Wednesday, August 31, 2011
All the News That's Fit to Print
Looking at the
Wichita Eagle this morning I was struck
by the sheer number of strangely disturbing headlines. It's like we've
entered into some kind of Twilight Zone. Some examples:
- Unsuitable for business: Developer pledges to fix all of downtown
building's problems: lead front-page story on 19-floor building at
125 N. Market which city government had already contributed $1 million
to a developer; pictures show cracked cement above parking area; story
mentions orange water, non-functioning bathrooms and air conditioning,
- Judge: State must restore federal funds to clinics: while
Republicans elsewhere are passing laws to stop paying Planned Parenthood
for routine health care services, Gov. Brownback just stopped the checks;
the courts have ordered Kansas to pay up, but Brownback still hasn't
paid; I'm looking forward to contempt of court charges, with Brownback
going to jail as a martyr for his cause.
- Police to fight sex trafficking from St. Louis to western Kan.:
you probably figured they were already doing this, but prosecutor Cynthia
Cordes figured it was worth a press release anyway; her big idea is to
entrap Johns thereby crimping the market's demand side.
- Pilots' addiction to automation a danger: "Some 51 'loss of
control' accidents occurred in which planes stalled in flight or got
into positions from which pilots were unable to recover."
- End of COBRA subsidy hits the jobless: the subsidy was part
of the now-defunct stimulus package; without it the unemployed will
join the uninsured, in many cases spiraling into bankruptcy, unless
they're saved by Medicaid, another form of subsidy with problems of
- Hate government? Try 'federal family': huh? evidently the
phrase has been used by FEMA going back to the 1990s to describe a
cooperative relationship between multiple federal agencies, but the
author here (Kathleen Hennessey) thinks it's part of a Madison Avenue
rebranding effort, like "the death tax"; for more on this, see
- $60 billion lost to war zone waste, panel says: AP article
by Richard Lardner, on a new report; they're still about a trillion
- Wildfires ravage homes in OKC and North Texas: presumably
a new article, although this has been happening all year: "In Oklahoma
City, bursts of flame rose amid thick black smoke as oil-packed cedar
trees ignited, giving gawkers a stunning view even from blocks away.
Utility poles lit up like matchsticks, and power was out to more than
7,000 homes and businesses."
- Feds back off street sign mandate: would have required "larger
lettering and high-quality nighttime reflection on all street signs by
2018"; wonder if it would have required Boston to actually put up street
- Poll finds Muslims have mixed views on status in U.S.: well,
at least it's mixed: "43 percent -- reported they had personally experienced
harassment in the past year."
- Obama, GOP set to fight over rules: i.e., regulations that the
GOP claims are killing jobs, like, I suppose, the street sign thing Obama
has already surrendered on, although it isn't obvious to me how many jobs
would really be lost by requiring new signs to be manufactured and
- Irene inflicted its worst damage on rural areas: the non-story
is that New York City turned out to be pretty robust, but then you don't
find the city's power being delivered on rickety poles surrounded by trees;
I don't think there's a good answer here, but there are plenty of bad ones,
like blaming people for living in unsafe, uneconomical rural areas (extra
demerits for using the term "moral hazard").
- Rebels set deadline for city to surrender: In Libya, where
Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte remains his last redoubt (not that there is
any evidence that Gaddafi is there); if Libya's "rebels" are indeed
committed to democracy, why is there any urgency in shelling Sirte to
force it to join; sooner or later the city will want to join the rest
of Libya, and until then killing people just makes the rebels look bad
(or more precisely, makes them look like Gaddafi).
- Fake Green Beret sentenced for fraud: "For years William
Hillar's tales about his exploits as an Army Green Beret and a puffed
up resume helped him land jobs teaching counterterrorism and drug and
human trafficking interdiction, but the scheme has now earned him 21
months in federal prison" -- kind of like Bernie Kerik but on a much
- 66 U.S. losses in August most yet in Afghanistan: tops 65
in July 2010, but nearly half (30) were part of the big helicopter
being shot down; "Violence is being reported across Afghanistan despite
the U.S.-led coalition's drive to rout insurgents from their strongholds
in the south."
- Feds in Texas to save endangered species: Another reason for
Texas to secede, although I guess those plans are on hold pending Rich
Perry's attempt to take over the Union.
- Dead men don't vote: lead editorial, but reflects a big news
story from earlier in the week, when a study revealed that there were
indeed dead people on voter registration rolls but none of them had
actually voted; KS Secretary of State Kris Kobach has been relentless
in his efforts to make sure the wrong people don't vote in Kansas, so
despite any evidence to the contrary, he still insists, "Every deceased
voter that remains on Kansas' voter rolls creates the risk of a fraudulent
vote being cast."
There's also a Cal Thomas column on Libya but I can't begin to make
sense of it. But toward the end he wants to send the NTC a bill for
"the help we've given it, directly and through NATO"; then adding,
"This is a practice we also should apply to other countries seeking
our assistance." Best idea he's had in a long time, but maybe we should
do a credit check first. The GDP of Afghanistan is less than $30 billion,
and we've blown through 15 times that much helping them ($450 billion),
adding $120 billion (4 times their GDP) per year now. It's rather hard
to see how they can afford us, but then it's also hard to see how what
the US is doing constitutes help.
By the way, hit 100F yesterday. Forecast is for 104F today, 105F
tomorrow, so that 1936 record will soon be history. Last time Kansas
had a summer this hot we voted overwhelmingly for FDR. We've lost
our minds this year too, but I've yet to see anything good coming
out of it.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
More Than Just Pond Scum
One of the headlines on the front page of the Wichita Eagle today:
Milford Lake closes as toxic algae thrive. Even more pointed is
the smaller print tagline above the headline: "3 DOGS KILLED DRINKING
WATER." They're measuring as much as 5 million blue-green algae cells
per milliliter. Advisories against drinking or "having full contact
with lake water" are supposed to go out once the cell counts top
20,000. No people have died yet, but "several" have become ill.
The record hot weather this summer has caused algae blooms in most
of the state's reservoirs. As best I recall, Kansas only has one natural
lake -- somewhere near Kansas City -- but nearly every farmer in the
state dammed up a little pond, and the big-time dambuilders went crazy
from the 1930s on, so there are several dozen good-sized reservoirs,
of which Milford is the largest.
lists 27, plus it lists Cheyenne Bottoms as a natural lake -- I've
always thought of it as a patch of swamp.) Presumably we're only
now hearing about Milford because it's in the northeast part of
the state where it's missed most of the drought and some of the
heat that hit us harder to the south and west.
Some people are quick to point to outbreaks of storms as proof
of global warming, but it's hard to establish those corelations.
On the anniversary of Katrina, we've only had one hurricane thus
far this season. (I would guess that the temperature, hence the
potential energy, in the Gulf of Mexico has marginally increased
over the past few decades, but the factors that turn that energy
into hurricanes seem to be much more haphazard.) However, the
algae blooms that have plagued Kansas lakes this year are about
as tightly corelated to temperature as can be, so they give us
a vivid indicator of what global warming looks like and how it
affects our lives: dead fish, dead dogs, and certainly no water
skiing, which in my youth was a favored pastime for cooling off
in what even then were pretty hot summers. (We spent a lot of
time at Kanapolis, near where my grandparents lived; an uncle
worked as a park ranger there for a while. My brother's inlaws
went to Fall River practically every week. I have a good friend
who has a cabin on Lake ElDorado -- a lake that's been shut
down for over a month now.)
One thing that strikes me about disasters is how great the
disconnect is between people who experience them directly and
others who only experience them vicariously through the news.
Take Hurricane Irene, for example. Steve Benen has a piece on
Michelle Bachman's reaction (which she later termed an
"attempt at humor"):
The full quote, which MSNBC only showed part of, is as follows: "I
don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians.
We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going
to start listening to me here?' Listen to the American people because
the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on
a morbid obesity diet and we've got to rein in the spending."
Also note, Bachmann didn't just say this once. At a separate
campaign event in Florida on the same day, she made the same point,
using slightly different phrasing.
"Washington, D.C., you'd think by now they'd get the message. An
earthquake, a hurricane. Are you listening? The American people have
done everything they possibly can, and now it's time for an act of
God and we're getting it."
In both instances, the videos show Bachmann's supporters chuckling.
I'll gladly concede that the right-wing Republican delivered the
comments in a seemingly lighthearted way, but it's also worth noting
that presidential candidates don't generally joke about deadly natural
disasters while the disaster is unfolding. Bachmann clearly
liked the line well enough to repeat it more than once, but while she
was drawing laughs, people were literally dying.
On the other hand, see Benen's
Assessing Irene's impact, which includes a couple of quotes from
political figures who actually have work to do in the wake of the
Preliminary estimates also point to about $7 billion in U.S. property
damage, though that figure is likely to be revised more than once.
As for the governmental response, it's a long-term process but the
early reports are encouraging. Amanda Terkel noted yesterday, "Governors
of both parties are praising the federal response to Hurricane Irene,
giving a much-needed vote of confidence to the Federal Emergency Management
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), for example, said FEMA has been
"very responsive" and "the cooperation between New Jersey and FEMA has
been great." Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said the leading federal
officials "have been excellent," adding, "This is a much better FEMA
than the olden days."
Now, on any given day, Christie is likely to be as full of shit as
Bachmann, but today, at least, he has something more useful to do than
bloviate about how government's the problem or pontificate on why God's
I recall the same dynamic on 9/11, but in that case I was in New
York, smelling the burning stench, commiserating with my family over
the murder of a niece who worked in the WTC, joining peace vigils,
and totally isolated from the insanity that swept the rest of the
otherwise unaffected country. For a few brief days there I saw Rudy
Giulliani so touched and disturbed by the events that he temporarily
turned into a Mensch -- an effect that vanished as soon as he found
out what his performance had done to his polls -- while at the same
time in Washington on the Capitol steps Hillary Clinton turned into
a bloodthirsty monster.
One recognition from all this is that we really don't have much
capacity for empathy with others -- something which immediate access
through the media seems to be making worse rather than better. We
see something happening, something we can't really imagine, and all
we do with that information is use it to reinforce preconceptions
that have no relevance, and may even be contradicted by events.
An old familiar album:
Tarkus? Let's see . . . according to my trusty database, a
D+, which means definitely not the worst record ever, but very
likely the worst ELP ever did. I did a serious study of ELP back in
1977 when I reviewed Works for the Voice -- although I
must admit I haven't played any of them since, and they were probably
in the sell off pile when I left NJ (if they lasted that long). That
piece was the beginning of the end of my first stretch writing for
Christgau: I was pretty upset when they changed my title ("ELP: Up
From Fascism") to "ELP Moves On Up." The piece is on my website
somewhere. (The only other title I ever cared that much about was
"Let's String Up the Outlaws," which the Voice had no problem with --
in fact, ran it as the lead on the back cover.)
By the way, shortly after my piece ran Dave Marsh wrote a review
where he argued that the real fascist band was Queen -- this would
have been about the time of News of the World (it would be even
funnier if it was as late as Jazz). I always figured it for an
answer review, but more importantly that was when I realize that Marsh
had no sense of irony whatsoever.
The picks today were Terakaft: Aratan N Azawad and Tinariwen:
Tassili, two Saharan groups that have been on Tatum's radar for
a month now.
Update: Milo Miles says Marsh's Queen review was of Jazz:
Whatever its claims, Queen isn't here just to entertain. This group
has come to make it clear exactly who is superior and who is inferior.
Its anthem, "We Will Rock You," is a marching order: you will not
rock us, we will rock you. Indeed, Queen may be the first truly
fascist rock band. The whole thing makes me wonder why anyone would
indulge these creeps and their polluting ideas.
Someone else questioned my assertion that Tarkus was ELP's
worst, pointing out Love Beach -- a 1978 album sloughed off
to weasel out of their contract. AMG gave it 1.5 stars and a short
but grim review. It does indeed look to be atrocious in almost every
Monday, August 29, 2011
Music: Current count 18642  rated (+33), 856  unrated (+10).
Changed previous grades:
- Poly Styrene: Translucence (1980, United Artists):
Dead after a two-album career, 31 years separating them. Haven't
replayed this, and may no longer have it, but seems fitting to
bump this up.
[was: B+] A-
Jazz Prospecting (JCG #28, Part 4)
Not a peep back from the Village Voice. Maybe I'm done there?
Maybe they're done? Will carry on until I know something, but the
prospecting rate of the last two weeks slowed down this week: 15
below, overall rated count was a productive but relatively normal
33. The difference mostly goes into Recycled Goods and Rhapsody
Streamnotes, both due to drop sometime in the next week, both
(especially the former) looking pretty anemic going into the
Roger Davidson Quintet: Brazilian Love Song (2009
, Soundbrush): Pianist, b. 1952 in France but grew up in New
York; has 11 albums since 2000's Mango Tango, all keyed to
Latin rhythms, the majority Brazilian. Silly of me to have ignored
this for a year now -- the title on the spine, the cartoonish cover
in the Brazilian national colors, the "30 years of Brazilian music"
blurb seemed unappealing, but the fine print suggests otherwise:
Davidson (whose name isn't visible on the spine) himself has been
more and more impressive each time out, well on his way to becoming
a Latin pianist-of-all-trades like Dick Hyman. Also turns out that
instead of recycling moldy bossa novas, he composed all the music --
dating some pieces as far back as 1978, so he's recycling his files.
Also Pablo Aslan produced -- the Argentine bassist, I've never seen
him associated with a dud project yet. The Quintet is Brazilian
where it counts -- Paulo Braga on drums and Marivaldo Dos Santos
on percussion -- and Aaron Heick's sax doesn't let anyone get too
Harris Eisenstadt: September Trio (2010 , Clean
Feed): Drummer, has tended lately to rig his records to emphasize his
compositions rather than his position. Trio includes Ellery Eskelin
(tenor sax) and Angelica Sanchez (piano), so this lacks the drive and
connectivity that a bassist should add: it runs a bit slow, muted, but
spacious. Been hearing a lot from Eskelin lately, and I'm afraid that
I've fallen uncritically in love with all of it. The pianist holds up
her end too.
Satoko Fujii Min-Yoh Ensemble: Watershed (2009
, Libra): Min-Yoh means folk music in Japanese, and three
(of eight) songs here are identified as "Japanese traditional folk" --
the others are Fujii originals. Not knowing anything about Japanese
folk music that can't be reduced to traditional instruments (none
such here, but there are some vocals), I'm at a loss. Fujii plays
piano, along with Andrea Parkins (accordion), Curtis Hasselbring
(trombone), and Natsuki Tamura (trumpet). Accordion mostly adds
density, and trombone darker tones.
Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York: Eto (2010 ,
Libra): Prolific Japanese pianist -- a quick count shows 17 Jazz CG
records for her and/or her husband-trumpeter Natsuki Tamura. Among
many other groups, she runs four big bands, three based in Japan
plus this all-star outfit in New York, on their 8th album together
here. The big thing here is the 14-part "Eto Suite," plus three
shorter pieces. Strong solos but less hectic than previous albums,
with some nicely arranged stretches.
Thomas Heberer's Clarino: Klippe (2010 , Clean
Feed): Trumpet player, b. 1965 in Germany, based in New York since 2008.
Probably has ten or so records more/less under his own name since 1988 --
I can't find a definitive list, as well as side credits with Alexander
von Schlippenbach (including Berlin Contemporary Jazz Orchestra) and
Misha Mengelberg (including ICP Orchestra). Trio with Joachim Badenhorst
(clarinet, bass clarinet) and Pascal Niggenkemper (bass). Slow and moody,
a tone painting that never quite resolves.
Gerry Hemingway Quintet: Riptide (2009 ,
Clean Feed): Drummer-led quintet, with Oscar Noriega (alto sax,
clarinet, bass clarinet), Ellery Eskelin (tenor sax), Terrence
McManus (guitar), Kermit Driscoll (acoustic bass, electric bass
guitar). I assumed this would flesh out Hemingway's superb duos
with Eskelin and McManus so I latched onto their flights, but if
anything this is more tightly bound to the beat -- deliriously
so in the reggae-inspired "Backabacka" but also in the slower,
more muted pieces that preceded it, seeming to draw the record
down when really they were setting it up.
Kaze: Rafale (2010 , Libra): New Satoko
Fujii-Natsuki Tamura group, a quartet with Christian Pruvost
adding a second trumpet and Peter Orins on drums. The latter
two are from France. Pruvost has one album; Orins, as far as I
can tell, none under his own name, but he wrote 3 of 6 pieces
(Fujii 2, Tamura 1). No dueling among the trumpets. In most
cases one takes a high road while the other goes low, with
much of the album winding up in the dirt. The exception is the
final cut called "Blast" where everyone is cranking.
Vincent Lyn: Heaven Bound (2011, Budo): Pianist,
first album, describes it as "cool jazz with a mix of classical
and bossa nova." Has a longer career as an actor and stunt man,
especially in Hong Kong martial arts films -- website has a lot
of pics of him handling swords. Group includes guitar, sax/flute,
bass, drums, percussion, and Fernanda Capela singing the bossa
nova-oriented pieces, while the classical bits (Rachmaninoff,
Satie, Piero Domenico Paradisi) center on the piano. It's all
rather genteel, not especially interesting as jazz but pleasant
in a nicely rounded way.
Nilson Matta & Roni Ben-Hur: Mojave (2011,
Motéma): Brazilian bassist and Israeli guitarist, both New York
based, both with such substantial discographies I won't bother
looking them up. In smaller front cover print: Victor Lewis
(drums) and Café (percussion) -- don't know the latter but he's
invaluable here. Mostly a Brazilian program (Jobim, Pixinginha,
Baden Powell) with two pieces by Ben-Hur, two by Matta, one by
Lewis, one by Burt Bacharach. Nice to focus on Matta's bass for
once, the guitar adding tasteful highlights and a little icing.
Mike Prigodich: A Stitch in Time (2011, Mexican Mocha
Music): Pianist, electric keybs as well as acoustic; studied at Wheaton,
worked in Chicago, moved to Portland in 1998. Credits "becoming a cancer
patient in 2008" as a wake-up call, pushing him to compose more, leading
to this first album. Calls his core group MPEG (Melz/Prigodich/Erskine
Group), with Reinhardt Melz on drums, Damian Erskine on bass. Saxophonist
John Nastos, guitarist Brandon Woody, and percussionist Rafael Trujillo
also get credits on the front cover, and a couple others on one or two --
Tim Jensen gets a flute feature. Seems like this gets tripped up in a
couple of spots, rare breaks in the upbeat funk attack. I've always been
a sax fan, and Nastos is consistently tasty here, but the strongest bit
is a guitar solo from the otherwise underutilized Woody.
Mark Segger Sextet: The Beginning (2010 ,
18th Note): Drummer, from Edmonton, now based in Toronto, first
album; composes all eight pieces here, for a sextet including
trumpet (Jim Lewis), tenor sax/clarinet (Chris Willes), trombone
(Heather Segger), piano/melodica (Tania Gill), and bass (Andrew
Downing). He calls the pieces "idiosyncratic" with such sources
as "soca rhythms, chamber music, and the abstract pointillism of
contemporary free improvisation." No doubt about idiosyncratic:
slippery postbop, disjointed and improbably reconnected.
Rick Stone Trio: Fractals (2011, Jazzand): Guitarist,
from Cleveland, studied at Berklee, wound up in New York. Fourth album
since 1990, widely spaced (1994, 2004, 2011). Four covers -- three
standards and a Billy Strayhorn piece you don't run into often ("Ballad
for Very Sad and Very Tired Lotus Eaters") -- seven originals. Trio
with Marco Panascia on bass and Tom Pollard on drums. Has a thin
metallic sound, focused on long likes like Wes Montgomery but doesn't
pick up the pace.
Kevin Tkacz Trio: It's Not What You Think (2007 ,
Piece of Work of Art): Bassist, based in Brooklyn. First (and evidently
only) record, a piano trio with Bill Carrothers and Michael Sarin. Two
songs credited to Tkacz, one to Rogers and Hart, the rest group improvs.
Best thing I've heard by Carrothers in several years, probably because
he gets a little dirty, as does the bass.
Denny Zeitlin: Labyrinth: Live Solo Piano (2008 ,
Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1938, has a couple dozen records since 1964.
Three of last four have been solo, which strikes me as too many but
he's deep within his own distinctive style.
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
Andreas Schmidt/Samuel Rohrer/Thomas Heberer: Pieces for a
Husky Puzzle (2009, Jazzwerkstatt): Piano, drums, trumpet
respectively. Schmidt was b. 1967, more than a dozen credits start
around 1990, hard to tell how many; AMG lists Andreas Schmidt as a
classical music vocalist, but that is someone else (b. 1960). Seven
cuts, each called "Puzzle Piece" followed by a number. Slow and
abstract improvs, thoughtful and brooding (or maybe just droning);
doesn't leave the drummer much to do.
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further
listening the first time around.
Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:
- Albert Ayler: Love Cry/The Last Album (1967-69, Impulse)
- Mike Baggetta Quartet: Source Material (Fresh Sound New Talent)
- Art Blakey: Jazz Messengers!!!!!/A Jazz Message (1961-64, Impulse)
- Kenny Burrell: Tenderly: Solo Guitar Concert (High Note)
- Ernesto Cervini Quartet: There (Anzic): Sept. 27
- Maureen Choi: Quartet (self-released)
- Alice Coltrane: Universal Consciousness/Lord of Lords (1971-72, Impulse)
- Joey DeFrancesco (High Note)
- Mike DiRubbo & Larry Willis: Four Hands, One Heart (Ksanti)
- Echoes of Swing: Message From Mars (Echoes of Swing)
- Duke Ellington: Meets Coleman Hawkins/And John Coltrane (1962, Impulse)
- Curtis Fuller: Soul Trombone/Cabin in the Sky (1961-62, Impulse)
- The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra: All Out of Peaches (New Folk)
- Tim Hagans: The Moon Is Waiting (Palmetto): Oct. 11
- Coleman Hawkins: Today and Now/Desafinado (1962, Impulse)
- Milt Jackson: Statements/Jazz 'n' Samba (1962-64, Impulse)
- Ahmad Jamal: Poinciana Revisited/Freeflight (1969-71, Impulse)
- Elvin Jones: Illumination/Dear John C. (1962-65, Impulse)
- Travis Laplante: Heart Protector (Skirl): Oct. 18
- Allen Lowe: Blues and the Empirical Truth (Music & Arts, 3CD)
- Sonny Rollins: On Impulse!/There Will Never Be Another You (1965, Impulse)
- Pharoah Sanders: Village of the Pharoahs/Wisdom Through Magic (1973, Impulse)
- Shirley Scott: For Members Only/Great Scott!! (1963-64, Impulse)
- Archie Shepp: For Losers/Kwanza (1970-74, Impulse)
- Gabor Szabo: The Sorcerer/More Scorcery (1967, Impulse)
- McCoy Tyner: Inception/Reaching Fourth (1962-63, Impulse)
- Greg Ward: Greg Ward's Phonic Juggernaut (Thirsty Ear): advance, Oct. 25
- Drive-By Truckers: Go-Go Boots (ATO/Red)
- LCD Soundsystem: Sound of Silver (DFA/Capitol)
- Lupe Fiasco: Lasers (Atlantic)
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
David Bromwich: Symptoms of the Bush-Obama Presidency:
I never had a lot of especially kind things to say about Bill Clinton's
presidency. Clinton's overarching goal was to balance the budget in the
vain hope that doing so might make the bond market happy, and over eight
years he sacrificed every imaginable principle of the Democratic Party
to succeed -- a legacy that was ripped to shreds by his successor, G.W.
Bush, is less than a year. But the transition from Clinton to Bush was
little short of shocking. Clinton engaged in more skirmishes than we'd
like to remember; he scarcely cut defense spending even though most of
it was geared to the long-gone Cold War era, and he sucked up to the
military brass more than was seemly, but his eight years were among the
more peaceful ones in post-WWII history. And, at least toward the end
of his run, his economy was not just relatively prosperous but more
equitably distributed than had been the case since the 1970s. When
Bush replaced Clinton, The Onion published a piece of prophetic
Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare of Peace and Prosperity Is Finally
Over'. Indeed, it was, and eight years of national self-destruction
followed, good years only for the superrich predator class and a few
people who get off on blowing shit up. When when Barack Hussein Obama
was elected to replace Bush, along with an overwhelming Democratic
Congress, most of us expected another major change was in the works.
But two-and-a-half years later, it feels like very little has changed.
The war in Iraq is a little quieter but still going on; the war in
Afghanistan is even noisier and ever more pointless. The conflict in
Israel/Palestine couldn't be in worse shape if Dennis Ross was running
the US effort. The banks have been bailed out: no one has been sent
to jail, even though the top dozen or so managed to steal or destroy
more wealth than the million-plus poor people who are actually in jail
in the world's most thickly populated penitentiary system. The stimulus
program that was supposed to compensate for the economic destruction
has been met with so many government cutbacks at all levels that the
net stimulus to the economy has been negative -- part of the reason
why unemployment has kept climbing, with much of the total so long
term that it's effectively beyond the bounds of the labor statistics.
Meanwhile, the rich continue to pay Bush-level taxes, accumulating
hoards of cash that they don't dare invest because they realize that
working (and not-so-working) people don't have the resources (much
less credit) to buy more products. And these are only some of the
big ticket items: civil liberties issues are the same as Bush left
them; the Global War on Terror winds on to Yemen and Somalia and
ever deeper into an increasingly unstable Pakistan; immigration
policy has become even more hysterically nativist; anti-Islamic
racism has become even more virulent. And the political dialogue,
which a smart, sensible guy like Obama should have elevated, has
gone off the rails, with the media dominated by Tea Party crackpots --
in the 1850s the media was astute enough to dub the same types the
Know Nothing Party, a label that stuck because it was self-evident --
and a bizarre assortment of crooks, shysters, and scam artists.
Trying to follow politics these days is even more brutal and it
was under Bush, where the chain of command was shorter -- the GOP
masses are nothing if not loyal to their leader -- and Bush himself
(or was it Rove?) was never one to put ideology over the interests
of his sponsors. Nowadays, ideology has broken free and is running
roughshod over the entire GOP, leading the House Republicans -- who
having been vetted by the lobbyists donating to their campaigns ought
to be a good deal saner than, say, Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter --
to pass measures to destroy Medicare and to undermine the nation's
credit status. And they are relatively sane, at least compared to
the ones who want to put us back on the gold standard, to outlawing
all unions, to making looking foreign grounds for arrest.
Bromwich tries to map out the continuities between the Bush and
Obama administrations, first by sorting out two lists of people:
one that the administration has stood by ("The Saved": Lawrence
Summers, Robert Gates, Rahm Emanuel, Cass Sunstein, Eric Holder,
Dennis Ross, Peter Orszag, Thomas Donilon), at least until some
of them cashed in their chips (most notoriously Orszag; shouldn't
Leon Panetta be here too?); the other advisers and nominees that
Obama cut loose ("The Sacked": Gen. James Jones, Karl Eikenberry,
Paul Volcker, Dennis Blair, James Cartwright, Dawn Johnsen, Greg
Craig, Carol Browner). Both lists could be stretched out further;
indeed, this looks like a precis for a book:
This has become the ethic of the Bush-Obama administration in a
new phase. It explains, as nothing else does, Obama's enormous
appetite for compromise, the growing conventionality of his choices
of policy and person, and the legitimacy he has conferred on many
radical innovations of the early Bush years by assenting to their
logic and often widening their scope. They are, after all, the
world as it is.
Obama's pragmatism comes down to a series of maxims that can be
relied on to ratify the existing order -- any order, however recent
its advent and however repulsive its effects. You must stay in power
in order to go on "seeking." Therefore, in "the world as it is,"
you must requite evil with lesser evil. You do so to prevent your
replacement by fanatics: people, for example, like those who invented
the means you began by deploring but ended up adopting. Their
difference from you is that they lack the vision of the seeker.
Finally, in the world as it is, to retain your hold on power you
must keep in place the sort of people who are normally found in
places of power.
Juan Cole: Top Ten Myths About the Libya War:
Cole, like Paul Woodward, has supported the NATO intervention in what
started as Libya's "Arab Spring" revolt, so he's taken a fair amount
of flak from the antiwar left who are the main targets of his "myths"
enumeration. There are good reasons to have opposed this thing: one,
especially if you are American or European, is that regardless of the
particulars of this operation you should realize that your countries
have no right to go around bombing other countries, and that keeping
a military to do so is bad both for your internal politics and for the
world. On the other hand, Cole will help you avoid arguments that get
kicked out almost reflexively -- that Gaddafi isn't such a bad guy,
that this is all about oil, etc.
Nonetheless, I think Cole missed his best argument. What made Libya
unique wasn't that the government killed demonstrators -- that happened
at first in Tunisia and Egypt, and is still happening in Bahrain, Yemen,
and Syria. It's that the Libyan military split into two pieces, with
some factions supporting the demonstrators, some Gaddafi, and that
division was what militarized the conflict. (In Tunisia and Egypt the
military eventually sided with the demonstrators; in Bahrain and Syria,
not.) It was only after the conflict became militarized that outside
powers considered tilting a balance that initially strongly favored
Gaddafi to one where the tables were turned.
One can argue that NATO prolonged the war, at least relative to the
presumably quick victory Gaddafi would have had if his army had been
able to march uncontested into Benghazi, but that would hardly have
been the end of conflict with its cycle of demonstrations and murderous
repression, refugees, and all that. At least with Gaddafi removed, it
becomes possible to establish a democracy in Libya where political
differences need not resort to violence -- and in the long run, that
seems much the better deal. Of course, at this point nothing's set in
stone. But however critical NATO was in overpowering Gaddafi, the US
and European powers have remarkably little claim to Libyan ground,
even as so-called peacekeepers. I can't imagine anyone building new
bases like Camp Bondwell. So even if the instinct to intervene is
rooted in imperialism, the result isn't.
Colin Hallinan: The Myth of Libyan Liberation claims to refute
Cole, but aside from generalities about US and NATO interests --
how malevolent they so often are -- he doesn't score many points.
It's possible that Gaddafi would have killed fewer people once he
put down the revolt than Cole imagines, but it's hard to make such
a case, especially given that he had already crossed the line and
ordered his troops (and mercenaries) to shoot up crowds and bombard
cities. Hallinan is on firmer ground on the oil point, but could
make his case more clearly. The US has little need for Libyan oil --
sure, off the market it drives prices up, but when has that ever
informed US foreign policy? -- so would be happy enough to slap
sanctions on Libya and starve them indefinitely (as was the case
for most of the thirty years Gaddafi was in power). On the other
hand, Europe does need and desire Libyan oil, so the prospect of
getting blackballed behind US sanctions may have been a factor in
Europe (especially France and Italy) pushing the NATO role. I'm
not sure how much weight to put there, but this clearly was a war
that Sarkozy wanted much more than Obama did. (The UK, of course,
loves everyone's wars, so you hardly need to look for reasons with
them. Lenin thought imperialism was the "last stage of capitalism"
but didn't didn't think far enough ahead to realize that the last
stage of imperialism is Alzheimer's.)
Peter Daou: How the Democratic Establishment Shunned the Left, Spawned
the Tea Party and Move America Right: Diagrams, models, background
quotes for a model on the differences between left and right media --
basically the latter is all connected to work in concert, whereas the
former is disconnected, mostly because the Democratic Party political
establishment would rather schmooze with their big donors than listen
to their voters.
At the root of the problem is this: the GOP benefits from a superior
communications mechanism with which to shape and reshape conventional
wisdom. Faced with a public that holds opposing views, politicians can
either change their positions to match the public's views or change
the public's views to match their positions -- Republicans almost
always choose the latter, bolstered by a highly sophisticated framing
and messaging infrastructure crafted and funded over decades.
Climate change gaining traction? No problem, put oil money to use,
fund bogus studies, cram misinformation down Americans' throats using
talk radio, Fox, etc., employ the Overton Window to move the dialogue
to the radical right, undercut science, attack academics, question
reality, and eventually move the needle in their direction. It's an
unseemly process, but it works. Suddenly, magically, global warming
is a hoax. People without the slightest scientific grounding make
dogmatic pronouncements about it, disdainfully dismissing a mortal
threat to their own children and grandchildren.
On the other side you have the Democratic establishment, political
leaders, pollsters and strategists who, by and large, are poll addicts,
chronically incapable of taking principled stands, obsessed with
appealing to independent voters, hostile to progressive advocates,
often just as captive to moneyed interests as their Republican
counterparts. Mind-bogglingly, it was the White House and Democratic
leadership that worked with BP to 'disappear' the Gulf spill, for
fear it would harm them in the 2010 midterms. Craven doesn't begin
to describe it.
The fact that America is a low-information nation only makes the
right's task of creating conventional wisdom easier. There's so much
hype about the Tea Party that it's easy to forget who they are:
Foxified and Limbaughed citizens whose legitimate anxiety has been
manipulated by a billionaire-funded misinformation machine:
[ . . . ]
My fundamental disagreement with Drum is where to place the blame.
From my perspective, it falls squarely with the Democratic establishment,
not the broad liberal community.
Here's why. Imagine a scenario where Democrats, instead of marginalizing
the netroots, treated them with the same awe and respect the Tea Party
engenders on the GOP side. Imagine an Obama presidency where the health
care debate started with a fierce fight for single-payer; where Gitmo
had been closed; where gay rights were unequivocally supported; where
Bush and Cheney were investigated for sanctioning torture; where climate
change was a top priority; where Bush's civil liberties violations were
prosecuted rather than reinforced; where the Bush tax cuts expired;
where the stimulus was much bigger; where programs for the poor, for
research, jobs, infrastructure, science, education, were enhanced at
the expense of war and profits for the wealthy; where the Republican
assault on women's rights was met with furious resistance. I could go
on and on.
In short, imagine an America where the Democratic establishment
loudly proclaimed that they were unshakable champions of core progressive
values and that they would work hand in hand with their base to convince
America that their ideas were superior to the right's.
Of course, that's a fantasy. The unwillingness of Democratic leaders
and strategists to do anything remotely close to that has virtually
guaranteed that the triangle isn't formed on the left. Obama's supporters
are fond of pointing to the GOP House and complaining that his hands are
tied because of the 2010 midterms. But it's precisely the Democratic
establishment's decrepitude that enabled the rise of the Tea Party and
the 2010 defeat.
Alex Pareene: Hurricane Forecasting One of the Many Things GOP Doesn't
Want to Spend Money On:
Hurricane Irene is going to hit the United States' east coast this weekend,
as you have likely heard. It looks to be a pretty nasty storm, capable of
causing billions of dollars of damage. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration has been carefully tracking Irene, forecasting its path up
the coast and its intensity. Of course, America's Republican-demanded White
House-encouraged austerity budget includes cuts to the NOAA. Cuts that will
delay -- by years -- the construction and launch of an extreme weather
forecasting satellite. So let's hope there aren't any serious hurricanes
in 2016, I guess? [ . . . ]
This is an old story: Before or after a natural disaster, you can
usually find a Republican who wanted to cut funding for departments and
organizations that predicted and protected people from said disaster.
Remember when Louisiana governor and poor public speaker mocked the
concept of funding for "volcano monitoring" and then a volcano promptly
erupted in Alaska? And remember how after Eric Cantor pushed for
across-the-board budget cuts for the United States Geological Survey,
his district was hit with an earthquake? And remember how the House
Republican budget cut funding to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration and then there was an earthquake and tsunami in Japan?
Yes, well, as Matt Yglesias points out, when you want to cut funding
for everything the government does, sometimes there will be major news
events that involve something the government should be doing something
about, and people will say, hey, shouldn't the government be doing
something about this?
Cutting money for disaster preparedness programs is a really good
method of eventually wasting much more money, in the future, than you
saved in the present, but that's sort of been the entire Republican
spending philosophy for years now, actually.
Needless to say, Ron Paul not only wants to abolish FEMA, he wants
to bring back the good old days before we could even forecast major
storms, saying: "We should be like 1900; we should be like 1940, 1950,
1960, [ . . . ] I Live on the Gulf Coast; we deal
with hurricanes all the time. Galveston is in my district." Oh yeah,
Galveston in 1900 rings a bell,
doesn't it? That was the year a hurricane hit Galveston and killed
between 8,000 and 12,000 people and left 30,000 homeless, with the
second highest (adjusting for inflation) property damage toll in US
history. More people were killed by that storm in Galveston than
have died in hurricanes ever since -- 111 years during which storm
forecasting and disaster preparedness have improved mostly due to
government funding (at least when Bush wasn't president). Oh, again
before Paul's time, but number four on that list was a 1915 hurricane
that also hit Galveston. (Admittedly, anyone who depends on Texas
textbooks for history is bound to be pretty ignorant, but Paul is
old enough he must have known people who lived through those storms.
I remember my father talking about Galveston, and he wasn't born
until 1922, and in Kansas. Cam Patterson tells me that he lived in
Galveston 1996-2000 and could still see evidence of the storm --
at least once he read Erik Larson's Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time,
and the Deadliest Hurricane in History.)
Paul doesn't support FEMA because of "moral hazard." The fact that
people will receive help should a natural disaster strike encourages
people to live where natural disaster happen. (Like "North America.")
Paul is mostly talking about the National Flood Insurance Program,
which definitely has glaring flaws as public policy, but abolishing
the federal agency in charge of responding to natural disasters
instead of fixing the problems with one program that agency oversees
seems like overkill.
It's very old news that Ron Paul thinks we should abolish FEMA,
it's just rare that you hear anyone say we should go back to the
good old days of disaster response and management. "We should be
like 1900" is a very illuminating statement.
Back in those days, after hurricanes would strike, communities
would remain devastated, with thousands of people homeless and
hungry, for weeks. And eventually they would beg the Federal War
Department for help. (But they all enjoyed their liberty,
as they waited in filth and disease for help from Uncle Sam.)
Steve Benen: Ron Paul Doubles Down, Rejects FEMA: More on
Paul, but the more valuable quote is here:
As Kevin Drum explained a few months ago, "Under Bush Sr., FEMA sucked.
Under Clinton, FEMA was rehabilitated and turned into a superstar agency.
Under Bush Jr., FEMA sucked again. Under Obama, FEMA's doing great and
responding quickly. I know, I know, we're not supposed to politicize
natural disasters. Not when that politicization makes Republicans look
bad, anyway. So I'll just let you draw your own conclusions from these
four data points."
This shouldn't be surprising: Republicans argue that federal agencies
can't possibly be effective, so when they find one that is their instinct
is to kneecap it; on the other hand, Democrats want to show that strong
government agencies can and do help people, and FEMA is an especially
good example because it delivers benefits when they are most desperately
needed, and because no one blames the victims of storms and earthquakes.
But the Republicans have to be stealthier here, otherwise it will be
obvious -- as it was after Katrina -- that the problem with FEMA was
that it was being run by people who were dedicated to running government
into the ground. And that the only way to get value back for your taxes
is to elect people who believe that government's purpose is to serve the
John Quiggin: Soaking the Rich: Starts with a quote from Matthew
Many on the right and center indicate that in order to restore the economy,
President Obama needs to do more to cater to the whims of rich businessmen.
Many on the left feel that this is exactly wrong and that in order to
restore the economy, President Obama needs to do more to stick it to the
rich and dispossess them. History suggests that both are wrong.
He goes on to give plenty of evidence for the wrongness of the first
proposition, and none at all for the second.
As has been pointed out many times, the Great Compression in income
distribution during the 1950s and 1960s, driven in part by policies
designed quite explicitly to "stick it to the rich," was also a time
of full employment and steadily growing economic growth. And, while the
success of those policies made it sensible to focus on other issues,
such as civil rights, rather than seeking to push economic redistribution
even further, the situation is exactly the opposite today.
There are lots of reasons to clamp down on excessive incomes (and
even more on estates). Some include that more equitable economies are
healthier; that a sense of fairness is an essential component of trust
and the more complex a society becomes the more important trust is;
that it sends a message that too much greed is something we frown upon,
and therefore it makes people think twice about engaging in predatory
businesses. But it's also more efficient. It's easier to collect taxes
from businesses because there are fewer of them, they are bigger, and
they have to do accounting anyway. But the even more important thing
that you never hear in tax debates is the simple fact that businesses
are actually very good at adjusting to tax and regulatory burdens --
at least as long as they are fairly applied. If increasing taxes on
business increases costs, businesses can recover by raising prices.
They don't like this because they're afraid the pinch will come out
of their profit margins, but that doesn't drive them out of business.
In fact, businesses did very well during the Great Compression, and
we suffered no lack of rich people that I recall.
Footnote is worth quoting too:
It seems to be all Yglesias all the time here at CT [Crooked Timber],
but this reflects the fact, in the current US scene, the groups with
whom productive discussion is possible are quite limited. The right
lives in a parallel universe and the Very Serious centre defines
itself by the presumption that both right and left are, and always
must be, equally wrong (Cass Sunstein bases his entire worldview on
this presumption). There is no point in debating specific issues with
these groups except to the extent that it may be possible to convince
individual rightists and centrists to stop being rightists and centrists.
That leaves someone like me talking to neoliberals (in the US sense)
on my right and to those to my left who are interested in positive
discussions of policy and political strategy (a subset of a group that
is not all that large in the first place).
Saturday, August 27, 2011
Brief piece in the Wichita Eagle today, titled "All-time 100-degree
record still in sight":
The temperature reached 100 on Friday in Wichita, vaulting 2011
into second place all by itself in the city's list of most
triple-digit days in a year.
Now at 47 days, 2011 moved out of a tie with 1980, which dominates
Wichita's list of record highs. Three more 100s will tie this year
with 1936 -- and forecasters now say that's not out of the
"We could see 100 both Saturday and Sunday," said Vanessa Pearce, a
meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wichita.
That would bring 2011 within one of tying the all-time high. Stay
Forecasts for today and tomorrow are 98 and 96 respectively, but
Wednesday is projected for 102F. It's not at all unusual to get 100
degree days in the first two, sometimes even three, September weeks.
We did catch a break in early August, which is the only reason this
Still, with all due respect to Hurricane Irene creeping up the
east coast, the worst weather in the nation looks to be in Phoenix,
which hit 117F yesterday topped by yet another duster.
As for hurricanes, I've only experienced two, and both living
in Boston which isn't the sort of peak experience you get on the
edge of the Gulf or across the Caribbean. Main thing I was struck
by was the size and sweep of the storm: I'm used to tornados,
which are devastating but tiny, hit or (mostly) miss, but when
the hurricane came through everybody got hit. First one offered
the whole effect, including a brief calm as the eye passed over,
preceded and followed by three hours of heavy winds. That was 50
miles inland, so they probably didn't top 70 mph -- I've lived
through winds that fast in Kansas, but they just come and go in
a few minutes. I don't recall any hurricanes from when I lived
in New York or New Jersey, although I did catch one of New York's
massive blackouts. Still, that was short compared to the three
days it took them to restore power following my first hurricane.
I've been collecting links about the Republicans' latest brain
surge, on how they're going to hold up emergency disaster relief
funds to extort further budget cuts, so more on that later. One
is a Ron Paul quote about how he wishes we could turn the calendar
back to 1900 -- an odd choice of nostalgia for a congressman
representing Galveston, TX, where more than 8,000 people were
killed by a 1900 hurricane. No matter how bad Irene is, it won't
compare, mostly because we know what's coming, where it's going,
and every government from South Carolina to Maine (and on into
Canada) are working to minimize the damage and expedite repairs.
In 1900 people justly feared Acts of God; now we have more to
worry about from
Acts of Cantor.
Update: Cam Patterson wrote a thoughtful comment on this post
Cam Patterson wrote the following comment for Expert Witness, which
gave him aggravation and refused to post it. He started by quoting my
last paragraph above, so we can skip that part. He continues:
I lived in Galveston (or Galvatraz, as we affectionately called it)
from 1996-2000, so I know the place pretty well. There is an excellent
book about the Galveston hurricane called Isaac's Storm that is
worth the read to understand the interaction between nature and
civilization in those days. The book became real to me when I looked
at the frontispiece, which contained a map of Galveston island with an
indication of which areas were destroyed by the storm. On the map, it
became clear that the street that we lived on (19th at Avenue M) was
the closest street to the Gulf of Mexico that wasn't totally blown
away by the storm. In retrospect, that made sense -- we lived in a
house built in 1885 and there were no houses that antedated the storm
between us and the 18-block walk to the seawall. Eighteen blocks of
total devastation just on that one side of the island, extending for
miles and miles.
A key anecdote of the early part of the book is buried in the
discussion of how much warning folks had about the storm. The
hurricane passed over Cuba on the way to Galveston but there was no
way to convey information about its size and fury in those days. The
people of Galveston didn't realize there was anything special about
this gulf storm compared with any other until they started seeing
bodies floating in the storm runoff. Of course, by then it was too
late to do anything. 110 years later, the island has never fully
I verified all of this with my grandfather when he was living, and
he confirmed that you just didn't know about when a hurricane was
coming. He grew up around Mobile, Alabama, much of the time directly
on the waterfront, in the early part of the 20th century, so he knew
firsthand. He said that a hurricane was just any other gulf storm
until it got worse and worse and suddenly houses were exploding. I
remember him telling me that his parents got him a row boat for
fishing as a gift one day; the next day a hurricane came through and
his boat was gone. No warning.
So back then no one really knew; these days there are the
recidivists who deny that they can be hurt in a storm, or think that
someone else will look after them, or are just plain crazy. I'm
telling you all of this because as I have thought through it, it adds
a lot of nuances to me about what Tom is talking about when he says
Acts of Cantor.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Acts of Cantor
Brian Beutler: Cantor Spox: If There's Hurricane Damage, Costs Have to
Be Paid for With Spending Cuts: With his brain locked onto a single
commanding idea, and perhaps a bit intoxicated by his sense that he can
just say things and make them dictates, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor
has decided that any unplanned, unbudgeted disaster relief has to be paid
for in cash cut from other planned, budgeted programs. I never thought
I'd long for the days when Republicans asserted that government should
be run like a business. But the fact is that if any viable business was
hit by uninsured storm losses the first thing they'd do is go to the
bank and take out a loan. Same basic thing for households: say a storm
smashes your car and the insurance doesn't cover replacing it, what do
you do? Most folks need that car bad enough to go in debt to buy a new
(or new old) one. Then, of course, you adjust your budget to cover the
cost of the new debt, but you don't stop eating or paying the rent or
whatever. You adjust.
The problem is that people with small minds and rigid ideas cannot
adjust. They won't bend; they just snap. How such people rose to the
leadership ranks of the Republican Party is probably an interesting
story, but I doubt that it would come out much different from the case
histories in Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail
or Succeed: if you take these rigid, uncompromisable "principles"
to their absurd conclusions, you'll find that when you finally see
government swirl down the drain in Grover Norquist's bathtub, you'll
see civilization vanish with it.
It feels a little weird to have written that last line, because
I've always regarded the federal government as an oppressive burden
as much as a blessing. I might even have applauded if had Cantor had
insisted that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had to be budgeted
out of cuts elsewhere, which at least would have forced Congress to
think a bit setting out on paths that would soon cost trillions of
dollars. On the other hand, disaster relief is something that only
government can do, and that we instinctively look to government to
do -- derisively, of course, when government fails miserably, like
Bush did after Katrina. Moreover, while Cantor may laugh at tornados
(and hurricanes and earthquakes and floods and fires and mudslides
and droughts and the pretty good chance that rising sea levels will
move the Florida coast to somewhere in Georgia), people who actually
administer governments are remarkably fond of the programs -- just
ask Gov. Rick Perry, who's been begging for more federal relief for
Texas's droughts and fires.
Quite some time ago -- well before Katrina -- it occurred to me
that disaster response would be the basic litmus test of competency
in government. Clinton was very big on it, raising it to a cabinet
level position, while Bush was utterly cavalier, treating it as just
another way of dispensing crony patronage. (Of course, Jeb Bush, as
governor of disaster-prone Florida, was on the ball and made out as
well as could reasonably be expected -- a far different story from
the Democrats in Louisiana.) Moreover, between global warming and
relentless development especially in risky areas, disasters are
becoming increasingly common, and increasingly expensive. So why
do Republicans like Cantor want to hamstring government's ability
to deal with disasters that affect potentially massive numbers of
our own people, on our own land, dependent on our own infrastructure?
Stupid doesn't begin to cover it. They are slaves to the fixed ideas
they call principles. Next thing you know they'll look at something
like Katrina and insist that charities can handle it, or speculate
that if only you cut taxes further the private sector would swoop
in and fix everything.
Steve Benen: Cantor's Callousness Turns Preemptive:
Another link on Cantor and disaster -- an association that even God
may have trouble rivaling:
We talked earlier about House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.)
insisting that federal disaster relief in the wake of this week's
earthquake would no longer be automatic. Whereas Congress used to
provide emergency funds after a disaster, without regard for budget
caps of offsets, Republicans no longer believe in such an approach.
[ . . . ]
A while back, during a different debate, John Cole noted, "If
these guys were comic book villains, no one would buy it because
it's just too over the top." It's a sentiment that comes to mind
all the time.
Tom DeLay never went this far. No one has ever gone this far.
U.S. officials have always put everything else aside when families
and communities are hit and need a hand, but now, thanks to the
new House Republican majority, those principles have been cast aside.
There's also a 2012 angle to this, by the way. Mitt Romney in
June agreed with the callous right-wing line, saying, "We cannot
afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our
In context, "those things" referred to aiding American communities
ravaged by a natural disaster.
Monday, August 22, 2011
Music: Current count 18609  rated (+62), 846  unrated (-15).
Worked plenty hard enough to get things rated this week, but that doesn't
explain the huge bump in the rated count. The big change was that I went
back and systematically compared my Rhapsody ratings against my database
and found a bunch of discrepancies. That was in fact what I was looking
for: cases where I changed a grade after an initial Streamnotes entry --
in most of those I later obtained CDs and wound up bumping them up a bit.
I also found cases where I fiddled with the grade before posting the
Streamnotes column, and I found 20 or so cases where I failed to write
the Streamnotes grade into the database. (Didn't count so that's a swag,
but I almost never hit 40 records a week without doing a lot more Rhapsody
than I did -- did some, but mostly Jazz Prospecting.)
Jazz Prospecting (JCG #28, Part 3)
Cutting through a lot of backlog here -- 27 new records this
week (plus 2 Rhapsody), 29 last week. Mail picked up a bit, as
I'm starting to get September (and even a couple October; didn't
check the Darius Jones release date until it was written) records --
just as Obama's jobs program (following Bush's Iraq War "product
rollout") can wait until after Labor Day, so can the new Tyshawn
Sorey record. Still, a welcome reminder that this summer is going
to end sometime -- maybe even the worst is behind us. (After all,
we only have four 100F days in the current 5-day forecast.)
Haven't heard a peep from the Village Voice, so no idea what's
going to happen to there: maybe another August casualty? Also
don't know how the next few weeks are going to shake out. I may
have another big week like this one next week, or may come up
empty -- depends on whether I have to travel, which will be
dictated by factors beyond of my control.
Added a couple notes on future release dates, but don't necessarily
have all of them. I never think about trying to get reviews out on or
near release dates -- I just assume I'm always going to be late. Some
publicists like to set long lead times so that occasionally leads to
problems. My rule of thumb is that if I get a finished-looking CD, I
figure it's fair game; if I get an advance, I usually ignore it until
a finished copy appears, or I start reading about it elsewhere and
wonder why I got stiffed. Hard to keep track of everything to everyone's
One more note, regarding the Flail "correction" below. I never grade
a record down because I can't stand the artist's website, but sometimes
I mention it because it's made my life more difficult. Rarely, actually:
could have said much the same thing about Sam Yahel but didn't, and
there are probably others I've already forgotten. What I appreciate
in a website is information: concise and organized so deftly that even
I can't get confused. Sad to say, don't see a lot of that.
Aimée Allen: Winters & Mays (2010 ,
Azuline Music): Singer, wrote (or co-wrote with brother David Allen)
6 of 12 songs here (plus added lyrics to a Pat Metheny piece). From
what little bio I've been able to piece together, studied at Yale,
then got law degrees from Columbia and the Sorbonne in France. Two
previous albums, one in French. Practices law by day and sings by
night. Band includes Pete McCann on guitar (sauve and exceptionally
tasty here), as well as piano, bass, and drums, plus Victor Prieto
on accordion for three cuts. One Brazilian piece (Powell, de Moraes),
nice percussion there. Some of the covers are striking -- she really
digs into "Bye Bye Blackbird," for instance. The originals are harder
to gauge, but she's smart, determined, and can make a point.
Marco Cappelli Acoustic Trio: Les Nuages en France
(2010 , Mode/Avant): Guitarist, b. 1965 in Naples, in Italy;
studied at Conservatario di Santa Cecilia in Rome, then at Musik-Akademie
in Basel, Switzerland. Website shows four previous albums, including
one as EGP (Extreme Guitar Project). Acoustic Trio adds Ken Filiano
on double bass and Satoshi Takeishi on percussion. Bass seems louder
and more pronounced than the guitar, which furtively sneaks in and
out, with a scratchy abstractness. Takeishi is superb. Record is
reportedly inspired by Fred Vargas thrillers, and the booklet provides
what appear to be lyrics (in French, with English trots), but no one
sings -- just a little something to read along.
Brian Charette: Learning to Count (2009 ,
SteepleChase): Organ player, fourth album since 2000 (according to
AMG and his website, although the latter doesn't list them, and the
former doesn't include one I've heard from 2008 (Missing Floor)
and a newer Music for Organ Sextette that I have a CDR of. This
is a trio, with Mike DiRubbo on alto sax and Jochen Rückert on drums --
same idea as DiRubbo's Chronos earlier this year (which had Rudy
Royston on drums), the writing credits favoring the leader in both
cases (with this one adding three covers: Wayne Shorter, John Lewis,
Steve Winwood). DiRubbo's always a terrific mainstream player, so the
main difference seems to be in the writing: Charette is wonderfully
restrained, nudging the pieces forward without showboating let alone
wallowing in soul jazz clichés. I hear a lot of organ records and
usually wonder: why bother? This works.
Avishai Cohen: Seven Seas (2010 , Sunnyside):
Bassist, b. 1970 in Israel, has a dozen albums since 1998, establishing
himself as a superb composer, adding electric bass to his acoustic,
even plays piano on two cuts here, and often working with oud (Amos
Hoffman here, also credited with electric guitar) suggesting a more
open Middle Eastern dialogue. Cut in Sweden with a lot of guys whose
names end in "sson" -- plus Jimmy Greene on soprano and tenor sax,
Shai Maestro on piano, and Itamar Doari on percussion. I could do
with fewer vocal passages -- booklet provides trots for three short
songs, and there are choral background passages -- the instrumental
passages are powerfully evocative.
B+(**) [August 30]
Yamandu Costa/Hamilton de Holanda: Live! (2008 ,
Adventure Music): Brazilian duets. Costa plays 7-string guitar, has at
least eight albums since 2004, but this is the first I've heard; de
Holanda plays 10-string mandolin, has at least ten albums, a natural
pick once bluegrass mandolinist Mike Marshall took a major interest
in choro and launched this label. The two string instruments mesh
like classical chamber music, the attack more pronounced, mostly fast
Claire Dickson: Scattin' Doll (2009-10 , NDR):
Standards singer, b. 1997 -- that's right, 13 years old or less when
she cut this, her first album. I certainly wouldn't have guessed her
age, especially third track in when she growls and scats her way
through "Black Coffee" -- a song that ages all who touch it. She
doesn't have an especially memorable voice, and there's nothing very
distinctive about her phrasing, but she shows some sass and class
in her songs, and can scat credibly. Three cuts have horns, which
help but are front-loaded, so the record tails off a bit.
John Escreet: The Age We Live In (2010 ,
Mythology): Pianist, b. 1984 in Doncaster, UK; moved to New York
2006. Third album since 2008: quartet with David Binney (alto
sax, electronics), Wayne Krantz (guitar), and Marcus Gilmore
(drums, percussion), but adds extra musicians -- brass (Brad
Mason, Max Seigel) and strings (Christian Howes, credited with
the whole kaboodle not just violin). The electronics are the
clue: Escreet plays more electric keyb than acoustic piano,
and the overall vibe pushes into fusion territory. Binney is a
bright spot, and this is similar to his Graylen Epicenter
(on the same label). Can't say much about the strings, and
suspect it's just as well I didn't notice.
European Movement Jazz Orchestra: EMJO: Live in Coimbra
(2010 , Clean Feed): Can parse the cover at least two ways -- e.g.,
artist could just as well be "EMJO [European Movement Jazz Orchestra].
Group was formed in 2007 "with the idea of being the cultural ambassador
of Germany, Portugal, and Slovenia during the time of their presidency
of the European council." Those nations seem to cover the many names I
don't recognize in this slightly enlarged big band (5 trumpets, 5 reeds,
4 trombones, piano, guitar, 2 basses, drums) -- Benny Brown is the only
name that looks unaccounted for, although I can't swear the obvious East
Europeans (Markovic, Kopac, Pukl, Draksler, Modern Kukic) are all from
Slovenia. Isidor Leitinger conducts. Five of six pieces come from five
different band members. In conception combines fado and "Blasmusik" and
"Slovenian poetry"; in effect, postmodern but not quite free, with an
Orrin Evans: Freedom (2010 , Posi-Tone):
Pianist, b. 1976 in Trenton, NJ, raised and based in Philadelphia,
studied at Rutgers with Kenny Barron. Has a dozen-plus albums
since 1994. Seven of nine cuts are piano trio here, with Dwayne
Burno on bass and either Byron Landham or Anwar Marshall on drums.
The other two cuts add Larry McKenna on tenor sax. First trio cut
is up and strong -- song is by Charles Fambrough, one of three
people the album is dedicated to -- but the sax cut drops the
piano into the background, as happens again late in the album
when the piano finally reasserts itself.
Jerry Gonzalez: Jerry Gonzalez y el Comando de la Clave
(2011, Sunnyside): Trumpet player, b. 1949 in New York, played congas
for Dizzy Gillespie, then moved on to Eddie Palmieri's band, then his
own Fort Apache Band. Moved to Spain around 2000, hooking up with
Flamenco musicians for Jerry Gonzalez y los Piratas del Flamenco
(recorded 2001, released 2004), and now this belated sequel. (Don't
have recording dates here. Again, Diego "El Cigala" sings, but the
focus is less on him than on the beat -- Alberto "Chele" Cobo's clave,
Israel Suarez "Piraba"'s cajon. Several standards appear -- "Tenderly,"
"Love for Sale," "In a Sentimental Mood," "Obsesion" -- and that's
where the trumpet breaks away from the distractions.
B+(**) [August 30]
Eric Harland: Voyager: Live by Night (2008 ,
Sunnyside): Drummer, b. 1978, first album under his own name (looks
like it was originally released in 2010 on Space Time in France;
Sunnyside picks a lot of its records off French labels), but has
a long list of credits since 1997. He wrote all but the last two
pieces here: one by Sam Rivers, and a four-part thing by pianist
Taylor Eigsti. Band includes Walter Smith III (tenor sax), Julian
Lage (guitar), Eigsti (piano), and Harish Raghavan (bass). Lage
is often dazzling, and Smith has a standout night. Drummer too.
Darius Jones: Big Gurl (Smell My Dream) (2011,
AUM Fidelity): Alto saxophonist, second trio album, this one with
Adam Lane (bass) and Jason Nazary (drums), which seem to be his
forte -- much more impressive than his duo with Matthew Shipp,
let alone his Little Women group album. Intense, passionate free
sax, although he's also expressive when he slows down. Dedicates
this to George Clinton, but you won't find much on the one.
A- [October 11]
Kambar Kalendarov & Kutman Sultanbekov: Jaw
(2011, Cantaloupe Music): Spine just says "JAW"; the two names above
are in small print on the front cover, and several more musicians
are named inside -- AMG also credits Nurlanbek Nyshanov, who claims
4 compositions (vs. 3 and 2 for the others; everything else belongs
to trad.). Recorded in Kirghizstan, mostly using Kirghiz jaw harps --
Jew's harp is a corruption, and a misnomer. Each note has a lot of
overtones so you mostly get simple melodies with lots of reverb,
some resembling what you get in Tuvan throat singing. Some pieces
have other Kirghiz instruments -- woodwinds, some kind of cello.
Not much differentiation, but a distinctive exotic sound.
Dave King Trucking Company: Good Old Light (2011,
Sunnyside): Drummer, best known in the Bad Plus piano trio, but
also in the notable Minneapolis group, Happy Apple. Second album
with his name up front, the first his Indelicate solo, this
very much a group album: Chris Speed and Brandon Wozniak on tenor
sax, Erik Fratzke (of Happy Apple) on electric guitar, and Adam
Linz on upright bass. Densely rhythmic and upbeat -- reminds me
a bit of Claudia Quintet (with Speed) only in a deeper groove.
Lisa Kirchner: Something to Sing About (2010
, Albany): Singer; website says songwriter (1 song plus
some lyrics here), and actress (evidently some theatre and TV,
but nothing in IMDB). Describes father as "a contemporary
classical composer, conductor and pianist" -- must be Leon
Kirchner (1919-2009) -- and mother as "a coloratura soprano
who had performed classical lieder and show tunes in New York
supper clubs." One cached broken link identifies a Lisa (Beth)
Kirchner as b. 1953 in Los Angeles, which is possibly right.
Fourth album since 2000. Don't know about the others, but
aside for her one original, the other seventeen songs here
start with music from a recent classical composer -- Charles
Ives is the oldest by far, followed by Aaron Copland, with
Wynton Marsalis the youngest (again, by far; I'd have to go
back and recheck to be sure, but William Schimmel, b. 1946,
who also plays accordion here, is probably second-youngest).
Some pieces came with lyrics, but for most of them she adds
a found text -- William Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, and K.D.
Lang are some sources I recognize -- or writes her own. The
band usually includes Sherman Irby (alto sax, flute), Schimmel
(accordion), Joel Fan or Xavier Davis (piano), Dwayne Burno
or Vicente Archer (bass), Ron Jackson (guitar), and Willie
Jones III (drums). Described like that, I don't see how this
can possibly work, yet it does. The songs have no whiff of
aria or lieder, the voice is on the sly side real divas never
entertain, the band evens out the rough edges, with Schimmel's
accordion nudging the songs into shape and Irby a delight.
Jessie Marquez: All I See Is Sky (2011, Carena):
Singer, from Eugene, OR (as near as I can figure out). Father grew
up in Cuba; she visited Cuba in 1996 and wound up recording her
first album there. This is her third, counting one with guitarist
Mike Denny's name also on the cover. She has co-credits on 7 of 13
songs; sings and writes a more in Spanish than in English, also
taking the Jobim closer in Spanish. Rafael Trujillo's percussion
keeps the vibe going, and John Nastos adds some tasty sax, then
gets the right effect switching to flute on the Jobim.
Motif: Art Transplant (2011, Clean Feed): Quintet,
with Norwegian bassist Ole Morten Vågan (b. 1979) the principal and
presumed leader -- the other candidate is the trumpet player noted
on the front cover in small print as "(with Axel Dörner)," who wrote
one piece. The others are Atle Nymo (tenor sax, bass clarinet),
Håvard Wiik (piano, plays in Free Fall with Ken Vandermark), and
Håkon Mjåset Johansen (drums). Hard bop lineup, but veers off in
various directions: a little industrial noise, some flush piano
stretches, horns going off in various directions.
Beata Pater: Blue (2011, B&B): Singer, born and
grew up in Poland, moved to US 15-plus years ago. Fifth album since
1993. Most of the pieces are originals by her and/or piano-organ player
Mark Little -- the opener is "Afro Blue" (Mongo Santamaria), closer
"Blue in Green" (Miles Davis), with two more pieces by Krzysztof Komeda
in the middle. Voice has a thin, unreal quality, indulging in a lot
of scat. Gets a bit better toward the end when the beat picks up.
Jean-Michel Pilc: Essential (2011, Motéma): Pianist,
b. 1960 in Paris, France; at least 14 records since 1989, most from
2000 on. Solo piano, roughly half originals and half covers; not as
fast and furious as some of his trios, but interesting, easiest to
factor on the tortured originals.
Mark Rapp's Melting Pot: Good Eats (2010 ,
Dinemac): Trumpet player, from South Carolina, moved to New Orleans
and hooked up with Elis Marsalis; now seems to split his time between
New York and Geneva, Switzerland. Has a previous album which should
be in my queue somewhere -- let that be a cautionary tale for folks
who send me advances only; also The Strayhorn Project with
Don Braden's name listed first. The meltdown here is part soul jazz
(Joe Kaplowitz on organ and Ahmad Mansour on guitar), wrapped around
some bebop-boogaloo (6 of the first 7 songs are by Lou Donaldson)
with a funk chaser ("Everything I Do Is Gonna Be Funky," Quincy
Jones' "Streetbeater," and closing with an irresistibly bouncy "The
Glory of Love." Rapp wrote the title cut. Also says here he plays
didgeridoo, too. Don Brade guests on five cuts, tenor sax and alto
Ed Reed: Born to Be Blue (2010 , Blue Shorts):
Standards singer, b. 1929, grew up in Watts, but didn't get around
to cutting a record until 2006 -- spent too much time in San Quentin,
for one thing, even if it did give him the chance to sing with Art
Pepper. Starts off slow, especially on the title track. Does get some
help from Anton Schwartz's tenor sax, and gets more comfortable
bouncing between vocalese and Joe Turner, but not much.
Audrey Silver: Dream Awhile (2009 , Messy
House): Standards singer, got an MBA and worked in advertising,
A&:R at CBS Masterworks, then became Director of Marketing at
a jazz label (Chesky). Cites Jon Raney (pianist son of guitarist
Jimmy Raney) for pointing her back to performing, and Sheila
Jordan for lessons. Second album, backed with piano-bass-drums
plus guitar on 3 (of 11) cuts. Can start a song on her own and
find a unique path through it.
John Stowell/Michael Zilber Quartet: Shot Through With
Beauty (2007-09 , Origin): Guitar and tenor/soprano
sax respectively, with John Shifflett (acoustic bass) and Jason
Lewis (drums) below the line. Stowell is the senior member, from
Connecticut, seems to be based in Portland, OR. Cut his first
record in 1978, then not much until he landed on Origin in 1998.
He has a distinctive, seductive style, with several recent HM
candidates (mostly under the group name Scenes). Zilber plays
tenor and soprano sax; has four records since 1988. He wrote
four songs here (one co-credited to Stowell); Shifflett and
Lewis wrote one each -- the other four are from Kenny Wheeler,
Dizzy Gillespie, and John Scofield (two). Often-delicate postbop,
the sax personable, the guitar adds to the sparkle.
Tribute to JJ Cale, Volume 1: The Vocal Sessions
(2010, Zoho Roots): Cale, b. 1938, is a singer-songwriter from
Oklahoma. He was best known in the 1970s: I panned Okie
(1974) in my ancient Rekord Report, then didn't bother with him
until I got a set of 1973-83 Unreleased Recordings in 2007
and slammed it too. He liked blues form but couldn't bring himself
to play blues, scruples that don't bother the label's stable, so
they mostly just play and shout louder: Swamp Cabbage, JJ Grey,
Jimmy Hall, Rufus Huff, Greg Skaff, Dixie Tabernacle, nobody but
the Persuasions you'd have heard of if not on the label's mailing
list. I've been avoiding this, but it's pretty tolerable, with
"Same Old Blues" markedly improved. Otherwise, the only choice
cuts are by the Persuasions, who are way out of this league.
Never got Volume 2: The Instrumental Sessions -- just as
well with me.
Vicious World: Plays the Music of Rufus Wainwright
(2010 , Spinaround): Leaders of this project are saxophonist
Aaron Irwin (b. 1978 in Decatur, IL; has a couple FSNT albums; arranged
7 of 11 songs here) and trombonist Matthew McDonald (no idea; arranged
the other 4 songs). The group also includes guitar (Sebastian Noelle),
bass (Thomson Kneeland), drums (Danny Fischer), violin (Eliza Cho),
and cello (Maria Jeffers). I know a great deal about Wainwright's
parents, all the way down to "Rufus Is a Tit Man," but virtually
nothing of his own music: tried his first album and never went back.
The rock rhythms are straightforward, the guitar and bass structural;
the trombone makes an especially adept lead instrument here, and the
strings add essential texture.
Sam Yahel: From Sun to Sun (2010 , Origin):
Plays piano and organ -- probably has many more organ credits in his
career than piano, but lists piano here first. Surprisingly little
biography available on web -- even on his own website once I hacked
through the Flash: moved to New York in 1990, played with a lot of
people; seventh album, has about two dozen side credits, with Norah
Jones and Joshua Redman prominent. Trio with Matt Penman on bass,
Jochen Rueckert (aka Rückert) on drums. Piano is snappy and assured;
organ slinky, which is about right.
Yeahwon (2010, ArtistShare): Vocalist Yeahwon Shin,
from South Korea ("suburbs of Seoul"), moved to New York to study at
New School. First album: aside from one Korean folk song, everything
else is Brazilian, sung in Portuguese, with Yeahwon co-credited on
one piece with Egberto Gismonti. Core group is Ben Street (bass),
Jeff Ballard (drums), and either Kevin Hays or Alon Yavnai (piano),
with producer Sun Chung on guitar (6 of 11 cuts), with Mark Turner
(tenor sax) and Rob Curto (accordion) on one cut each, Gismonti on
the "Epilogue," and various percussionists. I can see the attraction,
but not the point.
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
Paul Motian: The Windmills of Your Mind (2010 ,
Winter & Winter): Aside from the intro and its reprise at the end,
a very low key standards album, sung in not much more than a whisper
by Petra Haden, with guitarist Bill Frisell slipping in fine touches,
Thomas Morgan steady on bass, and the leader doing whatever it is he's
been doing for fifty-some years now.
Frank Tate: Thanks for the Memory: Frank Tate's Musical Tribute
to Bobby Short (2011, Arbors): Bassist, b. 1943, has a couple
albums since 1993, many more side credits going back to Zoot Sims in
1981, Ruby Braff in 1991, a lot of Arbors artists since then. Short is
a name I barely recognize -- in fact, I missed him in putting together
my database of people I should know about, something in need of a fix.
B. 1924, d. 2005, played piano and sung standards, mostly working night
clubs. He recorded close to two dozen albums from 1955 to 2001, including
a series of songbooks in the 1970s (Noel Coward, Cole Porter, Gershwin,
Rodgers & Hart; his Andy Razaf came out in 1987). Tate describes
Short as "the most influential musician in his career." With Mike Renzi
on piano and Joe Ascione on drums, Tate rounded up "a half-dozen of
Bobby Short's saloon colleagues" to take two or three songs each:
Barbara Carroll, Rebecca Kilgore, Daryl Sherman, Charles Cochran,
Ronny Whyte, and Chris Gillespie. All classic songbook fare -- comfort
food in the trade.
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:
The Flail: Live at Smalls (2010 , Smalls
Live): Post-hardbop quintet, fast and tight over a 71-minute set.
I got so flustered at their Flash-only website that I gave up and
vented, unable to ferret out their discography or biographies
which turn out all to be there somewhere, so I missed 2 of 4
records going back to 2002 -- they do play like a band that's
hung together for quite some time. Maybe I was too busy trying to
shut down the sound that erupts every time you click anything --
I was, after all, trying to listen to their CD at the time. Or
maybe I was just annoyed at having to fight through layers of
PDF for a couple paragraphs of text, or scroll through those
idiot Flash text widgets. God, I hate Flash! But if you're in the
market for a fully tricked out, highly counterintuitive website,
check out theflail.com --
must be someone's labor of love, for this sort of thing doesn't
come easy. As for the CD:
Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:
- Airto: Fingers (1973, CTI/Masterworks Jazz)
- Andrew Atkinson Quartet: Live: Keep Looking Forward (Vic Firth/Paiste/Sonor)
- Rahsaan Barber: Everyday Magic (Jazz Music City): Aug. 30
- Stefano Battaglia Trio: The River of Anyder (ECM): advance, Oct. 4
- Zach Brock: The Magic Number (Secret Fort)
- Jackie Cain & Roy Kral: A Wilder Alias (1973, CTI/Masterworks Jazz)
- Chick Corea/Stefano Bollani: Orvieto (ECM): advance, Sept. 27
- Patrick Cornelius: Maybe Steps (Posi-Tone)
- Joe Farrell: Outback (1970, CTI/Masterworks Jazz)
- Fred Fried and Core: EnCore (Ballet Tree)
- The Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble: Music of Georges I. Gurdjieff (ECM): advance, Oct. 4
- Darren Johnston's Gone to Chicago: The Big Lift (Porto Franco): Sept. 20
- Mambo Legends Orchestra: ¡Ten Cuidao! Watch Out! (Zoho, 2CD)
- Marilyn Mazur: Celestial Circle (ECM): advance, Oct. 4
- The Nice Guy Trio: Sidewalks and Alleys/Walking Music (Porto Franco): Sept. 20
- Dino Saluzzi: Navidad de los Andes (ECM): advance, Sept. 20
- Kenny Shanker: Steppin' Up (Posi-Tone)
- Tyshawn Sorey: Oblique - I (Pi): Sept. 27
- Geoff Vidal: She Likes That (Arts and Music Factory): Oct. 4
- Randy Weston: Blue Moses (1972, CTI/Masterworks Jazz)
- Elizabeth Cook: Welder (Thirty One Tigers)
- Jimmie Dale Gilmore/The Wronglers: Heirloom Music (Neanderthal Noise)
- Kanye West/Jay-Z: Watch the Throne (Roc-A-Fella)
Sunday, August 21, 2011
Weekend Roundup: Part 2
More links and comments, mostly domestic this time, which is to say
mostly about the plague of stupidity encircling us (although less of
the low-lying fruit since I've already posted separately on Rick Perry
and Michele Bachman):
Steve Benen: Taxpayer-financed Campaigning:
So now Republicans are griping about Obama using the perks of his office
to campaign for reelection, much like Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Carter
(and by all means who can forget Nixon?) did. This got me thinking: there
is little doubt that in 2012 Obama will raise more money than whoever the
Republican is who runs against him, and that Obama will take advantage
of his incumbency (not that he won't get blamed for lots of stuff along
the way). So why don't the Republicans seek the moral high ground here?
(I mean, other than that they're snakes and skunks; I just meant to raise
a rhetorical question.) These unfair advantages ultimately cut both ways,
and the Democrats have gotten screwed as often as not (e.g., 2004), so
this would seem like an opportunity for both parties to agree for their
mutual future benefit. Pass a constitutional amendment which: prevents
a standing president from running for another term; maybe works in some
other term limits Republicans used to claim they believed in; and
mandates equal public financing for all presidential and congressional
elections. This wouldn't pass quickly enough to help the Republicans in
2012, but it would give them a big talking point. And public campaign
financing should be irresistible to the Democrats (maybe not the ones
actually in office, who have proven that they got their own, but to
virtually all Democratic Party voters). That would indeed be a grand
bargain: a stake for democracy, a strike against the special interests
that both parties agree drive the other to be deceitful scumbags.
Steve Benen: Buffett's Good Advice:
Long quote from the billionaire here, saying basically that higher
taxes on the rich, including higher capital gains taxes, never hurt
investment or job creation. Read it, especially:
I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone --
not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 -- shy
away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential
gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared
them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I
would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980
and 2000. You know what's happened since then: lower tax rates and far
lower job creation.
Remember, as far as congressional Republicans are concerned, what
Buffett recommends is tantamount to radical socialism. Any proposal
to increase taxes on anyone by any amount -- even on the wealthiest
of the wealthiest of the wealthy -- is an automatic deal-breaker in
GOP circles. Indeed, under House Budget Committee Chairman Paul
Ryan's plan, widely endorsed by Republicans everywhere, what the
rich really need is another tax break.
Stanley B Greenberg: Why Voters Tune Out Democrats:
My suspicion is that it's because the Democrats are two-faced: they have
to run for contributions and for votes and they come from different types
of people, so they wind up cancelling themselves out. The weirder problem
is why voters tune in Republicans, but knowing that the programs that
they're pushing are unpopular, Republican think tanks work extra hard at
designing palatable packaging, even if it's as oxymoronic as Clean Coal.
But some part is likely the attention deficit, preponderance of myths,
and the inability to think critically.
When we conducted our election-night national survey after last year's
Republican sweep, voters strongly chose new investment over a new national
austerity. They thought Democrats were more likely to champion the middle
class. And as has become clear in the months since, the public does not
share conservatives' views on rejecting tax cuts and cutting retirement
programs. Numerous recent polls have shown that the public sides with the
president and Democrats on raising taxes to get to a balanced budget.
But in smaller, more probing focus groups, voters show they are fairly
cynical about Democratic politicians' stands. They tune out the politicians'
fine speeches and plans and express sentiments like these: "It's just words."
"There's just such a control of government by the wealthy that whatever
happens, it's not working for all the people; it's working for a few of
the people." "We don't have a representative government anymore."
This distrust of government and politicians is unfolding as a full-blown
crisis of legitimacy sidelines Democrats and liberalism. Just a quarter of
the country is optimistic about our system of government -- the lowest since
polls by ABC and others began asking this question in 1974. But a crisis of
government legitimacy is a crisis of liberalism. It doesn't hurt Republicans.
If government is seen as useless, what is the point of electing Democrats
who aim to use government to advance some public end?
[ . . . ]
Our research shows that the growth of self-identified conservatives
began in the fall of 2008 with the Wall Street bailout, well before Mr.
Obama embarked on his recovery and spending program. The public watched
the elite and leaders of both parties rush to the rescue. The government
saved irresponsible executives who bankrupted their own companies, hurt
many people and threatened the welfare of the country. When Mr. Obama
championed the bailout of the auto companies and allowed senior executives
at bailed-out companies to take bonuses, voters concluded that he was part
of the operating elite consensus. If you owned a small business that was
in trouble or a home or pension that lost much of its value, you were on
your own. As people across the country told me, the average citizen doesn't
"get money for free." Their conclusion: Government works for the irresponsible,
not the responsible.
Everything they witness affirms the public's developing view of how
government really works. They see a nexus of money and power, greased by
special interest lobbyists and large campaign donations, that makes these
outcomes irresistible. They do not believe the fundamentals have really
changed in Mr. Obama's Washington.
What should Democrats do?
The Democrats have to start detoxifying politics by proposing to
severely limit or bar individual and corporate campaign contributions,
which would mean a fight with the Supreme Court. They must make the
case for public financing of campaigns and force the broadcast and
cable networks to provide free time for candidate ads. And they must
become the strongest advocates for transparency in campaign donations
and in the lobbying of elected officials.
If they want to win the trust of the public, Democrats should propose
taxing lobbyist expenses and excessive chief executive bonuses and put
a small fee on the sale of stocks, bonds and other financial instruments.
By radically simplifying the tax code to allow only a few deductions,
the Democrats would generate new revenue and remove the loopholes that
allow special interests to win favorable treatment.
Paul Krugman: Little or Nothing:
Actually, that title, was meant to characterize the alternatives
Obama's chief business advisers -- they used to have economists,
but all of them have now fled the room (unless you count Gene
Sperling, which I don't) -- are hashing out. But that's a little
optimistic: the choices I keep reading about are more like Nothing
or Worse. Since none of this makes any economic sense, presumably
it has something to do with politics.
And as for the political side, I guess I'm puzzled: you have an
obstructionist GOP, and rather than point out that obstruction, you
restrict yourself to calling for measures that this obstructionist
opposition might actually accept. Doesn't this mean that voters
learn nothing about the extent to which the GOP is in fact blocking
Mark Thoma notes something else: the administration's vision of
what to do with a second term still doesn't include job creation,
it's all about more Grand Bargain deficit reduction. As he says,
The best thing the administration can do is abandon support for
struggling households now so Obama can get reelected and reduce
social insurance programs that help struggling households?
It all makes me think of an 80s-era joke about centrist Democrats,
which was that their big difference from Republicans was compassion:
the Democrats cared about the victims of their policies.
OK, to be fair, an Obama second term would be a lot less hard on
working Americans than, say, the Texasification of America that would
take place under Rick Perry. But "not as vicious as the GOP" isn't
exactly a stirring slogan.
With Texas governor Rick Perry in the GOP presidential race, Krugman
has Texas on his mind -- see his column:
The Texas Unmiracle:
It's true that Texas entered recession a bit later than the rest of
America, mainly because the state's still energy-heavy economy was
buoyed by high oil prices through the first half of 2008. Also, Texas
was spared the worst of the housing crisis, partly because it turns
out to have surprisingly strict regulation of mortgage lending.
Despite all that, however, from mid-2008 onward unemployment soared
in Texas, just as it did almost everywhere else.
In June 2011, the Texas unemployment rate was 8.2 percent. That was
less than unemployment in collapsed-bubble states like California and
Florida, but it was slightly higher than the unemployment rate in New
York, and significantly higher than the rate in Massachusetts. By the
way, one in four Texans lacks health insurance, the highest proportion
in the nation, thanks largely to the state's small-government approach.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts has near-universal coverage thanks to health
reform very similar to the "job-killing" Affordable Care Act.
[ . . . ]
What Texas shows is that a state offering cheap labor and, less
important, weak regulation can attract jobs from other states. I believe
that the appropriate response to this insight is "Well, duh." The point
is that arguing from this experience that depressing wages and dismantling
regulation in America as a whole would create more jobs -- which is,
whatever Mr. Perry may say, what Perrynomics amounts to in practice --
involves a fallacy of composition: every state can't lure jobs away from
every other state.
In fact, at a national level lower wages would almost certainly lead
to fewer jobs -- because they would leave working Americans even less
able to cope with the overhang of debt left behind by the housing bubble,
an overhang that is at the heart of our economic problem.
I'm sure as the season develops, Michael Lind will more to say about
the Texas (and indeed Dixiecrat) preference for driving wages down to
approximate slavery levels. His book, Made in Texas: George W. Bush
and the Southern Takeover of American Politics was nominally about
Bush but more generally about "the second triumphal return of the South's
plantation aristocracy" (as I wrote in a note on the book, though I'm
probably cribbing off Lind).
Robert Reich: How the Democrats Could Have Saved Healthcare:
Two appellate judges in Atlanta -- one appointed by President Bill
Clinton and one by George H.W. Bush -- have just decided the Constitution
doesn't allow the federal government to require individuals to buy health
insurance. [ . . . ]
Had the president and the Democrats stuck to their guns during the
healthcare debate and insisted on Medicare for all, or at least a public
option, they wouldn't now be facing the possible unraveling of the new
After all, Social Security and Medicare -- the nation's two most
popular safety nets -- require every working American to "buy" them.
The purchase happens automatically in the form of a deduction from
But because Social Security and Medicare are government programs
they don't feel like mandatory purchases. They're more like tax payments,
which is what they are -- payroll taxes.
There's no question payroll taxes are constitutional, because there's
no doubt that the federal government can tax people in order to finance
particular public benefits.
Americans don't mind mandates in the form of payroll taxes for Social
Security or Medicare. In fact, both programs are so popular even
conservative Republicans were heard to shout "don't take away my
Medicare!" at rallies opposed to the new healthcare law.
I wouldn't say that Obama ever had a single-payer position to cave
in on. As I recall he couldn't wait to cut out the a public option
that fell far short of single-payer. It's also quite likely that given
the political balance, the pervasiveness of lobby money, and right-wing
control of most of the media, that a single-payer program couldn't have
been enacted by that Congress, but it is fair to indict Obama for not
following that route. For one thing, it would have been much simpler
and much more comprehensible than the plan that passed. In other words,
it would have been something that savvy politicians could have gone
out and sold the people on, not least because all you have to do is
to build on the popularity of Medicare. Obama didn't do that because
he would rather get in bed with the insurance industry, the AMA, the
pharmaceutical companies, etc. If he thought he had to do that for
practical purposes -- if he honestly thought that by lining up all
the interested parties behind a discarded Republican plan would just
sail through Congress without opposition -- he was, well, amazingly
Reich's other point -- that the mandates are necessary in order
to pool risks in a private insurance scheme -- doesn't strike me as
obviously correct. The purpose of mandates is to get around the
adverse selection problems inherent in health insurance -- that sick
people would buy insurance and healthy people wouldn't, so the pool
becomes skewed by the preponderance of the sick. But the fact is
that lots of healthy people want and buy health insurance, because
the risks are often unknown and are so extreme financially. Plus,
most of the people who don't buy health insurance now aren't just
being cheap or feeling lucky: they mostly can't afford it, which
is a problem that goes away with subsidies. So if you eliminate the
mandate (but keep the subsidies, the rules about prior conditions,
etc.), you may get a slightly sicker, more expensive pool, plus the
added overhead of providing emergency care to free riders, but you
also get at least a bit of pressure to price policies lower (since
buyers have the option of walking away). It seems to me that this
would still work better than the previous scheme, even if nowhere
near as well as a true single-payer system.
Joe Romm: Oklahoma Drought Now Far Worse Than When Gov. Mary Falin
Asked All Oklahomans to Pray for Rain:
That was two week[s] ago. The result is that Oklahoma went from the
drought condition below on the right below to the one on the left
in just two short weeks:
Yes, in a mere two weeks, another 30% of the state went into
extreme or exceptional drought! Now the entire state is under severe
drought or worse.
For some reason, science-denying southern Republican governors
keep returning to one particular ineffectual 'adaptation' strategy:
"Texas Drought Now Far, Far Worse Than When Gov. Rick Perry Issued
Proclamation Calling on All Texans to Pray for Rain" (7/15/11).
And speaking of Gov. Perry, who apparently is edging closer and
closer to a presidential run, his state has been utterly devastated
since his proclamation.
Jim Sleeper: Fareed Zakaria Has a Problem:
Rather long piece detailing a Charlie Rose segment where Fareed
Zakaria and Jon Chait beat up on Drew Westen -- author of The Political
Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation (2007)
and a recent op-ed arguing that Obama wasn't doing a very effective job
of communicating with the American people -- among other things dismissing
Westen's expertise because he'd never run for dogcatcher (also true of
Zakaria and Chait, but in the heat of battle who's counting?). Sleeper is
incisive enough on Zakaria, a smart guy who's always willing to compromise
a view in order to gain the acknowledgment of elites of how smart he is.
Also provides a synopsis of Westen's piece, which I wrote more about
But the part that bugged me the most (I caught the last part of the show)
This was all too much for Jonathan Chait, who told Rose that Westen's
is "a dramatic overestimation of the power of rhetoric to affect policies
in Congress and to affect public opinion. There's just not a lot of
evidence that it has that kind of effect, anything like the effect
that -- that he says.
"I think liberals have a hard time holding on to power and being
comfortable with power and the compromise is held with power," Chait
continued. "I think it's something in the liberal psyche. . . .
I am not the psychologist here, but liberals turn against every single
Democratic President with regularity. That was what the whole Nader
campaign in 2000 was about, this fury that Clinton was a sell out.
"Now we've had a President who's been vastly more successful in
advancing the liberal agenda through Congress and you've got liberals
angry again. . . . But the anger at Obama to me is just
sort of baffling."
Oh, where to begin? I don't see why you have to dive into the murky
depths of psychology. For starters, there is a composition fallacy here:
there's a longstanding division between liberals and leftists who wind
up supporting Democrats on easily disappointed "common front" grounds.
The latter are pro-labor, pro-working class, and anti-poverty, where
the former believe in a balance of countervaling forces which way too
often lets them side with business against against the left. The left
component of the Democratic Party consensus has never been close to
the levers of power -- especially since Harry Truman became president
and went on his anti-union rampage in 1946 (which led to a Republican
congressional win, passage of Taft-Hartley, and the eventual destruction
of the American labor movement, crippling the base of the Democratic
party) which he then globalized as the "better dead than red" Cold War.
Pick any Democrat since then and you get a guy who runs to the left
to get elected, then turns around and governs from the center against
the people who elected him. Kennedy and Johnson did extend the welfare
state (as did Nixon), but they were cold war fanatics who wound up sunk
in Vietnam, and they started the tax cut folly that wound up destroying
the measure of civic equality that grew out of the New Deal and WWII.
While Johnson at least liked butter with his guns, Carter was a scold
and an ascetic, opening up the fashion of deregulation, and deliberately
breaking the economy so workers would no longer be able to cope with
Clinton, a sellout? Uh, NAFTA, HillaryCare, "the end of welfare as
we know it," massive government cutbacks, random bombing of Iraq to set
up Bush's war there, most of the critical banking deregulation laws and
rules that eventually blew up in 2007-08, his continued coddling of
Alan Greenspan (Matt Taibbi's nominee for "the biggest asshole in the
world"), the capital gains tax cut that presaged Bush's tax cuts. It
was Clinton's record, plus a healthy aversion to nepotism -- all the
more so after eight years of secondhand Bush -- that made Obama look
attractive. As for Obama, well, you know.
There are at least two good reasons for leftists to sour on Democrats
in power that Chait, in looking for psychological foibles, doesn't seem
to be able to conceive of: one is that we tend to be issue-oriented and
not power-oriented; the other is that we strongly believe that we have
some right answers to major problems where both the right-wing and the
compromising centrists don't have workable answers. I don't feel like
arguing all the points here, but if you care about issues then you have
to criticize those in power not addressing them (or making them worse)
even if those people are ones you voted for. Votes are the result of a
complex balancing of concerns where often you wind up choosing the lesser
of two evils. But, at least if you're on the left, a vote doesn't bind
you to blindly follow the leader. If you did that, well, following the
leader is what fascists do.
The thing I found most interesting about Westen's spiel is that he
had something more to say than that Obama was failing because he wasn't
setting out story lines that the American people wanted to hear. He went
further and said that Obama should move to the left because the left's
story line resonates more with the voters. The notion that there is more
legitimacy and credibility moving left of Obama is what really drove
Chait and Zakaria crazy here. They're happy enough with a vacillator
and compromiser like Obama in large part because they see him as a force
to limit the left. They know full well that during the Great Depression
the left grew way beyond FDR, and that the rhetoric that Westen likes
to cite (e.g., the "I welcome their hate" line that was soon converted
into 70% marginal income tax rates) was the sound of FDR being dragged
to the left, something they dread. And that's why they wind up praising
Obama's legislative record, touting Obama as "one of the most skilful
politicians in the country."
Still, that's not very credible praise. Obama's blown about 30 points
off his peak approval rating. The party he leads (and dominates) lost
control of the House, lost a lot of governors and state legislatures,
and more than half of its advantage in the Senate. While the economy
is slightly more positive now than when he entered office, unemployment
is actually up. His highly touted diplomatic initiatives for Israel and
"AfPak" have failed, with both super-diplomats now gone. So all this
proves that Obama's skilful? More likely it proves that Zakaria takes
perverse pleasure in the Washington stalemate -- that as "a one man
Davos" it somehow works to the benefit of what Sleeper aptly calls
"the global casino-finance, corporate-welfare, consumer-bamboozling
juggernaut" that's been kicking our ass for the last few decades.
Saturday, August 20, 2011
Weekend Roundup: Part 1
So many links and comments this week I thought I'd split it into two
posts. Consider this the International Edition, saving the usual domestic
political stupidity for tomorrow:
Stephen M Walt: The Greatest Elected Body That Money Can Buy: OK,
the real reason I'm citing this piece is the illustration that came with
it: thought it'd be helpful for y'all to clarify that Joe Lieberman (US
Senator, I-AETNA) and Avigdor Lieberman (Israeli Minister of Foreign
Affairs, Moldovian immigrant, former Kach activist, founder and leader
of the ultra-right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, formerly convicted for
assault, recently indicted for fraud, money laundering, and witness
tampering) are in fact two separate people. I'll leave it to you to
figure out which is which, but you'll be hard-pressed to do so on the
basis of their statements (especially if you let the Israeli speak
first). The post itself was about 81 members of Congress who had
nothing better to do recently than trek off to Israel to pledge their
American taxpayers will be pleased to know that Representative Steny
Hoyer (D-Maryland) has reassured Israelis that financial challenges
"will not have any adverse effect on America's determination to meet
its promise to Israel." Translation: we may be cutting Medicare and
Social Security for U.S. citizens, but Israelis -- whose country has
the 27th highest per capita income in the world -- will continue to
get generous subsidies from Uncle Sucker.
Helena Cobban: Israel's 'J14': New Potential for Jewish-Palestinian
Solidarity: I haven't written about the J14 movement in Israel,
in large part because I don't know very much. Perpetual conflict has
pushed Israeli politics ever further to the right, with a succession
of governments making every greater concessions to the religious
and/or settler movements, while undercutting the social democracy
that held Israel's Jewish community together under Labor leadership.
There have been periodic protests against this, but they usually get
swept under the tide of conflict and nationalist propaganda. Still,
it is clearly the case that the occupation is an expensive drain on
those Israelis who are secular and/or who could care less about
resurrecting a Jewish empire in the West Bank. So the J14 protests
are about belated recognition of self-interest, but they also show
Israeli politicians that occupation and perpetual conflict have a
political cost. Cobban strikes me as overly optimistic that the
movement might develop into a bridge between anti-occupation Jews
and the Palestinians who still enjoy minimal political rights as
citizens of Israel, but the latter form a political block that
could be the difference between failure and success, if the J14
people are sensible enough to take advantage of it.
Cobban also has a sensible piece on
Syria, Authoritarianism, War, and Peace, that reminds us that
attempting to resolve a stalemated revolt against an authoritarian
regime by turning to war (especially with the interventionist
cheerleading of outside powers) is a much more treacherous path
than holding out for a peaceably negotiated solution. She offers
South Africa as an example of the latter, something forgotten by
agitators who expanded the war in Libya and want to do the same
thing in Syria. I have to admit that I find myself very disturbed
by the Assad regime's murderous assault on demonstrators, but I
also recognize that the US has no grounds on which we can claim
to be friends of the Syrian people. The US, in fact, threatened
to invade and topple Syria on the model of the 2003 invasion of
Iraq. The US organized Lebanon's revolt against Syria. The US
funded Israel's military, which to this day occupies a key chunk
of Syrian territory, and which periodically bombs Syrian sites.
One reason the revolts in Egypt and Tunisia succeeded peacefully
while the revolts in Libya and Syria have not is that the US had
a long history of working with the former while acting hostile
to the latter; in the end, the former had every reason to keep
their relationships with the US friendly, while the latter were
given no reason. So if we do want to help the Syrian people in
their hour of need, Cobban suggests how:
But in the case of Syria, let's also not forget that the country is
still one that it is in a state of war with its neighbor, Israel;
and that the only way to end that state of war is through conclusion
of a final peace agreement that implements all the conditions of
Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. If westerners in countries
that have given huge support to Israel for the past 40 years truly
want to help the people of Syria -- including the very numerous
Syrian citizens still prevented from returning to their families'
homes and farms inside the occupied Golan -- then surely they (we)
should be agitating hard for Israel to conclude the kind of rules-based
peace with Syria that it concluded with Egypt back in 1979. Certainly,
no U.S. government aid to Israel, whether economic or military, should
be given in a way that entrenches and strengthens Israel's hold on the
Rashid Khalidi: The Freedom-Seekers America Ignores:
The Palestinians, of course, making a push for United Nations recognition
this September. You may recall that the UN went on record in 1947 in favor
of a partitioning of Palestine into Jewish, Arab, and international sectors.
David Ben-Gurion lobbied fervently to get that resolution passed, then as
the Palestinian majority rejected partition, he embraced it except for
details like the borders, Jerusalem, and how to treat the people (almost
all Palestinians) who wound up on the wrong side of the line, while Abba
Eban spent the rest of his life taunting the Palestinians for never failing
to miss Israel's fleeting chances for peace, as if there were any. No one
should doubt that in 1947 the UN's partition scheme was a cruel colonialist
plot, but the 1947-49 war was far worse for the Palestinians: once the
ethnic separation was fait accompli, as Palestinians slowly and painfully
came to realize they'd never be able to return to their homes the partition
plans -- first the proposed 1947 borders, then the 1949 (pre-1967) armistice
borders became increasingly attractive for a state free of Israeli military
rule. That still hasn't happened, both because Israel keeps extending its
tentacle-like settlements into Jerusalem and the West Bank and because
Israel insists that its security interests necessitate blockading even
Palestinian areas like Gaza where no Israeli citizens live. Both claims
are based on nothing more than the assumption that one people, Jewish
Israelis, can use its superior firepower to lord over another, while
the other, the Palestinians, have no leverage that can in any way bend
Israel in its favor. We might as well accept that the Palestinians have
lost this fight, that they are a beaten people who have nothing more to
fall back on than their basic human rights, such as the right to live
in a country where they can vote and have secure rights to free speech,
freedom of religion, to air their grievances, to assemble, to be safe
from unreasonable prosecution, etc. They could, of course, be granted
those rights and integrated into Israeli society, but most Israelis have
become so politically and socially and even economically cloistered that
there is no chance of that happening. So at least for Gaza, there is an
even simpler solution, which is to break that strip of land free from
Israel and recognize it as an independent country, secure with its own
air- and marine-space, able to conduct diplomacy and trade with whoever
it sees fit. One can argue that the same thing should happen to much
or all of the West Bank, and even for Jerusalem, although the presence
of Jewish settlers with their own arms and laws greatly complicates
the disentangling -- as had been the intention all along. So a path
to basic human rights for Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem
may take longer to sort out and implement, but there's no reason not
to proceed immediately with freeing Gaza from Israeli stranglehold.
The September proposal is more ambitious than that, which means it
may succeed in the UN (which has repeatedly resolved against Israel's
occupation) then be impossible to implement. As Khalidi points out, the
US has become ever more hamstrung as an intermediary between Israel and
the Palestinians. Meanwhile, the Netanyahu regime in Israel looks to
be utterly impervious to shame, so this proposal is very likely once
again to go for naught. On the other hand, if you're Palestinian, what
else can you do? Violence doesn't work. Nonviolence appealing to the
Israeli conscience doesn't work. Same for the American conscience, if
you can even contemplate such a thing. As for the world conscience, at
least there is some hope there; even if Israel vetoes and obstructs, at
least it provides the hopeful connectivity of recognizing that you're
Paul Woodward: Who Benefits From the Attacks in Israel?:
On Aug. 18, seven Israelis were killed along a desert road in the far
south of Israel, near the Egyptian border. Israel responded by sending
a raiding party into Egypt killing several border guards, and for good
measure bombed Gaza.
One of the other immediate results of the attacks was that J14 protests
scheduled to take place across Israel were cancelled. That decision was
then reversed and Saturday night's main rally in Tel Aviv will take the
the form of a quiet memorial march with torches and candles.
Will this be the moment at which Israelis once again close ranks as
they find solidarity through opposition to a common enemy? In other words,
is the J14 movement about to fizzle out?
If every act of terrorism can be regarded as a form of bloody political
theater, it's hard to imagine that the organizers of this performance
would have been oblivious about who happened to be in the audience at
this time. A group of Republican members of Congress is visiting Israel
this week, with another batch scheduled to arrive this weekend, Politico
No doubt many of the visiting Americans will have exceptionally harsh
words for one of their colleagues upon their return to Washington. Sen.
Patrick Leahy's effort to apply sanctions against Israeli special forces
units accused of human rights violations, now looks particularly badly
Just as Benjamin Netanyahu felt that the 9/11 attacks were good for
Israel, it's hard not to believe that he must feel that today's attacks
are good for his government.
And just in case anyone in Turkey still holds out any hope that Israel
might apologize for murdering nine of its citizens just over a year ago,
today's events will merely make this week's refusal even more emphatic.
Although an Israeli spokesman claimed to have "specific evidence" to
link Gaza to the attacks, nothing concrete has been offered; see
Paul Woodward: Israeli Army Hasn't the Faintest Idea Who Launched the
Why then is Israel now bombing Gaza? Simply because it bombs Gaza every
chance it gets. It bombs Gaza knowing that Washington will never object.
It bombs Gaza because whenever Jews are killed the easiest form of revenge
is to kill Palestinians -- even when those particular Palestinians most
likely have nothing whatsoever to do with the deaths that triggered this
particular cycle of violence.
The bombing of Gaza has, in turn, killed at least 13 Palestinians.
Its main effect is to endanger the cease fire Hamas has maintained
while Israel continues to force its blockade of Gaza. See
While Gaza Is Being Bombed by Israel, Hamas Armed Wing Decides a
Unilateral Ceasefire Is Worthless. Of course, if Gaza militants
do decide to shoot a few of their toy rockets over the wall, Israel
will bomb further, and Netanyahu will have all the more opportunity
to avoid having to deal with J14, as well as retrenching his hardcore
anti-peace posture against the Palestinian independence movement in
Tony Karon: A Mideast Game of Thrones Threatenes to Provoke a New
Israel-Gaza War, which recapitulates much of the above, also
pointing out that the context includes an Egyptian offensive against
al-Qaeda-related groups in Sinai (who might have found an incursion
into Israel diverting), and the ever-present political jockeying
between Israel's most murderous politicians:
So the danger of escalation becomes more acute. On the Israeli side,
too. Defense Minister Ehud Barak seemed to hint that Israel may be
planning a more sustained attack on Gaza, warning on Thursday that
Israel sees the territory as "a source of terror, and we will take
full-force action against them."
For a hawkish Israeli coalition government, reacting harshly to
any attack on Israel is de rigeur. The question is how far Israel
will press the matter. Despite his tough-talking reputation, Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has until now always avoided the sort
of carnage in which his predecessors have becomes embroiled in Gaza
and Lebanon. Barak, by contrast, was the military architect of the
January 2009 invasion of Gaza, and Netanyahu's bannermen include
the likes of his hawkish coalition partner and Foreign Minister
Avigdor Lieberman, always ready to challenge the prime minister's
manhood by implying he's insufficiently aggressive.
But Thursday's attacks have not been politically damaging to
Netanyahu. On the contrary, they have arguably eased some of the
pressure on him. For one thing, the demonstrations planned for
Saturday by the "J14" movement whose protests against the government
on cost-of-living issues have drawn hundreds of thousands of Israelis
onto the streets in recent weeks, have been canceled because of the
attack from Sinai. Sure, they may be relaunched, but a shift in
Israel's focus away from bread-and-cottage cheese issues to matters
of national security plays to Netanyahu's strong suit.
The Israeli leader will also, no doubt, use the renewed Gaza security
crisis as evidence in support of his campaign to stop U.N. recognition
of Palestinian statehood. And the fact that it may have been the
post-Mubarak power vacuum in Sinai that made the attack possible also
reinforces the Israeli narrative that the instability created by the
Arab Spring militates against Israel making any major peace agreements
These events are relatively unusual in that the sequence does look
like an attack on Israel followed by retribution, whereas such sequences
are usually started by Israel picking out some target they considered
an opportunity, followed by a Palestinian response and further Israeli
atrocities. I've written many times in the past about how to break this
cycle -- one which, by the way, quite clearly doesn't work on any level.
I assume that any serious effort to broker a solution will the US and
Europe (perhaps the entire UN) putting up a big pile of money to help
resettle refugees and rebuild things and generally grease whatever palms
require it, with one account dedicated to Palestinians and another to
Israelis. (In truth, Israel should be paying the Palestinians most of
this, but you figure out how to get them to agree to that.) So what I
propose is to make double use of the accounts both the disbursements
(which will pay out over a number of years) and as an insurance fund.
What happens then is that when a Palestinian blows up an Israeli bus,
the victims will be paid compensation from Palestinian funds. And when
an Israeli settler shoots up a Palestinian house or rips up an orchard,
the victims there will be compensated from Israeli funds. (Of course,
when the IDF drops a 2000 lb. bomb on an apartment building, damages
for that also come out of Israeli funds.) This sets up some incentives
for self-control on both sides, and it breaks the revenge cycle -- and
it especially limits the ability of extremists on either side to hold
the process hostage. Strangely enough, I've never seen anyone else
propose this -- seems like common sense to me.
Matthew Yglesias: No War for Retroactive Vindication:
Starts with a Max Boot quote.
This is complete nonsense. Once upon a time, we were told that the
United States should invade Iraq in order to eliminate its dangerous
nuclear weapons program. It turns out that there was no such nuclear
weapons program. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent,
and thousands of people have been killed, maimed, and displaced in
order to eliminate a nonexistent nuclear weapons program. It's a
complete and total disaster, a blundering unforced error of American
statecraft whose direct and indirect costs boggle the mind. But as
Boot says, the appearance of things "going well" or "going badly"
in Iraq sometimes seems to have enormous retroactive relevance to
the wisdom or lack thereof of the initial decision to invade.
Therefore, for the past five years a range of stakeholders, inside
and outside the government, have repeatedly urged the American
government to waste more time and resources in an effort to salvage
their own reputations even though America has little concrete
interest in Iraqi politics and less ability to actually shape
Friday, August 19, 2011
The Sucking Sound From Texas
More Rick Perry in the Wichita Eagle this morning, an op-ed by
Harold Meyerson (Washington Post) opposite a news piece titled "Heat,
drought leave Texas towns going dry." Meyerson writes, in
Much not to admire about Texas' economy:
Rick Perry's Texas is Ross Perot's Mexico come north. Through a range
of enticements we more commonly associate with Third World nations -- low
wages, no benefits, high rates of poverty, scant taxes, few regulations
and generous corporate subsidies -- the state has produced its own "giant
sucking sound," attracting businesses from other states to a place where
workers come cheap.
Perry's calling card in the presidential race is his state's record of
job creation at a time when the national economy floundered. Yes, Texas
has created lots of jobs, though that's partly a reflection of the surge
in oil prices, which in turn created tens of thousands of jobs in the oil
and gas industries.
What Perry touts in his stump speech, however, isn't the oil boom but
rather the low-tax, low-regulation, handouts-to-business climate that
prevails in Texas. It's the kind of spiel that businesses hear every day
from leaders of developing nations -- Mexico and, even more, China.
Consider the Texas that Perry holds up to the rest of the nation for
admiration. It has the fourth-highest poverty rate of any state. It tied
with Mississippi last year for the highest percentage of workers in
minimum-wage jobs. It ranks first in adults without high school diplomas.
Twenty-six percent of Texans have no health insurance -- the highest
percentage of medically uninsured residents of any state. It leads the
nation in the percentage of children who lack medical insurance.
One reason this is of interest to Wichita readers is that our
still large manufacturing base is a prime target for that "giant
sucking sound." We've lost jobs to both sides of the Rio Grande,
depending not so much on low wages -- it's not like companies in
Kansas are reknown for their generosity -- as for various special
deals on taxes and kickbacks. However bad Boeing wanted to break
the back of the union in Washington, what specifically lured them
to South Carolina was a $900 million sweetheart deal. Same thing
(on a smaller scale) happens all the time around here -- sometimes
with Kansas on the giving end (especially when someone like Sam
Brownback -- the only other governor who participated in Perry's
recent prayer event -- have a say) but either way getting screwed:
either you lose business and jobs which hurts the economy or you
lose taxes which get passed on to everyone else unfortunate enough
to be stuck here, either in more taxes or fewer services or both.
This competition between states for business favors leads to a
race to the bottom: the states that win are the ones that lose the
most. And this is exactly what Perry's notorious federalism comes
down to: when the federal government regulates business there is
one standard everywhere, so business has no artificial reason to
locate one place vs. another; but if you hand regulation over to
the states, businesses gravitate to the most corrupt and toothless
states. (We have a lot of this already, which is why corporations
register in Delaware, and your credit card bill comes from South
It should also go without saying that one nationwide regulation
standard is much more efficient than 50 statewide standards. When
you approach Perry levels of federalism the whole world becomes
mind-bogglingly complex. Even now I'd wager that virtually none
of the people moving into Texas in search of low-paying jobs have
any real conception of how much living in the state will cost them
over the long haul: the miserly safety net, the lousy education,
the absent (and often unaffordable) health care, crime, etc.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Much Ado Over Rick Perry
When rumors started flying that Texas governor Rick Perry would
join the Republican presidential campaign circus, I figured someone
in the party's mysterious politburo meant to use him to split the
Christian crackpot vote that was lately likely to follow Michele
Bachmann so that some less toxic candidate could prevail, but I
forgot that Perry isn't an apparatchik kind of guy. GOP bigwigs
had tried to get rid of Perry back in 2010, convincing Kay Bailey
Hutchinson to give up a safe Senate seat to get mauled by Perry
in the GOP primary.
However, Perry's main accomplishment so far has been to make
Bachmann look relatively sane. (The main dissenter I've seen so
far is Richard Cohen, who likened Bachmann to Lady Gaga, insisting
that she's finished because Perry "actually looks like a president" --
see comments by
Steve Benen and
Paul Krugman.) The blogs I mostly read have been full of Perry
lately, mostly because of how thoroughly he reinforces the principal
hard-learned of the last few years: that Republicans have gone stark
But rather than start off with off-the-cuff, out-of-context quotes,
the best place to start is Perry's 2010 book, Fed Up! Our Fight to
Save America From Washington.
Matthew Yglesias read the book recently, commented that it is not
a typical candidate campaign book -- for one thing it has a forward
written by rival presidential candidate Newt Gingrich; for another,
"it's overall tone much more closely resembles that of a B-list
conservative radio host looking to stir up controversy and sell books
than of a cautious politician trying out poll-tested lines." So
Yglesias constructed a review by picking out "the ten weirdest ideas"
in the book:
- Social Security Is Evil
- Private Enterprise Blossomed Under Conscription and Wage-Price Controls
- Medicare Is Too Expensive But Must Never Be Cut
- All Bank Regulation Is Unconstitutional
- Consumer Financial Protection Is Unconstitutional
- Almost Everything is Unconstitutional
- Federal Education Policy Is Unconstitutional
- Al Gore Is Part of a Conspiracy To Deny The Existence Of Global Cooling
- Not Only Is Everything Unconstitutional, Activist Judges Are A Problem
- The Civil War Was Caused By Slaveowners Trampling On Northern States' Rights
I don't really get why Perry cares so much about the Constitution
given that it wasn't very long ago when he wanted Texas to secede to
get away from the damn thing, but a lot of right-wing jargon, not to
mention fundamentalist Christian-speak, is code designed only to be
picked up by fellow believers. Most people would try to argue policies
on their merits -- should banks be regulated or not? -- rather than
declaring something can't even be considered because of an exclusion
that no one has noticed in 220 years.
In looking for the book review piece, I scrounged through Think
Rick Perry tag list. The titles themselves give you a fair idea.
(Most recent first, just because that's the way I'm finding them.)
Perry Claims Federal Stimulus "Didn't Create Any Jobs," Ignoring the
50,000 It Created in Texas
The State of Texas' Children: Low Graduation Rates, High Poverty:
"nearly one-quarter of Texas children live in poverty"; "Texas has the
third-highest teen birth rate in the country"
180,000 Texans to Lose Access to Cancer Screenings, Contraception as a
Result of Perry Policy
Seven Things to Know About Rick Perry's Health Care Record:
"Texas ranks the worst in the nation for health care coverage";
"Premiums are well above the national average"; "Texas ranks 48th
out of 50 states in the number of physicians per 100,000 residents."
Denier Rick Perry Takes $11 Million from Big Oil, Then Claims Climate
Scientists "Manipulated Data" for Money: includes a chart of Perry
contributions by industry, with oil & gas way out front; of course,
it's going to take a lot more than $11 million to turn Perry into a
Between 2007 and 2010, 47 Percent of Government Jobs Were Created in
Texas: private sector jobs are down 178,000; public sector jobs
are up 125,000; actually, this seems like a point in his favor, but
only if he the role of government stimulus in salvaging Texas' economy.
Report: Texas Ranks Dead Last in Total Job Creation, Accounting for
Labor Force Growth: chart is for Feb. 2009-June 2011.
Even the Bush Administration Thought Rick Perry's Medicaid Proposals Were
Too Restrictive: "Texas already has the narrowest Medicaid eligibility
standards and spends the second least of any state on health care for the
poor per capita. But thta hasn't stopped Gov. Rick Perry from advocating
that Texas to opt out of Medicaid altogether and receive less generous
block grants that would allow it to institute even harsher limits to the
Perry on Bernanke: "I Dunno What Y'All Would Do Here in Iowa but We Would
Treat Him Pretty Ugly Down in Texas"
Perry Reveals Plan for Total U.S. Anarchy: "Put a Moratorium on All
The Texas Unmiracle: Malpractice Reform Edition
Perry Proposes Economically Impossible State Takeover of Social
Rick Perry Thinks Texas Climate Scientists Are in a "Secular Carbon
Cult": Texas has had droughts 8 of the last 10 years Perry has
been governor, plus the hottest July in history this year; however,
he insists that scientists "know we have been experiencing a global
Five Crazy Things Rick Perry Thinks About the Constitution:
not only does he hate all those unconstitutional things like Medicare,
Social Security, and environmental laws; he's against the 17th amendment
(the one that forces states to allow their voters to elect Senators),
and the part of the 16th amendment that requires the federal government
to make good on its debts.
Rick Perry: The Poor and Seniors Don't Pay Enough Taxes
That's enough for now, even though it only takes us back to August
15, three days ago. The least you can say is that Perry sure makes up
for losing Tim Pawlenty.
By the way, I could just as well have compiled this from many other
Sunday, August 14, 2011
Music: Current count 18547  rated (+41), 861  unrated (-12).
Huge rated count this week, and for once most of it isn't Rhapsody. Fact
is I haven't found much to look up there, and browsing through the new
releases is even worse. So I hit the jazz queue. Didn't find anything all
that notable, but moved some product and opened up some space. Also did
quite a bit of blogging last week. Can't say that either was especially
productive, but it was a much more active week. Cooler outside, too.
Jazz Prospecting (JCG #28, Part 2)
Big rated week for me: 41 records. Thirty is a heavy week for
me, and when I top that by much it's usually because I'm skimming
through Rhapsody. Did a bit of that, but only have seven records
in the Streamnotes file, so most of the count came from the jazz
queue and is piled up below. Thought I'd try sorting the post
alphabetically this time, instead of just listing the records in
the order I got to them. One reason is that I started the week
off with two 3-stars and an A-, two in brackets (meaning I'm not
as sure as I'd like so plan on revisiting those before I write
them up). Flipping the order around spreads that clump out, and
may make it easie to find things.
No news on when Jazz CG (27) will run. I'll nag the editor
again, and plug onward.
Eliane Amherd: Now and From Now On (2011, ELI):
Guitarist-singer-songwriter, from Switzerland, based in New York.
First album. Good voice. Nice beat. Didn't follow the songs, but
the lyrics are in the booklet -- even the one non-original, from
ArtsWest: The Vocal Jazz Collective: Redefition
(2009 , OA2): ArtsWest is some kind of organization in Seattle:
produces events, runs a theater company and an art gallery, offers
education although I'm not sure you can call it a school, is "a
community center and economic attractor." Jeff Baker, who has a few
vocal jazz albums of his own, is Director of Vocal Music, and the
Vocal Jazz Collective is a set of vocalists including 13-year-old
Andrew Coba, who doesn't have a lead here but is somewhere in the
choir -- not clear that the others are much older. The band is made
up of Seattle all-stars including Brent Jensen on sax and Thomas
Marriott on trumpet, arranged by pianist Justin Nielsen. Singers
Camille Avery, LeAnne Robinson, Georgia Sedlack, Cari Stevens, Fara
Sumbureru, Karmen Wolf, Harris Long, and Mary Thompson get one or
two standards each. Good band -- the instrumental breaks are all
expert. None of the singers are especially memorable, but overall
this is surprisingly pleasant.
Daniel Bennett Group: Peace & Stability Among Bears
(2010 , Bennett Alliance): Plays alto sax, flute, clarinet. B.
1979 in Rochester, NY; studied at Roberts Wesleyan in Rochester, then
at New England Conservatory in Boston (ah, finally found the inevitable
George Garzone reference). Has two previous bear-themed albums on his
website, all attributed to the Group, which started as a trio then
added a bassist. Current lineup: Chris Hersch (guitar), Jason Davis
(bass), Rick Landwehr (drums). He calls this "folk jazz" and cites
Steve Reich's minimalism as an influence. Repetitive patterns slide
around the guitar, with even the alto sax pitched about as high as
it can go.
Chris Dingman: Waking Dreams (2011, Between Worlds
Music): Vibraphonist, from San Jose, CA; studied at Wesleyan, which
put him in Anthony Braxton's orbit, but closer to home under Jay
Hoggard. Based in New York. Has side credits since 2004 with Steve
Lehman, Harris Eisenstadt, Ambrose Akinmusire. First album, with
Akinmusire on trumpet, Loren Stillman on sax, Fabian Almazan on
piano, plus bass, drums, and occasional guests. Open textures, lots
Eliane Elias: Light My Fire (2010 , Concord):
Pianist, b. 1960 in Brazil, AMG lists 23 albums since 1986. Not sure
when she started singing -- certainly by 1997's Sings Jobim,
which I found utterly dreamy. Her voice is in the affectless Astrud
Gilberto tradition, a bit more accommodating and gracious. While I
routinely complain about American singers and their "obligatory
Jobim" picks, she nails her turf down -- OK, no Jobim here, but
Gilberto Gil joins in for three cuts, and her guitar and percussion
picks are near perfect. The songs in English, including "My Cherie
Amour" and the slowed down title cut, are impeccably cool, and she
scats her way through "Take Five" with Randy Brecker adding a bit
of highlight. I will complain about the photography: not that she's
getting too old for cheesecake, but the lighting makes her look
strangely pale and purple.
The Flail: Live at Smalls (2010 , Smalls
Live): New York quintet: Dan Blankinship (trumpet), Stephan Moutot
(tenor sax), Brian Marsella (piano), Reid Taylor (bass), Matt
Zebroski (drums). Second album (I think: AMG lists this one,
CDBaby has another one; their own website is utterly useless --
can't believe people pay money for design like that). Figure
post-hard bop, but the horns and piano can pick up and run away
from the pack. Runs 71 minutes, and never lets up.
Four: On a Warm Summer's Evenin' (2010, Jazz Hang):
Idaho group, nominally a saxophone quartet with Mark Watkins (soprano,
alto), Brent Jensen (alto), Sandon Mayhew (tenor, and Jon Gudmundson
(baritone). I'm familiar with Jensen, who has several good records on
Origin. Everyone else is new to me, especially the group's de facto
leader, Watkins, who wrote or arranged everything (9 originals, 3
covers, one by Coltrane, one more that might as well be -- "Chim Chim
Cheree" -- and "My Funny Valentine"). Watkins teaches at BYU-Idaho,
another new one on me: the former Ricks College in Rexburg, ID, an
LDS-owned institution with nearly 15,000 students (more than the
population of Rexburg as recently as 1990 -- Salon called it "the
reddest place in America" after Bush got 93% of the vote in 2004).
The group is supplemented by the BYU-Idaho Faculty Jazz Ensemble
(rhythm section), including guitarist Corey Christiansen, and a
much larger Faculty and Alumni band/orchestra/jazz ensemble, which
gives Watkins a lot to arrange. This has spots that get cluttered,
but for the most part everyone is well-behaved and it all grows
into a warm, luxurious flow.
Curtis Fuller: The Story of Cathy & Me (2011,
Challenge): Trombonist, b. 1934 in Detroit, came up in hard bop bands --
Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, the Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet --
as well as credits with Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Clark, Bud
Powell, Cannonball and Nate Adderley, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Jimmy
Smith, Joe Henderson, Dizzy Gillespie, lots of guys who are long dead.
Cathy was Fuller's wife, the former Catherine Rose Driscoll, who also
died in 2010. No idea when they met and married, a detail that slipped
through the cracks of an otherwise generous booklet. The album is
broken up into three sections separated by spoken word "interludes."
Two vocals by Tia Michelle Rouse also chop up the flow, which traces
a grand arc from upbeat youth to solemn age.
Giacomo Gates: The Revolution Will Be Jazz: The Songs of
Gil Scott-Heron (2010-11 , Savant): Singer, says
somewhere he was 40 in 1990, so figure b. 1950; drove trucks,
worked on the Alaska Pipeline, tried singing in Fairbanks bars
but didn't get very far; moved to Connecticut, cut a record in
1995, four more since. Attracted to Jon Hendricks and vocalese,
also a source of Scott-Heron's music. (Let me interject that
I've long had a kneejerk reaction to the flamboyant hipsterism
of vocalese, and that turned me off from Scott-Heron's albums,
regardless of how appealing the politics were.) Gates thought
about doing a Scott-Heron albums back in the early 1990s, but
didn't get going on it until Scott-Heron returned after a 13
year hiatus with I'm New Here last year. Then Scott-Heron
died at 62 on May 27 this year, a few weeks before this arrived
in the mail. Avoids the most overtly political tracts in favor
of the jazz legacy, sentimentalizes "New York City," keeps the
hopes and prayers alive, but also the "Gun" dilemma. A deeper,
more measured singer, who can scat but doesn't have to. Limits
the horns to two cuts, using Claire Daly on baritone once and
on flute for "Winter in America," where it belongs.
Randy Halberstadt: Flash Point (2010, Origin):
Pianist, b. 1953 in New York, based in Seattle, teaches at Cornish
College of the Arts; has a book, Metaphors for the Musician:
Perspectives From a Jazz Pianist, and four albums since 1991.
Quintet with Thomas Marriott (trumpet), Mark Taylor (alto sax),
Jeff Johnson (bass), and Mark Ivester (drums). Halberstadt wrote
6 of 9 pieces, covering Sam Rivers ("Beatrice"), Miles Davis
("Solar"), and "On Green Dolphin Street." Postbop. Impressed
more by the piano than by the horns, which probably help to
broaden and stabilize the record but are never what's interesting.
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: Race Riot Suite (2011,
Royal Potato Family): Tulsa group, recorded in Tulsa, so you know
what race riot they're talking about -- if not, see
took place in 1921, the only time I'm aware of where residential
neighborhoods in the US were bombed by aircraft. Group has been
around since the late 1990s, with close to a dozen records. Chris
Combs (lap steel, guitar) wrote and arranged all of this, except
for group improvs titled prayers. Group includes: Brian Haas
(piano), Jeff Harshbarger (bass), and John Raymer (drums), and
this time they're augmented by five horn players, including Peter
Apfelbaum (baritone sax) and Steven Bernstein (trumpet). Haas
goes all the way back to the beginning; Raymer joined in 2007,
Combs joining in 2008, Harshbarger 2010. No words, so you're on
your own figuring out why the upbeat "Black Wall Street" segues
into a gloomy piece like "The Burning." The horns tend to drown
out the core band, and while what they do is often interesting,
it doesn't quite stand on its own.
Daniel Jamieson's Danjam Orchestra: Sudden Appearance
(2010 , OA2): Big band -- 5 woodwinds, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones,
piano, bass, drums, voice (Jihne Kim) on 3 of 8 cuts, percussion on 2.
Jamieson, originally from Toronto but based in New York, composed and
conducted. First album, not many names I recognize in the orchestra.
Jim McNeely, who knows more than a little about big bands, co-produced.
Nothing very surprising here, but very solid as postbop big band goes.
AJ Kluth's Aldric: Anvils and Broken Bells (2010
, OA2): Tenor saxophonist, based in Chicago. Second album.
Group is electric -- electric guitar ("many buttons & knobs"),
electric bass, with both Kluth and trumpeter James Davis credited
with effects. Fusion, I suppose, but not a throwback to the 1970s
jazz fusion stuff (though maybe Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath):
dense sheets of sound, heavy on the heavy, occasional fast breaks.
Lee Konitz: Insight (1989-95 , Jazzwerkstatt):
Front cover also has, in much smaller type, name of Frank Wunsch,
the pianist who duets with Konitz on 6 of 9 tracks. Spine only has
Konitz's name, which in the algebra of parsing album covers carries
a bit more weight. Plus the album starts off with three solo cuts,
and Wunsch doesn't make much of an impression even when he plays.
Konitz, on the other hand, does. Like most solo/duo sax records,
he stays within the speed limit, but his tone is uncommonly fine
and the improvs are rigorously intelligent. Pieced together from
five sessions scattered over six years. Includes some soprano sax
as well as the usual alto.
Adia Ledbetter: Take 2: Rendezvous With Yesterdays
(2010 , Jazzijua): Singer, from Durham, NC, based in New York.
Second album, mostly standards but she writes some around the edges,
and claims two songs whole. I hear a touch of Billie Holiday on
"Darn That Dream" but later on it's gone. At one point breaks into
a soliloquy on how wonderful her future is that starts with "Obama
is president, and the Steelers just won the Super Bowl" -- caught
me off guard as I was writing a long post at the time on how poorly
Obama has performed as president. She does have a bright future, or
would if the country did.
Mike LeDonne: Keep the Faith (2011, Savant): Organ
player, one of the better ones around, leading an all-star group --
Eric Alexander (tenor sax), Peter Bernstein (guitar), Joe Farnsworth
(drums) -- all with a lot of practice doing this sort of thing. Very
hot, of course, but they've managed to burn the essence out of what
used to be called soul jazz. When people would talk about, oh, Jack
McDuff or Charles Earland or Groove Holmes "burnin'" what they meant
was more like smoldering than flames jumping this way and that.
Bob Mamet Trio: Impromptu (2010, Counterpoint):
Pianist, cut three albums 1994-97 which gave him something of a rep
for crossover or pop jazz (AMG: "pop-jazz with a brain"). This is
his first album since, a straight acoustic piano trio with Darek
Oles[kiewicz] on bass and Joe La Barbera on drums, all original
pieces. Bright, lively, accessible without falling into any of the
usual pop jazz ruts.
Susie Meissner: I'm Confessin' (2010 , Lydian
Jazz): Standards singer, grew up in Buffalo, grandmother played stride
piano which led her to Ellington, Gershwin, Porter (all represented
here, Duke twice). Second album. Nice voice, great songs, band swings,
trombonist Wycliffe Gordon earns his special guest status on his four
Pat Metheny: What's It All About (2011, Nonesuch):
Solo guitar, covering songs mostly from the 1960s and 1970s, probably
things that strike a nostalgic note to a kid from Missouri born in
1954, but as one born in 1950 in Kansas I have to say that several
are songs I'd just as soon never hear again. He does do some
interesting things with them -- only "Cherish" resists the treatment.
Nicole Mitchell: Awakening (2011, Delmark): Flute
player, b. 1967 in Syracuse, NY; grew up in California; moved to
Chicago in 1990 and got involved in AACM, becoming co-president in
2006. Tenth album since 2001. Has won Rising Star Flute in the
Downbeat critics poll several times, and won outright this
year, something she'll probably do regularly over the next decade.
Most famous flute players are saxophonists slumming -- Frank Wess
and James Moody have dominated this category, but Moody died and
Wess is nearly 90. Young flautists mostly come up with a rigorous
classical background, but Mitchell has her own sound and dynamics,
probably drawing on Roscoe Mitchell and Henry Threadgill. Still,
flute doesn't do much for me, so while she glides over the rhythm
I'm more impressed by the band: Jeff Parker on guitar, Harrison
Bankhead on bass, and Avreeayl Ra on drums.
Alphonse Mouzon: Angel Face (2011, Tenacious):
Drummer, b. 1948 in Charleston, SC; emerged as fusion was picking
up steam, playing with Weather Report early on, Larry Coryell's
Eleventh House, cutting his own albums for Blue Note in the early
1970s. As things cooled down, launched his own label, Tenacious
Records, in 1981, and has at least 14 records since. Never paid
much attention to him, so the most striking thing here is the
surfeit of riches. He's basically running a quintet here, but at
piano he alternates between Cedar Walton and Kenny Barron; at
bass Christian McBride and Darek Oleskiewicz; his main trumpet
players are Arturo Sandoval and Wallace Roney (Shonzo Ohno gets
one cut); the tenor sax slot is shared by Ernie Watts, Don Menza,
and Bob Mintzer, with Antoine Roney and Charles Owens getting one
cut each. These are guys who can break out and do something
interesting, and sometimes they do, but mostly they burnish the
leader's painless, pleasant funk groove.
Arturo O'Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra: 40
Acres and a Burro (2010 , Zoho): Pianist, took over
his father's big band (Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra) in 1995. AMG
credits him with seven albums since 1999, missing two ALJO discs,
and I'm not sure what else. This combines O'Farrill's quintet,
the ALJO big band, and a raft of guests -- Paquito D'Rivera,
David Bixler, and Heather Martin Bixler get pics on the back
cover. Three O'Farrill originals, including "A Wise Latina" and
the title track. Grossly cluttered, except for rare moments when
the rhythm breaks through, as in the pieces by Pixinguinha and
Astor Piazzolla -- the latter even puts the horns to good use.
Oregon: In Stride (2010, CAM Jazz): Quartet,
founded in 1970 as some sort of world-jazz fusion band. The most
distinctive member, at least up to his death in 1984, was Collin
Walcott, who played sitar, percussion, all sorts of things. The
other three remain to this day: Paul McCandless (oboe, English horn,
various saxes and clarinets), Ralph Towner (guitar), and Glen Moore
(bass). The group disbanded after Walcott's death; the other three
regrouping in 1987 with Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu, and now
carry on with drummer Mark Walker. This is their 28th album. I've
only heard a few at both ends of their career. Horns trend toward
the ethereal, guitar toward the sublime, pulse and beat move along,
with nothing especially standing out.
Dida Pelled: Plays and Sings (2010 , Red):
Singer-guitarist, from Israel, based in New York, first album,
recorded in Brooklyn but released on an Italian label associated
with producer (trumpet player on two cuts) Fabio Morgera. With
Tal Ronen on bass, Gregory Hutchinson on drums, and Roy Hargrove
playing trumpet on three tracks. Standards, at least if you count
Wes Montgomery, Horace Silver, and "Can't Take My Eyes Off You"
(a Frankie Valli song I definitely count). Engagingly ordinary
voice, holds her own on a couple of long guitar solos.
Augusto Pirodda: No Comment (2009 , Jazzwerkstatt):
Pianist, b. 1971 in Cagliari (Sardinia, Italy); studied in Netherlands,
now based in Brussels. Has a couple previous albums -- one solo, also
a duo with Michal Vanoucek. Drew the A-Team for this trio: Gary Peacock
on bass, Paul Motian on drums. Quiet, slow, so subtle I damn near missed
it but the bass kept sneaking around to grab me.
Rufus Reid & Out Front: Hues of a Different Blue
(2010 , Motéma): Bassist, prominent enough that he gets his
name as the leader of a piano trio -- the pianist in question is
Steve Allee, who has a few records under his own name, as does
Brazilian drumer Duduka Da Fonseca. Allee is sharp here, and Reid
gets in some solos. He's also lined up guests to mix it up on five
tracks (if you believe the credits, which I don't): various mixes
of Toninho Horta (guitar), Freddie Hendrix (trumpet), JD Allen
(tenor sax), and Bobby Watson (credited with tenor sax, but must
be alto; Watson also appears uncounted on "These Foolish Things":
Dave Valentin: Pure Imagination (2011, High Note):
Flute player, b. 1954 in Chelmsford, England; has a couple dozen
albums since 1979, at least lately relying heavily on Latin rhythms
which set his flute off nicely. He has a group here that can do
that -- Bill O'Connell (piano), Ruben Rodriguez (bass), Robby Ameen
(drums), and especially Richie Flores (percussion) -- and the opener
"Smile" does just that. Afterwards it's hit and miss.
Alex Vittum: Prism (2010 , Prefecture):
Percussionist, based in San Francisco, half of the duo Tide Tables.
Subtitled "solo works for electro-acoustic percussion." Describes
Prism as "a signal processing software environment I developed in
Max/MSP" to use with his drum kit. Interesting, the drumming more
so than the electronics. Not much packaging for my copy: just a
plastic sleeve and an insert.
Kenny Wheeler: One of Many (2006 , CAM Jazz):
With John Taylor and Steve Swallow, as the front cover notes, senior
citizens of the avant-garde, taking it easy but not making it too
easy. Wheeler plays flugelhorn the whole way, as has been his habit
lately. Past 80 now, but this was done a few years back.
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further
listening the first time around.
Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:
- Bob Belden: Miles Español: New Sketches of Spain (Entertainment One, 2CD): advance, Sept. 27
- George Benson: Guitar Man (Concord): advance, Oct. 4
- Ron Carter: Ron Carter's Great Big Band (Sunnyside): Sept. 13
- Ken Fowser/Behn Gillece: Duotone (Posi-Tone)
- Donald Harrison: This Is Jazz: Live at the Blue Note (Half Note)
- Francisco Mela & Cuban Safari: Tree of Life (Half Note)
- Sean Nowell: Stockholm Swingin' (Posi-Tone)
- Greg Reitan: Daybreak (Sunnyside): Sept. 13
- Daniel Rosenthal: Lines (American Melody)
- Samo Salamon Trio: Almost Almond (Sanje)
- Matt Slocum: After the Storm (Chandra)
- Marcus Strickland: Triumph of the Heavy: Volume 1 & 2 (Strick Muzik, 2CD): Sept. 27
- Kenny Werner with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra: Institute of Higher Learning (Half Note)
Saturday, August 13, 2011
A few more scattered links, having shot most of my lode earlier in
the week, both in a midweek dump and in other posts like yesterday's
Michele Bachmann special and Drew Westen back on Wednesday:
Steve Benen: Pawlenty, Facing Dwindling Odds, Quits Race:
Well, we didn't have much opportunity to talk about Tim Pawlenty,
but then we didn't have much need to. He was much hyped for VP
back in 2008, presumably on McCain's short list before he lost
out to Sarah Palin. This year he was squished like a bug by his
fellow Minnesotan Michele Bachmann, and deservedly so. Someone
should go back and write up Pawlenty's campaign, not so much
for historical lessons as sheer farce: no one -- not Bachmann
nor even Palin -- has said as many patently stupid things in
the race so far, nor managed to make himself look more like a
complete bumbling idiot. I've only picked up a few of these
items, but if you're nostalgic see:
Steve Benen: The Candidate in Desperate Need of a Calculator and an
Economics Textbook: "Late last year, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R)
gave his first big hint that his grasp of economics is awfully weak.
[ . . . ] Maybe he's running around making
blisteringly stupid claims in order to impress the right-wing GOP base."
Paul Krugman: Where Have All the Mensches Gone? "and now Tim Pawlenty,
who, aside from saying a whole lot of false things while declaring himself
a truthteller, pulled a Gingrich when Rush Limabaugh correctly pointed out
that he wasn't a true Tea Partier a few years ago."
Paul Krugman: Why I Don't Believe in the American People: "Tim Pawlenty --
who has turned out to be a much bigger fool than I or, I think, anyone
imagined . . ."
Paul Krugman: Ideologies That Fail Upwards: "belief in tax-cut magic
is central to the Ryan plan, and aspiring GOP candidates like Pawlenty
seem to be in a race to see who can go more overboard in supply-side
Paul Krugman: Thoughts on Voodoo: "With Tim Pawlenty -- who was suposed
to be a sensible Republican -- going all-in for high
voodoo . . ."
Steve Benen: Pawlenty Sees Bush Agenda as Far Too Liberal: "Tim Pawlenty
presented a laughable economic plan last week, vowing to cut taxes by
trillions, which will magically produce robust growth, and which in turn
will help the tax cuts pay for themselves."
Andrew Leonard: Tim Pawlenty's Reagan Amnesia: "As closer and closer
examinations of Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty's radical
tax cut agenda continue to illustrate just how extraordinarily huge his
handout to the richest Americans would be . . ."
Alex Pareene: What the 2012ers' Debt-Deal Statements Actually Mean:
"Tim Pawlenty took the most extreme-right line of any candidate so far
(the cut-cap-and-balance plan did not cut, cap, and balance enough
for him!) but no one noticed or cared."
I'm sure there's much more: in a recent post I didn't grab, Krugman
quipped that Matt Yglesias follows Pawlenty so we don't have to, and
I didn't grab anything from Yglesias.
Benen reminds us that back in spring Jon Chait argued that Pawlenty
"should probably be considered the frontrunner," which accords
with the general level of insight I saw on Charlie Rose last week when
Chait and Fareed Zakaria ganged up on Drew Westen for doubting Obama's
magnificent legislative record.
David Harvey: Feral Capitalism Hits the Streets:
One music writer I correspond with went apeshit over the recent riots
in Britain, concluding that the rioters, "are ill-educated (not their
fault), have poor work ethics and poor morals!" That's a rant I've
read hundreds of times before, and only rarely to describe rioters
and looters since the mere status of being poor will do. I don't know
much about the riots, nor about the work ethics and morals of Britain's
underclass, but I do know that when such violence erupts there are
deeper problems being ignored.
There will of course be the usual hysterical debate between those prone
to view the riots as a matter of pure, unbridled and inexcusable criminality,
and those anxious to contextualize events against a background of bad
policing; continuing racism and unjustified persecution of youths and
minorities; mass unemployment of the young; burgeoning social deprivation;
and a mindless politics of austerity that has nothing to do with economics
and everything to do with the perpetuation and consolidation of personal
wealth and power. Some may even get around to condemning the meaningless
and alienating qualities of so many jobs and so much of daily life in the
midst of immense but unevenly distributed potentiality for human
If we are lucky, we will have commissions and reports to say all over
again what was said of Brixton and Toxteth in the Thatcher years. I say
'lucky' because the feral instincts of the current Prime Minister seem
more attuned to turn on the water cannons, to call in the tear gas brigade
and use the rubber bullets while pontificating unctuously about the loss
of moral compass, the decline of civility and the sad deterioration of
family values and discipline among errant youths.
But the problem is that we live in a society where capitalism itself
has become rampantly feral. Feral politicians cheat on their expenses,
feral bankers plunder the public purse for all its worth, CEOs, hedge
fund operators and private equity geniuses loot the world of wealth,
telephone and credit card companies load mysterious charges on everyone's
bills, shopkeepers price gouge, and, at the drop of a hat swindlers and
scam artists get to practice three-card monte right up into the highest
echelons of the corporate and political world.
A political economy of mass dispossession, of predatory practices to
the point of daylight robbery, particularly of the poor and the vulnerable,
the unsophisticated and the legally unprotected, has become the order of
This is certainly right, but doesn't get to the detail of why this,
why now. So also see:
Alexander Cockburn: Riots and the Underclass:
The riots in London last week started in Tottenham in an area with the
highest unemployment in London, in response to the police shooting a
young black man, in a country where black people are 26 times more likely
to stopped and searched by the cops than whites. Stop-and-searches are
allowed under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act
1994, introduced to deal with football hooligans. It allows police to
search anyone in a designated area without specific grounds for suspicion.
Use of Section 60 has risen more than 300 per cent between 2005 and last
year. In 1997/98 there were 7,970 stop-and-searches, increasing to 53,250
in 2007/08 and 149,955 in 2008/09. Between 2005/06 and 2008/09 the number
of Section 60 searches of black people rose by more than 650 per cent.
[ . . . ]
Back in 1981, I interviewed Howe in his Race and Class office
after the Brixton and Toxteth riots. Overweening police power and state
racism were fuelling unofficial racism, with innumerable murderous attacks
on blacks in a Britain ravaged by Margaret Thatcher's economic policies.
At the start of April, 1981, the police launched Operation Swamp 81 to
combat street crime. More than 1,000 people were stopped and questioned
in the first four days. The uprising in Brixton began on April 9 and
lasted through April 11. There were 4,000 police in the area and 286
people arrested. By the weekend of July 10-12 riots were taking place
in 30 towns and cities -- black and white youths together and in some
case white youths alone.
Cockburn then lets his mind wander to America and its "nearly 40-year
detour into a gulag Republic, with 25 percent of the world's prisoners."
Those endless wars on crime and drugs -- a staple of 90 percent of
America's politicians these last thirty years -- have engendered not
merely 2.3 million prisoners but a vindictive hysteria that pulses on
the threshold of homicide in the bosoms of many of our uniformed law
enforcers. Time and again, one hears stories attesting to the fact
that they are ready, at a moment's notice or a slender pretext, to
blow someone away, beat him to a pulp, throw him in the slammer, sew
him up with police perjuries and snitch-driven charges, and try to
toss him in a dungeon for a quarter-century or more.
Cockburn urges Britain not to follow the US route, but the government
and citizens like my correspondent are seething and champing at the bit.
But that's the wrong response. Such events should be taken as a wake up
call, nagging us to ask whether government is serving justice, whether
we're doing what we can to make the modern world more livable. Locking
up rioters and looters may be called for, and some people will always be
criminals, but riots burn themselves out, accomplishing nothing other
than to seed future riots. The only thing that will break this cycle is
to recommit government to serving the people.
Ray McGovern: They Died in Vain:
Many of those preaching at American church services Sunday extolled
as "heroes" the 30 American and 8 Afghan troops killed Saturday west
of Kabul, when a helicopter on a night mission crashed, apparently
after taking fire from Taliban forces. This week, the Fawning
Corporate Media (FCM) can be expected to beat a steady drumbeat of
"they shall not have died in vain."
But they did. I know it is a hard truth, but they did die in
Actually, the first soldier to die not in vain in Afghanistan
will be the one that breaks the president's will to keep wasting
American lives in a war that never should have been started, that
has for ten long years been fought in a haze of confusion, both
over our aims and over our wretched understanding of the region
and its people. Meanwhile they keep piling up, a testament to
the vanity of politicians and generals and media who can't admit
to error on such a gross scale.
Jonathan Zasloff: David Ben-Gurion Spins in His Grave:
Actually, this is only one of many reasons why Ben-Gurion should be
upset about what's going on in the state he all but single-mindedly
created, but skeptics can also trace many of those problems to his
compromises of principle for tactical advantage -- e.g., his decision
give the rabbis a wedge of state control, his decision not to negotiate
peace agreements following the 1949 armistices, or his decision not to
fight against the 1967 land grabs (especially in Jerusalem) that he had
warned against only weeks earlier. One might doubt, for instance, that
Ben-Gurion really preferred Israel to be accepted as a normal nation
over an occupation that would turn Israel into a pariah state, but in
his own mind in the 1940s, at least before he got a taste for war, I
think he did. But there can be no doubt that he would be appalled by
the neglect and collapse of Israel's socialism (if only for Jews) --
that was, after all, the bedrock upon which he built the whole nation.
Zasloff starts with a quote noting that "in Israel it's unusual for
socioeconomic issues to take priority over political-security issues."
Here, in three sentences, is the explanation for the collapse of Israel's
Labor Party. Founded by David Ben-Gurion as Mapai, an acronym for
"Israel Worker's Party," it built the social democratic foundations of
the country's welfare state. But it now lacks any coherent philosophy.
A few years ago, Ehud Barak followed his election as party head by buying
a multimillion dollar condo in Tel Aviv.
Why do tends of thousands of working-class Mizrahi and Russian Jews
vote Likud or Shas? Because Labor gives them nothing to vote for. Now,
when thousands march for affordable housing, what passes for the Israeli
"left" has nothing to say. Ben-Gurion and the rest Israel's founders
would be appalled.
One thing I'm reminded of is that Golda Meir was quite explicit that
she considered the founder of Likud to be nothing less than a Fascist.
The fact is that the right has used security issues to undermine the
social democracy, turning Israel into a haven for what David Harvey
above calls feral capitalism, and Labor has been so preoccupied with
one-upping the right on security they've surrendered everything else.
Kind of like the Cold War Republicans and Democrats over here -- the
warmongering consensus that destroyed the labor movement and is still
threatening to wipe out the last vestiges of Roosevelt's New Deal:
something Roosevelt himself endangered by becoming all to fond of
his glorious war.
One from Robert Christgau:
As I've said dozens of times, I am not interested in boxes as boxes
and feel no obligation to spend the days if not weeks it would take to
determine if the latest industry profit-taker has an integrity of its
own (something almost no one obliged to review one of these monsters
for publication does, but I expect of myself). There are exceptions,
but these exceptions reflect my own personal and professional druthers
and needs. Nor am I the kind of audiophile interested in comparing
mastering jobs except under extreme circumstances. And by the way, I
almost never get a box for free anymore. I can request them when I
have a need, and sometimes therefore get them. But my basic advice
about boxes is one I as a consumer generally follow. Skip them.
I posted something on jazz (re Joe Yanosik) and boxes:
Note for Joe: Sure, Miles Davis cut some cool records for Prestige,
especially at the end when he knocked off four LPs in two days to
wrangle his way out of his contract (Cookin', Relaxin',
etc., although Walkin' was earlier). But I've long thought that
the one he held out for Columbia, 'Round About Midnight, was
his best with that band. (By the way, the 2-CD Legacy Edition adds
nothing of note.) Another related record, even cooler, you should hear
is Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section (i.e., Miles Davis's
As for boxes, I agree with most of what Bob said -- especially my
disinterest in judging remaster quality. I've also found that
publicists have gotten extremely (and irrationally) tight with
them. (It's much easier to get 4 CDs from most companies than one 4-CD
box, even though the gross margin on the latter has to be higher.) At
the height of my Recycled Goods column I wanted to do an all-boxes
column but just couldn't get the material. Even now I almost never get
jazz boxes, even when I specifically ask for them.
I had heard that the Prestige stuff was knocked off quick but I never hold
that against an artist.
Everything Prestige did in the 1950s was knocked off super-quick --
almost always single takes of head arrangements with whoever happened
to be in town at the time. Some guys like Gene Ammons were real good at
that, but if he had an off day (and he had more than his share) they'd
release that too. (Also Arnett Cobb: his Party Time has been
stuck in my bedtime rotation for months now, along with another Prestige
disc, Buck and Buddy Blow the Blues.) John Coltrane and Jackie
McLean are two guys who got a lot better when they left Prestige. (Miles
Davis, too, of course.) Only guy I can think of who peaked there was
Sonny Rollins, but in many ways he just found his plateau.
More Joe, asking what about Monk?
Sure, Monk's Prestiges are real good: probably better on average
than his Riversides, but the latter are what he's most revered for (at
least by most jazz critics), so it can be argued that he got better
when he moved on -- just wasn't as obvious example for me as Coltrane
and McLean. Even the latter cut good records for Prestige -- just
nothing like Giant Steps or New Soil.
A quick look at my database shows 58 A- or better Prestige albums,
and there are probably more hidden among the OJCs -- a pretty
remarkable record. Coleman Hawkins did very well there. Budd Johnson
cut two records, both real good. Lucky Thompson had one. Lee Konitz
had a great one real early (Subconscious-Lee). Booker Ervin had
a terrific run late in the label's history (The Space Book,
etc.). Eric Dolphy did good work there (but his best/most famous
record was the one on Blue Note). Lockjaw Davis did a lot of good
work; Very Saxy is probably the ultimate Prestige album. So
there are lots of good Prestige albums, but they were all done quick
and dirty, and unless an artist had a strong idea going in (as Monk
did, and Rollins, Konitz, Steve Lacy, and a few others) they just did
what came naturally. Given talent like Hawkins, or even Lockjaw, that
tended to work out fine.
Friday, August 12, 2011
Did all that Tea Party horseshit even happen? Or was it just a
fake media event? I've read two books on the subject --
Kate Zernike: Boiling
Mad: Inside Tea Party America (2010, Times Books), and
Jill Lepore: The Whites
of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle Over
American History -- the former claiming it's a big deal and
the latter contrasting myths and historical facts. Someone will no
doubt do something more systematic in the near future, but unless
they get into who paid for what and why you won't really have much.
On the other hand, one thing you do have is Michele Bachmann, who
rose from backbench Republican to media star almost wholly on her
claim to be the Tea Party's political voice. Which is one reason
why the Tea Party was nothing more than mass hallucination: if not,
someone would come forth to discredit her.
Bachmann's presidential campaign is an improbable one, but she's
already all but knocked out her two closest competitors: her fellow
(and senior) Minnesota Republican, Tim Pawlenty, who looks confused
and pathetic trying to outflank her on the right; meanwhile, although
early on she was dubbed "Sarah Palin's stunt double," she stole that
role so completely Palin rarely bothers even to phone it in.
Let's start with:
Mat Taibbi: Michele Bachmann's Holy War.
Bachmann is a religious zealot whose brain is a raging electrical
storm of divine visions and paranoid delusions. She believes that the
Chinese are plotting to replace the dollar bill, that light bulbs are
killing our dogs and cats, and that God personally chose her to become
both an IRS attorney who would spend years hounding taxpayers and a
raging anti-tax Tea Party crusader against big government. She kicked
off her unofficial presidential campaign in New Hampshire, by mistakenly
declaring it the birthplace of the American Revolution. "It's your state
that fired the shot that was heard around the world!" she gushed. "You
are the state of Lexington and Concord, you started the battle for
liberty right here in your backyard." [ . . . ]
Bachmann's story, to hear her tell it, is about a suburban homemaker
who is chosen by God to become a politician who will restore faith and
family values to public life and do battle with secular humanism. But by
the time you've finished reviewing her record of lies and embellishments
and contradictions, you'll have no idea if she actually believes in her
own divine inspiration, or whether it's a big con job.
Taibbi flips through her biography: born Michele Amble in Waterloo,
IA, but grew up in Anoka, MN. In her teens, parents divorced; mother
remarried, expanding her family to nine step-siblings. Found Jesus at
16. Attended Winona State University, where she "met a doltish, like-minded
believer named Marcus Bachmann. After college, they moved to Oklahoma,
"where Michele entered one of the most ridiculous learning institutions
in the Western Hemisphere, a sort of highway rest area with legal
accreditation called the O.W. Coburn School of Law":
Michele was a member of its inaugural class in 1979.
Originally a division of Oral Roberts University, this august academy,
dedicated to the teaching of "the law from a biblical worldview," has gone
through no fewer than three names -- including the Christian Broadcasting
Network School of Law. Those familiar with the darker chapters in George
W. Bush's presidency might recognize the school's current name, the Regent
University School of Law. Yes, this was the tiny educational outhouse that,
despite being the 136th-ranked law school in the country, where 60 percent
of graduates flunked the bar, produced a flood of entrants into the Bush
Regent was unabashed in its desire that its graduates enter government
and become "change agents" who would help bring the law more in line with
"eternal principles of justice," i.e., biblical morality. To that end,
Bachmann was mentored by a crackpot Christian extremist professor named
John Eidsmoe, a frequent contributor to John Birch Society publications
who once opined that he could imagine Jesus carrying an M16 and who spent
considerable space in one of his books musing about the feasibility of
criminalizing blasphemy. [ . . . ]
When Bachmann finished her studies in Oklahoma, Marcus instructed her
to do her postgraduate work in tax law -- a command Michele took as divinely
ordained. She would later profess to complete surprise at God's choice for
her field of study. "Tax law? I hate taxes," she said. "Why should I go and
do something like that?" Still, she sucked it up and did as she was told.
"The Lord says: Be submissive, wives, you are to be submissive to your
They then moved to Stillwater, MN, "where they raised their five children
and took in 23 foster kids." She worked for the IRS, then quit in 1993,
edging into politics: "she didn't become a major player in Stillwater until
she joined a group of fellow Christian activists to form New Heights, one
of the first charter schools in America."
But before long, parents began to complain that Bachmann and her
cronies were trying to bombard the students with Christian dogma --
advocating the inclusion of something called the "12 Biblical Principles"
into the curriculum, pushing the teaching of creationism and banning
the showing of the Disney movie Aladdin because it promoted
"One member of Michele's entourage talked about how he had visions,
and that God spoke to him directly," recalled Denise Stephens, a parent
who was opposed to the religious curriculum at New Heights. "He told us
that as Christians we had to lay our lives down for it. I remember
getting in the car with my husband afterward and telling him, 'This
is a cult.'"
Under pressure from parents, Bachmann resigned from New Heights. But
the experience left her with a hang-up about the role of the state in
public education. She was soon mobilizing against an educational-standards
program called Profile of Learning, an early precursor to No Child Left
Behind. Under the program, state educators and local businesses teamed
up to craft a curriculum that would help young people prepare for the
work force -- but Bachmann saw through their devious scheme. "She thought
it was a socialist plot to turn our children into little worker-automatons,"
says Bill Prendergast, a Stillwater resident who wrote for the town's
newspaper and has documented every step of Bachmann's career.
[ . . . ]
Bachmann's anti-standards crusade led her to her first political run.
In 1999, she joined four other Republicans in Stillwater in an attempt
to seize control of the school board. The "Slate of Five" proved unpopular:
The GOP candidates finished dead last. Bachmann learned her lesson. "Since
then, she has never abdicated control of her campaign or her message to
anyone," says Cecconi, who defeated Bachmann in the race -- which remains
the only election Bachmann has ever lost.
There follows the story of how she came to run for the Minnesota State
Senate in 2006, which I won't try to straighten out. Taibbi's uptake:
Bachmann's entire political career has followed this exact same pattern
of God-speaks-directly-to-me fundamentalism mixed with pathological,
relentless, conscienceless lying. She's not a liar in the traditional
way of politicians, who tend to lie dully, usefully and (they hope)
believably, often with the aim of courting competing demographics at
the same time. That's not what Bachmann's thing is. Bachmann lies
because she can't help it, because it's a built-in component of both
her genetics and her ideology. She is at once the most entertaining
and the most dangerous kind of liar, a turbocharged cross between a
born bullshit artist and a religious fanatic, for whom lying to the
infidel is a kind of holy duty.
It has taken just over 10 years for Bachmann to go from small-town
PTA maven to serious presidential contender, a testament to both her
rare and unerring talent for generating media attention, and to her
truly astonishing energy level and narcissistic tenacity. Minnesota
politicians who have squared off against Bachmann all speak with a
kind of horrified reverence for her martial indomitability, her
brilliantly fortifying lack of self-doubt, even the fact that she
hasn't appeared to physically age at all in 10 years.
Taibbi complains that "since then, getting herself elected is
pretty much the only thing she has accomplished in politics," but
follows with a long story sequence showing that while she hasn't
passed any laws or legislative things like that, she has garnered
a whole lot of press, and fares as well with the bad as with the
Given how Bachmann's stature rises every time she does something we
laugh at, it's no wonder she's set her strangely unfocused eyes on the
White House. Since arriving in Congress, she has been a human tabloid-copy
machine, spouting one copy-worthy lunacy after another. She launched a
fierce campaign against compact fluorescent lights, claiming that the
energy-saving bulbs contain mercury and pose a "very real threat to
children, disabled people, pets, senior citizens." She blasted the 2010
census as a government plot and told people not to comply because the
U.S. Constitution doesn't require citizens to participate, when in fact
it does. She told her constituents to be "armed and dangerous" in their
resistance to cap-and-trade limits on climate-warming pollution. She
insisted that Obama's trip to India cost taxpayers $200 million a day,
and claimed that Nancy Pelosi had spent $100,000 on booze on state-paid
flights aboard military jets.
This is not to say that Bachmann hasn't played a prominent role in
Congress. Most significantly, she cannily positioned herself as the
congressional champion of the Tea Party; last summer she formed a Tea
Party caucus, which she now leads.
In other words, her Tea Party credentials are largely self-made,
but who's going to challenge her claim? Charles Koch? Not very likely
given that the Tea Party is allegedly a grassroots movement, led by
no one. But Bachmann's used it to claim a level of legitimacy that
she'd never have otherwise. Taibbi argues that she has a chance:
Even other Republicans, it seems, are making the mistake of laughing
at Bachmann. But consider this possibility: She wins Iowa, then swallows
the Tea Party and Christian vote whole for the next 30 or 40 primaries
while Romney and Pawlenty battle fiercely over who is the more "viable"
boring-white-guy candidate. Then Wall Street blows up again -- and it's
Barack Obama and a soaring unemployment rate versus a white, God-fearing
mother of 28 from the heartland.
It could happen. Michele Bachmann has found the flaw in the American
Death Star. She is a television camera's dream, a threat to do or say
something insane at any time, the ultimate reality-show protagonist.
She has brilliantly piloted a media system that is incapable of averting
its eyes from a story, riding that attention to an easy conquest of an
overeducated cultural elite from both parties that is far too full of
itself to understand the price of its contemptuous laughter. All of
those people out there aren't voting for Michele Bachmann. They're
voting against us. And to them, it turns out, we suck enough to make
anyone a contender.
Now we can move on to
Ryan Lizza: Leap of Faith: The Making of a Republican Front-Runner.
Lizza starts off getting on Bachmann's chartered jet from Washington
The only senior member of the [Bachmann's campaign] team not making
the trip was Ed Rollins, Bachmann's campaign manager. Rollins is famous
in Washington for two things: managing Ronald Reagan's successful
reëlection campaign against Walter Mondale in 1984, and developing
poisonous relationships with most of his high-profile employers since
then. They have included George H.W. Bush ("the worst campaigner to
actually get elected President," according to Rollins), Ross Perot
("a paranoid lunatic on an ego trip"), and Arianna Huffington ("the
most ruthless, unscrupulous, and ambitious person I'd met in thirty
years in national politics"). More recently, he has managed the
campaign of Mike Huckabee, appeared frequently on CNN, and worked
in corporate public relations.
As for the candidate:
Bachmann belongs to a generation of Christian conservatives whose
views have been shaped by institutions, tracts, and leaders not
commonly known to secular Americans, or even to most Christians.
Her campaign is going to be a conversation about a set of beliefs
more extreme than those of any American politician of her stature,
including Sarah Palin, to whom she is inevitably compared. Bachmann
said in 2004 that being gay is "personal enslavement," and that, if
same-sex marriage were legalized, "little children will be forced
to learn that homosexuality is normal and natural and that perhaps
they should try it." Speaking about gay-rights activists, that same
year, she said, "It is our children that is the prize for this
community." She believes that evolution is a theory that has "never
been proven," and that intelligent design should be taught in schools.
Bachmann's assertions on these issues are, unsurprisingly, disputed.
She is also often criticized for making factual errors on less
controversial matters. As commentators quickly pointed out, the
President during the first swine-flu outbreak was a Republican,
Gerald Ford [she had claimed Jimmy Carter, along with Obama linking
swine-flu outbreaks to Democratic presidents]. She got into more
trouble this spring when, during a trip to Iowa before she announced
her candidacy, she told a long story about her family's roots in the
Long story ensues, the upshot being that she managed to get most
of her personal story wrong. Then biographical background, follows
Taibbi above closely, except adds this bit:
In 1974, the year Bachmann graduated from high school, she spent
the summer on a kibbutz near Beersheba, Israel, with a program that
was something like Outward Bound for Christians. The trip gave her
a connection to Israel, a state whose creation, many American
evangelicals believe, is prophesied in the Bible. (St. Paul, in
the Letter to the Romans, says that Jews will one day gather again
in their homeland; modern fundamentalists see this, along with the
coming of the Antichrist, as presaging the Rapture.) "Our job was
to get up at four in the morning and go out to the cotton fields
and pick weeds," Bachmann told me. "When we would go out in the
morning, we would have soldiers that would go with us, and their
job was to go through the fields to make sure that there weren't
In 1975 she enrolled at Winona State University, met and married
Marcus Bachmann. In 1977 they "experienced a second life-altering
event" watching a series of films by Francis Schaeffer:
Schaeffer, who ran a mission in the Swiss Alps known as L'Abri
("the shelter"), opposed liberal trends in theology. One of the most
influential evangelical thinkers of the nineteen-seventies and early
eighties, he has been credited with getting a generation of Christians
involved in politics. Schaeffer's film series consists of ten episodes
tracing the influence of Christianity on Western art and culture,
from ancient Rome to Roe v. Wade. In the films, Schaeffer -- who has
a white goatee and is dressed in a shearling coat and mountain climber's
knickers -- condemns the influence of the Italian Renaissance, the
Enlightenment, Darwin, secular humanism, and postmodernism. He
repeatedly reminds viewers of the "inerrancy" of the Bible and the
necessity of a Biblical world view. "There is only one real solution,
and that's right back where the early church was," Schaeffer tells
his audience. "The early church believed that only the Bible was the
final authority. What these people really believed and what gave them
their whole strength was in the truth of the Bible as the absolute
infallible word of God."
Schaeffer, by the way, is a key figure in Max Blumenthal's
Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party. Although Schaeffer
was absolutely rabid on abortion, he turned out to be rather soft on
homosexuality, so his followers wound up picking and choosing. His
son Frank Schaeffer, who directed the films in question, later had
second thoughts, writing Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of
the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All
(or Almost All) of It Back. Lizza continues:
Schaeffer died in 1984. I asked his son Frank, who directed the
movies -- and who has since left the evangelical movement and become
a novelist -- about the change in tone. He told me that it all had
to do with Roe v. Wade, which was decided by the Supreme Court while
the film was being made. "Those first episodes are what Francis
Schaeffer is doing while he was sitting in Switzerland having nice
discussions with people who came through to find Jesus and talk
about culture and art," he said. But then the Roe decision came,
and "it wasn't a theory anymore. Now 'they' are killing babies.
Then everything started getting unhinged. It wasn't just that we
disagreed with the Supreme Court; it's that they're evil. It isn't
just that the federal government may be taking too much power; now
they are abusing it. We had been warning that humanism followed to
its logical conclusion without Biblical absolutes is going to go
into terrible places, and, look, it's happening right before our
very eyes. Once that happens, everything becomes a kind of holy war,
and if not an actual conspiracy then conspiracy-like."
Francis Schaeffer instructed his followers and students at L'Abri
that the Bible was not just a book but "the total truth." He was a
major contributor to the school of thought now known as Dominionism,
which relies on Genesis 1:26, where man is urged to "have dominion
over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the
cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that
creepeth upon the earth." Sara Diamond, who has written several books
about evangelical movements in America, has succinctly defined the
philosophy that resulted from Schaeffer's interpretation: "Christians,
and Christians alone, are Biblically mandated to occupy all secular
institutions until Christ returns."
In 1981, three years before he died, Schaeffer published "A Christian
Manifesto," a guide for Christian activism, in which he argues for the
violent overthrow of the government if Roe v. Wade isn't reversed. In
his movie, Schaeffer warned that America's descent into tyranny would
not look like Hitler's or Stalin's; it would probably be guided stealthily,
by "a manipulative, authoritarian élite."
That is, by someone much like Barack Obama. Lizza cites Nancy
Pearcey's Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural
Captivity as developing this worldview further:
When, in 2005, the Minneapolis Star Tribune asked Bachmann
what books she had read recently, she mentioned two: Ann Coulter's
Treason, a jeremiad that accuses liberals of lacking patriotism,
and Pearcey's Total Truth, which Bachmann told me was a
As Taibbi notes, Bachman went to O.W. Coburn School of Law in
The first issue of the law review, Journal of Christian
Jurisprudence, explains the two goals of the school: "to equip
our students with the ability to bring God's healing power to
reconcile individuals and to restore community wholeness," and
"to restore law to its historic roots in the Bible."
Among the professors were Herbert W. Titus, a Vice-Presidential
candidate of the far-right U.S. Taxpayers Party (now called the
Constitution Party), and John Whitehead, who started the Rutherford
Institute, a conservative legal-advocacy group. The law review
published essays by Schaeffer and Rousas John Rushdoony, a prominent
Dominionist who has called for a pure Christian theocracy in which
Old Testament law -- execution for adulterers and homosexuals, for
example -- would be instituted. In a 1982 essay in the law review,
Rushdoony condemned the secularization of public schools and declared,
"With the coming collapse of humanistic statism, the Christian must
prepare to take over, he must prepare for victory."
[ . . . ]
Bachmann worked for a professor named John Eidsmoe, who got her
interested in the burgeoning homeschool movement. She helped him
build a database of state homeschooling statutes, assisting his
crusade to reverse laws that prevented parents from homeschooling
their children. After that, Bachmann worked as Eidsmoe's research
assistant on his book Christianity and the Constitution,
published in 1987.
Eidsmoe explained to me how the Coburn School of Law, in the
years that Bachmann was there, wove Christianity into the legal
curriculum. "Say we're talking in criminal law, and we get to the
subject of the insanity defense," he said. "Well, Biblically
speaking, is there such a thing as insanity and is it a defense
for a crime? We might look back to King David when he's captured
by the Philistines and he starts frothing at the mouth, playing
crazy and so on." When Biblical law conflicted with American law,
Eidsmoe said, O.R.U. students were generally taught that "the
first thing you should try to do is work through legal means and
political means to get it changed."
Christianity and the Constitution is ostensibly a scholarly
work about the religious beliefs of the Founders, but it is really
a brief for political activism. Eidsmoe writes that America "was and
to a large extent still is a Christian nation," and that "our culture
should be permeated with a distinctively Christian flavoring." When
I asked him if he believed that Bachmann's views were fully consistent
with the prevailing ideology at O.R.U. and the themes of his book, he
said, "Yes." Later, he added, "I do not know of any way in which they
are not." [ . . . ]
Bachmann has not, however, distanced herself, and she has long
described her work for Eidsmoe as an important part of her résumé.
This spring, she told a church audience in Iowa, "I went down to
Oral Roberts University, and one of the professors that had a great
influence on me was an Iowan named John Eidsmoe. He's from Iowa,
and he's a wonderful man. He has theology degrees, he has law
degrees, he's absolutely brilliant. He taught me about so many
aspects of our godly heritage."
In 1986, the Bachmanns moved to Virginia Beach, where Marcus
"earned a master's degree in counselling at Pat Robertson's C.B.N.
University, now known as Regent University," and Michele studied
tax law at the College of William and Mary. They then moved back
to Minnesota, where Bachmann worked for the I.R.S.
Two of Bachmann's five children were born while she worked for the
I.R.S., and all six former colleagues said that the primary fact they
remembered about Bachmann was that she spent a good portion of her
time on maternity leave -- the I.R.S. had a fairly generous policy --
and that caused resentment.
"Basically, the rest of us that were here were handling Michele's
inventory," one former colleague said. "In her four years, she probably
didn't get more than two, two and a half years of experience. So she
was doing lightweight stuff." A second colleague said, "She was an
attorney here, but she was never here." (Bachmann declined a request
to respond.) [ . . . ]
After the birth of her fourth child, in 1992, Bachmann left the
I.R.S. to be a stay-at-home mother. The Bachmanns also began taking
in foster children, all of whom were teen-age girls and many of whom
had eating disorders. Bachmann's motivation seems to have been to
save the girls, in the same way that she had been saved. "In my heart,
God put something in me toward young people that I wanted to make sure
the Gospel would go out to young people," she said, in 2006. "So that
young people could come to know Jesus at an early age, the earlier the
better, so that they wouldn't have to go through those pitfalls."
[ . . . ]
In 1993, Bachmann became disturbed by schoolwork the foster children
were bringing home. One high-school math assignment involved a coloring
project. She began to wonder what had happened to the disciplined
education system of her youth. When she was in school, she said in a
speech, "the shop teacher also had a board hung up in the shop class
with holes bored in it, and he would use that on the backside if somebody
got out of line. Anybody remember those days? That's when I grew up. And
it worked really well." Her foster children's homework, she continued,
"had more to do with indoctrinating kids than educating kids. And the
indoctrination had to do with anti-parent themes, anti-Biblical themes,
anti-education themes, anti-academic themes."
Such concerns over education got her into politics (as Taibbi also
Around this time, Bachmann became interested in the writings of
David A. Noebel, the founder and director of Summit Ministries, an
educational organization founded to reverse the harmful effects of
what it calls "our current post-Christian culture." He was a longtime
John Birch Society member, whose pamphlets include "The Homosexual
Revolution: End Time Abomination," and "Communism, Hypnotism, and
the Beatles," in which Noebel argued that the band was being used by
Communists to infiltrate the minds of young Americans. Bachmann once
gave a speech touting her relationship with Noebel's organization.
"I went on to serve on the board of directors with Summit Ministries,"
she said, adding that Summit's message is "wonderful and worthwhile."
She has also recommended to supporters Noebel's "Understanding the
Times," a book that is popular in the Christian homeschooling movement.
In it, he explains that the "Secular Humanist worldview" is one of
America's greatest threats. Bachmann's analysis of education law
similarly veered off into conspiratorial warnings. "Government now
will be controlling people," she said during one lecture on education,
at a church in Minnesota.
There is a section here on "Michele's Must Read List," including
a biography of Robert E. Lee by J. Steven Wilkins, who argues that
African slaves brought to America were "essentially lucky" -- after
all, what better way to be saved by Christianity?
Bachmann, meanwhile, takes pains to stake her candidacy on the
treasured word "liberty":
Bachmann and her political consultants also know that her inoffensive
ode to liberty is necessary because many voters don't respond well to
religious language. The more Bachmann talks about God, the more she is
likely to be asked about Schaeffer, Eidsmoe, Noebel, and some of the
other exotic influences on her thinking. The success of her campaign
will rest partly on her ability to keep these influences, which she
has talked about for years, out of the public discussion. As I started
getting deeper into a conversation with her about Schaeffer, she abruptly
ended the interview. She said she had to leave for an appearance on
"Hannity" but would try to set up another time to talk. I didn't hear
from her again. Her press secretary later told me that Bachmann "wasn't
comfortable with the line of questions, and that's why there wasn't a
The second risk to Bachmann's campaign is one that's harder to
control. Part of what's so appealing about her is that she speaks
passionately and off the cuff. But she often seems to speak before
she thinks, garbles words, mixes up history, or says things that
don't make sense. At some point, when more people are paying
attention, she might go just a bit too far.
Alex Pareene has a review of Lizza's piece:
That's just the bits of the profile dealing with Bachmann's spiritual
and ideological mentors and influences. I didn't even paste the amazing
Marcus Bachmann color or the tale of her horrible religious charter
school or the many stories of how much Bachmann lies about her own
background -- go read the whole thing!
Even in a post-Glenn Beck world where far-right extremism has become
fairly normalized and occasionally embraced by a Republican Party that
used to at least act embarrassed about its neo-Confederates and John
Birchers and straight-up theocrats, Bachmann's ideological background
is both radically anti-American (in the sense that America is a pluralist
nation founded on Enlightenment values and not a pro-slavery Christian
theocracy) and way, way outside the "mainstream." She's not just a
hard-right-winger -- and not just a slightly dim "nut" -- but a full-on
fringe character, a bigot following a bizarre strain of born-againism
that even your average American evangelical would find too
conspiracy-obsessed and ahistorical to be palatable.
Michelle Goldberg: Bachman's Unrivaled Extremism:
On Monday, Bachmann didn't talk a lot about her religion. She didn't
have to -- she knows how to signal it in ways that go right over secular
heads. In criticizing Obama's Libya policy, for example, she said, "We
are the head and not the tail." The phrase comes from Deuteronomy 28:13:
"The Lord will make you the head and not the tail." As Rachel Tabachnick
has reported, it's often used in theocratic circles to explain why
Christians have an obligation to rule.
Indeed, no other candidate in the race is so completely a product
of the evangelical right as Bachmann; she could easily become the
Christian conservative alternative to the comparatively moderate
Mormon Mitt Romney. "Michele Bachmann's a complete package," says
Ralph Reed, the former Christian Coalition wunderkind who now runs
the Faith and Freedom Coalition. "She's got charisma, she's got an
authentic faith testimony, she's a proven fighter for conservative
values, and she's well known." She's also great at raising money --
in the 2010 cycle, she amassed a record-breaking $13.2 million in
Goldberg recounts the same bio, including pivotal appearances
by Francis Schaeffer and John Eidsmore, winding up in politics.
Not that this means anything, but Bachmann did manage to win the
Ames Straw Poll, although Ron Paul ran a close second. Rick Perry
would have come in sixth on write-in votes, which is more impressive
looking at the people below him (Romney, Gingrich, Huntsman) than those
above him (Cain, Santorum, Pawlenty). Elsewhere I read that Perry got
99% of the write-in votes, which means that others (like Sarah Palin)
could have split no more than 7 votes.
As for 9th place finisher, Thaddeus McCotter, the first I heard of
him was when I was researching a record called Mad About Thad
(a Thad Jones tribute), and ran across a website called Mad at Thad
(McCotter). By the way, I thought John Bolton was running. Has he
given up, or is he just batting below the McCotter line?
Thursday, August 11, 2011
It's piling up again. But first, Paul Krugman posted the deepest
analysis I've seen of this week's roller coaster on Wall Street, a
little thing he called
Efficient Markets in Action. (If you don't get the title, check
out John Quiggin: Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk
Among Us, which has a full autopsy of the Efficient Markets
Hypothesis; also covered in John Cassidy: How Markets Fail: The
Logic of Economic Calamities, and Yves Smith: Econned: How
Unenlightened Self Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted
Capitalism; all recommended.)
Some more links squirreled away this (half-)week:
Steve Benen: Limbaugh Revisits Early 2009:
Rush Limbaugh is claiming that "Obama 'inherited' a great situation
from Bush" -- a key part of that situation was the AAA credit rating
the House Republicans just blew up.
But in the bigger picture, 2009 wasn't that long ago, and if the right
really wants to talk about what Obama "inherited," I suspect
that would be fine with the White House.
After all, following eight years of spectacular Republican failures,
Obama took office when the nation was in freefall. Arguably no president
in American history started his first day with a list like this: the
Great Recession, two deadly wars, a jobs crisis, a massive deficit and
budget mess, crushing debt, a health care system in shambles, a climate
crisis, an ineffective energy policy, an equally ineffective immigration
policy, a housing crisis, the U.S. auto industry on the verge of collapse,
a mess at Gitmo, a severely tarnished global reputation, an executive
branch damaged by corruption, incompetence, and mismanagement, and an
angry, deeply divided electorate.
It was, by most measures, the worst national conditions ever faced
by a newly-elected president.
Limbaugh wants his minions to believe Bush bequeathed a healthy,
prosperous nation. That's insane.
Steve Benen: Corporations and Context:
Mitt Romney explains "why he's unwilling to raise taxes on corporations
to protect entitlements": "Corporations are people, my friend." Uh, sure,
people work for corporations, but under conditions that frequently lead
to the use of terms like "dehumanizing." And corporations are owned by
people, but increasingly they're foreigners because we keep running huge
trade deficits, and the corporations (uh, "people") who reap those profits
have to return the money somehow, which they mostly do by buying up US
assets, like corporations (uh, "people"). Actually, corporations are what
we should mostly be taxing, because they handle so much money, and because
they have some flexibility in terms of passing taxes on as prices or, if
the market won't bear that, absorbing them from profits. Benen sort of
gets into this, then changes direction and asks: "why does Mitt Romney
believe corporations can't be subjected to tax increases, but they can
be broken up and sold for parts to make Romney rich?" This refers to
Romney's background as head of leveraged buyout firm Bain Capital. He
then lets Steve Colbert explain, as should I:
You see, Romney made a Mittload of cash using what's known as a leveraged
buyout. He'd buy a company with "money borrowed against their assets,
groomed them to be sold off and in the interim collect huge management
fees." Once Mitt had control of the company, he'd cut frivolous spending
like "jobs," "workers," "employees," and "jobs.'
[ . . . ]
Because Mitt Romney knows just how to trim the fat. He rescued businesses
like Dade Behring, Stage Stories, American Pad and Paper, and GS Industries,
then his company sold them for a profit of $578 million after which all of
those firms declared bankruptcy. Which sounds bad, but don't worry, almost
no one worked there anymore.
Besides, a businessman can't be weighed down with a bleeding heart. As
one former Bain employee put it, "It was very clinical . . .
Like a doctor. When the patient is dead, you just move on to the next
Romney slashed American jobs as if his career depended on it -- and it
did. Frank Rich recently explained, "In [his 1994 Senate] campaign,
Romney was stalked by a 'Truth Squad' of striking workers from a Marion,
Indiana, paper plant who had lost jobs, wages, health care, and pensions
after Ampad, a Bain subsidiary, took control. Ampad eventually went
bankrupt, but Bain walked away with $100 million for its $5 million
investment. It was an all-too-typical Romney story."
"Corporations are people"? In this little figure of speech, wouldn't
that make Mitt Romney a metaphorical serial killer?
Romney's also getting flack for this:
Natasha Leonard: When Mitt Romney Bragged About Raising Taxes,
not that anyone -- least of all Romney -- cares about what he said
about anything 6-8-10 years ago. These things will nag at Romney
all the way home, but Republicans have proven to be pretty tolerant
of past sins as long as one toes the line now. Also, Romney, like
Obama, is blessed by the quality of his opposition. Consider, for
instance, Rick Perry:
Justin Elliott: "My Faith Requires Me to Support Israel": no
room for analysis here, straight on to Armageddon.
Barbara Ehrenreich: On Americans (Not) Getting By (Again):
Looks back at her 2001 book Nickel and Dimed and finds much to
add for a "2011 Version."
We do of course have a collective way of ameliorating the hardships
of individuals and families -- a government safety net that is meant
to save the poor from spiraling down all the way to destitution. But
its response to the economic emergency of the last few years has been
spotty at best. The food stamp program has responded to the crisis
fairly well, to the point where it now reaches about 37 million people,
up about 30% from pre-recession levels. But welfare -- the traditional
last resort for the down-and-out until it was "reformed" in 1996 --
only expanded by about 6% in the first two years of the recession.
The difference between the two programs? There is a right to food
stamps. You go to the office and, if you meet the statutory definition
of need, they help you. For welfare, the street-level bureaucrats can,
pretty much at their own discretion, just say no.
[ . . . ]
The most shocking thing I learned from my research on the fate of
the working poor in the recession was the extent to which poverty has
indeed been criminalized in America.
Perhaps the constant suspicions of drug use and theft that I
encountered in low-wage workplaces should have alerted me to the fact
that, when you leave the relative safety of the middle class, you might
as well have given up your citizenship and taken residence in a hostile
Most cities, for example, have ordinances designed to drive the
destitute off the streets by outlawing such necessary activities
of daily life as sitting, loitering, sleeping, or lying down. Urban
officials boast that there is nothing discriminatory about such laws:
"If you're lying on a sidewalk, whether you're homeless or a millionaire,
you're in violation of the ordinance," a St. Petersburg, Florida, city
attorney stated in June 2009, echoing Anatole France's immortal
observation that "the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the
rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges . . ."
In defiance of all reason and compassion, the criminalization of
poverty has actually intensified as the weakened economy generates ever
more poverty. So concludes a recent study from the National Law Center
on Poverty and Homelessness, which finds that the number of ordinances
against the publicly poor has been rising since 2006, along with the
harassment of the poor for more "neutral" infractions like jaywalking,
littering, or carrying an open container. [ . . . ]
In what has become a familiar pattern, the government defunds services
that might help the poor while ramping up law enforcement. Shut down public
housing, then make it a crime to be homeless. Generate no public-sector
jobs, then penalize people for falling into debt. The experience of the
poor, and especially poor people of color, comes to resemble that of a
rat in a cage scrambling to avoid erratically administered electric
shocks. And if you should try to escape this nightmare reality into a
brief, drug-induced high, it's "gotcha" all over again, because that
of course is illegal too.
One result is our staggering level of incarceration, the highest in
the world. Today, exactly the same number of Americans -- 2.3 million --
reside in prison as in public housing. And what public housing remains
has become ever more prison-like, with random police sweeps and, in a
growing number of cities, proposed drug tests for residents. The safety
net, or what remains of it, has been transformed into a dragnet.
Paul Krugman: Dismal Thoughts:
To be an economist of my stripe these days -- basically a Keynes-via-Hicks
type, who concluded as soon as Lehman fell that we were in a classic
liquidity trap with all that implied -- is a bittersweet experience,
with the bitter vastly greater than the sweet.
The good news, such as it is, is that our underlying model has performed
very well. Interest rates have stayed low despite large government borrowing;
crowding out has been totally absent; huge increases in the monetary base
have not been highly inflationary.
The bad news is that policy makers almost everywhere have failed dismally,
and seem determined not to take on board the lessons of experience, either
historical or what we've learned the past few years.
[ . . . ]
I'm still trying to make sense of this global intellectual failure.
But the results are not in question: we are making a total mess of a
solvable problem, with consequences that will haunt us for decades to
Robert Reich: Why the President Doesn't Present a Bold Plan to Create
Jobs and Jumpstart the Economy:
Americans are deeply confused about why the economy is so bad -- and
their President isn't telling them. In fact, the White House apparently
has decided to join with Republicans and blame it on the long-term
budget deficit. [ . . . ]
Which gets me to the President. Even though the President's two
former top economic advisors (Larry Summers and Christy Roemer) have
called for a major fiscal boost to the economy, the President has
remained mum. Why?
I'm told White House political operatives are against a bold jobs
plan. They believe the only jobs plan that could get through Congress
would be so watered down as to have almost no impact by Election Day.
They also worry the public wouldn't understand how more government
spending in the near term can be consistent with long-term deficit
reduction. And they fear Republicans would use any such initiative
to further bash Obama as a big spender.
So rather than fight for a bold jobs plan, the White House has
apparently decided it's politically wiser to continue fighting about
the deficit. The idea is to keep the public focused on the deficit
drama -- to convince them their current economic woes have something
to do with it, decry Washington's paralysis over fixing it, and then
claim victory over whatever outcome emerges from the process recently
negotiated to fix it. They hope all this will distract the public's
attention from the President's failure to do anything about continuing
high unemployment and economic anemia.
Actually, Obama isn't doing either. He isn't able to campaign against
Republican obstruction of his bold job creation program because he's
too timid to even present one. If he did so, he'd have concrete proof
that Republicans don't really care about jobs, and a case to take to
the voters. Moreover, he'd be able to point out that every Republican
president since Hoover believed in fiscal expansion to fight recessions;
it's only these Republicans who reject Economics 101, and they're only
doing so because they find it politically opportune.
On the other hand, even having surrendered to the Republicans debt
issue he hasn't managed to show up the Republicans' hypocrisy: unless
they're willing to raise taxes, at least in the short term, they're
simply not serious about their issue. But because he can't pass a bill
raising taxes, he doesn't bother presenting one, pushing for one,
campaigning on one. So on the one hand, he shies away from arguing with
the Republicans over principles, including basic understanding of how
the world works (leaving the people unexposed to anything but right-wing
propaganda), and on the other hand he declined to present anything that
might work because the Republicans won't let it. He is a prisoner in
his own house.
John Paul Rollert: What Republicans Get Wrong About Capitalism:
On Adam Smith's famous passage about self-interest leading to a
Thankfully, says Smith, human beings have a natural propensity to
negotiate or, as he describes it, to truck, barter, and exchange.
"Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want"
is not only the manner in which we acquire most things in this world,
but it is the building block for an economically advanced society.
Thus, Smith declares in his most famous passage:
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the
baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own
interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their
self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of
People who read this passage and nothing else of Smith tend to
regard it as an affirmation of the virtue and efficacy of selfishness
over and against the relative impotence of altruism. But that isn't
its significance for Smith. Yes, our personal interests act as a
sharper spur to action than the interests of others, but the same
may be said for the cocker spaniel. The difference is not that we
have selfish interests, but that only by understanding the interests
of others are we able to fulfill our own.
So how did Smith's subtle argument get twisted into a paean for
greed? Mostly through retelling by the very greedy:
Consider Andrew Carnegie's perspective on who makes capitalism work
in his essay "The Gospel of Wealth." Writing a century after Smith's
death, the steel magnate describes the decisive moment when human
beings began to favor a model of free competition that saw the
separation of "the drones from the bees," a process that allowed
for the "accumulation of wealth by those who have the ability and
energy that produce it." Carnegie says of such people (who happen
to look a lot like him) that they are so essential to society's
development that those who object to the inequalities of a free
market system might as well "urge the destruction of the highest
existing type of man." In the same spirit, roughly 75 years later,
Ayn Rand, in her aptly titled "What Is Capitalism?," focuses on
the "the innovators" who promote a society's development. They
are an "exceptional minority," she says, "who lift the whole of
a free society to the level of their own achievements." What does
everyone else contribute? On Rand's account -- nothing. "The man
at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to
all those below him," she says, "but gets nothing except his
material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others
to add to the value of his time. The man at the bottom who, left
to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contribute
nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all their
This is a striking alternative to Smith's vision. Instead of
"the assistance and co-operation of many thousands," it is an
elite caste that provides the vision, brains, and organizational
savvy that ensure a thriving economy. They are the Visible Hand
of capitalism, and for Carnegie, Rand, and others like them, if
you want to know who makes capitalism work, simply stand at the
base of the economic pyramid and look up. You'll find the "job
creators" at the very top.
Smith would be highly skeptical of such claims. In the final
edition of the Theory of Moral Sentiments, written over a
decade after The Wealth of Nations, he added a chapter in
which he describes the "disposition to admire, and almost to
worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least,
to neglect persons of poor and mean condition." This disposition,
Smith says, colors the way we view the world, leading us to
conflate wealth and greatness with virtue and poverty and
weakness with vice.
Someone suggested having a P&J poll for EW reader/commenters.
On the "EW P&J" idea, I did something similar 2002-03 with about a
dozen voters each time. It was predictable (Sleater-Kinney won in
2002, Buck 65 in 2003) but not without interest. Should still be
working at Christgau's website: start with
and work from there. I've long thought that the top-10-only focus limited
one of the main values of such a poll, which is to help you find obscure
things you missed, so I tried to do something about that.
I'm not proposing anything here. Just pointing out some relevant data.
Update: On second thought, there is something to be said
about living in a world where Buck 65 wins polls. Also shows, I think
clearly, that he would have done better in the big poll if more people
had heard the record (and didn't because they hadn't).
Alex Wilson has issued a couple rants about the rioters in Britain,
including this bit:
People will undeniably associate the riots with the common answers
for any trouble in Britain: wealth, education, etc, etc. I think chavs
are just poorly educated, perhaps poorly raised and are just bad
people in many cases. The fact that many of them probably don't work,
scrounge benefits (coming out of decent citizens pockets) and spend
them on drugs and generally think it is cool to beat people up, mug,
rape, steal and kill, never seems to come into it. If these weren't
kids and were adults, they would be classed as criminals -- and
psychopathic ones at that. These rioters just want to fich sh!t up,
etc, and have little morals. Of course, I want -- and expect --
rational debate about this matter, and I am not just being myopic in
my conclusions, but people who do these kinds of things should not be
reasoned with. They don't deserve it. Any 'reasons' that come up
during the debates over the coming months will be: that kids feel
isolated from society, the class/wealth gap, taxes, lack of jobs,
education, parenting, etc. Some of these factors have relevance. Lack
of jobs is not one of them; if these chavs acted appropriately, they
would be able to find a job, and this should not be blamed on the
recession. The reason they can't find work is because a. they don't
want to, and b. they are ill-educated (not their fault), have poor
work ethics and poor morals! It's hilarious -- well, in this case, not
so funny -- how they can't see the irony!
Joe Lunday notices a lot of alt-pop/indie-rock in my metacritic
Joe Lunday: I've done metacritic files 3-4 years now (although never
this detailed this early) and I'm not under the impression that
there's anything unusual about this year's alt-pop/indie-rock
dominance: it's always like that, and if you had asked me I would have
said that if anything it's slightly down this year. It's what the
sources cover, and that shows up not just in my counts but especially
in the MC denominators. (Wild Beasts, by the way, was
underreported. Just rechecked and it has 27 MC reviews instead of 11,
but that only added 3 to the count.) I go out of my way to grab extra
country, hip-hop, and jazz sources, but they're still way down the
list. I don't have much in the way of world music sources, so they're
in even worse shape.
There are other built-in selection biases, like the fact that
nearly half of the pubs are UK-based. If I kept more data I could tune
this more, but that would be a lot more work, or infrastructure (which
is pretty much the same thing).
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Drew Westen had a big piece in the New York Times on Sunday,
What Happened to Obama?
Westen wrote a book in 2007 called The Political Brain: The Role of
Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation (paperback, 2008, Public
Affairs), which purported to explain why some political arguments work
and why many, including the analytical mode commonly dismissed as wonk,
don't. (I have a copy of the book, but haven't gotten around to reading
it -- perhaps because I'd rather stay on the wonk side, where arguments
are subject to evaluation rather than merely being positioned propaganda
points meant to persuade. The latter is obviously relevant to the way
politics are routinely practiced in America, but that always feels like
part of the problem, not part of the solution.)
Westen starts by reimagining Obama's 2009 inauguration speech:
When Barack Obama rose to the lectern on Inauguration Day, the nation
was in tatters. Americans were scared and angry. The economy was spinning
in reverse. Three-quarters of a million people lost their jobs that month.
Many had lost their homes, and with them the only nest eggs they had. Even
the usually impervious upper middle class had seen a decade of stagnant
or declining investment, with the stock market dropping in value with no
end in sight. Hope was as scarce as credit.
In that context, Americans needed their president to tell them a story
that made sense of what they had just been through, what caused it, and
how it was going to end. They needed to hear that he understood what they
were feeling, that he would track down those responsible for their pain
and suffering, and that he would restore order and safety. What they were
waiting for, in broad strokes, was a story something like this:
"I know you're scared and angry. Many of you have lost your jobs, your
homes, your hope. This was a disaster, but it was not a natural disaster.
It was made by Wall Street gamblers who speculated with your lives and
futures. It was made by conservative extremists who told us that if we
just eliminated regulations and rewarded greed and recklessness, it would
all work out. But it didn't work out. And it didn't work out 80 years ago,
when the same people sold our grandparents the same bill of goods, with
the same results. But we learned something from our grandparents about
how to fix it, and we will draw on their wisdom. We will restore business
confidence the old-fashioned way: by putting money back in the pockets of
working Americans by putting them back to work, and by restoring integrity
to our financial markets and demanding it of those who want to run them.
I can't promise that we won't make mistakes along the way. But I can
promise you that they will be honest mistakes, and that your government
has your back again." A story isn't a policy. But that simple narrative --
and the policies that would naturally have flowed from it -- would have
inoculated against much of what was to come in the intervening two and a
half years of failed government, idled factories and idled hands. That
story would have made clear that the president understood that the
American people had given Democrats the presidency and majorities in
both houses of Congress to fix the mess the Republicans and Wall Street
had made of the country, and that this would not be a power-sharing
arrangement. It would have made clear that the problem wasn't tax-and-spend
liberalism or the deficit -- a deficit that didn't exist until George W.
Bush gave nearly $2 trillion in tax breaks largely to the wealthiest
Americans and squandered $1 trillion in two wars.
And perhaps most important, it would have offered a clear, compelling
alternative to the dominant narrative of the right, that our problem is
not due to spending on things like the pensions of firefighters, but to
the fact that those who can afford to buy influence are rewriting the
rules so they can cut themselves progressively larger slices of the
American pie while paying less of their fair share for it.
But there was no story -- and there has been none since.
Westen then goes on to contrast Obama with FDR, but he fails to
note that Roosevelt in his own 1933 inaugural speech tried his best
to be upbeat: as I recall, that's where the "nothing to fear but
fear itself" line originated. (As it turns out, Obama did indeed
have enemies to fear that FDR never had to contend with, starting
with Rush Limbaugh.) There's no doubt in my mind that Obama should
have worked harder to remind people that the problems he inherited
were caused by previous administrations -- Bush above all, but also
Clinton had much to do with the wave of banking deregulation that
destroyed the economy. (Of course, when you're looking for villains,
it's always fair game to shine some light on Phil Gramm.) In not
doing so, he not only failed to "inoculate" himself from blame; he
let the Republicans off the hook, leaving them free to attack him
instead of having to defend themselves.
There's room for debate as to whether Obama actually believes in
the narrative Westen sketched out here. He did wind up irritating
some bankers with comments about bonuses and his support for a new
consumer protection agency, but otherwise he treated the bankers
awfully generously: loosening up liquidity by providing access to
virtually unlimited cash, whitewashing bank liabilities with fake
"stress tests," avoiding bankrupting any major banks, making sure
that any equity the government obtained would be powerless, and
not subjecting anyone short of Bernie Madoff to prosecution. It's
hard to see how any banker could complain, but spoiled titans like
Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein did anyway.
Westen dwells on the 2009 stimulus package, which as we should
recognize now was far short of what it would have taken to fill
the output gap, and with its inefficient tax cuts produced less
stimulus than its sticker value promised. It's hard to tell what
was worse: selling too small a stimulus package, or pretending
that what passed would do the job. Either way, Obama proved to
be both a poor economics analyst and an even shabbier tactician:
the compromise he tried to make with established powers, both
the Republicans in Congress and the lobbyists and proxies all
around him, signalled his unwillingness to appeal to the people
to fight for what he needed to be successful. And just as he
was a pushover in the stimulus fight, he has gotten rolled over
and over and over again.
Like most Americans, at this point, I have no idea what Barack
Obama -- and by extension the party he leads -- believes on virtually
any issue. The president tells us he prefers a "balanced" approach
to deficit reduction, one that weds "revenue enhancements" (a weak
way of describing popular taxes on the rich and big corporations that
are evading them) with "entitlement cuts" (an equally poor choice of
words that implies that people who've worked their whole lives are
looking for handouts). But the law he just signed includes only the
cuts. This pattern of presenting inconsistent positions with no apparent
recognition of their incoherence is another hallmark of this president's
storytelling. He announces in a speech on energy and climate change that
we need to expand offshore oil drilling and coal production -- two
methods of obtaining fuels that contribute to the extreme weather
Americans are now seeing. He supports a health care law that will use
Medicaid to insure about 15 million more Americans and then endorses
a budget plan that, through cuts to state budgets, will most likely
decimate Medicaid and other essential programs for children, senior
citizens and people who are vulnerable by virtue of disabilities or
an economy that is getting weaker by the day. He gives a major speech
on immigration reform after deporting around 800,000 immigrants in
two years, a pace faster than nearly any other period in American
The real conundrum is why the president seems so compelled to take
both sides of every issue, encouraging voters to project whatever they
want on him, and hoping they won't realize which hand is holding the
rabbit. That a large section of the country views him as a socialist
while many in his own party are concluding that he does not share their
values speaks volumes -- but not the volumes his advisers are selling:
that if you make both the right and left mad, you must be doing
Or, more likely. everything wrong. Westen tries his hand at
The most charitable explanation is that he and his advisers have
succumbed to a view of electoral success to which many Democrats
succumb -- that "centrist" voters like "centrist" politicians.
Unfortunately, reality is more complicated. Centrist voters prefer
honest politicians who help them solve their problems. A second
possibility is that he is simply not up to the task by virtue of
his lack of experience and a character defect that might not have
been so debilitating at some other time in history.
[ . . . ]
A somewhat less charitable explanation is that we are a nation
that is being held hostage not just by an extremist Republican
Party but also by a president who either does not know what he
believes or is willing to take whatever position he thinks will
lead to his re-election. [ . . . ]
Or perhaps, like so many politicians who come to Washington, he has
already been consciously or unconsciously corrupted by a system that
tests the souls even of people of tremendous integrity, by forcing
them to dial for dollars -- in the case of the modern presidency, for
hundreds of millions of dollars. When he wants to be, the president
is a brilliant and moving speaker, but his stories virtually always
lack one element: the villain who caused the problem, who is always
left out, described in impersonal terms, or described in passive voice,
as if the cause of others' misery has no agency and hence no culpability.
Whether that reflects his aversion to conflict, an aversion to conflict
with potential campaign donors that today cripples both parties' ability
to govern and threatens our democracy, or both, is unclear.
A final explanation is that he ran for president on two contradictory
platforms: as a reformer who would clean up the system, and as a unity
candidate who would transcend the lines of red and blue. He has pursued
the one with which he is most comfortable given the constraints of his
character, consistently choosing the message of bipartisanship over the
message of confrontation.
I don't have a much more definitive diagnosis myself. It seems
pretty clear now that Obama's political positions are very moderate
if not downright conservative. Paul Krugman likes to point out that
Obama ran to the right of his 2008 opponents, and he can score that
on issues, but no one mentions that Clinton had a well established
track record of veering right in any emergency, and Edwards never
quite convinced us he was a real populist -- indeed, his Senate
record was to the right of either. So there was some wishful thinking
among those who favored Obama over Clinton (who also had a nepotism
problem, something all the more distasteful after eight Bush years,
don't you think?).
Obama started out far from political power, and moved up the
ladder and into the corridors of power thanks to talent and skills,
but also because he never threatened those powers. When he assumed
the presidency, his idea of change was nothing more than to restore
responsible, balanced, and respectable leadership to the office.
He seems, indeed, to have fully accepted the 30-year long march
of the conservatives as fait accompli -- as an intrinsic part of
the social and economic order he intended to serve: as something
he would salute like the flag and the generals, as something he
would routinely praise and invoke the blessings of, like God.
Moreover, he subjected his personal fate to the various powers,
not only by letting them weigh in and ultimately dictate his
policies -- his health care act was first cleared by the AMA,
the insurers, and Pharma; he ran banking reform by the banks,
and cap-and-trade by the utilities; he let the generals write
their own marching orders in Afghanistan, and he let Dennis
Ross run his Israel/Palestine initiative off the road -- he
gave them no cause to doubt his fidelity. In particular, he
never tried to rally the people against anything more than the
most craven obstruction by the Republicans, and he never tried
to change the rules of the game by making the influence of the
lobbies an issue. And when the Republicans did attack, he rarely
failed to meet them more than half way. He gave them their tax
cuts, even knowing the burgeoning deficit would hurt him politically
and knowing that he'd never get any stimulus benefit from them.
He adopted their stand on deficits even though their austerity
would hurt the economy, would especially hurt the people who had
voted for him, and would gain him no credit. He has scarcely ever
responded to even the most scurrilous Republican slanders, most
likely because he fears upsetting the powers he has sworn his
Nonetheless, his reëlection campaign depends on more than appearing
to donors to be the most reasonable guy in the room. It depends on
organizing his base to believe that he's on their side against the
dastardly Republicans, and it's only getting harder to both at the
same time. It's true for politicians that there are two seasons: one
where you appeal the the people for votes, the other where you appeal
to those with the money and backroom clout. Obama certainly knows how
to play both ends of the court, but few politicians have made the
transition from one role to the other so visible. Presumably he will
shift back to making his appeal to the voters, but it's going to be
tougher this time because he's got a track record now.
For starters, in many voters' eyes he now owns a big chunk of the
problems he inherited, all the more so because he didn't pin the blame
on his predecessor(s) when he started out. Moreover, he's consistently
underestimated the depths of those problems, and overestimated what his
programs could do -- the stimulus, of course, but also Afghanistan.
And when he concedes ground to so many Republican talking points he
just gives his opponents clubs to bash him with. He may not need a
coherent message to do backroom deals in Washington, but he will need
one to go back to the voters, and it's hard to see it, much less have
faith in it.
Westen wishes he would move his story to the left, to tap into the
pain that his potential voters are feeling, and indeed -- especially
when you realize what the Republicans are really up to -- that would
raise his game, as well as lead to policies that are both more moral
and potentially a lot more effective. On the other hand, having shown
himself to be a deep believer in the status quo ante -- before
the crash, but not necessarily before the bubble that inflated it --
populist rhetoric is going to come hard to him. But Westen could have
written an even more troubling article: rather than harp on Obama's
storytelling or his inexperience or his lack of accomplishment, Westen
could have called into question Obama's inability to tap into, or even
relate to, voters' emotions. Running in a much smaller and simpler
recession, Bill Clinton told people "I feel your pain" (which was
pretty much bullshit, but he convinced a lot of people). Can you
imagine Obama even trying to say that? I don't doubt that he knows
people are suffering, but can he feel it? Indeed, in his courting of
the Jamie Dimons of this world, and his cavalier eagerness to trade
off the elderly's hard-earned "entitlements," I find myself wondering
whether he cares for or relates to his voters at all. If anything is
going to cost him the election, it's his high-minded indifference.
More Obama Notes
Decided to chop the following off from the post. Not so much
that it's wrong as that it doesn't go anywhere definite.
Westen thinks that Obama should be more progressive than he is,
but also that Obama should be more effective than he's been, not
so much in advancing the left's cause -- which he pretty clearly
doesn't support -- as in saving his own hide. It would be a good
idea to try to disentangle these concerns.
Obama no doubt has his own reasons for not supporting the left:
I've suggested above and elsewhere that this is mostly due to his
obeissance to wealth and power (and we might as well add God and
Empire to that list), which seems to be a deep character trait.
He (or his apologists) might rejoin that he doesn't support left
policies because there's nowhere near enough practical support to
get them implemented. That's a rathole I don't want to go down
right now, but I will argue that there are two reasons why Obama
should consider supporting progressive policies even if they don't
look like obvious winners given the current balance of power: one
is that some (I'd say all, but that's me) policies are morally
right, and there's something to be said for a politician to take
the moral high ground; the other is that sometimes they're the
one thing that actually works -- single-payer health care is an
Even if most of the time Obama is better off -- at least in his
own terms, most crudely measured by popularity, getting reëlected,
and making scads of money after leaving office giving speeches and
selling books -- following the conventional wisdom, one would think
that at least sometimes he would ultimately be better off having
done a few things that were effective and morally right. On the
other hand, Obama's actual attitude to the left has mostly been to
call us names ("retards" is a favorite), to control the Democratic
Party top-down, and to squash any nominations of progressives when
they accidentally happen. In other words, his attitude is such as
to preclude ever having the option of even offerng a left solution.
At least in election terms, Obama can get away with such contempt
for the conscious, articulate left, because they (we) are so aware of
the relative disaster lurking on the far-right that he can count on
being the lesser evil. But the left tries to represent a lot of people
who are far less cognizant about who their friends and enemies are,
and those people include most of the voters Democrats need to win any
election. A lot of those people, seeing virtually no help coming in
from the Democrats' 2008 sweep, checked out from the 2010 election,
allowing the Republicans to win the House and fuck everyone (Obama
included, even if he likes to think he's enjoying it).
We all understand that Obama can't do everything we'd like him
to do, but still the left has two major problems with Obama: one
is that he doesn't use his position and oratorical skills to make
key points in the policy debate, and the other is that he hasn't
any real effort to build up and empower his party's base (which,
e.g., Howard Dean, when he was chair of the Democratic Party, was
very successful at). David Frum has said, quite presciently, that
the Republicans fear their base, whereas the Democrats despise
theirs. Back after the 2008 election when the Republicans had
been routed and their politicians were in the dumps, it was the
Republican base, which the GOP had systematically cranked up to
a state of lunacy over several decades, that rallied and wound up
holding the Democrats in check. Democrats have long been neglected
by their party, which is a big part of the reason so many people
who should vote Democratic don't vote at all. But it could be
different, as was shown the spontaneous outpouring in Wisconsin
last year. In some ways that's the last thing that Obama wants:
it would show his rich sponsors that he's lost control of the rank
and file. But if he's to have any chance of winning reëlection in
2012, he has to get some kind of grassroots organization. And while
in 2008 he did just that on the basis of hope and faith, in 2012
he's going to have to reëstablish his credibility.
The problem there isn't just his intellectual disdain of the
left. It's that he no longer seems like the kind of guy who cares
a whit about other people. That really gets into Westen's court,
so I'm surprised he didn't pursue it further. It's the one thing
that's going to get Obama beat, even by a malevolent Republican
who don't give a shit either but hasn't proven yet that he (or
quite possibly she) is just faking it. I've felt up to this moment
that Obama can't possibly lose in 2012 given the quality of any
conceivable Republican opponent.
I've been leaning on Steve Benen quite a bit recently, but I
didn't take much away from his defensive response,
The Westen Piece, other than this:
There's a sizable contingent on the left that wants Obama to be The
Great Progressive Pugilist, shaping a agenda around blistering attacks
on Republicans and their allies. Love him or hate him, Obama has never
been that guy. Remember the 2004 Democratic convention speech that
launched Obama into the political stratosphere? It was the keynote
address in a year Dems were taking on an incumbent, and Obama literally
never even mentioned Bush or Cheney.
He doesn't want to pick partisan fights. He said as much in 2008
and won in a near-landslide.
Of course, we on the left would love to have a sympathetic president
advancing left arguments, campaigning for left policies. For many of
us it's finally sunk in that Obama isn't that person. But Obama has two
new problems he didn't have in 2008. One is that he's assumed a lot of
the responsibility for the many messes we're in -- the failed economy,
the continuing wars and everything associated with them from loss of
civil liberties to blowback, the failure to even advance recognition
of global warming -- less because of what he's done (which at best has
been damn little) than because of his unwillingness to distance himself
from those more responsible (Bush, especially, but on things like bank
deregulation you also have to blame Clinton's team, most of whom found
jobs in Obama's administration). The second thing is that he's shown
himself to be inept at defending against Republican assaults. I'm sure
there are people who will argue that he's done the best anyone could,
but that's hard to stomach much less believe.
Moreover, since he's proven that he's not going to advance anything
the left cares about -- rolling back the worldwide military footprint,
reversing the trend toward inequality that is destroying opportunity
for all but the rich today, and countering the all-pervasive corruption
of money in politics -- his claim on our votes comes down to his ability
to keep the Republicans at bay. I know people who think he's so inept
at it that they feel we would be better off with a Republican president,
who would clearly get the blame for Republian policies, and would incite
a Democratic Party movement to fight back. [ . . . ]
I'll stop here, becaue I feel like I'm writing circles around
Something on 1-on-1 tribute albums:
I figured I'd have a lot of 1-on-1 jazz tributes, but scanning
through my A-list I only find three:
- Alexander von Schlippenbach's Monk's Casino
- Jewels and Binoculars: Ships With Tatooed Sails - Bob Dylan songs
- Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy
Mingus at Carnegie Hall is an all-Ellington program, but
only two cuts and not an explicit tribute. Expected to find more, and
I'm sure there are dozens down at A-. Maybe I'm just stingy with A's?
I have 5.78 A- (in jazz, anyhow) for each A/A+, whereas Christgau's
ratio is 3.08:1.
Sharpsm caught a missing one. I responded:
Right, Benjamin Herman: Hypo Christmas Treefuzz: More
Mengelberg. Also missed Michael Hashim's Green Up Time, if
it counts (Kurt Weill).
Went looking through the A- list and came up with close to 40 more,
some arguable. No doubt I missed things, especially all-Ellington and
all-Monk programs (look, no Steve Lacy below), so consider this
representative rather than complete:
- Affinity: A Tribute to Eric Dolphy (1995)
- Howard Alden: Your Story - The Music of Bill Evans (1994)
- Harry Allen: Plays Ellington Songs (2000)
- Louis Armstrong: Satch Plays Fats (1955)
- Billy Bang/Sun Ra: A Tribute to Stuff Smith (1992)
- Patricia Barber: The Cole Porter Mix (2008)
- Ruby Braff: Very Sinatra (1982)
- Anthony Braxton: Six Monk's Compositions (1987)
- Anthony Braxton: Eight (+3) Tristano Compositions 1989
- Anthony Braxton: Charlie Parker Project 1993
- Anthony Brown: Monk's Moods (2000)
- Kenny Burrell: Ellington Is Forever Vol. 1 (1975)
- Chris Byars: Lucky Strikes Again (2010) - Lucky Thompson
- Freddy Cole: Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B (2010)
- James Dapogny: Original Jelly Roll Blues (1993)
- Vic Dickenson: Plays Bessie Smith: Trombone Cholly (1976)
- Eliane Elias: Sings Jobim (1997)
- Kenny Garrett/Pharoah Sanders: Sketches of MD (2008)
- Charles Gayle: Touchin' on Trane (1991)
- Marty Grosz/Keith Ingham: Unsaturated Fats (1990)
- Scott Hamilton: Organic Duke (1994)
- Michael Hashim: Keep a Song in Your Soul (1996) - Fats Waller
- The Herbie Nichols Project: Strange City (2001-02)
- John Hicks: Lover Man: A Tribute to Billie Holiday (1993)
- Dick Hyman/Chris Hopkins: Teddy Wilson in 4 Hands (2006)
- Hank Jones: Upon Reflection: The Music of Thad Jones (1993)
- Wynton Marsalis: Mr. Jelly Lord (1998)
- The Microscopic Septet: Friday the Thirteenth: The Micros Play Monk (2010)
- Mingus Dynasty/Big Band Charlie Mingus: Live at the Theatre Boulogne-Billancourt Volume 2 (1988)
- Jewels and Binoculars: The Music of Bob Dylan (2000)
- Jewels and Binoculars: Floater (2003) - Bob Dylan
- David Murray: Octet Plays Trane (2000)
- William Parker: I Plan to Stay a Believer: The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield (2001-08)
- Houston Person: To Etta With Love (2004)
- Bob Rockwell: Bob's Ben: A Salute to Ben Webster (2005)
- Pharoah Sanders: Crescent with Love (1992) - John Coltrane
- Ken Vandermark: Straight Lines (1998) - Joe Harriott
- Roseanna Vitro: Catchin' Some Rays: The Music of Ray Charles (1997)
- John Zorn: Voodoo: The Music of Sonny Clark (1985)
A couple of these are explicit tribute bands. I don't have Ella
Fitzgerald: The Complete Songbooks broken out into its constituent
packages, but the Arlen, Porter, Rodgers/Hart, and Berlin would
definitely make the list; probably the Gershwin, Ellington, and Mercer
too (but not Kern, which I have a B+ grade for).
Updated Christgau's website:
FYI, Robert Christgau website update moments ago. Details (such as
they are) in Changelog.php. I was looking at the CG Stats file earlier
today, and noticed that there were exactly 15000 rated albums in the
database. (Then I messed that up by adding the latest pair.) Added an
unrated column to CG Stats after I noticed a couple of empty rows and
wondered what was going on. Now it all adds up. Someone here suggested
the Google search widget. Took a while but finally figured out how to
Tuesday, August 09, 2011
Rhapsody Streamnotes (August 2011)
Pick up text here.
Monday, August 08, 2011
Music: Current count 18506  rated (+35), 873  unrated (-4).
Sent Jazz CG (27) to the Village Voice. Posted August's Downloader's Diary
and Recycled Goods, spiffing the latter up to be the most substantial in
at least six months -- the long-delayed CTI reissues making up much of the
bulk. Rhapsody Streamnotes coming later this week, so I added a bit to it.
Did some Jazz Prospecting, too, pulling exclusively from the overstocked
mid-level queue and finding lots of middling records.
Jazz Prospecting (JCG #28, Part 1)
Jazz CG (27) is at the Voice now, so all to do there is
to wait. New round starts this week. Mid-priority queue was stuffed,
so I started there, mostly finding middling records: a couple pleasant
surprises, a couple disappointments. The queue is currently running
240 deep, so I often feel the pressure to move on. That limits most
records to one or two spins, enough to fix a reasonably considered
grade but rarely enough to explain it in prose: I often find myself
at the end of a record searching for a summary line, and rarely come
up with a good one. Sometimes I just let the matter go, hoping the
grade will suffice.
I was on a roll early in the week, then let up to spend some time
polishing what turned out to be the most substantial Recycled Goods
of the last 4-6 months. The big chunk in the middle covers the CTI
reissues from Sony Masterworks. I usually slip jazz reissues into
Jazz Prospecting, but in this case skipped them because the pile
was so large. Possibly also because I didn't expect any of them
to prove interesting enough to claim Jazz CG space. The very first
Jazz CG did have a reissues section, but since then I've never had
enough space (nor lately enough reissues) to bother. On the other
hand, most Jazz CG columns do have one or two old records -- usually
newly released archives but occasionally obscure reissues (like the
Warren Smith album below, only better).
Also packed some more impressions into Rhapsody Streamnotes, which
will be posted later this week.
Jane Bunnett & Hilario Duran: Cuban Rhapsody
(2011, ALMA): Duets, with Cuban pianist Duran and longtime Cubanophile,
Canadian soprano saxophonist/flutist Bunnett -- her first Cuban-themed
album was Spirits of Havana in 1991 and she's never let up.
She plays more flute here but I much prefer her soprano. Seems a bit
spare with no percussion, although Duran certainly knows his stuff.
Gutbucket: Flock (2010 , Cuneiform): First squawk
out of the box sounds great, plus the song there is called "Fuck You
and Your Hipster Tie." Band consists of Ken Thomson (saxes and clarinets,
mostly alto sax), Ty Citerman (guitar), Eric Rockwin (bass, mostly
electric), and Adam Gold (drums). Fifth album since 2001. As with
several recent fusion groups, the sax (or even clarinet) gives the
guitar a sharper edge, and working that sound is the group's strong
suit. The rock rhythms, though, can get a bit sludgy.
Chuck Deardorf: Transparence (2007-10 , Origin):
Bassist (upright, electric, fretless), b. 1954, based in Seattle, teaches
at Cornish College of the Arts. First album, but has 40-50 side credits,
going back to Don Lanphere in 1984. Wrote 1.5 of 10 pieces here (the
co-credit with pianist Bill Mays), with two more pieces by musicians on
the record (Bruce Forman, Jovino Santos Neto). Looks like the pieces
were recorded over several years with various combos yet the flow
together remarkably well, mostly due to the four guitarists.
Anne Mette Iversen: Milo Songs (2011, Bju'ecords):
Bassist, composer of course, from Denmark (not clear from her bio),
studied piano at Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen, bass
at Rhythmic Conservatory of Music (also Copenhagen), got a BFA at
New School in 2001. Based in New York. Fourth album since 2004, a
quartet with John Ellis (tenor sax, clarinet), Danny Grissett (piano),
and Otis Brown III (drums). Ellis is especially fine here, as he's
been on several recent records. Grissett has his spots. As for the
bassist-composer, the whole thing flows effortlessly, her role
inconspicuous, and perhaps all the more remarkable for that.
Jeff Fairbanks' Project Hansori: Mulberry Street
(2009-10 , Bju'ecords): Trombone player, studied at University
of South Florida, now based in New York. First album (only one of 4
side credits AMG lists looks right). Korean-themed big band project --
presumably wife (and guest cellist) Heun Choi Fairbanks has something
to do with the interest. Baritone saxophonist Fred Ho, whose Afro Asian
Music Ensemble set the standard for this sort of thing, gets a "with
special guest" credit on the front cover, but only appears on two
tracks. There are spots where the Korean rhythms and tones emerge,
but mostly a pretty solid big band record.
Travis Sullivan: New Directions (2010 ,
Posi-Tone): Alto saxophonist, b. 1971, has a couple previous records,
the first from 2000, another a collection of Björk songs released in
2008 as Travis Sullivan's Bjorkestra. Mainstream quartet with Mike
Eckroth (piano), Marco Panascia (bass), and Brian Fishler (drums).
Eight originals, two covers (one Rodgers/Hart). Nothing strikes me
as a new direction, but the sax is fast and slick and inclined to
soar out of the matrix. Hard to complain about that combo.
Melvin Jones: Pivot (2009, Exotic): Trumpet player,
from Atlanta, storied at Morehouse, then Mason Gross School of the
Arts (in New Jersey). First album. Glossier than hard bop, but that's
the basic setup: Mace Hibbard on alto and tenor sax, Louis Heriveaux
on piano, Rodney Jordan on bass, and Leon Anderson on drums, except
when various "guests" break in. Upbeat, boisterous, souful, a bit
on the slick side.
Aaron Goldberg and Guillermo Klein: Bienestan (2009
, Sunnyside): Two pianists, although not a piano duet album.
Klein, the senior member less because he's four years older (b. 1970)
than because he wrote all of the originals (7.5 of 13, the fraction
an intro to "All the Things You Are" to close the album). But Goldberg
is the lead pianist, with Klein chiming in on Fender Rhodes: no track
credits between them, but seems like mostly one or the other, which
means mostly Goldberg. Also on board: Matt Penman (bass), Eric Harland
(drums), Miguel Zenon (alto sax on five cuts, including both Charlie
Parker tunes), and Chris Cheek (tenor sax on two, soprano on one, all
of those with Zenon, none by Parker). Traces of tango seep in here
and there -- Klein is from Argentina, so that's almost a given. The
rapid-fire rat-a-tat of "Human Feel," with both horns in sync, is
Warren Smith: Dragon Dave Meets Prince Black Knight From the
Darkside of the Moon (1988 , Porter): Drummer, b. 1934,
AMG credits him with seven albums since 1979, or maybe nine, but they
also confuse him with the eponymous rockabilly singer from the 1950s.
Has well over 100 side credits, early on including Mingus, Kirk, and
Pearls Before Swine (also says here he was on Astral Weeks and
Lady Soul and Best of Herbie Mann). When he did get a
chance to record for a fairly mainstream label he called his record
Cats Are Stealing My $hit (on Mapleshade in 1995). Anyway,
no one stole this, uh, "children's story -- with adult language --
depicting the conflict between two super beings (super powers) unable
to co-exist, whose resulting clash disturbs and alters the face of
the planet" -- i.e., the state of the world in the 1980s. Could be
more didactic, but it's hard to follow the voices, especially with
all the crashes and explosions. On the other hand, Smith's marimba
keeps the clashes moving along smartly.
Bill Carrothers: A Night at the Village Vanguard
(2009 , Pirouet, 2CD): Pianist, b. 1964 in Minneapolis, has
more than a dozen albums since 1992, mostly trios, one from 2005
called Shine Ball that I especially liked (possibly because
it's the one he played prepared piano on). This is another trio,
with Nicholas Thys on bass and Dré Pallemaerts on drums, the same
group he recorded Swing Sing Songs with ten years earlier.
A disc for each set that night, both sets starting off with Clifford
Brown songs, winding up with about half originals. Not so clear at
my usual volume levels; cranking it up helped with the definition,
but I still can't come up with much to say.
Falkner Evans: The Point of the Moon (2010 ,
CAP): Pianist, originally from Oklahoma, played for a while with
Asleep at the Wheel, moved to New York in 1985 and went into jazz,
notably with Cecil McBee. Fourth album since 2002. Aside from the
last two cuts, this is a pretty typical hard bop group, with Greg
Tardy (tenor sax), Ron Horton (trumpet), Belden Bullock (bass),
and Matt Wilson (drums), the stereotypical postbop jazz sound.
Shifts a bit at the end, with Gary Versace sitting in on the last
two cuts, one on organ, the other on accordion. Both slow the
pace, blunt the horns, and the latter slips in a little tango.
Aaron Shragge & Ben Monder: The Key Is in the Window
(2010 , Tzviryu Music): Trumpet-guitar duets. Monder is a well-known
guitarist but most of what you know about him -- especially his sense of
groove -- is not relevant here. Don't know much about Shragge: studied
at New School and NYU, is interested in the music of North India and
Japan, also plays shakuhachi. Looks like his first album, although he
has a piece of another one (or two). Mostly slow, deep, trance-like.
Yelena Eckemoff: Grass Catching the Wind (2009-10 ,
Yelena Music): Pianist, from Moscow, moved to US in 1991. Website lists
17 albums, doesn't give dates -- probably start in early 1990s -- but
divides them up as 4 classical, 2 vocal, and 11 "original instrumental"
albums, including one that came out after this one (Flying Steps,
with Derek Oleszkiewicz and Peter Erskine; don't have it). This is a
piano trio, cut in Copenhagen with Mads Vinding on bass and Morten Lund
on drums. All originals. Most have strong rhythm and I always like that
in a pianist, along with crisp and clever fingerwork.
Buzz Bros Band: Ppff Unk (2009 , Buzz Music):
Dutch group, led by guitarist Marnix Busstra, with his brother Berthil
Busstra on keyboards, Frans Van Geest on double bass, and Chris Strik
on drums, with "special guest" Simone Roerade singing two songs.
Founded in 2001, as near as I can figure out they have two albums and
some DVDs. I've run into Marnix before, on a couple of pretty good
albums with vibraphonist Mike Mainieri. The keyb/guitar mix here is
often quite sweet, with or without any noticeable funk quotient.
Ocote Soul Sounds: Taurus (2011, ESL Music):
Brooklyn Latin funk group, led by Martin Perna (flutes, saxes,
shekere, quijada, tambourine, melodica, vocals, guitar, bass),
a spinoff from Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra. Fourth album. Adrian
Quesada (guitar, bass, electric piano, organ, background vocals)
was on the masthead the last two albums; he continues here, but
has receded typographically but remains co-leader. Grooveful,
Christian Pabst Trio: Days of Infinity (2010
, Challenge): Pianist, b. 1984 in Germany, moved to
Netherlands in 2006, studying at Conservatory of Amsterdam.
First album. Six (of ten) cuts are piano trio with David Andres
on bass and Andreas Klein on drums. The other four add trumpet
player Gerard Prescencer. The piano is vibrant, mostly upbeat.
The trumpet and flugelhorn offer a nice change of pace.
Mr. Ho's Orchestrotica: Third River Rangoon (2011,
Tiki): Boston group, led by Brian O'Neill (vibes, percussion), was
a big band on their 2010 debut (Presents . . . The Unforgettable
Sounds of Esquivel), stripped down to a quartet here, with Geni
Skendo on bass flute and c-flute, Jason Davis on bass, and Noriko
Terada on percussion. Aims for 1950s exotica; comes up a bit flat.
NY Jazz Initiative: Mad About Thad (2010 ,
Jazzheads): Well, aren't we all? Thad, of course, is Thad Jones,
elder brother to Hank and Elvin (all three are in Downbeat's
Hall of Fame), trumpeter, composer. NY Jazz Initiative is mostly
an octet (two pianists alternate; an extra trombone shows up on
the first cut), with soprano/tenor saxophonist Rob Derke listed
first and given credit for arranging 4 of 8 pieces -- the other
pieces were arranged by non-members. The three saxes (Derke, Ralph
Lalama, Steve Wilson), trumpet (David Smith), and trombone (Sam
Burtis, who also plays some tuba) light this up.
Andrew Sterman: Wet Paint (2011, Innova): Plays
tenor sax and alto flute. I figure this is his fifth album since
2002, but AMG splits him up between classical -- he has an album
of Philip Glass: Saxophone (Glass, of course, is a pop
star in my house) -- and otherwise (meaning jazz in this case).
With piano-bass-drums across the board, otherwise split up with
Richie Vitale's trumpet/flugelhorn on four cuts, Todd Reynolds'
violin on four more -- each taking on the characteristics of the
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further
listening the first time around.
Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:
- Miles Davis Quintet: Live Europe 1967: Bootleg Vol. 1 (Columbia/Legacy, 3CD+DVD): advance
- Harris Eisenstadt: September Trio (Clean Feed)
- Jonathan Elias: Path to Zero: Prayer Cycle (Downtown)
- European Movement Jazz Orchestra: EMJO: Live in Coimbra (Clean Feed)
- Thomas Heberer's Clarino: Klippe (Clean Feed)
- Gerry Hemingway Quintet: Riptide (Clean Feed)
- Darius Jones: Big Gurl (Smell My Dream) (AUM Fidelity)
- Benji Kaplan: Meditações No Violão (Circo Mistico)
- Edgar Knecht: Good Morning Lilofee (Ozella)
- Helge Lien: Natsukashii (Ozella)
- Motif: Art Transplant (Clean Feed)
- Planet Z: Planet Z Featuring Susan Aquila (Blue Chair)
- Karl Seglem: Ossicles (Ozella)
- Sara Serpa: Mobile (Inner Circle Music)
- SFE: Positions & Descriptions: Simon H. Fell Composition No. 75 (Clean Feed)
- The Taal Tantra Experience: Sixth Sense (Ozella)
Bradley Sroka flagged "reëlected" as a strange typo. I differed:
For Bradley, et al. The alleged umlaut on reëlected is really a
diaresis as used in French. It means that the second vowel is to be
pronounced as a separate syllable, as in Noël and naïve. It's an
elegant solution to the problem of sticking re- at the beginning of
words starting with a vowel -- otherwise you'd be tempted to treat
"ee" as a single long vowel sound -- but as far as I know only The New
Yorker practices it in the US (I've also seen it used in the UK, where
every sophisticated gent since Richard I learns a little French), so
it's mostly mistaken here, maybe even considered effete.
Umlaut is a German word, used there on [a,o,u] where it changes
the vowel sound. It's interchangeable with adding a following e, as
in [ae,oe,ue]. This is why Motley Crüe is an unpronounceable idiocy.
Blue Öyster Cult has a similar problem, although it's harder to
explain. Hüsker Dü, by the way, is viable in German, but it hurts
my face to try to pronounce it that way.
Responding to sharpsm (quoted):
But Tom, I've got to ask: is Warren Smith's Cats Are Stealing My
$hit worth hearing? (What a title!)
I can picture the lime green album cover but can't recall the music,
and didn't write down any notes -- at least none I can find now, other
than the B- grade, so I have to say not. On the other hand, the reissue
in Jazz Prospecting today, Dragon Dave Meets Prince Black Knight From
the Darkside of the Moon, is worth a spin if you are into the early
1970s "black power" avant-garde -- it as done later but has the same
aesthetic. I don't think it's especially good, but it's not the sort
of thing you hear often. The label, Porter, is very tuned into early
'70s avant-garde and has found a few really obscure gems there. Most of
their stuff is on Rhapsody.
The other Jazz Prospecting record that I think has some upside potential
is Aaron Shragge -- imagine Jon Hassell louder sans beats. I played it
twice, decided that was as much time a I was willing to spend. The (***)
records are much more conventional postbop, well done, but have almost
certainly hit their ceiling.
Sunday, August 07, 2011
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week
(with most of the S&P downgrade shunted off to a separate post):
Steve Benen: Mitch McConnell, Hostage Taker: Starts with a quote from
McConnell (R-KY, Senate Republican Leader) bragging about his role in the
debt limit caper: "I think some of our members may have thought the default
issue was a hostage you might take a chance at shooting. Most of us didn't
think that. What we did learn is this -- it's a hostage that's worth
ransoming." Benen unpacks:
And third, note that McConnell was quite candid in his choice of words.
It's not just Democrats talking about Republicans taking "hostages" and
demanding "ransoms"; here's the leading Senate Republican using the exact
same language. In other words, Mitch McConnell admitted, out loud and on
the record, that his party took the full faith and credit of the United
States hostage, demanded a ransom, and they fully intend to do it again.
Given all of this, it's rather bizarre for Republicans to complain
about being equated with terrorists. As Dave Weigel noted yesterday, "If
you don't want your opponent to label you a hostage-taker, here's an idea:
Don't take hostages."
I'll just add that we've had a set of ideas endemic in popular culture
that excuse McConnell's behavior, even his terminology. In particular,
the notion that the end justifies the means. One can cite many historical
examples, even way before the annihilation of Hiroshima, and many more
since, highlights including the 1953 coup in Iran, the "destroy the
village to save it" war in Vietnam, the whole Iran-Contra fiasco, the
killing of Osama bin Laden. Still, those aren't the things that stick
in popular memory. For that you need something like Vince Lombardi's
"winning is the only thing." You need the long line of movies where we
depend on more and more degraded and unscrupulous characters to do our
bidding -- one can view The Dirty Dozen as a redemption tale,
but actually it just cracked the door open. So now McConnell's brag
touts his romance with criminality. And while some people may feign
to find that shocking, they really haven't been paying close attention.
The truth is all that and more.
Steve Benen: Causing Calculated Contraction:
Starts with a quote from Alex Castellanos ("a prominent Republican media
consultant") on why "we can't borrow forever," and therfore why we can't
borrow at all.
When it comes to economic policy, Castellanos' case is wrong in just
about every conceivable way. Indeed, his concerns reflect a reality
that bears no resemblance to our own, since the United States is able
to borrow money cheaply and easily, and should do just that to help
create more demand in the domestic economy. For that matter, the
Greece comparisons are gibberish. [ . . . ]
I tend to think this is dangerously absurd, but putting that aside,
Castellanos and I fully agree on the underlying point: the Republicans'
economic agenda intends to make matters worse, on purpose, right now.
With a weak economy and high unemployment, conservatives believe
economic "contraction" is a worthwhile, short-term goal.
Americans who endorse this Republican approach are arguing, in effect,
that policymakers should deliberately undermine economic growth and job
creation, in the hopes that conditions will eventually improve after the
right's agenda has worked its magic.
Even if you don't understand the economics (and clearly lots of
people don't), one way you can tell the Republican line is bogus is
to ask yourself: when has anyone purporting to represent American
business in the last 30-40 years ever put long-term considerations
ahead of short-term profits?
Steve Benen: A Timeline of Events:
Starts with Ronald Reagan running for president and promising a balanced
budget, then adding $2 trillion debt during his two terms:
- 2000: George W. Bush runs for president, promising to maintain
a balanced budget.
- 2001: CBO shows the United States is on track to pay off the
entirety of its national debt within a decade.
- 2001 - 2009: With support from congressional Republicans,
Bush runs enormous deficits, adds nearly $5 trillion to the debt.
- 2002: Dick Cheney declares, "Deficits don't matter."
Congressional Republicans agree, approving tax cuts, two wars, and
Medicare expansion without even trying to pay for them.
- 2009: Barack Obama inherits $1.3 trillion deficit from Bush;
Republicans immediately condemn Obama's fiscal irresponsibility.
- 2009: Congressional Democrats unveil several domestic policy
initiatives -- including health care reform, cap and trade, DREAM Act --
which would lower the deficit. GOP opposes all of them, while continuing
to push for deficit reduction.
- September 2010: In Obama's first fiscal year, the deficit
shrinks by $122 billion. Republicans again condemn Obama's fiscal
- October 2010: S&P endorses the nation's AAA rating with
a stable outlook, saying the United States looks to be in solid fiscal
shape for the foreseeable future.
- November 2010: Republicans win a U.S. House majority, citing
the need for fiscal responsibility.
- December 2010: Congressional Republicans demand extension of
Bush tax cuts, relying entirely on deficit financing. GOP continues to
accuse Obama of fiscal irresponsibility.
- March 2011: Congressional Republicans declare intention to
hold full faith and credit of the United States hostage -- a move
without precedent in American history -- until massive debt-reduction
plan is approved.
- July 2011: Obama offers Republicans a $4 trillion debt-reduction
deal. GOP refuses, pushes debt-ceiling standoff until the last possible
day, rattling international markets.
- August 2011: S&P downgrades U.S. debt, citing GOP refusal
to consider new revenues. Republicans rejoice and blame Obama for fiscal
There have been several instances since the mid 1990s in which I
genuinely believed Republican politics couldn't possibly get more
blisteringly ridiculous. I was wrong; they just keep getting worse.
Benen expands on this in a later post,
The Worst Thing the GOP Has Ever Done?:
Where would the GOP's hostage fiasco rank on the list of modern Republican
The list, alas, isn't brief. We could go through Hoover's failures of
the late 1920s, or perhaps Joe McCarthy's crusade in the 1950s. Nixon's
crimes in the early 1970s are legendary, as are the many Reagan-era
scandals -- Iran-Contra, criminal fiasco at H.U.D., the Savings &
Loan debacle -- of the 1980s.
The more contemporary offenses are no doubt fresher in everyone's
minds: the Gingrich/Dole government shutdowns, the Clinton impeachment
debacle, the Bush v. Gore scandal, the politicization of the Justice
Department, the Plame scandal, the fiscal recklessness, the financial
industry negligence that contributed to the 2008 crash, etc.
And while I'm open to suggestion on this, I still think there's
something unique about the Republicans holding the full faith and
credit of the United States hostage, threatening to impose a catastrophe
on all of us, on purpose, to achieve a specific (and unnecessary) policy
goal. What's more, note that no elected GOP officials -- literally, not
one -- ever stood up during this process to say, "Wait, this is wrong.
We shouldn't do this." They all just went along.
Andrew Leonard: The Next Horrible Budget Showdown:
Actually, there's a whole menu of options for recapitupating the last
few months of Republican extortion, and Leonard left out the FAA, which
is already ongoing. The gas tax is a particularly juicy one: after all,
who needs roads? Go read the piece if you want to know.
And remember, September's skirmishes are only a prelude to 2012's
showdown on defense and Medicare spending, with the added fun of an
ongoing presidential campaign to make sure everyone's rhetorical
muscles are in the finest possible fettle.
Remember George Orwell's line from "1984"? Oceania has always
been at war with Eastasia? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
has already promised that there will never be a clean debt ceiling
hike again; the new status quo is that everything that can be treated
as an opportunity for extortion must be treated as an opportunity
It's the forever budget war.
Andrew Leonard: Market Meltdown Deja Vu:
Written before the end of Thursday's stock market crash (cites the
drop as 271 points at 1 PM; the final drop was 512):
And all of this is happening after a month in which Congress and
the White House occupied themselves by hammering out a deficit
reduction plan for which the best-case scenario is that,
in the short-term, it will only slow U.S. economic growth down
a little bit.
The worst-case scenario? We're looking right at it. For very
good reasons, the global investor community has concluded that
the United States is either unwilling or powerless (or both) to
take any aggressive steps to counteract a growing economic slump.
Remember the fearsome bond vigilantes? Right now they are
gibbering in fear in the basement, stocking up on bottled water.
[ . . . ]
But there's actually a big difference between now and three years
ago. Three years ago, governments around the world took strong
action to counteract financial panic and the slide toward a new
Great Depression. We can and will debate the merits, design and
implementation of those actions -- TARP and the Obama stimulus,
the reliance on tax cuts at the expense of direct infrastructure
spending, etc. -- but at the time, there was a majority consensus
that government should attempt to do something.
But now the game has changed. There will be no new fiscal
stimulus. The European Union may be scrambling to figure out how
to bail out its constituent members, but it is difficult to imagine
the U.S. assisting in any major effort to stabilize markets,
outside of another effort by the Fed to inject even more liquidity
into the system. The critics who argued that the best solution to
the crisis of 2008 was to let beleaguered financial institutions
crash and burn may get their chance this time around. After the
Budget Control Act of 2011, the U.S. government has essentially
handcuffed itself to a chair.
At day's end, Leonard followed up with:
The Roots of Thursday's Market Meltdown:
The failure of the U.S. political system to properly address a
slowing economy is surely an important underlying factor propelling
Thursday's sell-off. But let's not underestimate the extent to which
Europe's ongoing sovereign debt crisis is responsible for the fear
and panic spreading like wildfire throughout investor circles. Maybe
it's just as simple as this: The resolution of the debt ceiling
ridiculousness cleared space for the world to focus on what's going
on in Europe. And now that we're paying attention, we really, really,
don't like what we see. The parallels to the credit crunch of 2008
get stronger every day. Capitalism, having been denied the opportunity
for utter self-immolation three years ago, is eating itself alive,
again. [ . . . ]
The same goes for Italy, the world's seventh largest economy. The
big scary news this week is that "contagion" has spread from the little
guy to the big. Bond investors are now questioning whether Italy and
Spain can pay off their government debt. Rumors that Italy may be forced
down the Greek path are flying through the markets. As a consequence,
the yields that investors will accept for buying new Greek or Italian
debt are rising sharply, which further raises government borrowing costs
and makes Italy and Spain's fiscal situation that much more disastrous.
To complicate matters even more, the biggest holders of government debt
in Europe are big Europeans banks, who are watching their own balance
sheets deteriorate by the day.
The self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating aspects of this dynamic are
obvious. Bond traders get nervous about government finances, and start
pushing markets in directions that make government finances degrade
further. And so on. When government leaders point this out, pledging
their "sound economic fundamentals," their self-serving avowals just
act as another message telling traders to sell!
Alex Pareene: Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer Fundraise on Norway Attack:
As a writer, it sure sucks when someone murders a bunch of people based
on your ideas. (I mean, I assume that sucks. Weirdly, it's never happened
to me.) So you can understand why right-wing anti-Islam bloggers are all
being kind of defensive, these days.
Anders Breivik, the anti-Islam terrorist who killed 77 people in
Norway on July 22, read a lot of American anti-Islam bloggers, many of
whom he cited in his lengthy manifesto. Breivik's favorites included
Robert Spencer, a self-proclaimed expert on Islam whose "Jihad Watch"
blog was quoted and cited in Breivik's manifesto, and Spencer's ally
and collaborator Pam Geller, whose "Atlas Shrugs" was similarly
recommended by the killer. [ . . . ]
They are now actually fundraising on the fact that they helped
inspire a massacre. Or more accurately, they're begging for money to
protect them from the imaginary witch hunt that they claim the liberals
will mount. (Is this part of the witch hunt? I am always confused about
whether I'm witch-hunting or not, when I call people horrid hateful
bigots.) Spencer also signed Geller's fundraising blog, and if you
donate more than $500 to Atlas Shrugs, ThinkProgress reports, they
will send you a signed copy of Geller's book, Stop the Islamization
of America: A Practical Guide to the Resistance.
Alex Pareene: The Baffling Paranoia of Rich Guys Who Resent Obama:
Interview with Ken Langone, co-founder of Home Depot, former head of
the New York Stock Exchange, and all-around rich guy:
Ken Langone wants higher taxes on rich people. He wants the debt ceiling
raised. And he wants his taxes raised. And he wants tax loopholes closed.
And he wants government investment in education and job training. In other
words, he is, in the current political environment, basically a liberal
socialist Democrat? He is more or less aligned with Paul Krugman here.
Obama wants all of these things, too!
Except Langone has a big problem with the politician who shares all
of his major economic policy goals: That politician is also mean to rich
people. [ . . . ]
OK, so . . . this is just pure cultural baggage with
no relation to observable reality. Langone is upset that the president
is not sufficiently "respectful" to John Boehner, he's outraged that
the president appeared in shirt-sleeves in the Oval Office, and he's
upset about a two-year-old reference to "fat cats." Langone wants his
taxes raised and tax loopholes closed, but he's upset that the president
briefly campaigned on . . . closing a private jet tax
So, there is an extensive fact-check of the Reagan jacket thing,
but it doesn't need a fact-checking, it needs psychoanalysis.
Yes, Americans are all ideologically confused. Voters like liberal
policies but vote for divided government. Thomas Friedman dreams of
a technocratic center-left third party without realizing he's dreaming
of the Democratic Party. But Langone crying about the president's lack
of respect and then wishing for Chris Christie to run isn't just
ideological confusion, it's the pathology of the ultra-wealthy under
Guys like Langone should be thankful there aren't mobs with pitchforks
out there, but instead of recognizing that Obama's their best friend in
the country, they're dreaming that there are mobs, and that this awful
populist president is leading them. Imaginary president Black Huey Long
haunts them. People like Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein, who should
probably be in jail, are convinced the president who pissed away a
significant chunk of his popularity by giving Wall Street all the money
it needed to get back on its feet after crippling the world economy is
a socialist bent on their destruction.
By the way, we saw Horrible Bosses yesterday. It has a
slight warped universe effect, with job holders even more terrified
of losing their jobs than in the present economy, but there have
been many cases in US history where workers were as utterly owned
by their bosses as the three protagonists here -- even if we skip
over chattel slavery, although that's a pretty big one (and still
seems to be much admired in parts of the country, as Michael Lind
keeps pointing out). Some funny stuff; some ineptly stupid. My
takeaway: we need more unions. Even if the sales exec and the
floor manager weren't represented, the company's experience of
having to deal with unions would curb such excesses and give
workers options other than snuffing their bosses -- which in
some ways would even proven to be win-win for the bosses, don't
I'm also reminded of the evils of nepotism, and why I think
estate taxes should approach confiscatory levels approaching
the top. I had a similar experience long ago, when I worked in
a printing company run successfully by a sensitive, thoughtful
founder (like Donald Sutherland here), who wound up leaving
the company to his idiot son (not nearly as vicious as Colin
Farrell here, but nearly as self-centered and equally dim),
who drove the business into the ground (a few years after I
bailed out, so I don't know the gory details). Since then I've
had plenty of opportunities to observe nepotism, especially
in the Bush family, and it's pretty rare when it works out.
Of course, I wouldn't have such businesses confiscated by
the government, either to be run or to be auctioned off. I'd
like to see a system which transfers ownership to the employees
who worked for and built up the business. You could give the
business a moderate evaluation, give the employees stock with
liens based on the evaluation (to be paid off when the stock
was sold, or written off if the stock is sold at a loss), and
let the business go on its merry way. And if the employees
decide to keep the founder's son, well, maybe he's OK, or at
least he'll be better behaved.
On Friday, August 5, 2011, following the debt-limit deal that saved
the financial world (and maybe your job) one of the big three financial
ratings agencies, Standard & Poor's, went through with its threat
and downgraded US Treasury debt from AAA to AA+. What this means in
practical terms isn't immediately clear, although in theory if people
actually took S&P seriously they would demand higher interest for
buying US Treasuries to offset their higher risk, which would in turn
drive up interest rates across the board -- especially for things like
home mortgages -- which would in turn both increase federal debt and
greatly depress the economy. Still, while companies like S&P have
had a major impact convincing investors that subprime mortgage bonds
are AAA investments, their ratings on sovereign debt have been widely
ignored in the past -- e.g., downgrading Japan in the early 1990s had
no discernible effect on ultralow interest rates there. As Andrew
S&P to the U.S.: Your Credit Is No Good, writes:
There are great paradoxes inherent in this move. During these troubled
times, United States Treasury bonds are still currently considered one of
safest places to put your money in the world. And that may continue -- the
black humor traded by financial journalists is already flying. As CNBC's
John Carney tweeted, "Can't wait for headline: Treasuries Rally As Investors
Flee to Safety Following Downgrade."
The practical impact of this downgrade may not immediately change
anything -- U.S. Treasuries will still be desirable in an uncertain
Republicans will use this downgrade as a club to beat Obama, but
S&P's actual press release blames Congress without quite explicitly
fingering the obvious culpability of the House Republicans. Leonard
quotes the report:
More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness,
stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political
institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic
challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned a
negative outlook to the rating on April 18, 2011.
Since then, we have changed our view of the difficulties in bridging
the gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy, which makes
us pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the Administration to
be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal
consolidation plan that stabilizes the government's debt dynamics any
Josh Marshall quotes another more explicit excerpt:
Compared with previous projections, our revised base case scenario
now assumes that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, due to expire by the end
of 2012, remain in place. We have changed our assumption on this because
the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure
that would raise revenues, a position we believe Congress reinforced
by passing the act.
Even if the S&P downgrade is ineffective at destroying the
economy, it unnecessarily muddies the waters, which makes it all
the more unclear whether US voters will recognize that electing a
Republican House majority in 2010 was an act of insanity, one they
should never afford to repeat.
Paul Krugman gives us the clearest overview:
On one hand, there is a case to be made that the madness of the
right has made America a fundamentally unsound nation. And yes, it
is the madness of the right: if not for the extremism of anti-tax
Republicans, we would have no trouble reaching an agreement that
would ensure long-run solvency.
On the other hand, it's hard to think of anyone less qualified
to pass judgment on America than the rating agencies. The people
who rated subprime-backed securities are now declaring that they
are the judges of fiscal policy? Really?
Just to make it perfect, it turns out that S&P got the math
wrong by $2 trillion, and after much discussion conceded the point --
then went ahead with the downgrade.
More than that, everything I've heard about S&P's demands
suggests that it's talking nonsense about the US fiscal situation.
The agency has suggested that the downgrade depended on the size
of agreed deficit reduction over the next decade, with $4 trillion
apparently the magic number. Yet US solvency depends hardly at all
on what happens in the near or even medium term: an extra trillion
in debt adds only a fraction of a percent of GDP to future interest
costs, so a couple of trillion more or less barely signifies in the
long term. What matters is the longer-term prospect, which in turn
mainly depends on health care costs.
So what was S&P even talking about? Presumably they had some
theory that restraint now is an indicator of the future -- but there's
no good reason to believe that theory, and for sure S&P has no
authority to make that kind of vague political judgment.
In short, S&P is just making stuff up -- and after the mortgage
debacle, they really don't have that right.
So this is an outrage -- not because America is A-OK, but because
these people are in no position to pass judgment.
Later on, in
The Arithmetic of Near-term Deficits and Debt, Krugman calculated
the actual cost of assuming more debt now that he dismissed above as
"barely signifies in the long term":
Start with interest rates. What matters for debt sustainability is
the real interest rate, since what matters is keeping real debt, not
nominal debt, from growing. (World War II debt never got paid off, it
just eroded in real terms to the point where it was trivial). As of
yesterday, the US government could lock in 30-year bonds at a real
interest rate of 1.25%. That means that a trillion dollars in extra
debt would mean $12.5 billion a year in additional real interest
Meanwhile, the CBO estimates potential real GDP in 2021 at about
$18 trillion in 2005 dollars, or around $19 trillion in 2011 dollars.
Put these together, and they say that an extra trillion in borrowing
adds something like 0.07% of GDP in future debt service costs. Yes, that
zero belongs there. The $4 trillion S&P said it needed to see clocks in
at less than 0.3% of GDP.
Krugman's adjustment of 2021 GDP to 2011 dollars looks wrong (unless
he's projecting deflation instead of inflation, in which case we have
far bigger problems than S&P -- it says not only that the economy
will tank but that austerity measures will keep it there for a decade
at least, and that government will do nothing about it, all of which
is kind of like saying Michelle Bachmann will be a two-term president),
but the point is that the bottom line number is small. You may not be
able to afford taking on more debt right now, but the US government
can, especially if we had a good reason to do so -- i.e., a better
reason than littering Afghanistan with crashing helicopters, or
subsidizing the rich in their neverending struggle to find profits
without improving the livelihood of the people who live (and used to
As for S&P's $2 trillion arithmetic error,
Oh, my. Treasury has a fact sheet explaining that $2 trillion error
by S&P; it may sound technical, but to anyone who follows budget
issues, it's a doozy. [ . . . ]
But S&P initially assumed that the debt deal was subtracting
off a quite different baseline.
The point here is not so much the $2 trillion, which makes very
little difference to real US fiscal prospects; it's the fact that
S&P stands revealed as not understanding basic analysis of budget
estimates. I mean, I don't think I would have made that mistake; real
budget experts, like the people at the Center on Budget and Policy
Priorities, certainly wouldn't have.
So what we just saw was amateur hour. And these people are
pronouncing on US credit-worthiness?
As for why S&P is even doing this, whereas Krugman rather
charitably charges them with incompetence,
Sen. Bernie Sanders
is more explicit:
I find it interesting to see S&P so vigilant now in downgrading
the U.S. credit rating. Where were they four years ago when they, and
other credit rating agencies, helped cause this horrendous recession
by providing AAA ratings to worthless sub-prime mortgage securities on
behalf of Wall Street investment firms? Where were they last December
when Congress and the White House drove up the national debt by $700
billion by extending Bush's tax breaks for the rich?
Well, he could be even more explicit. S&P and the two other
big ratings agencies blessed all those subprime mortgage derivatives
with AAA ratings because they were paid to by the banks issuing the
derivatives. The competitive atmosphere even allowed the banks to
shop around for favorable ratings, which led to an escalating cycle
of brain rot and corruption. So if the Treasury really doesn't like
S&P's rating, they can probably fix it by tucking a little cash
into the company's account. (Or maybe the Tea Party got there first?)
Wichita's rookie House Republican, Mike Pompeo, had an editorial
in the Eagle today, titled
In Defense of Debt-Ceiling 'Extortion':
I voted last week for the Budget Control Act of 2011. In return,
freshmen like me who demanded an end to ever-increasing spending
were called "tea party terrorists," "extortionists" and "hostage
Why such hostility? Because, for the first time ever, as a
condition for raising the debt ceiling, House Republicans forced
the president to accept spending cuts greater than the increase
in the debt ceiling -- a very modest requirement that will
ultimately lower the ceiling.
The law also caps future spending, does not raise taxes, and
clears the way for up-or-down votes on both a balanced-budget
amendment and cuts in "mandatory" programs that make up most
federal spending. These changes scare the establishment witless.
As you can see, he really gets off on all this extortion, hostage
taking, terror -- scaring the establishment witless. Still, "establishment"
is a funny term for the elderly who depend on Medicare, the disabled
who depend on Social Security, the poor who depend on Medicaid, or
working people who depend on this country having a functioning economy.
With demagogues like Pompeo around, they indeed have much to be scared
Although just as pointedly, they should be worried about the people
allegedly on their side. Also on the Eagle editorial page was a Pro-Con
"Is debt-ceiling deal good for economy?" Representing the Pro side was
no goon like Pompeo; it was Obama's Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner:
It was a terrible process but a good result.
The agreement creates room for the private sector to continue to
grow, without the threat of default and the burden of higher interest
It locks in at least $2 trillion in long-term savings from cuts in
government spending, but those savings are phased in gradually to
avoid hurting the economy in the near term.
The Con position, by the way, was from Peter Morici, who wrote:
The president and the tea party got their victories, but Americans
will remain besieged by slow growth, high unemployment, stagnant
wages and a government too expensive for its citizens to bear.
Pretty explicit that Obama and the Tea Party are on the same
team. So where does that leave us?
Saturday, August 06, 2011
Recycled Goods (88): August 2011
Pick up text here.
Update: Changed CTI label from CTI/Sony Masterworks to
CTI/Masterworks Jazz, to match the imprint on the labels. Also a
minor edit in the In Series introduction.
Friday, August 05, 2011
A Downloader's Diary (13): August 2011
Insert text from here.
This is the thirteenth installment, monthly since August 2010, totalling
328 albums. All columns are indexed and archived
here. You can follow A Downloader's
Facebook, and on
Milo Miles told a story about writing a New York Dolls review for
Creem and having it rejected in favor of a Christgau review
(Lester Bangs wanted to run his piece, but Dave Marsh vetoed Bangs).
Following Milo, I can relate my own Creem rejection story.
Don't remember what the review was, but the rejection letter from
Lester Bangs is in a box in the basement. He listed a bunch of things
he knew about me (most wrong), told me to stop trying to write like
a drug-addled synthesis of Christgau and himself, then expressed
interest if I could come up with something "in a more moderate vein."
Don't recall whether it was earlier or later, but one time I visited
a friend in Ann Arbor, and decided to drive over to Birmingham and drop
in on the Creem office. I did, but never got past the receptionist,
and no one expressed any interest in talking to me. That evening I phoned
Christgau (or vice versa) and he told me that his sister and Wayne Robbins
(who was editor at the time; Georgia had graduated from typesetter to
movie critic there) wanted to meet me. And the next day they drove out
to Ann Arbor.
Nothing came of me writing for Creem. Next thing I knew all
three of them had moved to New York. I met Bangs the first day I arrived
in New York, but hardly ever saw him after that. The one party I recall
bumping into him at my girlfriend talked to him much more than I did --
or maybe it was the other way around. Then he died, and that was that.
Milo quoted the "my girlfriend" line and added:
The latter was certainly my experience (though it was girls in
general, not my girlfriend). I spent one very long day with Bangs,
from 10 AM to 3AM, while he was on a promotional tour for the Blondie
book. The most brilliant thing he did was in this hole of a back room
at "The Rat" punk-rock club in Kenmore Square, Boston. I can't
remember the band who had played, but we were sitting around in the
dressing room, shot and slack, when a photographer -- for some
top-level fanzine, ho-hum -- stepped in and wanted some snaps.
Lester immediately went into action -- "C'mon guys, good times!
Good times!" -- mugging and miming in an irresistible way that had
everybody laughing in a few seconds as though we were having a ripping
party in a latrine bucket. And the resulting pix looked super. Fun
Backstage with Legend Lester Bangs.
Thursday, August 04, 2011
Got a break in the weather yesterday: after a high of 104F, some
initially small thunderstorms formed in southwest Kansas, and by 10PM
they amassed into a pretty huge one. It hit Wichita with straightline
winds in excess of 70MPH, dumping heavy rain and a smattering of hail
on the city. Looked pretty ferocious when it blew through here, with
small limbs ripping off and slamming into the house, and sheets of
rain sometimes splashing buckets-full of water straight at the window.
Still, no big problem here until it started to let up a bit and the
electricity failed. This was about the time the storm hit the near
east side of town: most of the major photo-worthy damage followed a
line along Hillside from Wichita State University, where a 35-foot
tree was plucked up and flung against the side of a building, to
south of Kellogg where a couple of roofs were peeled off the tops
Not much to do around here with no electricity. The computers
and the stereo are all on UPS units, so we shut them down gracefully,
then pulled out some flashlights and tried to read a bit. We got
power back after a little more than an hour, and started to put
things back together but ten minutes later it failed again. An
hour-plus later the power came back again, but only for a couple
minutes. That happened again later, then around 3:30AM it came up
and held for a while, until falling down again around 5AM. That
time it was only down for a few minutes, and after it returned it
stabilized (either that or I finally slept through the rest). No
real damage here, but I gather that throughout the city there
were dozens of power lines blown down, and for that matter dozens
of traffic light poles. No idea how many trees, or how many
buildings were damaged.
We did at least get some rain: 2.25 inches, enough to reduce
the deficit on the year by about one-third. And it was a bit
cooler today, at least in the morning. (The Eagle is reporting
that the high temperature was 104F, but I didn't notice it over
98F today.) More storms were forecast today, but none came (yet:
radar shows a big, nasty-looking string in far west Kansas).
Friday forecast is for 99F; following week is all 100F+, with
or without scattered storms. For all the bad weather we've had,
last night was the hardest.
Update: The Wichita Eagle this morning said the high was 95F
yesterday. I believe they get their figures from the weather station
at the airport. My WeatherUnderground reports come from a station at
25th and Amidon in northwest Wichita, which is a bit closer to where
we live. The latter station has tended to run a bit hotter lately;
e.g., it's reading 99.9F now, whereas the weather feed to my computer
is reading 93F (but may be delayed; at 2:36PM it's still warming
Christgau website issue (quote from Cyclops703):
As long as I "have you on the line", why is it that albums in the
main database that have been regraded no longer carry a bracketed
notice of "later "?
Those are in the CG column files. In virtually every case they are
records that were given revised reviews in a subsequent CG
book. (You'll notice that this happened a lot more often in the
1970s.) There are a mere handful since 2000 -- the first NERD, the
first LCD Soundsystem, the Very Best come to mind -- where a record
got a second shot in a later CG column. There would, of course, be
more if there was a post-2000 book, although I don't recall there
being a lot in the 1990s book.
Cyclops703 again, another website matter:
One thing that would be neat if it could be implemented is for the
artist search to be a little more forgiving of misspellings, missing
words in the name, etc.
Fuzzy word searches are really hard to do, at least well, and given
the way the software is layered would have to be pushed down toward
the database to be at all efficient, which isn't practical for me to
do (i.e., I don't have that level of control over the server). PHP has
support for soundex (which doesn't strike me as useful at all) and
Levenshtein (which might be useful but is reportedly real slow, all
the more so when you factor in that I'd have to pull everything from
the database before processing each search).
I rarely have a problem with the CG search, which may partly be
because I know how it works. I usually do two searches, one against
the literal artist name, the second against a sort key constructed
from the artist name. I hack caps to lower case, and squeeze out
spaces and (I think) punctuation (at least on the second search), and
look for substrings when exact matches fail. If you do have trouble,
try shortening the search string; hopefully you'll get a list to pick
I haven't touched the htdig search engine ("Text Search") since I
installed it. I don't use it much, haven't heard many complaints, and
don't have it configured locally so it's mostly out of sight and out
of mind. I do worry that it will fall down completely some day. The
software is still around, presumably evolved. I should do more with
it, but like I said.
A few nights ago I figured out how to add a third search box to
query google, so that will be included in the next update. It's pretty
basic (not the commercial package they sell), but may help, especially
as it builds on stuff you (presumably) already know.
Tuesday, August 02, 2011
There's an article in the Wichita Eagle this morning speculating on
whether today would break the all-time high temperature record here in
Wichita, KS. Forecast calls for 113F, and the record, from the hellacious
summer of 1936, was 114F, so it won't take much of a stretch. (As of 2PM
it's 110F, so it's pretty close to on track.) The lowest high in the
seven day forecast is 99F on August 8, but they usually hedge back to
seasonal norms the further out they go. We're in a drought, too, about
six inches down for the year, which works out to about -35%. The winter
wheat has been harvested and wasn't anything to brag about. The corn's
taking a beating, and is likely to be popped off the cobb by the time
this summer is over. But the most apocalyptic sign is most of the lakes
in Kansas -- and thanks to the dambuilders we have quite a few -- have
been closed due to algae blooms: the iconic picture this year is dead
fish floating in gunky scum. In 1936, which drove Kansas so stir-crazy
they voted a Democratic landslide, we had 40 days topping 100F. We're
close to 30 now, and August is just beginning, so that record, which
seemed incredible a few months ago, now looks like a sure thing. Too
bad there are no Democrats left in Kansas these days. Obama gave the
last of them Washington jobs, so they're cooling their heels elsewhere.
Some of this we can just suffer through. It will cool off in late
September, or October. Whether the rains return is harder to say: in
normal times winters are dry and spring is lush (albeit dangerous),
but two or three drougt years in a row would have a huge impact. We
already depend a lot on Lake Cheney for water, and it's one of those
aforementioned algae ponds. Of course, the farmers will have a rough
time. In southwest Kansas the difference between now and the 1930s is
irrigation, but the Ogalalla Aquifer is rapidly being drained and in
a few decades a quarter of the state will revert to dessert. Whether
that translates to dust storms depends on how smart we are about
managing the transition, but a glance at the global warming debate
suggests we're not very smart at all. Like the debt limit crisis,
the biggest problem is the obduracy of the denialists and their
uncanny political clout. But unlike the debt limit crisis, there
is no simple solution, and there may be no solution at all. I'm not
one to get all apocalyptic about climate change. I figure there are
always ways to adjust, not least is to get the hell out of Dodge.
(Dodge City, by the way, seems to be booming now -- at least if
you don't mind perfumed manure and flies -- but most likely will
be a ghost town by 2040.)
But the global warming crisis doesn't have a "drop dead" date
to focus frenzied efforts at a solution. (At least not a date in
the near future; the opportunity to make relatively painless plans
to reduce CO2 to a stable 350 ppm is well past.) But
the debt limit crisis at least came with the courtesy of a firm
must-take-action date: today. That was because this was an entirely
synthetic political crisis. The fact that there even was such a
limit was a fluke of history. That the House Republicans could use
this threat to leverage their agenda over nominal Democratic control
of the Senate and White House was an unprecedented and brazen power
grab. That they got away with it shows you just how unprincipled and
inept President Obama has become. Still, it's no surprise that in the
end the Republicans came to terms. They like to think of themselves
as the party of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich, and in the
end nobody had more to lose from default than the rich -- especially
both parties favorite lobby, the banking industry. (Don't tell AIPAC.)
I've been highlighting links on this for months now, and have a few
more since Sunday. But especially in this heat I don't expect them
to keep until next Sunday, so I figured I should kick them out now.
Paul Krugman: The President Surrenders:
Did the president have any alternative this time around? Yes.
First of all, he could and should have demanded an increase in the
debt ceiling back in December. When asked why he didn't, he replied
that he was sure that Republicans would act responsibly. Great call.
And even now, the Obama administration could have resorted to legal
maneuvering to sidestep the debt ceiling, using any of several options.
In ordinary circumstances, this might have been an extreme step. But
faced with the reality of what is happening, namely raw extortion on
the part of a party that, after all, only controls one house of Congress,
it would have been totally justifiable.
At the very least, Mr. Obama could have used the possibility of a
legal end run to strengthen his bargaining position. Instead, however,
he ruled all such options out from the beginning.
But wouldn't taking a tough stance have worried markets? Probably
not. In fact, if I were an investor I would be reassured, not dismayed,
by a demonstration that the president is willing and able to stand up
to blackmail on the part of right-wing extremists. Instead, he has
chosen to demonstrate the opposite.
Make no mistake about it, what we're witnessing here is a catastrophe
on multiple levels.
It is, of course, a political catastrophe for Democrats, who just a
few weeks ago seemed to have Republicans on the run over their plan to
dismantle Medicare; now Mr. Obama has thrown all that away. And the
damage isn't over: there will be more choke points where Republicans
can threaten to create a crisis unless the president surrenders, and
they can now act with the confident expectation that he will.
In the long run, however, Democrats won't be the only losers. What
Republicans have just gotten away with calls our whole system of
government into question. After all, how can American democracy work
if whichever party is most prepared to be ruthless, to threaten the
nation's economic security, gets to dictate policy? And the answer is,
maybe it can't.
For more Krugman, with video, see:
Natasha Lennard: Krugman: America Is Heading for a "Lost Decade".
The "lost decade" line, in case you don't know, refers to the 1990s
in Japan which never managed to get back on track after their 1980s
real estate bubble burst. Krugman's study of Japan in the 1990s led
him to write The Return of Depression Economics in 1999, which
is later revised in 2008 to remind us he told us so.
Andrew Leonard's take was much the same, down to titling his post
President Obama's Surrender.
Steve Benen: The Contrarian Defense for a survey of liberal arguments
trying to rationalize the deal as something less than awful. Good luck
with those. One may be stuck with Obama, but that's no reason to make
Some more scattered links:
Tom Engelhardt: Lowering America's War Ceiling?:
Meanwhile back in Washington -- not, mind you, the Washington of the
debt-ceiling crisis, but the war capital on the banks of the Potomac --
national security spending still seems to be on an upward trajectory.
At $526 billion (without the costs of the Afghan and Iraq wars added in),
the 2011 Pentagon budget is, as Lawrence Korb, former assistant secretary
of defense under President Ronald Reagan, has written, "in real or
inflation adjusted dollars . . . higher than at any
time since World War II, including the Korean and Vietnam Wars and
the height of the Reagan buildup." The 2012 Pentagon budget is presently
slated to go even higher. [ . . . ]
In little of the reporting on this was it apparent that Obama's
$400 billion in Pentagon "cuts" are not cuts at all -- not unless you
consider an obese person, who continues eating at the same level but
reduces his dreams of ever grander future repasts, to be on a diet.
The "cuts" in the White House proposal, that is, will only be from
projected future Pentagon growth rates. Nor were the "savings" of up
to one trillion dollars over a decade being projected by Senator Harry
Reid as part of his deficit-reduction plan cuts either, not in the usual
sense anyway. They are expected savings based largely on the prospective
winding down of America's wars and, like so much funny money, could
evaporate with the morning dew. (In his last minute deal with John
Boehner, President Obama's Pentagon "savings" have, in fact, been
reduced to a provisional $350 billion over 10 years.)
The prospect of military cuts -- indeed, of rolling back the imperial
mission that critics like Chalmers Johnson have long been warning will
bankrupt the US -- does seem to be more exposed than ever. What's lacking
is the broad change of understanding of America's role. I recall when
Obama promised to change how we think about war, but thus far the only
opinion he's changed has been his own.
James K Galbraith: Why the Senate Should Reject the Debt Ceiling Deal:
The debt deal is bad economics, dishonest government, and surrender to
blackmail. The alternative is not default, but government under the
On the economics: by slowly choking off public services, public
investment and regulation, the deal sets the economy on a path to
strangulation. Every dollar cut from the budget, now or later, is a
dollar less of private income. Less private income means less consumption,
less private business investment, fewer jobs. Tax revenues will fall,
and the deficits and debt will in the end not be reduced. The so-called
"cloud of debt" will not lift. Contrary to the foolish claim made by
the White House today, there is no magic by which "lifting a cloud of
uncertainty" produces growth. There is no confidence fairy.
On dishonesty: the proposed cuts would reduce discretionary public
spending as a share of GDP to what it was before the government had any
major role in transportation, housing, education, safety, health, medical
research or environmental protection. To where it was before the NIH or
the CDC, before HUD, before the EPA, before OSHA, before the Department
of Education. This is a false promise: those cuts cannot and will not be
found. To promise them is to play to the gallery of the ignorant.
[ . . . ]
On blackmail: This deal validates the making of real policy under the
appearance of extreme threats. That process will not end here. And while
Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid escaped in the first round, they
are set up to fall in the second. The deal creates a new junta to force
those cuts before the end of this year. The process is repellent, cruel,
undemocratic, and designed to leave blood on the ground but not on
And the alternative? Is it economic disaster? No.
The alternative is not default. No crisis need ensue. The Constitution
forbids default -- not only on debt but also on pensions and on every
public obligation of the United States. The Constitution is not a last
resort; the 14th amendment is not obscure. It is the fundamental law,
written in plain English. Debts, pensions and other obligations must
William Hogeland: The Founding Fathers Would Have Hated the Debt Ceiling:
The Constitution came about precisely to enable a newly large government --
a national one -- to tax all Americans for the specific purpose of funding
a large public debt. Neither Alexander Hamilton nor his mentor the financier
Robert Morris made any bones about that purpose; James Madison was among
their closest allies; and Edmund Randolph of Virginia opened the Constitutional
Convention by charging the delegates to redress the country's failure to
fund -- not pay off, fund -- the public debt, by creating a national
Andrew Leonard: The Senate Puts on Its Debt Ceiling Happy Face:
But even worse than the suffocating anticlimax was the feeling of
dangerous pointlessness. Because even as congressional leaders and the
president, amid their endless torrents of mutual recrimination, devoted
countless hours in recent weeks to crafting a deficit reduction plan,
economic conditions in the U.S. have been steadily deteriorating. We
haven't had any surprises on the debt ceiling front since Sunday, but
we have learned a couple of new things about the economy.
On Monday, an index of manufacturing activity delivered its worst
performance in two years. On Tuesday, the Commerce Department reported
that consumer spending fell for the first time in 20 months.
Both releases followed a Friday report from the Bureau of Economic
Analysis that pegged GDP growth for the second quarter at a very low
There is nothing in the debt ceiling bill that addresses the nation's
current economic struggles. There's even a reasonable chance that the
debt ceiling agreement's impact on the economy will increase future
deficits. There's no better cure for expanding deficits than a growing
economy, but the opposite is equally true. Because if the spending cuts
mandated by the deal further weaken overall demand, and the economy
slips back into recession, tax revenues will start to fall again.
Michael Lind: The Tea Party, the Debt Ceiling, and White Southern
Extremism: Shouldn't be a big surprise that the Tea Party Caucus
is mostly a club for neo-Confederate southern Republicans. The most
relevant point here is that there has been a precedent for a faction
in Congress to use extortion to bully the majority into coddling its
The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798 and 1799 asserted the
alleged right of states to "nullify" any federal law that state lawmakers
considered unconstitutional. This obstructionist mentality led to the
Nullification Crisis of 1832, when South Carolina refused to enforce
federal tariffs. Civil War was averted only when President Andrew Jackson,
a Southerner himself, forced the nullifiers to back down.
In 1820 and 1850 the South used the threat of secession to force the
rest of the United States to appease it on the slavery issue. In 1861,
the South tried to destroy the United States, rather than accept a
legitimately elected president, Abraham Lincoln, whom it did not control.
Lind doesn't go into this, but nullification has returned as a pet
theory of the far right. You can see why when you look at all the nutty
laws state legislatures have passed since the 2010 election.
Alex Pareene: What the 2012ers' Debt-Deal Statements Actually Mean:
Mitt Romney, of course, then Michelle Bachman, then on down the line.
Michele Bachmann has been against everything Mitt Romney is against
since before Mitt Romney is against it, of course. She opposes the deal,
she opposed the old Boehner bill, she opposed raising the debt ceiling
at all, and she opposed the notion that anything bad would happen if we
didn't raise the debt ceiling. She opposes reality.
[ . . . ]
Ron Paul is against the plan because he's Ron Paul, and the debt ceiling
plan did not involve eliminating the Fed and returning America to the
"wooden teeth standard." If elected president, America will once again
lead the world in freedom-per-capita. (And probably tuberculosis.)
Newt Gingrich came out with a statement that managed to be long,
detailed and completely meaningless. ("For instance, Strong America
Now, led by Michael George, believes that $500 billion per year can be
saved by applying Lean Six Sigma to the federal government.")
[ . . . ]
Herman Cain said . . . nothing, about the debt ceiling
compromise plan? He might not understand it. Or he might not care about
problems he can't blame on Muslims? Jon Huntsman said the deal "is a
positive step toward cutting our nation's crippling debt." This means
nothing because John Huntsman will never be president.
Tim Pawlenty took the most extreme-right line of any candidate so far
(the cut-cap-and-balance plan did not cut, cap, and balance enough
for him!) but no one noticed or cared.
By the way, Gingrich followed this up by declaring that the Obama
administration is really
"a Paul Krugman presidency": "[Obama believes that stuff. He actually
believes in left-wing economic ideas. The only problem with them is that
they don't work." Many people have commented on the real distance between
Krugman and Obama. That's true, but with so many right-wingers equating
Obama with Marx and Engels, the link to Krugman is rather kind. But the
more important point is that, even though Krugman's liberalism is so
consistent and principled that I'm inclined to regard him as a pretty
good guy, his economics is pure textbook, thoroughly grounded in what
does work and cognizant of what doesn't work. I fail to see how those
ideas are even left-wing, except relative to a long line of right-wing
hacks from Hayek to Friedman to a bunch of forgettable Chicago neocons
whose track record, especially in full ideological mode, is nothing
less than dismal.
Dean Baker: Will the US Credit Rating Be Downgraded?:
This isn't an economic or philosophical question; it is a simple matter
of logic. The United States borrows in dollars. The United States also
issues dollars. How could the United States ever be in a situation where
it can't get the dollars needed to pay off its debt? Apart from a debt
ceiling debate, where Congress effectively forces a default for reasons
that have nothing to do with the country's creditworthiness, it is pretty
much impossible to see how the country could default.
It could be argued that printing dollars would lead to inflation,
which would reduce the value of Treasury bonds. While this may be true,
if this is the criterion that the bond rating agencies are using to
evaluate debt, then any expectation of increased inflation would
necessarily imply a downgrade of all debt issued in dollars. However,
none of the credit rating agencies are talking about an across-the-board
downgrading of dollar-denominated debt.
Before anyone gets too excited about the risk of a downgrade, they
should have an idea of what they think it means. I have yet to see
anyone provide a remotely coherent explanation of what the credit
rating agencies would be saying if they downgraded US government debt.
There are a lot of Wall Street finance and Washington policy types
who desperately want to cut Social Security and Medicare. They are
willing to lie, cheat, steal and spend tons of money to accomplish
this goal. The threat of credit downgrade is a great piece of ammunition
for this gang. We should torture them by insisting that they explain
what it means before they can be taken seriously.
Haven't had time to look very far, but there's a lot here, and more
to look at later. Also note that there will be more such extortion
crises, especially since Obama has lost all of his bin Laden bump in
the polls, making this look like a political as well as a practical
Republican victory. Meanwhile, note that Congress left the FAA unfunded,
forcing 4000 workers to be "furloughed" (laid off). Those are the folks
responsible for making sure the airplanes millions of people travel in
are safe, so it's only a matter of time until one drops out of the sky
and people notice. What then?
Update: WeatherUnderground peaked out at 114.3F today in Wichita,
dropping down to 110.8 as I'm wrapping this up. My Linux computer has a
toolbar weather thingy that never topped 109F, and is now down to 108F.
Will have to wait until tomorrow to get the official high temperature.
Update 2: The FAA story has finally risen to the lead at
Talking Points Memo. Once again, the Democrats are prepared to
cave in. Also added the Dean Baker item above.
Quoting and responding to Cyclops703:
I mean, does anyone really need him to tell them that the NY Dolls
released their weakest album by a very wide margin back in March?
Doesn't seem so obvious to me: I know I liked this year's album much
more than its predecessor. Probably more than the reunion from 2006 that
Bob went head over heels for. At this point it's a reasonable inference
that Bob likes it less -- not like he's ever been bashful praising a
Dolls album he likes. Why is another matter, but at some level it always
On Matt Taibbi (NickyF has been slamming him):
Before my mind wandered, I meant to say something in defense of
I love Matt Taibbi, partly because he says things that should be said
that hardly anyone else says, and partly because he is out there doing
real investigative journalism. His stuff in Spanking the Donkey
on the 2004 campaign is eye-opening, even more for what he finds in his
fellow press than in the politicians -- how appropriate that he ends
with his Wimblehack dissection. His stuff on right-wing Christians in
The Great Derangement is also quite sharp (and hardly more
incendiary than Chris Hedges' American Fascists). The financial
stuff is harder to do well, but Griftopia covers all the major
points and found at least one angle that no one else hit on: Goldman's
manipulation of commodity markets. Sure, someone else could have done
a defter job of eviscerating Alan Greenspan. But Hank Paulson is a guy
who after assuming the role of a "public servant" he made sure that his
former company's archrival was destroyed, then invented whole new
rationales to pay off AIG's debts (especially to Goldman, exactly
the sort of thing he claimed he had no authority to do with Lehman).
If anything, Taibbi was too kind there.
Of course, if you're not familiar with how finance works (and often
blows up) these days, there are a lot of other books to help you out.
Charles Morris's The [Two] Trillion Dollar Meltdown (paperback
edition added "Two" to the title) is a good primer. John Lanchester's
IOU is especially good on how banking works. Nomi Prins's It
Takes a Pillage and Yves Smith's Econned are probably the
best overall -- the latter edging into economic theory (home ground
for John Cassidy's When Markets Fail). I haven't read Jeff
Madrick's Age of Greed but it's gotten good reviews for going
back in history. Michael Lewis's Liar's Poker is old (he now
describes it as "how quaint") gives you an idea of how it felt being
a bond trader. (His newer The Big Short has some of that too,
but tries to put a smiley face on the whole thing.) Kevin Phillips's
prophetic Bad Money caught the leading edge of the crisis.
Krugman hasn't done anything new book-length, probably because he's
more interested in the recession than in what triggered it, although
he did a quick edit on his prophetic 10-year-old book and extended
the title to The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of
2008. It's also a good time to get reacquainted with Keynes (see
Robert Skidelsky's Keynes: The Return of the Master). I've
read all of these (except Madrick) and a dozen more, but these are
the choice cuts. By the way, they're all pretty mainstream, too. If
you want a real left analysis, see David Harvey's The Enigma of
Capital and the Crises of Capitalism (a very smart big-picture
book, but expect a tough slog).
One thing some people keep lecturing us on is the need to write
so your opponents can understand you, which Taibbi has a problem
with. But the fact is that 80% (maybe more) of the stuff coming
from the right is sheer gibberish unless you're a true believer,
and that seems to work out pretty well for them. So I think that
what Taibbi does has a place on our side. I know several people
who slogged through Simon Johnson and Nouriel Roubini and such
and then had it all make sense when they read Taibbi.
Monday, August 01, 2011
Music: Current count 18471  rated (+8), 877  unrated (+27).
Aside from a tiny bit of prospecting, spent the entire week listening to
previously rated Jazz CG records and writing up reviews. Happy to say
that's done with and I can do something else for the next few weeks.
Weather remains beyond miserable.
Jazz Prospecting (JCG #27, Part 13)
OK, my Jazz Consumer Guide (27) draft is essentially complete.
I have 14 records in the top section, 35 in the HMs, 1591 words,
one slam dunk pick hit, one semi-random pick hit (took the longest
review of several more-or-less equivalently good records). Pushed
off to next time: 15 top section, 27 HMs, 1426 words, plus quite
a few graded but unwritten HMs (only two graded but unwritten A-).
I have some paperwork to do on the transition. I have a bunch of
HMs that I've dumped into the surplus file, so actually the "done"
file is pretty slim right now (32 records; it's usually more like
The Jazz Prospecting file for this round is
here. I listened to
249 records while working on this column, plus had 84 carryovers
from the previous round. By historical standards, that's relatively
high -- the result of losing over a month to illness this summer.
The incoming queue has 244 records, a bit more than usual. Seems
like I get less mail than I used to, but this week's unpacking is
much more than it's been in several months. Some of this is seasonal
slump, so should pick up a bit in the fall. (I got my first October
Not a lot of prospecting below, since I spent most of the week
listening to previously graded records. I did manage to go back and
re-listen to everything on my shelf with [ ] grades:
two records moved up a notch, one down. Also some Rhapsody stuff
below, which is pretty irrelevant to the Jazz CG column -- I don't
consider Rhapsody streams (except for duds), but may find something
worth seeking out a real copy of (e.g., Harrison Bankhead). I did,
however, seek out the Lapin to get some perspective on his album
with François Carrier, and I'm always curious about the others.
Next week (unless I take a break, but I'm finally feeling enough
better that I doubt it) will start the cycle for Jazz CG (28). But
I'll probably keep working through the "done" records and trimming
the "surplus" while I'm on a roll. Plus sometime in the next week
or so we should have A Downloader's Diary, Recycled Goods, and a
bunch of Rhapsody Streamnotes. So stay tuned. Now that the world's
been saved, enjoy some music. Especially before you find out what
it's going to cost you.
Sunny Voices (1981-2008 , Sunnyside): Label
sampler, from a perennial contender for best jazz label of whatever
year. Founded in 1982 by François Zalacain and Christine Berthet,
the label's taste has always been eclectic, sometimes influenced by
its ability to pick up records stranded in France. However, this
sampler is limited to vocal tracks, where eclectic tastes turn into
pretty idiosyncratic ones. Meredith D'Ambrosio has been on board
from the beginning, and they picked up Jay Clayton in the mid-'90s;
Jeanne Lee and Linda Sharrock appear via opportune reissues; most
of the later tracks come from Europe or Latin America, and two (Ana
Moura and Milton Nascimento) are picked up from Tim Ries' Stones
World. I've heard slightly more than half of the albums (10 of
17) and don't especially recommend any. They flow rather painlessly
here, but this isn't very useful.
Ezra Weiss: The Shirley Horn Suite (2010 ,
Roark): Pianist, b. 1979, grew up in Arizona, studied in Oregon,
wound up in New York. Fifth album since 2002. (I still have an
earlier one, Alice in Wonderland: A Jazz Musical, wedged
in my queue; something I should do something about.) A tribute
to Shirley Horn, focusing more to her underrated piano than on
her voice -- although the very similar sounding Shirley Nanette
sings four songs (all Weiss originals). Weiss wrote five of
nine pieces, taking the four covers as instrumentals for a
tasteful piano trio.
E.J. Antonio: Rituals in the Marrow: Recipe for a Jam
Session (2010, Blue Zygo): Poet, grew up in Harlem, got
a MBA from NYIT, she doesn't dislose any timeline other than that
she first published in 2003. First album; I've seen mention of a
book but Amazon doesn't have it. Words don't strike me with the
clarity of Dan Raphael's record, but she scratches raw and her
praise song gospel whoop on "Pullman Porter" registers strongly.
Backed with bass pulse, Michael T.A. Thompson soundrhythium, and
best of all Joe Giardullo's reeds -- mostly soprano sax to my
ear. Gets better along the way, which may mean I need to give
it more time, but it already makes a terrific contrast to the
Lutalo "Sweet Lu" Olutosin: Tribute to Greatness
(2010, Sweet Lu Music): Singer, from Gary, IN, based in DC after
passing through Atlanta and the military. He grew up on gospel,
but found his calling in vocalese, drawing on King Pleasure and
Jon Hendricks and writing a little himself. Don't recognize the
band, but Winfield Gaylor's sax helps.
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
Alexey Lapin/Yury Yaremchuk: Anatomy of Sound (2010,
SoLyd): Russian pianist, appears with François Carrier on Inner
Spire so I thought I should check him out further. (Also has a
new solo piano album on Leo, Parallels.) Yaremchuk is from
the Ukraine; plays soprano sax (first three cuts) and bass clarinet
(two more). Last two cuts offer a solo each, with Lapin engulfed in
roiling chordal density where Yaremchuk spaces out the sounds of his
bass clarinet. The improv together is on the ugly side of free, but
picks up interest whenever they get faster and louder.
Harris Eisenstadt: Canada Day II (2010 ,
Songlines): Drummer, b. 1975 in Toronto; has been around -- New
York, Los Angeles, Gambia -- winding up in Brooklyn, where he has
close to ten records since 2002 and a growing reputation as a
composer. Same group did Canada Day in 2008: Matt Bauder
(tenor sax), Nate Wooley (trumpet), Chris Dingman (vibes), Eivind
Opsvik (bass). The horns can spin free or play postbop harmony,
but in either case the vibraphone offers both a soft sell and a
lot of open space. Full of surprises which may or may not work;
hard to tell in a single pass.
Harris Eisenstadt: Woodblock Prints (2010, NoBusiness):
This album got a lot of year-end attention last year -- I think it even
won a poll in Spain for best album of the year, so I figured I should
check it out. The drummer is barely audible, but his compositions for
nonet offer intriguing, albeit mostly plodding, moves. The group is
divided into a "brass trio" (French horn, trombone, and tuba) and a
"wind trio" (clarinet, alto sax, bassoon). Final piece ("Andrew Hill")
picks up the pace and begins to live up to the billing.
Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens de Couleur Libre
(2010 , Constellation): Young alto saxophonist from Chicago, has
the AACM thing going, a couple of good records under her belt. This is
an ambitious dive into black history, a large band with three saxes,
trumpet, piano, guitar, some strings, two bassists, drums, various odds
and ends, many pieces with vocals. A lot of rage, understandable enough,
but hard to follow. "I Am," for instance, starts with screams, which out
of context are faintly ridiculous, then segues into a singsong rap odd
but not untouching or uninteresting. There's something here, probably
more than just catharsis.
Harrison Bankhead Sextet: Morning Sun Harvest Moon
(2010 , Engine): Bassist, from Chicago, first album as leader
but has side-credits since 1991, mostly with Malachi Thompson, Fred
Anderson, Roscoe Mitchell, and Nicole Mitchell. Starts with a pair
of wood flutes. Picks up the bass and a beat and even dabbles in
what sounds a little like South Africa, eventually moving into more
treacherous regions, although idiosyncratic, underkeyed rhythm
pieces predominate. Two reed players, Edward Wilkerson Jr. and Mars
Williams; James Sanders on violin (all the more useful for a Leroy
Jenkins tribute); Avreayl Ra on drums and Ernie Adams on percussion.
Nothing here blows you over. It keeps returning to the center, which
is the bass.
Marius Neset: Golden Xplosion (2010 , Edition):
Saxophonist (soprano and tenor), from Norway, 25 (1985?), did a semester
at Berklee, studied more in Copenhagen, latched onto Django Bates, who
plays keyboards here. Second album. The fast stuttery sax runs are fun.
The ballads aren't. And Bates indulges in some keyboard overkill early
on, intended to crank up the energy level, which works to a point. Some
folks are blown away, but some of us are old enough to recall Bates' old
sax chum, Iain Ballamy.
Ran Blake: Grey December: Live in Rome (2010 ,
Tompkins Square): Pianist, b. 1935, thirty-some albums since 1961,
many of them solo, especially recently. Difficult player for me to
get a handle on, even when he plays something as familiar as "Nature
Boy." This doesn't move much, and while the melodic motifs are not
without interest, I can't really tell you why.
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further
listening the first time around.
Terrell Stafford: This Side of Strayhorn (2010 ,
MaxJazz): No surprises here: the songs are classic, the rhythm section
(Bruce Barth, Peter Washington, Dana Hall) can swing, the horns drive,
with Tim Warfield favoring his soprano sax over his usual tenor, and
the leader is almost always out front, earning his showcase.
Terrence McManus: Transcendental Numbers (2009 ,
NoBusiness): With Gerry Hemingway and Mark Helias, more scattered than
his duo with Hemingway alone, more because he favors scratchy abstraction
here over the electrified chords there. That seems like a strategic
choice, not something to pin on the bassist, who is fine as always.
Davis S. Ware/Cooper-Moore/William Parker/Muhammad Ali:
Planetary Unknown (2010 , AUM Fidelity): Continuing
rehab, testing out a new quartet with two subs older than the old
quartet -- no point in even thinking about replacing Parker -- with
the old fire coming back, colored a bit by switching to soprano three
tracks in, then winding up the seventh on stritch. Ware's soprano is
distinctive but wears a bit thin. Had my doubts at first about
Cooper-Moore's piano, but focusing in I hear sharp angled comping,
not as fluid as Shipp but suits the leader fine.
Inzinzac (2010 , High Two): Guitar-sax-drums
trio: says they're "an improvising jazz trio playing rock music in
odd time signatures" which is about right if by rock you mostly mean
loud. Whereas guitar displaced sax in rock and roll, in what we might
call hardcore fusion the two instruments are often side-by-side, the
guitar tuned sax-like, sometimes louder but never quite as clear as
the horn. Dan Scofield mostly plays soprano here, so he consistently
come out higher and clearer, providing a sharp metallic edge to Alban
Bailly's guitar backbone. The "odd" time signatures include free.
Wadada Leo Smith's Organic: Heart's Reflections (2011,
Cuneiform, 2CD): Mostly electric, including the trumpet as well as lots
of guitars and bass, plus some keyb and laptop, which wouldn't have
been my first expectation for a band named Organic, but the AACM vet
who a decade ago took a wild turn through electric Miles (Yo! Miles)
has his own sense of history. First disc, with its Don Cherry tribute
opening and a big chunk of the title thing, is uproarious. Second
winds down the title thing and ends with tirbutes to Toni Morrison
and Leroy Jenkins, which are more halting, erratic, difficult.
Steven Lugerner: These Are the Words/Narratives
(2010 , self-released, 2CD): Reed player -- clarinet, bass
clarinet, soprano sax, alto sax, oboe, English horn -- leads a
sharp quartet (Darren Johnston, Myra Melford, Matt Wilson) on one
disc and a more sprawling mostly-European septet on the second.
Melford is sharp as ever, but doesn't get to do much as the softer
reeds tend to coalesce into fog.
Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:
- Wolfert Brederode Quartet: Post Scriptum (ECM)
- Cloning Americana: For Which It Stands (Sunnyside): Aug. 30
- Avishai Cohen: Seven Seas (Sunnyside): Aug. 30
- Cecilia Coleman Big Band: Oh Boy! (Interplay)
- François Couturier: Tarkovsky Quartet (ECM)
- Deep Blue Organ Trio: Wonderful! (Origin)
- Armen Donelian: Leapfrog (Sunnyside): Sept. 13
- Chris Donnelly: Metamorphosis (Alma)
- Agustí Fernández: El Laberint de la Memória (Mbari Musica)
- 5 After 4: Rome in a Day (Alma)
- Glows in the Dark: Beach of the War Gods (self-released)
- Jerry Gonzalez: Jerry Gonzalez y el Comando de la Clave (Sunnyside): Aug. 30
- David Greenberger/Jupiter Circle: Never Give Up Study (Pel Pel): Oct. 11
- David Greenberger/Ralph Carney: OH, PA (Pel Pel): Oct. 11
- David Greenberger/Bangalore: How I Became Uncertain (Pel Pel): Oct. 11
- David Greenberger/Mark Greenberg: Tell Me That Before (Pel Pel): Oct. 11
- Marquis Hill: New Gospel (self-released)
- Steve Lipman: There's a Song in My Heart (Locomotion)
- Jocelyn Medina: We Are Water (self-released)
- Brad Mehldau & Kevin Hays: Modern Music (Nonesuch): advance, Sept. 20
- Nils Økland/Sigbjørn Apeland: Lysøen/Homage to Ole Bull (ECM)
- Oscar Perez Nuevo Comienzo: Afropean Affair (Chandra): Oct. 11
- Mark Segger Sextet: The Beginning (18th Note)
- Lobi Traore: Bwati Kono "In the Club" (Kanaga System Krush)
- The Tommy Vig Orchestra 2012: Welcome to Hungary! (Klasszikus Jazz): advance
- Larry Vuckovich: Somethin' Special (Tetrachord)
- Westchester Jazz Orchestra: Maiden Voyage Suite (WJO)
- Woody Witt: Pots and Kettles (Blue Bamboo Music)
- Sam Yahel: From Sun to Sun (Origin): Aug. 16
Nicky mentioned Pynchon, so I figured what the hell and wrote:
I read Pynchon's V back when I was in college -- not related
to any course -- and thought it was the best novel I'd ever
read. Can't say as I've read any better since, but also can't say as
I've read many. Stalled out on Gravity's Rainbow about 300
pages in. Still intend to pick it up again someday, like when/if I
give up on political problems and decide to just enjoy what's left of
my life. (The way things are going this could be the year.)
One novel I did read and never hear anyone talk about is Tom
Carson's Gilligan's Wake. Sometimes I feel like we're the same
person living in slightly discontinuous universes, close enough that
he can sometimes write out of my subconscious. But he did really get
snookered by Bob Dole, who remains in my mind the fount of all things
evil in the Kansas Republican Party. (I do credit Dole with one good
joke: facing a picture of Ford, Carter, and Nixon, he said: "see no
evil, hear no evil, and evil.")