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Monday, March 27, 2017

Music Week

Seems like every time I post a Weekend Roundup, only minutes later I find a piece that I should have mentioned. This week's major one was Mike Konczal: Four Lessons from the Health Care Repeal Collapse. Very thoughtful, very smart piece on what last week's Trump-Ryan cave in means for now and the near future. First photo in the piece shows demonstrators with two placards: "Healthcare is a right, not a privilege!" and "Thanks to the ACA I am having my surgery tomorrow!" As I tried to stress in yesterday's post, Republicans tried to tout how their "repeal and replace" agenda would somehow be better for all (or most, or maybe just some) Americans, but they couldn't spell out any details on paper that plausibly backed up their claims. Nobody's denying that someone could come up with a better replacement -- the big story from last week that I didn't come up with any links for is how people all over the political map were looking at single-payer insurance -- but clearly the Republicans' pet ideas would only do the opposite (stripping some 24 million people of insurance, driving premiums for everyone else through the roof, protecting insurance companies from malpractice and fraud claims, providing even more tax breaks to the very rich).

It's beginning to look like people have somehow managed to sort out the key concepts behind the ACA -- especially that universal coverage is the only sane foundation for the health care system -- from its shoddy and corrupt implementation. One of the most interesting moments from last week was watching Charles Krauthammer on Fox News lament this very point. There is much more to be said about this and related issues -- like how Donald Trump has created a prison for himself in the increasingly psychotic Republican Party -- but that will have to come later.

Meanwhile, my week in music.

Music: Current count 27951 [27921] rated (+30), 397 [403] unrated (-6).

I've had an extremely weird week, one artifact being that my work space is in scary disorder. The counts above don't include unpacking last week's mail -- I didn't do that until this afternoon -- and I've added one more rated album below even though it's not in the count above. I've been especially lax on getting to new jazz records -- the pending queue is up to 46 records. I've also had scant interest in new 2017 releases (especially Christgau's pick last week, the 5-CD Magnetic Fields monument -- actually only 50 songs, less than the 69 Stephin Merrit squeezed onto 3-CD on his last excessive binge but still an awful lot from someone I like to a much more limited degree). So the only thing that's kept the rated count from collapsing is diving into old music. This week I continued my Chuck Berry dive to its end in 1979's Rock It -- maybe there are later live albums I haven't noticed.

I also started my way into Al Green's gospel period -- actually what kicked that off was noticing Al Green Is Love in Napster's new releases list. (Christgau regraded it significantly up a few years ago, but it hadn't been available and my LP is long gone, so I've been wanting to revisit.) I also checked out Gato Barbieri's early work, stopping at Under Fire and Bolivia, since I reviewed a twofer of those back in early Recycled Goods days (a very solid A-). I suppose I should revisit Chapter Four: Alive in New York since it won its Penguin Guide crown -- I have it at B+(*), as the weakest of Barbieri's Impulse "Chapters."

What got me looking at Barbieri was working on collecting reviews and database entries for my jazz guides. I've finished going through my notebook and the various column archives, and have gone through the first four database files. I'm currently 7% into Jazz (1960-70s) (i.e., at Gary Bartz). It's a slow, tiring process, with a lot more to process (looks like 10,939 rated albums, assuming I am indeed 7% through the current file). The jazz guides are divided into two books, one for 20th and the other for 21st century records. The former has virtually all of the known reviews, so I'm mostly adding stubs for records I rated before I started blogging everything. It currently stands at 554 pages (260,890 words), and will probably top 600 pages before I'm done (or start writing new reviews, like this week's Gato Barbieri records).

The first draft of the latter was constructed from Jazz Consumer Guide reviews. I took all of the column reviews and stuffed them into a huge text file, and I've been pulling those reviews out and adding them to the book as I go through the database files. It currently runs 217 pages (91,123 words) and is growing rapidly. (The text file has 1,097,330 words, but that's inflated with redundant reviews and metadata, but at least half of that will eventually be copied over, so I'd swag the 21st Century book upwards of 1300 pages.)

It remains to be seen whether those books will interest anyone, or even be fit to be published. There is, for instance, a lot of redundancy that should be moved to introductions to each artist. There is also the question of whether what's left, aside from the ratings, will be worth reading. My opinion waxes and wanes as I sort through this stuff. I also note lots of stuff missing (I developed my database as a sort of search list, so it has a lot of stuff that I've seen favorably reviewed but never got to myself) -- especially early on, while the 21st Century book has numerous albums of no lasting interest whatsoever.

By the way, I'm using a numeric grading system for both books, but I needed to map my letter grades mechanically. I considered two possible scales, one where A- == 8 and another where A- == 9 and B == 5, and decided to go with the latter (against, I should note, the advice of pretty much everyone I consulted). One reason is that for all practical purposes I've stopped issuing A+ grades (the last jazz record to earn one was James Carter's Chasin' the Gypsy in 2000, and before that you have to go back to 1990 for Pharoah Sanders' Welcome to Love, then 1986 for Don Pullen's Breakthrough and Sonny Rollins' Plays G-Man, then 1980 for Art Pepper's Winter Moon). Further back you'll find a couple dozen A+ albums: a handful each for Armstrong and Ellington, a couple each for Hawkins and Hodges, a few landmarks from Fletcher Henderson, Tatum, Monk, Mingus, Coltrane, Coleman, Davis, and Roswell Rudd (oh, and singers: Holiday, Fitzgerald, and Rushing).

Still, I'm not sure that those records are so much better than the 400 (or so) plain A jazz records; most took on added significance for me as I sorted through the tradition. Even those A records peter out over time: including A+, I count 64 since 2000 (15.2% of 420); the only repeat artists are: Billy Bang (2), Steve Lehman (2), Mostly Other People Do the Killing (2), David Murray (3), William Parker (7), Matthew Shipp (2), Ken Vandermark (5). (One each for: Nik Bärtsch, Tim Berne, Arthur Blythe, Anthony Braxton, James Carter, Ornette Coleman, Jon Faddis, Avram Fefer, Rich Halley, Craig Harris, Michael Hashim, Benjamin Herman, Jim Hobbs, Vijay Iyer, Pandelis Karayorgis, Martin Küchen, Adam Lane, Mark Lomax, Allen Lowe, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Billy Martin, Nils Petter Molvaer, Michael Moore, Barbara Morrison, Houston Person, Roberto Juan Rodriguez, Sonny Rollins, Roswell Rudd, Randy Sandke, Bernardo Sassetti, Jenny Scheinman, Alexander von Schlippenbach, Irène Schweizer, Paul Shapiro, Tommy Smith, Sonic Libration Front, Assif Tsahar, Velkro, David S. Ware, World Saxophone Quartet.)

End of month is coming up fast, so I need to post Streamnotes this week. Hopefully I'll come up with something new in the next couple days.

Too late for last week's "recommended links," but Robert Christgau published a piece at Billboard on Chuck Berry: Yes, Chuck Berry Invented Rock 'n' Roll -- and Singer-Songwriters. Oh, Teenagers Too.

Added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:

  • Chuck Berry: Chuck Berry's Golden Decade (1955-64 [1967], Chess, 2LP): A
  • Chuck Berry: Chuck Berry's Golden Decade (1955-64 [1973], Chess, 2LP): Built a playlist to re-check this: contains some of my favorite Berry songs, things that reappear in later one-CD anthologies, but also had a lot of non-canon songs, most of which proved delightful. A-

New records rated this week:

  • Greg Abate/Tim Ray Trio: Road to Forever (2016 [2017], Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Bill Hart: Touch of Blue (2016 [2017], Blue Canoe): [cd]: B-
  • Doug MacDonald: A Salute to Jazz Composers: Jazz Marathon 2 (2016 [2017], BluJazz, 2CD): [cd]: B+(***)
  • The Milwaukee Jazz Orchestra: Welcome to Swingsville! (2016 [2017], BluJazz): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Nicole Mitchell: Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds (2015 [2017], FPE): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Miles Okazaki: Trickster (2016 [2017], Pi): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Adam Rudolph's Moving Pictures: Glare of the Tiger (2016 [2017], Meta/M.O.D. Technologies): [cd]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Gato Barbieri: In Search of the Mystery (1967, ESP-Disk): [r]: B+(*)
  • Gato Barbieri: The Third World (1969 [1970], Flying Dutchman): [r]: B+(***)
  • Gato Barbieri: Fenix (1971, Flying Dutchman): [r]: A-
  • Gato Barbieri: El Pampero (1971 [1972], Flying Dutchman): [r]: A-
  • Chuck Berry: Chuck Berry's Golden Hits (1966 [1989], Mercury): [r]: B-
  • Chuck Berry: From St. Louie to Frisco (1968, Mercury): [r]: B+(*)
  • Chuck Berry: Concerto in B-Goode (1969, Mercury): [r]: B+(*)
  • Chuck Berry: Back Home (1970, Chess): [r]: B+(***)
  • Chuck Berry: San Francisco Dues (1971, Chess): [r]: B-
  • Chuck Berry: The London Chuck Berry Sessions (1972, Chess): [r]: B
  • Chuck Berry: Bio (1973, Chess): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chuck Berry: Chuck Berry (1975, Chess): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chuck Berry: Rock It (1979, Atco): [r]: B+(*)
  • Chuck Berry: Rock 'N Roll Rarities (1957-64 [1986], Chess): [r]: B+(***)
  • Al Green: Truth N' Time (1978, Hi): [r]: B+(**)
  • Al Green: Tokyo . . . Live (1978 [1981], Motown): [r]: B+(***)
  • Al Green: Precious Lord (1982, Myrrh): [r]: B+(***)
  • Al Green: I'll Rise Again (1983, Myrrh): [r]: B+(**)
  • Al Green: Trust in God (1984, Myrrh): [r]: B

Grade changes:

  • Al Green: Al Green Is Love (1975, Hi): [r]: [was: B+] A-
  • Al Green: Love Ritual (Rare & Previously Unreleased 1968-76) (1968-76 [1989], MCA): [r]: [was: A-] B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Billy Jones: 3's a Crowd (Acoustical Concepts)
  • Keith Karns Big Band: An Eye on the Future (Summit)
  • Michael Pedicin: As It Should Be: Ballads 2 (Groundblue)
  • Jason Rigby: Detroit-Cleveland Trio: One (Fresh Sound New Talent): April 28
  • Scott Routenberg Trio: Every End Is a Beginning (Summit)
  • Jeannie Tanner: Words & Music (Tanner Time, 2CD): May 5

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Weekend Roundup

We went to two funerals on Saturday: the first for long-time peace and justice activist Mary Harren (91), the second for my last uncle, James Hull (85), who spent 26 years as a mechanic in the Air Force, and was well known to Wichita Eagle readers as a right-wing crank. Main thing I was struck by was the difference in the crowds: close to 300 turned out for Mary, compared to about fifteen (not counting the Color Guard you taxpayers provided) for James. The former was quite properly a celebration of a long and fruitful life. The latter was rather sad, bitter, and pathetic.

We spent much more time with Mary over the last fifteen years: she was one of the first to welcome us to Wichita's small cadre of anti-war activists; she was quick to visit whenever we ran into troubles; and she was a frequent (and delightful) dinner guest. But she was so active and engaged that even while she made you feel special, you knew that she had dozens of other people and groups she did the same for. And she had been doing this for ages, sometimes regaling us with stories of political struggle over events I only vaguely remember from my teen years.

My interaction with James dates from those same years. Seems like he spent most of the 1950s stationed elsewhere -- Germany and somewhere near Las Vegas are places that stuck in my mind, although he joined in 1950 so was involved in Korea -- but after 1960 he was mostly based at McConnell AFB here in Wichita, and his family stayed here through two tours in Vietnam. After I turned 17 he lobbied me hard to sign up, but by then I was resolutely opposed to the Vietnam War and detested pretty much everything related to the military, so he was one of the first people I can recall arguing with about politics. (I was so withdrawn I'd scarcely speak to anyone, but he was so unflappable you couldn't help but argue with him.) After I moved away from Wichita, I had very little to do with him: while he was always very affable and loved a good (even a dirty) joke, his wife (Bobbie Ann) had terrified me as a child, and was so dim-witted and erratic I actively avoided her (and less actively their two shell-shocked sons -- the younger was what we used to call retarded; he wound up in some kind of special care facility and died at age 21). But I did run into him a few years ago, after Bobbie Ann had died, and he was cheerful as ever. He gave me a book he had written: a memoir plus a compilation of poems and political letters and a piece of his "scholarly" research which claimed that American economic performance correlates with frequency of executions, so to get the country moving again we should execute more felons.

He titled his memoir I Survived!, but there was virtually nothing in it about his wife or sons, so it's hard to imagine readers without personal knowledge making sense of his point. His work, and his bowling, and probably even his politics, make more sense as an escape from a disappointing home life. One pleasing thing about the funeral was that the pastor was a neighbor and friend, as was another person who spoke. So they made an effort to talk about the actual man rather than wander off into the hereafter. And they pretty much agreed that the man himself was a difficult, cranky person to be around.

The most revealing story was one where the pastor asked James what he had been doing today, and James answered "spreading hate and discontent." Asked what he had done yesterday, James answered the same, as he did when asked what he was planning on doing tomorrow. I'm not sure exactly what he thought he meant by that, but his politics was rooted in state violence, something he celebrated both in war and in his obsession over executions. Hate just greases the skids toward violence, which is part of why Trump has escalated the killing in places like Yemen and Syria despite claiming he opposes the disastrous wars Bush and Obama led. You can't sustain those wars without engendering and feeding off a lot of hate.

Another possibility was that James was conscious of how he rubbed people wrong with his crackpot theories. He did on occasion joke about the Secret Service coming after him after letters he wrote to the president. I suspect that in some cases he was contrarian for its own sake. Indeed, like with my father, his sense of humor was often rooted in irony against invisible foes. Still, at some point his right-wing bent hardened, probably egged on by the Fox News cabal. (Several people commented on how every time they saw him he had Fox News blaring -- his father and mine were very hard of hearing, and having worked around jet engines for many years I'm sure he was too.) That he wound up bitter and cranky and full of "hate and discontent" was, I think, baked into his political bent. The contrast to Mary couldn't have been more stark. She was probably every bit as critical of the world as he, but everything she did was imbued with hope and love. Even toward the end, she was full of grace. His pastor talked about grace, too, but it seemed like a long shot for James.

By the way, speaking of crowd numbers, there also was a "Make America Great" rally for Trump on Saturday. The Eagle's headline on the story was Dozens brave cold winds to rally for Trump. Not sure if the numbers are exaggerated, but the adverse weather sure was.

I got into a bit of a Facebook argument with Art Protin, who had posted a meme-pic showing the left half of Hillary Clinton's head and the caption (imagine in all caps): "The next time someone tries to tell you that Hillary Clinton was a weak candidate, remind them that it took the RNC, Wikileaks, the FBI and Russia to narrowly bring her down in an election she won by nearly 3 million votes." Being a reality-based sort of guy, my initial response was to list a dozen or so areas where she had acted or had taken positions that proved detrimental to most Americans, as if voters had been rational in rejecting her. That's not quite it, although we certainly shouldn't neglect the fact that, rightly or wrongly, she's picked up a lot of unfavorable baggage over the years, and that she's been the target of an awful lot of focused political hate -- both personally and due to her association with two Democratic administrations that promised much and delivered little to their neediest supporters. Those things worked to weaken her credibility and to tarnish her integrity, and that's the main thing we mean when we describe her as a weak candidate.

But really, the more glaring proof of her weakness is that she lost to DONALD J. TRUMP, who even before the election had the most negative approval ratings of any major party candidate ever, and who afterwards was subject to the greatest "buyer's remorse" we've seen since Nixon in 1972. Clearly, a lot of people hated Clinton so much that they voted for a guy they didn't like instead. I think a lot of factors entered into that choice, and I don't think any of them were very rational. (Sure, she's dishonest and corrupt and much more, but is she worse in any of these respects than Donald Trump? That comparison should have been laughably easy, yet somehow lots of people didn't realize it.) Given all of the points one could make against Trump, it's pretty much axiomatic that anyone who could still lose to him was an awfully weak candidate.

The meme also has several other faults. Leave aside the RNC for the moment, the other three forces arrayed against Clinton are/were pretty lame: Wikileaks, the FBI, and Russia. What Wikileaks did was one-sided (does anyone doubt that a hack of the RNC would have made them look like buffoons?) and Comey's dredging up of the whole email mess was unfortunate, but it's hard to believe that they had any more than the tiniest of impacts. And I have no idea what Russia did (beyond the DNC hack, and that's not clear) other than to soften the heads of some DNC types, who thought that red-baiting Trump as soft on Putin would be an easy score -- I can't prove it, but I think the net effect was to make Hillary look more recklessly hawkish, and that was something that hurt her. Of course, the continuing Russia obsession of frustrated Hillary-bots means something else: how hard it is to them to admit that they might bear any blame for policies or organization or candidate. Indeed, the whole meme is just another instance of scapegoating.

The three million vote margin is also at risk of being overplayed. Sure, it points to a structural problem (which Republicans will never allow to be fixed), but the problem is not just the structure for how it has been gamed, not least by the Democrats. Trump supporters can point out that they lost in states where they hardly campaigned at all (New York, Illinois, especially California), but the same was true for the 20-30 states Clinton didn't campaign in at all (including a couple she thought she'd carry): the net result being that the popular vote is bogus both ways. I think the net result is a wash, so Trump's failure to gain a plurality is a leading indicator of his unpopularity, but that only gets you so far. As Trump likes to say, "I'm president, and you're not." So while it properly embarrasses him that he only got paltry inauguration crowds, that his rallies regularly play to empty seats, and that he can only get 80 marchers out on a Spring day here in Wichita, it doesn't amount to much.

Biggest story this week was the demise of Paul Ryan's health care bill, which Donald Trump had pledged full allegiance to. Some links:

  • Ross Barken: Trump tried to burn down Obamacare. He set his hair on fire instead

  • Zoë Carpenter: Donald Trump Can't Make a Deal: "Now that the GOP's health-care bill is dead, plan B is to sabotage Obamacare."

  • Michelle Goldberg: The Biggest Lesson From the Trumpcare Debacle: "It showed us how government by misogynists actually translates into policy." This fits in with a picture that's been going around, depicting the "diverse group of people" brought together to craft the bill -- all white males, about equally divided between those with pattern baldness and not.

  • Paul Krugman: The Scammers, the Scammed and America's Fate: Krugman's favorite sport is "I told you so," and he's been telling us that Ryan is a fraud for many years now -- he cites a 2010 post called The Flimflam Man -- so he understands that this is no time to let up. He notes how the media has repeatedly promoted Ryan, and he think that this is due to "the convention of 'balance'." "This meant, in particular, that when it came to policy debates one was always supposed to present both sides as having equally well-founded arguments." I suspect that the truth is crasser: that Ryan was a pet project of the Kochs and their think-tanks long before you heard of him, and the people backing him have ever since been whispering in the ears of media managers and pundits.

  • Tom McCarthy: Health insurance woes helped elect Trump, but his cure may be more painful: Some Republicans, including most of the so-called Freedom Caucus who torpedoed the Ryan-Trump bill, believe that any form of government regulation in the health care markets is improper, that people should not be required to have insurance, that businesses should be free to sell any form of insurance (even policies that don't cover anything). Moreover, such people have no idea what such a world would look like, in part because nothing like that has ever been allowed in America. But most Republicans have done this hand-waving thing, arguing that if they were in power they'd "replace and repeal" Obamacare with something which would be so much better for everyone: that costs would go down and care would improve and everyone would be better off. They've never detailed how that might work, because they've never been in a position to pass it, until now, when it turns out that their proposals would quite obviously, one way or another, make it all worse. And this is not just health care: Republicans often feel the need to argue that their proposals will benefit everyone, even when it's clear that they'll be massively harmful.

  • Alice Ollstein: Trump to House GOP: Vote Yes on O'Care Repeal or Lose Your Seat: Early-week threat from the White House. Trump campaigned in the primaries on a relatively heterodox (or schizophrenic?) platform, but wound up stuck with a straight Republican Congress (well, actually one that is split between a hardcore conservative majority and an even more extreme right-wing faction), with virtually no personal commitment to the president. The effect is to allow him to pivot only one direction (right), which means he can only pass what they let him pass. So there's always been this fleeting fancy that Trump might try to steer the party his direction by purging uncooperative Republicans in the primaries. So that's sort of what's going on here, except that Trump didn't produce his own health care bill -- he acceded to Ryan's bill -- and most of the successful primary challenges lately have come from the right (Tim Huelskamp in Kansas was a rare exception, but he was very far out, and specifically his extreme anti-government stance offended agribusiness interests, who control damn near all of the economy in his district). So it's interesting that Trump made this threat, but it didn't work, and now seems pretty hollow.

    Another view of the purge story is: Daniel Politi: Bannon Pushed Trump to Use Health Care Vote to Write Up "Enemies List": After all, if Republicans only understand one big thing, it's how to exploit a list of enemies.

  • Amber Phillips: Donald Trump is giving a lot of mixed messages about whom to blame on health care; or pretty much the same thing: Joanna Walters: Trump blames everyone but himself for failure of GOP healthcare legislation.

  • Andrew Prokop: On health reform, Donald Trump followed Republican leaders into a ditch: Many of these pieces assume that Trump promised something better (even "really great") and got blind-sided by Ryan. More likely is that Trump never could care about health care, and was only mouthing words (including blatant lies) fed to him by right-wing propagandists, because that's easier than actually thinking.

  • Heather Richardson: The showdown that exposed the rift between Republican ideology and reality:

    Republicans have been able to paper over the vast gulf between their ideology and reality, so long as they could blame Democrats for their inability to put their ideology into law. They could rail about lower taxes and liberty, and then, when Democrats saved the policies that voters liked, could blame the socialistic Democrats for Republicans' own failure to enact their ideological vision. This tactic was at the heart of their rage against Obamacare, the symbol of their oppression since it passed seven years ago. Republicans in the House of Representatives voted more than 50 times to repeal the law, knowing they could count on Obama's veto to protect them from voters who would, in reality, be furious at the loss of their healthcare. . . .

    The initial draft of the bill reflected Republican ideological principles by giving the wealthiest Americans an $880bn tax cut. Even still, its retention of government regulations on healthcare were too much for purists. Members of the far-right Freedom Caucus insisted that the government must not interfere in healthcare, defending the principle that the law must be repealed entirely to resurrect American liberty. Other members of Congress, swamped by popular outcry against repeal, had to bow to reality: Americans actually like the law.

    The showdown over Obamacare finally brought into the open the fundamental rift between Republican ideology and reality. Speaker Ryan and President Trump tried to skirt that gulf by forcing the bill through in an astonishing 17 days. When that failed, Trump tried to bluster it out with the old Republican narrative, blaming Democrats, who are in the minority, for this epic failure. Neither worked. Since 1980, the Republican party has won power by hiding its unpopular ideology under a winning narrative, and reality has finally intruded.

    Also see: Matthew Sheffield: Downfall of a policy wonk: Paul Ryan becomes the latest victim of the American right's fundamental dysfunction.

Some more scattered links this week in the Trump swamp:

Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still to America's bout of political insanity:

  • Dean Baker: Why the NY Times Is Chiefly Responsible for the Mass Ignorance About the US Budget

  • Steven A Cook/Michael Brooks: Bill Maher makes us dumber: How ignorance, fear and stupid pop-culture clichés shape Americans' view of the Middle East: "Americans used to be just ignorant about Muslims and the Middle East. Now we're also fearful, stupid and wrong."

  • Richard Falk: The Inside Story on Our UN Report Calling Israel an Apartheid State

  • Frank Rich: No Sympathy for the Hillbilly: Alerted to this piece by a Matt Karp tweet: "Elite liberals keep writing about sympathy because they have no concept of solidarity." Headline-wise this reinforces stereotypes as much about New York liberals as about hillbillies, Down in the text Rich cites various (mostly right-wing) studies complaining that hillbillies are morally degenerate (Charles Murray, really?). Not that Rich is really that stupid -- I can't object to his pull quote, "Instead of studying how to talk to 'real people,' might Democrats start talking about real people?" Also, this starts out accurate enough before plunging over the deep end:

    Trump voters should also be reminded that the elite of the party they've put in power is as dismissive of them as Democratic elites can be condescending. "Forget your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap," Kevin Williamson wrote of the white working class in National Review. "The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible." He was only saying in public what other Republicans like Mitt Romney say about the "47 percent" in private when they think only well-heeled donors are listening. Besides, if National Review says that their towns deserve to die, who are Democrats to stand in the way of Trump voters who used their ballots to commit assisted suicide?

    The problem here is that the Republicans aren't the only political party who have written off the vast expanses of America outside the mostly coastal urban areas. The Democrats offer a bit more generous "safety net" but they still make it look and smell like welfare, and with their trade deals and bank deregulation and indifference to unions (which in any case are out of reach to most workers) the Democrats been as complicit in the decline of the heartland as the Republicans. The main difference is that Republicans have been much more successful at blaming Democrats for policies that both parties' elites support, at least in "red states" where Democrats have abandoned and no longer campaign in -- partly due to the ascendancy of snobs like Rich, and partly from sheer expediency.

Got a late start on this, so it feels more scattered than usual. So much crap to deal with these days. So little time.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 27921 [27888] rated (+33), 403 [389] unrated (+14).

More old music than new this week. For one thing, I've been playing CDs from the travel case when I get up in the afternoon instead of things I'd have to work on. Rated count still seems robust as I spent the late nights picking off old Ken Vandermark records I had missed (my rated list here, although this doesn't pick up things where his name wasn't listed first -- a quick count shows 35 of those, including a couple of groups I catalog separately; my chart shows 11 more records I haven't gotten to, including several multi-disc sets). And over the weekend I started listening to the late Chuck Berry's old albums. I must have heard some Berry singles during his heyday, but never owned any of his records until I got to St. Louis and picked up Chuck Berry's Golden Decade (released 1967) and followed up with Vol. 2 (1973) -- though I don't recall Vol. 3 (1974). So I've always known him through compilations, especially the canon-defining The Great Twenty-Eight (1982), and the even better The Definitive Collection (2006), but also the 3-CD Chess Box (1988), which shows the pickings thin out past one disc, but don't disappear entirely.

I mentioned three deaths up top in yesterday's Weekend Roundup post: Chuck Berry, Jimmy Breslin, and James Hull. One more troubling still is pending: Mary McDonough Harren, reportedly in the final stage of her terminal cancer. She is the grande dame of the Wichita peace movement, a founder of the Peace and Social Justice Center of South Central Kansas, and a dear friend over the last 15 years. Her passing will leave an unfathomable hole in our lives.

A couple links that popped up on Chuck Berry:

New records rated this week:

  • Jason Anick & Jason Yeager: United (2016 [2017], Inner Circle Music): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Bat for Lashes: The Bride (2016, Parlophone): [r]: B-
  • Alex Cline's Flower Garland Orchestra: Oceans of Vows (2016 [2017], self-released, 2CD): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Akua Dixon: Akua's Dance (2016 [2017], Akua's Music): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jill Jack and the American SongBook Band: Pure Imagination (2016, UpHill Productions): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Kirk MacDonald Jazz Orchestra: Common Ground (2015 [2017, Addo, 2CD): [cd]: B
  • Ben Markley Big Band: Clockwise: The Music of Cedar Walton (2016 [2017], OA2): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Nate Wooley/Ken Vandermark: All Directions Home (2015, Audiographic): [bc]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Chuck Berry: After School Session (1955-57 [1957], Chess): [r]: B+(***)
  • Chuck Berry: One Dozen Berrys (1957 [1958], Chess): [r]: B+(***)
  • Chuck Berry: Chuck Berry Is on Top (1955-59 [1959], Chess): [r]: A-
  • Chuck Berry: Rockin' at the Hops (1960, Chess): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chuck Berry: New Juke Box Hits (1961, Chess): [r]: B+(*)
  • Chuck Berry: Twist (1955-61 [1962], Chess): [r]: A-
  • Chuck Berry: On Stage (1963, Chess): [r]: B-
  • Chuck Berry: St. Louis to Liverpool (1957-64 [2004], Chess): A-
  • Chuck Berry: Chuck Berry in London (1965, Chess): [r]: B+(***)
  • Chuck Berry: Fresh Berry's (1965, Chess): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chuck Berry: Chuck Berry in Memphis (1967, Mercury): [r]: B+(*)
  • Chuck Berry: Live at Fillmore Auditorium (1967, Mercury): [r]: B
  • Bob Brookmeyer: The Dual Role of Bob Brookmeyer (1954-55 [1990], Prestige/OJC): [r]: B+(**)
  • Cinghiale [Mars Williams and Ken Vandermark]: Hoofbeats of the Snorting Swine (1995-96 [1996], Eighth Day Music): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Bo Diddley/Chuck Berry: Two Great Guitars (1964, Chess): [r]: B+(*)
  • Vic Juris: Songbook (1999 [2000], SteepleChase): [r]: B
  • Barney Kessel With Shelly Manne and Ray Brown: The Poll Winners (1957 [1988], Contemporary/OJC): [r]: B+(*)
  • Barney Kessel With Shelly Manne & Ray Brown: Poll Winners Three! (1959 [1992], Contemporary/OJC): [r]: B+(***)
  • Rara Avis: Mutations/Multicelluars Mutations (2012 [2013], dEN, 2CD): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Rara Avis (2013 [2015], Not Two): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Reed Trio: Last Train to the First Station (2008-10 [2011], Kilogram): [bc]: B+(*)
  • The Vandermark Quartet: Big Head Eddie (1993, Platypus): [bc]: B
  • Vandermark 5: Drink, Don't Drown (1997, Savage Sound Syndicate): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Vandermark 5: Thinking on One's Feet (1998, Savage Sound Syndicate) B+(**)
  • Ken Vandermark/Tim Daisy: August Music (2006 [2007], self-released): [bc]: A-
  • Ken Vandermark/Tim Daisy: The Conversation (2010-11 [2011], Multikulti): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Ken Vandermark/Paal Nilssen-Love: Letter to a Stranger (2011 [2012], Smalltown Superjazz): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Witches & Devils: Empty Bottle Chicago (1997 [2000], Savage Sound Syndicate): [bc]: B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Antonio Adolfo: Hybrido: From Rio to Wayne Shorter (AAM): April 7
  • Bryan and the Aardvarks: Sounds From the Deep Field (Biophilia): April 28
  • Ernest Dawkins New Horizons Ensemble: Transient Takes (Malcom)
  • Duo Baars Henneman & Dave Burrell: Transdans (Wig)
  • Tristan Honsinger/Antonio Borghini/Tobias Delius/Axel Dörner: Hook, Line and Sinker (De Platenbakakkerij)
  • Abdullah Ibrahim: Ancient Africa (1973, Delmark/Sackville): March 24
  • Jentsch Group Quartet: Fractured Pop (Fleur de Son): April 7
  • Mike Longo Trio: Only Time Will Tell (2017, CAP): March 31
  • Linda May Han Oh: Walk Against Wind (Biophilia): April 14
  • Michael Rabinowitz: Uncharted Waters (Cats Paw): April 28
  • Sult/Lasse Marhaug: Harpoon (Conrad Sound/Pica Disk): advance
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: The Art of Perelman-Shipp, Volume 1: Titan (Leo)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: The Art of Perelman-Shipp, Volume 2: Tarvos (Leo)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: The Art of Perelman-Shipp, Volume 3: Pandora (Leo)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: The Art of Perelman-Shipp, Volume 4: Hyperion (Leo)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: The Art of Perelman-Shipp, Volume 5: Rhea (Leo)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: The Art of Perelman-Shipp, Volume 6: Saturn (Leo)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: The Art of Perelman-Shipp, Volume 7: Dione (Leo)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Chuck Berry died. Jimmy Breslin died. My uncle, James Hull, died. It's been one of those weeks.

The big thing Trump did this week was to release a new budget proposal. Some reactions:

  • Who Wins and Loses in Trump's Proposed Budget; also The 62 agencies and programs Trump wants to eliminate.

  • A grim budget day for US science: analysis and reaction to Trump's plan: E.g., "NIH cuts could mean no new grants in 2016."

  • Graham Bowley: What if Trump Really Does End Money for the Arts? Public arts funding has been a political hot potato for many years now, so it's not surprising that conservative churls would take this opportunity to slash it, indeed to cut it out altogether. I could nitpick myself, but I also recall that during the 1930s the WPA financed all sorts of public art, some of which we're still fortunate enough to enjoy. One cannot even imagine government funding programs like that today, but if you give it a wee bit of thought, you might wonder why. Given today's technology, the ability to digitize sound and vision, to reproduce and disseminate those bits at zero marginal cost, there has never been a better time to make a big public investment in the arts. Sure, we need to come up with a funding scheme that isn't subject to arbitrary commissars, but the costs and risks are almost trivial. Especially compared to the Defense Department; after all, without art and entertainment, what is there left to defend?

  • David S Cohen: Trump's Budget Is Pure Cruel Conservatism

  • Jeff Daniels: Rural America and farm sector to take a hit with Trump's budget plan

  • Zaid Jilani: Trump the Outsider Outsources His Budget to Insider Think Tank: Explores how "many of the White House proposal's ideas are identical to a budget blueprint Heritage drew up last year." Also quotes from a statement put out by Heritage praising the Trump budget, with one little demur: "it complained that Trump's call for an additional $54 billion in defense spending just isn't big enough."

  • Eric Levitz: White House Says Cutting Meals on Wheels is 'Compassionate': Quote comes from White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, who you'll read more about elsewhere. Levitz also wrote 6 Promises That President Trump's Budget Betrays.

  • Charles Pierce: This Is the Ending Conservatives Always Wanted:

    This budget is short-sighted, cruel to the point of being sadistic, stupid to the point of pure philistinism, and shot through with the absolute and fundamentalist religious conviction that the only true functions of government are the ones that involve guns, and that the only true purpose of government is to serve the rich. . . .

    A lot of this is going to make the members of Congress choke, so a lot of it may not pass. Its very existence is important, though, as a document that lays out quite clearly the vision of government shared almost everywhere in modern conservatism. This is a DeMint Budget, a Heritage Budget, a Gingrich Budget, a Reagan Budget, and a Tea Party Budget. It may be crude and lack a certain polish, but its priorities and goals are clear. There is no modern Republican Party without movement conservatism, and this budget is the most vivid statement yet of that philosophy.

    By the way, Piece also wrote: Chuck Berry and Jimmy Breslin Reinvented the English Language.

  • Jordan Weissmann: Trump's Budget Director Has a Breathtakingly Cynical Excuse for Cutting Aid to the Poor

  • Matthew Yglesias: Trump's budget blueprint is a war on the future of the American economy: I caught a whiff here of Robert Reich's old scheme for education transforming American workers into highly paid "symbolic manipulators" -- sure, boring old manufacturing jobs get stripped due to "free trade" deals, but we'll all wind up richer than ever. That was bullshit then and is bullshit now, but that doesn't mean the opposite is even close to right: you don't need Friedman to realize that business today requires more technical skill than ever before, and the future more so. So why would anyone push a government budget that seriously undermines scientific research and education?

    But Trump's rhetoric, and now his spending blueprint, don't just push back against techno-utopianism. They constitute a denial of the obvious truth that a prosperous society is necessarily going to be one that is evolving and changing over time. . . .

    One of the main things that was good about the "good old days" is that they were a time of massive progress, expansion of higher education opportunities into the middle class and rapid development of new products and cures. This happened while the government invested more -- not less -- on health, education, science, and regional development.

    Didn't Trump spend much of his campaign complaining about how we've neglected essential investments in infrastructure? Science, research and engineering are what infrastructure is built on, and education is fundamental to all that.

Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:

  • Zoë Carpenter/George Zornick: Everything Trump Did in His 8th Week That Really Matters:

    • Released a very skinny budget.
    • Moved to loosen fracking rules.
    • Delayed chemical-safety regulations.
    • Fired 46 US Attorneys nationwide.
    • Made a formal apology to United Kingdom over wild spying claims.
    • Put military action against North Korea on the table.
  • Doug Bandow: Why Is Trump Abandoning the Foreign Policy that Brought Him Victory? Starts by pointing out that Trump was often critical of the neoconservatives who had plunged America into endless war, quoting him as saying, "unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression will not be my first instinct." Indeed, many single-issue neocons like the Kagans were quick to flock to Hillary Clinton, trusting her record for hawkishness. Still, although Trump has been able to torpedo much bruited nominations for the likes of John Bolton and Elliott Abrams, his administration has done a lot of sabre-rattling so far. But the author ("a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan") has a selective memory of Trump's campaign -- he also insisted he'd crush ISIS and increase military spending. Unlike anti-war conservatives (like Justin Raimondo) who fell for Trump's promise, I actually considered him more bellicose and more dangerous than Clinton (and I've repeatedly attacked her on just this issue). The reasons: the Republicans Trump would surround himself with would be more consistently hawkish (many Democrats have better things to do), and Trump himself is ignorant of and prejudiced about the world, and much given to macho posturing. A good example of this is the rapidly developing crisis with North Korea; e.g., see two recent Jason Ditz pieces: Tillerson: North Korea Diplomacy Has Failed, and Tillerson: Attacking North Korea Remains an Option; also Charles P Pierce: Don't Poke North Korea with a Stick Just to See What Will Happen.

  • Michelle Chen: Trump's Obsession With Cutting Regulations Will Make America Sick

  • Julie Hirschfield Davis: Trump, Day After Merkel's Visit, Says Germany Pays NATO and US Too Little: Trump's been complaining for some time about NATO member not paying enough for their common defense, and he's sent Rex Tillerson out to shake down America's supposed allies, so this isn't exactly new. There's much Trump doesn't understand, but one thing is that a big part of the reason the US has so many subservient allies is that the US pays for the deference, not just in allowing the US to base troops on foreign soil but in ways like generous trade deals that help countries develop through exports. Take those perks away and won't people start wondering whether it's all worth it?

  • Allegra Kirkland: Huck: Trump Should Ignore Travel Ban Ruling, Like Jackson With Trail of Tears: Says a lot when you take inspiration from one of the most shameful facts in American history, but that's where many Republicans are at: until they manage to stock the courts with like-minded conservatives, they invite like-minded executives to run amuck over niceties like law and constitution. Not clear that Trump, a man who has put a lot of stock into using the courts for his own gains, is there yet, or that if he was he wouldn't be facing a widespread revolt from civil servants forced to choose between the legal system and his executive ego.

  • Ezra Klein: Does Donald Trump know what the GOP health bill does? Conclusion: "maybe not"; more to the point: "the AHCA does literally none of the things Trump says it does."

  • Nancy LeTourneau: Checking in on Trump's 'Contract With the American Voter': This is becoming a staple piece on the left, dredging up Trump campaign promises and showing how few of them -- especially the relatively decent ones -- have been implemented, or even followed up on. This doesn't seem to phase Trump's actual supporters yet: they have, after all, almost by definition become jaded cynics about the political process, leaving them more inclined to see Trump's failures as subversion by unseen forces. On the other hand, LeTourneau's list includes a lot of "not introduced" Acts, which goes to show how the Republicans in Congress have proceeded their own agenda, regardless of how that fits in with Trump's own promises. Ryan, in particular, seems to view Trump as his stooge, aided by the fact that Trump is too lazy to work on his own agenda, and too hamstrung by the people he's allowed himself to be surrounded by. Still, I suspect the day is coming when we'll consider ourselves lucky anytime Trump breaks a campaign promise.

  • Josh Marshall: He Seems Nice: Irony still in plan: "he" is Greg Knox, described in a Pence tweet as "a small biz owner hurting under Obamacare." So here's some context: "It shows Knox to be what policy specialists refer to as a 'toxic right wing asshole.'"

  • Ian Millhiser: Paul Ryan says he fantasized about cutting health care for the poor at his college keggers: "Meet the most insufferable frat boy in human history."

  • Tessa Stuart: Four Things We Learned About Trump's Tax Returns From Rachel Maddow: Explained much more succinctly than what you got from watching Maddow's program.

  • Amy B Wang: Why Trump's plan to slash UN funding could lead to global calamity

  • Paul Woodward: Donald Trump's deceitful and misleading statements have consequences: This keys off a long quote from John Cassidy: Donald Trup Finally Pays a Price for His False and Reckless Words, but I found Woodward's commentary more to the point:

    Donald Trump could accurately assert: "I didn't get where I am today by being honest."

    Like many people who believe in the supremacy of will power, he may believe that being faithful to ones own interests and objectives is all that matters.

    Trump is consistent in his unwillingness to bend to the will of others. His America First policy is merely an inflation of his Trump First practice.

    The idea that Trump might have the capacity to mend his ways -- to see that his dishonesty no longer works -- derives, perhaps, from a misreading of his pragmatism.

    Trump isn't bound to any ideology. At the same time, he exhibits no psychological flexibility whatsoever.

    Trump believes in his own innate capabilities with which, in his own imagining, he is so richly endowed he has no need to learn anything.

    This reminds me a bit of another president not bound to any ideology: Franklin Roosevelt. The difference, of course, was that Roosevelt did learn from his mistakes. He saw, for instance, that his more conservative impulses -- especially his fetish for balanced budgets -- were harmful, while his more generous, more liberal, impulses worked much better. The result was the most progressive administration in American history, but few voters imagined that at the start. They simply wanted to try something different, because the reign of Andrew Mellon and his three presidents had been so disastrous. The election of Trump was based on much the same reaction, but less decisive because disaster was much less universally recognized (let alone commonly understood) in 2016, and because quite a few people understood that Trump and/or the Republicans didn't offer any real solutions -- indeed, they were major problems.

Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still to America's bout of political insanity:

  • Patrick Cockburn: Yemen Is a Complicated and Unwinnable War. Trump Should Stay Out. Should, but thus far Yemen is the war Trump has most dramatically inserted himself in.

  • Tom Engelhardt: How the Invasion of Iraq Came Home: Actually, his third-tier title, after "Walled In" and "President Blowback." I'm not sure "blowback" is correct, because most of the damage done to America since Trump took office has been self-inflicted: the problem is less that others are attacking so much as we've internalized the scars of fifteen-years of the shocks of war:

    It's clear, however, that his urge to create a garrison state went far beyond a literal wall. It included the build-up of the U.S. military to unprecedented heights, as well as the bolstering of the regular police, and above all of the border police. Beyond that lay the urge to wall Americans off in every way possible. His fervently publicized immigration policies (less new, in reality, than they seemed) should be thought of as part of a project to construct another kind of "great wall," a conceptual one whose message to the rest of the world was striking: You are not welcome or wanted here. Don't come. Don't visit.

    All this was, in turn, fused at the hip to the many irrational fears that had been gathering like storm clouds for so many years, and that Trump (and his alt-right companions) swept into the already looted heartland of the country. In the process, he loosed a brand of hate (including shootings, mosque burnings, a raft of bomb threats, and a rise in hate groups, especially anti-Muslim ones) that, historically speaking, was all-American, but was nonetheless striking in its intensity in our present moment.

    TomDispatch also published Michael Klare: Winning World War II in the Twenty-First Century, on Trump's nostalgia for the days when America actually won wars -- ignoring that times have changed as pre-WWII empires have been rolled back on every front, and that the US is no longer viewed as a country normally content to mind its own business, that only joins wars when attacked, and that doesn't plot to keep and plunder other nations. Indeed, the real problems the US military face today aren't the sort that can be fixed with a few more ships, planes, and troops.

  • Matea Gold: The Mercers and Stephen Bannon: How a populist power base was funded and built: Robert Mercer is a hedge fund exec, the plural evidently refers to daughter Rebekah, and the article goes into some depth on how they've sowed their millions to promote right-wing causes, especially through Trump strategist Steve Bannon.

    While other donors gave more to support Trump's presidential bid last year, the Mercers are now arguably the most influential financiers of the Trump era. Bannon, who went on to manage the final months of Trump's campaign before joining the White House, is the senior architect of the president's policy vision. He is joined in the West Wing by counselor Kellyanne Conway, a friend of Rebekah Mercer who led the family-funded super PAC that backed first Cruz and then Trump in the 2016 race.

    People who know them say the Mercers, who soured on traditional political operatives, appreciated Bannon's business savvy and share his belief that the conversation around politics must be changed for their ideas to prevail. For all of their power and privilege, both the family and their longtime adviser see themselves as outsiders, fighting the grip of elite institutions.

    One thing I was surprised by here was a $4 million donation to John Bolton Super PAC. I wasn't aware of such a thing, but it probably explains why such a useless and incompetent buffoon keeps managing to get his name in the news.

    Gold also wrote a comparable analysis of the Kochs (in 2014): Koch-backed political network, built to shield donors, raised $400 million in 2012 elections; also co-wrote one on the Clintons (in 2015): Two Clintons. 41 Years. $3 Billion.

  • William Greider: Here's What You Need to Know About the Federal Reserve: "We demand way too much from the central bank -- but that's because our elected politicians have done almost nothing to revive the economy." The Federal Reserve raised short-term interest rates last week, in an effort to throttle back the economy lest it grow to the point where wages actually start to rise. That would normally be bad news for a sitting president, but not for the bankers who sit with this particular one.

    Greider also wrote: Trump Is Fighting a New Trade War -- and This One Is Intramural, about the "nasty White House battle [that] has broken out between right-wing nationalists and globalist financiers," asking the question: "Who owns this president -- the folks who voted for him, or the power hitters of big business and banking?" That's actually a novel question for a Republican president: with leaders like the Bushes, Republican voters were merely consenting to oligarchic rule, but didn't Trump promise something else? I'm not sure, but given how readily Clinton and Obama turned against their voters, I hardly expect Trump to show much spine.

  • Eric Levitz: The Case for Countering Right-Wing Populism With 'Left-Wing Economics': Article spends too much time rebutting a red herring from Zack Beauchamp. My own suspicion is that the key to making an "Left-Wing Economics" argument work is to name enemies and show how those enemies take unfair advantage of working people, especially through their bought influence on government, how their lobbying perverts the course of justice. Not that we needed more examples, but the Trump administration is rife with them. (Trump sure had a field day painting the Clintons that way.)

  • Richard Silverstein: Knesset Votes to Ban Palestinian Parties, Destroy Israeli Democracy: In 1951 Palestinians still residing in Israel were granted citizenship (a right that was not extended after 1967 as Israel occupied and in some cases annexed additional Palestinian land), and since then Palestinian political parties have been represented in Israel's parliament (Knesset) -- to little effect, of course, as ruling coalitions have very rarely even considered including them, but it's always been a talking point, a big part of the Israel's claim to be a democracy.

    This paragraph is meant as an aside, but is noteworthy:

    Coincidentally, today a UN body issued a report finding that Israel had become an apartheid state. It further urged that the UN reactivate the methods, resolutions and commissions it used to ostracize South Africa, when it too faced international opprobrium for its racist policies. The new version of the Basic Law further strengthens such findings.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 27888 [27862] rated (+26), 389 [385] unrated (+4).

Actual new rated count less than above -- I only count 19 records below. I may have missed something below: seems like every record I process means I have to add lines to 4-5 files, and sometimes I lose track of one or more of them. On the other hand, in looking through the database and comparing it to the 20th Century Jazz Guide, I found a half-dozen or so reviews that hadn't been registered, so correcting those added to the count. Thus far I've gone through the Jazz '20-30s file and most of the Jazz '40s-50s, adding stubs for all of the albums I've graded but haven't collected reviews for (basically, records I heard before 2001 or so), and also for all of the artists even if I haven't heard any albums. One side effect of the latter is that I've been checking up on artists I didn't have death dates for, and finding most of them as I go along (and hopefully this trend will change) have indeed died -- some long ago. Still have a long ways to go -- the '60s through '90s files are larger still (though will have more post-2000 records), and there are also separate files for vocals, Latin, and pop. Currently up to 515 pages (254k words).

Almost finished the week without an A- record, but Clean Feed came to the rescue. Actually, two of Christgau's Expert Witness picks came real close: Sunny Sweeney and Whitney Rose. (His other pick, Becky Warren's War Surplus, was an A- back in December.) Jennie Scheinman also came close with an album uncannily similar to Bill Frisell's Disfarmer. Got a letter from Clean Feed today hoping to pinch pennies and switch me over to downloads, which won't stop me from listening but will sure slow me down -- and make me question why bother. I was tempted to give up reviewing back when the Village Voice lost interest in Jazz Consumer Guide, but kept on because labels like Clean Feed kept sending me new releases. That's effectively the difference between a virtuous circle and a death spiral.

New records rated this week:

  • Battle Trance: Blade of Love (2016, New Amsterdam): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Sam Beam & Jesca Hoop: Love Letter for Fire (2016, Sub Pop/Black Cricket): [r]: B+(*)
  • DIIV: Is the Is Are (2016, Captured Tracks): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dinosaur Jr: Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not (2016, Jagjaguwar): [r]: B+(*)
  • Krzyysztof Dys Trio: Toys (2014 [2016], ForTune): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Gorilla Mask: Iron Lung (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [cd]: A-
  • Norah Jones: Day Breaks (2015 [2016], Blue Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Murs: Captain California (2017, Strange Music): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Radio Dept.: Running Out of Love (2016, Labrador): [r]: B+(**)
  • Whitney Rose: South Texas Suite (2017, Six Shooter, EP): [r]: B+(***)
  • John K. Samson: Winter Wheat (2016, Anti-): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jenny Scheinman: Here on Earth (2017, Royal Potato Family): [r]: B+(***)
  • Andy Shauf: The Party (2016, Anti-): [r]: B
  • Swans: The Glowing Man (2016, Mute, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Sunny Sweeney: Trophy (2017, Aunt Daddy): [r]: B+(***)
  • Teenage Fanclub: Here (2016, Merge): [r]: B-
  • Michael Zilber: Originals for the Originals (2016 [2017], Origin): [cd]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Swans: Public Castration Is a Good Idea (1986 [1999], Thirsty Ear): [r]: B
  • Peter Van Huffel/Michael Bates/Jeff Davis: Boom Crane (2013 [2014], Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Colorado Jazz Repertory Orchestra: Invitation (OA2)
  • Tom Dempsey/Tim Ferguson Quartet: Waltz New (OA2)
  • Oscar Hernández & Alma Libre: The Art of Latin Jazz (Origin)
  • The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra: The Music of John Lewis (Blue Engine): March 24
  • Matt Otto With Ensemble Ibérica: Ibérica (Origin)
  • Trio 3: Visiting Texture (Intakt)
  • Trio Heinz Herbert: The Willisau Concert (Intakt)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Donald Trump likes to talk about how he "inherited a mess": here's one measure of that, a chart of private-sector payroll employment over Obama's eight years:

Note first that the guy who really did inherit a mess was Obama, following eight years of Republican misrule under GW Bush. Also, that by ignoring cuts to public sector employment due to austerity measures mostly (but not exclusively) pushed by Republicans, this overstates the overall jobs gains a bit. Still, Trump's going to be hard-pressed to sustain Obama's rate, given hat he's working with the same "wrecking crew" that sunk Bush. Of course, you may not know all this, because Obama spent very little time bitching about the hole Republicans dug for him: he felt it important to recovery to project confidence, so he consistently understated the recession early on. In doing so, he did himself (and the country) a disservice, as he undercut the political case for more emphatic reforms.

Dean Baker reviews the latest jobs figures: Prime-Age Employment Rate Hits New High for Recovery in February. On the other hand, no false modesty from Trump: Trump keeps claiming he's created US jobs since Election Day. As the title continues: "Not so." Also: Spicer: Trump Says Formerly 'Phony' Jobs Numbers Are Now 'Very Real' For more, see Matthew Yglesias: Sean Spicer's appalling answer about economic data shows how far we've lowered the bar for Trump. Spicer's quip: "They may have been phony in the past, but it's very real now."

Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:

Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still to America's bout of political insanity:

  • Bernard Avishai: It's Not Too Early for the Next Democratic Ticket: Dude, it's way too fucking early. In fact, the subject should be zipped until way after the 2018 elections, and I wish we could put it off until well into 2020: partly because it'll do nothing but distract the press from the real issues, but mostly because the next candidate should represent the party, not usurp the party to stroke her or his ego (which is what being the designated leader would do).

  • Dean Baker: Drugs Are Cheap: Why Do We Let Governments Make Them Expensive? It's worth remembering that private health insurance was quick to add pharmaceutical coverage to their plans because drug therapies were often cheaper than medical interventions. Medicare was slow to follow suit, and by the time they did drugs weren't so cheap any more. The price rise was partly the effect of more money being available through insurance, and partly the increasing callousness of the profit motive, but to cash in the key has been government-granted patent monopolies, which give companies the right to push patients (and insurers) to their limits -- a "right" they've lately been exploiting so universally it's become a major driver of health care cost. There is an easy fix to this, and a little public investment would more than make up for any reductions companies might make to r&d.

    Baker also wrote a major piece on the track record of his fellow economists: The Wrongest Profession.

  • Thomas Frank: The Revolution Will Not Be Curated: There must be a better word for what he's getting at, but the people he's talking about are those who sort and select things (originally art) to be presented to larger groups of people (originally exhibitions). To call these people filters suggests they're more passive than they in fact are. Another word that comes to mind is experts, but that suggests they know more than most seem to, and that they work by some relatively objective criteria which we should respect -- in fact, many people who call themselves experts are distinguished mostly by their partisan support for special interests. Obviously, much can go wrong with all this curating, but it's impossible to be broadly informed without tapping into intermediaries who pay much more attention to specialists. Virtually all of the links in this post came to my attention through curators I've found worthwhile, and if you're reading this you're doing the same. Indeed, that makes me a curator, as I suppose I am in other domains, such as recorded jazz. Still not sure what Frank's title means, unless it's that in order to break out of today's debilitating conventional wisdom you have to be aware of how all this curating limits your options, and seek out info beyond the commonplace. But as a practical matter, that just means that you need to find better curators (and, I would add, hold them to account).

  • Henry Grabar: Corporate Incentives Cost US $45 Billion in 2015, Don't Really Work: Photo features Boeing, who recently extorted $8.7 billion from Washington state for not (for now) moving jobs elsewhere.

  • Aamna Mohdin: The Dutch far right's election donors are almost exclusively American: So rich Americans are trying to buy another election, something they have a lot of practice doing at home, and as a little reporting would easily reveal, abroad. For more on right-wing Dutch candidate Geert Wilders: Michael Birnbaum: The peroxide-blonde crusader who could soon top Dutch elections. Especially interesting is Wilders' experience of working on an Israeli kibbutz ("a trip he described as transformative in shaping his pro-Israel, anti-Muslim views"). Another American publicly supporting Wilders is Rep. Steve King (R-IA): Iowa congressman lauds far-right Dutch politician, warning over 'demographics'. Curious how chummy the International Fraternal Order of Fascists is at the moment, because one lesson history teaches us is that nationalists ultimately find themselves at war with one another, or falling obediently into the orbit of stronger nationalists (as Quisling, Petain, and others prostrated their nations to Hitler's Germany). Do the Dutch really want to elect Wilders (or the French Le Pen) to be even more under Trump's (or Putin's) thumb? [PS: Also on Wilders' funding: Max Blumenthal: The Sugar Mama of Anti-Muslim Hate.]

  • Rich Montgomery/Andian Cummings: Arcs of two lives intersect in tragedy at Austins bar in Olathe: Profiles of the Trump-inspired shooter (Adam W. Purinton: "51, had long since seen his career as an air traffic controller come to an end, gaining a reputation as an unhappy drinker as he drifted from one low-level job to another") and victim (Srinivas Kuchibbotla, 32, an engineer who had immigrated from Hyderabad, India; he "had the American dream in his grasp: great job, happy marriage, new house and plans for children"). Of course, Trump's spokespeople were quick to disavow the shooting, but aside from its ending (which they'd prefer to leave ambiguous) the whole Trump campaign was based on exploiting the frustrations of folks like Purinton and rallying their furor against people like Kuchibbotla. And it certainly is the case that American businesses prefer hiring brilliant and optimistic foreign-born professionals to trying to train undereducated and aging malcontents like Purinton. We live in a society where even such paltry welfare efforts as we make are more meant to belittle beneficiaries than to build them up, so it's easy to see how Trump's supporters can think the system favors immigrants over natives. And Democrats, having taken every side of the issue (including for the Clintons a leading roll in "ending welfare as we know it"), have had no coherent message, allowing Trump to exploit this simmering wrath -- and to stir it up, as we see here.

  • Vijay Prashad: The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush, War Criminal

  • Paul Rosenberg: Stronger than Tea: The anti-Trump resistance is much bigger than the Tea Party -- and it has to be.

  • Danielle Ryan: WikiLeaks CIA dump makes the Russian hacking story even murkier -- if that's possible: I haven't followed the latest WikiLeaks dump of confidential CIA documents enough to form an opinion on whether it's a good or bad or mixed thing, and frankly don't much care. Clearly, we already knew that the CIA was out of control, which we should have expected simply due to the cloak of secrecy under which it works. Still, this article makes some interesting points:

    The Vault 7 leaks are not exactly a smoking gun for those who maintain Russia's innocence where the DNC hacks and leaks are concerned -- but they're not insignificant either. If anything, the new leaks should make people think a little harder before putting their complete trust in the CIA's public conclusions about the acts (or alleged acts) of enemy states. . . .

    The fact that the CIA -- an organization of professionals trained in the most sophisticated methods of deception -- is front and center promoting the idea that Assange is a Russian agent, should be enough for anyone to take that idea with a pinch of salt.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Midweek Roundup

Top local story here has been wildfire, the predictable result of a very dry winter and three or more days of high winds. On Wednesday, the Wichita Eagle front page, above the fold, consisted of one huge picture of fire and the headline "Unprecedented." The story revealed that about 60% of Clark County (WSW of Wichita, south and a bit east of Dodge City, at population 2215 pretty much the definition of nowhere) has been burnt. That fire spread east into Comanche County (pop. 1891), and there have been more scattered fires near Hays and Hutchinson. For a rundown as of Wednesday, see Tim Potter: Over 650,000 acres burned so far, state says. The wind died down a bit on Thursday, so presumably the worst is over. Note, however, that the annual record broke last week (a bit early, don't you think?) dates from just last year.

The big story of the week was that Paul Ryan, with Donald Trump's evident blessing, unveiled his "repeal-and-replace" health care bill. He's managed to disgust both the right and the left, and more than a few people in between. Some reactions:

  • Jamelle Bouie: How Republicans Botched Their Health Care Bill: Title from the link, better than "Trumpcare Is Already on Life Support" on the page itself.

  • David Dayen: The Republican Health-Care Bill Is the Worst of So Many Worlds: it "fails on every score -- except cutting rich people's taxes."

  • Tim Dickinson: The Dark Strategy at the Core of the GOP Health Care Plan

  • Richard Eskow: The American Health Care Act Is a Wealth Grab, Not a Health Plan

  • Mike Konczal: The Truth About the GOP Health-Care Plan

  • Paul Krugman: A Plan Set Up to Fail

  • Josh Marshall: Let's Agree Not to Lie About GOPCare: Starts with a rather striking lie: "Here is the simple secret of health insurance and health care provision policy: You can create efficiencies and savings by constructing functioning markets." Actually, it's been clear for decades that health care markets are inherently dysfunctional -- i.e., that Marshall's assumption is horribly faulty. His next line is also untrue: "But at the end of the day, more money equals more care." This doesn't even demand theory: it implies that the US has 3-4 times more care than France or Japan, which is empirically false. Marshall then argues that when Ryan promises to reduce costs, he's really just saying he'll be offering less care, which is, well, true, but that's mostly because Ryan isn't trying to change any of the cost factors behind health care (e.g., by limiting private party profits). He then seems to endorse right-wing opponents of Ryan's plan, saying "the real way to do this is simply to repeat the Affordable Care Act root and branch -- no pretending about making it better and 'access' and other nostrums," but he doesn't see that happening because "Republicans have essentially accepted the premise of the ACA: which is to say, the people who got coverage under the ACA should have coverage." But Republicans refuse to admit to that position, so Ryan has tailored the program to fit Republican biases, which is to say to protect the insurability of people who can afford it and screw everyone else. Marshall ultimately make some solid points ("The current plan also starts the phaseout of Medicaid and preps for the phaseout of Medicare -- a key policy goal for Paul Ryan"), but makes a lot of stupid blunders along the way.

  • John Nichols: Sean Spicer Is Lying About Trump's Health-Care Debacle:

  • Joy-Ann Reid: Donald Trump Signs On to Paul Ryan's Let-Them-Die 'Health-Care' Crusade

  • Michael Tomasky: It Sure Looks Like Paul Ryan Wants Ryancare to Fail: "The tip-off to me came Tuesday around noon, when Heritage Action, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation, issued a tweet condemning the bill. If Ryan didn't even bother to grease this with Heritage, he's just not being serious."

  • Matthew Yglesias: Republicans are now playing the price for a years-long campaign of Obamacare lies: "Republican leaders and conservative intellectuals, for the most part, didn't really believe nonsense about death panels or that Obama was personally responsible for high-deductible insurance plans. What they fundamentally did not like is that the basic framework of the law is to redistribute money by taxing high-income families and giving insurance subsidies to needy ones." I want to add two points here: the first is that every health care reform going back at least to Medicare protected industry profits and allowed the industry to increase those profits by inflating costs, even though this quickly price health care beyond what most families could afford; and second, that the Republicans have always had to jump through hoops to pretend that increasing industry profits was good for the people (at least the ones they profess to care about). These positions have become increasingly untenable over time, but Republicans have been able to make political hay as long as they could get people to blame the Democrats, whose own policies have only been marginally more viable, and whose reforms have saddled them with the lion's share of blame for their shortcomings.

Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:

Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still to America's bout of political insanity:

  • Dean Baker: Progressives Should Support Policies That Help All Working-Class People: This is all good; for example:

    On trade this means policies designed to reduce the trade deficit. This issue here is not "winning" in negotiations with our trading partners. It's a question of priorities in trade negotiations.

    Rather than demanding stronger and longer protections for Pfizer's patents and Microsoft's copyrights, we should be getting our trading partners to support a reduction in the value of the dollar in order to make our goods and services more competitive. If we can reduce the trade deficit by 1-2 percentage points of GDP ($180 billion to $360 billion) it will create 1-2 million manufacturing jobs, improving the labor market for the working class.

    We should use trade to reduce the pay of doctors and other highly paid professionals. If we open the door to qualified professionals from other countries we can save hundreds of billions of dollars a year on health care and other costs, while reducing inequality.

    We should also support policies that rein in the financial sector, such as reducing fees that pension funds pay to private equity and hedge funds and their investment advisors. This money comes out of the pockets of the rest of us and goes to some of the richest people in the country. A financial transactions tax, which could eliminate tens of billions of dollars spent each year on useless trades, would also be a major step towards reducing inequality.

    Policies that put downward pressure on the pay of CEOs and other top executives would also help the working class. This could mean, for example, making it easier for shareholders to reduce CEO pay. In the nonprofit sector we could place a cap on the pay of employees for anyone seeking tax-exempt status. Universities and nonprofit charities could still pay their presidents whatever they wanted; they just wouldn't get a taxpayer subsidy.

    There is a long list of market-based policies that we can pursue to reverse the upward redistribution of the last four decades. (For the fuller list see Rigged). These are policies that we should pursue because it is the right thing to do. It will help the working class of all races, including the white working class.

    I've been reading Ira Katznelson's Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time, which puts a lot of emphasis on how white Southern Democrats supported radical New Deal policies up to about 1938, when many switched sides, most famously joining with Republicans to pass the Taft-Hartley Act which halted the growth of unions and ultimately did them great damage. The South was, at the time, by far the poorest part of the country (well, still is), so as long as New Deal policies were crafted not to upset the South's Jim Crow racial order politicians were happy for the help. However, by the late 1930s, especially with the Wagner Act supporting unionization in 1935, Southern whites started to feel threatened, and decided they'd rather keep their racial order pure and poor than do anything that might help both whites and blacks. It is one of the great shames of American history that one of our few major periods of progressivism was so fraught with racism. (Actually, the same combination hampered Wilson's progressivism, and before that the Populist Party, at least in the South. For that matter, the great expansion of voting rights in the Jackson-Van Buren era was more often than not accompanied by disenfranchisement of free blacks.)

  • Thomas Frank: Don't let establishment opportunists ruin the resistance movement: I agree that there's a lot of similarity between the anti-Trump resistance and the anti-Obama Tea Party, but there is very little symmetry between left and right, either in the streets or among the partisan establishment (although I suspect the Republicans were more inclined to feed their protest movement because they considered it less of a personal threat -- wrongly, perhaps, if you take Trump to be a Tea Party champion, but for now let's just say that Democratic party centrists have a lot more to feel guilty about).

  • Joseph P Fried: Lynne Stewart, Lawyer Imprisoned in Terrorism Case, Dies at 77

  • Paul Glastris: Charles Peters on Recapturing the Soul of the Democratic Party

  • Rebecca Gordon: Forever War:

    During the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump often sounded like a pre-World War II-style America First isolationist, someone who thought the United States should avoid foreign military entanglements. Today, he seems more like a man with a uniform fetish. He's referred to his latest efforts to round up undocumented immigrants in this country as "a military operation." He's similarly stocked his cabinet with one general still on active duty, various retired generals, and other military veterans. His pick for secretary of the interior, Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke, served 23 years as a Navy SEAL.

    Clearly, these days Trump enjoys the company of military men. He's more ambivalent about what the military actually does. On the campaign trail, he railed against the folly that was -- and is -- the (second) Iraq War, maintaining with questionable accuracy that he was "totally against" it from the beginning. It's not clear, however, just where Trump thinks the folly lies -- in invading Iraq in the first place or in failing to "keep" Iraq's oil afterward. It was a criticism he reprised when he introduced Mike Pompeo as his choice to run the CIA. "Mike," he explained, "if we kept the oil, you probably wouldn't have ISIS because that's where they made their money in the first place." Not to worry, however, since as he also suggested to Pompeo, "Maybe we'll have another chance." Maybe the wrong people had just fought the wrong Iraq war, and Donald Trump's version will be bigger, better, and even more full of win!

    Perhaps Trump's objection is simply to wars we don't win. As February ended, he invited the National Governors Association to share his nostalgia for the good old days when "everybody used to say 'we haven't lost a war" -- we never lost a war -- you remember." Now, according to the president, "We never win a war. We never win. And we don't fight to win. We don't fight to win. So we either got to win, or don't fight it at all."

    Well, if you'd just stop to give it a bit of thought, you'd realize that no one ever wins a war. Maybe you lose less bad than the other side does, but everyone comes out worse for the experience. Anyone who thought we won the 20th century's two world wars simply didn't account for everything we lost (admittedly, a pretty widespread problem, given how much money some people who didn't fight made off those wars). And anyone who tells you we won (or could have won if only we'd shown more unity and resolve) wars in Korea or Vietnam or Afghanistan or Iraq simply has their head wedged. What makes Trump so dangerous is his obsession with winning, and worse still his conviction that's he such a big winner -- that the only possible result of whatever he chooses to do will be winning, and indeed that all it takes to "make America great again" is leadership by a great winner like himself.

  • Danny Sjursen: I Was Part of the Iraq War Surge. It Was a Disaster.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 27862 [27834] rated (+28), 385 [391] unrated (-6).

Streamnotes (February 2017) came out last week, actually on March 1 (but I backdated it). March draft file is open now, starting with 17 records listed below. At this point no real direction as to what I'm covering: I picked off a few 2016 releases that I hadn't bothered with before -- ones that got some attention from the EOY lists. Highest rated album from my EOY Aggregate List I haven't heard is Metallica's Hardwired . . . to Self Destruct, in 83rd. Highest point in the list where there are three or more straight unrated records starts at 230: Andy Stott, Wild Beasts, Woods, The Body, then after one I've heard (Clipping) there's The Drones and Fat White Family. Next cluster of 5+ I haven't heard starts at 291: Opeth, Roly Porter, Ty Segall, St Paul & the Broken Bones, Sunflower Bean, Suuns, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Thrice, Wild Nothing, and Zayn.

Also checked out Christgau's picks last week: Syd's Fin closes strong enough I could see grading it up, but three or four plays didn't quite convince me, and I didn't enjoy Nnamdi Ogbonnaya's Drool at all. I gave NxWorries' Yes Lawd! the same grade months ago, but still haven't checked out the John Legend album yet (fwiw, the only Legend album I have heard is a B).

The old Ken Vandermark records I happened to notice on his Bandcamp page as among the few I hadn't heard. A bit disappointed that the two FME records only hinted at how good the band was on two records I had previously rated A-: Cuts and Underground. I need to check more closely for whatever I've missed (though my grade list seems pretty comprehensive).

Achieved a milestone of sorts in the Jazz Guide project: got up to date with my Streamnotes reviews, copying the 20th century ones into a book file which now measures 459 pages, and the later ones into a long text file that I'll eventually fold into the 21st century book. Next step on 20th century is to go through the database files and add all the rated-but-unreviewed albums in as stubs. I knocked the first (and probably shortest) of those files off today, for jazz artists who first appeared before 1940. As with every step on this project, it's been a slow slog.

New records rated this week:

  • AMP Trio: Three (2016 [2017], self-released): [cd]: B
  • Courtney Marie Andrews: Honest Life (2016, Mama Bird): [r]: B+(*)
  • Beans on Toast: Rolling Up the Hill (2015, Xtra Mile): [r]: A-
  • Beans on Toast: A Spanner in the Works (2016, Xtra Mile): [r]: B+(**)
  • Gianni Bianchini: Type I (2016 [2017], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Carlos Bica & Azul: More Than This (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Chicago Edge Ensemble: Decaying Orbit (2016 [2017], self-released): [cd]: A-
  • Marc Ducret Trio+3: Métatonal (2014 [2015], Ayler): [bc]: B+(**)
  • The Hotelier: Goodness (2016, Tiny Engines): [r]: B+(*)
  • Sarah Jarosz: Undercurrent (2016, Sugar Hill): [r]: B+(**)
  • Lisa Mezzacappa: Avant Noir (2015 [2017], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Nnamdi Ogbonnaya: Drool (2017, Father/Daughter/Sooper): [r]: B-
  • Old 97's: Graveyard Whistling (2017, ATO): [r]: B+(***)
  • Eivind Opsvik: Overseas V (2016 [2017], Loyal Label): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Keith Oxman: East of the Village (2016 [2017], Capri): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Noah Preminger: Meditations on Freedom (2016 [2017], self-released): [cd]: B+(***)
  • The Reunion Project: Veranda (2016 [2017], Tapestry): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Hiromi Suda: Nagi (2015 [2017], BluJazz): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Syd: Fin (2017, Columbia): [r]: B+(***)
  • Thee Oh Sees: A Weird Exits (2016, Castle Face): [yt]: B+(*)
  • Keith Urban: Ripcord (2016, Capitol Nashville): [r]: B
  • Velkro: Too Lazy to Panic (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [cd]: A-
  • Ryley Walker: Golden Sings That Have Been Sung (2016, Dead Oceans): [r]: B+(*)

Old music rated this week:

  • Double Tandem [Ab Baars/Ken Vandermark/Paal Nilssen-Love]: OX (2012, dEN): [bc]: B+(***)
  • FME: Live at the Glenn Miller Café - Feb. 27, 2002 (2002, Okka Disk): [bc]: B+(***)
  • FME: Montage (2005 [2006], Okka Disk, 2CD): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Lean Left: Live at Area Sismica (2012 [2014], Unsounds): [bc]: B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Chicago/London Underground: A Night Walking Through Mirrors (Cuneiform): advance
  • MEM3: Circles (self-released): March 24
  • The Microscopic Septet: Been Up So Long It Looks Like Down to Me: The Micros Play the Blues (Cuneiform): advance
  • The Ed Palermo Big Band: The Great Un-American Songbook: Volumes I & II (Cuneiform, 2CD): advance
  • Daniel Weltlinger: Samoreau: A Tribute to the Fans of Django Reinhardt (Rectify): March 31

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Weekend Roundup

For a while there, I thought I had shot my wad on Thursday's Midweek Roundup, but it didn't take long for the floodgates to open.

I thought I'd start this with a remarkable letter that appeared in the Wichita Eagle by Gregory H. Bontrager, under the title "Trump on our side" (emphasis added):

The same media that is hounding President Trump are the same ideological malcontents that gave President Obama a free pass for eight lost years of American history. Finally, the middle class has a friend in the White House.

If you like welfare, food stamps or unchecked borders, Obama is the man for you. But if you work for a living or own your own business, Trump is on your side. Despite media hype, the age of the working man has arrived, as personified by Trump.

No more apologies will be accepted from America-hating elitists and the clueless children they foster on college campuses.

The American worker will no longer be held hostage to insane regulations by runaway bureaucracies such as the Environmental Protection Agency or rogue tax collectors in the IRS who have been weaponized by Democrats to suppress political opposition.

The Democratic Party cares more about the rights of illegal aliens than your children being able to walk safely down the streets of their own neighborhoods.

Whether they sit on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals or the city councils of sanctuary cities, it is time to push aside these apostate Americans and take our country back.

As someone who grew up in a union household, I can't help but be moved by this "working man" rhetoric, although I recognize that close to half of wage-earners in America are women, and that most of the jobs people work at today are in the service sector, more or less removed from the muscle and grime associated with the working men of yore -- hardly a vanished species, but much less prevalent than in my father's and grandfather's days. Nor do I begrudge the right of some people "who own their own business" to think of themselves as "working men" -- those, at least, who actually do some of their own work, as opposed to the ones who merely bark orders and push papers, but I know full well that nothing changes a person like controlling a business' checkbook, especially politically.

Still, what I find unfathomable is how anyone who's not a real estate magnate (or maybe a hedge fund manager) can imagine that Donald Trump -- a man who's spent every waking moment in the last fifty years pursuing his own wealth and celebrating his own ego -- would be on their side, or even give half a shit about them. Even the author's laundry list of phobias doesn't justify his leap of faith.

Most wage earners -- a more accurate if less romantic term than "working man" -- understand that welfare and food stamps are part of a safety net that, when properly supported, protects the lowest earners from disaster. Even people who never directly make use of such support benefit from living in a society which doesn't allow abject poverty to fester. Similarly, most government regulation is meant to protect workers and communities from the sort of abuses that inevitably tempt profit-seeking private businesses. It's easy to see why some short-sighted business owners may take umbrage at inspectors and tax collectors, but aside from lost jobs when badly managed businesses fail, workers generally benefit from policies which keep businesses from cutting corners.

It is true that if you think your problems are caused by policies which limit the greed and avarice of private companies, Trump will (sometimes) be "on your side." And if you see "illegal aliens" as some sort of plague, you may take some pleasure in Trump's callous and cruel demonization of America's most downtrodden immigrants and refugees. But neither of those stances makes you a "working man," nor does it guarantee that Trump will be your champion. For starters, the man is a world class liar and demagogue, as should already be clear from his selective memory of his campaign promises.

The stuff about Obama and the Democrats is harder to explain, other than that the author appears to have indeed been held hostage the last eight years, not by federal bureaucrats but by the right-wing fantasy media. Although appeals to the vanishing middle class have been a staple of both parties, few politicians in recent memory have devoted so much of their rhetoric to the cause as has Barack Obama. One might fault Obama for delivering so little to the middle class: under him, despite a modest tax increase on the rich, income inequality has continued to increase, the safety net has continued to fray, and his signature health care program delivered at best a mixed blessing. But the idea that with Trump replacing Obama "the middle class has a friend in the White House" is patently absurd.

To be clear, the "middle class" most of my generation grew up in -- we're talking 1950s here -- was the product of two things: a strong union movement which lifted both blue- and white-collar wage-earners to the level where they could own houses and send their kids to public colleges, and near-confiscatory (up to 90%) income tax rates on the still well-to-do managers and owners. (Paul Krugman called this "the great compression" -- see The Conscience of a Liberal.) Look for anything like this in Trump's platform: there's not even a hint of anything comparable. Rather, what the Republicans -- and this is certainly why Trump chose to become one -- have pushed ever since Reagan (or Calvin Coolidge or William McKinley or the robber barons who took over the GOP in the 1870s) is the notion that we'll all be better off if only we let businesses pursue profits unfettered by any sense of social responsibility. It should be clear by now that only the very rich have benefited from that theory, and only to the extent that they've been able to isolate themselves from the world they've left behind. The "middle class" is not a natural condition in capitalist society: it exists only because policies have forced a more equal distribution of the national wealth. Take those policies away, and, sure, a few people can become much richer, while a great many slip into increasing poverty. And that's not just theory. That's what has actually happened, to the extent that Republicans have been able to seize power since 1980.

So there's nothing in Trump's platform to make him "a friend of the middle class." But it's just as incredible to think he might be a friend of anyone. Friendship is based on empathy, common understanding, and mutual respect. To achieve that usually requires familiarity, engagement, and interaction. But how much opportunity does someone like Trump get to interact with even "middle class" (much less poor) people when he lives in the penthouse on top of Trump Tower, is chauffeured around town, and flies on private planes around the world -- at least to the few spots where he owns luxury resorts full of deferential employees and frequented by guests as rarefied as he himself is? Even leaving aside his personality, charitably described as narcissistic, no one can reasonably expect him to relate to, much less empathize with, the everyday problems of most Americans.

The letter contains more absurdities, both of fact -- Obama, rather notoriously, deported more undocumented immigrants than any previous president -- and of interpretation -- I can't even imagine the "free pass" he thinks Obama was granted, or what "eight lost years of American history" even means. (Although thanks to Bush and Republican obstruction of Obama we've wasted sixteen years. and counting, that could have been used to counter global warming -- something future generations are sure to judge us harshly for.)

The Kansas State Legislature passed a law repealing Gov. Sam Brownback's income tax exemption for business owners, at long last promising to fill a budgetary hole that has plagued Kansas since 2011. Brownback vetoed, the House overrode, but the Senate barely sustained the veto, primarily thanks to Republican Majority Leader Susan Wagle switching her position. Richard Crowson drew the cartoon at right to mark the occasion. Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau took exception to the cartoon, noting that depicting Wagle as a "female dog" was tantamount to calling her a, well, you know. Ranzau is probably the most outrageously reactionary politician in Kansas, at least in recent years. Of course, it isn't his fault that his name resonates as some lesser known Nazi extermination camp, one you can't quite put your finger on. Still, one would be less likely to make the connection if he had somewhat more moderate take on politics. See Crowson thanks Ranzau for showcasing cartoon.

Robert Christgau forwarded this tweet by James F Haning II, proclaiming it "perfect":

Donald Trump is a stupid man's idea of a smart man, a poor man's idea of a rich man, a weak man's idea of a strong man.

There certainly is a lot of projection concerning Trump. There is scant evidence to support many of the traits his fans attribute to him (although, even without tax returns, he does a fairly good job of passing for rich, even compared to the bottom of the top percentile). And rich seems to buttress the notions of smart and strong, especially given that they don't stand up all that well on their own. He has a bully aspect, but that's mostly exercised through lawyers; other than that he talks big, but is known to tone it down when faced with likely opposition (as during his campaign stop in Mexico, where he offered none of the slander and fury of his post-visit immigration rant). As for smart, he's clearly not even remotely a smart man's idea of smart. Whether stupid men are that stupid is another question: he clearly has a knack for exploiting some people's insecurities, and for projecting himself as their savior. Part of that comes from a very instinctual, almost bred-in, sense humans have that in crisis they should rally behind the guy who looks strongest -- an instinct that's likely to give you a Napoleon, a Churchill, or a Hitler (most of whom turned out to be disasters). Part is that many Americans have way too much admiration for the rich. And part is the luck of running against people who hardly inspire anyone at all. But much of it is that with Trump we have a man who is extraordinarily self-centered and immodest, so much so he doesn't betray any lack of confidence in his abilities, even though they are manifest to anyone who bothers to look.

Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:

  • George Zornick/Zoë Carpenter: Everything Trump Did in His 6th Week That Really Matters: A regular series that goes beyond chasing tweets. Sub-heads:

    • Halted a probe into airline-price transparency. "Stocks in major airlines increased 2 percent."
    • Absolved senior adviser Kellyanne Conway of wrongdoing. Re her promotion of Ivanka Trump's clothing line, contrary to federal ethics rules. "The White House concluded that Conway acted 'without nefarious motive,' and did not announce any disciplinary actions."
    • Swore in a commerce secretary with serious conflicts of interest. Multi-billionaire Wilbur Ross, who among other things "served as the vice-chair of the Bank of Cyprus, 'one of the key offshore havens for illicit Russian finance.'"
    • His attorney general recused himself from Russia inquiries. Jeff Sessions, who falsely testified to the US Senate during confirmation that he had no contact with Russian officials.
    • Announced a special exemption for the Keystone XL pipeline. He also ordered that all pipelines be made with American steel "to the maximum extent possible," which turns out to be not at all. (See Keystone Pipeline Won't Use US Steel Despite Trump Pledge.)
    • Ordered a review of water regulations. The first step toward undoing clean water rules developed by the EPA under Obama.
  • Julia Edwards Ainsley: Trump administration considering separating women, children at Mexico border

  • Eric Alterman: The Media's Addiction to False Equivalencies Has Left Them Vulnerable to Trump: "Decades of conservative efforts to work the press are paying off handsomely." I've described this as the "Earl Weaver effect": you always argue with the umps, not so much to convince them now as to make them more likely to give you a call later on (thus avoiding another scarifying encounter).

  • Coral Davenport; Trump to Undo Vehicle Rules That Curb Global Warming: "The E.P.A. will also begin legal proceedings to revoke a waiver for California that was allowing the state to enforce tougher tailpipe standards for its drivers." Also by Davenport: Top Trump Advisers Are Split on Paris Agreement on Climate Change. A few, like Rex Tillerson, recognize that withdrawal will have adverse impact on how the US is viewed throughout the world. After all, it's a pretty clear message: to protect our industry profits, we don't care what the impact is to the rest of the world: fry, drown, whatever. Note that even if the US doesn't formally withdraw, Trump's EPA is already working hard to make climate catastrophe irreversible. Also see: Steven Mufson/Jason Samenow/Brady Dennis: White House proposes steep budget cut to leading climate science agency: maybe if we stop studying the problem, we won't notice when it happens, so won't know who to blame.

  • Josh Dawsey: Trump's advisers push him to purge Obama appointees: Well, actually they'd like to purge much of the civil service as well as a few dozen holdovers still trying to do their jobs. ("Candidates for only about three dozen of 550 critical Senate-confirmed positions have even been nominated.") A big part of the problem here is that Trump campaigned by totally misrepresenting what Obama's administration had been doing, treating it as all bad and therefore all in need of radical change. But the election didn't change any laws, and policy changes are subject to many checks and balances. No past administration started with a clean slate, and most saw continuity as a virtue. Trump is different partly because he set up the expectation of radical change, and partly because his people have proven unusually incompetent -- I'd say that's largely due to his party having made obstruction its norm for eight years (after making destruction the norm for two terms under GW Bush). Still, the immediately burning issue is that they're steamed about leaks revealing their incompetence. A better solution would be to try to behave in ways that aren't embarrassing to the public, but that's a level of maturity they haven't grown into yet (if indeed they ever will).

  • Paul Feldman: A deadly pattern: States that went red during 2016 election saw more workplace fatalities: Chart is pretty starkly amazing, with only two states above 3.0 (New Mexico and Nevada) voting Democratic, and only one state below 3.0 (Arizona) voting Republican.

  • Jon Finer/Robert Malley: How Our Strategy Against Terrorism Gave Us Trump: Actually, the US doesn't have a strategy against terrorism any more, and hasn't since it became clear that reconstructing Iraq along Texas lines wasn't going to pay off. What passes for one is no more than whacking all the terrorists we notice, or people in their vicinity -- the sort of knee-jerk spasms dead chickens are noted for. What gave us Trump was the callousness and ignorance of continuing a hopeless and hapless war despite clear proof that of having no clue. In early Bush days the US could present itself as some kind of friend, and occasionally find acceptance and support, but those days are long gone as the frustration of losing has turned Americans into haters of all things Islamic. I think it was predictable from the start that this approach would fail, but the authors are still committed to the mission no matter how badly it fails.

  • Todd C Frankel: How Foxconn's broken pledges in Pennsylvania cast doubt on Trump's jobs plan: One thing I'm struck by is how many of the companies Trump's counting on to "invest in America" are Chinese -- not just that their offers are subject to political ploys but that their bottom line depends on getting lower labor costs in the US than they are already getting in China. This doesn't seem like much of a golden opportunity.

  • Jonathan Freedland: Donald Trump isn't the only villain -- the Republican party shares the blame

  • David Cay Johnston: Trump's Lament That He 'Inherited a Mess' of an Economy? False! Sad! Various measures of the economy were actually up for the last months of Obama's second term, with the median wage "began rising in 2013 after 15 years of being in the doldrums." This momentum, a far cry from the "mess" Trump has already started blaming for his own incompetence, will likely continue to buoy Trump for months or even a couple years to come, until Trump (like Bush before him) blows it all to hell. For more on this, see: Christian Weller: The truth about Obama's economic legacy and Trump's inheritance.

  • Paul Krugman: Goodbye Spin, Hello Raw Dishonesty:

    At this point it's easier to list the Trump officials who haven't been caught lying under oath than those who have. This is not an accident. [ . . . ]

    In part, of course, the pervasiveness of lies reflects the character of the man at the top: No president, or for that matter major U.S. political figure of any kind, has ever lied as freely and frequently as Donald Trump. But this isn't just a Trump story. His ability to get away with it, at least so far, requires the support of many enablers: almost all of his party's elected officials, a large bloc of voters and, all too often, much of the news media. [ . . . ]

    But then you watch something like the way much of the news media responded to Mr. Trump's congressional address, and you feel despair. It was a speech filled with falsehoods and vile policy proposals, but read calmly off the teleprompter -- and suddenly everyone was declaring the liar in chief "presidential."

    The point is that if that's all it takes to exonerate the most dishonest man ever to hold high office in America, we're doomed.

    Krugman also wrote Coal Is a State of Mind: Trump keeps insisting that he'll bring back coal mining jobs, but nothing -- not technology and not economics -- suggests he can, no matter how much political will he puts behind it:

    The answer, I'd guess, is that coal isn't really about coal -- it's a symbol of a social order that is no more; both good things (community) and bad (overt racism). Trump is selling the fantasy that this old order can be restored, with seemingly substantive promises about specific jobs mostly just packaging.

    One thought that follows is that Trump may not be as badly hurt by the failure of his promises as one might expect: he can't deliver coal jobs, but he can deliver punishment to various kinds of others.

  • Laila Lalami: Donald Trump Is Making America White Again: The detail points are worth reading, but file this under really bad titles. For one thing, America has never been white, no matter how marginalized the political system made non-whites. For another, while Trump will make America more hurtful for non-whites, nothing he can do will change the racial, religious, and/or ethnic demography of the nation to any meaningful degree. The most he and his fans can hope for is to slow down what they view as a demographic disaster, and perhaps to jigger the system a bit to politically marginalize what they view as undesirable Americans -- that is, after all, the point of the voter suppression laws that are all the rage in Republican legislatures.

  • Jefferson Morley: Who wins? Donald Trump vs. the Koch Brothers on jobs: I had to read down the article to even find out what Trump was thinking of as his jobs program: turns out it's the BAT (Border Adjustment Tax), which is really just a tariff. The Kochs are organizing against BAT, and they have things Trump doesn't have, like a grass roots organization that has been very successful at getting Republicans elected to Congress. (In many ways Trump sailed to the presidency on their coat tails.) So no, it's pretty much dead in Congress, and there's damn little Trump can do about that.

  • Paul Rosenberg: America's infrastructure disaster -- and why Donald Trump will do nothing to fix it:

    The last time it was issued, back 2013, our infrastructure got an overall grade of D+, with a projected $3.6 trillion investment needed by 2020 -- more than 3 1/2 times the amount that President Donald Trump has promised (mostly from private investors) over a much longer period. Grades ranged from a high of a single B- for solid waste to a low of D- in two categories -- levees and inland waterways. There were more straight Ds than anything else -- for schools, dams, aviation, roads, transit, wastewater, drinking water and hazardous waste. Rail and bridges both rated C+, ports a straight C, public parks and recreation a C- and energy a D+. Even Bart wouldn't be proud of that.

    The key problem is that we let business ideologues (mostly but not exclusively Republicans) convince us that government can't do anything competently (except wage war, which kind of proved their point) so we're better off not wasting our money -- just wait for the private sector to fill the need. This is, of course, exactly not how we got all our infrastructure in the first place (the whole point of Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper).

  • Matthew Rozsa: This week in Donald Trump's conflicts of interest: Favoritism from Vancouver to New York City. Rosza also wrote President Pence's problems: Indiana Democrats say VP was "the worst governor we ever had" -- something to bear in mind before you impeach Trump.

  • Katy Waldman: We All Talk Like Donald Trump Now: Sad! Oh, dear! Even when we satirize him the mental rot is contagious! As if we didn't have enough to worry about already!

  • Matthew Yglesias: Trump is Mad Online at Obama, Schwarzenegger, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court: This day (March 4) in tweets. Personally, I'm just gratified that when Trump refers to "McCarthyism" and "Nixon/Watergate" he's treating them as bad things. Nor do I especially mind him dissing Schwarzenegger, recently departed from Trump's former reality show. For more on the latter (possibly the week's least momentus "news") see: Todd VanDerWerff: Arnold Schwarzenegger is leaving The Celebrity Apprentice. He blames President Trump.

Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still to America's broader bout of political insanity:

  • William Astore: In Afghanistan, America's Biggest Foe Is Self-Deception: Actually, that's true in America as well. When future generations look back on America today (assuming they should be so lucky), one big thing they will puzzle over is how so many people could have believed in so much really crazy shit.

  • Tony Blair, Who Brought US the War in Iraq, Lectures on the Evils of Populism: Or more to the point, "he criticizes the left for abandoning centrist politicians," like himself -- where centrism means pretending to have a social conscience while serving the advancement of "clean" businesses like high-tech and finance. ("Tony Blair has worked as an advisor to JP Morgan and Zurich Financial Services, since retiring as prime minister.")

  • James Carden: Why Does the US Continue to Arm Terrorists in Syria? Well, because the US doesn't have a clue what it's doing in Syria, or for that matter all across the Middle East. Because US strategists feel the need to choose sides in a contest where no sides are viable let alone right. Because they can't contemplate of resolving problems but by force of arms. And because they, like the "terrorists" they claim to oppose, see terror as a tactic for advancing political goals.

  • Ian Cummings: FBI undercover stings foil terrorist plots -- but how many are agency-created? I think it's pretty clear that Terry Loewen here in Wichita would never have done anything but for FBI prodding. Several other cases mentioned here are similar. I think the Garden City case where three guys planned an attack on a Somali neighborhood was real, but the FBI has a long history of trying to provoke crimes, and that has probably gotten worse with all the "war on terror" nonsense.

  • Nelson Denis: After a Century of American Citizenship, Puerto Ricans Have Little to Show for It

  • Richard J Evans: A Warning From History: Review of Volker Ullrich's recent biography, Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939, by the author of The Coming of the Third Reich and two massive sequels. I can see the fascination, but I'm more struck by the dissimilarities between then and now -- one is reminded of Marx's quip about the arrival of Napoleon III: "history repeats itself, first as tragedy then as farce." Nor do I mean to downplay the real people hurt by Trump's policies and acts. But Germany faced a real crisis in 1928-32, and Hitler presented a plausible (albeit totally wrong-headed) solution until his absolute self-confidence and ruthlessness drove the nation over a cliff. Trump's demons are almost totally imaginary (his 40% unemployment rates, the rampaging crime wave, hordes of demented illegal aliens, more hordes of fanatical Muslims), and despite a modest Defense Department budget bump (that will quickly be sopped up by graft) one doubts that he or his anti-government henchmen will ever be able to turn the state into a truly ominous force. Still, his impulses and tendencies are so bad it helps to be reminded how catastrophically they've failed in the past.

    Still, if you want to go further down this rathole: Anis Shivani: Trump and Mussolini: Eleven key lessons from historical fascism. Some key points:

    1. Fascism rechannels economic anxiety: key thing is that it doesn't relieve it, it just redirects blame.
    2. Liberal institutions have already been fatally weakened: I wouldn't say it's fatal here (yet), but Trump wouldn't have risen without the discrediting of key institutions, like the military in the Middle East and bankers everywhere.
    3. Of course it's a minority affair: The Tea Party and the alt-right are every bit as vanguardist as the Bolsheviks, but are rooted in venerable Americanisms, like Nixon's "dirty tricks" and Lombardi's "winning is the only thing."
    4. Its cultural style makes no sense to elites: which in turn makes it hard to counter; it's easy to prove that Trump isn't smart but you won't impress his fans by doing so -- they've spent every moment of the last eight years loathing Obama, suspecting that his brains are merely the engine of deviousness. (Nor did Meryl Streep dissing football gain any traction.)
    5. No form of resistance works: Have fascists ever been voted out of office, given that one thing they've always been quick to do is to rig the system (much like the Republicans with their voter restriction laws, though often even more brutal). "Nothing ever works until fascism's logic, the logic of empire, stands discredited to the point where no denial and no media coverup is possible anymore." Actually the Axis was only "discredited" by the most brutal military counterattack in history.
  • Daniel Politi: Pentagon Has Been Waging Secret Cyberwar Against North Korea Missiles for Years: Perhaps this has something to do with why North Korea is so paranoid, so erratic, and ultimately so dangerous? We have thus far failed to develop the sort of taboo that inhibits other forms of war, like chemical weapons -- in fact, cyberwar usually doesn't even get recognized as such. In a better world, our recent brush with Russian hacking would lead the US and Russia to work toward mutual controls, including suppressing their own independent hackers. But as long as we all think this sort of thing is OK it continues, sometimes with dire consequences.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Midweek Roundup

Some weeks the shit's piling up so fast you have to get the shovel out a few days early. I have little doubt that there will be this much more by the weekend. Less sure I have the time and energy to keep up the pace.

Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:

Also a few links less directly tied to the ephemeral in America's bout of political insanity:

  • Dean Baker: Bill Gates Is Clueless on the Economy

  • R Mike Burr: The Self-Serving Hustle of "Hillbilly Elegy": On J.D. Vance's book, widely acclaimed as a book you should read to understand "Trump's America" (well, not Trump, really, but some of the fools who voted for him).

  • Juan Cole: Sorry, Trump, China's cut-back on Coal Dooms Industry: A few years ago China was poised to build so many coal-fired electricity generators that it became likely that one nation, at the time a nation in complete denial about global warming, would wind up frying the rest of us. Since then at least half of those coal plants have been canceled. Since then, it's become clear that if you consider the externalities -- which for China includes the good will of other nations fearful of being fried -- coal is already an inefficient energy source. That's increasingly obvious in the US as well, even though thanks to fossil fuel industry clout most of those externalities go uncharged. And the trendline for coal is getting worse, even with the President and Congress securely in the industry's pocket.

  • Stanley L Cohen: Jim Crow is alive and well in Israel: The analogy hits closer to home than "apartheid" (although that was merely the South African term for a legal code of segregation inspird by and borrowed from America's Jim Crow laws). Of course, the analogy is not quite precise: the US and SA systems were meant primarily to preserve a low worker caste their respective economies were built on, whereas the Israeli system seeks to make Palestinian labor (hence Palestinians) superfluous, and as such is an even more existential threat. Article does a good job of reminding you not just that separate is inherently unequal but that segregated systems are sustained with violence and injustice.

    Cohen also wrote Trump's 'Muslim ban' is not an exception in US history, rubbing it in a little when it might be more effective to explain how such bans are inimical to American ideals even if they've recurred frequently throughout American history.

  • Mark Lawrence Schrad: Vladimir Putin Isn't a Supervillain: This seems like a fairly realistic evaluation of Russia, after first positing two strawman arguments and showing how neither is all that true. I'll add that there are a few countries what once had larger empires and have never quite shaken the mental habit of thinking they should still be more powerful than they are: this is true of Russia and China, would-be regional powers like Iran and Turkey, and several ostensible US allies (notably Britain, France, and Saudi Arabia), and if you possess the ability to look cleary in a mirror, the United States as well. (Germany and Japan were largely cured of this by the crushing weight of defeat in WWII, although you see glimpses in, e.g., Germany's role in breaking up Yugoslavia and Japan's weird dread of North Korea.) What has thus far passed for Russian aggression has so far been limited to adopting breakaway regions of now independent former SSRs -- Crimea from Ukraine, Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia. On the other hand, the US has been extending its NATO umbrella into previously neutral former SSRs, building up its Black Sea fleet, installing anti-missle systems focused on Russia, and imposing sanctions to undermine the Russian economy, and trying to influence elections in places like Ukraine and Georgia to heighten anti-Russian sentiments. Given all this, who's really being aggressive?

    Of course, were I a Russian, I'm quite certain that I'd have no shortage of political disagreements with Vladimir Putin. But the US doesn't have (or deserve) a say in who runs Russia. At best we can refer to standards of international law, but only if we ourselves are willing to live by them -- which, as was made clear by Bush's refusal to join the ICC we clearly are not. An old adage is that you should clean up your own house first, and that's the thing that American politicians should focus on.

-- next