October 2010 Notebook


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Weekend Roundup

A week's worth of useful links I didn't get around to commenting on previously. This seems to be happening more and more: I find something and go straight to my scratch file to scave it for the end of week and wind up posting nothing during the week. Much angst on next week's elections, which thankfully will be done (except for the lawyers) in a few days.

  • Jonathan Alter: The State of Liberalism: Idea here was to do a split front page lede matching Alter reviewing a bunch of liberal-ish books opposite Christopher Caldwell: The State of Conservatism. You'd think that with the bestseller list dominance of bulk-purchased right-wing screeds Caldwell would have been able to come up with more than three books to review -- Scott Rasmussen/Doug Schoen: Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System (Harper Collins); Paul Ryan/Eric Cantor/Kevin McCarthy: Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders (Threshold Editions); and Angelo M Codevilla: The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It (American Spectator/Beaufort) --but he was too busy glitzing up his anti-Obama screed with bogus polls and fanciful comparisions, like likening the Democrats to 1930s Tories and the Republicans to "a European workingman's party at the turn of the last century." Follow the link to sample the nonsense.

    Alter, on the other hand, digs through a much taller (not to mention deeper) stack of books: Roger D Hodge: The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism (Harper Collins); Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer -- and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (Simon & Schuster); Arianna Huffington: Third World America: How Our Politicians Are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream (Crown); David Callahan: Fortunes of Change: The Rise of the Liberal Rich and the Remaking of America (Wiley); Burton Hersh: Edward Kennedy: An Intimate Biography (Counterpoint); Tom Daschle: Getting It Done: How Obama and Congress Finally Broke the Stalemate to Make Way for Health Care Reform (Thomas Dunne/St Martin's); Gary Hart: The Thunder and the Sunshine: Four Seasons in a Burnished Life (Fulcrum); Walter Mondale: The Good Fight: A Life in Liberal Politics (Scribner); Chalmers Johnson: Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope (Metropolitan); and Jeffrey C Alexander: The Performance of Politics: Obama's Victory and the Democratic Struggle for Power (Oxford University Press). (That makes three times as many books, ten to three in the same space; just goes to show who works harder, and who'd rather just shoot off their mouths.)

    Notable on that list are a few books very critical of Obama (Hodge, Johnson, and more implicitly the important book on inequality by Hacker/Pierson the more PR-savvy but similarly themed one by Huffington), while there is nothing that specifically turns its guns on the Republicans -- like Will Bunch: The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama or Markos Moulitsas: American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin, and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right (Polipoint Press -- not one I recommend, but still saner than Codevilla) -- leaving Alter struggling with confusion and division among liberals over policy while ignoring the one thing they are clear about: the dangers of a Republican Party return to power. (I also have to wonder if the Times' conservative editor Sam Tanenhaus isn't relieved to have swept so many liberal books off his schedule.)

    One quote stands out:

    A couple of new books recall the story about the civil rights and labor leader A. Philip Randolph, who was visiting F.D.R. to push for a policy. "Make me do it," the president is said to have replied. Roosevelt meant that his visitors should go out and organize and demonstrate, not just expect him to wave a magic wand. Liberals have a tendency to think that when the "right" person wins, order has been restored. The idea of permanent trench warfare between liberals and conservatives is an abstraction to them rather than a call to arms. One reason health care reform stalled in the summer of 2009 was that Tea Party forces turned up en masse at town meetings in swing districts while liberals stayed home, convinced that after electing Obama they were free to go on Miller Time.

    The argument that the left has lost Obama because they haven't done the hard work of continuing to organize to press their case is true and fair, at least superficially. But it's also true that the left isn't an interest group that can afford to go out and hire agitators and propagandists to keep the pressure on. The right does that because they're rich and fighting an anti-popular cause, one that depends on fooling people to advance their interests -- one reason why the right has been so bullish on promoting ignorance lately. On the other hand, in a democracy advocating for the public interest should be popular, should be something that can win at the polls. Insisting that your political work has to continue at fever pitch after the elections, after you've elected people who have said over and over that they agree you, is pretty cynical. The left, such as it is, has certainly tried to hold Obama and the congressional Democrats to their commitments, and we have repeatedly pointed out their shortcomings. Sure, we need more organizing, more clamoring, more agitation to push fair, equitable, peaceful, public interest policies. Sure, not everything we want has a majoritarian consensus behind it. (Although I can't say for sure that withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, radically cutting the defense budget, and single payer health care don't have close to majority support.) But the politicians we vote for owe us something too, and Obama hasn't just lost on things he fought for; he's repeatedly failed to fight for things that he was elected to do.

    Of course, the Republicans have made a nonstop stink ever since he got elected. But really, there's enough range of opinion and diversity in the Democratic Party that, well, what the hell do we need them for, anyway?

  • Peter Daou: BP Funds the Tea Party: The Ugly Truth About Climate Denial: A lot of material here, mostly taken in big chunks from other sources. The one I find most interesting is from David Roberts:

    The core idea is most clearly expressed by Rush Limbaugh:

    We really live, folks, in two worlds. [ . . . ] Everything run, dominated, and controlled by the left here and around the world is a lie. The other universe is where we are, and that's where reality reigns supreme and we deal with it. And seldom do these two universes ever overlap. . . . . The Four Corners of Deceit: Government, academia, science, and media. Those institutions are now corrupt and exist by virtue of deceit. That's how they promulgate themselves; it is how they prosper.

    The right's project over the last 30 years has been to dismantle the post-war liberal consensus by undermining trust in society's leading institutions.

    The decline in trust in institutions has generated fear and uncertainty, to which people generally respond by placing their trust in protective authorities. And some subset of people respond with tribalism, nationalism, and xenophobia. The right stokes and exploits modern anxiety relentlessly, but that's not all they do. They also offer a space to huddle in safety among the like-minded. The conservative movement in America has created a self-contained, hermetically sealed epistemological reality -- a closed-loop system of cable news, talk radio, and email forwards -- designed not just as a source of alternative facts but as an identity. That's why conservatives catch hell when they're skeptical of climate skepticism. They're messing with tribal cohesion and morale.

    I found the Limbaugh quote too disorienting to parse at first, probably because we think of ourselves as being the "reality-based" ones, and we think the right is living in a dream world of its own delusions, whereas Limbaugh is almost positing a mirror image. I say "almost" because I can't quite reconcile the idea that a right in any way tethered to reality can imagine that the left actually controls anything. The actual power centers of the left are pretty much limited to unions, community and public interest groups, none of which are notably powerful at least in America. (By contrast, the power centers of the right are business, the military, and the churches -- admittedly, there are factions within each that adhere to some notion of public interest, but business is by far the most important, and the right is for all practical purposes the political face of private business interests.) The problem that the right faces isn't that the left is powerful so much as that the left tends to make popular propositions that undermine the power and interests of the right.

    What the "Four Corners of Deceit" have in common is that they represent potential limits on the freedom of business to further enrich the rich: government, as the collective organization of majority public opinion, can regulate or restrict business and can limit profits and the accumulation of wealth; science, academia, and the media can influence public opinion by distinguishing truth and fact from falsehood, viable processes from debilitating ones. The right's "closed-loop" blocks wholesale these potential opinion influencers, leaving followers unwilling to think for themselves unable to believe in anything but received truth. The right's come up with an ingenious system of social control. All that's really needed is a bait issue, something liberal norms generally support that some sizable minority will react violently to: abortion rights, gun control, illegal (or legal) immigrants, multiculturalism, affirmative action, rights for homosexuals, coddling criminals and understanding terrorists, fluoridating water, activist judges, the list goes on and on. Almost anyone paranoid about any of those issues can be roped into the whole lot, including flat taxes and random acts of war and defunding the EPA and every other outfit business doesn't like.

  • Glenn Greenwald: The Nixonian Henchmen of Today at the NYT: Sees efforts to smear the character of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange as recapitulating Nixon's directives against Daniel Ellsberg, except that where the New York Times published Ellsberg's Pentagon Papers now they're spearheading the smear campaign. The main protagonist here is the Times' Iraq War reporter John Burns, who was also first out the gate to defend Gen. McChrystall against Rolling Stone. I've been reading Chris Hedges' new book, The Death of the Liberal Class, which includes a section on how Hedges got fired by the Times for a speech he gave questioning the wisdom of invading the occupying Iraq. Hedges then went on to contrast how the Times never disciplined pro-war reporters for the any breach of objectivity. His prime example: John Burns. Also see Greenwald's More on the Media's Pentagon-subservient WikiLeaks Coverage.

  • Paul Krugman: A Far Away Country of Which We Know Nothing: Perhaps the best chart I've seen on the Great Depression/New Deal:

    Debt, Depression, War

    The blue line is total debt, public plus private, in billions of dollars; the red line debt as a percentage of GDP (both on left scale).

    But that was different, you say -- it was a war! To which I reply, you think it's better if we spend all that money on useless things?

    The initial spike in debt/GDP ratio is simply the collapse of the economy -- actual debt dropped a bit. The post-1940 drop in the ratio is all the more remarkable given the debt buildup. (You can add or subtract the red line from the blue line to get a sense of changes in GDP.) The New Deal is remembered mostly for deficit spending ono jobs creation, which was actually so tame that conservatives still attack it as being unproductive. (Of course, at the time they had a different complaint: they called it socialist.) But once war took over the political objections to deficit spending vanished and the economy recovered -- indeed, the potential problem during WWII was overheating, which FDR managed rigorously with sensibly administered wage and price controls (much hated by business and quickly killed after the war, leading to a wave of strikes and anti-labor backlash which eventually killed the American labor movement, but I digress). (Speaking of digressions, job creation was at best the fifth most important thing the New Deal did, at least up to the war buildup. Price supports, especially for agriculture; labor standards including the right to join unions to ensure a more equitable distribution of profits; effective financial regulation; and massive infrastructure investment -- those were the foundations of postwar prosperity, at least up to 1970 when those programs and postwar internationalism and interventionism became increasingly perverted by business interests.)

    We should give the New Deal (and for that matter the earlier wave of progressivism) more credit for fashioning America's great prosperity in the latter 20th century. We do this not only by forgetting or discounting real accomplishments, but by drawing erroneous conclusions -- such as the idea that war is good for the economy. Nazi Germany from 1933-39 is another example of a powerful deficit-led economic expansion, one that many were much impressed with until they started using their military buildup for war, which soon destroyed the country. The US was relatively unscathed by WWII, the losses clouded in heads swelled with victory, so it's taken us much longer to recognize the costs.

  • Paul Krugman: British Fashion Victims: Basically right, as usual, but the reason reason I'm citing/quoting this piece is a turn of phrase: "the confidence fairy." One of the things everybody knows is that the economy booms or busts according to how much confidence actors have in it, and exaggeratedly so. This is actually what's killing Obama in the unemployment debate: he feels that as president he has to project lots of confidence in the economy in order to get other people confident, and that keeps him from scaring the hell out of people in order to get some things done that will actually help the economy. Back when he was a mere candidate he could be gloomy as hell because he was powerless anyway. This idea that all it takes is confidence -- well, that's no more than a vain belief in the confidence fairy:

    Indeed, there has been a noticeable change in the rhetoric of the government of Prime Minister David Cameron over the past few weeks -- a shift from hope to fear. In his speech announcing the budget plan, George Osborne, the chancellor of the Exchequer, seemed to have given up on the confidence fairy -- that is, on claims that the plan would have positive effects on employment and growth.

  • Paul Krugman: Falling Into the Chasm: Actually, I've long thought, without figuring out the precise math, that Krugman was being overly optimistic about prospects for recovery. The non-financial slumps during the Bush years were painfully slow in generating jobs, leaving workers much worse off. What growth their was came from unsustainably piling on debt, which following the 2007-08 crash was neither something consumers wanted nor lenders wanted to offer.

    The real story of this election, then, is that of an economic policy that failed to deliver. Why? Because it was greatly inadequate to the task.

    When Mr. Obama took office, he inherited an economy in dire straits -- more dire, it seems, than he or his top economic advisers realized. They knew that America was in the midst of a severe financial crisis. But they don't seem to have taken on board the lesson of history, which is that major financial crises are normally followed by a protracted period of very high unemployment.

    If you look back now at the economic forecast originally used to justify the Obama economic plan, what's striking is that forecast's optimism about the economy's ability to heal itself. Even without their plan, Obama economists predicted, the unemployment rate would peak at 9 percent, then fall rapidly. Fiscal stimulus was needed only to mitigate the worst -- as an "insurance package against catastrophic failure," as Lawrence Summers, later the administration's top economist, reportedly said in a memo to the president-elect.

    But economies that have experienced a severe financial crisis generally don't heal quickly. From the Panic of 1893, to the Swedish crisis of 1992, to Japan's lost decade, financial crises have consistently been followed by long periods of economic distress. And that has been true even when, as in the case of Sweden, the government moved quickly and decisively to fix the banking system.

    To avoid this fate, America needed a much stronger program than what it actually got -- a modest rise in federal spending that was barely enough to offset cutbacks at the state and local level. This isn't 20-20 hindsight: the inadequacy of the stimulus was obvious from the beginning.

  • Paul Krugman: Divided We Fall: Looking forward to bad news in the election:

    When Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, the U.S. economy had strong fundamentals. Household debt was much lower than it is today. Business investment was surging, in large part thanks to the new opportunities created by information technology -- opportunities that were much broader than the follies of the dot-com bubble.

    In this favorable environment, economic management was mainly a matter of putting the brakes on the boom, so as to keep the economy from overheating and head off potential inflation. And this was a job the Federal Reserve could do on its own by raising interest rates, without any help from Congress.

    Today's situation is completely different. The economy, weighed down by the debt that households ran up during the Bush-era bubble, is in dire straits; deflation, not inflation, is the clear and present danger. And it's not at all clear that the Fed has the tools to head off this danger. Right now we very much need active policies on the part of the federal government to get us out of our economic trap.

    But we won't get those policies if Republicans control the House.

    Actually, we're unlikely to get those policies if the Democrats control the House either, for much the same reason we got so little effective stimulus out of Congress the last two years. The thing that more immediately bothers me is that if the Republicans win, they'll see their burnt earth obstruction ploy as a big success, and simply escalate it for two more years, forcing all sorts of ridiculous brinksmanship showdowns with Obama. Control of the House will make such showdowns much more likely. On the other hand, control by Democrats won't change much, especially as the smaller margin will play into the hands of the Blue Dogs, meaning no real reform and leaving the Democrats with a hopelessly mixed message. The only thing that is clear from the greater or lesser debacle is that the American people have a short memory of how bad the Republicans were, and no inkling of how badly we need progressive reform. Both facts are direct results of the Democrats failing to use their power bases to make the right cases to the American people.

  • Andrew Leonard: The New Barbarism: Keeping Science Out of Politics: A Scientific American online poll:

    But even if you grant that the poll was the victim of an organized attack, I'm still amazed by what we can learn from it. In response to the question "Which policy options do you support?" 42 percent of the respondents chose the answer "keeping science out of the political process."

    Say what?

    Keep science out of the political process? Science? I thought it was supposed to be the other way around; that the goal was the keep politics out of science. I can understand, albeit disagree with, categorizations of anthropogenic global warming as bad science, but I'm afraid I just can't come to grips with the notion that we should keep "science" from influencing politics at all. What is the point of civilization in the first place if we don't use our hard-won understanding of how the universe works to influence our decisions on how to organize ourselves?

    Watching one Republican candidate for office after another declare outright that they do not believe humans are causing climate change is befuddling enough. But to flat-out reject science as a guide to policy is beyond medieval. It's a retreat to pure superstition, a surrender to barbarism. We might as well be reading omens in the entrails of sacrificial animals. Our wealth as a country, our incredible technological wonders -- the Industrial Revolution! -- were built upon scientific discovery.

    Should the FDA reject clinical test results in deciding whether to approve a drug? Should the U.S. Corp of Engineers ignore physics when building dams and levees? Scientists say asbestos is dangerous to human health and cigarette smoking causes cancer. Who cares? Let's continue to build public schools packed with the fire-retardant material and give free Camel nonfilters to teenagers!

    We need more science in the political process, not less. The countries that understand that will thrive and prosper. The ones that don't will undoubtedly fail, if they haven't already doomed themselves.

  • Andrew Leonard: Wall Street's Best Friend: The Tea Party:

    Call it the amazing bank bailout boomerang. Even though few things enrage Tea Party rebels more than government checks made out to Wall Street financial companies, the reverse dynamic does not seem to be a problem. The top 12 Senatorial candidates most favored by Tea Partiers have already hauled in $4.6 million in campaign contributions from Wall Street. Even more amazing is a tidbit reported by the Washington Post:

    The two top recipients of money from companies receiving TARP funds are the top two House Republicans, Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) with $200,000 and Republican Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) with $187,000. They are followed by the ranking members of two key House committees, Spencer Bachus (Ala.) on Financial Services and Dave Camp (Mich.) on the tax-writing committee.

    Let's spell that out: The Wall Street banks that were bailed out with taxpayer money are using their profits to bankroll Republicans who now claim to be unalterably opposed to any more bailouts, ever, for all time, in any universe -- even though the original TARP bailout was a Republican idea, signed into law by a Republican president, with the strong backing of the Republican leadership of both the House and Senate.

  • Alex Pareene: Barack Obama's Favorite Columnists Are Awful: Short list of five: David Brooks and Tom Friedman of the New York Times, Jerry Seib of the Wall Street Journal, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, and Joe Klein of Time:

    Brooks is a mushy thinker who's made a living on lazy generalities and wholly invented "observations" describing nonexistent trends. But he's still not as awful as Thomas Friedman, our foremost authority on what incredibly stupid but inexplicably powerful people think about the world at large.

    Friedman's Golden Books prose, recycled grandpa jokes, and ruthlessly mixed metaphors have endeared him to airport bookstore-frequenting CEOs across this great nation, but I can't understand how a supposed book-smart guy like the president can read him with a straight face. (Especially considering that in addition to being a mindless cheerleader of globalization, Friedman is also an unapologetic warmonger.)

    E.J. Dionne is an unoffensive old liberal. Joe Klein is guilty of various heinous crimes against journalism and retains his cushy job only because of inertia. Gerald Seib is a reliable purveyor of Washington conventional wisdom for an increasingly dishonestly edited Murdoch paper.

  • Matthew Yglesias: Business and Its Friends Continue to White About Obama as Profits Soar: The stretch from 2003-07 is considered to have been a period of economic expansion, but it sure didn't feel like one: it produced few jobs, no improvement in standard of living, most of the apparent profits turned out to be bogus. Feels even worse now, but Yglesias quotes Politico:

    Profits have surged 62 percent from the start of 2009 to mid-2010, according to the Commerce Department. That is faster than any other year and a half in the Fabulous '50s, the Go-Go '60s or the booms under Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

    Yglesias adds:

    You would think that hard-nosed businessmen would be sufficiently practical to realize that they're doing well under president Obama and perhaps just stay quiet and enjoy counting their money. But no! They want to whine loudly in public about the fact that the president is saying mean things about them. Is the Fortune 500 being run by seven year-olds?

    In practice, such complaints create a false sense of reality, which Obama tends to accommodate, legitimating the complaints and encouraging more while undercutting his options to do anything that might lead to a more widespread recovery.

Three days, definitely the last "Weekend Roundup" before the election. I'm still skeptical that the Republicans will take over the House, let alone the Senate, when it's all done. If they do, well, it won't be the dumbest thing the American people have ever done -- that's still electing George W. Bush to a second term as warmonger-in-chief, a term that ultimately proved to be every bit as disastrous for Americans at home as his first term had been for the world at large. It will be more like the 1946 election, which started the dismantling of the New Deal, especially by passing the Taft-Hartley Act, the beginning of the end of union protection for American workers, and the first decisive steps toward banking regulation, which ultimately caused the crash of 2007-08. The Democrats bounced back in 1948 as President Truman found the courage to fight back against a know nothing, do nothing Congress. But it's hard to imagine Washington's Democrats standing up now after they've spent the whole campaign bending over. They rose to the top of their party mostly on their ability to raise campaign funds, and they were elected mostly because they didn't suck as bad as the other party. It's hard to see in either trait much of a knack for overcoming adversity.

On the other hand, there's little reason to think that the electorate has changed much in the last two years. The crowd in photos from Jon Stewart's Washington event (see here and here) still looks like America -- upbeat, prosperous, good-natured, cognizant of but unflustered by all the nonsense. Gives me a small ray of hope.

PS: CBS put the crowd size at 215,000, versus 87,000 for Glenn Beck's August Tea Party rally.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Movie: The Social Network: Facebook story, smartly written and paced with lots of little details that ring if not true better than true -- e.g., Bill Gates and Larry Summers get a chance to show why no one really likes them. A-

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ill Wind

Steve Benen: Why Partisan Storm Winds Blow Stronger in One Direction: That is, Republican rage blows stronger than Democratic rage, especially relative to the putative outrages. This is certainly true, and important to understand, but Benen is groping. He cites a Kevin Drum post which argues four points: (1) conservatives go nuts faster; (2) conservatives go nuts in greater numbers; (3) conservatives go nuts at higher levels; (4) conservatives go nuts in the media. True enough, but all of that is basically explained: conservatives are much more likely to go nuts, for the simple reason that liberals can articulate their positions rationally whereas conservatives are stuck with a few platitudes and raw emotion. But it goes deeper than that: reasonableness, moderation, and respect for differences are traits exemplifying the liberal worldview; on the other hand, conservatives demand authority, order, and discipline, and have little recourse when that fails but to blow a gasket. Of course, (3) and (4) are also helped out by the fact that conservatives have easier access to money and media -- the whole point of conservatism, after all, is to feed the rich -- and the conservative media is much more indulgent of fringe opinion than the liberal media is. (Which is actually not what you'd expect, since freedom of speech and press is a founding liberal principle. In practice, the liberal media, such as it is, parades its liberalism by indulging the right while denying legitimate access to the real left.)

I think the fundamental problem with right-wing hysteria is that it's so darn mainstream. In Democratic circles, 9/11 Truthers, Code Pink, Diebold folks, and the like can't get any establishment attention at all. Members of Congress won't return their phone calls or even be seen in public with them. On the right, however, there's practically nothing a right-wing extremist can say or do to be exiled from polite company.

There's a clear and impermeable line between the progressive mainstream and the left fringe. The line between the Republican Party/conservative movement and the far-right fringe barely exists. Whereas Dems kept the fringe at arm's length, Republicans embrace the fringe with both arms. Both sides have nutjobs; only one side thinks their nutjobs are sane.

I don't get the compulsion to divide and balance "nutjobs" on the left as well as on the right, with the implication that the spectrum extends into nonsense on both ends, and that only the centrists -- which is all liberals aspire to these days -- are sane. There are reasonable (albeit idealistic and impractical) people at both ends -- libertarians on the right, communal anarchists on the left -- and there are nuts scattered far and wide but mostly tending toward the right, where they are not necessarily welcome. Contrary to Benen, the respectable right does have some standards: Nazis are no longer in vogue, and overt racists are generally recognized as misguided. On the other hand, the problem with Code Pink isn't that they're wrong (like 9/11 Truthers, who by the way aren't necessarily leftist at all) but that they're disruptive and, well, rude. That may not be the best of tactics, but thus far the only one who's said anything under the Capitol dome about American war crimes has been Medea Benjamin, which strikes me as a credit.

Benen asked for help in the comments, and some interesting points came in. I'll push the quotes below the fold, but make a few summary one of my own here:

  1. The Republicans, at least from Nixon on, decided that the ends justify whatever means it takes to win. That includes dominating the money at every level, managing the media full time, researching and exploiting wedge issues, fighting close elections in the courts, and who knows what else. They take whatever they can get, and when they lose they keep clawing back. They don't believe in fair play or in representative democracy or in any common good. They play to win, and when they win they play their advantages to win again. And when they lose, they don't look to the future; they look to wreck their enemies now. They are, in short, ruthless. Democrats are wusses (or, at least, slow learners, still in thrall to their high school civics classes).
  2. In a democracy, the Republicans's love for and support by the rich is a disadvantage, because there are always many more non-rich voters than rich voters, leaving them with the unenviable task of selling a bare majority a government that serves the interests of a small (but powerful) minority. This is why the Republicans have to be ruthless in order to win. They have to exploit the advantages they do have -- mostly more money (spent on elections, of course, but also leveraging business power for jobs, public relations, and media influence) but they also leave few stones unturned. They know, for instance, that their odds improve when poor people who would vote against them don't bother to vote. They fight unions not only because businesses don't like them but because unions organize workers to vote against them. What all of this adds up to is that the core mission of the Republicans is profoundly anti-democratic.
  3. The rich, of course, feel entitled to rule. Indeed, every day they rule over their businesses, their employees, their vendors. They are used to getting their way, so they don't see any reason why they shouldn't have their way with government also. Sure, they were once chastised by the Great Depression and the joint national sacrifices of WWII, but that's a long time ago, and those lessons are conveniently forgotten. (The shift here reached a tipping point around 1970, which is a significant year for a number of reasons.) The rich are so convinced of their right to rule that many people find them convincing -- there seems to be something ingrained in our nature urging us to follow the most self-assured leader, even though history is full of just that sort of wreckage.
  4. The Republicans get votes from the rich and from people who are subservient to or who by nature follow the lead of the rich, but that alone doesn't provide enough votes to win many elections. One way the Republicans add voters is by adopting single-issue voters based on wedge issues. Abortion is a striking example, especially given that before 1970 Republicans tended to be more pro-abortion and Democrats, with large concentrations of Catholics and Baptists, tended to be more anti-abortion. There is a long list of similar hot button issues meant to attract people who would not otherwise vote Republican, even when they involve obvious trade-offs (e.g., through 2000 Muslims tended to vote Republican, but that's changing fast as Republicans find political gains in attacking Muslims).
  5. While the rich may be rational in supporting Republicans, nearly everyone else -- especially single-issue voters -- are irrational: they have massive blind spots, especially on economic issues but also on critical matters of war and peace and justice, and those blind spots are deliberately obscured by party propaganda. One result is that nut cases flock to the party which flatters them. Another is mainstream Republicanism becomes saturated with all sorts of crazy mythology. Lately, Republicans have become so embattled by reason and reality they appear to be advocating a new dark age of ignorance and superstition, as if that's the only way they can cloak their ambitions.
  6. There is much more one can say about how the Republicans are able to corral the nonpartisan media, which allows considerable room for the right fringe and far less for the serious left -- although the latter is largely the work of established Democrats who often seem more worried, and take greater pains to distance themselves from, their own party's left than from the Republicans. The nonpartisan media limits the range of discourse to what the political powers allow, and to limit the depth to what they can easily provide and what their viewers and readers can easily digest, which turns out to be pretty shallow -- criteria which doubly damn the serious left while playing up the entertainment value of the crackpot right.
  7. For much of the 1980s and 1990s the right was able to get away with extolling itself as the "party of ideas" -- something which became increasingly untenable as those ideas were put into practice and turned disastrous. (Supply side economics and preemptive wars were notorious failures; privatization and deregulation have frequently failed, sometimes -- as with the repeal of Glass-Steagall -- spectacularly.) Nowadays the right is reduced to endlessly repeating hollow formulas, like their obsessions with tax cuts and arms races and denying climate change -- only a small fraction of the wrongest and dumbest things Republicans say these days come from cranks. Mostly they come from party propagandists, making the whole issue of crankdom superfluous.

I'm beginning to feel like I'm rambling here, or maybe just trying to reduce something book length to bullet points. Maybe the reason for the disproportionate rage is simpler. Maybe the Republican ranks just include more flaming assholes.

The quotes. First up, from dontcallmefrancis:

You are missing the "divine right" to rule, that conservatives assume.

From matt, same basic thing but longer:

I think the root cause is that conservatives basically don't think Democrats are legitimately entitled to govern, even if they win the election. This may have started with Clinton, when Republicans thought Bush had it in the bag after the first Iraq war and couldn't emotionally accept that they lost, so they clung to the fact that he didn't get a majority, and pursued all kinds of crazy theories to delegitimate him -- Vince Foster was murdered, the endless fake scandals, etc.

With Obama they've been more or less explicit that they don't think he should be allowed to govern, and have gone to ridiculous lengths to prevent him from governing, even after being dealt an absolutely unambiguous defeat at the polls. They don't care that they lost the election. Hence the birther nonsense, and the crazed constitutional theories (some of which may still be adopted by the Supreme Court); they can't emotionally accept that it's legitimate for Democrats to govern and to pursue their agenda.

From PaulW:

The Far Right Conservatives are OBSESSED with the idea that theirs is a righteous cause that will transform this nation into whatever they want it to be. In the 60s, it was their belief in Goldwater's brand of conservatism. By the 1980s, the banner had switched to Ronald Reagan. The same Reagan revered as a Saint by these Far Right believers. Everything since 1980 is supposed to be part of the Grand Plan of a glorious Republican Revolution that cannot be stopped and cannot be interrupted. A hundred-year GOP empire.

From biggerbox, something pretty obvious:

(5) Conservative nuts are bankrolled extensively by wealthy interests who manipulate them as a weapon on behalf of their own agenda.

From SaintZak:

Conservatives feel entitled. They want "their" country back. Remember in the early days of George W Bush's the first time he was even mildly criticized conservatives went psychotic. I very much remember "THIS President will not be criticized" being said more than a few times. Even when they had control of the White House, both chambers of congress and were stacking the supreme court, conservatives were still going nutty over everyhting . . . that's how Fox News, talk radio, Limbaugh, etc, flourished . . . flogging the assault on their entitlement over and over. Even in complete control they were victims.

From DA:

It's rather simple in my eyes. Republicans are extremely more fearful right now of loosing the ability to Maximize profits or capitalize on business opportunities. I think they see government and democrats as blockers/regulators/socialists that will limit/prevent their ability to profit. This applies to the business elite only. Once they kick in their propaganda machine we get the other 2/3's raging mad as well. These are the ignorant, patriotic, gun totting, social conservatives and small government wack jobs screaming their heads off about how the dems are destroying the country.

From Texas Aggie:

There seems to be a strong distinction between the way the regressives and the progressives think. Regressives are strongly prone to faith based thinking, emotional responses, short sound bites, and things like that. They are wired to think in hierarchies with absolute obedience to those above you with little ability to think analytically. They think in terms of punishment to control behavior. They don't have any tolerance for anything that is even approaching the limits of what they consider proper behavior. In other words, they basically are rule bound with no ability to analyze the rules (or anything else, for that matter) to see if maybe they don't apply in a particular situation.

From Tim H:

Liberal care about policy, while conservatives care about who gets to rule. When Bush proposed comprehensive immigration reform, he got backing from liberals. Conservatives wouldn't back Clinton or Obama if they proposed renaming the country Reaganville. It's only legit to rename the country Reaganville if conservatives do it.

Liberals embrace policies that benefit the widest swath of citizens, while conservatives look out for the interests of the moneyed elite. [ . . . ]

Liberals value people. Conservatives value money.

Liberals value reason. Conservatives value faith.

From Doug:

As far as I can discover, there are just two goals for the present-day Republican party; firstly, to shrink the Federal government until it returns to what it was in 1880 and secondly, to make themselves and their rich "friends" even richer while doing so. The Republican Party isn't "in the tank" for business and corporate interests, it IS business and corporate interests and nothing else.

THAT fact is NOT going to win them any elections and the result is "smoke and mirrors." By "mainstreaming" the fears, real and imagined, felt by the right-wing, these interests hoped to provide cover for THEIR agenda: clipping the wings of the one entity capable of taking them on and winning -- the Federal government.

The result, though, hasn't been what was expected. There is always a large group of people dissatisfied with what the Federal government does and how it accomplishes what it does and who AREN'T insane. Those were the ones who, I believe, were SUPPOSED to run this "revolt" against the Federal government but, surprise! surprise! -- they must have been too busy or something to attend the meeting that chose the committee that vetted the candidates. And the Koch brothers can't be everywhere, you know.

Birchers and other monomaniacs are nothing if not persistent. The fact that they're still around (fighting Muslims, this time) proves that. Their persistence has paid off though, as demonstrated by today's crop of nut-job Republicans. Unfortunately for the Republican party, there are many people who AREN'T insane conspiracy believers who vote for Republicans.

From Jessica:

There are two large, enduring differences:

  1. Right-wing wingnuts are aligned with factions within the power elite. They are funded, disciplined, and treated more gently by the media.
  2. The right basically wants to go back to the past (even if a largely imaginary one); the left wants to go into an unknown future.

From Chris, who sees this as media distortion:

Normally I don't go in for the stereotype of the media as left-leaning, but I'll accept it in the sense that the media tends not to be completely fucking batshit insane.

Which means that your average journalist, when confronted with your average right-wing wacko, wants to ask, "Are you serious? Do you actually think that?" That's just basic professional curiosity. But the difference is that the right has proven, with everything from wingnut welfare to decades of media-baiting, that there is money to be made (and attention to be earned), by treating conservative perspectives with gentle curiosity and an aura of legitimacy.

However, your average journalist, when confronted with your average left-wing partisan (I'm using different words here, "wacko" and "partisan", because one side's adherents believe in palpably false, stupid, and destructive things, and the other side's adherents think rationally, if beyond the limits of corporate-Dem political possibilities), has a couple thoughts in response: "Oh, shit, now I'm going to have to do some homework (and probably call Republicans liars) if I want to report on this. Hm, how can I avoid either of those things?" and "Of course this liberal sincerely thinks _____. I know people like that. It's no fun to talk about politics, because when you ask, 'Do you really believe that?' they look blankly at you and say, 'Of course. Why wouldn't I?' Where's the fun in reporting that? Who's going to read a story headlined, 'Liberals think about issue rationally!'?"

Monday, October 25, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 17248 [17232] rated (+16), 867 [868] unrated (-1).

No Jazz Prospecting

I have some stuff to report, but no time to wrap it all up today. Will return with even more next week. Meanwhile, consider this a personal day. I was born sixty years ago today. So I can use a break, if you can call it that.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Weekend Roundup

A week's worth of useful links I didn't get around to commenting on previously:

  • Peter Daou: The Impeachment of Barack Obama: On the asymmetry between the two major political parties:

    One glaring difference between Democrats and Republicans, left and right, is that the former is trying to win a debate while the latter is aiming for political annihilation.

    The White House's baffling message in recent days that if Republicans gain seats they'll be more cooperative, is emblematic of that divide.

    The reality is this: impeachment, not cooperation, is on the table if the GOP takes the House. I've been arguing for months that the level of anger and hate on the right, stoked by millionaire radio blatherers and fueled by a well-oiled rightwing attack machine, has created a fertile atmosphere to move impeachment from the fringes to the mainstream.

    Democrats are constantly flabbergasted by Republican audacity. Republicans will say and do things that Democrats won't; they'll endure the initial outcry over outrageous comments to move the national discourse to the right, a process I described in a recent post:

    There is a simple formula for rightwing dominance of our national debate, even when Democrats are in charge: move the conversation as extreme right as possible, then compromise toward the far right. Negotiation 101. And it's completely lost on Democrats. It's no accident that in 21st century America, torture has been mainstreamed, climate denial has taken firm hold, book burning, racial dog whistles and brazen religious intolerance are part of our discourse and par for the course. This is how the right plays the game, using Limbaugh, Hannity, Fox, Drudge, blogs, chain emails, talk radio, etc. to shamelessly and defiantly drag the conversation as far right as possible. . . . Democrats run away from the left like it's the plague while Republican run to the right like it's nirvana. The net effect is that the media end up reporting far right positions as though they were mainstream and reporting liberal positions as though they were heinous aberrations. And you wonder why America is veering off the rails?

    Another chronic problem for Democrats is that they underestimate the American public's responsiveness to rightwing talking points. Take this poll for example: "Likely voters in battleground districts see extremists as having a more dominant influence over the Democratic Party than they do over the GOP."

  • Glenn Greenwald: David Brooks' campaign finance "facts": One "fact" mentioned by Brooks in passing is that the total money being spent on the 2010 elections is "something like $1.4 billion." Almost all of that is coming from businesses -- directly from individuals to candidates, or more and more from anonymous sources (including corporate coffers thanks to the Supreme Court's ruling that corporate bribes are a form of free speech) through new slush funds like American Crossroads and more obvious conduits like the US Chamber of Commerce. Greenwald shows how Brooks fiddles with the numbers to make the Republicans look a bit less egregious here, the Democrats a bit more menacing there, then sort of pooh poohs the whole thing anyway -- he contends "money is almost never the difference between victory and defeat." Actually, money is the difference between running and not. (A good example of this is the KS-Senate race, where Republican Jerry Moran outpolls Democrat Lisa Johnston 67-27%, which actually isn't so impressive when you factor in that Moran has outspent Johnston by nearly 1000 fold -- according to Federal Election Commission as of Aug. 22 the disbursements totals are $4,497,168 to $4,530. Johnston's inability to raise funds is so extreme that when Democratic Party flacks come to my door in Wichita they don't even mention her name.)

  • Andrew Leonard: The National Review's silly attack on Paul Krugman: Cites a 3600 word article by Stephen Spruiell, likening Krugman to Captain Ahab.

    But this is also an odd accusation to make, since Krugman has criticized virtually every policy initiative of the Obama administration as insufficient or unworkable. If anything, one would imagine that Krugman's influence and number of followers would be gaining as a result. He said the economy was in worse shape than the administration wanted us to believe. He was right. He said the banks should have been broken up. A review of the current foreclosure mess, once again threatening the bottom lines of the too-big-too-fail goliaths, suggests he was right again. He said the stimulus was too small. We can't know for sure if he was right on that, but it's certainly possible. Non-partisan private sector economy-watching firms attribute the stimulus with contributing to economic growth and keeping unemployment from being even worse than it is now. A bigger, better, stimulus could have achieved more. [ . . . ]

    Most of Spruiell's words are devoted to attempting to find inconsistencies between what Krugman professed to believe before, driven mad by George W. Bush, he turned irredeemably partisan. It's an easy game to play with someone who has as long a track record and as fierce a rhetorical style as Krugman. But Spruiell gives far too short shrift to a point he mentions only in passing -- the fact that Krugman has been nearly as virulent a critic of Obama as he was of George Bush.

    Because that's exactly why we know Krugman is sincere, and should be taken seriously. From day one of the Obama administration Krugman has been as tough on his own side as he was on his enemies. There was no grace period, no slack, and no compromise.

    In my opinion, Krugman was quite right about the stimulus being too small. What's not clear, because it wasn't tried, was whether his recommendation for a stimulus of $1.3 trillion -- roughly twice what Obama got passed -- would have been enough. It's possible that other factors would have continued to suppress demand.

  • Michael Lind: Esquire's deficit reduction plan gets an "F": There are things that Obama would even with the best intentions and efforts have had trouble doing, but there are other things he did for no good reason that have caused him nothing but trouble. One of the latter is caving in on the deficit argument. He didn't gain any credit for his non-defense spending freeze, and his "bipartisan deficit commission" is certain to be a fiasco. He actually hurt himself by promising that his health care reform plan would be "deficit neutral" when what most people wanted was better health care regardless of cost. But his anti-deficit surrender wasn't just a way of tying his shoelaces together so he would repeatedly trip his supposed agenda up; it opened the door for Republicans and their Tea Party allies/cronies to relentlessly pound him over government spending, even when government spending was the only thing between us and a full-blown 1930s depression.

    This brings up a very interesting point: many of the most potent conservative arguments are fallacies of generalization, taking points that are absolutely valid for individuals and assuming that they are (or should be) equally valid for the collective. It really is a bad idea for individuals to go deep in debt; it's really something else for the government to go deep in debt. Consevatives also have a bad habit of assuming that something that is bad in excess is every bit as bad in moderation or in exceptional circumstances -- they can't help but think in terms of ridgid, authoritarian principles (part of that "strong father" model they like to talk about, or what we used to call the Führerprinzip). So, like, if excessive taxation is bad, so must be all taxes. Now, you know Obama knows better than this. He knows, for instance, that there is a time to balance the budget and there are times when the best thing to do is screw the budget and spend, spend, spend, and when we're running 8, 10, 12 percent unemployment is one of the latter times. One reason you know he knows this is because the first thing he asked Congress to do was to allocate a lot of money for an economic stimulus bill. (Admittedly not enough money to actually solve the problem, and with a bunch of inefficient tax cuts to appease the Republicans, but at least he recognized the right direction, compromising on numbers rather than principles.) He got that bill passed, but he neglected to sell the principle to the public, and when he set out on his anti-deficit kick he threw both the principle and the argument away, leaving himself helpless when his economists ran the numbers again and realized they hadn't asked for as much stimulus as they actually needed. This is the thing that is so very annoying about Obama: that he won't get up and teach people things that he knows and understands to be important. And he doesn't even have to convince diehard Republicans that he's right; he mostly just has to keep his own ranks united so they don't cave in, and establish his credibility and integrity to the uncommitted so they see him as a source of hope. Deficits aren't the easiest argument to make, but they're not impossible either. For instance, every Republican president since Hoover has, when faced with even a hint of an economic downturn while in office, believed in and acted upon the idea of countercyclical spending. The only time Republicans don't like the idea is when a Democrat is in the White House and likely to get blamed for the bad times: like 1993 with Clinton, or now with Obama.

    The setup on this article is that Esquire set up their own "bipartisan deficit commission" to scoop Obama's, and their report, well, sucks. I don't have any particular comments -- it's all worth reading. And while I'd quibble with Lind on some points -- that gas tax doesn't strike me as all that regressive let alone such a bad thing -- he gets most of the low-hanging fruit.

  • Frank Rich: The Rage Won't End on Election Day: Nor will the batshit political posturing, but at least the most opportunistic cases will get less attention, for a while. I still believe that what people are referring to as rage isn't triggered by the economic downturn, which most people seem to take with a good dose of self-pounding depression. This is a far cry from the 1930s when veterans marched on Washington, and when politicians tripped over each other to see who could propose the highest taxes on the rich. The Tea Party eruption is some sort of conditioned response, where talk radio jocks summoned their zombie followers to make news and spout utter nonsense and ultimately dutifully vote Republican. About the only thing that might stop them would be for the political ploy to go bankrupt and be overwhelmingly rejected by the hitherto silent majority. That doesn't seem to be in the cards, mostly because the rich have continued to rally behind their party, especially with all the new campaign finance loopholes courtesy of the Supreme Court. (If anyone actually is concerned about corruption in Washington they should look first to campaign finance reform: the $1.2 billion spent on campaigns tells you all you need to know to see how little the will of the people matters. The clearest example of anti-democracy I know of is the KS Senate race, which pundits have called for Republican Jerry Moran, largely because he's been able to outspend Democrat Lisa Johnston nearly one thousand to one.)

  • Frank Rich: What Happened to Change We Can Believe In? Argues that the Obama administration in letting the massive frauds that led to the current recession go unexposed and unprosecuted, Obama made it possible for the Republicans's "faux populism" to make a comeback. I'd go further and say that the single greatest categorical failure of the Obama administration and of the Democratic majorities in Congress has been their unwillingness to document the gross abuses and corruptions of power of the Bush administration and of previous Republican Congresses. By failing to properly place blame, they've inadvertently let themselves be tarnished by it:

    The real tragedy here, though, is not whatever happens in midterm elections. It's the long-term prognosis for America. The obscene income inequality bequeathed by the three-decade rise of the financial industry has societal consequences graver than even the fundamental economic unfairness. When we reward financial engineers infinitely more than actual engineers, we "lure our most talented graduates to the largely unproductive chase" for Wall Street riches, as the economist Robert H. Frank wrote in The Times last weekend. Worse, Frank added, the continued squeeze on the middle class leads to a wholesale decline in the quality of American life -- from more bankruptcy filings and divorces to a collapse in public services, whether road repair or education, that taxpayers will no longer support.

    Even as the G.O.P. benefits from unlimited corporate campaign money, it's pulling off the remarkable feat of persuading a large swath of anxious voters that it will lead a populist charge against the rulers of our economic pyramid -- the banks, energy companies, insurance giants and other special interests underwriting its own candidates. Should those forces prevail, an America that still hasn't remotely recovered from the worst hard times in 70 years will end up handing over even more power to those who greased the skids.

  • Matthew Yglesias: The Koch's Paranoid Style: The Kochs go to Aspen to listen to Glenn Beck lecture on "Is America on the Road to Serfdom?" along with Phil Anschutz, Rich DeVos, Steve Bechtel, the fellow travellers:

    I suppose I don't begrudge rich businessmen the opportunity to hang out with one another throwing a weird pity party about how overtaxed they are. But it strikes me as almost self-refuting for a bunch of billionaires to be chilling at a lavish resort talking about how Barack Obama has somehow done away with American liberty. At the end of the day the Kochs' biggest policy priority is that they want to continue to get away with profiting from un-taxed air pollution externalities. It's what any rich businessman in a polluting line of work would want, but it's hardly a question that goes to the core of human freedom.

  • Matthew Yglesias: Anti-Anti-Racism: On Juan Williams, who tripped one of those live wire phrases that result in instant dismissal for unthinking pundits, at least at NPR -- presumably his gig at Fox is still smelling sweet:

    What we're seeing is episode one million in the American conservative movement's passionate attachment to the cause of anti-anti-racism. Relatively few conservatives are interested in expressing racist views, but virtually all conservatives are united in the conviction that anti-racism run amok is ruining the country and almost no conservatives are interested in combatting racism. You normally see this in a black-white context, but increasingly over the past two years it's emerging in a Muslim-Christian context. The central conservative passion when it comes to these bias issues is the bizarre notion that it's hard for members of the majority group to get a fair shake and then unwarranted suppression of alleged anti-minority views is a much bigger problem that actual bias against minority groups.

    Also see Steve Kornacki: Juan Williams ' real crime: Hack punditry. Admittedly, I've only seen Williams on Fox, where he's a very token liberal -- you can tell, if not because he's black, because smiles wistfully when everyone else is jumping on him. Kornacki writes:

    But Williams wasn't interested in saying something intelligent about the Tea Party movement; he was happy to just accept the notion that it represents an independent force with cross-ideological appeal and to structure an argument around it. It was a classic example of hack punditry: No one learned anything reading it, but it did provide conservatives with a nice talking point: "Look, even a liberal like Juan Williams says this Tea Party-bashing is bad for the Democrats."

    Another reason not to feel sorry for Williams is that Fox more than made up for his NPR loss, inking him to a $2 million contract. You'd think conservatives would be more conscientious about perverse incentives, but it looks like they favor them.

One problem with the "Weekend Roundup" approach is that I keep filing stuff ahead and never post anything during the week, as happened this week. Don't know whether that's bad or not. I did think of doing a post on something dumb our Democratic candidate for Congress said: he attacked his opponent for agreeing with DOD secretary Gates to kill the utterly unnecessary and wasteful extra jet engine project for the F-35 strike fighter, which as far as I'm concerned is also utterly unnecessary and wasteful, because some 800 jobs somewhere hang on the decision. In short, Goyle guarantees that he's never going to vote against defense spending no matter how dumb even though he likes to paint himself as a "fiscal conservative."

Today Goyle ran a large ad in the Wichita Eagle with a long list of "Republicans for Goyle" -- the only one I recognized was Carol Rupe, who would likely make a much better Democratic representative than Goyle if she could be persuaded to change parties and run. The Eagle also gave out most of their editorial choices for state offices, splitting fairly evenly between major parties but picking Pompeo over Goyle, mostly questioning who the hell Goyle really is. They also picked Sam Brownback over Tom Holland (despite an op-ed that asked who the hell Brownback really is) for governor and Jerry Moran over Lisa Johnston for senator, curtly dismissing Johnston as "not ready." What they meant is that she has no money, and therefore no visibility. I was shocked to discover that Moran has outspent her by 1,000 times (roughly $5 million to $5 thousand). You can see why that would impress the Eagle, which is moderate politically but in the end loves to suck up to winners, but anyone concerned about the corrupt influence of money in politics should be excited to find a major party candidate who can prove she hasn't sold out.

Much of the above has to do with money and politics, so let me also point out a couple of book pages to explore this further:

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Movie: Never Let Me Go: Kazuo Ishiguro novel. Laura read it; found it "incredibly sad," which isn't really a good formula to transplant to the screen, not just because Carey Mulligan's tear (but not her mope) looked manufactured. More likely the novel has suspense and inner depth that couldn't be maintained or expanded. B

Monday, October 18, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 17232 [17205] rated (+27), 868 [868] unrated (-0). Another week. Trying to clean up the workspace. Getting sick and tired of listening to and writing about music.

Added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:

  • Jan De Gaetani/The Contemporary Chamber Ensemble [Arthur Weisberg, conductor]: Arnold Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire Op. 21 (1971, Nonesuch): Back during my Adorno years, the one album of classical music (vocal, no less) that I actually liked. Recalled it while thinking about the label's classical music background. A-

Jazz Prospecting (CG #25, Part 5)

Mostly working out of my high priority box, not so much because it's high priority as because my futile attempt at getting better organized has left the lower priority boxes inaccessible. So if the grades run high this time, beware that the selection process isn't random. Not sure when I'll shift gears and try to close out the column -- two, three weeks, something like that.

Lucian Ban & John Hébert: Enesco Re-Imagined (2010, Sunnyside): A tribute to composer George Enescu (or Georges Enesco in France, or George Enesco here), 1881-1955, from Romania, also notable as a violinist and pianist. Ban is a pianist, b. 1969 in Romania; moved to New York in 1999 to study at New School. Played on two Jazz Unit Sextet records 1998-99; since 2002 has a half dozen or so records, mostly with baritone saxist Alex Harding. Hébert is a bassist who invariably shows up on good records, although this is one where the classical music strings (Albrecht Maurer, Mat Maneri) try my patience, and the jazz horns (Ralph Alessi, Tony Malaby) rarely break the surface. B+(*)

Ken Fowser & Behn Gillece: Little Echo (2010, Posi-Tone): Fowser plays tenor sax; b. 1982, grew up in New Jersey, attended William Paterson University; studied with Eric Alexander, Grant Stewart, and Ralph Bowen, and fits into their niche handsomely. Gillece plays vibes; also b. 1982, somewhere near Philadelphia. First record for either, quintet with Rick Germanson (piano), Ugonna Okegwo (bass), and Quincy Davis (drums). Swings hard, the vibes adding a certain frothy lightness. B+(*)

William Hooker Trio: Yearn for Certainty (2007 [2010], Engine): Drummer, b. 1946, has a couple dozen albums since 1982, mostly odd avant-garde juxtapositions. The trio mix here pits David Soldier (mandolin, banjo, violin) against Sabir Mateen (sax, flute, clarinet), which is good for all sorts of sparks. Hooker adds some spoken word, not exactly a highlight but fair enough within the framework. B+(**)

Andrew Lamb Trio: New Orleans Suite (2005 [2010], Engine): Tenor saxophonist (also credited with flute, clarinet, and harmonica here), b. 1958 in North Carolina, grew up in Chicago and Queens, studied with Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, has a handful of records, mostly with drummer Warren Smith (e.g., The Dogon Duo). Tom Abbs (bass, cello, didgeridoo, percussion) fills out the trio. Smith takes charge early on with a rant about Katrina, "Dyes and Lyes," worth featuring on your post-Brownie mix tape. After that they settle down for some inside-out improv that won't turn heads but will pique your interest. B+(***)

Rich Halley Quartet: Live at the Penofin Jazz Festival (2008 [2010], Pine Eagle): Featuring Bobby Bradford, whose cornet adds a second free-wheeling horn to tenor saxophonist Halley's trio. Halley is from Portland, OR; trained as a field biologist, plays free jazz with a feel for Aylerian primitivism (what Ayler thought of as spirit). Has a dozen or so albums since 1984. Bradford adds something, but I still slightly prefer his trio Mountains and Plains, and someday hope to dig up deeper background. B+(***)

Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra: Ashcan Rantings (2009 [2010], Clean Feed, 2CD): Bassist, b. 1968, has been recording since the mid-1990s. Haven't heard his early albums on Cadence/CIMP, but everything I have heard is brilliant. Most jazz musicians label themselves "composer" followed or preceded by their instrument, and Lane is no exception. I normally discount that because everyone says as much, but he continually remind me of Mingus, both in his grasp of how to push the tradition to the brink and especially in his knack for running a band. He got a huge sound from his 7-piece Full Throttle Orchestra back on New Magical Kingdom -- a Jazz CG Pick Hit -- and this one is bigger: aside from himself, a completely new lineup, dropping the guitar and adding three more horns for a powerhouse nonet, and a double serving of new arrangements. The horn work is dazzling, especially the newfound trombones -- missing on the previous album -- and the bass pulses throughout. A-

Hugo Antunes: Roll Call (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Guessing on the recording date, given only as "September 3" -- seems inconceivably tight to be 2010, but if it was more than a year old you'd think they'd think of noting the year. Portuguese bassist; based in Brussels, Belgium. First album, as far as I can tell, fronted by two tenor saxophonists -- Daniele Martini and Toine Thys (who also plays soprano and bass clarinet), backed by two drummers (João Lobo and Mark Patrman). Lots of deep rumble and fleeting reeds, remarkable when it works, which is more often than not. B+(***)

Decoy & Joe McPhee: Oto (2009 [2010], Bo Weavil): Decoy is an organ trio of sorts, with Alexander Hawkins on the B3, John Edwards on bass, and Steve Noble on drums. The three players otherwise show up more often in avant contexts -- I noticed Hawkins recently playing piano in Convergence Quartet with Taylor Ho Bynum and Harris Eisenstadt. McPhee has been an uncompromising free tenor saxophonist for over forty years, so it's no surprise that he takes every groove and grind the trio lays out for him and rips them to shreds. B+(***)

BLOB: Earphonious Swamphony (2010, Innova): Group, consisting of John Lindberg on bass, Ted Orr on guitar, and Harvey Sorgen on drums. I'm least familiar with Orr, who is also an audio engineer and plays Axon MIDI guitar as well as electric. Don't have an acronym definition of BLOB, so they may just be fond of caps -- certainly fits their penchant for loud noise. Fifth album since 2006, with a couple more listed as upcoming. This one bills Ralph Carney as a special guest, and he adds a lot of resonance in the deep end, especially when playing bass sax, bass trombone, and tuba -- clarinets and flute are his other credits. Mostly noise, but they make something out of it, and the lumbering rumble is fascinating in its own right. B+(***)

Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Llyria (2010, ECM): Swiss pianist, plays jazztronica without the electronics, emphasizing rhythm and shadings. Group includes Sha [Stefan Haslebacher] on bass clarinet and alto sax, Björn Meyer on bass, Kaspar Rast on drums, and Andi Pupato on percussion. Third ECM album, after a half-dozen self-released albums where he worked out his format. I like all of the albums, with Rea choice among the early efforts and Stoa and Holon superb ECM albums, but was slow getting into this one, the atmospherics clouding out the rhythmic interest -- the exception is "Modul 4," which is an oldie, way out of the current range (48-55). Still in play. [B+(***)]

Jon Irabagon: Foxy (2010, Hot Cup): Tenor sax slasher, has a couple albums on his own including one on Concord that was his reward for winning a Monk prize. It was generally dismissed as a milquetoasty sellout -- a complaint, by the way, I don't share, but one that no one's going to make about this one here. Sax-bass-drums trio, produced by MOPDTK leader Moppa Elliott, who probably suggested playing off Sonny Rollins' old sax trio record, Way Out West. Rollins' desert cover scene has been faked on a sandy beach, the iconic figure of the sax slinger moved to the back cover to make way for a bikini on the front. Drummer Barry Altschul gets elevated to "with special guest" and gets all the girls in a booklet photo, while bassist Peter Brender gets a surfboard. Song titles: "Foxy," "Proxy," "Chicken Poxy," "Boxy," "Hydroxy," "Biloxi," "Tsetse," "Unorthodoxy," "Epoxy," "Roxy," "Foxy (Radio Edit)," and "Moxie" -- they could all be one piece, and the end is so abrupt I checked for power failure. One of the most intense, relentless sax records ever -- too fast to be free, too noisy to be bop, too ragged to for honk. Despite the grade, I have reservations -- the same ones I have not on Rollins' endlessly clever Way Out West but on his torrential A Night at the Village Vanguard, which I've only gradually warmed to while critics regard it as a pinnacle. Altschul, by the way, is terrific throughout. Reminds me that he is best known for his work with Anthony Braxton, whose take on Charlie Parker is roughly comparable (though more masterful) to Irabagon's Rollins. A-

William Parker Organ Quartet: Uncle Joe's Spirit House (2010, Centering): With Darryl Foster on tenor sax, Cooper-Moore on organ, Gerald Cleaver on drums, and Parker, of course, on bass. Not an easy record to pigeonhole. Foster is the least avant of the many players in Parker's orbit -- he fits into the Curtis Mayfield music niche nicely, but rarely appears elsewhere, and takes a while getting his footing here. Cooper-Moore on organ should be interesting, but isn't -- he neither follows Jimmy Smith or any other known player nor finds his own way, but part of that may be that with Parker on board there's no need for the organ to double up on piano and bass duties. The music is rather straightforward, built out from the bass line, a steady pulse of life. B+(***)

Nels Cline: Dirty Baby (2010, Cryptogramophone, 2CD): Big package contains two art booklets, a total of 66 images of paintings by Ed Ruscha. The two discs of music were commissioned by David Breskin for some sort of "visionary recontextualization" of the paintings -- I'm pretty unclear on just how that works. One set of paintings are abstract, remind me of semaphores or morse code; the other look like blurry photos, but I can't say I spent much time with them. First CD is the title piece, "Dirty Baby," in six parts. Nine musicians are credited, but it's mostly Cline's guitar, clear and coherent, one of the finest extended pieces I've heard him do. The other CD, "Side B," is a mess, broken into 33 short fragments, only two topping three minutes, four more breaking two. Similar mob of musicians, with only Devin Hoff and Scott Amendola joining on both discs. Soundtrack types, probably make more sense in the intended context, especially the ones that give off ominous vibes. B+(***)

Ivo Perelman/Rosie Hertlein/Dominic Duval: Near to the Wild Heart (2009 [2010], Not Two): Tenor sax, violin, acoustic bass, respectively. Perelman has been on a run lately, with the first three of a batch of five new records rated A- hereabouts. Duval is a hard-working free jazzer who shows up a lot in the Cadence/CIMP orbit. Don't have any bio on Hertlein, but she has one album on CIMP (Two Letters I'll Keep), side credits on previous albums by Perelman, Duval, Trio X (Joe McPhee), Joe Giardullo, and Rozanne Levine; some credits include vocals, and there are some uncredited vocals here, most likely hers. Some of this music is very inventive, but the violin keeps returning to a screech that grates on my ears, the bass tends to wrap the music up like a clinging vine rather than setting it free, reducing the saxophone to coloring in. B

Ivo Perelman/Brian Willson: The Stream of Life (2008 [2010], Leo): The fifth of this year's batch of new albums from the Brazilian tenor saxophonist, a duo with drummer Willson (name spelled correctly this time), cut about the same time as the trio Mind Games with bassist Dominic Duval. I'll have to do a final sort on four of the five albums when I wrap up JCG, but for now this is a bare notch below the other three. Without the bass, this should open up a bit, and there are some superb stretches when that happens, but a bass would take a bit of the raw edge off the sax, which can grate here. Willson's drumming doesn't explode, although he does help out. B+(***)

Fond of Tigers: Continent & Western (2010, Drip Audio): Vancouver group, guitarist-vocalist Stephen Lyons is probably the main mover of the septet, with JP Carter (trumpet) and Jesse Zubot (violin) names I recognize from elsewhere, plus piano, bass, two drummers, a guest vocal from Sandro Perri and a guest blast of noise from Mats Gustafsson. AMG files them under rock, or avant-garde, or something experimental in between. I've played this twice and know less than I thought I knew when I started -- their previous (second) album caught my interest, but this has a strange mix of overbearing soundtrack and light pop, and while my grade is probably not where it'd be after 4-5 more plays, I don't see any reason to really figure this out. B-

Charles Lloyd Quartet: Mirror (2009 [2010], ECM): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1938, joined Chico Hamilton's band (replacing Eric Dolphy as music director) in 1960, broke out on his own in 1965 and was remarkably successful, both popularly and critically, in turn launching the careers of Keith Jarrett and Jack De Johnette. Had the usual rough spot in the mid-'70s and '80s, landing at ECM in 1989 and working steady ever since. Last year's record, Rabo de Nube, placed very high in year-end jazz polls. This is the same group -- Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass, Eric Harland on drums -- doing pretty much the same thing; just fewer originals, but Monk and trad. make up for that. B+(***) [advance]

No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.

Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Rodrigo Amado: Searching for Adam (Not Two)
  • Dave Brubeck: Legacy of a Legend (1955-70, Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): advance, Nov. 16
  • Bernal Eckroth Ennis: La Voz de Tres (Jota Sete)
  • Tyler Blanton: Botanic (Ottimo): Oct. 26
  • Luis Bonilla: Twilight (Planet Arts): Oct. 26
  • Tom Culver: I Remember You: Tom Culver Sings Johnny Mercer (Rhombus)
  • Maxfield Gast Trio: Side by Side (Militia Hill)
  • Laura Harrison: Now . . . . Here (59 Steps)
  • Benjamin Herman: Hypo Christmas Treefuzz [Special Edition] (Dox, 2CD)
  • Chad McCullough/Michal Vanoucek: The Sky Cries (Origin)
  • Rakalam Bob Moses/Greg Burk: Ecstatic Weanderings (Jazzwerkstatt)
  • Suzanne Pittson: Out of the Hub: The Music of Freddie Hubbard (Vineland): Oct. 6
  • Jerome Sabbagh/Ben Monder/Daniel Humair: I Will Follow You (Bee Jazz): advance, Dec. 7
  • Will Swindler's Elevenet: Universe B (OA2)
  • Dan Tepfer Trio: Five Pedals Deep (Sunnyside)
  • Yeahwon (ArtistShare)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Weekend Roundup

A week's worth of useful links I didn't get around to commenting on previously:

  • Chris Floyd: "Dizzy With Success": The Accelerating Degeneration of Life in America's Afghanistan: Sums up various recent reports from Afghanistan, where claims of "success" are constantly confounded by facts on the ground:

    "Dizzy With Success." That was the phrase used by Stalin to describe the "few excesses" that had taken place in the "historic drive to collectivization," i.e., the Bolshevik war on the rural poor that had led to massive famine and the deaths and uprooting of millions of people. The campaign had left such a swathe of ruin that some of those who saw its effects went mad, or turned dissident, or subsided into horrified, soul-drained silence.

  • Paul Krugman: The Boehnerization of Barack Obama: Winds up quoting himself:

    We'll never know how differently the politics would have played if Obama, instead of systematically echoing and giving credibility to all the arguments of the people who want to destroy him, had actually stood up for a different economic philosophy. But we do know how his actual strategy has worked, and it hasn't been a success.

  • Andrew Leonard: Obama's EPA riles Bush's industry hacks: For what it's worth, I drove through Mesa Verde National Park a few years back and was struck, as so many others have been, by how fuzzy cloudless sunshine can be. On Obama's EPA:

    Industry is in an uproar. "The aggressiveness of the rules has taken people by surprise," Jeff Holmstead, "former Bush EPA air chief and now industry attorney" told E&E.

    That would be funny if it didn't bring back such sharp memories of how Bush's EPA appointees worked consistently to undermine everything the EPA stood for. Holmstead and his successor as director of the Office of Air and Radiation, William Wehrum, were lawyers who represented industrial clients in their struggles against environmental regulations before they joined the EPA. After years spent attempting to gut the Clean Air Act, they went right back to their old jobs.

    If (or when) the Republicans retake the House of Representatives, they've already made it clear that one of their priorities will be to roll back the EPA's efforts to carry out exactly what the agency is mandated to do. As liberals sift through their various disappointments as to what the Obama administration has failed to achieve in its first two years, it might be worth noting that there are nonetheless some very real and important differences between this White House and its predecessor. An EPA that hasn't been handed over to industry, gift-wrapped, is one of them.

  • Alex Pareene: Mitt Romney made everyone buy thousands of copies of his book: A footnote on why conservative political books that no one in their right mind would read keep topping the New York Times bestseller list: bulk purchases.

    In addition to having their own separate publishing houses and imprints (generally with much laxer editorial standards than "real" nonfiction publishers), conservatives have a well-oiled machine designed to get their books on bestseller lists, through bulk sales to conservative groups, "book clubs," and other organizations that purchase thousands of books to give away to Newsmax readers or grow mold in Richard Mellon Scaife's overflowing library. Nixon, supposedly, once ordered Chuck Colson to get a book on the bestseller list, thus creating a beloved tradition that lives on today.

  • Alex Pareene: White House wants "don't ask, don't tell" to remain law while it seeks to overturn it: Another example of "change you can believe in"? There are things presidents can't do, but one thing a president can do is to decline to appeal a court ruling that found in favor of the policy the president is committed to. Why Obama keeps trying to drag out his wins is all the more perplexing given how few he's had.

    If Obama actually thinks "don't ask, don't tell" is a bad policy that should be overturned, he was just handed a gift -- a way to get rid of the policy without issuing an executive order or attempting to corral a lame duck congress. But he seems to worship the "correct" process so much that he's willing to delay, or doom, the desired result.

    Related: Niall Stanage: A Republican who wants DADT repealed now adds the following from former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson:

    Enjoining the president -- apparently with limited success -- to "let that ruling stand and move on," Johnson added: "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has always been wrong and it is still wrong."

    Johnson insisted that there was no need to wait for Congress to repeal DADT. "Stop the smoke screen," Johnson argued. "This policy is just not fair and it does not work -- we need to get rid of it now."

  • Andrew Sullivan: The View From My Window 2000-2010: Would appreciate more mea culpas like this:

    One reason for this is my greatest failure by far in these ten years -- and that was giving in to my legitimate but far-too-powerful emotions after 9/11 and cheer-leading for a war in Iraq that remains one of the most disgraceful, disastrous and murderous episodes in the history of American foreign policy. I was wrong -- but more than wrong, I was dismissive of those who turned out to be right. Some of those I mocked I did so for the right reasons. But some I didn't listen to when I should have. All I can say is that the great virtue of this blog is that it gave me nowhere to hide. And if you read the archives, you can see my mind and soul twisting slowly in the wind of reality, as illusion after illusion fell from my eyes, until the knowledge that the president I had trusted and the noble project I thought I had supported . . . ended up in secret torture chambers and mass sectarian murders and chaos and the empowerment of the very forces we were trying to defeat. [ . . . ]

    I have become an instinctually anti-war conservative, rather than an instinctually pro-war one. I do not understand how anyone who has lived and breathed this last decade could not reach a similar conclusion. Which is why I have also been unstinting in my criticism of a key ally, Israel, and its dogmatic American cheer-leaders, for failing to understand this, and to gamble not only with Israel's own future with diplomatic brinkmanship, collective punishment of Palestinians, and more pre-emptive war -- but our own future as well.

  • Nick Turse: Making War By the Book: Various Pentagon reading lists, including Petraeus's official COIN manual, David Kilcullen's The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One and Counterinsurgency, John Nagl's Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam, Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer's Operation Dark Heart, Thomas Henrikson's Afghanistan Counterinsurgency and the Indirect Approach, Joseph Celeski's Hunter-Killer Teams: Attacking Enemy Safe Havens and, especially, Sebastian Junger's War:

    That said, there is much to be learned from Junger's in-print version of Americans-at-war. His blow-by-blow accounts of small unit combat actions, for instance, drive home the tremendous firepower American troops unleash on enemies often armed with little more than rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. Page after page tallies up American technology and firepower: M-4 assault rifles (some with M-203 grenade launchers), Squad Automatic Weapons or SAWs, .50 caliber machine guns, M-240 machine guns, Mark-19 automatic grenade launchers, mortars, 155 mm artillery, surveillance drones, Apache attack helicopters, AC-130 Spectre gunships, A-10 Warthogs, F-15 and F-16 fighter-bombers, B-52 and B-1 bombers, all often brought to bear against boys who may be wielding nothing more than Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifles -- a state of the art weapon when introduced. That, however, was in the 1890s.

    The profligacy of relying on such overwhelming firepower is not lost on Junger who offers a useful insight in regard to another high-tech, high-priced piece of U.S. weaponry, "a huge shoulder-fired rocket called a Javelin." Junger writes: "Each Javelin round costs $80,000, and the idea that it's fired by a guy who doesn't make that in a year at a guy who doesn't make that in a lifetime is somehow so outrageous it almost makes the war seem winnable."

    But "almost," as the old adage goes, only counts when it comes to horseshoes and hand grenades. And bombs dropped by B-1s, like one unleashed at night near the village of Yaka Chine, are certainly not hand grenades. Junger chronicles the aftermath of that strike when U.S. troops encountered "three children with blackened faces . . . a woman lying stunned mute on the floor [while f]ive corpses lie on wooden pallets covered by white cloth outside the house, all casualties from the airstrikes the night before." He continues, "The civilian casualties are a serious matter and will require diplomacy and compensation."

    Instead, an American lieutenant colonel choppers in to lecture village elders about the evils of "miscreants" in their midst and brags about his officers' educational prowess and how it can benefit the Afghans. "They stare back unmoved," writes Junger. "The Americans fly out of Yaka Chine, and valley elders meet among themselves to decide what to do. Five people are dead in Yaka Chine, along with ten wounded, and the elders declare jihad against every American in the valley." Vignettes like this drive home the reasons why, after nearly a decade of overwhelming firepower, the U.S. war in Afghanistan has yet to prove "winnable," despite the ministrations of Kilcullen and crew.

    Later in the book we read about how Junger survives an improvised explosive device that detonates beneath his vehicle. He's saved only by a jumpy trigger-man who touches two wires to a battery a bit too early to kill Junger and the other occupants of the Army Humvee he's riding in. In response, Junger writes: "[T]his man wanted to negate everything I'd ever done in my life or might ever do. It felt malicious and personal in a way that combat didn't. Combat gives you the chance to react well and survive; bombs don't allow for anything."

    Junger, at least, traveled across the world to consciously and deliberately put himself in harm's way. Imagine how the poor people of Yaka Chine must have felt when a $300 million American aircraft swooped in to drop a bomb on them in the dead of night. Junger's book helps reveal these facts far better than his movie.

  • Sean Wilentz: Confounding Fathers: What he means by the subhead "The Tea Party's Cold War roots" is that Glenn Beck's hysterical view of American history recycles the views of the John Birch Society and especially those of W. Cleon Skousen. Wilentz then goes on to sketch a broad history of the post-WWII US right as a struggle between more pragmatic/powerseeking conservatives like William F. Buckley and the paranoid loonies, with the latter suppressed during the ascendancy of Goldwater and Reagan and resurfacing in full force in the wake of the Bush debacle. It certainly is true that no matter how ridiculous it is to accuse Obama of being a socialist, those charges are no more disjointed than the argument that Eisenhower was a Communist tool. So there's something here, but it isn't fleshed out very well. The John Birch Society wasn't the vanguard of the anticommunist movement, even if it styled itself as such. The real Cold War was the work of establishment insiders, mostly liberal internationalists like Dean Acheson and Nelson Rockefeller (who at one point or another had lots of key figures, like Dean Rusk and Henry Kissinger, on his payroll). It's one of those brainfucks of history that JBS paranoids let their visceral fears and dread of the liberal establishment be wrapped up in fanciful clouds of Communist conspiracy, but they were trying to make the most of the prevailing ideological wind. The Tea Party may indeed be analogous to the JBS movement, but its ties to the Cold War are tenuous at best. Rather, it is another effort by people who feel themselves both entitled to power and losing it to forces they scarcely understand to wrap themselves up in the self-righteousness of establishment ideology -- in this case the conservative verities that have been drummed home ever since Reagan declared government to be the problem (even though he and the Bushes were quite happy, once in power, to inflate it for patronage and cronyism).

    Wilentz has some interesting historical tidbits -- I didn't know (or perhaps just forgot) that Dizzy Gillespie organized John Birks Society cells to support his 1964 presidential campaign lark (given name: John Birks Gillespie); or that the LBJ response to Goldwater's "in your heart you know he's right" slogan was "in your guts you know he's nuts" (try to imagine Obama saying something like that). Useful on Skousen, who would be justly forgotten except for how much Beck cribbed from him:

    Skousen was undeterred. In 1981, he produced The 5,000 Year Leap, a treatise that assembles selective quotations and groundless assertions to claim that the U.S. Constitution is rooted not in the Enlightenment but in the Bible, and that the framers believed in minimal central government. Either proposition would have astounded James Madison, often described as the guiding spirit behind the Constitution, who rejected state-established religions and, like Alexander Hamilton, proposed a central government so strong that it could veto state laws. The 5,000 Year Leap is not a fervid book. Instead, it is calmly, ingratiatingly misleading. Skousen quotes various eighteenth-century patriots on the evils of what Samuel Adams, in 1768, called "the Utopian schemes of leveling," which Skousen equates with redistribution of wealth. [ . . . ]

    In 1982, Skousen published a follow-up work, an ancestor-worshipping history text titled The Making of America, and prepared a study guide for nationwide seminars based on its contents. As Alexander Zaitchik reports in his informative study of Beck, Common Nonsense, the new book became an object of controversy in 1987, after the California Bicentennial Commission sold it as part of a fund-raising drive. Among its offenses was an account of slavery drawn from long-disgraced work by the historian Fred A. Shannon, which characterized slave children as "pickaninnies" and suggested that the worst victims of slavery were the slaveholders themselves. [ . . . ]

    By the time Skousen died, in 2006, he was little remembered outside the ranks of the furthest-right Mormons. Then, in 2009, Glenn Beck began touting his work: The Naked Communist, The Naked Capitalist, and, especially, The 5,000 Year Leap, which he called "essential to understanding why our Founders built this Republic the way they did." After Beck put the book in the first spot on his required-reading list -- and wrote an enthusiastic new introduction for its reissue -- it shot to the top of the Amazon best-seller list. In the first half of 2009, it sold more than two hundred and fifty thousand copies. Local branches of the Tea Party Patriots, the United American Tea Party, and other groups across the country have since organized study groups around it. "It is time we learn and follow the FREEDOM principles of our Founding Fathers," a United American Tea Party video declares, referring to the principles expounded by Skousen's book. If Beck is the movement's teacher, The 5,000 Year Leap has become its primer, with The Making of America as a kind of 102-level text.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Time for another book report. Usual rules: forty listed up top, plus some paperback reissues, plus a new section that flags some future releases. Probably would have done future paperback reissues too if I had been paying more attention earlier. Still holding back some 65 more books, enough for a second post tout de suite, but I've done enough cherrypicking this time the rest can wait. Of the new books, I have Bryson and Hedges on the shelf, and have recent vintage book pages on Junger and Woodward (based on reviews, not on the books).

Tariq Ali: The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad (paperback, 2010, Verso): Cover image shows Obama's face breaking up with Bush's pushing through, an effect you'll recall from The Clash of Fundamentalisms, where the cover blended Bush and Bin Laden. Short (160 pp), probably predictable from a leftist who doesn't see much in liberalism, but also no doubt smart and to the point.

Kwame Anthony Appiah: The Honor code: How Moral Revolutions Happen (2010, WW Norton): Princeton philosophy professor, originally from Ghana, sketches out four cases where widely held moral views shifted over time, tied to changing codes of honor: dueling, Chinese foot binding, Atlantic slave trade, and honor killing in contemporary Pakistan. Previously wrote Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (paperback, 2007, WW Norton).

Dick Armey/Matt Kibbe: Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto (2010, William Morrow): The FreedomWorks astroturfers come out of the shadows to stake their claim on the tea party movement. They certainly feel entitled, although there are other pretenders to the throne, like Joseph Farah: The Tea Party Manifesto, and Charley Gullett: Official Tea Party Handbook: A Tactical Playbook for Tea Party Patriots.

Michael A Bellesiles: 1877: America's Year of Living Violently (2010, New Press): Not the only one, but featuring enough lynchings, homicides, attacks on Indians and striking workers to fill up 400 pages. The nation was mired in a depression, with Reconstruction ending in a deal that gave the presidency to a Republican (Hayes) who got far fewer votes than his Democratic opponent (Tilden). Author previously wrote Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture (2000; paperback, 2001, Vintage), a book still hated by gun nuts for puncturing cherished myths about frontier America.

Arthur C Brooks: The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America's Future (2010, Basic Books): He means the romanticized idea of free enterprise and the draconian idea of big government, not real business and government which actually more often than not are in cahoots. Foreword by Newt Gingrich, which makes this more of a campaign manifesto.

Bill Bryson: At Home: A Short History of Private Life (2010, Doubleday): Back in England, living in a big old house which he tours room by room, tackling a world's worth of history and lore along the way. At 512 pp., I reckon short histories are relative.

Ian Buruma: Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents (2010, Princeton University Press): Short (142 pp) treatise on the use and misuse of religion in politics. Buruma's previous book was Murder in Amsterdam: Liberal Europe, Islam, and the Limits of Tolerance, as well as several books on China and Japan, Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany & Japan, and Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies (with Avighai Margalit).

Charles Cockell: Impossible Extinction: Natural Catastrophes and the Supremacy of the Microbial World (2003, Cambridge University Press): Short, expensive, no doubt interesting book on how despite the worst the cosmos, let alone man, can throw at earth bacteria just keep on keeping on.

Jefferson Cowie: Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (2010, New Press): Labor history, with a soundtrack, cultural touchstones like Archie Bunker, probing the question of why the working class gave up their union legacy for goons like Nixon and Reagan. The 1970s are increasingly being viewed as the decade when America lost its way.

Lisa E Davenport: Jazz Diplomacy: Promoting America in the Cold War Era (2009, University Press of Mississippi): Short book (208 pp) on an interesting story. Looks like Dave Brubeck on the cover. Jazz, of course, became very popular around the world, and jazz musicians became much more popular in Europe than they were in the US -- which still didn't do much for the reputation of the US government.

Eric Foner: The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (2010, WW Norton): The preeminent historian of the post-Civil War Reconstruction period backs up a bit to look at Lincoln.

Daniel Gordis: Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End (2009, Wiley): Propaganda, "a full-throated call to arms" -- blurb reviewers include Michael Oren, Cynthia Ozick, Natan Sharansky, and Alan Dershowitz -- but even on its own terms, I fail to see any valor in a war that can never end. Indeed, as even the US showed in WWII, the longer we fight the more debased we become. I sometimes wonder if reading such a book might offer some insight I lack, but what else is there other than the founding existential dread of Zionism?

Paul Greenberg: Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food (2010, Penuin): Salmon, tuna, bass, cod. The world's major fisheries are overexploited, and aquaculture is, well, more than a bit messy. Amazon has an interview with Greenberg on the genetically-modified salmon controversy which shows a lot of insight into salmon farming.

Chris Hedges: The Death of the Liberal Class (2010, Nation Books): Most likely another fevered political screed on the deterioration of public morals in American life, continuing a theme from his Empire of Illusion and, for that matter, Losing Moses on the Freeway. The "liberal class" is a vague but juicy target: he identifies five "pillars" -- the press, liberal religious institutions, labor unions, universities, and the Democratic Party. Each has lost authority, especially since the 1960s, and with that their moral high ground, leaving a void that is being filled by all sorts of dangerous nonsense -- the relevant Hedges book there is undoubtedly American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.

Michael Hirsh: Capital Offense: How Washington's Wise Men Turned America's Future Over to Wall Street (2010, Wiley): Covers a couple decades of politically-connected economic thinking, basically the notion that all will be well if only you keep the financial markets happy. That's a mantra that's been followed lavishly and slavishly by presidents of both parties as we've lurched from one burst bubble to another. Newsweek writer, previously wrote At War With Ourselves: Why America Is Squandering Its Chance to Build a Better World (2003; paperback, 2004, Oxford University Press).

Roger D Hodge: The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism (2010, Harper): Found this while searching out right-wing lunatic attacks on Obama, and if you replaced "liberalism" with pretty much anything else this would look like one, but the blurb quotes include Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and Barbara Ehrenreich ("should help wake up all those Obama-voters who've been napping while the wars escalate, the recession deepens, and the environment goes straight to hell").

Andrew L Johns: Vietnam Second Front: Domestic Politics, the Republican Party, and the War (2010, University Press of Kentucky): Nixon promised to solve the Vietnam War then kept it going so long the Republicans became the permanent war party. Covers 1961-73, so a big chunk of that time Republicans were in opposition, threatening to burn Johnson if he let down his guard. Wonder how this accords with now, when the Republicans are dead set obstructionists on everything Obama does except Afghanistan, where they have to be careful to keep him on the hook. Looks like Gerald Ford and Melvin Laird on the cover.

Sebastian Junger: War (2010, Twelve): Fighting the "good fight" in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, glorying in the cult of "rough men"; he frets over nearly getting blown up by an IED, while casually documenting the decimation of rural villages. Previously wrote the equally exclamatory Fire, and was responsible for the now-notorious cliché, The Perfect Storm.

Rhoda Ann Kanaaneh: Surrounded: Palestinian Soldiers in the Israeli Military (2008, Stanford University Press): This looks at the small number (about 3,000) of Palestinian citizens of Israel who volunteer to serve in Israel's military.

Efraim Karsh: Palestine Betrayed (2010, Yale University Press): Israeli historian, usually one that can be depended on to sculpt history to fit Israel's nationalist narrative. Not sure how this plays out, but a long litany of how Palestinian leaders disserved their people by opposing the creation of the Jewish State. Past books include: Islamic Imperialism: A History, Arafat's War: The Man and His Battle for Israeli Conquest, Saddam Hussein: A Political Biography, and his hatchet job on Israel's "new historians," Fabricating Israeli History.

David Kilcullen: Counterinsurgency (paperback, 2010, Oxford University Press): Australian COIN consultant, wrote The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One, which could be read as reason not to, but for the author business is booming -- no surprise for someone who can write "Measuring Progress in Afghanistan" with a straight face, or update Lawrence of Arabia's 27 articles to a full 28.

Arthur B Laffer/Stephen Moore: Return to Prosperity: How America Can Regain Its Economic Superpower Status (2009, Threshold): A quick about face after warning of certain doom in his recession-timed The End of Prosperity: How Higher Taxes Will Doom the Economy -- If We Let It Happen. Laffer has one of those names like legendary toilet inventor Thomas Crapper. Laffer was responsible for the back-of-the-envelope calculations that led to the Reagan tax cut, justifying it on grounds that turned out to be flat out wrong. As far as I can tell, he's never been right since. So laff it off, or cry.

Jill Lepore: The Whites of Their Tyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle Over American History (2010, Princeton Unversity Press): A well-regarded historian of late colonial/revolutionary America (The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity, New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, an Conspiracy in Eighteen-Century Manhattan) takes a look at the historical assertions of Tea Party ideologues -- claims that the Founding Fathers hated centralized government, weren't serious about church-state separation, etc.

Ussama Makdisi: Faith Misplaced: The Broken Promise of U.S.-Arab Relations: 1820-2008 (2010, Public Affairs): One of several recent long histories of the US in the Middle East, probably more solid on the early period which the author covered in more detail in Artillery of Heaven: American Missionaries and the Failed Conversion of the Middle East (2008; paperback, 2009, Cornell University Press).

Istvan Meszaros: The Structural Crisis of Capital (paperback, 2010, Monthly Review Press): A Marxist take on the current state of the economy, by a Yugoslav philosopher still optimistic over the prospects for socialism.

Dana Milbank: Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America (2010, Doubleday): A portrait of the broadcaster/book entrepreneur as "a sad, troubled, and dangerous extremist crackpot who is validating and feeding paranoid delusions of millions of Americans" (as an Amazon reviewer puts it). Looks to be more melodramatic than Alexander Zaitchik's competing book: Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance.

Michael Jason Overstreet: 71 Days: The Media Assault on Obama (paperback, 2009, BookSurge): Amazon reviews are evenly split between 5 and 1 stars, the latter coming from cons who take it as an article of faith that the media foisted Obama on an unsuspecting nation -- Bernard Goldberg pitched this line in his A Slobbering Love Affair: The True (and Pathetic) Story of the Torrid Romance Between Barack Obama and the Mainstream Media. This is a day-by-day journal watching the media spin their stories on Obama from the opening of the Democratic Party convention to election day. I suspect that what this shows is media bias less for either candidate than for the stupid and the trivial, which come to think of it is bias against Obama.

Jeff Potter: Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food (paperback, 2010, O'Reilly): Computer book publisher, also responsible for things like Make magazine (or journal?). Lots of sidebars, a few recipes, basic science and some interesting details, a lot of practical advice. Looks like my kind of book.

John Quiggin: Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us (2010, Princeton University Press): Australian economist, has an occasional blog I sometimes look at and much admire. The endless recirculation of economic ideas that not only don't work but are flat-out evil is, well, that's why they call it political economy. No doubt covers much of the same territory as recent important books by John Cassidy: How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities and Yves Smith: Econned: How Unenlightened Self Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism, but should go for the kill instead of just pointing out economic absurdities.

Robert Reich: Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future (2010, Knopf): Trendy liberal. I figure this is a necessary course correction after calling his last book was Supercapitalism. That is, it's not looking so super now.

Heather Rogers: Green Gone Wrong: How Our Economy Is Undermining the Environmental Revolution (2010, Scribners): I think the point here is that "green businesses" are more business than green, leading to a lot of activity that has little net (or even good) effect on the environment. Sections on food, shelter, transportation. Rogers previously wrote Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage, about how garbage never really goes away.

Paul Ryan/Eric Cantor/Kevin McCarthy: Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders (paperback, 2010, Threshold Editions): Some title to apply to your own book, but I suppose it polled better among their target audience than Swinging Dicks. McCarthy ("the strategist") doesn't look so young with all that gray hair; but then Ryan ("the thinker") can't read, much less construct, a roadmap, and Cantor ("the leader") has a brighter future in slapstick comedy.

Anthony Shaffer: Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan and the Path to Victory (2010, Thomas Dunne): Lt. Col., claims he was on the verge of destroying the Taliban in their safe havens in Pakistan until the military bureaucracy got wind of what he was up to and fucked it all up. How he managed to do all that in a five month tour isn't clear, but he called his group the Jedi Knights and has been called "the real Jack Bauer." The book evidently dates from 2003, so none of this is recent history. That it's only coming out now is due to the Pentagon insisting on censoring the book, buying up the original printing and forcing various changes. As I understand it, you can find the redacted bits somewhere or other.

Jeff Sharlet: C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy (2010, Little Brown): Follows up on his earlier The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (2008, Harper). C Street House is a conclave in DC ("where piety, politics, and corruption meet") that was recently home for KS Senator-designate Jerry Moran, among others. I make it a point not to begrudge other folks' religion, but I do find this stuff seriously creepy. Before Sharlet honed in on DC, he co-wrote (with Peter Manseau) a road book seeking out the weirdos of American religion: Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible (2003; paperback, 2004, Free Press), which Sharlet and Manseau have returned to in their anthology: Believer Beware: First-Person Dispatches From the Margins of Faith (paperback, 2009, Beacon Press).

Rob Sheffield: Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut (2010, Dutton): One of the more successful, probably because he's one of the better, rock critics of his generation, which unfortunately was the one that grew up in the 1980s, about the only excuse anyone has yet come up with for taking Duran Duran seriously. Turned out a previous book, Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time. Were I still in my twenties, I'd be reading him like I read Paul Williams and Ed Ward back when I actually was. Hard to find time now.

Paul Street: The Empire's New Clothes: Barack Obama and the Real World of Power (paperback, 2010, Paradigm): Formerly with Urban League in Chicago, previously wrote Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics, now has a chance to see what Obama as president is really like -- far short of any sort of progressive agenda he might have imagined.

Richard Toye: Churchill's Empire: The World That Made Him and the World He Made (2010, Henry Holt): Churchill lived from 1874-1965, roughly from the pinnacle of the British Empire through its final demise, and he did more than hardly anyone else both to foolishly perpetuate the empire and to manifest the need to dismantle it. He tends to be idolized, especially in America where conceits about empire are still if not quite cherished at least discretely ignored, so anything that helps tie empire and Churchill together is welcome. Other recent Churchilliana: Max Hastings: Winston's War: Churchill 1940-1945 (2010, Knopf); Richard Holmes: Churchill's Bunker: The Cabinet War Rooms and the Culture of Secrecry in Wartime London (2010, Yale University Press); Barbara Learning: Churchill Defiant: Fighting On: 1945-1955 (2010, Harper); Madhusree Mukerjee: Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II (2010, Basic Books); and, and couple years back, Carlo D'Este: Warlord: A Life of Winston Churchill at War, 1874-1945 (2008, Harper).

Francis Wheen: Strange Days Indeed: The 1970s: The Golden Days of Paranoia (2010, Public Affairs): On the cover: Nixon, Brezhnev, Idi Amin, maybe Mao (much smaller); lots of fringe politics, some terror, distrations like UFOs, movies like Jaws, lots of stuff to make no sense of.

Sean Wilentz: Bob Dylan in America (2010, Doubleday): Eminent historian, wrote the monumental The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln and the somewhat lesser The Age of Reagan: A History 1974-2008. Not sure if this is a lark or a flight of fancy since it doesn't make sense to me as a prism, but at 400 pp. he may give it a fling. Probably better than Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968-2010 (2010, Public Affairs), due out Oct. 19.

Bob Woodward: Obama's Wars (2010, Simon & Schuster): Another insider-ish, who's fighting with whom, tome in Woodward's neverending series -- his four volumes on Bush are Bush at War, Plan of Attack: The Definitive Account of the Decision to Invade Iraq, State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III, and The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008. I occasionally wonder whether I should take the time to dig through these books for their occasional revelations -- the best documentation I've seen of Bush's initial post-9/11 belligerence comes from Bush at War -- but Woodward's fawning court reporter style is a turn-off. The big revelation here appears to be the CIA's assassination squad operating in Pakistan's tribal areas.

Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:

Max Blumenthal: Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party (2009; paperback, 2010, Nation Books): Focuses on right-wing religious leaders and their sugar daddy patrons, while scarcely letting a sex scandal get away. There is far more wrong with the GOP than the slime covered here, but the book gives you a good whiff. [link]

Juan Cole: Engaging the Muslim World (2009; paperback, 2010, Palgrave Macmillan): A brief tour through the Middle East, by the foremost blogger on Iraq and Iran. Revised and updated from the hardcover version I read last year. [link]

Chris Hedges: Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (2009; paperback, 2010, Nation Books): Hard-hitting screed on the moral decline of America. [link]

Bethany Moreton: To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise (2009; paperback, 2010, Harvard University Press): Not the first writer to recognize religion as the opiate of the masses, but a detailed case study showing that there's more to Wal-Mart than smart inventory management, shopping for cheap goods in China, and busting unions.

Jane Leavy: The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood (2010, Harper): I don't know about America's childhood -- always figured that was shot to shit by Andrew Jackson, if not earlier -- but my childhood overlapped Mantle's stardom. Moreover, on my cousin's advice I was a Yankee fan, so I lapped up Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, even thought Bobby Richardson was as fine a second baseman as Nellie Fox or Bill Mazeroski or Red Schoendienst -- stats now show that notion to have been ridiculous, although Richardson had more rings than the others combined. The press coddled ballplayers back then, so how was I to know otherwise? Still, to what extent can you spin a book around such myths? People who read this today will look not for more innocent times but for dirt. Bet they find it, too.

Future new releases:

  • Nir Rosen: Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World (2010, Nation Books): October 26.
  • Harold McGee: Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to the Best of Foods and Recipes (2010, Penguin): October 28.
  • Noam Chomsky/Ilan Pappé: Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel's War Against the Palestinians (paperback, 2010, Haymarket Books): November 1.
  • Chris Harman: Zombie Capitalism: Global Crisis and the Relevance of Marx (paperback, 2010, Haymarket Books): November 1.
  • Bill Bryson, ed: Seeing Further: The Story of Science, Discovery, and the Genius of the Royal Society (2010, William Morrow): November 2.
  • Matt Taibbi: Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America (2010, Spiegel & Grau): November 2.
  • Tony Judt: The Memory Chalet (2010, Penguin): November 11.
  • Shlomo Sand/Ernest Renan: On the Nation and the 'Jewish People' (paperback, 2010, Verso): Introduction by Sand; two lectures from Renan (1823-1892). November 22.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pompeo and Goyle

The other night I saw back-to-back ads for the two party candidates for the 4th Congressional District here in Kansas. The seat has been held by Republican Todd Tiahrt since 1995. Before that it was held for comparably long stretches by Democrat Dan Glickman and before him by Republican Garner Shriver. It is a district that could swing either way, but tends to stick once it's swung. First up was the Republican Mike Pompeo. His ad consisted of a spreadsheet where on the left column he said something trivial about himself, then on the right column he said something flat-out ridiculous about his Democratic Party opponent, Raj Goyle. For instance: "conservative" vs. "ACLU liberal," "US army" (he is a veteran) vs. "Obama's army," "M-1 tank" vs. "liberal think tanks." In other words, he's a lying simpleton, which seems about par for his party.

Then came Goyle's ad, where his big pitch was that as a State Senator he had voted with the Republican Party 80% of the time, because "good ideas have no party." Goyle is a smart guy, has a bunch of smart guys working for him, has access to serious money, and is one of the few Democrats with a legitimate chance of capturing a Republican seat this year, so presumably he knows what he's doing. He may be right that in this year in this state he needs to clutch as tight to the right as possible while remaining the lesser evil, and he may be right that in this year in this state the very fact that he's running as a Democrat is all the plus his base needs. He's certainly carved out a position where he's much closer to the center of public opinion on virtually every issue he cares to acknowledge -- which, by the way, does not include the crippling waste of war in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

On the other hand, why should we care if he's the lesser evil if he doesn't even hint that Republicans represent real evil in this election? With Republicans operating in lockstep, if they seize the House this election they'll not only obstruct anything progressive Obama attempts; they'll shut the government down, do whatever they can to shred the economy. The only brake on their activism is the likelihood that their disruption will backfire -- that they'll make rather than break Obama's reelection. Still, that's a lesson they usually have to learn the hard way, especially given that the same basic tactics have brought them back from defeat in 2006-08 to the brink today.

I've never felt so indifferent about an election -- not even Gush-Bore when I voted for Nader but secretly hoped Gore would win, because at least there I could discern a difference (even if Gore didn't have the guts to stand up for it). The difference here is not only much less but much less significant. Pompeo is basically a bought-and-paid-for Koch lackey, getting much of his money straight out of Koch's front group. He will follow the GOP line straight over the cliff, while grabbing as much graft as he can lay his grubby hands on. But if we don't beat him now, we'll get another chance in two, four, six years, however many it takes. On the other hand, if Goyle gets elected, he will not only be the worst Democrat in the House, a dependable vote for the Republicans "80% of the time"; he'll be the face of the Democratic Party in Wichita two, four, six years from now, until he gets bored and runs for higher office or cashes in his chips and snags a cushy job working for one of his benefactors -- and as long as that takes, there will be no progress in getting Kansas Democrats to run on platforms that their constituents need and deserve, and to point out the truth about the future horror the Republican Party is campaigning for.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Diamond in the Rough

Peter Diamond is one of the winners of the Nobel Prize for Economics this year. He was also one of Obama's appointees to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors that's being held up by Republican obstructions in the Senate. The Federal Reserve, you may recall, has a legal mandate to promote full employment. Diamond is one of the world's foremost scholars in researching why unemployment remains a persistent problem, lagging as it does well into so-called recoveries, so you might think that he'd be a useful person to have working on the problem -- actually, under current circumstances, what may be the biggest, most immediate problem we face right now. But a lot of people in business don't see any real problem with persistent longterm unemployment, and not just because bankers dread inflation. Unemployed workers drag the whole labor market down, which tilts the balance of power to capitalists, and capitalists have found, at least since the 1970s, that there is more profit to be made at the expense of labor than through growth that they would have had to share with labor. (You may also recall how helpful economists were back in the 1970s with their NAIRU theories: Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment, the idea that the only way to limit inflation -- which is to say, to protect the value of money -- is to throw people out of work.) I don't know that Diamond would go as far as I'm suggesting -- Paul Krugman, for instance, still seems to think that NAIRU is solid economics and not just class war -- but he clearly makes Republicans like Sen. Richard Shelby nervous.

Some relevant links:

  • Jonathan Cohn: Peter Diamond, Still Blocked from Fed, Wins Nobel: Among other things, notes that Diamond was "a staunch defender of social insurance," and with Peter Orszag wrote up a proposal to "maintain the program's solvency without privatization."

  • Tyler Cowen: Peter A. Diamond: Good reference compilation on Diamond's work.

  • Tim Fernholz: The Nobel Prize Has a Well-Known Liberal Bias: I can think of plenty of exceptions to that title, starting with Milton Friedman, but nonetheless:

    Maybe Republicans are simply prone to the same kind of weird mental block that makes famous economists and anyone on the Fed forget that the institution has a purpose other than maintaining price stability (full employment, ahem), but if you needed any more indication at how broken the Senate is, I'm not sure you can find a better one than this: The United States, purportedly the world's most advanced economy, cannot put a Nobel-prize winning economist on the board of its central bank because of obstruction from a minority of one House of Congress.

  • Ezra Klein: Peter Diamond wins the Nobel Prize, continues being blocked by the Senate: something suspicious about behavioral economics.

  • Paul Krugman: What We Learn From Search Models: wonkish notes on search theory.

  • Paul Krugman: Peter Diamond, Macro Maven: pre-Nobel prize:

    This is disgusting: Senate Republicans holding up Peter Diamond's nomination to the Federal Reserve Board on the grounds that he may not be qualified to make monetary policy. Aside from the fact that the same Senators cheerfully confirmed Bush nominees who didn't know much about economics of any kind, this is especially stupid right now. [ . . . ]

    Diamond is exactly the man we need -- which, given the way things have been going lately, probably means he won't get confirmed.

  • Andrew Leonard: A Nobel prize-sized challenge to Senate Republicans

  • Steven D Levitt: Congratuations to Peter Diamond on Winning the Nobel Prize in Economics: More of a memoir:

    The single most memorable moments with Peter Diamond always occurred in seminars. Diamond often would fall asleep in seminars, often for large chunks of time. What was amazing, however, is that he would open his eyes and then make by far the most insightful comment of the entire seminar! He also did something in seminars that almost no other economist does: he both posed tough questions that would undermine the entire thesis of the speaker, and he would provide the speaker the answer to the very question. Academic economists are far more adept at poking holes in other people's arguments than in constructing solutions, at least on the fly. But somehow Diamond was able to work out in his head complex models that would take others days or weeks and reams of paper to solve.

  • Ian Millhiser: Fed Nominee Whom Sen. Shelby Deemed Too Unqualified to Confirm Wins Nobel Prize: more on Shelby than on Diamond.

  • Chris Weigant: Nobel Prize Obstructionism:

    Over the past two years, Democrats have not made Republican obstructionism the political issue it should rightly be by now. They should have been screaming loudly about the abuse of the cloture (or "filibuster") by the current Senate -- abuse which is simply unprecedented in our history. Few know this, because Democrats have essentially given Republicans a free pass on the issue. The media has even begun to regularly say things like "you need 60 votes in the Senate to pass a law" which is not only false, but also reinforces the notion that what Republicans have been doing for the past two years is somehow normal, instead of unprecedented in all of American history.

  • Matthew Yglesias: Peter Diamond Wins the Nobel Prize: Doesn't have much to say, but commenter FGS has it right:

    Richard Shelby neither knows nor cares a whiff about the actual qualifications of Diamond or any other appointee. He's stalling for the sake of stalling because he wants the country to be ungovernable.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 17205 [17182] rated (+23), 868 [862] unrated (+6). Got back from Upper Peninsula trip on Thursday (I think). Mostly felt like playing Rhapsody when I got back, which helped bump up the rated count.

Added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:

  • Plastic Ono Band: Live Peace in Toronto 1969 (1969, Capitol): John Lennon's spinoff while Paul steered the Beatles to their Let It Be swansong, a live memento of the times. First side is remembered fondly for its rough and tumble oldies warmup ("Blue Suede Shoes," "Money," "Dizzy Miss Lizzy") and the new anthem, "Give Peace a Chance." Second side is universally abhored for Yoko Ono's caterwaul. B- [ex-LP]

Jazz Prospecting (CG #25, Part 4)

I didn't expect to post any Jazz Prospecting this week, but had some stuff left over from pre-trip and got back from Michigan a bit early, so I figure there's enough critical mass here.

Pablo Menéndez & Mezcla: I'll See You in Cuba (2009 [2010], Zoho): Guitarist, b. 1966 in Oakland, CA, moved to Cuba at age 14 and has lived there ever since -- his mother was folksinger Barbara Dane, who recorded albums like I Hate the Capitalist System. Second album with Menéndez's name up front, although his band has another half dozen going back to the 1980s. Eclectic mix of Cuban styles, a little unsettled but proficient. B+(*)

Florian Ross: Mechanism (2009 [2010], Pirouet): Pianist, b. 1972, based in Köln, Germany; looks like he has eight albums since 1998. This one is a solo, fifteen originals out of seventeen pieces, the two covers things I've probably heard but don't readily recognize. Nice record, altough there's not much I can really relate to. B+(*)

Joe Morris/Nate Wooley: Tooth and Nail (2008 [2010], Clean Feed): Guitar-trumpet duets, rather fractured, which of course is Morris's specialty. I've heard Wooley in a number of promising contexts lately, but he's rarely stood out, and seems pretty superfluous here. B

Urs Leimgruber & Evan Parker: Twine (2007 [2010], Clean Feed): Two saxophonists, both play soprano and tenor, with soprano listed first. Parker needs no introduction, at least here. Leimgruber is Swiss, b. 1952 in Lucerne, based in France. He has twenty or so albums since 1983. I have two of them I picked up in a Hat Hut clearance sale somewhere and never got around to. He's well regarded, clearly someone I should get to know better. Three long improv pieces here, called "Twine," "Twirl," and "Twist." Scratchy at first, but the repeated circling, twisting and turning, is fascinating in the end -- if, of course, you can stand this sort of indeterminacy. B+(**)

Neel Murgai Ensemble (2008 [2010], Innova): Murgai plays sitar and daf, a Persian frame drum. Based in New York (Brooklyn), not sure where he's from or when he was born, but New York is leading candidate. Studied civil engineering at Georgia Tech before getting into music. Studied sitar with Pundit Krishna Bhatt. Ensemble adds Mat Maneri on viola, Greg Heffernan on cello, and Sameer Gupta on tabla. B+(*)

Greg Ward's Fitted Shards: South Side Story (2010, 19-8): Alto saxophonist, b. 1982, based in New York -- I would have guessed Chicago, which among other things has a South Side. First album, a quartet with Rob Clearfield on keybs, Jeff Greene on bass, and Quin Kirchner on bass. Has played with Mike Reed, Charles Rumback, and in the group Blink (along with Greene and Kirchner -- their MySpace page puts them in Chicago). Terrific saxophonist when he breaks out, but this tends to get mired in a sickly postbop mode, which I blame on the keyb -- suppose it's intended as a fusion move? B

Mary Stallings: Dream (2010, High Note): Singer, b. 1939, had a record with Cal Tjader in 1961 but otherwise her discography starts in 1990, with four records on Concord, one on MaxJazz, and now two on High Note. AMG describes her as "greatly influenced by Carmen McRae" -- that at least captures her tone, her precise sense of style and focus on interpretation. I first heard her on Remember Love in 2005 and was blown away, but just sort of drags its way through a list of songs that have seen better days -- not even "That Old Black Magic" has much spark. Eric Reed arranged and plays piano, with just bass and drums -- previous record has Geri Allen in that role, and she brought in Wallace Roney, Vincent Herring, and Frank Wess, and for that matter Billy Hart on drums. B

Houston Person: Moment to Moment (2010, High Note): A tenor saxophonist, Person is the proper successor if not to Ben Webster at least to Stanley Turrentine. He can bop when it wants to, can't help but swing, blows pristine ballads, and has a knack for slipping the right riff behind a singer. He's been doing this for 40-plus years now, but while he doesn't exactly fold up here, he's rarely made an album that makes so little of his talents. It doesn't help that he yields so much space to trumpeter Terrell Stafford, but it's probably more the fault of a lackadaisical rhythm section. Or maybe fault isn't the point: the record has its share of tasty moments but comes off as lazy in the end, not so much because no one tried as because nothing much happened worth remembering. B

Sarah Wilson: Trapeze Project (2009 [2010], Brass Logic): Trumpet player, sings some, from California, studied anthropology at UC Berkeley, based in Bay Area. Second album, following Music for an Imaginary Play (2006). Group includes Myra Melford (piano), Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Jerome Harris (bass), and Scott Amendola (drums). Both Melford and Goldberg have some remarkable solo turns. Trumpet less distinctive, and her vocals are rather deadpan, about right for "Love Will Tear Us Apart" -- a smart choice. B+(**)

Mike Pride's From Bacteria to Boys: Betweenwhile (2010, AUM Fidelity): Drummer, from Portlane, ME; based in New York. First album with name up front; also has a duo with Jon Irabagon, some odd side credits like the record with Talibam! This is a quartet with Darius Jones on alto sax, Alexic Marcelo on piano, and Peter Bitenc on bass. Each gets feature spots but they play so differently it isn't clear what the point is. Jones is coming off a terrific debut album, and has much more to add here, when he gets the chance. B+(*)

These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.

Henry Grimes/Rashied Ali: Going to the Ritual (2008, Porter): Wrote up pretty extensive notes on this duo of 1960s avant-garde heroes for their later Spirits Aloft, which was so good I figured I had to check out their earlier album. This is more like what I was expecting, which means that Grimes plays much more bass than violin, and Ali's drums are more up front. Neither of those are problems, although it does take more listener effort to follow bass than violin. Ali died in 2009, a heart attack, but seems to have been quite active in his last years. His discography includes four 2009 albums on Blue Music Group with a very unusual mix of players. Grimes also has a double-disc solo album on ILK which offhand seems like way too much, but he's surprised me more than once. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Ted Daniel Quintet: Tapestry (1974 [2008], Porter): Trumpet player, may actually have played more flugelhorn (as he does here), b. 1943, cut several albums in the 1970s, and shows up in credits every now and then (occasionally as Teddy Daniel or Ted Daniels) -- I was trying to figure out where I recalled the name from, most likely Billy Bang's Vietnam: The Aftermath and Vietnam: Reflections, but he's been on other albums I'm familiar with -- Sonny Sharrock, Clifford Thornton, Andrew Cyrille, Henry Threadgill, Defunkt, Wildflowers: The New York Loft Jazz Sessions. He has the only horn here, playing rough over the thick -- sometimes luxuriant, sometimes ominous -- jungle concocted by Richard Daniel's electric piano and Khan Jamal's vibes, with Tim Ingles on bass and Jerome Cooper on drums. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Katherine Young: Further Secret Origins (2009, Porter): Bassoonist, studied at Oberlin and Wesleyan, played in Anthony Braxton's Falling River Quartet, based in Brooklyn, credits this solo album as her debut. Seems to include some electronics, but the bassoon dominates, ugly and unwieldy, a record that first reminds one of For Alto but can't sustain the horror -- maybe doesn't even want to. Parts to start to develop a hypnotic groove, but that, too, is hard to sustain. B [Rhapsody]

Looked for but couldn't find (or play) on Rhapsody:

  • Sylvie Courvoisier/Mark Feldman: Oblivia (Tzadik)
  • Rafi Malkiel: Water (Tzadik)

No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.

Some corrections and further notes on recent prospecting:

Rob Wagner/Hamid Drake/Nobu Ozaki: Trio (2005 [2007], Valid): Couldn't find any bio on Wagner when I reviewed this, so Benjamin Lyons sent one in. B. 1968 in Okemos, MI; studied at DePaul in Chicago; moved to New Orleans 1992, where he stayed until moving on to Brooklyn in 2005, but reportedly still plays more in New Orleans than New York. Plays clarinet, tenor and soprano sax in this eminent trio. A-

For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes to date, look here.

Unpacking: Found in the mail the last two weeks:

  • Marshall Allen/Matthew Shipp/Joe Morris: Night Logic (RogueArt)
  • The Ray Anderson-Marty Ehrlich Quartet: Hear You Say: Live in Willisau (Intuition)
  • Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Llyrìa (ECM)
  • Bloody War: Songs 1924-1939 (1924-39, Tompkins Square)
  • Anthony Brown's Asian American Orchestra: India & Africa: A Tribute to John Coltrane (Water Baby)
  • Colin Dean: Shiwasu (Roots and Grooves): Oct. 5
  • Andy Farber and His Orchestra: This Could Be the Start of Something Big (Black Warrior): Oct. 26
  • Fernandez & Wright: Unsung (New Market Music)
  • Michael Formanek: The Rub and Spare Change (ECM)
  • Dave Frank: Portrait of New York (Jazzheads)
  • Frank Fairfield's Pawn Records Presents: Unheard Ofs & Forgotten Abouts (1916-64, Tompkins Square)
  • Jan Garbarek/The Hilliard Ensemble: Officium Novum (ECM New Series)
  • Henry Grimes/Rashied Ali: Spirits Aloft (Porter)
  • Dave Holland/Pepe Habichuela: Hands (Dare2)
  • Lauren Hooker: Life of the Music (Miles High)
  • Jazz Folk: Jazz in the Stone Age (1 Hr Music)
  • Pete Levin: Jump! (Pete Levin Music)
  • Mike Marshall: An Adventure 1999-2009 (1999-2009, Adventure Music)
  • Lisa Maxwell: Return to Jazz Standards (CDBaby)
  • Negroni's Trio: Just Three (Mojito): Oct. 26
  • Jovino Santos Neto: Veja O Som/See the Sound (Adventure Music, 2CD)
  • Hubert Nuss: The Book of Colours (Pirouet)
  • Profound Sound Trio: Opus de Life (Porter)
  • Serafin: Love's Worst Crime (Serafin)
  • Harrison Smith Quartet: Telling Tales (33 Records)
  • Sounds of Liberation (1972, Porter)
  • Tarbaby: The End of Fear (Posi-Tone)
  • Ken Thomson and Slow/Fast: It Would Be Easier If (Intuition)


  • Anthony Braxton: 19 Standards (Quartet) 2003 (2003, Leo, 4CD)
  • Lars Gullin: 1953-55, Vol. 8: Danny's Dream (1953-55, Dragon)
  • David Murray Black Saint Quartet: Live in Berlin (2007, Jazzwerkstatt)
  • William Parker & the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra: For Percy Heath (2005, Victo)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Weekend Roundup

A [short] week's worth of useful links I didn't get around to commenting on previously:

  • Paul Krugman: Fear and Favor: Notes that "every major contender for the 2012 Presidential nomination who isn't currently holding office and isn't named Mitt Romney is now a paid contributor to Fox News.":

    Modern American conservatism is, in large part, a movement shaped by billionaires and their bank accounts, and assured paychecks for the ideologically loyal are an important part of the system. Scientists willing to deny the existence of man-made climate change, economists willing to declare that tax cuts for the rich are essential to growth, strategic thinkers willing to provide rationales for wars of choice, lawyers willing to provide defenses of torture, all can count on support from a network of organizations that may seem independent on the surface but are largely financed by a handful of ultrawealthy families. [ . . . ] As the Republican political analyst David Frum put it, "Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we are discovering we work for Fox" -- literally, in the case of all those non-Mitt-Romney presidential hopefuls. It was days later, by the way, that Mr. Frum was fired by the American Enterprise Institute. Conservatives criticize Fox at their peril.

  • Alex Pareene: This week in crazy: Dinesh D'Souza: Actually, this was a couple of weeks ago, but D'Souza's essay/book is so outrageously nutty it deserves a takedown:

    Half-wit third-generation Forbes magazine publisher Steve Forbes uses a healthy combination of inane lists and relentless flattery of millionaires to keep his grandfather's publication afloat in these shaky times. But the occasional Republican presidential candidate endangered his magazine's harmless reputation this week by putting a rather stunning essay on its cover this month arguing -- unconvincingly and with bad data and an incredibly obtuse reading of the president's memoir -- that Barack Obama is motivated by the "Kenyan anti-colonialism" of his father, whom he barely knew. The essay's author was Mr. Dinesh D'Souza, the pundit so desperate to provoke that not even conservatives take him seriously anymore.

    D'Souza, longtime conservative pseudo-academic and current president of a 200-person evangelical Christian college, was born and spent his formative years abroad, which made him a super-Christian patriot, but made Obama an anti-American radical. [ . . . ]

    As Dave Weigel explains, D'Souza first blew up in 1995 with The End of Racism, one of those horrible '90s books daring to be "politically incorrect" by outright lying about history.


    Written to ride the wave of books and articles that called for white America to get over its racial guilt, it included lines like the "American slave was treated like property, which is to say, pretty well." It was so sloppy and unconvincing that it killed the genre for a few years; it's a 700-page doorstop by a one-time AEI scholar that no one cites today.

    Then came The Enemy at Home, a book that blames the left for 9/11 by pointing out that terrorists hate the same things that Christian right-wingers hate -- promiscuity, feminism, etc. This book was so confused and horrible that all of D'Souza's right-wing friends denounced it.

    His newest, The Roots of Obama's Rage, is the story of Dinesh D'Souza flailing to find a new and unique way of making a moderate pragmatic Democrat sound like a horrible monster bent on the destruction of America and enslavement of its people. He's recreating the nation in the image of his "philandering, inebriated African socialist" father. He is stealing America's wealth and redistributing it to third-world nations. Sources include, in addition to Obama's memoir about the absence of his father from his life, one obscure paper Obama Sr. wrote, and also something one of Obama's grandmothers said, once.

    D'Souza's embarrassing history should've led this book straight to the remainder bin. Instead it made the cover of Forbes. Then Newt Gingrich endorsed it. Then Glenn Beck endorsed it. The book immediately climbed up the Amazon bestseller list.

    Now the White House is involved, with Robert Gibbs asking Forbes to retract the numerous factual inaccuracies. All Forbes will say is that facts don't apply in opinion pieces.

  • Alex Pareene: This week in crazy: Bob Woodward: This one is this week:

    On Tuesday, Bob Woodward did one of those things that makes the entire stupid cable news ecosystem go nuts for 24 hours: He claimed, based on supposed inside info, that something plainly ludicrous was probably going to happen. CNN's John King (USA) started it, of course. He held up Woodward's book, then repeated some of that idle Beltway "gossip" that is usually just made up by pundits wishing to speculate. "You know the talk in town, a lotta people think if the president looks a little weak going into 2012, he'll have to do a switch there, and run with Hillary Clinton as his running mate." [ . . . ]

    Woodward is notorious for giving favorable coverage in his books to the people who talk to him the most (and for worshiping certain members of the military, especially when they're engaged in policy battles with civilian leadership). But does the guy actually believe what his odious sources tell him in his lovely Georgetown home? Does he buy their lies? Does the guy who took down Nixon think political operatives are trustworthy?

    Here's a big red flag: His source on the Biden-Clinton switch was apparently pollster grifter Mark Penn. Penn is a professional liar and nearly every political decision he made while attempting to steer Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign was epically, historically stupid.

    So Woodward was just repeating half-baked speculative nonsense from professional (and inept) Clinton-booster Mark Penn as if it was something serious people in the White House were considering.

  • Matt Taibbi on the Tea Party: Starting with Rand Paul (and Sarah Palin) in Kentucky:

    Scanning the thousands of hopped-up faces in the crowd, I am immediately struck by two things. One is that there isn't a single black person here. The other is the truly awesome quantity of medical hardware: Seemingly every third person in the place is sucking oxygen from a tank or propping their giant atrophied glutes on motorized wheelchair-scooters. As Palin launches into her Ronald Reagan impression -- "Government's not the solution! Government's the problem!" -- the person sitting next to me leans over and explains.

    "The scooters are because of Medicare," he whispers helpfully. "They have these commercials down here: 'You won't even have to pay for your scooter! Medicare will pay!' Practically everyone in Kentucky has one."

    A hall full of elderly white people in Medicare-paid scooters, railing against government spending and imagining themselves revolutionaries as they cheer on the vice-presidential puppet hand-picked by the GOP establishment. If there exists a better snapshot of everything the Tea Party represents, I can't imagine it.

    After Palin wraps up, I race to the parking lot in search of departing Medicare-motor-scooter conservatives. I come upon an elderly couple, Janice and David Wheelock, who are fairly itching to share their views.

    "I'm anti-spending and anti-government," crows David, as scooter-bound Janice looks on. "The welfare state is out of control."

    "OK," I say. "And what do you do for a living?"

    "Me?" he says proudly. "Oh, I'm a property appraiser. Have been my whole life."

    I frown. "Are either of you on Medicare?"

    Silence: Then Janice, a nice enough woman, it seems, slowly raises her hand, offering a faint smile, as if to say, You got me!

    "Let me get this straight," I say to David. "You've been picking up a check from the government for decades, as a tax assessor, and your wife is on Medicare. How can you complain about the welfare state?"

    "Well," he says, "there's a lot of people on welfare who don't deserve it. Too many people are living off the government."

    "But," I protest, "you live off the government. And have been your whole life!"

    "Yeah," he says, "but I don't make very much." Vast forests have already been sacrificed to the public debate about the Tea Party: what it is, what it means, where it's going. But after lengthy study of the phenomenon, I've concluded that the whole miserable narrative boils down to one stark fact: They're full of shit. All of them. At the voter level, the Tea Party is a movement that purports to be furious about government spending -- only the reality is that the vast majority of its members are former Bush supporters who yawned through two terms of record deficits and spent the past two electoral cycles frothing not about spending but about John Kerry's medals and Barack Obama's Sixties associations. The average Tea Partier is sincerely against government spending -- with the exception of the money spent on them. In fact, their lack of embarrassment when it comes to collecting government largesse is key to understanding what this movement is all about -- and nowhere do we see that dynamic as clearly as here in Kentucky, where Rand Paul is barreling toward the Senate with the aid of conservative icons like Palin. [ . . . ]

    It would be inaccurate to say the Tea Partiers are racists. What they are, in truth, are narcissists. They're completely blind to how offensive the very nature of their rhetoric is to the rest of the country. [ . . . ] It's not like the Tea Partiers hate black people. It's just that they're shockingly willing to believe the appalling horseshit fantasy about how white people in the age of Obama are some kind of oppressed minority. That may not be racism, but it is incredibly, earth-shatteringly stupid. I hear this theme over and over -- as I do on a recent trip to northern Kentucky, where I decide to stick on a Rand Paul button and sit in on a Tea Party event at a local amusement park. Before long, a group of about a half-dozen Tea Partiers begin speculating about how Obamacare will force emergency-room doctors to consult "death panels" that will evaluate your worth as a human being before deciding to treat you. [ . . . ]

    You look into the eyes of these people when you talk to them and they genuinely don't see what the problem is. It's no use explaining that while nobody likes the idea of having to get the government to tell restaurant owners how to act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the tool Americans were forced to use to end a monstrous system of apartheid that for 100 years was the shame of the entire Western world. But all that history is not real to Tea Partiers; what's real to them is the implication in your question that they're racists, and to them that is the outrage, and it's an outrage that binds them together. They want desperately to believe in the one-size-fits-all, no-government theology of Rand Paul because it's so easy to understand. At times, their desire to withdraw from the brutally complex global economic system that is an irrevocable fact of our modern life and get back to a simpler world that no longer exists is so intense, it breaks your heart. [ . . . ]

    Of course, the fact that we're even sitting here two years after Bush talking about a GOP comeback is a profound testament to two things: One, the American voter's unmatched ability to forget what happened to him 10 seconds ago, and two, the Republican Party's incredible recuperative skill and bureaucratic ingenuity. This is a party that in 2008 was not just beaten but obliterated, with nearly every one of its recognizable leaders reduced to historical-footnote status and pinned with blame for some ghastly political catastrophe. There were literally no healthy bodies left on the bench, but the Republicans managed to get back in the game anyway by plucking an assortment of nativist freaks, village idiots and Internet Hitlers out of thin air and training them into a giant ball of incoherent resentment just in time for the 2010 midterms.

The Bob Woodward item above seems to derive from one of his insider tidbits in his recent Obama's Wars. I don't know whether I'll ever get to the book -- by all accounts, Woodward is a mediocre writer and a shallow thinker, and his court stenographer shtick with all of his attendant favoritism and petty grudges is rather offensive, while his revelations are so constrained to Washington meeting rooms that they seem disconnected from the real world -- but I thought I'd at least collate a few reviews for whatever insight they provide:

  • Andrew Bacevich: The Washington Gossip Machine: A "TomGram" with two heads -- Bacevich's own is called "Prisoners of War: Bob Woodward and All the President's Men (2010 Edition)":

    Obama's Wars reportedly contains this comment by President Obama to Secretary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates regarding Afghanistan: "I'm not doing 10 years . . . I'm not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars."

    Aren't you, Mr. President? Don't be so sure. [ . . . ]

    And then there's this from the estimable General David Petraeus: "I don't think you win this war," Woodward quotes the field commander as saying. "I think you keep fighting . . . This is the kind of fight we're in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids' lives."

    Here we confront a series of questions to which Woodward (not to mention the rest of Washington) remains steadfastly oblivious. Why fight a war that even the general in charge says can't be won? What will the perpetuation of this conflict cost? Who will it benefit? Does the ostensibly most powerful nation in the world have no choice but to wage permanent war? Are there no alternatives? Can Obama shut down an unwinnable war now about to enter its tenth year? Or is he -- along with the rest of us -- a prisoner of war?

  • Peter Baker: Woodward Book Says Afghanistan Divided White House: Preview piece, the first framing of what's new in the book:

    Beyond the internal battles, the book offers fresh disclosures on the nation's continuing battle with terrorists. It reports that the C.I.A. has a 3,000-man "covert army" in Afghanistan called the Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams, or C.T.P.T., mostly Afghans who capture and kill Taliban fighters and seek support in tribal areas. Past news accounts have reported that the C.I.A. has a number of militias, including one trained on one of its compounds, but not the size of the covert army.

    The book also reports that the United States has intelligence showing that manic-depression has been diagnosed in President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and that he was on medication, but adds no details. Mr. Karzai's mood swings have been a challenge for the Obama administration.

    As for Mr. Obama himself, the book describes a professorial president who assigned "homework" to advisers but bristled at what he saw as military commanders' attempts to force him into a decision he was not yet comfortable with. Even after he agreed to send another 30,000 troops last winter, the Pentagon asked for another 4,500 "enablers" to support them. [ . . . ]

    To ensure that the Pentagon did not reinterpret his decision, Mr. Obama dictated a six-page, single-space "terms sheet" explicitly laying out his troop order and its objectives, a document included in the book's appendix.

    Mr. Obama's struggle with the decision comes through in a conversation with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who asked if his deadline to begin withdrawal in July 2011 was firm. "I have to say that," Mr. Obama replied. "I can't let this be a war without end, and I can't lose the whole Democratic Party."

  • Russ Baker: "Obama's Wars": The Real Story Bob Woodward Won't Tell:

    In September of last year, McChrystal (or someone close to him) leaked to Woodward a document that essentially forced President Obama's hand. Obama wanted time to consider all options on what to do about Afghanistan. But the leak, publicizing the military's "confidential" assertion that a troop increase was essential, cast the die, and Obama had to go along. Nobody was happier than the Pentagon -- and, it should be said, its allies in the vast military contracting establishment. [ . . . ]

    For almost four decades, under cover of his supposedly "objective" reporting, Woodward has represented the viewpoints of the military and intelligence establishments. Often he has done so in the context of complex inside maneuvering of which he gives his readers little clue. He did it with the book Veil, about CIA director William Casey, in which he relied on Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, a rival of Casey's, as his key source. (Inman, from Texas, was closely identified with the Bush faction of the CIA.) The book was based in part on a "deathbed interview" with Casey that Casey's widow and former CIA guards said never took place.

  • Steve Coll: Behind Closed Doors:

    If the narrative can be said to have a theme, it is that Pakistan may be a fatally unreliable ally of the United States. "They're living a lie," Mike McConnell, George W. Bush's outgoing director of National Intelligence, told Obama before he was elected. McConnell meant that Pakistan's military and its principal spy service, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or I.S.I., ingested about two billion dollars per year in U.S. funding, yet it still clandestinely supported the Afghan Taliban and other militias that attacked American soldiers and plotted international terror. Once in office, Obama received reports about this perfidy again and again. "Changing the Pakistan calculus is key to achieving our core goals," the President told his war cabinet in the early autumn of 2009, as he began to consider whether to send more American soldiers to the war.

    Little has changed since then. The President's team has tried inducements: it plied Pakistan's military with helicopters, encouragement, and promises of strategic partnership. It has tried threats: after the failed Times Square bombing, last spring, produced evidence that the plotters had undergone training in Pakistan, James Jones, the national-security adviser, warned President Asif Ali Zardari that there might be no way to rescue his country's alliance with the United States unless Pakistan did more to crack down on terrorists. As recently as last spring, however, Woodward writes, "the latest intelligence showed trucks crossing the [Afghan] border that were full of Taliban combatants with all kinds of weapons packed in the back. . . . The White House was almost right back to where it had started." [ . . . ]

    The President campaigned for office promising to fix the Afghan war. The ambivalence he felt upon taking power and realizing more fully what he had committed to is painful to read about. Rather than dithering, however, Obama sought clarity during 2009 about means and goals in Afghanistan. In Woodward's telling, it is the President, not his advisers, who defines American war aims. His goal is to stabilize and arm President Hamid Karzai's attenuating regime adequately, so that the United States can withdraw from direct combat without leaving a civil war or a Taliban revolution in its wake -- that, and no more. [ . . . ]

    Obama insists on an exit strategy when none is initially offered by the Pentagon, and vetoes his generals' more expansionist goals, but he also negotiates to make sure that his commanders and cabinet members will hang together around his final decision, announced ten months ago, to send thirty thousand more American troops into combat while setting July, 2011, as a date to begin at least some withdrawals. There is little that could be described as classically heroic about the Presidential performance documented here, but there is much of what Obama promised voters when he sought the White House: realism and intelligence.

  • Bryan Curtis: Woodward: The Juicy Bits: In Q&A form; like Q:

    We know the Woodward method. Those who tattle get better treatment. Who wins Obama's Wars?"
    James Jones, the national security advisor, is treated with kid gloves. You might remember Jones as the guy one of Stanley McChrystal's aides called a "clown" in that infamous Rolling Stone article. But here Jones is smart, determined, and sensitive to bureaucratic reverberations. He's allowed to blast his enemies more than he is blasted -- the sign you've made it in Woodward book.

    Joe Biden also makes out like a bandit. In one of the book's very best scenes, he's shown confronting Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, at a state dinner. Biden smothers Karzai with contempt disguised as diplomatic grace, right in front of the guy's entire cabinet. That account -- presumably supplied by Biden -- gives the veep weight that his media portrait has thus far lacked.

    Other likely babblers: Lindsey Graham, Bob Gates, and Leon Panetta.

    Which Obamaite comes off like a real tool?
    Poor Dick Holbrooke. His turn as special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan was to be a diplomatic victory lap. "It wasn't until well into the Obama presidency," Woodward writes, "that Holbrooke learned definitively how much the president didn't care for him." In a revealing anecdote, Holbrooke asks Obama to call him "Richard" rather than "Dick." For some reason, Obama finds the request highly bizarre and, in Woodward's telling, repeats the story of Holbrooke's pathetic plea around the White House.

    Does anyone go the full McChrystal and napalm their career?
    For his studly portrayal, James Jones comes pretty close. He blasts Rahm and Co. as the "water bugs," "the Mafia," and the "Politburo." "There are too many senior aides around the president," Jones says to somebody.

    Jones thinks Rahm is a weenie who hides behind Obama's opinions. He thinks Gates is always positioning himself to be on the side of the victors. He feels the administration killed his friendship with Gen. Anthony Zinni. I could go on. You doubt Jones is long for the administration. [ . . . ]

    It sounds like Obama's Wars is a tiny keyhole into Obamaland.
    It's narrower still. Woodward is so focused on the White House dealings that he never backs up and asks the obvious question: How did Obama get himself committed to the Afghan War to begin with? A lot of us suspected that during the campaign, Obama's support of a ramp-up was thrown in to make him look hawkish as he advocated for drawing down in Iraq. I never thought he was particularly convincing, anyway. Yet Woodward treats it as a fait accompli that Obama would pursue it.

  • Robert Dreyfuss: Woodward: Obama Wants Out of Afghanistan:

    But Woodward makes it clear that Obama has been virtually at war with his military commanders, including Petraeus, since the earliest days of his administration. Petraeus, sounding precisely like General McChrystal, who got himself fired after yammering about Obama in Rolling Stone, blusters at one point ("after a glass of wine") that Obama is "[fucking] with the wrong guy." So much for civilian control of the armed forces! As the Times notes, "General Petraeus was effectively banned by the administration from the Sunday talk shows but worked private channels with Congress and the news media." McChrystal did the same thing, in 2009, leaking madly to the media (including Woodward, who got ahold of McChrystal's strategy paper last summer) and giving high-profile interviews on shows such as 60 Minutes.

  • Justin Elliott: The many man-crushes of Bob Woodward: A portrait of the journalist as a shameless flatterer; e.g., Woodward on Gen. David Petraeus:

    Perhaps no general in America had been held in such near-universal esteem since General Dwight David Eisenhower after victory in World War II. Young-looking with his neatly parted brown hair, Petraeus could pass for a 35-year-old. [ . . . ]

    He put other workaholics to shame, monitoring military business and his personal e-mail day and night. His new office on the second floor of the Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, made the bridge of Starship Enterprise seem modest . . .

    The Iraqis called him "King David." Some on his staff called him "The Legend of lraq." Colleagues believed that Petraeus was so competitive that he preferred fighting a war when the odds were against him, even with both hands tied behind his back, so that his eventual victory would be all the greater.

  • Robert Haddick: Obama's Wars:

    The point is not whether the surge faction's advice for Afghanistan is wise or foolish. The larger point is whether a president's staff and decision-making process are responsive to his conception of strategy and if not, what options a president has to fix his staff and process when he finds them unresponsive. As Woodward makes clear in Obama's Wars, Obama's response to his recalcitrant advisers is setting up an unfortunate civil-military collision. Obama, informed by his legal background, granted the surge faction its strategy but also obliged them to take responsibility for their advice in writing, in the form of a "terms sheet" which Obama personally composed. Should, as Obama very likely suspects, the surge fail to produce the results the surge faction agreed to (in writing!), Obama believes he will then have the standing to be merciless with their heads.

  • Michiko Kakutani: Afghanistan as Obama and Others Game It:

    Many administration members in this volume express a decidedly gloomy view of the under-resourced war they inherited from President George W. Bush. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is said to be "pessimistic and more convinced than ever that Afghanistan was a version of Vietnam." Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the president's coordinator for Afghanistan-Pakistan, is quoted saying that it's likely, by July 2011, that "we're not going to be a whole lot different than we are today."

    "When you look at all the things that have got to break our way," General Lute says, "I can't tell you that the prospect here for success if very high."

  • Fred Kaplan: A Way Out of Afghanistan:

    The book begins with President-elect Obama receiving his first really serious intelligence briefing, in which he learns that the Predator drones -- those unmanned aerial vehicles with the remote-controlled cameras and smart bombs that have been bumping off terrorist leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- work as well as they do only because of super-secret CIA paramilitary teams on the ground; the teams recruit locals, who tell them where the bad guys are and thus where to send the drones. The drones by themselves are no cheap way out. War, as always, is unavoidably hell.

    Then comes the monthslong internecine debate, through most of 2009, over how to fight the war: How many troops, where, what they should be doing, for how long, and to what end. We've read much of this before (some of it in Woodward's own reporting for the Washington Post), but a few things stand out: the continued lack of clarity, all the way till the end, over just what U.S. interests are in this war; the uncertainty, even after Obama's decision, over whether even the best-run U.S.-led campaign would affect the ultimate outcome; and, amid this debate, the Pentagon's persistent efforts to box Obama in to the one option that the senior military leaders wanted to pursue. [ . . . ]

    In Woodward's account, even after Obama decided to send 30,000 more troops, the Pentagon kept coming back with plans involving 40,000. Even after he decided not to pursue an all-out counterinsurgency campaign, the Pentagon kept coming back with plans involving just that.

    Obama also kept asking his generals for more options to consider. They were playing the old trick of giving the president three pseudo-options -- two that were clearly unacceptable (in this case, 80,000 more troops for full counterinsurgency and 10,000 troops just to train Afghan soldiers) and the one in the middle that they wanted (40,000 more troops). They never gave him another option. When Gen. James "Hoss" Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, drew up a compromise plan involving 20,000 troops (believing the president had a right to see a wide span of options, even if the military didn't agree with them), Mullen forbade him from taking it outside the Pentagon. Obama never saw it.

  • Kathleen Parker: Can a president lead with Woodward watching? Just not sure in the end whether Parker is taunting Obama to get out of Afghanistan or to dig in even deeper, but she sees playing along with the Press -- especially the likes of Woodward -- as some sort of character flaw:

    Question of the day: Why do presidents give the White House keys to Bob Woodward? [ . . . ]

    Through several administrations, Woodward has become president ex officio -- or at least reporter in chief, a human tape recorder who issues history's first draft even as history is still tying its shoes.

    For years he's been the best-selling first read on a president's inner struggles. His latest, Obama's Wars, exposes infighting in the West Wing over how to handle Afghanistan. [ . . . ]

    What is of some concern -- at least based on those excerpts that have leaked thus far -- is that the president gets pushed around by the generals. And that impression feeds into the larger one that Barack Obama is not quite commander in chief. He seems far more concerned with being politically savvy than with winning what he has called the good war.

    Cognitive dissonance sets in when Obama declares that "it's time to turn the page" in the war that he didn't like -- Iraq -- and that is not in fact over. Fifty thousand troops remain in Iraq, while the surge in Afghanistan seems to be not enough -- or too much for too long, already.

  • Michael D Shear: Obama's Wars: Scorecard for the Inside Game: Notes on how the main players fare in the book: Gen. James Jones, Thomas Donilon, Richard Holbrooke, Gen. David Petraeus, Robert Gates, Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, Adm. Mike Mullen, Gen. James Cartwright, Adm. Dennis Blair.

  • Paul Woodward: Obama's war of political necessity:

    Obama's problem: either an exit strategy was a necessity or the war was a necessity but he couldn't argue for both.

    Besides, whatever he might actually believe, he had already boxed himself in by pursuing a political strategy that hinged on his ability to portray himself as an opponent to the war in Iraq who was not an opponent of war per se.

    The war in Afghanistan was Obama's shield against Republican attacks. "I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars," he said in 2002 when laying out his credentials as an un-antiwar Illinois State Senator.

    If Obama as a candidate and as president was to have been more candid, he might have expanded on a theme he touched on only briefly -- his affinity with Ronald Reagan but more specifically their apparent shared belief that American wars are best fought in secret using mercenaries.

  • Mosharraf Zaidi: Reading Woodward in Karachi: Woodward does much to advance the thesis that America's real problem in Afghanistan is Pakistan, which even if true is, well, problematical:

    Relations between the United States and Pakistan have never been more fraught. Last month, NATO helicopters breached Pakistani airspace several times. In the first instance, they engaged a group of suspected terrorists, killing more than 30. On Sept. 30, in another breach of Pakistani territory and airspace, NATO gunships fired on Pakistani paramilitary troops from the Frontier Constabulary (FC). Three Pakistani soldiers were killed and another three were badly injured. No one even attempted to dismiss the incident as friendly fire. In response, Pakistan has shut down the main border crossing and supply route into Afghanistan at Torkham, and militants have attacked convoys bringing fuel to NATO forces. All this comes after the most intense month of U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan since the campaign began.

    Into this environment comes Woodward's account of the Obama administration's decision to embrace a surge strategy in Afghanistan, which also offers a pretty good window into what American power sees when it looks at Pakistan. Woodward's emphasis on the "Pak" in AfPak reflects a larger shift in emphasis in official Washington. Perhaps inadvertently, the book is also likely to confirm many of the darkest suspicions that ordinary Pakistanis have about their erstwhile American allies. [ . . . ]

    The public humiliation of being the subject of Obama's war, without being able to publicly acknowledge its myriad dimensions, is a pressure that is crushing Pakistan's fragile democracy and hurting wider U.S. goals. If one of the objectives of Obama's war was to stabilize and secure Pakistan, then, by that measure, the war is not doing well at all. The surge has been a massive failure, notwithstanding the achievements of the clandestine war and the drone strikes.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Rhapsody Streamnotes: October 2010

Pick up text here.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Fall Road Trip

Got back from out little fall trip to the upper midwest. Thought we'd go to Detroit then loop back through the Upper Peninsula to Chicago, but went to Chicago first and looped back through Minnesota. Didn't actually get into Chicago. Just stopped to see a couple of Laura's cousins northwest of the metropolis. Drove up through rural Wisconsin, missing both Madison and Milwaukee, which meant we saw a lot of signs for the GOP's idiot savant, Paul Ryan. Hit Lake Michigan north of Manitowoc, then bounced back inland to Green Bay, up the bay coast to Escabana, then across the peninsula to Marquette. From there we drove west through Ashland and Bayfield, WI, to Duluth, then back down our familiar I-35. Was cold and windy early in trip, but warmed up midweek, was pleasant and sunny all the way; nice for framing the fall colors and brilliant lake views.

Didn't do much this week. Was sheltered from news. Read a little. Wrote virtually nothing. Played music in the car, but mostly old stuff -- packed a case of real classic material. One thing I will say is that it didn't look or feel like we're in the midst of a huge recession, even though we certainly are. This surface sense of normalcy more than anything else doesn't bode well for the Democrats, and that at least partly shakes my conviction that in the end people will reject the notion that anything worthwhile can be accomplished by turning Congress over to the Republicans. I don't get the sense that people recognize the depths of crisis that could result -- one big part of this, of course, is that the Democrats aren't responding as seriously as conditions warrant.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 17182 [17165] rated (+17), 862 [858] unrated (+4). Rushing to get this up. Will be on the road when it appears.

No Jazz Prospecting

Cut off Jazz Prospecting mid-week with little to show for it. Will be on the road this coming week, so don't expect much more. Should return to normal after that.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Weekend Roundup

A week's worth of useful links I didn't get around to commenting on previously:

  • Peter Daou: How a handful of liberal bloggers are bringing down the Obama presidency: No doubt it's easier to tear something down than it is to build something new, but there's plenty reason to doubt the title, and for that matter the sniping from Obama's spokesguys.

    I've argued for some time that the story of Barack Obama's presidency is the story of how the left turned on him. And it eats him up. You know it from Robert Gibbs, you know it from Rahm Emanuel, you know it from Joe Biden and you know it from Obama himself.

    The constant refrain that liberals don't appreciate the administration's accomplishments betrays deep frustration. It was a given the right would try to destroy Obama's presidency. It was a given Republicans would be obstructionists. It was a given the media would run with sensationalist stories. It was a given there would be a natural dip from the euphoric highs of the inauguration. Obama's team was prepared to ride out the trough(s). But they were not prepared for a determined segment of the left to ignore party and focus on principle, to ignore happy talk and demand accountability.

    Given how conservative Obama is and his administration has behaved, the only way I can chalk up the "given" that the right would be out to destroy him and his administration is their overweening sense of entitlement (something we saw equally when Bill Clinton was elected): how dare a Democrat assume the helm of Commander-in-Chief? I don't doubt that Obama has been less corrupt and less malicious than Bush was or McCain would have been, but I can't think of any issue where Obama has embraced a left position -- at best he's sought a center position explicitly rejecting the left, and in many cases (Afghanistan, targeted assassination) his centrist position might as well be the right's. He would be the immature one if he didn't recognize that his constant rejection of left proposals would result in opposition, at least over those principles. If anything is getting under Obama's skin, it isn't the cold political calculus; it's that those liberal bloggers are able to use Obama's own words to show how he's changed position, which raises a question about integrity among people who were among the first to support him. At least when the right attacks Obama, they just make shit up. And they represent positions so opposed to the best interests of most people that Obama becomes politically defensible.

    Daou followed up with another post here. The issue Daou posits that I don't see is the "convergence of left-right opinion is a critical factor in the shaping of conventional wisdom against Obama." I don't see any such convergence, but then I don't see the Tea Party Movement as populism -- it's even less than the overrated Fascist fronts of the 1930s. Daou explains:

    Typically, countervailing left-right narratives create enough tension to prevent the public from rapidly congealing around a single view. However, in some cases (Bush with Katrina, Obama on health care), left and right come to agree that a political leader is on the wrong track. It is this merging of left-right opinion that has damaged Obama. He can sustain relentless attacks from the right -- it's what everyone expects -- but when the left joins in, the bottom drops out. That's why opinion-shapers in the liberal blogosphere exert inordinate influence over Obama's fortunes.

    I get the theory, but don't see applications, unless you think that left complaints that Obama is too chummy with banks and big business gives credence to the right's unserious charges of corruption. The only real left complaint about health care reform is that it should have gone much further, and that some real leadership on the issue could have sold a much bolder plan. That may or may not be true, but no one on the right is making that charge, so where's the convergence?

    Speaking of which, Steve Kornacki: Obama's 2012 insurance policy? has the scoop on GOP presidential nominees. I'll stick with Huckabee as a guess, but right now the favorite is Mitt Romney. As you no doubt recall, before going into politics Romney made his fortune in leveraged buyouts: his group would buy up a company, borrow insane amounts of money, pay themselves huge fees, then dump the company staggering dumbly under a mountain of debt. Sounds like the perfect GOP pledge for America, except for his fake credentials as a social fascist, err, conservative.

  • Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: Wall Street's attacks could turn Obama into a true populist: Some wishful thinking -- I don't see that Obama has a populist bone his body. On the other hand, there is a residual well of populist anger in this country that a smart politician could tap into, especially if it's clear that he's lost the business support he craves. Roosevelt did that in 1936 when he "welcomed the hate" of business fat cats, but that well was deeper then, not because objective conditions have changed much but because the ideological hold of the rich is much stronger.

    But this has it exactly backward. The business-Obama divorce isn't about personalities, and it's not because the president and his economic team have pursued anti-business policies. Instead, it reflects a deeper disconnect between corporate leaders and the rest of America, rooted not just in the economic privileges executives enjoy but also in the particular ways business connects to Washington. This disconnect has blinded corporate leaders to the extent to which most Americans feel that the government, far from crushing corporate America, has been looking out only for those at the top.

    Had Obama realized sooner that he would never win over corporate America, he might have pursued rhetoric and policies that would have alienated fewer voters. But the cost would have been alienating Democratic moderates in Congress, thereby jeopardizing his reform agenda. After November's inevitable Republican gains, however, those moderates will have a less decisive role, and Obama might feel freer to adopt a more populist approach.

    It seems much more likely to me that if the Democrats lose badly in November, Obama will move even further to the right, possibly even untethering himself from the Congressional Democrats viewing them as losers. This would free him from having to pursue a program tied to the Democratic Party base -- hey, we tried that, and got pounded for it! -- to focus on his own reëlection unconstrained by the party. For 2012, that would mean all he has to do is to run a hair to the side of sanity from whoever the Republicans nominate -- Huckabee is my guess, but with the gamut of hopefuls running from Romney to Palin, well, how hard is that?

  • Ezra Klein: Can business afford the Republican Party? Good question. I think it's clear that business did better, even allowing for tax differences, under Clinton than Bush, but politically may be a different story.

    What business should want, in theory, is a Republican Party that advocates for its interests. That is to say, a Republican Party willing to send 20 senators and 50 House members to the table when Democrats are writing a huge health-care bill that has the votes to pass. The Democrats would've given anything for some votes from across the aisle, and whatever it is that business wanted, it could've gotten. But since the Republican Party wasn't interested in governing or negotiating, business didn't have that leverage. [ . . . ]

    My hunch is that business doesn't really care about this for two reasons. The first is that the Democrats aren't anti-business and they in fact spent a lot of time talking to representatives from the affected industries and reshaping the bill to address their concerns. The second is that the people actually representing business interests in Washington are movement Republicans rather than disinterested CEOs, and they're allied with the interests of the Republican Party in much the way that organized labor is allied with the interests of the Democratic Party. But what that means is that the GOP isn't going to come in and do what business needs them to do, but instead what their base and electoral interests tell them to do. And so uncertainty and inadequacy will rule the day.

    One of the forgotten stories of the health care reform act was that Obama got virtually all of the interested industry parties to consent to and nominally support his bill, but that translated to zero Republican votes and no political coverage for Democrats. Given how little he got for so much compromise, it can certainly be argued that he wouldn't have had any more trouble advancing a much more ambitious reform program.

    Similarly, it was the Democrats who provided the bulk of the votes to pass TARP and save the banking system, letting the Republicans in Congress posture against bailouts even while Paulson and Bush were handing them out.

  • Paul Krugman/Robin Wells: The Slump Goes On: Why? and The Way Out of the Slump: Two-part book review which occasionally touches on Raghuram G Rajan: Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy, Nouriel Roubini/Stephem Mihm: Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance, and Richard C Koo: The Holy Grail of Macroeconomics: Lessons From Japan's Great Recession. Krugman has been saying all along that the contemporary worldwide recession is a lot like Japan's famous "lost decade" -- a long stagnant period following their own stupendous real estate bubble burst -- so it's not surprising that Koo fares best. It may also help that doctors are better at prescribing medicine to others: one little irony (or hypocrisy if you're inclined to be less generous) is that while economist Ben Bernanke argued that Japan should inflate its way out of its recession, Fed Chairman Bernanke doesn't seem to have the slightest desire to test his theory at home. Rajan's seems to be by far the worst of the three books -- although Yglesias was quick to praise the book, Rajan has mostly argued that central bankers should aggresively raise interest rates to guard against future inflation, and basically shows no concern whatsoever over unemployment rates, even if they were to get much worse. A couple quotes from the second piece:

    Nor do many people seem willing to recognize the increasingly obvious failure of austerity policies in those countries that actually have lost the confidence of bond markets: harsh policies in Greece and Ireland have led to soaring unemployment, yet investors seem less willing than ever to buy those nations' debt. As one of us has noted, supposedly responsible policymakers are sounding more and more like the priesthood of some barbaric cult, demanding sacrifices in the name of invisible gods. [ . . . ]

    One more thing: just as global imbalances -- the savings glut created by surpluses in China and other countries -- played an important part in creating the great real estate bubble, they have an important role in blocking recovery now that the bubble has burst. Koo is right in saying that the essential problem of the world economy right now is an excess of saving, with not enough borrowers; countries that continue running large trade surpluses in this environment -- like China and Germany -- are propping up their own economies at the rest of the world's expense.

  • Paul Krugman: Downhill With the G.O.P.: On the Republican Party's Pledge to America:

    Never mind the war on terror, the party's main concern seems to be the war on arithmetic. [ . . . ]

    True, the document talks about the need to cut spending. But as far as I can see, there's only one specific cut proposed -- canceling the rest of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which Republicans claim implausibly) would save $16 billion. That's less than half of 1 percent of the budget cost of those tax cuts. As for the rest, everything must be cut, in ways not specified -- "except for common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops." In other words, Social Security, Medicare and the defense budget are off-limits.

    So what's left? Howard Gleckman of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has done the math. As he points out, the only way to balance the budget by 2020, while simultaneously (a) making the Bush tax cuts permanent and (b) protecting all the programs Republicans say they won't cut, is to completely abolish the rest of the federal government: "No more national parks, no more Small Business Administration loans, no more export subsidies, no more N.I.H. No more Medicaid (one-third of its budget pays for long-term care for our parents and others with disabilities). No more child health or child nutrition programs. No more highway construction. No more homeland security. Oh, and no more Congress."

    The "pledge," then, is nonsense. [ . . . ] So the clear and present danger isn't that the G.O.P. will be able to achieve its long-run goals. It is, rather, that Republicans will gain just enough power to make the country ungovernable, unable to address its fiscal problems or anything else in a serious way. As I said, banana republic, here we come.

  • Andrew Leonard: The United States of income inequality: Just another way of counting: the ratio of the share of wealth of the top 20% percent of Americans to the share under the poverty line has increased from 7.69-to-1 in 1969 to 14.5-to-1 in 2009:

    From Richard Nixon through Barack Obama, the gap between the rich and the poor in the United States has cracked wide open into a global embarrassment. Even in the wake of the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, the rich have still managed to gain headway while the poor and middle class continue to lose ground. It's a remarkable record of government failure by both parties.

  • Ray McGovern: Obama Knows the War Is Dumb, but Prefers Power Over Peace: Reviewing Bob Woodward's book, Obama's Wars:

    Woodward paints a personal portrait of presidential cynicism by describing a conversation between Obama and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, during which Graham asks if that July deadline is firm.

    Obama is quoted in reply, "I have to say that." He then explains, "I can't let this be a war without end, and I can't lose the whole Democratic Party."

    There is little doubt in my mind that Obama knows full well that the Afghanistan war is a fool's errand, and that the only way to end it is to disengage, rather than escalate. Yet he is convinced -- wrongly, I believe -- that the he has no real political alternative but to kowtow to the generals. [ . . . ]

    Predictably, this behavior earns Obama disdain rather than respect from the top brass, who believe the President feels "intimidated" in their presence, as Gen. Stanley McChrystal told Rolling Stone magazine earlier this year. Generals generally know there is a huge difference between being a mere politician and a real leader.

    In Obama, they see a politician first and foremost, and have concluded that his overweening determination to appear strong on defense has the result of making him putty in their hands.

  • Maxine Udall: Structural Misalignment and a Counterfactual Economy: I could link to Krugman debunking the "structural unemployment" excuse but Udall has four perfectly good links in her first sentence. She isn't out to fight Krugman, but wants to consider the possibility that there is a deeper-seated structural misalignment that would be a real problem if we didn't have so many realer problems in the way. One such problem is that the lure of big finance dollars has drained so many brains from the potential pool of scientists and engineers who might actually help solve real problems.

  • Matthew Yglesias: Poor People Are Much Poorer Than You Think: The chart maps dividies Americans into five quintiles by wealth, then shows how much wealth each quintile has -- the top quintile has more than 80% of the total pie, and the bottom two quintiles have essentially nothing -- then asks various groups of people to estimate how they think the pie is split. The breakdowns are pretty marginal -- higher income people, Democrats, and men think the rich are richer, but not by much. The big point is that all groups underestimate the top quintile's share by 20-25 points, and that they all assume that the bottom 40% has 8-10% of the wealth where they actually have 0%. As Yglesias points out, such common failure to recognize how poor the poor really are is the big story here.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Recycled Goods

Pick up text here.

Friday, October 01, 2010

A Downloader's Diary (3): October 2010

This is the third installment of Michael Tatum's column, which makes it officially a series as opposed to a couple of random events. First one, I'm told, took some scrounging to come up with material, but now he's on a roll. I can relate because I went through the same transitionary anxiety from too little to too much over the first three or four Jazz Consumer Guides.

The archive material is here (or will be when I get the website fully updated later today).

Insert text from here.

Spice Racks

Porkalicious: My People: Click through for picturs of a new spice rack my brother built. Handy, nice use of space, looks like it'll hold forty average-sized jars, and that it's already close to capacity. I've seen carpentry plans for shelves like this, but I'm already tight for space between the countertop and cabinets, so I never thought it'd work that well. Still, a clever idea, especially if you have the space -- and their kitchen is about twice the size of mine.

Scroll to the bottom and you'll see the spice rack I built. It holds 80 jars, of which about 70 are currently in use. Still haven't moved everything in, but I buy bulk spices and load it up when I need something. The three handles to the right are attached to pull-out units, each with three shelves. I keep flour, sugar, oils, vinegars, soy sauce, nuts, coffee, some cereal, and more spices back there. Range is barely visible to the right, countertop and sink to the foreground. Not much countertop space there, but the handle visible pulls out an extension covered in black laminate.

Main thing I need is something better for holding cooking tools like spatulas and forks and flippers. I have an idea for building a rack where the paper towel holder is now.

Sep 2010 Nov 2010