Blog Entries [10 - 19]
Monday, August 21, 2017
Music: Current count 28563  rated (+25), 378  unrated (+0).
First, I want to single out a link from yesterday's
Weekend Roundup that I added late, barely scanned, and didn't much
Heather Boushey: How the Radical Right Played the Long Game and Won.
I see now that I got it way out of my usual alphabetical-by-author order,
but that's not worth correcting. It's a book review. The book is Nancy
McLean's Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's
Stealth Plan for America. It's primarily about an economist who
Charles Koch knows well even if you or I didn't: James McGill Buchanan.
I've bought a copy of the book, and intend to read it soon. (I figured
I'd read the new paperback of Rosa Brooks' How Everything Became War
and How the Military Became Everything first, in honor [horror?] of
Trump's new Chief of Staff, John Kelly.) Anyhow, if I hadn't been so
rushed, I would have singled out this quote:
In the United States, promising and then delivering services and protections
for the majority of voters provides a path for politicians to be popularly
elected. Buchanan was concerned that this would lead to overinvestment in
public services, as the majority would be all too willing to tax the wealthy
minority to support these programs. So Buchanan came to a radical conclusion:
Majority rule was an economic problem. "Despotism," he declared in his 1975
book The Limits of Liberty, "may be the only organizational alternative
to the political structure that we observe."
Buchanan therefore argued for "curbing the appetites of majority coalitions"
by establishing ironclad rules that would curb their power. . . . He knew
that the majority would never agree to being constrained. He therefore helped
lead a push to undermine their trust in public institutions. The idea was
to get voters to direct their ire at these institutions and divert their
attention away from increasing income and wealth inequality.
This is all stuff I had figured out, so the only surprise is the extent
to which it was designed, and I suppose the frankness with which it was
articulated as a strategy to subvert democracy and impose despotism. My
own discovery started with the observation that while rich people strongly
favor Republicans and poor people strongly favor Democrats in every state
all across the nation, richer states tend toward Democrats (the exceptions
are Alaska and Utah) while relatively poor states go Republican. The latter
happens because people in those states have learned better than o expect
help from their elected government, because governments long controlled
by reactionaries have long disabused them of their hopes and faith in
People in richer states have more faith in government, because public
institutions there serve them better, not least because a more efficient,
more supportive state helps build the economy. (The Republican capture of
Wisconsin is offering a real time example of turning a rich state into a
poor one.) Of course, Republicans didn't need Buchanan's theorizing to
understand that the first step in turning a popular program into one
seen as worthless was rendering it incompetent: Richard Nixon provided
a classic example of this when he put Donald Rumsfeld in charge of the
Office of Economic Opportunity. Still, no one ever came out and said
that's what Nixon and Rumsfeld were up to and why. They simply set up
a situation which later Republicans could exploit by arguing that the
OEO was a waste of money, that government never could have alleviated
poverty in the first place. What Buchanan, and McLean's book, give us
is the smoking gun: they show how disaster was planned, and why a few
extraordinarily greedy people made it happen.
They also remind us that this is a program to subvert democracy
and install despotism in its place. Once you grasp this struggle in
those terms, you can see clearly how critical stealth and deception
have been to their program, and start to see through them.
I've read a couple of pieces on Afghanistan in anticipation of
Trump's big speech tonight. General themes: many antiwar quotes
from his campaign, bits on how the hawks are delighted to have
gotten rid of Bannon, and pretty much universal agreement that
he's going to double down on the war and make things worse rather
than better. The only twist I've heard of is a plan to coerce
whoever's in charge of Pakistan this week to do its dirty work
else face the wrath of America supporting India to bring
Pakistan to heel -- as if nuclear brinksmanship in Korea
wasn't bad enough.
Nothing really to quote yet. Meanwhile, here's Matt Taibbi
misunderestimating Trump again:
Why Trump Can't Quit the Alt-Right. Taibbi talks about how
Trump's "secret technique" worked so well during the campaign:
"He continually keeps his enemies off-balance by alternately
playing the menace and the raving buffoon" -- then notes that
the buffoon bit doesn't work so well for an actual president.
I expect that Trump will stick to the teleprompter tonight, and
therefore look semi-coherent, which in some quarters will pass as
"presidential" given that he's doing what so many other presidents
before him have done: blundering into a wider, deeper, and even
Not much to say about music this week. Rated count is down a bit
as I missed a day-plus cooking. Following my citation of
Tim Niland's blog last week I checked out several Clean Feed
and Hatology releases. Roots Magic makes two A- records I didn't
get from Clean Feed (along with Eric Revis' Sing Me Some Cry,
last week). I spent a lot of time on the Beth Ditto record that
Robert Christgau likes -- I previously gave Waxahatchee's Out
in the Storm an A-, Ivy Tripp B+(**), Paramore B+(***),
and Valerie June B+(**), so we're fairly close this week. By the way,
it wasn't really Ditto's solo debut: she released a quality EP
in 2011, which I thought an A- at the time (and you all know how I
tend to downgrade EPs).
The old music mostly came from trying to look for 2000 releases I
had missed, although I poked around a bit more, not really finding
anything very important. The 2000-03 period predates my Jazz Consumer
Guide column, and therefore is the least well covered period as I
try to collect my Recorded Jazz in the 21st Century: A Consumer
Jason Stein's album cover appeared, without mention, in last week's
Music Week: I graded the record A- after I close my listings, but
before I finished writing the post. Same thing this week with the new
Chris Speed Trio album, Platinum on Tap.
New records rated this week:
- Big Bold Back Bone: In Search of the Emerging Species (2015 , Shhpuma): [r]: B
- Jane Ira Bloom: Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson (2017, Outline, 2CD): [cd]: B+(***)
- Beth Ditto: Fake Sugar (2017, Virgin): [r]: B+(***)
- Miles Donahue: The Bug (2015 , Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(*)
- Floating Points: Reflections - Mojave Desert (2017, Luaka Bop): [r]: B+(*)
- H. Hawkline: I Romanticize (2017, Heavenly): [r]: B
- Ray Wylie Hubbard: Tell the Devil I'm Gettin' There as Fast as I Can (2017, Bordello/Thirty Tigers): [r]: A-
- Max Johnson: In the West (2014 , Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
- Steve Langone Trio: Breathe (2016 , Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(**)
- Rob Mazurek: Chants and Borders (2016 , Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
- Rob Mazurek: Rome (2014 , Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
- Marcus Monteiro: Another Part of Me (2017, Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(***)
- Platform: Flux Reflux (2017, Clean Feed): [r]: B
- Roots Magic: Last Kind Words (2016 , Clean Feed): [r]: A-
- Matthew Shipp: Invisible Touch at Taktlos Zürich (2016 , Hatology): [r]: B+(***)
- Jason Stein Quartet: Lucille! (2017, Delmark): [cd]: A-
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
- Albert Ayler: European Radio Studio Recordings 1964 (1964 , Hatology): [r]: B+(**)
- Albert Ayler Quartet: Copenhagen Live 1964 (1964 , Hatology): [r]: B+(**)
- Albert Ayler: Stockholm, Berlin 1966 (1966 , Hatology): [r]: B+(***)
Old music rated this week:
- Jeremiah Cymerman: Purification/Dissolution (2011-12 , 5049): [bc]: B
- Jeremiah Cymerman/Christopher Hoffman/Brian Chase: Pale Horse (2013 , 5049): [bc]: B+(*)
- Jeremiah Cymerman/Evan Parker/Nate Wooley: World of Objects (2013 , 5049): [bc]: B-
- George Garzone: Moodiology (1998 , NYC): [r]: B+(**)
- George Garzone: The Fringe in New York (2000, NYC): [r]: B+(**)
- George Garzone: Among Friends (2009, Stunt): [r]: B+(***)
- Flip Phillips: Celebrates His 80th Birthday at the March of Jazz 1995 (1995 , Arbors): [r]: B+(***)
- Flip Phillips: Swing Is the Thing (2000, Verve): [r]: B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- Mike Downes: Root Structure (Addo): September 27
- David Lopato: Gendhing for a Spirit Rising (Global Coolant, 2CD): September 8
- Wadada Leo Smith/Natsuki Tamura/Satoko Fujii/Ikue Mori: Aspiration (Libra): September 8
Sunday, August 20, 2017
Tina Fey got flack for
this skit on Thursday's Saturday Night Live
news special, where she advised people to skip Nazi/White Supremacist
counter-protests and express their frustration by eating cake instead.
I followed her advice and made a pan of extra-rich brownies, but I had
an occasion to honor: Frank Smith was passing through Kansas, returning
home after an AFSCME conference in DC, where he also found time for a
demonstration outside the White House. I fixed a little vegetarian (not
vegan) dinner in his honor: a leek-goat cheese quiche, three Ottolenghi
salads -- spinach with dates, onions, toasted pitas and almonds; roast
eggplant with tahini sauce; sweet potatoes with maple syrup and pecans --
and the brownies. I was so exhausted afterwards I went to bed early and
slept eleven hours. It wasn't so much the work as general world-weariness.
I remember a sense of unease back in 2001 when a friend chirped "we
survived one George Bush; we can survive another." Well, lots of folks
didn't survive that second one, and hardly anyone came out better from
the ordeal. And as you get older, you start to wonder whether you're
ever going to see a better world. Still, cake tastes good. Brownies
with 6 oz. premium unsweetened chocolate even better.
[PS: Also see
Tom Carson: The Brilliance of Tina Fey's Cake Satire, Explained.]
Meanwhile, I offer these links and comments because I don't really
feel up to working on anything more creative or constructive.
The usual scattered links:
Kurt Andersen: How America Lost Its Mind: I can't argue with the
conclusion -- clearly, a huge swath of Americans have lost their minds --
but I'd offer a simpler explanation than the '60s and the internet.
In fact, I'd argue that the '60s at least opened up a vein of critical
thinking in stark contrast to the rampant hypocrisy of the 1950s. That
led directly to the most important revolutions of the post-WWII era:
civil rights and liberties, women's liberation, rejection of war, the
movement for the environment, consumer and worker protections. Also,
the internet help break out of the corporate media stranglehold that
had consolidated in the 1980s. The problem was the 1980s, when a cabal
of conservative businessfolk somehow convinced most people to ignore
reality and pretend it's "morning in America again" -- a deception
that has become increasingly unhinged as right-wing and/or neoliberal
control has proved ever more dysfunctional. Indeed, it's gotten so
bad that the naïveté (and relative egalitarianism) of the 1950s has
started to look good again, not that anyone seriously wants to go
back there. But there's more wrong now than just the notion that
reality and truth are subject to political interpretation. It's
that the political agenda of the upper crust demands deception,
and they have the means to mass-propagate it. All we have to fight
back is critical thinking and what's left of the decentralized
David Dayen: More Trump Populism: DOJ Shuts Down an Operation That Was
Successfully Combatting Consumer Fraud:
The justice department plans to terminate Operation Choke Point, an
Obama-era law enforcement crackdown on scam consumer transactions
that conservatives characterized as an attack on gun sellers and
legal businesses. It concludes one of the more brazen misinformation
efforts in recent political history -- with misinformation triumphing.
. . .
Karl Frisch, executive director of Allied Progress, a consumer
rights group, said in a statement: "Ending this program will make
it easier for financial predators and other unscrupulous industries
to get the resources they need to carry out their deceptive and
frequently unlawful business practices."
Jason Ditz: Trump: Afghan War Decisions Made: Trump's promising
a major speech revealing his Afghanistan strategy on Monday, following
a round of meetings at Camp David mostly attended by hawks, including
mercenary mogul Erik Prince, and excluding Steve ("skeptic of military
escalation") Bannon. I could probably dig up some speculation on this,
but we might as well wait for the ball to drop. Then on Tuesday Trump
flies to Phoenix for his big rally there, a chance to meet up with his
old pal Joe Arpaio and, one assumes, talk about The Wall.
Tara Golshan: Anti-racism protesters totally eclipsed Boston's right-wing
Free Speech rally: I've seen reports of up to 40,000 anti-racism
Mehdi Hasan: Donald Trump Has Been a Racist All His Life -- and He Isn't
Going to Change After Charlottesville:
Consider the first time the president's name appeared on the front page
of the New York Times, more than 40 years ago. "Major Landlord Accused
of Antiblack Bias in City," read the headline of the A1 piece on Oct. 16,
1973, which pointed out how Richard Nixon's Department of Justice had
sued the Trump family's real estate company in federal court over alleged
violations of the Fair Housing Act. . . .
Over the next four decades, Trump burnished his reputation as a bigot:
he was accused of ordering "all the black [employees] off the floor" of
his Atlantic City casinos during his visits; claimed "laziness is a trait
in blacks" and "not anything they can control"; requested Jews "in
yarmulkes" replace his black accountants; told Bryan Gumbel that "a
well-educated black has a tremendous advantage over a well-educated
white in terms of the job market"; demanded the death penalty for a
group of black and Latino teenagers accused of raping a jogger in
Central Park (and, despite their later exoneration with the use of
DNA evidence, has continued to insist they are guilty); suggested a
Native American tribe "don't look like Indians to me"; mocked Chinese
and Japanese trade negotiators by doing an impression of them in broken
English; described undocumented Mexican immigrants as "rapists";
compared Syrian refugees to "snakes"; defended two supporters who
assaulted a homeless Latino man as "very passionate" people "who love
this country"; pledged to ban a quarter of humanity from entering the
United States; proposed a database to track American Muslims that he
himself refused to distinguish from the Nazi registration of German
Jews; implied Jewish donors "want to control" politicians and are all
sly negotiators; heaped praise on the "amazing reputation" of conspiracy
theorist Alex Jones, who has blamed America's problems on a "Jewish
mafia"; referred to a black supporter at a campaign rally as "my
African-American"; suggested the grieving Muslim mother of a slain
U.S. army officer "maybe . . . wasn't allowed" to speak in public
about her son; accused an American-born Hispanic judge of being "a
Mexican"; retweeted anti-Semitic and anti-black memes, white supremacists,
and even a quote from Benito Mussolini; kept a book of Hitler's collected
speeches next to his bed; declined to condemn both David Duke and the Ku
Klux Klan; and spent five years leading a "birther" movement that was bent
on smearing and delegitimizing the first black president of the United
States, who Trump also accused of being the founder of ISIS.
For another background piece on Trump as racist:
Klaus Brinkbäumer: The True Face of Donald Trump.
Janine Jackson: "Trump TV": How the Sinclair Merger Would Move Media
Further Right: Sinclair is looking to take over Tribune Media.
Sarah Jones: Liberals Helped Create Trump's New Bogeyman, the
"Alt-Left": Centrists assume that there must be some mirror-image
faction on the left for every horror they see on the right, hence an
"alt-left" to the white nationalist "alt-right." So when Trump needed
to expand on his "many sides" Charlottesville claim, his apologists
started looking for words to describe his hypothetical villains, and
"alt-left" offered the symmetry they desired, allowing their guarded
denials of the right to serve double duty as attacks on the left. By
the way, self-proclaimed alt-rightists were more likely to refer to
their opponents (a subset of their enemies) as "antifas" (short for
anti-fascists). That at least is a label we can live with. However,
what rankles most about "alt-left" is that it's primarily used by
centrists/liberals trying to score points with conservatives for
their willingness to throw their more principled allies under the
bus (much like a previous generation's red-baiting).
Unlike the term "alt-right," which was coined by white supremacists
to give their age-old movement a modern edge, the "alt-left" is an
insult. As my colleague Clio Chang
wrote in March of liberals who choose to use the term: "A graver
sin is the adoption of a term that was created by conservatives to
smear the left and discredit criticisms of the growing clout of the
It should go without saying, but the left does not promote hate
crimes or commit them. It does not strive for an ethno-state. It is
explicitly anti-racist and feminist. It demands the redistribution of
wealth. You may find that terrifying, but it's not actually terrorism.
And when a horde of white supremacists overran Charlottesville with
their tiki torches and Confederate flags, the left was at the front
lines, defending everyone else's right to freedom. A member of the
left died for those rights. . . .
Liberals often use "alt-left" to describe progressives they consider
rude or with whom they have Twitter beef; it is personal animus disguised
as politics. . . . The function of the term "alt-left" is to collapse the
distinction between the activist left and the racist right. That's why
reactionaries like Sean Hannity use it. That's why Donald Trump has taken
it up. We are likely to hear a lot more about the alt-left in the coming
months and years -- and if liberals continue to use it, they will be doing
the right-wing's work.
Shawn McCreesh, in
Antifa and the 'Alt-Left', traces out the long history of leftists
who specifically focused on opposing Fascist movements, a concern which
dates back to the early days of Fascism and Nazism, and which in the
late 1930s led some Americans to travel to Spain to aid in the fight
against Franco there. I don't know whether there were counter-protests
at pro-Nazi rallies in the US (such as the famous one Trump's father
attended at Madison Square Garden), but there were certainly many people
offended by and opposed to those rallies -- anti-fascism is a stance
which many more people agree with than act upon. After Germany declared
war on the US (and vice versa), American officials started referring to
those individuals as "premature anti-fascists" (I've long thought that
would be a good blog title, although the window of opportunity seems to
be closing). Ever since WWII it's been pretty much impossible to hold an
explicitly Nazi rally in the US (or Europe) without counter-protests.
One might construct a similar history of white supremacists, except
that the immediate threat of violence (at least in the US, especially
in the ex-Confederate states, was always much greater, so there were
fewer direct challenges to the KKK and its ilk. (And while the most
dependable opponents of lynching in the pre-WWII period were American
Communists, I've never heard anyone called a "premature anti-racist.")
The thing is, anti-fascism and anti-racism aren't factions of the left --
those are widespread beliefs and sympathies, and to some extend spread
even beyond the left.
As for the "Alt-Left" in Charlottesville,
Dahlia Lithwick: Here's What Witnesses Saw.
Fred Kaplan: Ugly History Shouldn't Be Beautiful: "What Germany can
teach the US about remembering an ugly past without glorifying it."
Olga Khazan: The Dark Minds of the 'Alt-Right': Draws on an academic
psychology paper surveying "447 self-proclaimed members of the alt-right."
The article doesn't refer to the late-1940s work of Adorno and Horkheimer
that created the "F-scale" -- a measure of affinity to fascism -- but
that's essentially what they reinvented. If you hear about this study,
it will probably be to argue that self-identified "alt-right" members
don't suffer from economic anxiety -- they're mostly just racists with
a persecution complex, and therefore a paranoia about others they see
as being unjustly privileged by the system. That may be true, but the
alt-right in its various guises is a small and marginal splinter of the
public. What Democrats need to worry about is that people who do feel
economic anxiety will buy into the alt-right's paranoia instead of more
reasonable programs. Of course, it would be a big help there to actually
develop some more reasonable programs, and to make them more credible
by not sucking up so shamelessly to the very rich.
Kevin M Levin: Why I Changed My Mind About Confederate Monuments:
This is as good a place as any to start as any. I was ten when the
Civil War centennial started and I was very interested in history,
so the Civil War made a big impression on me. As a dutiful Kansan,
I never doubted the justness of the Union cause, and by then I was
beginning to comprehend the evils the South had perpetrated, both
in slavery and in the later Jim Crow period. Still, we frequently
visited Arkansas and Oklahoma back then -- my mother's grandfather
and great-grandfather had fought for the Union but after the war
settled in Arkansas, so I had relatives both there and in Oklahoma.
And one thing that always puzzled me was why there seemed to be a
Southern cannon or other monument in every town square in Oklahoma,
which wasn't part of the Confederacy nor even a state until 1908.
I knew that monuments were signposts of history, and respected that,
but in Oklahoma that history was clearly fake. It took me a while
to understand that the monuments were part of a political movement,
one that could be called the Counter-Reconstruction but these days
is more quaintly known as Jim Crow -- the often-violent restoration
of white supremacy in the former slave states (more than just the
Confederate states, which is why you see so many Southern markers
in border states like Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and Oklahoma).
But the great era of Southern monument-building ebbed long ago,
and has been in retreat along with the racist policies it was
meant to foster. As Southern racists switched political parties
from Goldwater on, their fetishism for the Confederate flag and
generals should have waned, but we saw little evidence of that
until 2015, when a flag-waver massacred nine in a South Carolina
church, and Governor Nikki Haley took the lead on lowering the
Confederate flag. Since then there's been a broad push to mop up
all sorts of racist trash left over from the Civil War/Jim Crow
eras, to the extent that nowadays the last folks defending the
stuff are unregenerate racists -- a group that sadly features
I might not have cared either way before, but
the crowd that came out to defend Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville
convinced me that all such monuments have to come down, and the
sooner the better: these are people way beyond deplorable, and
they should be denied any hint of victory. [Note that former
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says pretty much the
Confederate Statues Are Now 'Rallying Points' for Hate Groups.]
As Levin notes: "The
national debate over the monuments' future is not unlike what
happened in Prague and other cities at the end of the Cold War.
And I hope they meet the same fate." He could just as easily
have mentioned Saddam Hussein's statues.
For another example of how monuments and naming are used to
shape (pervert really) political space, look at the group that
has been working nonstop to institutionalize Ronald Reagan's
name in every nook and cranny of the country. Hopefully some
day he, too, will be as stripped from the current world as
Joseph Stalin. Of course, like Stalin (and Robert E. Lee)
he'll never be erased from history -- which, for students, is
full of such cautionary tales.
Robinson Meyer: What Kind of Monuments Does President Trump Value?
Obviously, he likes those Confederate statues -- mementos of a past
when most white people were as racist as he still is. But it's more
than a little ironic that at the same time he's defending monuments
to notorious Americans, he's also "threatening to undo as many as 40
conservation parks" -- aka, National Monuments. Thanks to a law that
Teddy Roosevelt signed in 1906, the president can designate any piece
of public land as a National Monument. Clinton and Obama used this
law a number of times (as did both Roosevelts), but occasionally
land so designated is coveted by oil and/or mining companies, and
nothing seems to rival profits in Trump's aesthetic sense. By the
way, the article includes some gorgeous pictures of endangered
National Monuments, plus one picture of a Nathan Bedford Forrest
that must count among the world's ugliest (without even factoring
its subject in).
Justin Miller: Paying for Trump's Tax Cuts Would Devastate the Poor:
It's not just who pays less taxes ("90 percent of the taxpayers in the
top 1 percent will get a pretty big tax cut") but also who loses out in
the inevitable spending cuts needed to offset the tax cuts.
Jonathan Ofir: Trump uses Barcelona attacks for incitement to mass murder
of Muslims: While Trump struggled with the facts when a white right-wing
terrorist struck in Charlottesville, he had no problems at all identifying
Muslim terrorists in Barcelona, nor did he make any effort to blame the
victims there, as he had in Virginia. Ofir's title is more sensational
than the one Yglesias uses below, but it does capture the gist of his
Alex Pareene: Charlottesville Was a Preview of the Future of the Republican
Party: Key argument here is that the alt-right is the only group
successfully recruiting young people to the Republican Party, so that's
where future party leaders will come from. I'm not sure I buy that,
given that the rich have never had much trouble hiring help, and they
have a nice patronage system even if they can't get you elected.
Aja Romano: The President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities
resigns, urging resistance against Trump: All 17 members signed
the resignation letter. Not a major rebuke, as all were appointed by
Obama, so Trump may not have realized that PCAH even existed.
Heather Boushey: How the Radical Right Played the Long Game and Won:
Book review of Nancy McLean's Democracy in Chains: The Deep History
of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America -- primarily about
economist James McGill Buchanan. I've picked up a copy. Hope to get to
Mark Joseph Stern: Joe Arpaio Illegally Tortured Latinos. Of Course
Trump Wants to Pardon Him. The former Republican Sheriff of
Maricopa County, Arizona (Phoenix), a long-time grandstanding
anti-Latino bigot, was recently convicted of criminal contempt
for repeatedly failing to respect civil rights. He was an early
Trump supporter, and several reports have Trump granting him a
pardon -- perhaps at Trump's planned big rally in Phoenix next
[Arpaio] set up "tent cities" to house overflowing jail population
and boasted that they were actual "concentration camps." In the summer,
the heat in these facilities reached 145 degrees Fahrenheit; inmates'
shoes literally melted. Arpaio told the inmates not to complain,
declaring: "It's 120 degrees in Iraq and the soldiers are living in
tents and they didn't commit any crimes, so shut your mouths."
In fact, many of these inmates had not yet been convicted of a
crime -- but Arpaio treated all detainees as though they had already
been found guilty. He introduced a number of schemes designed to
humiliate inmates, including chain gangs for women and juveniles,
and a live webcast that broadcast video of jailed pretrial detainees
on the internet. One camera captured the toilet in the women's holding
cell. The 9th Circuit ultimately blocked these webcasts, but not
before millions of people had tuned in.
Arpaio also worked with former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew
Thomas to investigate and prosecute their political enemies. Together,
Arpaio and Thomas went after judges who ruled against them, attorneys
who opposed them in court, and even a journalist who covered them
critically for a local paper. The county wound up paying out tens of
millions of dollars in settlement money to Arpaio and Thomas' victims,
and Thomas was disbarred. Arpaio famously investigated President
Barack Obama's birth certificate, as well, and concluded that it
A pardon for Arpaio not only condones this sort of behavior,
it promises a "get out of jail card" to others who break the law
in ways that align with Trump's prejudices.
Matt Taibbi: Fire Steve Bannon: This came out on Thursday, a day
before Bannon was actually fired. His reasoning is sound, although
that doesn't really explain why Bannon was actually fired.
The list of nitwits in the Trump administration is long. Betsy DeVos,
in charge of education issues, seems capable of losing at tic-tac-toe.
Ben Carson thought the great pyramids of Egypt were grain warehouses.
Rick Perry, merely in charge of the nation's nuclear arsenal, probably
has post-it notes all over his office to remind him what things are:
telephone, family photo, souvenir atomic-reactor paperweight, etc.
Lots of dunces, but chief strategist Steve Bannon, sadly, isn't one
of them. The intellectual leader of the alt-right movement is no genius --
nobody with his political views could be -- but neither is he an idiot.
He's one of the few people in that White House with even a primitive
grasp of long-term strategy, . . .
But Bannon is the one person in that White House who we know for
sure both embraces a white supremacist ideology and has a vision for
how to implement it. The mere threat of that, that Trump's political
energy might somehow be married to a sober strategy, is terrifying
and unacceptable. Bannon saved Trump's political career once. He can't
be allowed to do it again; he has to go, and finally let Trump drown
on his own.
Taibbi had two stories to report on. One was to review how Bannon
helped turn Trump's campaign around, leading it to improbable victory.
The other was a report by
Robert Kuttner: Steve Bannon, Unrepentant, which is probably
what got Bannon fired, not so much for any particular gaffe as
because Bannon stuck his neck out just enough to get it chopped
off. We started hearing rumors about Bannon being out back on
Monday, which seemed odd because Trump's off-the-rails appearance
that day seemed like his most Bannon moment ever. Bannon clearly
had enemies within the White House: especially the Goldman-Sachs
crowd running the NEC and Treasury, and the hawks trying to dig
a deeper hole in Afghanistan (and Syria and Korea and so forth).
Sure, any of them could also have found Bannon's racism a little
too uncircumspect, but those other issues affected business, not
just optics -- and frankly they had given up any claim to shame
when they signed up to work for Trump.
Two takeaways from the Kuttner article: first, Bannon's main
preoccupation is starting a major trade war with China, and he's
willing to rattle sabres against China to get his way (on the
other hand, he views military action against North Korea as
hopeless and foolish, and he doesn't see China helping there --
he cites a recent Kuttner article,
US vs. North Korea: The Winner? China, as the reason for
his call; and second, he trashes the Charlottesville alt-right
("it's losers. It's a fringe element. . . . These guys are a
collection of clowns"). The latter may make you wonder why he
was reportedly elated when Trump came out defending Nazis and
white supremacists, but I suspect that's because he thinks that
a big part of Trump's appeal is his readiness to say things that
piss off the mainstream media -- to his base, that establishes
him as honest and forthright, as someone unwilling to read canned
bullshit from a teleprompter.
Some more Steve Bannon links:
Ashley Parker et al.: Trump gets rid of Stephen Bannon, a top proponent
of his nationalist agenda: Stresses that Kelly got Bannon fired for
being divisive, but here are some interesting quotes on divisions:
[Bannon] became fixated in recent months on trade and immigration issues,
and he had a large dry-erase board in his office that served as a checklist
for promises in those areas. But some of his ideas -- such as a proposal
to raise the top tax rate on the wealthiest Americans -- were easily batted
away by other senior advisers in the White House.
Bannon had been advocating internally against sending additional troops
to Afghanistan, putting him at odds with national security adviser H.R.
McMaster and others. Yet he was excluded from a South Asia strategy session
Trump convened at Camp David on Friday with nearly two dozen senior
Bannon has told associates in recent days that if he were to leave
the White House, the conservative populist movement that lifted Trump
in last year's campaign would be at risk. One person close to him said
that the coalition would amount to "Democrats, bankers and hawks."
Bannon also predicted that Trump would eventually turn back to him and
others who share the president's nationalist instincts, especially on
There's a link here to an important article that came out in March,
essential for understanding Bannon and his political vision:
Matea Gold: The Mercers and Stephen Bannon: How a populist power base
was funded and built. During his campaign, Trump essentially became
a vehicle for Mercer and Bannon and had a knack for selling their vision,
but he never built any supporting organization, so once he was elected
he fell back on whatever the Republicans already had, which idea-wise
was a complete betrayal of Bannon's populist promise.
Zack Beauchamp: Steve Bannon tried to destroy "globalism." It destroyed
Tara Golshan: With Bannon out, will Breitbart News go to war with the
Trump administration? Threats abound, and there will certainly be
some kind of push against Bannon's enemies in the White House, who
will be blamed as Trump continues to fail to deliver on many of his
alt-right campaign promises. Still, my guess is that what happens
depends mostly on Bannon's billionaire sugar daddy, Robert Mercer --
no reason to think he won't continue to be influential in the Trump
administration as long as he wants to be (or thinks it worthwhile --
it's already beginning to look like a lost cause). [PS: Bannon was
welcomed back at Breitbart; see:
Bannon Returns to Breitbart Where He Plans to Keep Boosting Trump; also
Trump Thanks Steve Bannon, Cheers On His Return to Breitbart News.
Key quote there: "Bannon said that he will continue to fight for Trump's
agenda from the outside." Of course, Bannon's view of "Trump's agenda"
is uniquely his own -- literally -- and the "real" Trump is bound to
disappoint him, though he'll have plenty of opportunities to blame the
people surrounding Trump. Expect to hear a lot about how it's better
to have someone like Bannon "inside the tent pissing out, vs. outside
Rosie Gray: Bannon Is 'Going Nuclear'
Mehdi Hasan: Steve Bannon Is Gone, but His Bigotry Stays in the White
House: Argues that Bannon's fatal flaw wasn't in-fighting and sure
wasn't ideological, just an ego clash with "the Narcissist-in-Chief":
Thanks to relentless leaking from inside the White House, we have known
for some time that Trump has been bothered by the rise and rise of
Bannon. He was annoyed by the Time magazine cover story that asked
whether the chief strategist was now "the second most powerful man
in the world." He was irritated by the #PresidentBannon hashtag on
Twitter and upset over the SNL sketch showing Bannon running the
White House while the president sits at a kid's desk playing with
toys. And, in recent days, Trump was angered by the much-discussed
new book by Joshua Green, Devil's Bargain, which suggests
that it was the former Breitbart boss who paved the way for Trump's
shock victory over Hillary Clinton. "That fucking Steve Bannon
taking credit for my election," Trump recently told a friend,
according to BuzzFeed News.
Ryan Lizza: The Rise and Fall of Steve Bannon: Interesting bit
of background here, with Bannon in Shanghai in 2008 giving up on a
failed business venture:
Bannon was looking for his next reinvention. "I came back right before
the 2008 election and saw this phenomenon called Sarah Palin," he told
me last year. The neo-populist movement that Trump eventually rode to
victory was being born in the waning days of that campaign. Bannon
thought that Republicans, who had become the party of tax cuts and
free-market libertarian philosophy, exemplified by people like Paul
Ryan, didn't yet have the right vocabulary to speak to its own base.
"The Republicans would not talk about anything related to reality,"
he told me. "There was all this fucking Austrian school of economic
Bannon started making what are essentially crude propaganda films
about people and issues on the new populist right, including ones
about Palin, Ronald Reagan, Michele Bachmann, Phyllis Schlafly, and
the Tea Party. He became a fixture on the conservative-conference
circuit and befriended Andrew Breitbart, a former blogger and then
a new-media entrepreneur who was the hidden talent behind the success
of both the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post. Bannon helped
Breitbart raise money for Breitbart News Network, including a
ten-million-dollar investment from the Mercer family, which during
this period emerged as a crucial patron for the populist right.
When Breitbart died, in March, 2012, Bannon took over editorial
control as well. Traffic exploded, from eleven million page views
per month to two hundred million. "Frankly that's why, when Breitbart
puts its fucking gun sights on you, your life changes," Bannon
bragged to me once.
In 2013, Bannon and Steven Miller were pushing Jeff Sessions to
run for president. The piece doesn't explain how the trio settled
on Trump. By the way, I'm pretty sure that Mercer's real politics
are closer to the Kochs and the Austrians, but that he supports
Bannon (and Trump) because he recognizes the need to cater to the
Republican base, and because he's sure he can shut his hirelings
down before they do any real harm to the rich. I'm reminded here
of Robert Paxton's argument in The Anatomy of Fascism: that
fascist movements rise in democratic countries by offering a popular
base to the aristocratic/antidemocratic right. The rub there is that
no matter how subservient they promise to be, fascists have their
own agenda, one that can totally wreck nations. Bannon fits this
model perfectly -- not least in thinking of Trump and Mercer not
as patrons but as tools for his own glory. Lizza has written several
other pieces on Bannon:
How Steve Bannon Conquered CPAC -- and the Republican Party (Feb. 24),
Can Steve Bannon Save Trumpcare? (Mar. 17), and
Firing Steve Bannon Won't Change Donald Trump (Aug. 15).
Pter Maass: Steve Bannon said he learned to fear Muslime when he
visited Pakistan. Except he was probably in Hong Kong.
Jeremy W Peters/Michael M Grynbaum: Steve Bannon, Back on the Outside,
Prepares His Enemies List: Of course he has an enemies list. He
defines his very being by who he hates.
Wil S Hylton: Down the Breitbart Hole: Long Sunday Times
article, probably seemed like a good idea when it was commissioned
but has been more/less overtaken by events, now that Bannon is out
of the White House and returning to Breitbart.
Asawin Suebsaeng: Seb Gorka's Fate 'Extremely Uncertain' as His Boss
Bannon Is Ousted: I'd say it's pretty much inevitable that Gorka,
who worked for Bannon at Breitbart, will be axed soon. Some people
think Steven Miller has deeper ties to Trump so may last longer. I'd
say Miller's more salient trait is his extreme idolatry of Trump and
how readily he's able to contort himself to Trump's every whim, but
those traits also make him redundant and superfluous.
Matthew Yglesias: Donald Trump's tumultuous week, explained.
The real driver of regional inequality in America;
Trump calls for the United States to imitate fake war crimes to
The huge problem with Trump comparing Robert E. Lee to George
7 things Republicans could do to check Trump without ditching
The Trump Tango is tiresome and pointless;
Rich CEOs are the big winners of Trump's race war;
The real "deep state" sabotage is happening at the Fed.
From the "Rich CEOs" piece:
Trump embraces a politics of racial conflict because it works for him.
As Bloomberg's Joshua Green recounts in his new book Devil's Bargain:
Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency,
candidate Trump shrugged off media and political attention to his
dalliances with the unsavory racist elements of the alt-right. "We
polled the race stuff and it doesn't matter," Bannon told Green in
September; "it doesn't move anyone who isn't already in [Clinton's]
The fundamental issue is that the United States contains very few
committed and vocal white supremacists (turnout for the Virginia rally
was dwarfed by counterprotests nationwide). But it does contain an
awful lot of white people. To the extent that politics is seen as a
crude zero-sum struggle between racial groups, most of them are going
to back the side they perceive as supporting the interests of white
Yet the reality is that while Trump is inflicting tangible
disproportionate harm to racial minorities across the country, he's
not doing anything substantive to advance the interests of his typical
white supporter either. He's loudly embraced a brand of toxic racial
politics while quietly creating a narrow winner's circle of C-suite
executives and inheritors of vast fortunes. And it's the loyalty of
the business class, not of neo-Nazi street brawlers, that ultimately
ensures Trump's position of power and is in turn receiving its due
rewards. . . .
Trump and congressional Republicans, for example, deployed the
Congressional Review Act to roll back many of the Obama administration's
2016 regulatory actions. Thanks to Trump:
- It's easier for mining companies to dump pollution into streams.
- It's easier for oil companies to bribe foreign governments.
- It's easier for broadband internet providers to sell their customers'
- But it's now harder for state governments to set up low-fee retirement
accounts so people could save money without getting ripped off.
Trump doesn't tweet about it much, but it turns out that making it
harder for people to avoid financial rip-offs is something of a passion
for the Trump administration. He has, for example, gutted enforcement
of an Obama-era rule that would have made it illegal for financial
advisers to deliberately rip off their customers.
None of this, obviously, has anything to do with helping white
people any more than the Trump Federal Communications Commission's
ongoing efforts to dismantle net neutrality or the Trump Treasury's
efforts to reopen corporate tax loopholes are motivated by concern
for the welfare of the European-American population. At the behest
of the chemical industry, the Trump Environmental Protection Agency
has approved the continued sale of a pesticide that poisons children's
brains, and at the behest of for-profit colleges, the Trump Education
Department is rolling back regulations offering debt relief to students
misled by scam schools.
The winners here are not "anxious" working-class heartlanders, but
the owners and managers of big companies who have the government off
their backs and barely even need to defend their stances in public
with Trump's antics sucking up the bulk of attention.
Angelo Young: After more executives flee, Trump's advisory board, White
House claims he planned to disband the council anyway. Related:
Matthew Sheffield: Trump's big business CEOs are horrified by his Confederate
excuses -- but his religious advisers have nothing but praise.
I wrote a bit recently about how my parents voted for George Wallace
in 1968 (not a post, probably in the notebook): they had soured on the
Vietnam War (after the next-door neighbor kid was killed there, and my
brother and I turned hard against the war), intensely distrusted Dick
Nixon, and had no particular fondness for Hubert Humphrey. They weren't
particularly racist -- my father still resented the South from the Civil
War (his grandfather was named Abraham Lincoln Hull, his father Robert
Lincoln), and my mother hailed from an all-white Republican stronghold
in Arkansas (her grandfather fought for the union before moving from
Ohio to the Ozarks) but they weren't very sensitive about race either,
and Wallace's "little guy" message appealed to them. I grew up with
Republican leanings, but the war pushed me away from conventional
politics. In 1968 I was very enthusiastic about Gene McCarthy's primary
challenge to LBJ, and continued to support him through the convention.
So I was trying to remember who I preferred in the 1968 election --
certainly not Nixon or Wallace, and while I probably wound up hoping
Humphrey would win, I never thought of myself as supporting him. The
most likely answer to my question died last week: Dick Gregory. I had
long enjoyed his stand-up comedy, and when he ventured into politics
in 1967-68, I bought and read his book Write Me In. I was too
young to vote in 1968, but certainly would have written him in. He
would have made a better "first black president" than the one we
wound up having. I never noticed him much after 1968, but according
Wikipedia page he remain active politically. And I'm sure he
could still be funny (when he wasn't dead serious, and sometimes
when he was). Here's an
I also see that
Jerry Lewis has died. I was a huge fan, starting
about as far back as I can remember. By that time Lewis had already
split from Dean Martin (who I later loved for other reasons). I can't
say as I ever noticed him much after his 1968-69 talk show (aside
from The King of Comedy in 1982), but he was the funniest
person in the world for the first decade I was conscious of.
Monday, August 14, 2017
Music: Current count 28538  rated (+30), 378  unrated (+3).
Average week, although more old music than usual as I followed a
recent Burnt Sugar album into their back catalog (still missing 2011's
All Ya Needs That Negrocity), then also picked up old records
from avant-jazz guitarist Joe Morris -- I found some new Ken Vandermark
albums on his Catalytic Sound Bandcamp, although better still was a
2008 album Morris album with Vandermark. Unfortunately, a lot of the
new Catalytic Sound albums don't come with any music, but I found
several on Napster.
Another of the new Vandermark albums is under Eric Revis' name --
like his last several, a good one. It's the first album on Portugal's
Clean Feed label I've reviewed since they stopped sending me CDs --
I hope they don't take the grade as positive reinforcement. I probably
have download codes for more, but haven't chased them down yet. I did
pick up new albums on ECM by Vijay Iyer, Tim Berne, and Gary Peacock.
I spent quite a bit of time with the Iyer, and basically timed out in
trying to determine whether it's an A-, so I guess it isn't. Still,
the Fieldwork-times-two band dazzles here and there, and the mix is
more interesting than his last couple ECM albums. Will get to the
others sooner or later.
The Hamell Live album seems to be some sort of download-only
bonus to the new studio album, but I figured I'd treat it as a separate
release as that's how it appears on Napster. Figured it would slack off
a bit, but I like it as much (if not more).
I'm a little confused about how the numbers add up, since I graded
5 CDs while only unwrapping 3 new ones, yet wound up with +3 unrated
instead of -2. I've double-checked and haven't found the discrepancy.
No progress on the Jazz Guides this past week. I have started on
collecting Robert Christgau's
Expert Witness pieces at
Noisey for a website update, probably by the end of the month.
I've probably lost some of the corrections readers sent in. If you
sent one in and haven't heard back from me, assume that I did and
I should also note that I've added
@BirdIsTheWorm to my twitter feed. He probably tweets too much
(13.1K tweets vs. 1815 for me, but he has 3588 followers to my 271),
but I figured maybe he'd point me toward some things that I was
missing, as in his latest
The Round-up: What went unseen. Actually, I've seen 2 (of 5) of
those new records -- both B+(*) -- but hadn't heard of the others
(just added to my
Music Tracking file). I also
At this moment, the front page of his
Music and More
blog has seven substantial album reviews on it: three of records
I've heard [A-, B+(***), B+(*)], the others I will want to check
out soon. (Playing Shipp as I write.)
New records rated this week:
- Carol Albert: Fly Away Butterfly (2017, Cahara): [cd]: B+(**)
- Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: All You Zombies Dig the Luminosity (2016-17 , Avant Groidd): [r]: B+(***)
- Downtown Boys: Cost of Living (2017, Sub Pop): [r]: B+(**)
- Julian Gerstin Sextet: The One Who Makes You Happy (2017, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
- Laurel Halo: Dust (2017, Hyperdub): [r]: B+(*)
- Hamell on Trial: Tackle Box (2017, New West): [r]: A-
- Hamell on Trial: Big Mouth Strikes Again: Hamell Live (2017, New West): [r]: A-
- Hard Working Americans: We're All in This Together (2017, Melvin): [r]: B+(***)
- Vijay Iyer Sextet: Far From Over (2017, ECM): [r]: B+(***)
- Lean Left: I Forgot to Breathe (2015 , Trost): [r]: B+(**)
- Charles Lloyd New Quartet: Passin' Thru (2016 , Blue Note): [r]: B+(***)
- Meredith Monk: On Behalf of Nature (2015 , ECM): [r]: B+(*)
- Richard Pinhas/Barry Cleveland: Mu (2016, Cuneiform): [dl]: B+(**)
- Eric Revis: Sing Me Some Cry (2016 , Clean Feed): [r]: A-
- Mark Rubin, Jew of Oklahoma: Songs for the Hangman's Daughter (2017, Rubinchik): [bc]: B+(**)
- Oliver Schwerdt: Prestige/No Smoking (2015 , Euphorium, 2CD): [cd]: B+(***)
- Ken Vandermark/Klaus Kugel/Mark Tokar: Escalator (2016 , Not Two): [bc]: B+(***)
- John Vanore: Stolen Moments: Celebrating Oliver Nelson (2016 , Acoustical Concepts): [cd]: B+(**)
- Matt Wilson: Matt Wilson's Honey and Salt (2016 , Palmetto): [cd]: B+(*)
Old music rated this week:
- Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Not April in Paris: Live From Banlieus Bleues (2004, Trugroid): [r]: B+(***)
- Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: If You Can't Dazzle Then With Your Brilliance, Then Baffle Them With Your Blisluth (2004 , Trugroid, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
- Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: More Than Posthuman: Rise of the Mojosexual Cotillion (2006, Trugroid, 2CD): B+(***)
- Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Chopped and Screwed: Volume 2 (2007, Trugroid): [r]: B
- Joe Morris Trio: Antennae (1997, AUM Fidelity): [r]: B+(**)
- Joe Morris/Mat Maneri: Soul Search (2000, AUM Fidelity): [r]: B+(*)
- Joe Morris: Singularity (2000 , AUM Fidelity): [r]: B+(**)
- Joe Morris Bass Quartet: High Definition (2007 , Hatology): [r]: A-
- Joe Morris: Mess Hall (2011 , Hatology): [r]: B+(**)
- Randy Newman: Live (1971, Reprise): [r]: B
- Matthew Shipp: Duos With Mat Maneri and Joe Morris (1997-98 , Hatology): [r]: B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- Chet Doxas: Rich in Symbols (Ropeadope): September 8
- San Francisco String Trio: May I Introduce to You (Ridgeway): September 8
- Triocity [Charles Pillow/Jeff Campbell/Rich Thompson]: I Believe in You (Origin): August 18
Sunday, August 13, 2017
Laura came downstairs yesterday playing
Chris Hedges Best Speech in 2017 so I wound up listening to a fair
chunk of it. We all know that Hedges in 2007 was a Premature Antifascist --
a term US "intelligence agencies" used to describe Americans who turned
against Hitler before Pearl Harbor -- when he published his book
American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America,
but is he still "premature" in 2017? The world he decries sounds an
awful like the one we have come to live in. If there is a common theme
to the stories below, it's that Trump and his crew have moved decisively
into a fascist orbit: one that worships naked power while practicing
shameless greed. Of course, Trump didn't invent this world. He's just
risen to the top, like scum in a stockpot.
Brief scattered links this week:
Andrew J Bacevich: Yes Congress, Afghanistan Is Your Vietnam.
Also by Bacevich:
The Great Hysteria. The latter piece goes beyond his specialty area
(losing hopeless wars) to spell out a political agenda which in its
diagnosis of the symptoms afflicting America is remarkably similar to
that of Hedges above (except, being a conservative, he doesn't blame
Yet these advances have done remarkably little to reduce the alienation
and despair pervading a society suffering from epidemics of chronic
substance abuse, morbid obesity, teen suicide, and similar afflictions.
Throw in the world's highest incarceration rate, a seemingly endless
appetite for porn, urban school systems mired in permanent crisis, and
mass shootings that occur with metronomic regularity, and what you have
is something other than the profile of a healthy society.
He then follows this up with a ten-point political wish list, including
a couple proposals I disagree with (mandate a balanced federal budget,
return to a draft-based military) and other more sensible points sure to
be rejected by his fellow "conservatives" (e.g., "enact tax policies
that will promote greater income equality").
Dean Baker: The Zika Vaccine: The Miracle of Government-Funded Research.
Also by Baker:
Breitbart Strikes Out in Trying to Give Donald Trump Credit for Stock Market
Run Up. And this tweet, introducing:
Why Is It So Hard for Intellectuals to Envision Alternative Forms of
The upward redistribution from globalization was not an accidental outcome;
it was the point of globalization.
Doug Bandow: North Korea Does Not Trust America for a Pretty Good
Reason. For more history, see:
Bruce Cummings: Americans once carpet-bombed North Korea. It's time
to remember that past.
Celisa Calacal: These two Supreme Court cases protect police who use
Marjorie Cohn: A Preemptive Strike on North Korea Would Be Catastrophic
and Illegal: Well, the second point is bound to fall on deaf ears
in Washington, where hardly anyone has any fear of or respect for
international law. I'm not sure that Americans ever had any such fear,
but for many years after 1945 they at least gave lip service to the
idea of international law, and took some effort to pretend to respect
it. I think this shift started with the developing Cold War in the
late-1940s, as the US found it couldn't use the UN to automatically
rubber-stamp its policies, but it was in the 1990s when the US stopped
going through the motions. The obvious signal point was when Bush
refused to sign the International Criminal Court treaty, but Bush's
failure to even consider responding to the 9/11 terror attack via
international law shows us how far Washington had already crawled
up its own asshole. The two world wars led many people to believe
that a strong system of international law was necessary to prevent
further wars and genocides -- a goal which stalled under the Cold
War, but should have been rekindled after the Soviet Union ended
and the free market capitalism had become ubiquitous. Indeed, the
mass slaughters in Yugoslavia and Rwanda spurred many nations in
that direction, but the neocon ascendancy in the US derailed those
efforts, and it's rare today even to find Democrats standing up
for the UN, the World Court, and (especially) the ICC.
There are still people in Washington who recognize Cohn's point
about "catastrophic" -- and they're the only real defense we have
against Trump's impulsiveness and recklessness. Possibly the most
definitive statement of the hopelessness of Trump's evident policy
of huffing and bluffing North Korea into submission is
Jeffrey Lewis: The Game Is Over, and North Korea Has Won.
Esme Cribb: Trump TV Ad Attacks Democrats, Media as 'The President's
Enemies': Several things about this ad campaign are unprecedented:
I've never before seen a president actively campaigning for re-election
six months after taking office, but Trump started a few months back --
especially raising money, in stark contrast to his "self-financed" 2016
campaign; Trump is actively building a "cult of personality" while at
the same time claiming a false equivalency between his supporters and
the nation; he takes every criticism of his program as a personal attack
and tries to turn it into an attack on the nation, who in turn are at
least implicitly implored to lash back; he adds an air of whininess,
pleading to be allowed to be the dictator he imagined being president
to be. In some ways I wish Obama had taken this tack -- if anyone ever
had just cause to complain about vilification and obstructionism it was
he, but he never would have proclaimed himself "our president," even
though his efforts to be "a president of all the people" left his own
Yochi Dreazen: The North Korean crisis won't end until Donald Trump
John Feffer: Welcome to 2050. The 'Climate Monster' Has Arrived.
Katie Fite: Grouse Down: Focuses mostly on the sage grouse population
in California, but her description of the political pressures has also
been echoed here in Kansas, where Republicans have all but campaigned
for the extermination of prairie hens -- a nuisance, evidently, to
the local oil industry. Also, note that grouse hunting is a controversy
in the UK:
Mark Avery: Grouse shooting: half a million reasons why time's up
for this appalling 'sport'.
Margaret Flowers: Improved Medicare for All Is the Answer: A
rebuttal to the recent Nation article,
Joshua Holland: Medicare for All Isn't the Solution for Universal
Health Care. Flowers answers many point by positing an Improved
Medicare for All Act. The real differences have to do with political
will, especially in the face of special interests that make a lot of
money off the current system, and stand to keep making more and more.
One may critique Single Payer/Medicare for All schemes for not being
able to fix all of America's many health care problems. But private
insurance companies add very little value for their cut of the pie,
which makes them the easiest target for reform, and therefore the
obvious place to start. But also see:
Steven Rosenfeld: Eleven Steps for States to Rein in Health Care
Costs While Building Toward Single-Payer. Even if you support
single-payer, here is a list of things that can be done (many at
the state level) to help manage cost -- things that contribute to
providing more/better actual care, which is what we're really
- Create a state-chartered body to process all medical bills with
a single form.
- Require all private insurers to offer three uniform plans with
- Create a single state agency to buy drugs for pharmacies and
- Restore hospital price regulation so all facilities charge the
- File anti-trust legal actions against monopolistic hospital
- Put price controls in medical group contracts with private
- Reject spending caps for hospitals and patients as that hurts
- Ban drug company payments to doctors by their sales reps.
- Issue public reports on the few doctors causing most medical
- Integrate other social safety net services with providing
- Give the state subpoena power to review claims and find fraud.
Also note what's going on in Maryland:
Ann Jones: Medicare for All in One State.
Thomas Frank: Finally, Democrats are looking in the mirror. That's
reason for optimism.
Ryan Grim: Gulf Government Gave Secret $20 Million Gift to DC Think
Tank: That would be the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and the MEI
(Middle East Institute).
Gabriel Hetland: Venezuela May Be on the Brink of Civil War:
I'm having a tough time getting a coherent explanation of just what's
the problem with Venezuela these days, and this doesn't answer many
of my questions, but it's a start. (There's also Hetland's
Why Is Venezuela in Crisis?, which cites government blundering but
also a violent opposition supported by Washington, and the pre-election
Greg Grandin: What Is to Be Done in Venezuela?) Of course, never
underestimate the power of Donald Trump to make things even worse:
Ben Jacobs: Trump threatens 'military option' in Venezuela as crisis
David Leonhardt: Our Broken Economy, in One Simple Chart:
The chart measures income growth at every percentile starting with 5th,
with additional subdivisions for the 99th, at two points in time: 1980
and 2014. There's also an animated chart showing the intervening years,
which the lower percentiles being depressed before the top percentile
really spikes after 2000. A third chart shows that average income
growth dropped from 2.0% in 1980 to 1.4% in 2014, with the median
dropping far more than that -- they don't pull the number out, but
the median in 2014 is so depressed that only the top 15 percentile
receive even the reduced average income growth.
Conor Lynch: Emmanuel Macron's Sudden Collapse: French 'Radical
Centrist' Now as Unpopular as Trump: Oh my, that was an awfully
short honeymoon. Could it be that shameless neoliberalism isn't all
that popular? I've seen columns by so-called centrists speculating
that Macron's model could be translated to the UK and even to the
US. If the US had a top-two runoff like France, I could imagine a
fairly charismatic independent (someone like a younger Ross Perot,
say, but not Michael Bloomberg) getting close to Macron's first
round vote (23.8%), then beating either Trump or Clinton in the
runoff (although it's unlikely that either Trump or Clinton would
sink that low).
Bill McKibben: The Trump administration's solution to climate change:
ban the term. And for more on language chance on Trump government
Oliver Milman/Sam Morris: Trump is deleting climate change, one site
at a time.
David McCoy: Even a 'Minor' Nuclear War Would Be an Ecological Disaster
Felt Throughout the World: Just in case you were wondering.
Peter Montgomery: Trump's dominionist prayer warriors: Inside the
"Prophetic Order of the United States":
In the early morning hours of November 9, 2016, God told Frank Amedia
that with Donald Trump having been elected president, Amedia and his
fellow Trump-supporting "apostles" and "prophets" had a new mission.
Thus was born POTUS Shield, a network of Pentecostal leaders devoted
to helping Trump bring about the reign of God in America and the
world. . . .
POTUS Shield's leaders view politics as spiritual warfare, part of
a great struggle between good and evil that is taking place continuously
in "the heavenlies" and here on earth, where the righteous contend with
demonic spirits that control people, institutions and geographic regions.
They believe that Trump's election has given the church in America an
opportunity to spark a spiritual Great Awakening that will engulf the
nation and world. And they believe that a triumphant church establishing
the kingdom of God on earth will set the stage for Christ's return. Amedia
says that the "POTUS" in the group's name does not refer only to the
president of the United States, but also to a new "prophetic order of
the United States" that God is establishing.
Chris Hedges: What Trump Owes America's Christian Fascists.
Sarah Newell: Is Foxconn a Fantasy? The High Cost of Bringing
Manufacturing Jobs to Wisconsin. Trump and Gov. Scott Walker
are bully on a deal where giant Chinese electronics Foxconn
would build a factory, adding 3000 jobs in Wisconsin, maybe
13000 eventually. All they need in return:
In order for this plan to become a reality, the Wisconsin state
legislature would need to approve $3 billion in corporate incentives
to defray capital costs and workforce development costs. The math is
startling: Wisconsin will pay out $230,000 in tax dollars for each
one of the 13,000 jobs. This means Wisconsin taxpayers will shell
out $66,000 per year to subsidize jobs that will pay less than the
state average income.
Trita Parsi: For Netanyahu and the Saudis, Opposing Diplomacy With
Iran Was Never About Enrichment: An excerpt from Parsi's new
book, Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy.
I suspect that the real reason both Israel and Saudi Arabia decided
to take such rejectionist stands against Iran was that they realized
that they could push American buttons by doing so -- most Americans
have harbored deep-seated grudges against Iran ever since the fall
of the Shah and the Hostage Crisis -- thereby elevating their own
importance in Washington's eyes. They've doubled down since the Iran
deal, and while leaving the deal intact (so far), both countries have
effectively increased their influence in Washington (especially with
William Rivers Pitt: We Have Been at War in Iraq for 27 Years:
It started in 1990, when Saddam Hussein misinterpreted ambiguous
signals from a US ambassador as a go-ahead to invade Kuwait, an
oil-rich sheikdom that, following American inclinations, had made
large loans to Iraq for its war against Iran -- loans it then
insisted Iraq must repay. The first George Bush thought he'd get
a nice political boost from a quick little war, but sold it by
comparing Saddam to Hitler, digging a hole for political himself
when the initial Gulf War came up short -- a hole which Clinton
defended and deepend through his sanctions and no-fly zones until
the Bush II decided to fix it by plunging the US into a massive
occupation morphing into a civil war which led to ISIS and Obama
re-entering Iraq. Throughout this whole quarter-century, official
Washington doctrine has blocked out any and all dissent against
the ever-expanding sinkhole of Middle Eastern carnage fed by the
massive introduction of US troops in 1990. Actually, one can
point to a few earlier signs of the wars to come: US inheritance
of British outposts around the Gulf, Carter's declaration that
the Persian Gulf is an US security area, Reagan's installation
of American troops in Lebanon, and US support for proxy wars
against Afghanistan and Iran. Any way you slice this, the only
Americans with any clue as to how this might go awry were the
antiwar protesters. And note that while Pitt focuses on Iraq,
US involvement in Afghanistan started in 1979 -- 38 years ago --
and is at least as far from resolution (never mind success)
there as it is in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, anywhere
else you find American drones and/or special forces.
Aja Romano: Google fird "politically incorrect" engineer has
sparked a broad ideological debate: Actually, I only see a
relatively narrow debate here, which is corporations can fire
employees for what we would otherwise deem constitutionally
protected free speech. I would favor more such protections,
but these days it's hard to stop a company -- especially one
without a union -- from firing anyone for any reason. The two
most obvious reasons for firing this particular engineer are
that he's very stupid, and that by exposing that stupidity
he's embarrassed the company. But I don't see him engendering
any serious debate on his claim that women aren't competent
at software engineering. More on this:
Cynthia Lee: I'm a woman in computer science. Let me ladysplain
the Google memo to you.
Anis Shivani: How we got from George W. Bush to Donald Trump: Liberals
had more to do with it than we'd like to think: Big thought piece
which is probably a bit harsh on Obama but reminds us how extreme the
Bush-Cheney agenda was, and how little of it was rolled back by Obama.
We need to remind ourselves that the early years of the Bush administration
felt utterly radical, that the defense of freedom of speech and mobility,
of the civility and respect that make a constitutional democracy work, never
felt so threatened, never felt more precious and worth saving, as in those
years. That feeling, unfortunately, is gone now, despite Trumpism and
whatever else will follow, because the anti-constitutional innovations
have become normalized. This happened particularly because the succeeding
Democratic administration did not take any steps to counter, philosophically,
any of the constitutional violations, or even the disrespect for science,
reason and empiricism that had deeply saturated the public discourse.
I think it's fair to say that Obama left most of his anti-Bush critique
on the campaign trail. I'm not sure how to partition the blame for that
between his wholesale adoption of Clintonites in his administration and
his innate conservatism, with its emphasis on projecting continuity and
stability. Clearly, he missed the opportunity to do important things:
to roll back the corrosive effects of money on politics; to return to
a previous American belief in international law and institutions; and
to lean back against increasing inequality. One might counter that he
had difficulty enough with more modest efforts on health care, finance
reform, and climate change.
Still, the main difference between the Bush-Cheney agenda and Trump's
is the relative shamelessness of the latter -- the garrish greed, the
naked lust for power, and the absence of any scruples over how to get
the riches they crave. You'd think that would blow up in their face --
that if nothing else the American people and media are still capable of
being shocked by corruption. But then why hasn't that already happened?
Can you mark that all down to "normalization"?
Richard Silverstein: Bibi: "This is the End, My Friend": On the
corruption scandal that threatens to bring down Israeli Prime Minister
Netanyahu, with sideward glances toward Trump's own nest feathering.
Silverstein also wrote
Israel to Shutter Al Jazeera, Join Ranks of Arab Authoritarian Regimes
Suppressing Press Freedom. As for everyday life in Israel-Palestine,
see Kate's latest news clip compendium:
Settler violence against Palestinians nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017.
This includes a quote from Gideon Levy about how certain nations have
held themselves to be above international law and norms:
More than 100 states signed the international treaty banning the use
of cluster bombs; Israel, as usual, isn't one of them. What has Israel
to do with international treaties, international law, international
organizations -- it's all one big unnecessary nuisance. Israel's fellow
rejectionists are, as usual, Russia, Pakistan, China, India and of
course the United States, the world's greatest spiller of blood since
World War II. This is the company Israel wants to keep, the club it
belongs to. Cluster bombs are an especially barbarous weapon, a bomb
that turns into countless bomblets, spreading over a wide area, killing
and wounding indiscriminately. They sometimes explode years after were
fired. The world was appalled and disgusted by such a weapon of mass
destruction, and for good reason. The world -- but not Israel. We're
a special case, as is commonly known. We're allowed to do anything.
Why? Because we can. This has been proved. We used cluster bombs in
the Second Lebanon War and the world was silent. We also use flechettes,
unmercifully. In 2002 I saw a soccer field in Gaza hit by IDF flechette
shells, which spray thousands of potentially lethal metal darts. All
the children playing on it had been hit.
Matt Taibbi: Is LIBOR, Benchmark for Trillions of Dollars in Transactions,
a Lie? Well, sure.
Clara Torres-Spelliscy: Trump Is Already Profiting From His 2020
Jason Wilson/Edward Helmore: Charlottesville: one dead after car rams
counter-protesters at far-right gathering: I skipped over several
articles leading up to Saturday's right-wing rally to oppose removing
a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a park in Virginia,
and "counter-protests" against those defending the pro-slavery icon.
However, the events were interrupted when someone droves his car into
the "counter-protest" crowd, killing one and injuring 19, then managed
to drive off. A police helicopter later crashed in the area, adding
two to the death toll.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg/Brian H Rosenthal: Man Charged After White Nationalist
Rally in Charlottesville Ends in Deadly Violence;
Summer Concepcion: David Duke: Charlottesville Rally 'Fulfills the
Promises of Donald Trump;
Esme Cribb: What We Know About the Man Accused of Ramming Car Into
Michael Eric Dyson: Charlottesville and the Bigotocracy;
Josh Matshall: "I'm Not the Angry Racist They See in That Photo"
(complains a misunderstood white guy; but when you go around complaining
about "the slow replacement of white heritage within the United States" --
when you even think "white heritage" is a thing -- you're racist);
Colbert L King: These are your people, President Trump;
Glenn Thrush/Maggie Haberman: Trump Is Criticized for Not Calling Out
Esme Cribb: Trump Didn't Want to 'Dignify' White Supremacy by Condemning
It (but he has no qualms about dignifying "radical Islamic terror"
or Rosie O'Donnell?);
German Lopez: We need to stop acting like Trump isn't pandering to white
supremacists; and, just for historical context:
Philip Bump: In 1927, Donald Trump's father was arrested after a Klan
riot in Queens. One thing I noticed during the campaign was that
Trump was quick to reverse himself whenever he inadvertently blurted
out something contrary to conservative doctrine -- as when he initially
argued that women seeking abortions should be punished -- but he never
apologized for the violence of his supporters, nor did he ever disown
the white supremacists who rallied to his cause.
Jana Winter/Elias Groll: Here's the Memo That Blew Up the NSC:
The author was Rich Higgins, a Flynn acolyte who has since been fired:
The full memo, dated May 2017, is titled "POTUS & Political Warfare."
It provides a sweeping, if at times conspiratorial, view of what it
describes as a multi-pronged attack on the Trump White House.
Trump is being attacked, the memo says, because he represents "an
existential threat to cultural Marxist memes that dominate the prevailing
cultural narrative." Those threatened by Trump include "'deep state'
actors, globalists, bankers, Islamists, and establishment Republicans."
Zak Witus: To Combat Trump's Attacks on Democracy, We Must Understand
Precedents Set by Obama: "Seven months into the Trump presidency,
many people still deny how some of Donald Trump's most regressive and
harmful policies directly continue the legacy of Barack Obama." That's
true in a number of cases ranging from prosecution of "leakers" to
brutal ICE tactics to Saudi arms sales and drone murders around the
world, though the bigger problem is that Obama failed "to change the
way we think about war" and many more things -- race, equality, the
culture of corruption. Part of that was his "no drama" pledge to
restore competency to government after the politicized corruption
of the Bush years -- something he rarely claimed credit for, and
which few Americans even noticed. One thing about Trump is that he
has no quibbles about taking credit for "good" things, regardless
of how little he was actually involved, while chalking all of his
obvious failures up to "fake news."
Matthew Yglesias: What to know about the biggest stories of the
week: We had a lot of loose talk about nuclear war; Trump feudud
with Mitch McConnell; the opioid crisis gets an official "state of
emergency"; Paul Manafort seems to be in legal trouble. Other Yglesias
pieces this week:
Trump's new immigration plan would make Americans poorer;
Big business wants you to think a tax cut for big business will stop
The looming debt ceiling fight, explained;
Donald Trump gets a daily briefing all about how great he is.
When I looked at
Crooked Timber I noticed that Laura Tillem had one of the recent
comments. It was in response to Henry Farrell's
Five Books, listing five novels:
- John Le Carré, A Perfect Spy
- Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend
- Dennis Lehane, The Given Day
- Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings
- Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies
I had to look up the authors (although I guessed 3/5, maybe 4).
We were recently talking about how much I enjoyed the 1998 BBC/PBS
series of Our Mutual Friend, and we had recently watched
the 1987 TV rendition of A Perfect Spy (which I didn't much
care for). I doubt I've read enough novels (probably about 50,
which wouldn't last my wife a year) to construct such a list --
only obvious one is Thomas Pynchon, V., though the unfinished
Gravity's Rainbow might have wound up even better.
I probably could offer a list of non-fiction:
- George P Brockway, The End of Economic Man: Principles of Any
- Geert Mak, In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century
- John McPhee, Annals of the Former World
- Jan Myrdal, Angkor: An Essay on Art and Imperialism
- David Quammen, The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in
an Age of Extinctions
My "recent books" roll currently runs 552 books, so that at least
is a sample (roughly from 2003 to the present), although only one of
the books listed above comes from it (Mak's magnificent
Thursday, August 10, 2017
This is only the second Book Roundup I've done this year -- the
last one was back on
April 26, with the second most recent, on
August 21, 2016, dating from almost a year ago. Limiting myself
to 40 blurbs per post, I should be able to do one of these every
other month (six times a year), but it's hard to get into the right
research mode. Still, when I do, I tend to overshoot, coming up with
two or more posts in rapid succession (five is my current record).
Right now I only have 18 leftover blurbs in the scratch file, but
I expect it won't be hard to round them up to a second post.
I suppose one thing that helps thin them out is that I recently
started adding a section listing books without blurbs -- gives me
a way I can note the existence of something without having to take
the time to write much. I don't count those books under my 40 limit.
On occasion I've also noted paperback reprints of previously noted
books, and there are some of those below. The Thomas Frank and Jane
Mayer books were written before the 2016 election, but they turned
out to be the year's most prophetic books (note that both paperbacks
have post-election I-told-you-so afterwords).
Most recently I've been reading Hacker and Pierson, a book that's
been sitting on my shelves a fair while. Its paean to "the mixed
economy" could be sharper, but its review of the political forces
that stripped us of past keys to prosperity is reasonably thorough.
I would add that the more you forget about how things work, and
the more you adopt ideas that are just plain wrong, the deeper
you enter into what the late Jane Jacobs recognized as "the coming
Going through this list, some books that I either already have
or am particularly likely to pick up are Andrew Bacevich: America's
War for the Greater Middle East, Michael Chabon/Ayelet Waldman:
Kingdom of Olives and Ash, Michael J Hudson: J Is for Junk
Economics, Ibram X Kendi: Stamped From the Beginning,
Nancy McLean: Democracy in Chains, Nathan Thrall: The Only
Language They Understand. I'll also note that my wife is currently
listening to China Miéville: October. One thing I've learned
from this book so far is that the Bolsheviks came out on top because
they were the only party willing to walk away from the disastrous
Tariq Ali: The Dilemmas of Lenin: Terrorism War Empire Love
Revolution (2017, Verso Books): One expects that the centenary
of the Russian Revolution will produce the usual spate of new books,
so this is nominally one of them. But for a good while now we've known
that in his last couple years Lenin was unhappy about the drift of his
revolution, so it's never been quite fair to blame him for the whole
dead weight of the Stalinist system. Not sure whether Ali can freshen
him up in any useful way, but it's worth noting that the hopes that
many people held for the workers' paradise weren't wrong, even if
they were somewhat misplaced. Forthcoming [Sept. 19]: Slavoj Zizek:
Lenin 2017: Remembering, Repeating, and Working Through (2017,
Jon Bakija/Lane Kenworthy/Peter Lindert/Jeff Madrick: How Big
Should Our Government Be? (paperback, 2016, University of
California Press): Looks like each author gets separate chapters
around the question. The only one I'm familiar with is Madrick,
who wrote The Case for Big Government (2008), so you know
where he's going. Right-wingers have argued for shrinking federal
government back to an arbitrarily small percent of GDP, a level not
seen since Calvin Coolidge, although few of them are on record in
favor of shrinking the federal government's most cancerous tumor,
the Department of Defense, proportionately. Even so, they've shown
no allowance for the ways the world has changed since the 1920s,
such as the much greater complexity of the marketplace, the need
for a much more skilled and knowledgeable workforce, the need for
modern transportation and communication networks, the impacts of
larger population and production on the environment, and many
other things -- even if (like me) you think the growth of the
"defense" and "security" sectors (i.e., war and repression) is
largely bogus. I would go further and argue that public takeover
of dysfunctional markets like health care would be a good idea,
as well as some way to subsidize creative development of products
that can be freely mass-produced (like software and many forms
of art). I don't see how you can map any of these needs to a
fixed size, so size itself isn't a very good measure.
John Berger: Portraits: John Berger on Artists (2015,
Verso Books): Art critic and novelist, died earlier this year at 90,
his early books Art and Revolution (1969), The Moment of
Cubism (1969), Ways of Seeing (1972), and About Looking
(1980) had a huge effect of me personally. This is a collection of 74
pieces on more/less famous artists, starting with the Chauvet Cave
Painters but quickly jumping to Bosch (6) and Michelangelo (11), and
ending with ten names born post-1950 (most, sad to say, unknown to me).
The sort of book you're bound to learn a lot from. Tom Overton edited
this, and also: Landscapes: John Berger on Art (2016, Verso
Books). Also recent: John Berger: Confabulations (paperback,
2016, Penguin Books); Lapwing & Fox: Conversations Between
John Berger and John Christine (2016, Objectif).
Heather Boushey/J Bradford DeLong/Marshall Steinbaum, eds:
After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality
(2017, Harvard University Press): Large (688 pp) collection of
essays on Thomas Piketty's pathbreaking book Capital in the
Twenty-First Century and the myriad problems associated with
Michael Chabon/Ayelet Waldman, eds: Kingdom of Olives and
Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation (paperback, 2017, Harper
Perennial): Connecting with Breaking the Silence, a number of well
known writers (mostly novelists) took a tour of Israel and its
Occupied Territories, and chronicled what they found as they bear
"witness to the human cost of the occupation."
Frans de Waal: Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals
Are? (2016, WW Norton): Interesting question, most likely one
the biologist/primatologist has much fun poking holes in. More or less
related: Jennifer Ackerman: The Genius of Birds (2016, Penguin);
Jonathan Balcombe: What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater
Cousins (2016, Farrar Straus and Giroux); Charles Foster: Being
a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide (2016, Metropolitan
Books); Sy Montgomery: The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration
Into the Wonder of Consciousness (paperback, 2016, Avila); Virginia
Morell: Animal Wise: How We Know Animals Think and Feel (paperback,
2014, Broadway Books); Carl Salina: Beyond Words: What Animals Think
and Feel (paperback, 2015, Picador).
Bill Emmott: The Fate of the West: The Battle to Save the
World's Most Successful Political Idea (2017, Economist
Books): British, editor of The Economist, same basic shtick
as Edward Luce: The Retreat of Western Liberalism. Blames
Moscow, Beijing, but also Washington, and locates "the west" as
much in Tokyo and Seoul as in Europe, the idea being the promise
of neoliberalism (if not necessarily the reality): "It relies on
the operation and staunch defense of several principles, first
among them relative equality of income and opportunity as well as
openness . . . An open society is thus one of porous borders rather
than of walls, friendly to free trade agreements as opposed to
protectionist tariffs, outward-looking rather than nationalist."
Perhaps the idea wouldn't be fairing so poorly if the practice
did a better job of delivering the promised broad-based wealth.
The recent Brexit vote provides a detailed map of who wins and
loses from open borders.
Niall Ferguson: Kissinger: 1923-1968: The Idealist
(2015, Penguin Press): Hagiography, based on access to private papers,
the first installment of a "magisterial two-volume biography," written
by a pseudo-scholar with politics and morals flexible enough for the
task. Anyone else would subtitle the second volume War Criminal,
even if the time frame had to extend beyond 1976. But my guess is that
Ferguson is thinking of The Realist, a suitable philosophical
refuge for idealists once their hands get bloody. Myself, I'm more
inclined to call this period The Bullshit Artist, then look
for something even more scatological to follow.
Peter Fleming: The Mythology of Work: How Capitalism Persists
Despite Itself (paperback, 2015, Pluto Press): Argues that
"neoliberal society uses the ritual of work (and the threat of its
denial) to maintain the late capitalist class order," despite all
sorts of technological and cultural changes that could reduce the
class-definitional role of work toward the sidelines. In the US you
might want to substitute "jobs" for "work," and I-don't-know for
"neoliberal society" -- the corporate-political system? Also wrote
Resisting Work: The Corporatization of Life and Its Discontents
(paperback, 2015, Temple University Press).
James Forman Jr: Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment
in Black America (2017, Farrar Straus and Giroux): How
many black politicians got wrapped up in the post-1970 "war on
crime" and its attendant mass incarceration. Forman worked six
years as a public defender, a stark contrast to other jobs on his
resume, like Supreme Court clerk and Yale Law School professor.
Thomas L Friedman: Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's
Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations (2016, Farrar
Straus and Giroux): Anyone who can get away with as many clichés and
as much cant as Friedman must truly feel blessed. However, the very
facts and trends that makes him so optimistic signify little more
than mental rot to me. For more, see
Matt Taibbi's review.
Kelly Fritsch/Clare O'Connor/AK Thompson, eds: Keywords for
Radicals: The Contested Vocabulary of Late-Capitalist Struggle
(paperback, 2015, AK Press): Recalling Raymond Williams' Keywords:
A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976), the activist-editors
and forty-some contributors attempt to map contemporary movements by
their jargon, terminology, language. Probably a worthy undertaking,
interesting to me because I opened a file recently under the same
rubric, but not to explore language so much as to offer a framework
for hanging short topical essays on. Williams' book goes deeper into
history and etymology -- he was, after all, primarily a literary
critic. Best case this one does too. Worst case it tries to codify
some form of "political correctness" -- to pick a term that postdates
Bruce Cannon Gibney: A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby
Boomers Betrayed America (2017, Hachette): Author is a venture
capitalist, a guy who made a fortune mostly betting on high-tech start
ups, so it's rather ripe for him to blame a whole generation for the
short-sighted squandering of the unprecedented wealth many Americans
enjoyed after the Great Depression and WWII. He berates "a generation
whose reckless self-indulgence degraded the foundations of American
prosperity . . . [who] ruthlessly enriched themselves as the expense
of future generations . . . turned American dynamism into stagnation,
inequality, and bipartisan fiasco." That all happened, and I think it
is fair to say that the Boomer generation, which grew up with postwar
prosperity and its focus on individual freedom was further removed
from the previous generation than is generally the case, but those
effects the author describes as sociopathic were just one political
strain in a broad spectrum, that of the resurgent right-wing and its
promotion of often predatory greed. Perhaps the author has some other
political agenda, but offhand this looks like he's representative
of the rarefied class that captured the nation's wealth then blamed
the less fortunate for their "entitlements." Just who are the real
Joshua Green: Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump,
and the Storming of the Presidency (2017, Penguin): Campaign
reporting, focusing on Bannon -- presumably the Devil in the title,
although it's since become clear that he picked a very leaky and
unstable vessel for his machinations. I have no idea what Bannon's
been able to accomplish since moving into the White House. During
the campaign he provided Trump with a gloss of fascist aesthetics
and a whiff of ideological coherence distinct from the usual run
of conservative nostrums -- that probably contributed to Trump's
win, but was far less significant than Hillary's failures, the
lock-step support of the Koch/Republican machines, and the amazing
gullibility of so much media and so many people. On the other hand,
one might cast Trump as the Devil, and explore why Bannon would
invest all his hare-brained ideological fantasies in such a shoddy
salesman. I suppose because doing so made him famous, and in America
fame is merchantable (and money is everything).
Chris Hedges: Unspeakable: Talks With David Talbot About
the Most Forbidden Topics in America (2016, Hot Books):
Conversations, evidently the publisher has a series of these.
Hedges was a divinity student who left the church and became a
prize-winning war journalist, then the more he saw the more he
moved to the left. Among his books: American Fascists,
written back in 2007.
Michael Hudson: J Is for Junk Economics: A Guide to Reality
in an Age of Deception (paperback, 2017, Islet): Presented
as a "companion" to his 2015 book, Killing the Host: How Financial
Parasites and Debt Destroy the Global Economy. Starts with an
"A-to-Z" of key economic terms, nothing that "economic vocabulary
is defined by today's victors -- the rentier financial class," and
working to unmask their spin. Follows up with several scattered
essays, like "The 22 Most Pervasive Economic Myths of Our Time,"
"Economics as Fraud," and "Methodology Is Ideology, and Dictates
Policy." He was one of the first to recognize the real estate
bubble of the 2000's and predict its bust -- a now obvious point
that all but a few conventional economists missed.
Frederic Jameson: An American Utopia: Dual Power and the
Universal Army (paperback, 2016, Verso): Marxist literary
critic and political theorist -- I must have a copy of his 1971
Marxism and Form: Twentieth Century Dialectical Theories in
Literature somewhere upstairs -- takes a shot at sketching
out his utopia in the lead essay here, followed by nine responses
edited by Slavoj Zizek (only other author I recognize is novelist
Kim Stanley Robinson). I haven't read any of his later books, most
recently (all Verso): Raymond Chandler: The Detections of Totality
(2016); The Ancients and the Postmoderns: On the Historicity of
Forms (2015); The Antinomies of Realism (2013, Verso);
Representing 'Capital': A Reading of Volume One (2011);
The Hegel Variations: On the Phenomenology of Spirit (2010);
Valences of the Dialectic (2009).
Matthew Karp: This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at
the Helm of American Foreign Policy (2016, Harvard University
Press): When I think of southerners running US foreign policy, I
think of James Byrne's decisive role in launching the Cold War,
and later Lyndon Johnson plotting a coup in Brazil as well as
"Americanizing" the civil war in Vietnam. But this goes back to
the first half of the nineteenth century, before the South tried
to secede from the union, a period when prominent southerners
agitated to expand American power south and west, and thereby
to buttress and advance their system of slavery. I suppose you
can start with the Louisiana Purchase and the Monroe Doctrine,
as well as the Mexican War and the annexation of Texas, but
there were other schemes that didn't come to fruition, notably
the desire to annex Cuba as a "slave state."
Ibram X Kendi: Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive
History of Racist Ideas in America (2016; paperback, 2017,
Nation Books): I've long thought that the "definitive" history was
Winthrop Jordan's monumental White Over Black: American Attitudes
Toward the Negro, 1550-1812, which won the National Book Award
for 1968, but that book was focused more on the early development
of Anglo-American racism. Those ideas have since been recapitulated
(sometimes with mutations) in many ways up to the present day -- the
key to Kendi's own National Book Award winning tome. Many reviewers
describe this book as "painful" -- often citing the skewering of
otherwise admirable abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison for
adopting racial stereotypes (the book consists of five parts built
around individuals: Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, Garrison, WEB
DuBois, and Angela Davis). I don't know whether the author adopts
a fatalist position on the racist ideas, but I believe that their
persistence has everything to do with increasing inequality, much
as the origins of those ideas had everything to do with exploiting
negro labor. As Kendi argues: "Hate and ignorance have not driven
the history of racist ideas in America. Racist policies have driven
the history of racist ideas in America."
Naomi Klein: No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock
Politics and Winning the World We Need (paperback, 2017,
Haymarket Books): Describes Trump as "a logical extension of the
worst and most dangerous trends of the past half-century" --
trends Klein has made a career of writing about; e.g., No
Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (2000), The Shock
Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007), This
Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (2014).
James Kwak: Economism: Bad Economics and the Rise of
Inequality (2017, Pantheon): A primer on how "Economics
101" is wrapped up in political biases which promote inequality,
passing it off as the genius of markets. Another book along the
same lines: Joe Earle/Cahal Moran/Zach Ward-Perkins: The
Econocracy: The Perils of Leaving Economics to the Experts
(paperback, 2016, Machester University Press); also Michael
Hudson: J Is for Junk Economics: A Guide to Reality in an
Age of Deception (paperback, 2017, Islet).
Guy Laron: The Six-Day War: The Breaking of the Middle
East (2017, Yale University Press): Fifty years later, has
the advantage of recently declassified documents. "The Six-Day War
effectively sowed the seeds for the downfall of Arab nationalism,
the growth of Islamic extremism, and the animosity between Jews
and Palestinians." The latter started much earlier, but the war
led to a massive increase in the number of Palestinians living
under Israeli military occupation, and started the great land
grab known as the Settler Movement -- so, yes, it did much to
poison relations. I don't know if Laron discloses anything new
about the run up to the war -- 90% of the book is on the events
before the war itself -- but it seems pretty clear to me that
Ben-Gurion regarded the 1950 armistices as temporary stays while
Israel gathered strength to launch new offensives to grab the
various territories they've long coveted. Their military success
changed the nation's psychology, as they stopped paying heed to
world law and opinion, and set out on their own arrogant path,
trusting only in their own brute force and cunning.
Chris Lehmann: The Money Cult: Capitalism, Christianity, and
the Unmaking of the American Dream (2016, Melville House): A
book on how often throughout America's history Christianity has upheld
and celebrated economic iniquity -- "the pursuit of profit, as well as
the inescapability of economic inequality."
Edward Luce: The Retreat of Western Liberalism
(2017, Atlantic Monthly Press): British political writer, has
covered both Washington and New Delhi for Financial Times.
No relation to Henry Luce, but you get the feeling he'd like to
occupy a similar perch, but where Henry proclaimed "the American
century," Edward bemoans its eclipse, lamenting both the decline
of western power in the world and the erosion of Democratic norms
in the west. At first blush, this all has a whiff of "white man's
burden" to it. Not sure if that's fair, but one should note that
the assault on liberal democracy in America and elsewhere comes
almost exclusively from entrenched elites whose "populist" pitch
is purely cynical.
Nancy McLean: Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the
Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America (2017, Viking):
This traces the Koch political machine back to the ideas of an
Nobel prize-winning economist, James McGill Buchanan (1919-2013),
a president of the Mont Pelerin Society, distinguished senior
fellow at the Cato Institute, and professor at George Mason U. --
although the reality has more to do with the Kochs' money than
with Buchanan's ideas (which included the book Why I, Too, Am
Not a Conservative: The Normative Vision of Classical Liberalism).
Should be an interesting book (in my queue, anyway).
Viet Tranh Nguyen: Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory
of War (2016, Harvard University Press): Vietnamese novelist,
moved to US at age 4, won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel The
Sympathizer, writes about how most or all sides remember the
war and aftermath he grew up in.
Thomas M Nichols: The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against
Established Knowledge and Why It Matters (2017, Oxford University
Press): My own impression is that we don't lack for expertise, but as
inequality increases so does the temptation for experts to hire themselves
out to private interests, which in turn makes people more suspicious of
experts. The author seems more inclined to blame the internet for
'foster[ing] a cult of ignorance" -- but that strikes me as a secondary
PJ O'Rourke: How the Hell Did This Happen? The Election of
2016 (2017, Atlantic Monthly Press): Famed right-wing humorist,
not that he was ever very funny -- if you ever bother to scan through
conservative editorial cartoons you'll get a sense of how low the bar
is -- but do you really want to bother with lines like this: "America
is experiencing the most severe outbreak of mass psychosis since the
Salem witch trials of 1692. So why not put Hillary on the dunking
Ilan Pappé: Ten Myths About Israel (paperback, 2017,
Verso Books): Only ten? Some are big ones, long since debunked, like
that Palestine was "a land without people" (therefore perfect for "a
people without land"), that Palestinians who fled their homes in 1947-49
did so voluntarily, and that Israel had no choice but to start the 1967
war. I don't have the full list, but they evidently extend to Israel's
rationalizations for its periodic assaults on Gaza and the question of
why people who have repeatedly sabotaged the "two state solution" still
insist it's the only one possible. Pappé has written many important
books on Israel and the Palestinians, especially The Ethnic Cleansing
of Palestine (2007), and more recently The Idea of Israel: A
History of Power and Knowledge (2014).
Keith Payne: The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the
Way We Think, Live, and Die (2017, Viking): Textbooks on
inequality invariably start with lists or charts of numbers --
after all, the most straightforward thing you can do with money
is count it. However, the problem with inequality has never just
been who gets (deservedly or not) what. Every bit as important
is how it makes us think and behave toward each other. Several
books have explored these ways -- e.g., how inequality worsens
health care outcomes, even beyond the correlation between inequal
societies and crappy health care systems -- although this promises
to delve deeper into experimental psychology.
Charles Peters: We Do Our Part: Toward a Fairer and More Equal
America (2017, Random House): Founder and long-time editor of
The Washington Monthly, a journal I've long admired both for its
heart-felt liberal bearings and its shrewd analysis of what government
can and cannot do. And while he would like to point us toward "fairer
and more equal," the trajectory he's recognized since 1970 has been
pointed the other way. (Although I've lately discovered that he coined
the term "neo-liberal" and seems to have a dark side -- especially an
antipathy to unions, which for many years were the most effective and
practical advocates for "a fairer and more equal America.")
Kate Raworth: Doughnut Economics: 7 Ways to Think Like a
21st-Century Economist (2017, Chelsea Green): The doughnut
image depicts "a sweet spot of human prosperity" -- where economics
should aim for widespread human satisfaction, as opposed to the
20th-century (and earlier) obsession with scarcity and growth. The
seven ways are better captured by their subtitles: from GDP to the
Doughnut; from self-contained market to embedded economy; from
rational economic man to social adaptable humans; from mechanical
equilibrium to dynamic complexity; from 'growth will even it up
again' to distributive by design; from 'growth will clean it up
again' to regenerative by design; from growth addicted to growth
agnostic. The last few years have seen a rash of books complaining
about how economic theory is shot through with false and damaging
assumptions, so it was only a matter of time before someone tried
to build a new understanding around more contemporary goals.
TR Reid: A Fine Mess: A Global Quest for a Simpler, Fairer,
and More Efficient Tax System (2017, Penguin Press): Author
of a very good international survey of health care systems, The
Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer
Health Care (2009), tries to work the same magic by comparing
tax codes around the world. While he's probably correct that the US
tax code (plus the huge state-by-state variations and wrinkles for
other taxing authorities) is "a fine mess," and that other nations
have come up with "tax regimes that are equitable, effective, and
easy on the taxpayer," the whole issue seems much less important.
It is, however, something that Republicans obsess on, as with most
things usually with an eye toward making it much worse.
Walter Scheidel: The Great Leveler: Violence and the History
of Inequality From the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century
(2017, Princeton University Press): A rather depressing argument: he
argues that inequality has been the default state of civilization ever
since agriculture started producing surpluses that predatory elites
could seize. The exceptional periods of leveling only seem to occur
due to wars and other disasters. One might still hope that reason
might come to our rescue, but empiricists are unconvinced.
Gershon Shafir: A Half Century of Occupation: Israel, Palestine,
and the World's Most Intractable Conflict (2017, University of
California Press): Fiftieth anniversary of 1967, when Israel dismantled
its internal military occupation and seized new territory from Egypt,
Jordan, and Syria, allowing them to bring back military occupation on
an even larger scale. Author has written a number of books on the
conflict, going back as far as Land, Labor, and the Origins of the
Israeli-Palestinian Conflit 1882-1914.
Thomas M Shapiro: Toxic Inequality: How America's Wealth
Gap Destroys Mobility, Deepens the Racial Divide, and Threatens
Our Future (2017, Basic Books): We certainly need more
books that come up with vivid examples of how inequality poisons
social and political and economic relationships, which is what
this title promises. Focuses on race, which follows up from the
author's previous The Hidden Cost of Being African American:
How Wealth Perpetuates Inequality. One thing that should be
obvious is that you can't achieve racial equality in an era of
increasing wealth/income inequality.
Steven Slowan/Philip Fernbach: The Knowledge Illusion: Why
We Never Think Alone (2017, Riverhead): "Humans have built
hugely complex societies and technologies, but most of us don't even
know how a pen or a toilet works." (For the record, I can answer
both of those, although never having read about pens -- unless
Henry Petroski's book on pencils ventured there -- I'd have to
offer a guess there, based on other principles I understand.) But
the basic idea is sound. I'm not sure what the authors draw from
this, but I'd say that one important thing is that as we become
ever more dependent on advanced technology, it becomes ever more
important that we develop social relations that increase trust.
This in turn implies several changes: we need to cultivate more
widespread expertise; we need to make that information more open;
and we need to shift incentives for experts toward openness and
generosity and away from selfishness and exploitation. I should
also add that this has generally been the direction over the last
couple centuries, hand in hand with technological advancement.
But all this is increasingly at risk because various business and
political interests find it more profitable to appropriate and
monetize "knowledge" -- for a sketch of the possible outcomes
here, see Peter Frase's Four Futures.
Wolfgang Streeck: How Will Capitalism End? (2016,
Verso): Depicts a world of "declining growth, oligarchic rule, a
shrinking public sphere, institutional corruption, and international
anarchy," adding up to instability, probably collapse, certainly a
need for profound change. Contradictions of capitalism has been a
staple of Marxist thought for 150 years now, so even if the author
doesn't come up with an answer to his question, he has plenty of
theory to build on. Streeck also wrote Buying Time: The Delayed
Crisis of Democratic Capitalism (2nd edition, paperback, 2017,
Nathan Thrall: The Only Language They Understand: Forcing
Compromise in Israel and Palestine (2017, Metropolitan Books):
Hard to think about the conflict without considering how to end it,
especially if you're an American, since we've long assumed that our
mission on Earth is to oversee some sort of agreement. Thrall has
been following the conflict closely for some time now, and writes
up what he's figured out: that the only way it ends is if some
greater power wills it. The title has a certain irony in that the
Israelis, following the British before them, have often said that
violence is the only language the Palestinians understand. But as
students of the conflict should know by now, the only times Israel
has compromised or backed down have been when they been confronted
with substantial force: as when Eisenhower prodded them to leave
Sinai in 1956, when Carter brokered their 1979 peace with Egypt,
when Rabin ended the Intifada by recognizing the PLO, or when Barak
withdrew Israeli forces from Lebanon in 2000. Since then no progress
towards resolution has been made because no one with the power to
influence Israel has had the will to do so -- although Israel's
frantic reactions against BDS campaigns shows their fear of such
pressure. On the other hand, one should note that force itself
has its limits: Palestinians have compromised on many things,
but some Israeli demands -- ones that violate norms for equal
human rights -- are always bound to generate resistance. What
makes the conflict so intractable now is that Israel has so
much relative power that they're making impossible demands. So
while Thrall would like to be even-handed and apply external
force to both sides, it's Israel that needs to move its stance
to something mutually tolerable. The other big questions are
who would or could apply this force, and why. Up to 2000, the
US occasionally acted, realizing that its regional and world
interests transcended its affection for Israel, but those days
have passed, replaced by token, toothless gestures, if any at
all. It's hard to see that changing -- not just because Israel
has so much practice manipulating US politics but because
America has largely adopted Israeli norms of inequality and
faith in brute power.
Bassem Youssef: Revolution for Dummies: Laughing Through
the Arab Spring (2017, Dey Street Books): Egyptian, dubbed
"the Jon Stewart of the Arabic World," had a popular television
show during the brief period when that was possible -- the brief,
unpopular period of democracy sandwiched between the even less
popular (but who's counting?) Mubarak and Sisi dictatorships.
Other recent books also noted:
Gilad Atzmon: Being in Time: A Post-Political Manifesto
(paperback, 2017, Interlink)
Nir Baram: A Land Without Borders: My Journey Around East
Jerusalem and the West Bank (paperback, 2017, Text)
Mark Bowden: Hue 1968: A Turning Point in the American War
in Vietnam (2017, Atlantic Monthly Press)
Noam Chomsky: Optimism Over Despair: On Capitalism, Empire,
and Social Change (paperback, 2017, Haymarket Books):
interviews by CJ Polychroniou.
Joan Didion: South and West: From a Notebook (2017,
Richard Falk: Palestine's Horizon: Toward a Just Peace
(paperback, 2017, Pluto Press)
Al Franken: Giant of the Senate (2017, Twelve)
Henry A Giroux: America at War With Itself (paperback,
2016, City Lights Press)
Al Gore: An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power
(paperback, 2017, Rodale Books)
Jeremy R Hammond: Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the
Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (paperback, 2016, Worldview)
Yaakov Katz/Amir Bohbot: The Weapon Wizards: How Israel
Became a High-Tech Military Superpower (2017, St Martin's
China Miéville: October: The Story of the Russian Revolution
Vijay Prashad: The Death of the Nation and the Future of
the Arab Revolution (paperback, 2016, University of California
David Roediger: Class, Race, and Marxism (2017,
Alice Rothchild: Condition Critical: Life and Death in
Israel/Palestine (paperback, 2017, Just World Books)
Raja Shehadeh: Where the Line Is Drawn: A Tale of Crossings,
Friendships, and Fifty Years of Occupation in Israel-Palestine
(2017, New Press)
Peter Temin: The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and
Power in a Dual Economy (2017, MIT Press)
Also, some previously mentioned books new in paperback:
Andrew J Bacevich: America's War for the Greater Middle East:
A Military History (2016; paperback, 2017, Random House):
A self-styled conservative, but a useful critic of militarism in
post-Vietnam America (see 2005's The New American Militarism:
How Americans Are Seduced by War). As the Cold War wound down,
the military pivoted to focus on the Middle East, most dramatically
with the 1990-91 Gulf War, which turned into a 12-year containment
project aimed at Iraq, and boosted by 9/11 backlash into a massive
war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and more clandestine operations from
Libya to Yemen and Somalia to Pakistan.
David Daley: Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan
to Steal America's Democracy (2016; paperback, 2017, Liveright):
More nuts-and-bolts on how the right-wing -- the financiers of the
Koch Bros. dark money networks -- has plotted its takeover of American
democracy, especially by targeting and capturing state legislatures.
Thomas Frank: Listen, Liberal: Or What Ever Happened to the
Party of the People? (2016; paperback, 2017, Picador): Shows
how the Democratic Party, especially since the arrival of Bill Clinton
in 1992, has triangulated its way into the good graces of bicoastal
urban elites more often than not at the expense of the party's old
base -- people they could continue to take advantage of because the
Republicans have left them nowhere else to go. This was damning and
embarrassing when it came out last summer, and after white working
class voters flocked to elect Trump over Hillary people started
pointing to this book as prescient. Paperback includes an afterword
where the author gets to "I told you so." Real question is whether
the Democratic Party moving forward can learn from its mistakes.
A good place to start is here.
Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: American Amnesia: How the War on
Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper (2016;
paperback, 2017, Simon & Schuster): Argues that ever since Madison
and Hamilton crafted a strong federalist constitution, America has
benefited from a strong activist government, one that regulated
commerce to limit market failures, that made major investments in
infrastructure, and eventually built a modern safety net -- lessons
that too many Americans have forgotten as narrow-minded business
interests have sought to capture government for their own greedy
Jane Mayer: Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionairse
Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (2016; paperback, 2017,
Anchor): To assess the disaster of the 2016 elections, it is not only
important to look at the shortcomings of the Democrats -- start with
Thomas Frank: Listen, Liberal before you move on to Jonathan
Allen/Arnie Parnes: Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed
Campaign -- but also at what made the Republicans so effective,
mostly a huge clandestine political machine only marginally connected
to the RNC and/or the Trump Campaign, largely funded by the Koch Bros.
and their fellow travelers. This is the best book on the latter, and
the paperback as an "I told you so" afterword. Still, Mayer's excavation
of these misanthropes has only barely begun.
Monday, August 7, 2017
Music: Current count 28508  rated (+18), 375  unrated (+10).
Basically took a break for the latter half of the week (Wednesday to
Saturday). Main reason:
For this stretch, I mostly played CDs from one of my travel cases:
Lilly Allen, Beautiful South, Bobby Bland, Manu Chao, Dance Floor
Divas, Duke Ellington/Coleman Hawkins, English Beat, Franco, Girl
Group Greats, Mighty Sparrow, Roger Miller, Van Morrison, Nigeria
70, Pet Shop Boys, Public Enemy, Wilson Pickett, Shirelles, Phil
Spector, Velvet Underground, Mary Wells, Hank Williams. That, plus the
work, kept me in a pretty good mood.
Before that, I was probably off to a typical week. The Tyshawn Sorey
album took a bit of time, and I think I probably played the Elan Pauer
(the only other CD in the list below) 3-4 times. Evidently Pauer is an
alias for Oliver Schwerdt -- he also sent me a 2-CD under that name,
one of a fair number of things in a suddenly resurgent queue (seems to
be split evenly between September-October releases and things already
out). For a long stretch the queue had been so depleted I stopped
paying much attention to it, but I got more records in the mail last
week than in any week for many months.
I spent Sunday playing Randy Newman. Robert Christgau proclaimed
his new Dark Matter an "album of the year contender" on
Friday. I still don't hear anything like that, but gave it five
plays before parking it in the bottom half of my
2017 A-List -- didn't want to
underrate it as badly as I had Harps and Angels, but I still
doubt I'll wind up liking it as much. I had heard "Putin" on a late
night show, and it seemed pretty awful at the time. It's funnier
here with orchestra and "the Putin girls" chorus. But the opener
(whence the title, but not its title) is an awkward, incoherent
mess, and "Brothers" is just a bummer until it breaks into a
celebration of Celia Cruz. Good song about the original Sonny Boy
Williamson, and "She Chose Me" works for him.
I also went back through the Songbooks -- I had given Vol. 2
a B+(**), but missed Vol. 1 and Vol. 3, and wound up
replaying the whole 3-CD "box" to pick up the songs Bob mentioned
that were left off Vol. 3: "A Few Words in Defense of Our
Country" as timely as it was in 2008 (the death of one of those
Supreme Court Italians proving inconsequential), but I'm not hip
enough to his irony to stomach his 2012 "I'm Dreaming [of a white
president]" ("he won't be the brightest/ but he'll be the whitest/
and I'll vote for that"). The box does offer a really terrific
"A Wedding in Cherokee County."
I bumped up the grade of Lana Del Rey's Lust for Life
from where I had it last Monday. Among other things, it offers
a sharper political commentary than Newman does. We need more
people demanding "the fucking truth." And while she's right
that "critics can be mean sometimes" I'm not feeling that now.
New records rated this week:
- Anat Cohen: Rosa Dos Ventos (2017, Anzic): [r]: B
- Anat Cohen & Marcello Gonçalves: Outra Coisa: The Music of Moacir Santos (2017, Anzic): [r]: B+(**)
- Lana Del Rey: Lust for Life (2017, Interscope): [r]: A-
- Billy Flynn: Lonesome Highway (2017, Delmark): [r]: B
- Paul Heaton + Jacqui Abbott: Crooked Calypso (2017, Virgin EMI): [r]: B+(*)
- Randy Newman: Dark Matter (2017, Nonesuch): [r]: A-
- Elan Pauer: Yamaha/Speed (2015 , Creative Sources): [cd]: B+(***)
- John Pizzarelli: Sinatra & Jobim @ 50 (2017, Concord): [r]: B-
- Skyzoo: Peddler Themes (2017, First Generation Rich/Empire, EP): [r]: B+(**)
- Tyshawn Sorey: Verisimilitude (2016 , Pi): [cd]: A-
- Tyler, the Creator: Flower Boy (2017, Odd Future/Columbia): [r]: B
Old music rated this week:
- Bill Frisell: Ghost Town (1999 , Nonesuch): [r]: B+(*)
- Randy Newman: The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 1 (2003, Nonesuch): B+(*)
- Randy Newman: The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 3 (2016, Nonesuch): [r]: B+(***)
- Randy Newman: The Randy Newman Songbook (2003-16 , Nonesuch, 3CD): [r]: B+(**)
- John Pizzarelli: Let There Be Love (2000, Telarc): [r]: B
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- Laura Ainsworth: New Vintage (Eclectus)
- Gerald Beckett: Oblivion (Summit)
- Jane Ira Bloom: Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson (Outline, 2CD): September 8
- Miles Donahue: The Bug (Whaling City Sound)
- Fred Hersch: Open Book (Palmetto): September 8
- Noah Kaplan Quartet: Cluster Swerve (Hatology)
- Steve Langone Trio: Breathe (Whaling City Sound)
- The Liberation Music Collective: Rebel Portraiture (AD Astrum): August 17
- Paul McCandless: Morning Sun: Adventures With Oboe (Living Music): October 20
- Marcus Monteiro: Another Part of Me (Whaling City Sound)
- Dave Potter: You Already Know (Summit)
- Chris Speed Trio: Platinum on Tap (Intakt): August 18
- Jason Stein Quartet: Lucille! (Delmark): September 5
- Omri Ziegele: Going South (Intakt): August 18
Sunday, August 6, 2017
I took a break from the politics and music this past week to cook
a dinner served Saturday. I started my "birthday dinner" tradition
back in the mid-1990s, where I would take a national cuisine and try
to make as many varied dishes as I could muster. I suppose the original
idea was just to show off: the first two dinners were Chinese, which
I largely figured out in the early 1980s while living in New Jersey.
Then I moved on to Indian -- another old interest although I didn't
get to be really good at it until the birthday dinners started up --
and then Turkish. Later on I started using the dinners as research
projects as I attempted to figure out other cuisines: Spanish, Thai,
Moroccan, Lebanese, Japanese, Iranian, Italian, Greek, Brazilian,
I've long felt like Korean would be worth trying. I've dabbled
a bit, mostly from working from Charmaine Solomon's The Complete
Asian Cookbook. My first Korean food came from a restaurant in
Cambridge (MA): small nuggets of intensely flavored beef. A decade
later, I had a friend in Boston who several times fixed huge feasts
of homemade Korean food. One of the first times I tried cooking at
a relative's home, we bought beef short ribs and I marinated and
grilled them. But I never got out of the rut of habitually ordering
bulgogi when I got the chance. A couple years back I bought a copy
of Young Jin Song's The Food and Cooking of Korea, but until
recently it languished on the shelf.
A few months ago I decided to give it a go. I planned out a menu,
and knowing I'd need some lead time I went ahead and made a batch of
classic kimchi. I did some shopping to figure out what could be found,
but we couldn't schedule the dinner I had hoped for, and I wound up
making a "practice run" with what I had bought -- a pretty substantial
dinner in its own right. I finally got a chance to go all out this
week. I started shopping on Wednesday, and made the first batch of
kimchi that night. More shopping Thursday, plus an emergency run on
Friday. Cooked some things on Friday, and finished up on Saturday,
producing the spread (not very artfully laid out) photographed below:
I made an image map to identify the various dishes, but it only works
on the unscaled image
the rescaling problem, but I've wasted enough time on that already.
In addition to the Song cookbook mentioned above, I bought two more
Korean cookbooks: Deuki Hong/Matt Rodbard, Koreatown: A Cookbook,
and Maangchi's Real Korean Cooking. I ordered the latter after
finding several promising recipes on the author's
website. I built up a
long shopping list with a tentative menu (16 dishes), noting what I
already had and what I would need. Then I added various things as I
looked through the books, trying to expand my options or just to get
a sense of what's available. For example, I never found perilla leaves,
bellflower root, or dried file fish (although I did something labeled
"filetfish"); I found but didn't buy fresh burdock and dried fernbrake.
I started my shopping at Thai Binh, the largest Vietnamese grocery
in town. They cover Chinese and Thai pretty well, with a smallish
specifically Korean section where I had previously bought chili paste
(gochujang), bean paste (doenjang), coarse chili powder (gochugaru),
and coarse sea salt. They have a substantial produce section (although
no water chestnuts this time) and a tremendous variety of frozen fish
so I figured they'd be my best shot. Then I stopped at Dillons to get
the beef, pork ribs, and some more conventional vegetables. Still,
I came up short in several respects, so I googled for Korean
groceries and found two more: Grace Korean-Japanese Market and
Kimson Asian Food Market. I went to them on Thursday, and that
evening went to Sprouts and Dillons. I didn't actually have much
on the list by that time, other than English mustard, which I
finally found at Dillons (Rock/Central).
Grace was small but had a couple things I hadn't picked up before.
They also have a small cafe area which seemed pretty inactive. I picked
up a couple "homemade" batches of seaweed and shrimp salads, but didn't
particularly like either. Kimson only had about a third as much space
as Thai Binh but was packed so they had almost as much stuff, including
some things I had never seen locally (like frozen sea urchin for sushi).
I wound up having to go out again on Friday -- Thai Binh and Dillons --
as I couldn't find the short-grain (sushi) rice I was sure I had plenty
Notes on the menu: Most Korean food is very hot (spicy,
but aside from chilis, garlic, and ginger there are virtually no
spices). The heat comes from chili powder, chili paste, or (much
less often) chili oil or fresh peppers. I can barely tolerate hot
peppers, so in all of the following recipes I either cut them way
back or completely out (though I usually kept the garlic and sugar
which are probably included just to draw out the heat). I thought
about serving a hot sauce on the side, but doubted any of my guests
especially wanted it. (The kimchis were still pretty hot in my book.)
Also, virtually every Korean dish is topped with sesame seeds, which
I also omitted (although I offered black sesame seeds on the side).
Classic Cabbage Kimchi (Song): I made this several months
ago, and had enough leftover for the rice and to serve on the side.
Start with a Chinese (napa) cabbage, split into quarters and soak in
salt water 2 hours. Then dry, sprinkle with salt (working between the
layers), and let stand 4 hours. Mix seasoning: daikon, Asian chives,
garlic, ginger, onion, Asian pear, scallions, water chestnut, chili
powder, fish sauce, sugar. Recipe called for a couple oysters. I think
I used some smoked oysters, not really the same thing. Rinse the salt,
then stuff the seasoning between the cabbage leaves. Then it's just a
matter of setting, initially at room temp, later in refrigerator --
no need to bury in back yard.
White Kimchi (Song): Same basic idea minus the chili
powder (chopped fresh chilis provide heat without color -- I used
small Thai peppers, one red and one green). I just did half a head
of napa cabbage: salted it, rinsed it, soaked it 24 hours in a kelp
stock (with apple, pear, and a red date), then drained and stuffed
with daikon, scallions, ginger, red dates, garlic. I didn't have
fermented shrimp, so soaked some dried shrimp, chopped it up, and
added a little shrimp paste. Also didn't have watercress. This then
needed to sit another day.
Diced White Radish Kimchi (Song): I took about half of a
very large daikon, peeled it, cut into half-inch cubes, and salted it.
For seasoning I used sugar, chili powder, garlic, onion, scallions,
sea salt, fish sauce, ginger, and brown sugar. Recipe calls for 5 tbs
chili powder. I used one, plus some Spanish smoked paprika to keep
the color up.
Boy Choy Kimchi (Hong): This cookbook has a "five quick
kimchis to keep in your fridge" section, which all use the same basic
cure (sugar and kosher salt) and the same marinade: Asian pear, chili
powder, fish sauce, garlic, sugar, ginger. I cut the chili down to
about one-third, and this wound up being the hottest dish I served.
I cut the bok choy in half, sprinkled the cure, waited an hour of two,
rinsed, then added the marinade and refrigerated.
Pineapple Kimchi (Hong); I bought a pineapple core,
cut it into chunks, added the quick marinade, and refrigerated.
Not a traditional kimchi, but something that struck the authors'
fancy, and actually pretty tasty.
Griddled Beef with Sesame and Soy (Song): Aka bulgogi.
Dillons has 12-oz. packages of thin-sliced steak which work perfectly
for this (I've made it several times), so I bought two. Sliced the
beef into 1-inch squares. Marinade: scallions, onion, Asian pear,
dark soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, black pepper, garlic, a little
lemon juice (recipe calls for lemonade). Recipe warns against
marinating over two hours ("becomes too salty"), but Hong calls
for overnight (and uses the saltier thin soy sauce, and more of
it). To cook, I heated up a cast iron skillet and dumped the bag
in. In retrospect I should have dumped the bag into a collander
to drain more liquid from the marinade, as it almost turned into
a braise, and I wound up cooking the meat longer than I would
have had I not had to boil off so much sauce.
Deiji Kalbi (Hong): I originally planned on making
Griddled Doenjang Pork (Song), using pork loin and fermented bean
paste, then saw this recipe and merged them. I bought a side of
spare ribs -- about three pounds -- and separated them. Mixed up
a marinade in the food processor: Asian pear, apple, onion,
chili paste (about 1 tbs), fermented bean paste (about 4 tbs),
black pepper, mirin, soy sauce, garlic, sugar. Recipe called
for 1 cup of chili sauce + 1/4 cup of ground chili (for about
50% more pork), with none of the bean paste, so they were looking
for super spicy. I wanted something earthier, with just a little
kick. I marinated this overnight, put it on the rack of a roasting
pan with some water, and baked it at 350F for about an hour.
Seafood Salad in Mustard Dressing (Song): Recipe for 2 so
my plan was to scale it up 3X, but I wound up exceeding that, then I
forgot about the scaling when I made the dressing, so wound up making
a second batch (and now that I think of it, probably should have made
a third). Recipe calls for squid, shrimp, whelks, jellyfish, and crab.
I got a frozen package of small squid tubes that had been crosshatched,
and I substituted pre-cooked periwinkles for the whelks. I found a 1 lb.
package of shredded and salted frozen jellyfish. I got a little more
than a pound of snow crab legs, so boiled them and extricated the meat.
The squid, shrimp, and jellyfish were also boiled briefly. I initially
started with a half-pound of shrimp, then decided they were so much
better than everything else so I made the rest of the 1 lb. bag. And
I wound up only using about 1/3 of the periwinkles and 1/4 of the
jellyfish. I chilled the seafood, then added julienned carrots, Asian
pear, and cucumber, plus some shredded napa cabbage. Then the seasoning:
English (hot) mustard, sugar, vinegar, salt, dark soy sauce, sesame oil
(instead of chili oil). I decided it was piquant enough but could use
some more mild mustard, so added some dijon, then honey dijon.
Stir-fried Kimchi and Rice (Hong): I made a pot of
short-grain rice the day before: soaked the rice through multiple
passes, then boiled and cooked over low heat. I started with two
cups of raw rice, and only used three cups here, so I have a lot
leftover. I got some thick-sliced bacon at Dillons, and chopped
up three slices. I browned them, added a chopped onion, about a
cup of classic kimchi, chopped ginger and garlic, then the rice.
One suggestion is to serve this with two sunny-side up fried eggs.
I had the idea that I could push the rice to one side, add some
oil, and fry a couple of eggs in situ. I covered them briefly,
then when the bottoms had set, flipped them over, and before the
yolks set started folding them back into the rice. Garnished with
Spicy-Sweet Shredded Squid (Hong): I found some dried
whole squids, about 8-inches long and flattened, that were still
pliable. Cut them into thin shreds. Put them in a pan with a little
water and cooked them until the water evaporated. Mixed up a sauce:
chili paste, sugar, rice syrup, mirin, sesame oil. (I think I added
some hoisin sauce and ketchup to the sauce -- or maybe that was some
other dish.) Added the sauce to the squid and continued to cook
until it was well glazed.
Sweet Potato with Almond Syrup (Song): Two sweet potatoes,
peeled, quartered and cut into half-inch slices. I baked them for 20
minutes, then deep fried them. Made a syrup of brown sugar and water,
and after it thickened turned off the heat, stirred in some ground
almonds ("flour"), then added the sweet potato chunks, stirring to
coat. Several problems here: syrup got too thick and the almonds
were ground too fine (recipe calls for 2 almonds, crushed, which
might have worked better) so they acted more as a thickener. I
wound up needing to add some water to the syrup, which thinned it
adequately but also cooled it down. Ultimately minor problems.
Steamed Eggplant (Maangchi): I used two Japanese
eggplants, cut into quarters then sliced into inch-long pieces.
Steamed them, then served them in a sauce: fish sauce, soy,
garlic, scallions, sesame oil.
Black Beans with Sweet Soy (Song): Start with a can of
cooked black beans, then rinse, boil, rinse again, and boil again --
this time with sugar, thin soy, and maple syrup, until the water is
evaporated. This actually wound up becoming a bit crunchy, as well
as much more salty than sweet.
Sweet Lotus Root (Song): Bought a package of peeled, sliced
lotus root. Soaked it in vinegar water, then boiled it a few minutes,
then returned to pot with soy sauce and boiled for 20 minutes, then
added sugar and maple syrup and boiled another 30 minutes, then add
sesame oil. Before the last step, I still wasn't getting the look I
wanted, so I switched to a deeper, narrower pot, and added some dark
soy and maple syrup (and the sesame oil) and boiled it down to a
Beansprout Namul (Song): Recipe calls for soybean sprouts,
but I used mung bean sprouts. Soaked in salt water, then par-boiled,
then sauteed with scallions and sesame oil.
Spinach Namul (Song): Steamed a bunch of spinach. Mixed up
a sauce: dark soy, garlic, sesame oil, rice wine. Added the spinach to
the sauce, and let it sit for a while. Heated up a skillet, added a bit
of oil, and quickly heated up the mix.
Braised Shiitake Mushroom and Onion (Song): Chopped
a half onion. Trimmed stems from a package of mushrooms. Mixed them
with garlic and sauce: dark soy, sesame oil, maple syrup. Dumped them
all in a pot and braised until the water evaporated.
Sweet Rice with Red Dates (Song): Made this for dessert.
Starts with glutinous rice, which is soaked, then put into a pot with
brown sugar, a cup of water, chopped dates, chopped chestnuts, raisins,
sesame oil, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. Then "add water until it
covers the rice by about 2cm (3/4 inch)"; bring to a boil, then turn
low. I decided mejdol dates would be better than the dried red dates,
and I missed the cinnamon, but the bigger problem was too much water.
The result was a sticky mass with puddles of water. I dusted it with
cinnamon, topped with pine nuts, and served, but it wasn't very good --
maybe not quite a disaster but the night's poorest showing.
I'm reconstructing this from memory, so I may not even have the
right cookbook for several recipes that appeared on multiple books.
I did what seems like more than the usual mount of fiddling, not
just to adjust the heat and avoid sesame seeds. I did quite a bit
of fiddling with various sauces to get an appealing mix of tastes.
And aside from the dessert it pretty much all worked. Interesting
that the dishes with the highest-percentage leftovers were the
kimchi (although the rice, which is usually the least popular
choice, was most nearly wiped out).
I scratched a half-dozen possible dishes at various points in the
afternoon. I had bought groceries to make: zucchini namul, buckwheat
noodles, braised bean curd. I could have done a chives namul. I had
more bok choy which I could have fixed with the bean paste. I had
cucumbers which could have been used several different ways (but I
didn't have time to do proper pickles). I could have made the extra
jellyfish into its own dish (similar to the squid). I also had dried
anchovies that could be given the squid treatment. I bought red and
green bell peppers and can't remember what they were for. I have a
piece of barbecued eel in the freezer. I could have taken some of
the rice, dressed it with sugar and vinegar, and made sushi, topped
with wasabi, broiled eel, and sweetened soy. (Would have been better
than the dessert I served.)
There's a lot more Korean food I could have made -- something to
try out later. I wanted to have lots of little things (Koreans call
them banchan) rather than a big main course. That's why I didn't
consider doing a soup or a combo rice dish like bibimbap. In fact,
I didn't want to serve plain rice, even though that's the foundation
virtually all Korean meals are built upon. I also figured I should
stay away from obvious Japanese imports like sushi, teriyaki, and
tempura (all common in Korea). I figured the bulgogi was essential,
and what sold me on the pork ribs was the possibility of sticking
it in the oven and forgetting about it. Similarly, the seafood salad
could be made early and out of the way, and having those three dishes
really didn't leave much room for chicken or fish. One thing I was
tempted by but figured was too tricky and/or marginally weird was
the raw blue crabs -- Thai Binh stocks them, and they basically get
kimchi'ed for a couple days before serving, so they wouldn't have
presented a logistical problem.
Figuring out the logistics is a big part of these large-scale
dinners. In fact, this one was relatively easy, the first critical
task figuring out what I could (and could not) obtain, and where
to shop for it. The kimchis had relatively long lead times (pickles
were already out of the question), so that determined when I had
to start. I've done meals so complicated that I've mapped them out
using charts, but this one wasn't that mind-boggling. After I made
the kimchis, on Friday I cooked the seafood, roasted the sweet
potatoes, steamed the spinach and eggplant, cooked the plain rice,
made the squid, and marinated the meat. Hardest thing there (by
far) was picking out the crab meat. I got up a little after noon
on Saturday and started working through the little dishes -- the
braises sometimes took an hour or more, but I could plate them
when they were done. While the braises were going on I julienned
the vegetables and dressed the salad, then put it back in
the refrigerator. I usually get desserts out of the way early,
but this one could be cooked anytime, and there was very little
prep to it. The final push could hardly have been simpler: put
the ribs in the oven, fix the fried rice, then finish the steak.
And I could wait until the guests arrived to do the latter.
So, a pretty memorable dinner. Learned a lot while doing it.
The guests seemed pretty pleased. The dog tried crawling into
the dishwasher to help with the prewash. I won't try to get into
the dinner discussion and all that, which for me was probably
the highlight of the evening. Had some leftover ribs and sweet
potatoes for dinner this evening. Have some people coming over
Monday to help clean out the leftovers -- and maybe I'll cook
some of the scratched dishes then. Hopefully Trump won't start
bombing Korea by then. I was born during the Korean War. I'd
hate to suffer through a second one.
Thursday, August 3, 2017
Took a break today and glanced at the Internet and came up with the
usual load. Noted a tweet from Kathleen Geier: "No one will look back
at this era in American politics and remember it fondly. Absolutely no
Peter Beaumont: Former Netanyahu chief of staff 'in negotiations to become
state witness': In a world increasingly run by the very rich, I reckon
it's no surprise that merely powerful politicians should strive to become
rich themselves. Of course, sometimes they get caught.
Julian Borger: Leaked Trump transcripts show his incoherent, ill-informed
narcissism: not that you expected anything else.
Esme Cribb: NSC's Senior Intelligence Director Ezra Cohen-Watnick Fired:
Reported a Flynn protégé, survived McMasters' previous efforts to fire him
thanks to intervention by Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner.
Cohen-Watnick was the latest casualty in a string of firings at the NSC.
McMaster (pictured above) replaced Fox News commentator K.T. McFarland
as his deputy in May, reportedly without seeking White House approval
first. He also reportedly fired Rich Higgins, a staffer who worked in
the council's strategic planning office on July 21, after Higgins
authored a memo claiming Trump was under attack by "globalists and
Islamists" and "cultural Marxists." McMaster also fired Derek Harvey,
Trump's top Middle East adviser, in late July.
Also see Josh Marshall on
The Deeper Story on Cohen-Watnick.
Esme Cribb: Mueller Impanels Grand Jury in Federal Russia Probe.
Bob Dreyfuss: What Did Trump and Kushner Know About Russian Money Laundering,
and When Did They Know It?
Joshua Holland: Medicare-for-All Isn't the Solution for Universal Health
Care: I haven't worked my way through this piece, so for now will
just note its existence. I was aware of the article before, but steered
to it from
Dylan Scott: What you need to know about the Senate's "right-to-try"
bill. The latter was a broadly bipartisan bill that somewhat
streamlines the options of terminally ill patients to try unproven
treatments: Republicans evidently like the bill either because it
gives patients more freedom/choice or because it helps doctors and
drug companies commit fraud.
Sharon Lerner: EPA Staffers Are Being Forced to Prioritize Energy Industry's
Wish List, Says Official Who Resigned in Protest.
Jeffrey Lewis: Scuttling the Iran Deal Will Lead to Another North Korea:
"Tehran can already make an ICBM anytime it wants, and there's nothing
Donald Trump can do about it." Still, isn't that the wrong way to look
at the problem? The real problem with North Korea isn't that they have
rockets and nuclear warheads that could be used against us. The problem
is that the regime and people there suffered through a horrific war
that devastated everything, and since then they've been isolated and
paranoid, prevented from functioning as a normal country by the sheer
spite of the United States. One forgets that Iran's interest in rockets
grew out of their own horrific decade-long war with Iraq, where Tehran
was regularly subjected to rocket attacks (which Iran reciprocated,
unlike Iraq's use of poison gas). Clearly, Iraq isn't the threat it
once was, but Iran is still surrounded by hostile regimes, with the
US and Israel actively engaging in various plots of sabotage and/or
insurrection. Scuttling the nuclear deal may or may not force Iran to
develop nuclear-armed ICBMs -- doing so wouldn't give them an effective
tool for attacking the US, but it might deter the US from attacking
Iran -- but it will certainly leave Iran more isolated, paranoid, and
repressive, much as the same sanctions regime has left North Korea.
If Trump's people had any sense, they'd not only embrace the Iran deal,
but seek to build on it, and use it as a model for opening up a modus
vivendi with North Korea.
Paul Mason: Democracy is dying -- and it's startling how few people
are worried; also
Yascha Mounk: The Past Week Proves That Trump Is Destroying Our
Democracy: These two articles came up in a row at WarInContext,
on a day when I was already thinking not just tha democracy has
been taking a bruising but that it's likely to get worse before
(if ever) it gets better. Still, Democracy is in the eye of the
beholder, so we get Mason worrying about Putin, Erdogan, and Trump
(also Poland, Hungary, Venezuela, India, the Philippines, and
China, but not Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Israel), while Mounk
sticks to Trump.
Andrew Prokop: As Trump takes aim at affirmative action, let's remember
how Jared Kushner got into Harvard: "a lot of money, and two US
senators, were involved." By the way, the two senators were Democrats,
albeit also multi-millionaires.
Jedediah Purdy: A Billionaire's Republic: Review of Ganesh Sitaraman's
new book, The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution. As noted
above, many of us are worried about the fate of democracy in the near
future. There are various theories about various threats, but the most
basic threat is that posed by significant inequality.
Bernie Sanders: Nissan dispute could go down as most vicious anti-union
crusade in decades:
Nissan is no stranger to trade unions. It has union representation in
42 out of 45 of its plants throughout the world -- from Japan to France,
Australia to Britain. But the company does not want unions in the US
south, because unions mean higher wages, safer working conditions,
decent healthcare and a secure retirement.
Corporations like Nissan know that if they stop workers in Mississippi
from forming a union, wages will continue to be abysmally low in this
state. Further, if workers are unable to form unions and engage in
collective bargaining, Americans throughout this country will continue
to work for longer hours for lower wages. As Americans, our goal must
be to raise wages in Mississippi and all over this country, not engage
in a destructive race to the bottom.
Nissan is not a poor company. It is not losing money. Last year, it
made a record-breaking $6.6bn in profits and it gave its CEO more than
$9.5m in total compensation.
Those kinds of obscene profits are a direct result of corporations'
decades-long assault on workers and their unions. Forty years ago, more
than a quarter of all workers belonged to a union. Today, that number
has gone down to just 11%, and in the private sector it is less than
7%. And as corporations and Republican politicians succeed in decimating
the right of workers to bargain collectively for better wages and benefits,
the American middle class, once the envy of the world, is disappearing
while income and wealth inequality is soaring. We have got to turn that
I proudly support Nissan workers' fight to form a union.
I wonder if any other Democrats have taken a stand on this. Also:
John Nichols: A Nissan Victory Could Usher in a New Era of Southern
Organizing. I've heard that the Games of Thrones showrunners
want to do a new fantasy history series that posits what would have
happened had the South won the Civil War. If you want to indulge in
alternative history, a more promising precept would have been what if
Taft-Hartley had failed in 1947 and the AFL and CIO had launched mass
organizing drives in the South, as they had planned but chickened out
on after Taft-Hartley -- and, of course, had they been successful. At
the very least, that would have advanced the civil rights movement a
decade or more, and prevented the decline of union membership, which
would have kept the Democratic Party, and ultimately the country, from
drifting far to the right.
Matt Taibbi: There Is No Way to Survive the Trump White House:
"The tenures of Reince Priebus and Anthony Scaramucci represent two
opposite, but equally ineffective, strategies for surviving the Trump
Some see in all these maneuverings an effort to purge GOP loyalists
like Spicer and Priebus. Others see a Nixonian lunge to hire thugs
in a crisis. This to me is all overthinking things. There is no
strategy. This White House is just a succession of spasmodic Trump
failures, with a growing line of people taking the fall for each of
them. You can fall with honor, or without, entertainingly or not.
But if you join this White House, fall you will. It's only a matter
Sophia Tesfaye: Trump's next military scapegoat: Foreign-born service
members targeted by Pentagon.
Sam Thielman: Stinger Missiles and Shady Deals: Ex-Biz Partner to Trump
Has a Tall Tale to Tell: Felix Sater, whose CV includes a conviction
for stock fraud as well business ties to Trump, as well as a stint as a
Trump "senior adviser."
Matthew Yglesias: Democrats' push for a new era of antitrust enforcement,
explained: Antitrust legislation, still on the books, was one of the
great achievements of the Progressive movement, even if it could be (and
mostly was) viewed as a way to defend capitalism from the capitalists.
However, it has been little enforced since then, especially under the
Reagan-Bush-Bush-Trump administrations, but Clinton's administration
is mostly remembered for its antitrust case against Microsoft (on
behalf of other high tech companies), and I can't think of any cases
filed by Obama. However, Democratic-leaning economists like Joseph
Stiglitz have lately noted the role of monopoly rents in generating
skyrocketing inequality, and other researchers -- many summarized
here -- have broadened that view. I suspect one reason many Democrats
have gone along with new antitrust planks is that they've long been
spouting the cause of competitive free markets, which is the primary
goal of antitrust. However, the forces against antitrust enforcement
are lobbyists working for dealmakers and brokers, who regardless of
their general principles will invariably argue that their sponsor
companies should be excepted. Still, an important plank, and not just
because competition is good. You should also consider how industry
consolidation destroys and undermines jobs.
Yglesias also wrote
Anthony Scaramucci, explained, as if you couldn't figure that one
out yourself. Still, worth being reminded of this:
Trump, who is very fond of zero-sum thinking, one-sided deals, and
sketchy business ethics, would naturally find [Scaramucci's] background
Some people make money by providing mutually beneficial win-win
arrangements. . . . Trump doesn't really do that. His early real
estate ventures in Manhattan and Atlantic City ended up being failures
that went bankrupt.
But in the mid-1990s, he started the process of spinning shit into
gold by launching a publicly traded company, Trump Casino Hotels &
Resorts, and bilking his investors for all they were worth.
TCHR never made any money for shareholders. "A shareholder who bought
$100 of DJT shares in 1995 could sell them for about $4 in 2005,"
according to Drew Harwell's analysis of the company. "The same investment
in MGM Resorts would have increased in value to about $600." But it did
make lots of money for Donald Trump. It spent more than $6 million on
entertaining high-end clients on Trump's golf courses. It spent $2
million more on renting Trump's plane. It bought $1.7 million of
Trump-branded merchandise. It bought a bankrupt casino from Donald
Trump for $490 million. It paid Trump millions in salary for his
work as CEO. And most lucratively of all, Trump was able to offload
debts he had personally guaranteed onto the publicly traded company.
From there, Trump hopped to starring in a reality television
programming and then into a lucrative celebrity brand licensing
business. He also launched a fake university that had to pay out
$25 million to settle fraud claims.
Trump is, in short, the kind of guy who'd look up to SkyBridge's
"make money selling bad products" business model, not down on it.
Let me also note this trip down memory lane:
Carl Boggs: The Other Side of War: Fury and Repression in St. Louis.
I moved to St. Louis and Washington University after the events described
here, and didn't know Howard Mechanic or anyone else mentioned in the
article, but did know Boggs -- a political science professor at Washington
Monday, July 31, 2017
Music: Current count 28490  rated (+28), 365  unrated (+1).
Most of the following made its way into
July Streamnotes, so not
much news to report. Just seven albums in the August draft file so
far: Arcade Fire, Hal Galper, Paul Jones, Manchester Orchestra, Vic
Mensa, Vieux Farka Touré, Reggie Young. I think I gave Arcade Fire
five (maybe six) plays. The others on Napster got one each.
Three of those came out last week. Checking AOTY, they scored:
Manchester Orchestra (78/11), Arcade Fire (71/23), Vic Mensa (65/5).
I'm surprised Arcade Fire has been reviewed so poorly (although it
has 100 scores from NME and The Independent). They're a
group I've generally admired but never felt much affection for:
while I've graded their previous albums pretty high (B+ for 2004's
Funeral; A- for Neon Bible, The Suburbs, and
Reflektor), none of those albums scored especially high on
my EOY lists (27, 27, 29). I expect this one will wind up lower
(it's at 28 now, but we're only about half done -- big question
is whether I ever play it again). But critics have generally liked
their albums more than I have; e.g., AOTY scores for their four
albums are: 95/15, 84/20, 89/33, 78/40; higher still were their
Pazz & Jop finishes: 6, 5, 3, 14. Presumably this one won't
fare so well, but I can't tell you why. Maybe in this day and age
critics want something mopey? (Like Mount Eerie? Or Manchester
On the other hand, the low critical scores for Vic Mensa's
The Autobiography correlate with my disappointment, not
that we necessarily agree as to why. Christgau liked his mixtapes,
and there was at least something happening in There's Alot
Going On. Not that there's nothing I like in Mensa's record;
just a lot I don't. That contrasts, say, to Tyler the Creator's
new Flower Boy, which was a total blank after one spin.
I reckon that's an improvement given how offensive his early
albums were. Got to it after the cutoff, so it's not in the list
below -- nor is Lana Del Rey's Lust for Life, which I
played a lot and like but wound up hedging. "God Bless America --
and All the Beautiful Women in It" may be the kindest patriotic
anthem of the year, followed by "When the World Was at War We
Kept Dancing" and "Beautiful People Beautiful Problems."
Milo Miles wrout about the remarkable
Carl Craig album. Robert Christgau reviewed the Perceptionists
and Oddissee (an earlier A- for me) at
Noisey. Akmee and Alexander Hawkins are on Chris Monsen's
2017 Favorites list. Ergo, Led Bib, and several others were
downloads I've been sitting on for a long time -- Roscoe Mitchell
a more recent download. The Eddie Palmieri and Vieux Farka Touré
albums are unlikely to disappoint their fans -- high HMs that
might make the A- grade if I spent more time with them.
Finished adding the post-2000 vocalists to the Jazz Guide
(currently 968 + 747 pages). Stalled when I got into post-2000
instrumentalists (currently 6% done). When I scrolled back to
the top, I realized I needed to make some edits in the front
matter -- in particular I changed the grade scale so that A or
A+ is 10, A- 9, B+ 8-6, B 5, B- 4, C+ 3, C 2, C- or worse 1.
I think this maps closer to my actual practice, where A/A+
grades have become extremely rare, as have sub-C grades. I
asked several friends about this mapping and pretty much all
of them wanted more spread on top (A- = 8) with adjustments
shifting some higher grades up to 9 or 10, but I really needed
something I could apply more mechanically. I also didn't mind
cutting my artists and publicists a bit of slack here, while
readers still have a useful curve: 10 is still pretty rare
(especially post-2000), and 9 isn't very common (around 10%
of the total, which is about what you'd expect in a decile
While editing I noticed that I started this project last
August, so I've been working on it a full year, during which
time I've done very little of the editing that will be needed
if this ever sees the light of day, and nothing at all on
several other possible book projects. Feels Sisyphean, even
as time seems to be running out.
Already looks like it's going to be another good week for another
Roundup. Last week I described Trump as having broke out of his
cage and gone on a joyride -- evidence included promoting Anthony
Scaramucci, purging Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus, and two of the
most embarrassing and disgusting speeches in a career with little
else -- but today the joyride ended in a crash as Scaramucci got
fired. Now we're going to have to suffer through stories about how
Marine General John Kelly restored order and discipline to the
White House, as they buckle down on the great cause of "tax reform" --
a more efficient, and less damaging, way to feather the pockets of
the very rich than repealing the ACA.
On the other hand, I may be pressed for time for a Sunday
Roundup, as I have a dinner scheduled for Saturday. I've been
planning for some time on doing a birthday-sized Korean menu, and
will finally get the chance. (I started the classic cabbage kimchi
months ago.) Perfect cuisine for a "birthday feast" with all the
banchan -- small side dishes, kind of like tapas but they pretty
much all get the same treatment. Art Protin told me I should do a
full dinner report every few months, so I'll try to follow through
I am trying harder to cook occasional small dinners for just us,
and they've often been superb. Last week I made my first-ever lasagna,
with sausage and lamb (recipe called for beef and veal, but I didn't
find the latter and decided not to make a deep search). I was a bit
disappointed in it (certainly compared to the pastitsio I made a
while back), but the leftovers are good enough to eat cold, along
with a little horiatiki salad.
New records rated this week:
- Akmee: Neptun (2016 , Nakama): [r]: B+(***)
- Arcade Fire: Everything Now (2017, Columbia): [r]: A-
- Richard Dawson: Peasant (2017, Domino): [r]: B
- Ergo: As Subtle as Tomorrow (2013 , Cuneiform): [dl]: B+(***)
- Kevin Eubanks: East West Time Line (2017, Mack Avenue): [r]: B+(*)
- Hal Galper and the Youngbloods: Live at the Cota Jazz Festival (2016 , Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
- Calvin Harris: Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 (2017, Fly Eye/Columbia): [r]: B+(*)
- Joel Harrison: Stump (2013 , Cuneiform): [dl]: B+(***)
- Alexander Hawkins: Unit[e] (2016-17 , self-released, 2CD): [bc]: B+(**)
- Paul Jones: Clean (2017, Outside In Music): [cd]: B
- Steve Lacy: Steve Lacy's Demo (2017, Three Quarter, EP): [r]: B
- Led Bib: The Good Egg (2013 , Cuneiform): [dl]: B+(***)
- Led Bib: The People in Your Neighborhood (2013 , Cuneiform): [dl]: B+(**)
- Let's Eat Grandma: I, Gemini (2016, Transgressive): [r]: B
- Manchester Orchestra: A Black Mile to the Surface (2017, Loma Vista): [r]: B
- Vic Mensa: The Autobiography (2017, Roc Nation): [r]: B-
- Roscoe Mitchell: Bells for the South Side (2015 , ECM, 2CD): [dl]: B+(***)
- Mokoomba: Luyando (2017, OutHere): [r]: B
- The Moonlandingz: Interplanetary Class Classics (2017, Transgressive): [r]: B
- Sam Newsome: Sopranoville: Works for Prepared and Non-Prepared Soprano (2017, Some New Music): [r]: B+(*)
- Oxbow: Thin Black Duke (2017, Hydra Head): [r]: B+(*)
- The Ed Palermo Big Band: Oh No! Not Jazz!! (2014, Cuneiform, 2CD): [dl]: C
- Eddie Palmieri: Sabiduria/Wisdom (2012 , Ropeadope): [r]: B+(***)
- The Perceptionists: Resolution (2017, Mello Music Group): [r]: A-
- Vieux Farka Touré: Samba (2017, Six Degrees): [r]: B+(***)
- Ralph Towner: My Foolish Heart (2016 , ECM): [r]: B+(**)
- Reggie Young: Forever Young (2017, Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(*)
Old music rated this week:
- Lisbon Improvisation Players: Motion (2002 , Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- Carol Albert: Fly Away Butterfly (Cahara): September 1
- Julian Gerstin Sextet: The One Who Makes You Happy (self-released): September 1
- Tyshawn Sorey: Verisimilitude (Pi)
- John Vanore: Stolen Moments: Celebrating Oliver Nelson (Acoustical Concepts): August 18
- Matt Wilson: Matt Wilson's Honey and Salt (Palmetto): August 25
Sunday, July 30, 2017
I shot most of my war back on Thursday's
Midweek Roundup, and
have had limited time since then. But still I couldn't ignore these
Some scattered links:
Tariq Ali: Nawaz Sharif has gone. But Pakistan's high-level corruption
Sharif's party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, is fighting back,
accusing the court of a vendetta -- which usually means that his
billions could not buy a single judge. This is truly exceptional.
Life in Pakistan has not been morally salutary for any of its citizens.
The family politics represented by the Bhutto-Zardaris and their rivals,
the Sharifs, is swathed in corruption. Each has learned from the other
how best to conceal it, minimising paperwork and juggling accounts.
Many years ago, when Benazir Bhutto was prime minister, she asked me
what people were saying about her. "They're saying your husband is
totally corrupt, but are not sure about how much you know . . ."
She knew all right, and was not in the least embarrassed: "You're
so prudish. Times have changed. This is the world we live in. They're
all doing it. Politicians in every western country . . ." Her husband,
the president-to-be Asif Ali Zardari, was imprisoned by Sharif, but no
actual proof of corruption was discovered: Zardari's loyalty to his
cronies was legendary, and they remained loyal in return. Sharif, it
appears, has been less fortunate.
Dean Baker: How about a little accountability for economists when they
Robert A Blecker: Trump's "America first" strategy for NAFTA talks
won't benefit US workers
Carole Cadwalladr: Al Gore: 'The rich have subverted all reason':
Ten years after his documentary An Inconvenient Truth, Gore
is back with a sequel and goes beyond simply remind us, "I told you
so." One thing he's started looking at is the money:
"I mean that those with access to large amounts of money and raw power,"
says Gore, "have been able to subvert all reason and fact in collective
decision making. The Koch brothers are the largest funders of climate
change denial. And ExxonMobil claims it has stopped, but it really hasn't.
It has given a quarter of a billion dollars in donations to climate denial
groups. It's clear they are trying to cripple our ability to respond to
this existential threat."
One of Trump's first acts after his inauguration was to remove all
mentions of climate change from federal websites. More overlooked is
that one of Theresa May's first actions on becoming prime minister --
within 24 hours of taking office -- was to close the Department for
Energy and Climate Change; subsequently donations from oil and gas
companies to the Conservative party continued to roll in. And what is
increasingly apparent is that the same think tanks that operate in the
States are also at work in Britain, and climate change denial operates
as a bridgehead: uniting the right and providing an entry route for
other tenets of Alt-Right belief. And, it's this network of power that
Gore has had to try to understand, in order to find a way to combat it.
Alexia Fernandez Campbell: What McCain did was hard. What Murkowski and
Collins did was much harder. I suppose McCain's vote to sink the
so-called "skinny repeal" does qualify as "something useful for once"
(a prospect I doubted when I cited Alex Pareene's
I Don't Want to Hear Another Fucking Word About John McCain Unless He
Dies or Actually Does Something Useful for Once). But McCain couldn't
have cast the killing vote without Collins and Murkowski consistently
voting against all of McConnell's ploys to repeal Obamacare -- in large
part because they seem to be the only Republicans who actually care
about the bottom-line assessments that the bills would deprive upwards
of twenty million Americans of health insurance.
Through all of this, the backlash against these two women senators was
severe. Two House Republicans threatened them with violence.
President Trump publicly shamed Murkowski on Twitter:
Senator @lisamurkowski of the Great State of Alaska really let the
Republicans, and our country, down yesterday. Too bad!
Murkowski then got a call from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who
reportedly threatened to punish Alaska's economy based on her health
care vote, according to the Alaska Dispatch News.
You might recall that Murkowski actually lost the Republican primary
last time out to Tea Party fanatic Joe Miller, then beat Miller with
a write-in campaign, so she's entitled to some independence (or maybe
she's already written off the hardcore right). It will be interesting
to see how much internecine blood is spilt over "repeal-and-replace"
and other supposed Republican failures, but Reagan's so-called "eleventh
commandment" has long vanished: it seems almost certain that each and
every Republican who broke ranks even once will face right-wing primary
challengers. Even more amusing is the pouting tantrum from
John Daniel Davidson: I'm a conservative -- and I now see voting
Republican is a waste of time: "The Obamacare fiasco reveals
that once they are in power, Republicans in Washington refuse to
deliver on their promises."
Tom Engelhardt: Bombing the Rubble: "Precision warfare? Don't
make me laugh." Also:
William D Hartung: The Hidden Costs of "National Security":
"Ten ways your tax dollars pay for war -- past, present, and future>"
William G Gale: The Kansas tax cut experiment: Now that Sam Brownback's
moving on to become Trump's Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom,
a position that will better fit his sanctimonious twaddle and hopefully
is powerless enough to limit how much real damage (as opposed to mere
embarrassment) he does, the Brookings Institute is finally getting around
to looking at his late, great signature tax scam (blessed in the beginning
by none other than Arthur Laffer, his paid consultant). Some of the bullet
- Under his plan, the tax rate on pass-through business income fell to
0. The idea was to boost investment, raise employment, and jump-start the
- The Kansas economy did not grow faster than neighboring states, the
country itself, or even Kansas' own growth in previous years.
- The experiment with tax policy was such a failure that a Republican
controlled legislature not only voted to raise taxes, but did so over
the veto of the governor.
- Second, a lowered business income tax can be manipulated. While
Kansas cut the tax rate on pass-through income to 0 in hopes of
promoting economic activity, the growth simply didn't happen. In
reality, many people in Kansas re-characterized income from labor
into business-form in order to take advantage of the 0 percent
- There are other, more general, takeaways from the tax cut experiment.
When Kansas cut taxes, its bond rating went down, and it had to cut
central services such as education and infrastructure. After seeing
this, a majority of Kansans decided they would not prefer to keep the
- Therefore, another implication is that tax reform is not just about
taxes, rather what taxes pay for. Taxes and spending are linked.
The tax cuts threw the state into a permanent budget crisis, forcing
spending cuts (and other desperate measures which ultimately weakened
the state's credit rating) at a time when courts consistently found the
state to be violating the requirement (part of the state constitution)
to adequately fund local schools. As Republicans try to pass federal
"tax reform" they'll be recycling many of the same nostrums Brownback
used in Kansas, so beware.
Jack Gross: The American Model: Book review of James Q Whitman:
Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of
Nazi Race Law. "What appears to be still difficult, even as
it gets told in ever finer detail, is the simple and immense
situation that America and Nazi Germany are two instantiations
of a single history of white supremacist rule." It's well known
that South Africa based its Apartheid legal system on America's
Jim Crow laws. The Nazi case is less clear, but Hitler admired
America in several respects -- white supremacy is the one detailed
here. As I recall, he also saw America's advance across the
continent as a model for his own Eastern conquests -- what we
proclaimed as Manifest Destiny he called Lebensraum.
Jim Hightower: Fight for your right to fix your own iPhone:
I'm not surprised that Apple is in the forefront of companies
seeking to maximize their profits and control of customers by
"repair prevention." Actually, I was recently was looking at a
Microsoft Surface computer and read that you can't get into it
to repair it without destroying the case -- one, I suspected,
of many traits they copied from Apple. We live in an age where
is it often cheaper to replace something than to repair it,
which may be good for various companies but as a society it is
wasteful and degrading.
Mike Konczal: This Small Regulation Shows Us How the Economy Could Work
for Everybody: Part of Dodd-Frank the Republicans want to get rid
of, because all that regulation limits the ability of big banks to
goose up their profits by price-gouging and other fraudulent means.
Peggy Noonan: Trump Is Woody Allen Without the Humor: Unfair to
Allen, of course -- I'd rather watch Interiors (possibly the
most unfunny movie ever made, not merely the unfunniest by Allen)
than a Trump rally speech -- but no one ever looked to Noonan for
fair, or for that matter for insight. But as a piece of anti-Trump
snark this rivals Maureen Dowd:
He's not strong and self-controlled, not cool and tough, not low-key
and determined; he's whiny, weepy and self-pitying. He throws himself,
sobbing, on the body politic. He's a drama queen. It was once said,
sarcastically, of George H.W. Bush that he reminded everyone of her
first husband. Trump must remind people of their first wife. Actually
his wife, Melania, is tougher than he is with her stoicism and grace,
her self-discipline and desire to show the world respect by presenting
herself with dignity.
Half the president's tweets show utter weakness. They are plaintive,
shrill little cries, usually just after dawn. "It's very sad that
Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back,
do very little to protect their president." The brutes. . . .
His public brutalizing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions isn't
strong, cool and deadly; it's limp, lame and blubbery. "Sessions
has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes," he
tweeted this week. Talk about projection. . . .
His inability -- not his refusal, but his inability -- to embrace
the public and rhetorical role of the presidency consistently and
constructively is weak.
"It's so easy to act presidential but that's not gonna get it
done," Mr. Trump said the other night at a rally in Youngstown,
Ohio. That is the opposite of the truth. The truth, six months in,
is that he is not presidential and is not getting it done. His mad,
blubbery petulance isn't working for him but against him. . . .
We close with the observation that it's all nonstop drama and
queen-for-a-day inside this hothouse of a White House.
Noonan closes with Anthony Scaramucci ("He seemed to think this
diarrheic diatribe was professional"), without making the obvious
point: that he's Trump's perfect "communications director" because
he recapitulates Trump's own communications style -- just classed
up a bit by extending Trump's third-grade vocabulary and grammar
into puberty, as if that's all it's going to take to get the snooty
sophisticates to stop laughing at him. Noonan cites historian Joshua
Zeitz's comment: "It's Team of Rivals but for morons."
Still, there is no reason to think that Noonan is transitioning
into some kind of satirist. It's safe to say she's the same paid
political hack she's been since Ronald Reagan signed her checks.
What happened last week was that Trump, aided by Scaramucci, found
a way to escape from his orthodox Republican chapperones and go
out on a joyride. They did manage to ditch Reince Priebus, but
while John Kelly will no doubt prove a sterner nanny, his job of
containing Trump will likely prove taxing. Meanwhile, it's not
just Noonan among the party hacks who are sounding alarms about
Charles Krauthammer: Longing for a self-contained, impenetrable
Transparency, thy name is Trump, Donald Trump. No filter, no governor,
no editor lies between his impulses and his public actions. He tweets,
therefore he is.
Ronald Reagan was so self-contained and impenetrable that his
official biographer was practically driven mad trying to figure him
out. Donald Trump is penetrable, hourly.
Wrong metaphor. Trump and Reagan were similar in one respect: neither
had anything coherent going on between their ears, just chaos and bestial
desires. The difference was that Reagan was an actor (and more importantly,
a paid corporate spokesman) who could credibly read the scripts he was
given, whereas Trump just improvises (often making shit up)-- not because
he's any good at it but because all his life he's been a boss surrounded
by ego-stroking sycophants. Krauthammer, like many conservatives, is upset
over Trump's taunting of Jeff Sessions, who's been hard at work implementing
the conservative agenda to undermine democracy and rig the justice system
while Trump's been throwing his juvenile tantrums.
Given how rare it is for such committed Republican cronies as Noonan
and Krauthammer to break ranks, their attacks on Trump may mark the end
of the honeymoon. Orthodox Republicans may not have liked Trump back in
the primary season, but they figured he'd be manageable once he got the
nomination, and they were suddenly delighted with him once he did the
one thing they most coveted: winning. And indeed he has proven pliable
in terms of policy and personnel, abandoning every shred of independent
thinking he displayed during the campaign. As long as he was helping
them get what they wanted, they could tolerate his idiosyncrasies. But
evidently something has changed: not just that he's proving ineffective
and unpopular -- the health care debacle is really more their fault
than it is Trump's -- but that he's becoming needlessly dangerous and
Trita Parsi: The Mask Is Off: Trump Is Seeking War With Iran:
President Donald Trump has made it clear, in no uncertain terms and
with no effort to disguise his duplicity, that he will claim that
Tehran is cheating on the nuclear deal by October -- the facts be
damned. In short, the fix is in. Trump will refuse to accept that
Iran is in compliance and thereby set the stage for a military
confrontation. His advisers have even been kind enough to explain
how they will go about this. Rarely has a sinister plan to destroy
an arms control agreement and pave the way for war been so openly
The unmasking of Trump's plans to sabotage the nuclear deal began
two weeks ago when he reluctantly had to certify that Iran indeed was
in compliance. Both the US intelligence as well as the International
Atomic Energy Agency had confirmed Tehran's fair play. But Trump threw
a tantrum in the Oval Office and berated his national security team
for not having found a way to claim Iran was cheating. According to
Foreign Policy, the adults in the room -- Secretary of State Rex
Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and National Security
Advisor H. R. McMaster -- eventually calmed Trump down but only on the
condition that they double down on finding a way for the president to
blow up the deal by October.
Matt Shuham: Trump Calls for 'Rough' Policing, Gives Blessing to Law
Enforcement Abuses: Probably one of the ten scariest articles of
the Trump era. Sure, there have been many instances where Trump looked
to be endorsing ad-hoc violence against protesters, foreigners, other
minorities -- why not suspected criminals? Well, because abuses eat at
and eventually destroy the very notion that we live under a fair and
equitable system of law and justice. And has become very clear over the
past few years, what we have now is already way too permissive of police
abuses. Indeed, quite a few police superintendents have come to recognize
that bringing their forces under control is a major public relations
concern. So what Trump is saying undermines responsible police as well
as the entire system of justice, and helps to make American civil society
coarser and more hateful.
On the same speech:
Dara Lind: Trump just delivered the most chilling speech of his
presidency. In reaction, see:
Cleve R Wootson Jr/Mark Berman: US police chiefs blast Trump for
endorsing 'police brutality'.
Matt Taibbi: The Anthony Scaramucci Era Will Be Freakish, Embarrassing
and All Too Short:
In the space of a week, Trump's new press expert demonstrated that he
a) didn't know how to hold off-the-record conversations b) didn't
understand that cameras and microphones keep rolling even when the
red light is off and c) doesn't bother to check the other public
statements made by administration officials before he makes statements
of his own. An alien crashed on earth and given a two-minute tutorial
on dealing with reporters would have done a better job. . . .
The Communications Director job in the Trump administration is a
no-win job, because the real Communications Director is Trump's
Twitter feed. The job that Scaramucci technically occupies is a
thankless and redundant position that involves standing before
reporters and reconciling avalanches of already-circulated lies,
contradictions, and insulting/ignorant statements.
Even a genius of the highest order couldn't make this work.
Of course, Trump hasn't had geniuses available to him. The
fourth-rate minds he has instead had in his employ just started
raging trash-fires whenever they tried to logically explain
They gave us statements like Kellyanne Conway's "alternative
facts," or Katrina Pierson's bit about how Trump wasn't changing
his position on immigration, but rather "changing the words that
he is saying."
Matthew Yglesias: The most important stories of the week, explained:
The Senate rejected three versions of ACA repeal; Trump named a
new Chief of Staff; Trump kind of banned transgender military
service; Trump feuded with his attorney general.
Reuters: US flies B-1B bombers over Korean peninsula after missile
test: Not clear from the article whether they actually flew into
North Korean air space, which would be daring the Koreans to shoot
a plane down, dramatically escalating America's snit fit over North
Korea's missile tests. Also:
Tom Phillips: China and Russia have 'responsibility' for North Korea
nuclear threat, says US. Reminds me that Casey Stengel once said
that the secret to successful managing was keeping the guys who hate
you (like North Korea) away from the ones on the fence (like Russia
and China) -- a lesson Rex Tillerson never learned. The odds of Trump
(or one of those generals he gives carte blanche to) doing something
profoundly stupid over Korea have been steadily increasing -- much as
it has with Iran (see Trita Parsi, above).
prev -- next