriel Garzón-Montano: Jardin (2017, Stones Throw): [r]: B
- Terry Gibbs: 92 Years Young: Jammin' at the Gibbs House (2016 , Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(***)
- Japandroids: Near to the Wild Heart of Life (2017, Anti-): [r]: B+(**)
- J.I.D: The Never Story (2017, Dreamville/Interscope): [r]: B+(***)
- Brian McCarthy Nonet: The Better Angels of Our Nature (2016 , Truth Revolution): [cd]: B+(***)
- Charnett Moffett: Music From Our Soul (2017, Motéma): [r]: B+(***)
- Kyle Motl: Solo Contrabass (2016 , self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
- The Mountain Goats: Goths (2017, Merge): [r]: B+(***)
- MUNA: About U (2017, RCA): [r]: B+(*)
- The Necks: Unfold (2017, Ideologic Organ): [r]: B+(***)
- Larry Newcomb Quartet With Bucky Pizzarelli: Living Tribute (2016 , Essential Messenger): [cd]: B+(*)
- Jay Som: Everybody Works (2017, Polyvinyl): [r]: B+(*)
- Dayna Stephens: Gratituge (2017, Contagious Music): [r]: B+(**)
- Becca Stevens: Regina (2017, GroundUp): [r]: B-
- Matthew Stevens: Preverbal (2017, Ropeadope): [r]: B
- Dylan Taylor: One in Mind (2015-16 , Blujazz): [cd]: B+(*)
- Urbanity: Urban Soul (2017, Alfi): [cd]: B
- Shea Welsh: Arrival (2017, Blujazz): [cd]: B-
- Wire: Silver/Lead (2017, Pinkflag): [r]: B+(*)
- Charlie Watts/The Danish Radio Big Band: Charlie Watts Meets the Danish Radio Big Band (2010 , Impulse): [r]: B+(**)
- Charli XCX: Number 1 Angel (2017, Asylum): [r]: A-
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
- American Epic: The Soundtrack (, Columbia/Third Man/Legacy): [r]: A-
- Alice Coltrane: The Ecstatic Music of Turiyasangitananda [World Spirituality Classics 1] (1982-95 , Luaka Bop): [r]: B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- Steve Bilodeau: The Sun Through the Rain (self-released)
- Burning Ghosts: Reclamation (Tzadik): advance
- The Four Bags: Waltz (NCM East)
- Kate Gentile: Mannequins (Skirl)
- The Great Harry Hillman: Tilt (Cuneiform): cdr
- Dave Liebman/Joe Lovano: Compassion: The Music of John Coltrane (2007, Resonance): June 16
- Molly Miller Trio: The Shabby Road Recordings (self-released)
- Ed Neumeister & His NeuHat Ensemble: Wake Up Call (MeisteroMusic): July 15
- Jeremy Rose: Within & Without (Earshift Music)
- Samo Salamon Sextet: The Colours Suite (Clean Feed)
- The Vampires: The Vampires Meet Lionel Loueke (Earshift Music)
Sunday, June 11. 2017
Started this on Saturday and finished before midnight on Sunday, so
quick work given all the crap I ran into. If I had to summarize it, I'd
start by pointing out that as demented as Trump seems personally, the
real damage is coming from his administration, his executive orders, and
the Republican Congress, and all of that is a very logical progression
from their rightward drift since the 1970s. To paint a picture, if you're
bothered by all the flies buzzing and maggots squirming, focus first on
the rotting carcasses that are feeding them. Secondly, America's forever
war in the Middle East seems to have entered an even more surreal level,
which again can be traced back to a bunch of unexamined assumptions
about friends and enemies and how we relate to them that ultimately
make no sense whatsoever. The simplest solution would be to withdraw
from the region (and possibly the rest of the world) completely, at
least until we get our shit together, which doesn't seem likely soon.
That's largely because we've come to tolerate a political and economic
system of all-against-all, where we feel no social solidarity, where
we tolerate all kinds of lying, cheating, and gaming -- anything that
lets fortunate people get ahead of and away from the rest of us. Last
week's UK election suggests an alternative, but while the votes there
were tantalizingly close, the resolution is still evasive -- probably
because not enough of us are clear enough on why we need help.
Meanwhile. this is what I gleaned from the week that was, starting
with a summary piece I could have fit several places below, but it
works as an intro here:
Matthew Yglesias: The week, explained: Comey, Corbyn, Qatar, and
more -- Obamacare repeal, debt ceiling. I don't doubt that the
section on Qatar is true, but still don't really understand it (nor,
clearly, does Trump: see
Zeshan Aleem: Trump just slammed US ally Qatar an hour after his
administration defended it; also
Juan Cole: Tillerson-Trump Rumble over Qatar shows White House
Richard Silverstein: All's Not Well in Sunnistan; also
Vijay Prashad: ISIS Wins, as Trump Sucks Up to the Saudis, and Launches
Destructive Fight with Qatar; and perhaps most authoritatively,
Richard Falk: Interrogating the Qatar rift; more on Qatar below).
The UK held its "snap election" on Thursday, electing a new parliament
(House of Commons, anyway) and, effectively, prime minister. Conservative
(Tory) Party leader Theresa May called the election, hoping to increase
her party's slim majority -- a result that must have seemed certain given
polls at the time. But after a month or so of campaigning -- why can't we
compress American elections like that? -- the Tories lost their majority,
but will still be able to form a razor-thin majority by allying with the
DUP (Democratic Unionist Party, a right-wing party which holds 10 seats
in Northern Ireland). The results: 318 Conservative (-12), 262 Labour
(+30), 35 SNP (Scottish National Party, -21), 12 Liberal Democrats (+4),
10 DUP (+2), 13 others (-2). The popular vote split was 42% Conservative,
40% Labour (up from 30% with Ed Miliband in 2015, 29% with Gordon Brown
in 2010, and 35% for Tony Blair's winning campaign in 2005 -- almost as
good as Blair's 40.7% in 2001).
As victory margins go, the Tories are no more impressive than Trump's
Republicans in 2016, but like Trump and the Republicans they've seized
power and can do all sorts of horrible things with it. Still, this is
widely viewed as a major, perhaps crippling setback for May and party.
And while it doesn't invalidate last year's Brexit referendum, it comes
at the time when the UK and EU are scheduled to begin negotiations on
exactly how the UK and EU will relate to each other during and after
Perhaps more importantly, the gains for Labour should (but probably
won't) end the charges that Jeremy Corbin is too far left to win an
election. At the same time the business-friendly New Democrats (e.g.,
Clinton and Gore) took over the Democratic Party in the 1990s, the
similarly-minded Tony Blair refashioned New Labour into a neoliberal
powerhouse in the UK. Both movement proved successful, but over the
long haul did immense damage to the parties' rank-and-file, who were
trapped as opposition parties moved ever further to the right. After
New Labour finally crashed, Corbin ran for party leader, won in a
stunning grassroots campaign, and faced down a mutiny by surviving
Labour MPs by again rallying the rank-and-file. The result is that
this time Labour actually stood for something, and the fact that
they improved their standing rebukes the Blair-Clinton strategy of
winning by surrendering. We, of course, hear the same complaints
about Bernie Sanders. It may well be that the majority is not yet
ready for "revolution," but voters (especially young ones) are
getting there, and many more are rejecting the NDP/NLP strategy
Some scattered UK election links:
Harriet Aberholm: Jeremy Corbyn was just 2,227 votes away from chance
to be Prime Minister: "Winning seven Tory knife-edge seats could
have put Labour leader in Downing Street."
Anne Applebaum: Theresa May and the revenge of the Remainers:
Notes that while Corbyn was moving Labour to the left, May took
the Conservatives right-ward -- irritating moderates not just on
Brexit but also those "worried about the future of the National
End of Blair Era in UK: Corbyn's Left-Wing Policies win at Ballot
Harry Enten/Nate Silver: The UK Election Wasn't That Much of a Shock:
Much ado about poll gazing.
John Harris: Britain is more divided than ever. Now Labour has a chance
to unify it: Title gave me no idea what this piece would be about,
and I'm not sure the author figured it out either. Still, a bit:
The contest May herself wanted was a laughably flimsy affair, focused
on her supposedly strong leadership and her belief that a sufficient
share of the public was willing to blankly approve a vision of Brexit
that she was unable to articulate. Meanwhile, thanks to Corbyn's party
and its primary-coloured manifesto, a completely different conversation
was taking place, which began to define the agenda after May's U-turn
on social care -- about the condition of the country and the need for
a new social settlement. To all intents and purposes, Labour has just
won a historic moral victory, thanks to a faintly miraculous coalition
that included not just millions of remain voters but -- as proved by
a stream of Labour successes in the Midlands, Wales and the north --
people who once voted Ukip and backed leave.
Bemoaning a divided nation is a cliché, but it's also practical
politics for the right, since the only basis on which a majority can
merge would be for more equality and broader prosperity, which is to
say the agenda (when they're not selling out) of the left.
Mehdi Hasan: Jeremy Corbyn Is Leading the Left out of the Wilderness
and Toward Power
Toby Helm/Daniel Boffey: 'Drop hard Brexit plans,' leading Tory and
Labour MPs tell May
Zaid Jilani: Jeremy Corbyn's Critics Predicted He Would Destroy Labour.
They Were Radically Wrong.
Robert Mackey: After Election Setback, Theresa May Clings to Power in
UK Thanks to Ulster Extremists: Mostly a reminder of how right-wing
the DUP is.
Maria Margaronis: Labour's Near-Triumph Brings a New Morning to British
Politics: "Jeremy Corbyn's leadership offered an end to austerity,
a commitment to the public good, the faith that generosity is more
powerful than greed."
Emile Simpson: That Time Theresa May Forgot That Elections Come With
Opponents: She also forgot that, regardless of how much people
may be inclined to blame New Labour and/or the EU, Conservative rule
since 2010 hasn't really delivered anything of value to most British
voters -- a steady diet of austerity, cutbacks, wars, and terror,
with whatever dislocations "hard Brexit" portends. Trying to look
at this rationally, I'm surprised that they did as well as they did,
since I can't think of any credible reason for hardly anyone to stick
with them. So I liked this bit:
But of course, credit where credit is due. Jeremy Corbyn, who has been
much maligned over the last two years now looks like he will end up
outliving two Conservative prime ministers. His biggest strength, in
contrast to May, is his sincerity, which was even recognized during
the campaign by the likes of Nigel Farage. Unlike May, people trust
that he means what he says, even if they disagree with him.
Of course, Simpson goes on to complain that Corbyn's "biggest
weaknesses are his own hard-left political views," but tempers
that by noting that the Labour manifesto "was far closer to the
center than Corbyn's own views."
Steve W Thrasher: Bernie Sanders could have won. That's the Corbyn lesson
Benjamin Wallace-Wells: How Jeremy Corbyn Moved Past the Politics of
On Wednesday night, Corbyn gave the final speech of his campaign, in the
stunning Union Chapel, in Islington, his own constituency. Near the end,
he took out his reading glasses and gave a dramatic performance of a few
melodramatic lines from Shelley. "Rise, like lions after slumber / In
unvanquishable number! / Shake your chains to earth like dew / Which in
sleep had fallen on you: / ye are many -- they are few!" Corbyn was
standing in front of a red background emblazoned with Labour's slogan:
"For the many, not the few." He said that he and his audience had stood
together in places like this for countless protest meetings over the
decades -- "protect this, defend that, support this person." "Tonight
is different," Corbyn said. "We're not defending. We're not defending.
We don't need to. We are asserting. Asserting our view that a society
that cares for all is better than a society that only cares for the
few." Monday morning, the Blackpool Gazette ran an advertisement from
the Conservatives that covered half its front page. The other half was
a news story: "Poverty-hit families are forced to rely on food bank
handouts." The election was being argued on Corbyn's terms. That isn't
the same as winning, but it is something.
Gary Younge: We were told Corbyn was 'unelectable.' Then came the
And the usual scattered links on this week's Trump scandals:
Dean Baker: Trump Versus Ryan: The Race to Eliminate the Federal
Government: Another piece on Trump's budget. It bears repeating
that the real reason conservatives seek to shrink government is
that they want people to forget that the government is there to
serve them, and that with integrity and a sense of public service
government can make their lives better. So anything they can do
to make government look bad works to their favor. And, of course,
they don't apply their pitch lines to the parts of government
they not only like but depend on to maintain their privilege. On
a related issue, see
William Rivers Pitt: We Are Not Broke: Trashing the Austerity
Lies. One of their favorite pitches is that we can't afford
to do things (yet somehow we manage to spend a trillion dollars
on a war machine that does little but blowback).
Peter Baker/Maggie Haberman: Trump Grows Discontented With Attorney
General Jeff Sessions: Trump may have thought he was appointing a
loyalist who would make his legal problems go away, but all he got was
a racist/right-wing ideologist who recognizes there are still some limits
to how much he can undermine America's system of justice.
Moustafa Bayoumi: Trump's Twitter attacks on Sadiq Khan reveal how
pitiful the president is
Mohamad Bazzi: The Trump Administration Could Provoke Yet Another
Mideast War: "Trump has emboldened a recklessly aggressive Saudi
government, which is now destroying Yemen, imposing a blockade on
Qatar -- and could even stumble into a war with Iran." Long piece
on how "the Saud dynasty views itself as the rightful leader of the
Muslim world" and how that view leads them into conflicts with Iran,
all secular Arab nationalists, and challengers (like the Muslim
Brotherhood) and pretenders (like ISIS). A little short on exactly
why the Saudis turned on Qatar, another rich autocracy which has
turned into a rival by becoming even more prone to intervention:
Aside from their anger toward Iran, the Sauds were also enraged by
Qatar's support for the revolutions in Tunisia, Libya, and especially
Egypt, where Qatar became a primary backer of the Muslim Brotherhood,
which in 2012 won the first free elections in Egypt's modern history.
(Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates later backed an Egyptian
military coup, in July 2013, against the government of President
Mohamed Morsi, a Brotherhood leader.) The Sauds were already irritated
at Qatar for pursuing an independent foreign policy and trying to
increase its influence after the regional turmoil unleashed by the
US invasion of Iraq. And, like other Arab monarchs and autocrats,
the Sauds disdained Qatar's Al Jazeera satellite network, which was
critical of the monarchies and supported the uprisings in 2011.
Shawn Boburg: Trump's lawyer in Russia probe has clients with Kremlin
Gilad Edelman: Trump's Plan to Make Government Older, More Expensive,
and More Dysfunctional: "Slashing federal employees doesn't save
money. It just makes the government more dependent on private contractors
and more prone to colossal screw-ups."
Robert Greenwald: Trump Is Sending a Murderer to Do a Diplomat's Job:
"Trump just put Michael D'Andrea -- the man who invented so-called
'signature drone strikes' -- to head up intelligence operations in
Iran. Probably pure coincidence that almost immediately Tehran
was hit by an ISIS terror bomb attack (see
Juan Cole: ISIL Hits Tehran; Trump Blames Victim, Iran Hard-Liners
Blame Saudis -- who probably blame Qatar, a country they've
broken relations with while suggesting they have ties to Iranian
terrorists). Also, Richard Silverstein asks
Iran Terror Attack: Who Gains? And then there's this:
US Congressman suggests his country should back ISIS against Iran
following Tehran attacks: That's Dana Rorhbacher (R-CA).
Mark Karlin: Organizations Representing Corporations Pass Regressive
Legislation in the Shadows: Interview with Gordon Lafer, who
wrote The One Percent Solution: How Corporations Are Remaking
America One State at a Time. One reason Republicans have spent
so heavily at taking over state legislatures is that they can use
that power base for cultivating corporate favors. For an excerpt
from Lafer's book, see
Corporate Lobbies Attack the Public Interest in State Capitols.
Anne Kim: Deconstructing the Administrative State: "Donald Trump
promises that his deregulatory agenda will lead to a boom in jobs.
The real effect will be the opposite."
Naomi Klein: The Worst of Donald Trump's Toxic Agenda Is Lying in Wait --
A Major US Crisis Will Unleash It: Long piece, adapted from Klein's
new book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Shock Politics and Winning the
World We Need.
Paul Krugman: Wrecking the Ship of State: Also see Jacob Sugarman's
more pointed comments:
If You Think the United States Is a Disaster Now, Just Wait.
Mike Ludwig: Pulling Out of the Paris Climate Pact, Trump Is Building
a Wall Around Himself
John Marshall: Trump's Saudi Arms Deal Is Actually Fake: $110 billion
in arms sales -- think of all the jobs (well, actually not that many, and
not working on anything valuable in itself, like infrastructure). But:
The $110 price tag advertised by the Trump White House includes no
actual contracts, no actual sales. Instead it is made up of a bundle
of letters of intent, statements of interest and agreements to think
about it. In other words, rather than a contract, it's more like a
wishlist: an itemized list of things the Saudis might be interested
in if the price of oil ever recovers, if they start more wars and
things the US would like to sell the Saudis. . . .
As I said, it's remarkably like the Trump-branded phony job
announcements: earlier plans, themselves not committed to, rebranded
as new decisions, with the Saudis happy to go along with the charade
to curry favor with the President who loves whoever showers praise
Also, as the Bazzi piece above notes, "From 2009 to 2016, Obama
authorized a record $115 billion in military sales to Saudi Arabia,
far more than any previous administration. (Of that total, US and
Saudi officials inked formal deals worth about $58 billion, and
Washington delivered $14 billion worth of weaponry from 2009 to
Ruth Marcus: Why Comey's testimony was utterly devastating to
Trump: This was the story Washington insiders obsessed about
all week. Everyone has an opinion, so I should probably just drop
into second-tier bullets and let you figure it out (if you care):
Peter Baker/David L Sanger: Trump-Comey Feud Eclipses a Warning on Russia:
'They Will Be Back' I've pooh-poohed the "Russia interferes with US
election" thing because it was initially pushed mostly by renascent cold
warriors (neocons nostalgic for an enemy they can overspend) and mainline
Democrats (looking for an excuse for their own failures). Also there's
the fact that no one interferes in foreign elections more than the United
States. Still, I was struck by Comey's matter-of-fact Russia indictment,
and recognize that Russia's engagement in foreign elections isn't helpful --
even if it's only one of many distortions and disinformation sources we have
to fend off. Sensible people would look for a solution which disentangles
other sources of distortion and disinformation as well.
EJ Dionne Jr: Trump doesn't understand how to be president. The Comey
story shows why.
David Frum: The Five Lines of Defense Against Comey -- and Why They
Failed: For example, all that nitpicking over Trump meekly saying
"I hope" even though Trump is the sort of person who habitually surrounds
himself with people eager to satisfy Trump's wishes. Frum wrote:
But Adam Liptak, Supreme Court reporter for The New York Times,
almost instantly produced an example of an obstruction of justice
conviction that rested precisely on "I hope" language -- and the
all-seeing eye of Twitter quickly found more. Anyone who has ever
seen a gangster movie has heard the joke, "Nice little dry cleaning
store, I hope nothing happens to it." The blunt fact is that after
Comey declined to drop the investigation or publicly clear the
president, Trump fired Comey. A hope enforced by dismissal is more
than a wish.
Frum also cites
Michael Isikoff: Four top law firms turned down requests to represent
Trump, one of them vividly explaining, "the guy won't pay and he
Fred Kaplan: What Trump Doesn't Know Will Hurt Us: "The GOP excuse
about Trump's ignorance will lead America to disaster."
Ryan Koronowski: Comey's testimony was a media disaster for Trump.
These headlines prove it.
Nancy LeTourneau: The President's Lawyer Fails Miserably in Defending
His Client: On Marc Kasowitz's rebuttal to the Comey testimony.
Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias gets hung up proofreading:
Trump's personal lawyer just released a letter filled with typos.
Kathleen Parker: Boy Scout James Comey is no match for Donald Trump:
You can tell she's a right-winger because she thinks bad is good and
Heather Digby Parton: James Comey rivets the nation -- and tells intriguing
stories about Jeff Sessions
Adam Serwer: The Incompetence Defense: "Republican senators suggest
Trump is innocent because he didn't try very hard to obstruct justice,
or because he was bad at it."
Philip Rucker/David Nakamura: Trump accuses Comey of lying, says he'd
'100 percent' agree to testify in Russia probe: Trump denied it
all, then summed up: "No collusion. No obstruction. He's a leaker." As
Philip Bump further reports, Trump wants to turn around and go after
Comey for the leak. Bump further interviewed Stephen Kohn ("a partner
at a law firm focused on whistleblower protection") on the possibility
that the Justice Department's inspector general might prosecute Comey
for the leak. Kohn's response:
"Here is my position on that: Frivolous grandstanding," he said. "First
of all, I don't believe the inspector general would have jurisdiction
over Comey any more, because he's no longer a federal employee." The
inspector general's job is to investigate wrongdoing by employees of
the Justice Department, which Comey is no longer, thanks to Trump --
though the IG would have the ability to investigate an allegation of
"But, second," he continued, "initiating an investigation because
you don't like somebody's testimony could be considered obstruction.
And in the whistleblower context, it's both evidence of retaliation
and, under some laws, could be an adverse retaliatory act itself."
Trump's lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, also picked up on charging Comey as
a leaker. Given that the Trump administration has been in a paranoid
frenzy about leakers, that gives Trump's followers a talking point,
even if, as Bump details, there's no legal basis for the complaint.
The way politics plays today, that may be all Trump needs to deflect
Nicholas Schmidle: James Comey's Intellectual History: Background
profile on Comey, which shows he was well predisposed to screw over
Hillary Clinton but unlikely to emerge as Donald Trump's nemesis.
I suppose that makes him credible to our relentlessly rebalancing
centrists, but for now it highlights how outrageous Trump still is --
until Republicans manage to make him the new normal (as they did
with Nixon, Reagan, the Bushes, Gingrich, and Ryan).
Deborah Tannen: It's not just Trump's message that matters. There's also
Matthew Yglesias: The most important Comey takeaway is that congressional
Republicans don't care:
The question before Congress is whether or not it's appropriate for a
president to fire law enforcement officials in order to protect his
friends and associates from legal scrutiny. And the answer congressional
Republicans have given is that it's fine.
Almost since Trump was sworn in there have been flurries of pieces
on impeachment (post-Comey, see
John Nichols: Congress Has What It Needs to Impeach Trump), but
Yglesias is right here: as long as Trump is useful to Republicans in
Congress they will have no will to impeach him, no matter what he
does (even, to pick his favorite example, should he start shooting
pedestrians on New York's Fifth Avenue). Impeachment may reference
"high crimes and misdemeanors" but is purely political calculation.
Trump is safe on that count until the Republicans in Congress decide
he's a liability.
Jim Newell: Trumpcare Is on the March: "GOP Senators have quietly
retooled a Trumpcare bill that could pass." This was also noted by
Zoë Carpenter: Senate Republicans Hope You Won't Notice They're About
to Repeal Obamacare. Also, in case you need a refresher:
Alex Henderson: 9 of the most staggeringly awful statements Republicans
have made about health care just this year:
- Raul Labrador claims that no one dies from lack of health insurance
in the U.S.
- Rep. Jason Chaffetz compares cost of health care to cost of iPhones
- Warren Davidson's message to the sick and dying: Get a better job
- Mo Brooks equates illness with immorality
- Mick Mulvaney vilifies diabetics as lazy and irresponsible
- Roger Marshall claims that America's poor "just don't want health
- President Trump praises Australian health care system, failing to
understand why it's superior
- Steve Scalise falsely claims that Trumpcare does not discriminate
against preexisting conditions
- Ted Cruz, Jim Jordan claim Canadians are coming to U.S. in droves
for health care, without a shred of evidence
Ben Norton: Emails Expose How Saudi Arabia and UAE Work the US Media
to Push for War
Jonathan O'Connell: Foreign payments to Trump's businesses are legally
permitted, argues Justice Department: Something else Trump "hoped"
the DOJ would see his way.
Daniel Politi: Afghan Soldier Opens Fire on US Troops, Kills Three
Service Members: I first heard this story from a TV report,
where VP Mike Pence was proclaiming the dead soldiers "heroes"
and no one mentioned that the shooter was a supposed ally. Now
we hear that the shooter was a Taliban infiltrator. However, note
another same day report:
US Air Raid Kills Several Afghan Border Police in Helmand.
"Several" seems to be 10, and they were "patrolling too close
to a Taliban base."
Nomi Prins: In Washington, Is the Glass(-Steagall) Half Empty or Half
Full? Republicans in Congress are hard at work tearing down the
paltry Dodd-Frank reforms that Congress put in place to make a repeat
of the 2008 financial meltdown less likely -- it was, quite literally,
the least they could do. The Wichita Eagle ran an op-ed today by our
idiot Congressman Ron Estes and it gives you an idea what the sales
pitch for the Finance CHOICE Act is going to be:
Repealing Obama's regulatory nightmare. Republicans seem to think
that all they have to do to discredit regulations is count them (or
compile them in a binder and drop it on one's foot). As Estes put it,
"The scale of regulations added is incredible. Dodd-Frank added almost
28,000 new rules, which is more than every other law passed under the
Obama administration combined." He may be right that some of those
regulations "hinder smaller local lenders" -- the Democrats' Wall
Street money came from the top, and while they weren't fully satisfied
(at least after they got bailed out), they did get consideration.
Beyond that Estes spools out lie after lie -- the baldest is his
promise that "consumers must be protected from fraud." (The first
bullet item on Indivisible's
What is the Financial CHOICE Act (HR 10)? says the act would:
"Destroy the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and obliterate
consumer protections as we currently know them, including allowing
banks to gouge consumers with credit card fees." One reason Dodd-Frank
needed so many regulations was how many different ways banks could
think of to screw consumers.
Prins' article doesn't mention Financial CHOICE, but does mention
a couple of mostly-Democratic bills to restore the separation concept
of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act. Arguably that isn't enough, but one
can trace a direct line from the 1999 Glass-Steagall repeal (which
was triggered by Citibank's merger with Traveler's Insurance -- a
much smarter response would have been to prosecute Citibank's CEO
and Board) to the 2008 meltdown and bailouts. Also see
Paul Craig Roberts: Without a New Glass-Steagall America Will Fail.
Ned Resnikoff: Trump ends infrastructure week with some binder-themed
Chris Riotta: Donald Trump Is Sputtering with Rage Behind the Closed
Doors of the White House
Mica Rosenberg/Reade Levinson: Trump targets illegal immigrants who were
given reprieves from deportation by Obama
Bill Scheft: Who in the hell is Scott Pruitt?! Everything you were afraid
to ask about this suddenly important person
Derek Thompson: The Potemkin Policies of Donald Trump: Last week
was "Infrastructure Week," during which he unveiled a plan to privatize
air traffic control that the big airlines have been lobbying for quite
a few years, and something about reducing environmental impact studies
to no more than two pages, presumably by eliminating the study part.
Trump has also been heard complaining that all the Russia investigations
have gotten in the way of doing important work, like jobs, or terrorism,
or something like that.
The secret of the Trump infrastructure plan is: There is no infrastructure
plan. Just like there is no White House tax plan. Just like there was no
White House health care plan. More than 120 days into Trump's term in a
unified Republican government, Trump's policy accomplishments have been
more in the subtraction category (e.g., stripping away environmental
regulations) than addition. The president has signed no major legislation
and left significant portions of federal agencies unstaffed, as U.S. courts
have blocked what would be his most significant policy achievement, the
legally dubious immigration ban.
The simplest summary of White House economic policy to date is four
words long: There is no policy.
To be sure, this void has partially been filled up with Paul Ryan's
various plans -- wrecking health care, tax giveaways to the rich, undoing
regulation of big banks, etc. -- which is the point when people finally
realize just how much damage Trump and the Republicans are potentially
capable of. So much so that the one thing I'm not going to fault Trump
on is the stuff he's threatened but never tried to do. There's way too
much bad stuff that he's done to shame him for not doing more. It used
to be said that at least Mussolini got the trains to run on time. About
the best Trump can hope for is to destroy all the schedules so no one
can be sure whether they're on time or not.
Trevor Timm: ICE agents are out of control. And they are only getting
Paul Woodward: Whatever we call Trump, he stinks just as bad:
Reports that CNN fired Reza Aslan after a tweet about Trump, then
hired former Trump campaign strategist Corey Lewandowski. For the
record, here is Aslan's tweet:
This piece of shit is not just an embarrassment to America and a
stain on the presidency. He's an embarrassment to humankind.
Donald Trump is the embodiment and arguably purest distillation of
vulgarity and yet the prissy gatekeepers of American mainstream-media
civility have a problem when vulgar language is used to describe a
What other kind of language is in any sense appropriate?
There's no good answer to this. The fact is it's impossible to
convey the extent and intensity to which I'm personally disgusted
by Trump both in word and action, and I'm not alone. Sometimes I
erupt with vulgarity. Sometimes I try to be clever. Most of the
time I try to explain with some factual reference which should be
self-evident. But nothing seems to break through the shell his
supporters wear. Still, I can't blame anyone for trying. I can't
blame Kathy Griffin for her severed head joke. (Actually, I smiled
when I saw the picture, and that doesn't happen often these days.
Then my second thought was, "that's too good for him.") But I
don't like getting too personal about Trump, because regardless
of how crass he seems, the real problems with his politics are
much more widespread, and in many cases he's just following his
company around. So that's why I'd object to Aslan's tweet: it
narrows its target excessively. Still, I wouldn't fire him. He's
got a voice that's grounded in some reasonable principles --
more than you can say for "the tweeter-in-chief."
Stephen M Walt: Making the Middle East Worse, Trump-Style:
I've lodged a number of links on the Saudi-Qatari pissfest, the
ISIS-Iran terror, and the long-lasting Israel-Palestine conflict
elsewhere in this post, and apologize for not taking the time
to straighten them out. But this didn't fit clearly as a footnote
to any of those: it's more like the core problem, so I figured I
should list it separately. Walt continues to be plagued by his
conceit that the US has real interests in the Middle East and
elsewhere around the world other than supporting peace, justice,
and broad-based prosperity, so what he's looking for here is a
"balance of power" division, something Trump is truly clueless
I don't think Trump cares one way or the other about Israelis or
Palestinians (if he did, why would he assign the peace process to
his overworked, inexperienced, and borderline incompetent son-in-law?)
but jumping deeper into bed with Saudi Arabia and Egypt isn't going
to produce a breakthrough.
The folly of Trump's approach became clear on Monday, when (Sunni)
Saudi Arabia and five other Sunni states suddenly broke relations with
(Sunni) Qatar over a long-simmering set of policy disagreements. As
Robin Wright promptly tweeted, "So much for #Trump's Arab coalition.
It lasted less than two weeks." Trump's deep embrace of Riyadh didn't
cause the Saudi-Qatari rift -- though he typically tried to take credit
for it with some ill-advised tweets -- but this dispute exposed the
inherent fragility of the "Arab NATO" that Trump seems to have envisioned.
Moreover, taking sides in the Saudi-Qatari rift could easily jeopardize
U.S. access to the vital airbase there, a possibility Trump may not even
have known about when he grabbed his smartphone. And given that Trump's
State Department is sorely understaffed and the rest of his administration
is spending more time starting fires than putting them out, the United
States is in no position to try to mend the rift and bring its putative
One completely obvious point is that if the US actually wanted to
steer the region back toward some sort of multi-polar stability the
first thing to do would be to thaw relations with Iran, and to make
it clear to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, and Israel that we won't
tolerate any sabotage on their part. The US then needs to negotiate
a moderation of the efforts of all regional powers to project power
or simply meddle in other nations' business (and, and this is crucial,
to moderate its own efforts). Obviously, this is beyond the skill set
of Trump, Kushner, et al. -- they're stuck in kneejerk reaction mode,
as has been every American "tough guy" since (well before) 2001. But
this isn't impossible stuff. All it really takes is some modesty, and
a willingness to learn from past mistakes. Would Iran be receptive?
Well, consider this:
Last but not least, Trump's response to the recent terrorist attack
in Tehran was both insensitive and strategically misguided. Although
the State Department offered a genuine and sincere statement of regret,
the White House's own (belated) response offered only anodyne sympathies
and snarkily concluded: "We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism
risk falling victim to the evil they promote." A clearer case of "blaming
the victim" would be hard to find, and all the more so given Trump's
willingness to embrace regimes whose policies have fueled lots of
terrorism in the past.
Contrast this with how Iranian President Mohammad Khatami responded
after 9/11: He offered his "condolences" and "deepest sorrow" for the
American people and called the attack a "disaster" and "the ugliest form
of terrorism ever seen." There was no hint of a lecture or snide
schadenfreude in Khatami's remarks, even though it was obvious that
the attacks were clearly a reaction (however cruel and unjustified)
to prior U.S. actions. It is hard to imagine any modern American
presidents responding as callously as Trump did.
Matthew Yglesias: The Bulshitter-in-Chief: "Donald Trump's
disregard for the truth is something more minister than ordinary
lying." Quotes philosopher Harry Frankfurt's essay "On Bullshit"
for authority when making a distinction between bullshitting and
lying, then gives plenty of examples (most familiar/memorable).
One interesting bit here comes from
Tyler Cowen: Why Trump's Staff Is Lying:
By asking subordinates to echo his bullshit, Trump accomplishes two
- He tests the loyalty of his subordinates. In Cowen's words, "if
you want to ascertain if someone is truly loyal to you, ask them to
do something outrageous or stupid."
- The other is that it turns his aides into members of a distinct
tribe. "By requiring subordinates to speak untruths, a leader can
undercut their independent standing, including their standing with
the public, with the media and with other members of the
Sounds to me like how cults are formed. Yglesias continues:
But the president doesn't want a well-planned communications strategy;
he wants people who'll leap in front of the cameras to blindly defend
whatever it is he says or does.
And because he's the president of the United States, plenty of people
are willing to oblige him. That starts with official communicators like
Spicer, Conway (who simultaneously tries to keep her credibility in the
straight world by telling Joe Scarborough she needs to shower after
defending Trump), and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. But there are also the
informal surrogates. . . .
House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes embarrassed himself
but pleased Trump with a goofy effort to back up Trump's wiretapping
claims. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who certainly knows better,
sat next to Trump in an Economist interview and gave him totally
undeserved credit for intimidating the Chinese on currency manipulation.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross hailed a small-time trade agreement with
China consisting largely of the implementation of already agreed-upon
measures as "more than has been done in the whole history of U.S.-China
relations on trade."
This kind of bullshit, like Trump's, couldn't possibly be intended to
actually convince any kind of open-minded individual. It's a performance
for an audience of one. A performance that echoes day and night across
cable news, AM talk radio, and the conservative internet.
Plus a few other things that caught my eye:
Patrick Cockburn: Britain Refuses to Accept How Terrorists Really Work:
After ISIS-claimed attacks in Manchester and London:
When Jeremy Corbyn correctly pointed out that the UK policy of regime
change in Iraq, Syria and Libya had destroyed state authority and
provided sanctuaries for al-Qaeda and Isis, he was furiously accused
of seeking to downplay the culpability of the terrorists. . . .
There is a self-interested motive for British governments to portray
terrorism as essentially home-grown cancers within the Muslim community.
Western governments as a whole like to pretend that their policy
blunders, notably those of military intervention in the Middle East
since 2001, did not prepare the soil for al-Qaeda and Isis. This
enables them to keep good relations with authoritarian Sunni states
like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan, which are notorious for aiding
Salafi-jihadi movements. Placing the blame for terrorism on something
vague and indefinable like "radicalisation" and "extremism" avoids
embarrassing finger-pointing at Saudi-financed Wahhabism which has
made 1.6 billion Sunni Muslims, a quarter of the world's population,
so much more receptive to al-Qaeda type movements today than it was
60 years ago.
Eric Foner: The Continental Revolution: Review of Noam Maggor:
Brahmin Capitalism: Frontiers of Wealth and Populism in America's
First Gilded Age, about economic development following the US
Thomas Frank: From rust belt to mill towns: a tale of two voter revolts:
The author of What's the Matter With Kansas?, The Wrecking Crew,
and Listen, Liberal tours Britain on the eve of the election. He
doesn't predict the election very well, but he does notice things, like
When I try to put my finger on exactly what separates Britain and America,
a story I heard in a pub outside Sheffield keeps coming back to me. A man
was telling me of how he had gone on vacation to Florida, and at one point
stopped to refuel his car in a rural area. As he was standing there, an
old man rode up to the gas station on a bicycle and started rummaging
through a trash can. The Englishman asked him why he was doing this, and
was astonished to learn the man was digging for empty cans in order to
support his family.
The story is unremarkable in its immediate details. People rummaging
through trash for discarded cans is something that every American has
seen many times. What is startling is that here's a guy in Yorkshire, a
place we Americans pity for its state of perma-decline, relating this
story to me in tones of incomprehension and even horror. He simply
couldn't believe it. Left unasked was the obvious question: what kind
of civilisation allows such a fate to befall its citizens? The answer,
of course, is a society where social solidarity has almost completely
What most impressed me about the England I saw was the opposite: a
feeling I encountered, again and again, that whatever happens, people
are all in this together. Solidarity was one of the great themes after
the terrorist bombing in Manchester, as the city came together around
the victims in a truly impressive way, but it goes much further than
that. It is the sense you get that the country is somehow obliged to
help out the people of the deindustrialised zones and is failing in
its duty. It is an understanding that every miner or job-seeker or
person with dementia has a moral claim upon the rest of the English
nation and its government. It is an assumption that their countrymen
will come to their rescue if only they could hear their cries for help.
John Judis: What's Wrong With Our System of Global Trade and Finance:
Interview with economist Dani Rodrik, who has written several books on
globalization. The main thing I've learned from him is that when nations
open up trade (and/or capital and/or labor flows), sensible ones recognize
that there will be losers as well as winners and act to mitigate losses.
The US, of course, isn't one of the sensible ones. And while Trump seems
to recognize some of the losses, he doesn't have anything to offer that
actually helps fix those problems. Still, he offers that some sort of
real change needs to come:
I think the change comes because the mainstream panics, and they come
to feel that something has to be done. That's how capitalism has changed
throughout its history. If you want to be optimistic, the good news is
that capitalism has always reinvented itself. Look at the New Deal, look
at the rise of the welfare state. These were things that were done to
stave off panic or revolution or political upheaval. . . .
So I think the powerful interests are reevaluating what their interest
is. They are considering whether they have a greater interest in creating
trust and credibility and rebuilding the social contract with their
compatriots. That is how to get change to take place without a complete
overhaul of the structure of power.
Christopher Lydon: Neoliberalism Is Destroying Our Democracy: An
interview with Noam Chomsky.
Ed Pilkington: Puerto Rico votes again on statehood but US not ready
to put 51st star on the flag; also
Michelle Chen: The Bankers Behind Puerto Rico's Debt Crisis.
Matthew Rozsa: Kris Kobach, "voter fraud" vigilante, is now running for
Kansas governor: He's been Kansas' Secretary of State since 2011,
a fairly minor position whose purview includes making sure elections
are run fairly, and to that end he's managed to get a "voter ID" bill
passed, purge thousands of voters from the registration rolls, and
prosecute perhaps a half dozen people for voting twice. Earlier he
was best known as author of several anti-immigration bills, and he's
continued to do freelance work writing far right-wing bills -- by
the way, virtually all of the ones that have been passed have since
been struck down as unconstitutional. He is, in short, a right-wing
political agitator disguised as a lawyer, and is a remarkably bad
one. He was the only Kansas politician to endorse Donald Trump, and
he wrangled a couple job interviews during the transition, but came
up empty. It's not clear whether Trump worried he might not be a
team player (i.e., someone who sacrifices his own ideas to Trump's
ego), or simply decided he was an asshole -- the binders he showed
up with suggest both. Kobach launched his gubernatorial campaign
with a ringing defense of Sam Brownback's tax cuts, which the state
legislature had just repealed (overriding Brownback's veto). Rosza
asks, "have the people of Kansas not suffered enough under Sam
Brownback?" Good question. Although he's by far the most famous
(or notorious) candidate, and he ran about 4 points above Brownback
in their 2014 reëlection campaigns, I think it's unlikely he will
win the Republican primary. For starters, his fanatical anti-immigrant
shtick doesn't play well in western Kansas where agribusiness demands
cheap labor and hardly anyone with other options wants to live. But
also, most business interests would rather have someone they can keep
on a tighter leash than a demagogue with national ambitions (a trait
Kobach shares with Brownback). Still, either way, I doubt the state's
suffering will end any time soon.
Reihan Salam: The Health Care Debate Is Moving Left: "How single-payer
went from a pipe dream to mainstream." The author isn't very happy about
this, complaining "that Medicare has in some ways made America's health
system worse by serving the interests of politically powerful hospitals
over those of patients." Still:
If faced with a choice between the AHCA and Medicare for all, Republicans
shouldn't be surprised if swing voters wind up going for the latter. The
AHCA is an inchoate mess that evinces no grander philosophy for caring
for the sick and vulnerable. Single-payer health care is, if nothing else,
a coherent concept that represents a set of beliefs about how health care
should work. If Republicans want the single-payer dream to go away, they're
going to have to come up with something better than the nothing they have
Sabrina Siddiqui: Anti-Muslim rallies across US denounced by civil
rights groups: On Saturday, a group called Act for America tried
to organize "anti-Sharia law" rallies in a number of American cities
("almost 30"; I've heard 28). They seem to have been lightly attended.
(My spies here in Wichita say 30 people showed up. There wasn't a
counter-demonstration here, although in many cases more people came
to counter -- needless to say, not to defend Sharia but to reject
ACT's main focus of fomenting Islamophobia.)
Ana Swanson/Max Ehrenfreund: Republicans are predicting the beginning
of the end of the tea party in Kansas: The overwhelmingly Republican
Kansas state legislature finally managed to override Gov. Sam Brownback's
veto of a bill that raised state income taxes and eliminated a loophole
that allowed most businessmen to escape taxation altogether. The new
tax rates are lower than the ones in effect before Brownback's signature
"tax reform" became law and blew a hole in the state budget, leading to
a series of successful lawsuits against the state over whether education
funding was sufficient to satisfy the state constitution. Republicans
have done a lot of batshit-insane stuff since Brownback took office in
2011, but the one that kept biting them back the worst was the Arthur
Laffer-blessed tax cut bill. One can argue that this represents a power
shift within the Republican Party in Kansas: in 2016 rabid right-wingers
(including Rep. Tim Huelskemp) actually lost to "moderate" challengers,
whereas earlier right-wingers had often won primaries against so-called
moderates. But as this article points out, right-wingers like Kris
Kobach and their sponsors like the Koch Brothers are pissed off and
vowing civil war. Meanwhile, the Ryan-Trump "tax reform" scam looks
a lot like Brownback's, with all that implies: e.g., see
Ben Castleman et al: The Kansas Experiment Is Bad News for Trump's
Mark Weisbrot, et al: Did NAFTA Help Mexico? An Update After 23 Years:
Executive summary to a longer paper (link within):
Among the results, it finds that Mexico ranks 15th out of 20 Latin American
countries in growth of real GDP per person, the most basic economic measure
of living standards; Mexico's poverty rate in 2014 was higher than the
poverty rate of 1994; and real (inflation-adjusted) wages were almost the
same in 2014 as in 1994. It also notes that if NAFTA had been successful
in restoring Mexico's pre-1980 growth rate -- when developmentalist economic
policies were the norm -- Mexico today would be a high-income country, with
income per person comparable to Western European countries. If not for
Mexico's long-term economic failure, including the 23 years since NAFTA,
it is unlikely that immigration from Mexico would have become a major
political issue in the United States, since relatively few Mexicans would
seek to cross the border.
Lawrence Wittner: How Business "Partnerships" Flopped at the US's Largest
I've also collected a few links marking the 50th anniversary of
Israel's "Six-Day War" and the onset of the 50-years-and-counting
Ibtisam Barakat: The Persistence of Palestinian Memory: "Growing up
under occupation was like living in a war zone, where people were punished
for wanting dignity and freedom."
Omar Barghouti: For Palestinians, the 1967 War Remains an Enduring,
Neve Gordon: How Israel's Occupation Shifted From a Politics of Life
to a Politics of Death: "Palestinian life has become increasingly
expendable in Israel's eyes." The piece starts:
During a Labor Party meeting that took place not long after the June
1967 war, Golda Meir turned to Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, asking,
"What are we going to do with a million Arabs?" Eshkol paused for a
moment and then responded, "I get it. You want the dowry, but you
don't like the bride!"
This anecdote shows that, from the very beginning, Israel made a
clear distinction between the land it had occupied -- the dowry --
and the Palestinians who inhabited it -- the bride. The distinction
between the people and their land swiftly became the overarching
logic informing Israel's colonial project. Ironically, perhaps,
that logic has only been slightly modified over the past 50 years,
even as the controlling practices Israel has deployed to entrench
its colonization have, by contrast, changed dramatically.
By the way, the bride/dowry metaphor is the organizing principle
for Avi Raz's important book on Israel's diplomatic machinations
following the 1967 war: The Bride and the Dowry: Israel, Jordaon,
and the Palestinians in the Aftermath of the June 1967 War
(2012, Yale University Press). Based on recently declassified
documents, the book shows clearly how Israel's ruling circle
(especially Abba Eban) weaved back and forth between several
alternative post-war scenarios to make sure that none of them got
in the way of Israel keeping control of its newly conquered
Mehdi Hasan: A 50-Year Occupation: Israel's Six-Day War Started With
Rashid Khalidi: The Israeli-American Hammer-Lock on Palestine
Guy Laron: The Historians' War Over the Six-Day War: Author of a
recent book, The Six-Day War: The Breaking of the Middle East
(2017, Yale University Press). Surveys a number of earlier books on
the war, including works by Randolph C