April 2017 Notebook
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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Weekend Roundup

One-hundred days after Trump became President of the United States, about the best you can say is that he could have done even worse than he did. People make fun of him for only appointing a few dozen of the thousand-plus presidential appointees, but he's hit most of the top positions, including one Supreme Court justice, and he's picked some of the worst nominees imaginable -- in fact, a few way beyond anything rational fears imagined. But one of his worst picks, former General Michael Flynn as National Security Director, has already imploded, and another notorious one, Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, looks like he's been consigned to the dog house.

Despite having Republican congressional majorities, Trump has yet to pass any major legislation -- although he's proposed some, and/or bought into Paul Ryan's even more demented schemes. So thus far the main thing Trump has done has been to sign executive orders -- dozens of the things, nearly all aimed at undoing executive orders Obama had started signing once he realized he wasn't going to get any help from the Republican-controlled Congress. While Trump's orders are truly disturbing, that's not so much what they do -- even the ones that aren't promptly blocked by the courts -- as what they reveal about the administration's mentality (or lack thereof).

Trump has also had a relatively free hand when it comes to foreign policy -- especially the prerogatives that Congress has granted the president to bomb other countries. His first acts were to escalate American involvement in Yemen, although he's followed that up with attacks against America's usual targets in the Middle East: Syria, Iraq, and Libya. But while nothing good ever comes from America flexing its military muscles in the Middle East, a more dangerous scenario is unfolding with North Korea, with both sides threatening pre-emptive attacks in response to the other's alleged provocations. By insisting on an ever-more-constricting regime of sanctions, the US has cornered and wounded North Korea, while North Korea has developed both offensive and defensive weapons to such a point that an American attack would be very costly (especially for our ostensible allies in South Korea).

There are many reasons to worry about Trump's ability to handle this crisis. There's little evidence that he understands the risks, or even the history. On the other hand, he's spent eight years lambasting Obama for being indecisive and weak, so he's come into office wanting to look decisive and strong. Moreover, when he ordered an ineffective cruise missile attack on a Syrian air base he was broadly applauded -- a dangerous precedent for someone so fickle. Maybe he has people who will restrain him from ordering a similar attack on Korea, but he often resembles the "mad man" Nixon only feigned at. Nor does Kim Jong Un inspire much confidence as a well-grounded, rational leader (although see Andrei Lankov: Kim Jong Un Is a Survivor, Not a Madman).


First, some 100-day reviews:

Some more scattered links this week in Trump world:


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

  • Amanda Erickson: Turkey just banned Wikipedia, labeling it a 'national security threat'

  • Thomas Frank: The Democrats' Davos ideology won't win back the midwest: Like Frank, I have a soft spot for the midwest -- its farms still productive even as the small towns and factories have decayed and been depopulated. Still, the Democrats' problem isn't regional. It's about class, something the Democrats regard as taboo. Nore are they attracted to "Davos ideology" -- just Davos money, or any money flexible enough to support a party which seeks to be all things to all people while never really satisfying anyone. If they ever want to come back, they have to settle on some vision they can campaign on and deliver -- something that, if not revolution a la Bernie, at least makes spreads the wealth Davos promises much more broadly and equitably. Meanwhile, they're vulnerable to critiques like this one: Cornel West: The Democrats delivered one thing in the past 100 days: disappointment; and Trevor Timm: Everyone loves Bernie Sanders. Except, it seems, the Democratic party.

  • Edward Helmore: Whole Foods Is Tanking -- High-Priced Luxury Foods Don't Jibe With Our Times: I don't see much evidence that the analysis is valid. In times of increasing inequality, there's certainly a niche market selling high-priced food to the wealthy, and there's plenty of evidence of that. Last couple times I was in New York I saw relatively new high-end food stores everywhere. And we've had several, including a Whole Foods, open here in the last couple years. Fresh Market closed, but less for lack of customers than some corporate decision to reduce their distribution area. Whole Foods hangs on -- my impression is with fewer customers, but having gone there several times and walked out empty-handed I rarely bother. Sure, their prices are a big part of the problem, but I hardly ever find anything there I want, much less that I can't find cheaper elsewhere. I really lamented the loss of Fresh Market, but I could care less if these guys go under.

  • Amy Renee Leiker: More than 400 guns stolen from autos in Wichita since 2015: A rather shocking number, I thought, when I read this in our local paper -- especially given how cheap and easy it is to legally buy a gun in this town. Seems to be a nationwide trend: Brian Freskos: Guns Are Stolen in America Up to Once Every Minute. Owners Who Leave Their Weapons in Cars Make It Easy for Thieves.

  • Conor Lynch: Obama's whopping Wall Street payday: Not a freat look for the Democratic Party brand: After raising $60 million in book advances, Obama "agreed to give a speech in September for the Wall Street investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald. His fee will be $400,000." Stephen Colbert's comment: "Hillary wasn't able to continue Obama's legacy -- but at least Obama was able to continue hers." Their interchangeability may have once seemed like a political plus but is starting to look like a curse. The more buckraking Obama does, the more tarnished he will look to those of us who can't fathom their rarefied world, and the easier it will be for Republicans to tar them. As Lynch writes:

    As the Trump administration's recently unveiled tax plan reminds us, the Republican Party is and always will be committed to serving corporations and the billionaire class. Yet this hasn't stopped Republicans from effectively portraying their Democratic opponents as a bunch of snobby, out-of-touch elites over the past 30 years or so. According to a recent Washington Post survey, this rhetoric has paid off: Only 28 percent of respondents believed that the Democratic Party is "in touch with the concerns of most people in the United States."

  • David Marcus: Marxism With Soul: Review of a new collection of essays (Modernism in the Street: A Life and Times in Essays) by the late Marshall Berman.

  • Jonathan Martin: At a 'Unity' Stop in Nebraska, Democrats Find Anything But: An old friend of mine linked to this and tweeted: "Anyone surprised that Bernie-O don't care about a woman's right to choose, when it comes right down to it? Not me!" I'd be surprised if there was any basis for this charge, but that would require several leaps of imagination beyond even what the article claims. The back story is that Sanders and Keith Ellison campaigned for Democrat Heath Mello running for mayor of Omaha, and were attacked by the head of NARAL Pro-Choice America because in Nebraska's state legislature some years ago Mello had voted for several anti-abortion bills. For more background on Mello, see DD Guttenplan: Why Was Heath Mello Thrown Under the Bus? The upshot is that Mello had moved away from his early anti-abortion stance, much like Hillary Clinton's VP pick, Tim Kaine, had done. Even if he hadn't, it's not like I've never supported a Democrat I didn't see eye-to-eye with. It wouldn't bother me if NARAL, as a single-issue lobby, endorsed a Republican candidate with a much better track record on abortion, but those are few and far between out here, and as I understand it local pro-choice people are fine with Mello -- so who's NARAL trying to impress? I suspect that's the anti-populist faction of the national party, which could hardly care less about losing in Nebraska but regards Sanders as a threat. (Remember that the DCCC didn't lift a finger to help a pro-Sanders Democrat run for Congress here in Kansas, even though he had an impeccable pro-choice record which featured heavily in Republican hate ads.) And it's yet another leap of imagination to imply that the reason Sanders supports Mello has anything to do with his lack of interest in abortion rights.

  • DD Guttenplan: Why Was Heath Mello Thrown Under the Bus?: I've seen several complaints from Hillary Democrats about Bernie Sanders supporting Heath Mello's campaign for mayor of Omaha, Nebraska. The charge is that Mello is anti-choice

  • Steve Phillips: Democrats Can Retake the House in 2018 Without Converting a Single Trump Voter: The trick is mobilizing their base, while Trump voters get bored or lazy or disenchanted: "there are 23 Republican incumbents in congressional districts that were won by Hillary Clinton in November. There are another five seats where Clinton came within 2 percent of winning." Phillips is author of Brown Is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority, so one of those guys who thinks Democrats can ride a demographic backlash against Republican racism without actually having to come up with populist positions. That strikes me as unlikely until they establish some credibility, which was something the Clinton-Kaine ticket had little of in 2016. Along these lines, see the John Judis interview with Ruy Teixeira, an early proponent of The Emerging Democratic Majority, Why the Left Will (Eventually) Triumph. He attributes Trump's win to "the declining group, the white non-college voters," who suddenly lunged away from the Democrats in 2016. Asked why:

    They do not have any faith that the Democrats share their values and are going to deliver a better life for them and their kids, and I think Hillary Clinton was a very efficient bearer of that meme. Whether she wanted to or not, the message she sent to these voters is that you are really not that important and I don't take your problems seriously, and frankly I don't have much to offer you. And that's despite the fact that her economic program and policies would have actually been very good for these people. There was a study of campaign advertising in 2016 that showed Hillary outspent Trump significantly and that almost none of her advertising was about what she would actually do. Almost all of it was about how he was a bad dude.

    Voters were fed up with stagnation and with the Democrats and they turned to someone who thought could blow up the system. The way the Democrats and the left could mitigate that problem is to show these voters that they take their problems seriously and have their interests in mind, and could improve their lives.

  • Matthew Rosza: Sam Brownback pushed for concealed carry in Kansas -- now the governor wants to spend $24 million to ban concealed weapons from hospitals: The 2013 law was written to make it prohibitively expensive for any institution to exclude guns from its premises. Turns out that includes psychiatric hospitals, and turns out Brownback finally decided that wasn't such a great idea. Of course, it doesn't help that Brownback's Laffer-inspired tax scheme has forced across-the-board spending cuts while leaving Kansas in a huge fiscal hole.

  • Joe Sexton/Rachel Glickhouse: We're Investigating Hate Across the US. There's No Shortage of Work. Also: Ryan Katz: Hate Crime Law Results in Few Convictions and Lots of Disappointment.

  • Clive Thompson: Gerrymandering Has a Solution After All. It's Called Math

Started this Saturday afternoon (the intro), and the hits just kept on coming.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Streamnotes (April 29)

Pick up text from here.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Book Roundup

I haven't done a Book Roundup since August 21, 2017, so I should have about six months worth of books saved up. I don't, but managed to quickly bag my limit (40 per post), and I'm far from done, so will likely follow this up with a second (and probably third) part before long. I posted four of these in 2016, five in 2015, three in 2014, five in 2013, four in 2012, six in 2011. The main purpose is to keep myself abreast of what's being published, at least in my main areas of interest -- politics, economics, and history -- although I sometimes stray (albeit almost never to literature, a luxury indulgence I haven't had time for in many years).

This whole series has been plagued by long breaks then sudden flurries of research, usually resulting in clusters of 2-3-4 closely spaced posts. At this point I have about thirty more notes written up, and I'm nowhere near caught up. But perhaps my methodology isn't up to snuff. I usually start with my Amazon recommendations then click on various "related" books, but that approach has lately been yielding diminishing returns. (I wonder if their algorithm's slipped or maybe it's becoming more corrupt -- it is, after all, a form of advertising -- or my own data has gotten confused by buying way too many cookbooks.) In the past I've supplmented this by collecting lists at bookstores and libraries, but I hardly ever frequent them anymore.

The other thing that's undercutting my ability to pull forty notes together is that a while back I started adding uncommented notes at the end of posts. At first I was thinking of books that might be worth knowing about but which I didn't have anything non-obvious to add to. One source of these are public figures like Mikhail Gorbachev, Olivier Blanchard, and Sheldon Whitehouse -- I almost includes Elizabeth Warren but decided instead to make a point on Middle Class. Then there are books that don't seem that promising, and books that would just elicit comments similar to past books (the latest Robert D Kaplan has moved into that category. But almost instantly that gave me an out for books I might have written about but don't feel like digging into at the moment. And, as usual, I've grouped some related books under one I wrote about -- not necessarily the best (how would I know?) but the one that got me going.

I have thirty more books in my scratch file, and will continue to collect them for a few more days, so expect a follow up post sooner rather than later (hopefully with more paperbacks; for some reason they're exceptionally hard to find just using Amazon). Given how long it's been, I'll note that I've read (or at least started) five of these books (Peter Frase, James Galbraith on Greece, Wenonah Hauter, Gail Pellett, and Matt Taibbi), have a couple more on the shelf (Dean Baker, the other Galbraith, Bernie Sanders), and plan on ordering a couple more (JVP, John W Dower, maybe Pankaj Mishra). Also, Laura's played the audio of Shattered, so I've picked up some of that, too. (Should be required reading for anyone who thought the Clinton machine had any credibility left 24 years after the populist promises of 1992 -- or for that matter any mechanical skills. I'm not sure whether I can exempt myself, inasmuch as, despite quite a bit of awareness to the contrary, I never doubted that Hillary could have been elected in 2016, nor that she would helm a much less obnoxious administration than the one we got with Trump.)


Jonathan Allen/Arnie Parnes: Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign (2017, Crown): Purports to offer inside dirt on Clinton's failed presidential campaign. Of course, had she won we'd read this differently: perhaps as a triumph over adversity, or maybe just as a vindication for democracy, showing that the people could still see past the shortcomings of the candidate. On the other hand, the fact that she lost, and lost to so unpopular and despicable a candidate as Donald Trump, turns this into a scab you want to pick at -- in the end she lost because too many people hated her more than they feared him, and while that wasn't wholly her fault, she was far from faultless.

Carol Anderson: White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide (2016, Bloomsbury USA): Flips the tables on complaints of "black rage" in response to recent police shootings of unarmed blacks to point out the long history of intemperate rage and resistance of whites at every advance of civil rights since the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery.

Dean Baker: Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured to Make the Rich Richer (paperback, 2016, Center for Economic and Policy Research): How various rules and policies increase inequality, and how different rules could reduce the concentration of wealth. Book available free online as a PDF or ebook.

James Brennan: Against Democracy (2016, Princeton University Press): Philosopher, argues that democracy is inefficient and often misguided, mostly because it pretends that people who don't know shit are entitled to make decisions about how everything is run. Brennan argues for a "epistocracy" -- rule by a small number of people who have qualified by taking rigorous tests (developed no doubt by the epistocracy). Sure, maybe those properly qualified could settle their differences by voting, but the process could just as well be narrowed to ever smaller (more qualified) elites until it achieves the ultimate efficiency of dictatorship. Lots of problems with this: one is that rulers quickly develop interests that run counter to public interests, like self-perpetuation. For all its flaws and corruptions, democracy at least gives lip service to the notion that government serves all (or at least most) of the people, and provides remedies when leaders get out of hand. Winston Churchill famously said that democracy was the worst possible form of government, except for the rest. I suspect what he really appreciated about democracy was that it allowed the voters to periodically take leave of him without having to sever his head. Brennan is reportedly writing books Against Politics and cowriting one called Global Justice as Global Freedom: Why Global Libertarianism Is the Humane Solution to World Poverty. Now if only he can come up with a definition of libertarianism that doesn't suspiciously resemble feudalism.

Noam Chomsky: Requiem for the American Dream: 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power (paperback, 2017, Seven Stories Press): Derived from a documentary film made mostly of interviews with Chomsky. Principles (from chapter titles): 1. reduce democracy; 2. shape ideology; 3. redesign the economy; 4. shift the burden; 5. attack solidarity; 6. run the regulators; 7. engineer elections; 8. keep the rabble in line; 9. manufacture consent; 10. marginalize the population. That needs some fleshing out, but this is probably a fairly succinct primer on an important issue.

Tyler Cowen: The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream (2017, St Martin's Press): How much more proof do you need that "the dream is dead" than that this right-wing hack should come along, lecturing how stupid you were to have ever fallen for the idea in the first place? It may help to point out here that what American Dream always meant was the notion that prosperity should be widely shared -- within the grasp of practically everyone (aka the Middle Class, which is to say the condition of sufficient equality where virtually no one is so poor they cannot share in the nation's increasing prosperity). On the other hand, Cowen's resignation to the oligarchy has less to do with insight and vision than with who signs his checks. Books like this must make the rich feel inevitable and invincible.

Katherine J Cramer: The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker (paperback, 2016, University of Chicago Press): After 2016, when Wisconsin voted down Russ Feingold's Senate run and went with Trump for president, after three statewide wins for weaselly governor Walker, you have to admit that Republicans have had remarkable success at capturing Wisconsin -- the subject here.

Christopher de Bellaigue: The Islamic Enlightenment: The Struggle Between Faith and Reason, 1798 to Modern Times (2017, Liveright): The start date was when Napoleon invaded Egypt, an event more often remembered as the first salvo of European dominance of the Middle East). This deals with the spread of (and reaction to) cultural and intellectual ideas -- what others have called modernism -- from Europe to the intellectual centers of Islam (Cairo, Istanbul, and Tehran).

John W Dower: The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II (paperback, 2017, Haymarket Books): Perhaps our most important historian of Japanese-American relations both during and after WWII, Dower took an interest in Bush's Iraq War schemes when warmongers cited the US occupation of Japan and Germany as successful models for what the Bush administration could do in Iraq. He pointed out many ways in which Iraq was different, but also stressed how the US had changed in ways that made us less fit. I expect a big part of this book to expand on those insights (although possibly not as much as his 2010 book, Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9-11, Iraq.)

Peter Frase: Four Futures: Life After Capitalism (paperback, 2016, Verso): Speculative post-capitalist futurology plotting out broad options based on two axes based on distribution of wealth in a world of plenty or scarcity. Frase calls these options communism, rentism, socialism, and exterminism. Written before last year's election, which suddenly tilted the odds toward the later.

James K Galbraith: Inequality: What Everyone Needs to Know (paperback, 2016, Oxford University Press): Galbraith's Inequality and Instability: A Study of the World Economy Just Before the Great Crisis (2012, Oxford University Press), turned out to be a dry compendium of research, meant for specialists, but this primer should be clear and compelling. He did, after all, write two of the most important (and quite accessible) political-economic books of the last decade: The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too (2008), and The End of Normal: The Great Crisis and the Future of Growth (2014).

James K Galbraith: Welcome to the Poisoned Chalice: The Destruction of Greece and the Future of Europe (2016, Yale University Press): America's best economist offers a view of the Euro crisis, informed by having worked as an advisor to the Syriza government in Greece. No nation suffered (or continues to suffer) more than Greece for the inflexibility of the Euro system and its rigid control by German bankers.

Anne Garrels: Putin Country: A Journey Into the Real Russia (2016, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Before jumping to conclusions about Russia's president, perhaps a good idea to look at Russia itself. This focuses on Chelyabinsk, a city deep in Siberia best known as one of the centers of the Soviet Union's nuclear weapons program. Garrels is an NPR correspondent who spent several years in occupied Baghdad -- see Naked in Baghdad: The Iraq War and the Aftermath as Seen by NPR's Correspondent Ann Garrels (2003; paperback, 2004, Picador). Other recent books on Russia and/or Putin (aside from Satter, which I treat separately): Charles Clover: Black Wind, White Snow: The Rise of Russia's New Nationalism (2016, Yale University Press); Karen Dawiska: Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? (2014; paperback, 2015, Simon & Schuster); Steven Lee Myers: The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin (2015, Knopf; paperback, 2016, Vintage Books); Mikhail Zygar: All the Kremlin's Men: Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin (2016, Public Affairs).

Mark Hannah: The Best "Worst President": What the Right Gets Wrong About Barack Obama (2016, Dey Street Books): As Obama's second term comes to a close, it's tempting to start looking at his legacy, which Hannah views through the peculiar prism of the most ungrounded, counterfactual attacks any president has had to suffer. Still, villification of political opponents is old hat in America, even if now it seems more unhinged than ever. The other part of the problem with Obama is that he hasn't clearly changed much, but he also has this idea that small incremental changes will have larger long-term consequences, and those are hard, perhaps impossible, to accurately gauge now. I suspect that Hannah is trying to claim those changes now, and I don't know that he's not right to do so. On the other hand, Trump is frantically trying to reverse as much of Obama's legacy as possible -- something Obama's focus on small changes makes all the easier.

Wenonah Hauter: Frackopoly: The Battle for the Future of Energy and the Environment (2016, New Press): US petroleum production had been declining ever since Hubbert's Peak was hit in 1969, but at least in the short term new technologies like hydraulic fracturing has made it possible to recover more oil and to open up substantial amounts of natural gas trapped in shale deposits. On the other hand, all this new production adds to the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and fracking introduces new environmental problems -- so much so that opposition to it has become a potent political movement. Hauter herself heads an organization called Food & Water Watch, and previously wrote Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America (paperback, 2014, New Press).

Chris Hayes: A Colony in a Nation (2017, WW Norton): A look at race relations, keyed off the shooting in Ferguson, MO, expanding on the theme that there remain a managed colony of black people in America, separate and very different from the concept of an egalitarian nation commonly experienced (at least the lip-service) by whites. Hayes previous book, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy, was one of the most insightful, accessible, and powerful books on increasing inequality.

Richard Heinberg/David Fridley: Our Renewable Future: Laying the Path for One Hundred Percent Clean Energy (paperback, 2016, Island Press): Heinberg has written a number of books on the limits of basing our energy needs on oil, starting with The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies (2003) up to Snake Oil: How Fracking's False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future (2013), and he's generally been a pretty pessimistic sort, one book even titled The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality (2011). On the other hand, the cost of renewable energy sources has been plumeting (especially solar cells), opening up the possibility of transitioning to renewables with relatively little disruption (except, of course, to fossil fuel companies). Related: Lester R Brown: The Great Transition: Shifting From Fossil Fuels to Solar and Wind Energy (paperback, 2015, WW Norton); Gretchen Bakke: The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future (2016, Bloomsbury USA).

Arlie Russell Hochschild: Strangers in Their Own Land (2016, New Press): Sociologist sets out to explore "a stronghold of the conservative right" in Louisiana, finding "lives ripped apart by stagnant wages, a loss of home, an elusive American dream," a context for trying to understand their self-defeating political choices. Made a list of "6 books to understand Trump's win," compiled by people who probably don't understand it themselves. Also on that list: J.D. Vance: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis (2016, Harper).

Jewish Voice for Peace: On Anti-semitism: Solidarity and the Struggle for Justice in Palestine (paperback, 2017, Haymarket Books): Essay collection probing various aspects of the frequent charge that advocating peace and justice in Israel/Palestine is anti-semitic. JVP has been an important group in America in the campaign to end the Occupation precisely because their activism is rooted in common Jewish values, which has put them in a uniquely authoritative position to dispute this canard.

Robert P Jones: The End of White Christian America (2016, Simon & Schuster): Head of something called the Public Religion Research Institute argues that since the 1990s White Christians have both demographically and culturally become a minority in America. Not sure what he does with this insight, but but it does correspond to many Republicans losing grip not just on power but on reality -- as you'd expect, it's a question that only matters to people wrapped up in White Christian identity, especially those nostalgic for an America that honored and privileged their prejudices.

John B Judis: The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics (paperback, 2016, Columbia Global Reports): Short (184 pp) and topical overview of what passes for populism both on the right and the left, both in Europe and America. It takes a peculiar perspective to see all those stances as related. Even shorter: Jan-Werner Müller: What Is Populism? (2016, University of Pennsylvania Press); also: Benjamin Moffitt: The Global Rise of Populism: Performance, Political Style, and Representation (2016, Stanford University Press).

Sarah Leonard/Bhaskar Sunkara, eds: The Future We Want: Radical Ideas for the New Century (paperback, 2016, Metropolitan Books): Editors associated with The Nation and Jacobin collect some essays to sketch out "a stirring blueprint for American equality," starting with the recognition that the present system is an oligarchy. They imagine finance without Wall Street, full employment achieved by limiting work hours, and many other things.

Pankaj Mishra: Age of Anger: A History of the Present (2017, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Mishra has written several books on how various Asian intellectuals reacted to modernism, especially given how Europeans presented it wrapped up in self-serving imperialism -- a much trickier subject than figuring out why so many westerners are so full of rage as their world of myth slips out of any illusion of their control. Nor would he ever stop at the West, unlike chroniclers of "populism," because he knows anger circles the world, taking all sorts of form.

Cathy O'Neil: Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy (2016, Crown): Former Wall Street quant, defected to the Occupy Movement and now writes a blog as mathbabe. The "big data" she writes about is mostly used by businesses to target sales pitches, to qualify mortgages and loans, and other things that effectively discriminate against the poor or statistical analogs, not least by warping their experiences in self-perpetuating ways (she talks about "siloing" people which strikes me as an apt metaphor, especially since in my part of the country silos are often death traps). Of course, government also uses "big data" and while I wouldn't say they're up to no good, they too often aren't doing you any favors with their own siloing. I'm not so sure the math itself is at fault, but we'd have to turn the power relationships around to give it a chance -- e.g., collect data about everything public on the market and give consumers tools to access it in a consistent and even-handed manner. As it is, "big data" is becoming an increasingly effective tool for managing and manipulating people, one that helps those in power exercise more power than ever.

Iain Overton: The Way of the Gun: A Bloody Journey Into the World of Firearms (2016, Harper): Mostly on the US but Overton journeys through twenty-five countries looking into many aspects of gun proliferation -- "meets with ER doctors dealing with gun trauma, SWAT team leaders, gang members, and weapons smugglers." No idea how deep this goes, but it reflects critically enough that Amazon's gun nuts have buried it in negative ratings -- they seem to be even more vigilant than Israel's hasbaraists.

Gail Pellett: Forbidden Fruit: 1980 Beijing, a Memoir (paperback, 2015, VanDam): A new left feminist I knew in St. Louis before she moved on to Boston and New York, working in radio and video (including NPR and Bill Moyers). Along the way she spent a year at Radio Beijing as a "foreign language expert," "polishing" news propaganda. That was 1980, post-Mao, a transitional period as the party regime was starting to stabilize after the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution and the Gang of Four -- interesting times, as the old Chinese curse put it.

Elizabeth Rosenthal: An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back (2017, Penguin Books): With the health care industry sucking up close to 20% of America's GDP these days -- double from a couple decades ago when the gold rush really accelerated with vulture capitalists snapping up previously non-profit hospitals. This promises a big picture look at how business is organized, how they subvert markets, how they game both supply and demand sides, and how they grapple with public policy which hopes to contain costs but is influenced largely by lobbyist money.

Zachary Roth: The Great Suppression: Voting Rights, Corporate Cash, and the Conservative Assault on Democracy (2016, Crown): The 2010 sweep reinforced for Republicans the idea that all they have to do to win is keep undesirable people from voting. Since then, they've passed dozens of state laws to make it harder for people to vote: this recounts those efforts, looks at the right-wing money behind those campaigns. This is not just an assault on democracy, it's an attempt at negation: it starts with the Republians' assumption that their group is more worthy than others, and follows that anything they can do to increase their power is justified.

Bernie Sanders: Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In (2016, Thomas Dunne): Came out post-election, recognizing that the same platform would be relevant regardless of who won. And while we all supported Hillary figuring she'd be slightly more aware of the problems and slightly more amenable to real solutions, with Trump in the White House and the Republicans controlling Congress (and oh so much more), this looms as the only real way forward for anyone who wants a fairer and less conflict-ridden society (even mainstream Democrats should be supportive of that, given the alternative).

David Satter: The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin (2016, Yale University Press): Fourth book on Russia, all harshly critical, so much so that the Russian government expelled him in 2013 as a general nuissance. This new book seems to recapitulate and update his previous ones: Age of Delirium: The Decline and Fall of the Soviet Union (1996), Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State (2003), and It Was a Long Time Ago and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past (2007). A quote from the second book: "Influenced by decades of mendacious Soviet propaganda, [Russia's reformers] assumed that the initial accumulation of capital in a market economy is almost always criminal, and, as they were resolutely procapitalist, they found it difficult to be strongly anticrime. . . . The combination of social darwinism, economic determinism, and a tolerant attitude toward crime prepared the young reformers to carry out a frontal attack on the structures of the Soviet system without public support or a framework of law." It's hard to overstate how much social and economic damage their "reforms" did, nor to appreciate how popular Putin became as the strong man who ushered in a new era, both by winning back Chechnya and covering up Yeltsin's corruption. Satter returns to the 1999 apartment bombings that gave Putin his excuse for attacking Chechnya -- if true (and I find them credible) a remarkably cruel and cynical turn. While I worry that most anti-Putin fulminations are themselves cynical efforts to relaunch the Cold War -- the lost love of the neocons, Satter has a knack for making them make sense.

Ganesh Sitaraman: The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic (2017, Knopf): Argues first that the US constitution was designed to counteract class inequality -- in no small part because "compared to Europe and the ancient world, America was a society of almost unprecedented equality, and the founding generation saw this equality as essential for the preservation of America's republic." Every expansion of democracy since has been linked to putting the nation on a more equal footing, so it's no surprise that the rise of oligarchy today is so eager to limit the franchise, not to mention burying it under mountains of money.

Timothy Snyder: On Tyrrany: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century (paperback, 2017, Tim Duggan): Historian, I know him mostly from his late collaborations with Tony Judt, but he has two major books on the Nazis and Eastern Europe, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2010) and Black Earth: The Holocaust as History Warning (2015). His "warning" from the latter: "our world is closer to Hitler's than we like to admit, and saving it requires us to see the Holocaust as it was." This short (128 pp) post-Trump book draws further ties between the genocidal "tyranny" of the WWI era and our own times: another warning.

Andy Stern: Raising the Floor: How a Universal Basic Income Can Renew Our Economy and Rebuild the American Dream (2016, PublicAffairs): Former president of the SEIU, one of the few unions which has grown in size since 2000, bucking trends that have been driven by technology and politics. He recognizes that technology has entered a phase where it's more likely to destroy jobs than to create new ones (the main theme of James K Galbraith's The End of Normal: The Great Crisis and the Future of Growth), and he recognizes that this has been a major source of the growth of inequality, and consequently an increasingly inequitable society. His basic income scheme counters inequality while making technological trends less disruptive. When I think along these lines, I tend to think of not just recirculating cash into the hands of workers but also of giving workers equity in the companies they work for, ultimately democratizing the workplace. But for as far as it goes, a basic income is a good idea. Other recent books along these lines: Rutger Bregman: Utopia for Realists: The Case for a Universal Basic Income, Open Borders, and a 15-Hour Workweek (paperback, 2016, The Correspondent); Philippe Van Parijs/Yannick Vanderborght: Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy (2017, Harvard University Press); and Nick Srnicek/Alex Williams: Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work (paperback, 2015, Verso).

Joseph E Stiglitz: The Euro: How a Common Currency Threatens the Future of Europe (2016, WW Norton): Probably the definitive book on why the Euro has straightjacketed Europe's economy following the 2008 financial meltdown. The idea behind the Euro was to extend and simplify the Common Market with a common currency, but that market was never integrated politically (like, say, the United States) so the central bank, and effectively the single monetary policy, could be effectively captured by German national interests. In pre-recession years this helped fuel housing bubbles in southern Europe and Ireland, which burst in 2008, but left those nations with particularly severe debt overhangs, denominated in Euros so they couldn't compensate by inflating their own currencies. Greece was hit hardest of all, partly its own government's fault, and when the Greek people resisted by electing a left-wing government, the Germans came down even harder, dictating a crippling austerity regime. Stiglitz reviews all this and offers several sensible ways out. If there's a fault it may be that focuses on what is technocratically possible as opposed to the politics that got us here and keep us from fixing it.

Matt Taibbi: Insane Clown President: Dispatches From the 2016 Circus (2017, Spiegel & Grau): Quickly patched together from reports covering the election -- you know, the one where it was absurd that Trump would win until the day he did, giving the whole affair a certain whiplash. Still, Taibbi was more sensitive to Trump's supporters and conscious of Hillary's faults than most, so he helps even when he's not totally right. But then he's always been sharp, which he proves here by quoting 20+ pages from his book on 2008 and making it seem as timely as ever. By contrast, Maureen Dowd called her campaign journal The Year of Voting Dangeously: The Derangement of American Politics (2016, Twelve) -- borrowing her subtitle from Taibbi, whose 2008 book was The Great Derangement.

Michael Waldman: The Second Amendment: A Biography (2014; paperback, 2015, Simon & Schuster): Two parts: the first a history of the original debate surrounding the framing and adoption of the second amendment ("the right to bear arms"); the second covers the various Supreme Court rulings on the amendment, most recently ones broadening the right of individuals to own firearms. Needless to say, those were different debates and sets of issues. The original, I've long felt, was a way of reserving to the states the option of starting the Civil War, so became obsolete once that happened. Today the key issue has more to do with the acceptability of violence for resolving public disputes. Unfortunately, the federal government's practice of imposing its will abroad through force of arms sets a bad example for everyone under it, leading to all sorts of futile arms races, even much legal ambiguity over when lethal force may or may not be used.

Elizabeth Warren: This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America's Middle Class (2017, Metropolitan Books): Originally from Oklahoma, one of the few to clearly recognize what was happening during the 2008 banking meltdown, the principle architect of a major tool for ending the consumer abuses which contributed so much to that debacle, acts which gave her a measure of fame from which she won a US Senate seat from Massachusetts. All that plus her aggressive tone against Trump in 2016 positions her to be a credible presidential candidate in 2020, so figure this to be a position stake-out. That's good enough for me, but I want to quibble about her Middle Class usage. The Middle Class is not an entity that one can care for to the exclusion of rich and poor. Rather, it is the effect you get when the economic system is relatively equal -- when differences between most people (blue collar and white collar, manual laborers and professionals) are inconsequential, when all those people have similar opportunities and intergenerational hopes. To get a Middle Class you need institutions, both public and private (like unions), and policies that equalize differences, primarily by leveling up (you move poor people into the Middle Class by supporting them, and you fold the relatively well-to-do back into the Middle Class by reducing their intrinsic advantages). And that's basically what progressive politicians like Warren mean when they say "Middle Class." But the reason they say "Middle Class" instead of "equal" is that they (and/or their target audience) have bought the right-wing's propaganda that the poor are responsible for their own destitution, usually because lack some essential character trait that the "Middle Class" prides itself on. Secondly, "Middle Class" gives the Upper Class a pass, a green light to keep on doing what they're doing -- such as using government as a tool to keep pulling away from the rabble -- but at least "Middle Class" doesn't challenge them the way old-fashioned Populism did. That comes in handy for politicians who are still dependent on the rich for most of their funding.

J Kael Weston: The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan (2016, Knopf): Former US State Department officer, spent seven years in these wars, writes at great length (606 pp) on the human cost of those wars, though possibly only to the Americans who fought them -- a lot of looking in the mirror here. That may be sufficiently damning, but is far from the whole story. And I have to wonder how critical he can be about American intentions given how long he kept trying to serve them.

James Q Whitman: Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law (2017, Princeton Unversity Press): Well before Hitler came to power, the US codified the set of racial discrimination laws known as Jim Crow. It's pretty well known that South Africa's Apartheid system was based on the American model, but what about Nazi Germany's Nuremberg Laws? Yes and no: "the ultimate, ugly irony that when Nazis rejected American practices, it was sometimes not because they found them too enlightened, but too harsh." Even so, the slope from discrimination to genocide turned out to be much steeper in Germany, probably due to the extraordinary pressures of fighting a loosing war. While interesting in itself, a more interesting book would examine Nazi views of America's own Lebensraum campaign -- the series of wars that drove Native Americans off the land, making room for white settlers. Indeed, the US was the pioneer for white settler colonies all around the world (most recently Israel).


Other recent books merely noted:

Ryan Avent: The Wealth of Humans: Work, Power, and Status in the Twenty-First Century (2016, St Martin's Press)

Olivier Blanchard/Raghuram G Rajan/Kenneth S Rogoff/Laurence H Summers, eds: Progress and Confusion: The State of Macroeconomic Policy (2016, MIT Press)

Derek Chollet: The Long Game: How Obama Defied Washington and Redefined America's Role in the World (2016, Public Affairs)

Angela Y Davis: Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement (paperback, 2016, Haymarket Books)

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States (paperback, 2015, Beacon Press)

Michael Eric Dyson: Tears We Cannot Stop: A Serman to White America (2017, St Martin's Press)

Mikhail Gorbachev: The New Russia (2016, Polity)

Pamela Haag: The Gunning of America: Business and the Making of American Gun Culture (2016, Basic Books)

Jerry Kaplan: Humans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence (2015, Yale University Press)

Robert D Kaplan: Earning the Rockies: How Geography Shapes America's Role in the World (2017, Random House)

Walter Laqueur: Putinism: Russia and Its Future With the West (2015, Thomas Dunne)

Giles Merritt: Slippery Slope: Europe's Troubled Future (2016, Oxford University Press)

Trevor Noah: Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood (2016, Spiegel & Grau)

Arkady Ostrovsky: The Invention of Russia: From Gorbachev's Freedom to Putin's War (2016, Viking)

George Papaconstantinou: Game Over: The Inside Story of the Greek Crisis (paperback, 2016, Create Space)

William J Perry: My Journey at the Nuclear Brink (paperback, 2015, Stanford Security Studies)

Kenneth S Rogoff: The Curse of Cash (2016, Princeton University Press)

Jeffrey D Sachs: The Age of Sustainable Development (paperback, 2015, Columbia University Press)

Chris Smith: The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and Guests (2016, Grand Central Publishing)

Rebecca Solnit: The Mother of All Questions: Further Reports From the Feminist Revolutions (paperback, 2017, Haymarket Books)

Sheldon Whitehouse: Captured: The Corporate Infiltation of American Democracy (2017, New Press)

Jason Zinoman: Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night (2017, Harper)


Selected paperback reprints of books previously noted:

Mark Blyth: Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (2013; paperback, 2015, Oxford University Press)

Steven Brill: America's Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Backroom Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System (2015; paperback, 2015, Random House)

Noam Chomsky: Who Rules the World? (2016; paperback, 2017, Metropolitan Books): Essay collection.

Martin Ford: Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future (2015; paperback, 2016, Basic Books)

Theda Skocpol/Vanessa Williamson: The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism (2012; updated ed, paperback, 2016, Oxford University Press)

Monday, April 24, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28064 [28033] rated (+31), 397 [401] unrated (-4).

Rated count up this week, probably because I didn't find nearly as many A-list records as last week: the two I came up with got (I think) three plays each, as did a couple of high HMs -- African River came closest, although I wound up deciding it was a slightly uneven follower of several better albums, starting with the band-naming (and hugely recommended) Ekaya, and the Dawkins-Iyer record only had one spot I kept tripping on. I did only give Idles -- currently number three on Chris Monsen's 2017 favorites list -- one spin, finding myself more impressed than interested. I haven't yet found his number two Harriet Tubman -- probably a download link in my mailbox -- and I wasn't that taken with his top-rated Angles 9 album (although I liked their smaller group Live in Coimbra and Live in Ljubljana discs), and I've never rated anything by Martin Küchen less than B+(**). A few more things I haven't heard down the list: Atomic, Lithics, Priests, Led Bib (in the queue but temporarily lost), Cloud Nothings, Necks.

Made a little more progress in the Jazz Guide compilation: 20th Century up to 619 pages, 21st 372, so I'll probably his 1000 pages sometime this week. Since last time I reported, that's up +9 and +34, so at this point (Seamus Blake, 10% into "Jazz 80s") the latter is growing four times as fast. I think I was just starting the file last week, so some quick envelope math suggests I'll finish it in another nine weeks (end of June), with 20th Century growing to 700 pages and the 21st to 778. After that it should be all post-2000 (aside from relatively small files for Latin and pop jazz).

The calendar says I should post April's Streamnotes file later this week. Draft file is currently shorter than usual, especially for new music (58 records, 94 total). So I imagine I'll scrounge around for some scoops, but don't really expect to find much.

I also hope to do a book post sometime this week. I haven't done one since August 21, and a lot has happened since then. I will note that I've started reading Gail Pellett's remarkable memoir of 1980, the year she spent working as a "foreign expert" for Chinese radio. I knew her back in St. Louis in the 1970s, so I'm recognizing some things and I'm learning even more -- not least about her background, which for some reason I never enquired into when I could.

Something else I should (but probably won't) do is to write up some thoughts on Ian Kershaw's Fateful Choices -- ten moves from 1940-41 that dramatically broadened the wars that started in the late 1930s. The book would probably have been better had he started earlier and included more on the earlier decisions that led up to the war: Japan's decision to invade China in 1937, Germany's to carve up Poland in 1939, the German-Russian pact that allowed Germany into Poland, the Anglo-French decision to declare war on Germany but not Russia over Poland. Of course, those in turn should be backtracked: Japan's previous attack on Manchuria in 1929, Italy's attacks on Ethiopia and Albania, the mix of intervention and avowed neutrality over the Spanish Civil War, and the so-called "appeasement policy" toward Germany. Before that, of course, is the detritus of the first World War, and before that you get the relatively late efforts at empire building by Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States.

In many ways the best book on all this is Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke -- at least he brings all these threads together, albeit too schematically. One thing I learned there was how artfully Franklin Roosevelt maneuvered Japan and Germany into attacking, allowing him to enter the war with broad popular support -- something most Americans weren't interested in until it happened. Various other books I've read recently helped fill in details: Kershaw, Ira Katznelson's Fear Itself, and most of all James Bradley's The China Mirage. But Baker still has the most important insight: that the only people who tried to stop this cascade of bad choices were the pacifists, not only because they were the ones who anticipated the disaster to come, but because they were the ones most sensitive to the injustices which preceded it. Well, also the people less adverse to fighting who were later dismissed as "premature antifascists."


New records rated this week:

  • Kevin Abstract: American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story (2016, Brockhampton): [r]: B+(*)
  • Actress: AZD (2017, Ninja Tune): [r]: B+(*)<
  • Antonio Adolfo: Hybrido: From Rio to Wayne Shorter (2016 [2017], AAM): [cd]: B
  • Bardo Pond: Under the Pines (2017, Fire): [r]: B
  • Bill Brovold & Jamie Saft: Serenity Knolls (2016 [2017], Rare Noise): [cdr]: B+(*)
  • Ernest Dawkins New Horizons Ensemble: Transient Takes (2016 [2017], Malcom): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Idles: Brutalism (2017, Bailey): [r]: B+(***)
  • Khalid: American Teen (2017, Right Hand/RCA): [r]: A-
  • Mike Longo Trio: Only Time Will Tell (2016 [2017], CAP): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Robert McCarther: Stranger in Town (2016 [2017], Psalms 149 Music): [cd]: C+
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: The Art of Perelman-Shipp, Volume 5: Rhea (2016 [2017], Leo): [cd]: A-
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: The Art of Perelman-Shipp, Volume 6: Saturn (2016 [2017], Leo): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: The Art of Perelman-Shipp, Volume 7: Dione (2016 [2017], Leo): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Michael Rabinowitz: Uncharted Waters (2017, Cats Paw): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Rashad: #LevelUp (2017, Self Made): [r]:

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Abdullah Ibrahim: Ancient Africa (1973 [2017], Delmark/Sackville): [cd]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Jerry Bergonzi: Inside Out (1989 [1990], Red): [r]: B+(**)
  • Stanley Cowell Trio: Departure #2 (1990, SteepleChase): [r]: B+(***)
  • Stanley Cowell Trio: Live at Copenhagen Jazz House (1993 [1995], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(**)
  • Stanley Cowell Quartet: Hear Me One (1996, SteepleChase): [r]: B+(**)
  • Stanley Cowell: Are You Real? (2014, SteepleChase): [r]: B+(***)
  • Abdullah Ibrahim: Duke Ellington Presents the Dollar Brand Trio (1963 [1997], Reprise Archives): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dollar Brand/Abdullah Ibrahim Orchestra: African Space Program (1973 [2013], Enja): [r]: B
  • Abdullah Ibrahim: Echoes From Africa (1979 [1987], Enja): [r]: B+(**)
  • Abdullah Ibrahim: African Dawn (1982 [1987], Enja): [r]: B+(**)
  • Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya: African River (1989, Enja): [r]: B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Orchestra Baobab: Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng (Nonesuch/World Circuit)
  • Jari Haapalainen Trio: Fusion Madness (Moserobie)
  • Rebecca Hennessy's Fog Brass Band: Two Calls (self-released): May 19
  • Chad Lefkowitz-Brown: Onward (self-released)
  • Alex Maguire/Nikolas Skordas Duo: Ships and Shepherds (Slam, 2CD): May 19
  • Yoko Miwa Trio: Pathways (Ocean Blue Tear Music): May 12
  • Noertker's Moxie: Druidh Penumbrae (Edgetone)
  • Eve Risser/Benjamin Duboc/Edward Perraud: En Corps/Generation (Dark Tree)
  • Paul Tynan & Aaron Lington Bicoastal Collective: Chapter Five (OA2): May 19

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Weekend Roundup

We're approximately 100 days into the Trump administration, which only leaves 1360 more days to go until he's gone -- assuming American voters don't get even stupider along the way. If you've been hiding in a cave somewhere, you might check out David Remnick: A Hundred Days of Trump as a quick way of getting up to speed, although Remnick's piece is long on style and short on substance. If you're really masochistic you can dig up my Weekend Roundups (and occasional Midweek Roundups) since January. Indeed, one could write a whole book on Trump's first 100 days -- probably for the first time since Franklin Roosevelt made that timespan historic (see Adam Cohen's Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America), although in this case the "accomplishments" are all negative, and the real damage Trump has sown in this fertile period has (mostly) yet to play itself out. As Bill McKibben notes, below, things that we do to the environment now will continue to drive changes well into the future. That's also true for society, culture, politics, and the economy.

How much damage Trump ultimately does will depend on how effectively the resistance (not just the Democrats, although they have much to prove here) organizes and how coherently we can explain and make people aware of what's so wrong with the Republican agenda. One thing that has probably helped in this regard is that the false dichotomy between "populist" Trump and "conservative" Republicans has faded away -- Trump is still harshly anti-immigrant in all forms (not just "illegals" but he's also turned against perfectly legal H-1B visa holders), but everywhere else he's fallen into line with orthodox (and often extremist) conservatives. This not only means that Trump and the rest of the Republicans will share blame for everything that breaks bad on their watch, it will force Democrats to refashion their platform into one that counters those disasters. We no longer have to argue what bad things might happen if hawks run wild, if corporate moguls are freed of regulation, if the courts are packed with right-wing ideologues, if any number of previous hypotheticals happen, because we're going to see exactly what happens. In fact, we're seeing it, faster than most of us can really process it.


Some scattered links this week in the Trump World:

  • Robert L Borosage: The Stunning Disappearance of Candidate Trump: It's arguable whether Trump's "economic populism" ever amounted to anything that might actually help his white working class fans, but he's so completely abandoned that part of his platform that we'll never know. He's setting records for how quickly and how completely he's breaking campaign promises. Wonder whether the Democrats will call him on it?

  • Christina Cautenucci: What It Takes: "O'Reilly, Ailes, Cosby, Trump: Three alleged sexual preditors found disgrace. A fourth became president. What made the difference?"

  • David S Cohen: How Neil Gorsuch Will Make His Mark This Supreme Court Term: Also, for instance, Sophia Tesfaye: Neil Gorsuch's first Supreme Court vote clears the way for Arkansas to begin its lethal injection spree.

  • Justin Elliott: Trump Is Hiring Lobbyists and Top Ethics Official Says 'There's No Transparency'

  • Tom Engelhardt: The Chameleon Presidency: Quotes Trump: "If you look at what's happened over the last eight weeks and compare that really to what's happened over the past eight years, you'll see there's a tremendous difference, tremendous difference." Actually, Trump doesn't seem to be capable of actually seeing either recent history or today's news. His bombing missions in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia don't even hint at a break with Obama -- they were all in the Pentagon playbook he inherited. Of course, if he starts a nuclear conflagration in Korea, that would be his own peculiar mark on history. But thus far his shift from Obama in foreign policy (aka warmaking) is little different than the shift from Kennedy to Johnson: as McGeorge Bundy put it, whereas Kennedy wanted to be seen as making smart moves, Johnson preferred to be seen as tough. Still, neither were as explicit or dramatic about their needs as Obama ("don't do stupid shit") and Trump, who seems eager to green light anything the Pentagon brass offers. And Trump is so forthright about this it's almost as if he's hard at work on his Nuremberg defense:

    Above all, President Trump did one thing decisively. He empowered a set of generals or retired generals -- James "Mad Dog" Mattis as secretary of defense, H.R. McMaster as national security adviser, and John Kelly as secretary of homeland security -- men already deeply implicated in America's failing wars across the Greater Middle East. Not being a details guy himself, he's then left them to do their damnedest. "What I do is I authorize my military," he told reporters recently. "We have given them total authorization and that's what they're doing and, frankly, that's why they've been so successful lately."

    Successful? The explosions are bigger and the casualty reports are up, but I haven't seen anything that suggests that he's moved any of his wars one iota. Granted, his recklessness has gotten the neocons to turn around and start singing his praises -- they had been worried that he might actually have meant some of the things he said on the campaign trail, like regrets over Bush's Iraq War or his reluctance to get involved in Syria. Still, neither the generals nor the neocons have a clue how to extricate themselves from the wars they wade ever deeper into. Engelhardt speculates:

    Here's the problem, though: there's a predictable element to all of this and it doesn't work in Donald Trump's favor. America's forever wars have now been pursued by these generals and others like them for more than 15 years across a vast swath of the planet -- from Pakistan to Libya (and ever deeper into Africa) -- and the chaos of failing states, growing conflicts, and spreading terror movements has been the result. There's no reason to believe that further military action will, a decade and a half later, produce more positive results.

    Engelhardt seems to think Trump will eventually turn on his generals. I think it's more likely that, like Johnson (or for that matter Truman), he will find himself stuck, buried under his own hubris, unable to back out or find any other solution.

  • Maggie Haberman/Glenn Thrush: Trump Reaches Beyond West Wing for Counsel: His rogues gallery.

  • Dahlia Lithwick: Jeff Sessions Thinks Hawaii's Not a Real State. We Shouldn't Be Surprised. Reminds me that the reason Hawaii became the 50th state, waiting well past Alaska, was that southern Senators filibustered to delay the likelihood of a non-white joining them in the US Senate. Sessions is evidently still of that mindset.

  • Jonathan Marshall: Neocons Point Housebroken Trump at Iran: Trump's latest bombing exploits in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan have only served to gin up the "real men go to Tehran" brigade. Also: William Rivers Pitt: The Looming Neocon Invasion of Trumpland.

  • Josh Marshall: To Scare Dems, Trump Threatens to Light Himself on Fire: Looks like we're in the midst of another round of government shutdown extortion, where Republicans are holding Obamacare subsidies hostage, hoping to trade them for Democratic support on funding the "big, beautiful wall" that Trump originally expected Mexico to pay for. Evidently the catch is that even though the Republicans control Congress funding for the wall would have to break a Democratic filibuster (so 60 votes in the Senate). This all seems pretty stupid: Obamacare is suddenly pretty popular, polling on building that wall is currently 58-28% against, and the most immediate effect of shutting down the government will be to hold up Social Security checks.

  • Bill McKibben: The Planet Can't Stand This Presidency:

    What Mr. Trump is trying to do to the planet's climate will play out over geologic time as well. In fact, it's time itself that he's stealing from us.

    What I mean is, we have only a short window to deal with the climate crisis or else we forever lose the chance to thwart truly catastrophic heating. . . .

    The effects will be felt not immediately but over decades and centuries and millenniums. More ice will melt, and that will cut the planet's reflectivity, amplifying the warming; more permafrost will thaw, and that will push more methane into the atmosphere, trapping yet more heat. The species that go extinct as a result of the warming won't mostly die in the next four years, but they will die. The nations that will be submerged won't sink beneath the waves on his watch, but they will sink. No president will be able to claw back this time -- crucial time, since we're right now breaking the back of the climate system.

    We can hope other world leaders will pick up some of the slack. And we can protest. But even when we vote him out of office, Trumpism will persist, a dark stratum in the planet's geological history. In some awful sense, his term could last forever.

    This link picks up a number of other interesting pieces on the environment.

    Related: Dave Levitan: The March for Science has a humble aim: restoring sanity; David Suzuki: Rivers vanishing into thin air: this is what the climate crisis looks like; Michael T Klare: Climate change as genocide.

  • Leon Neyfakh: How Trump Will Dismantle Civil Rights Protections in America: "The same way Bush did: by politicizing the DOJ."

  • Heather Digby Parton: Trump's First 100 Days: More Frightening, or More Pathetic? Franklin Roosevelt's first 100 days were the benchmark, but he came into office with a huge margin of support in Congress, and a shocked and battered population that was willing to try anything. Plus his bank holiday/fireside chat was probably the most brilliantly executed act of any president ever. Trump had none of that going his way. In fact, about all he actually did was to make some spectacularly bad appointments, sign a bunch of executive orders (mostly countering Obama's executive orders), meet with a few foreign leaders (often to embarrassing effect), and blow up shit. So, yeah, both pathetic and terrifying.

  • Sarah Rawlins: Costs and Benefits of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments: Could use some more political context, but clearly the positive payback for the relatively small costs imposed by these regulations has been huge -- they estimate $30.77 for every dollar spent. Of course, you don't need that sort of ROI to justify doing something right, but this is a pretty resounding answer for flacks who tell you we can't afford to have cleaner air or water.

  • Nelson D Schwartz: Trump Saved Carrier Jobs. These Workers Weren't as Lucky

  • Matthew Yglesias: Today's executive orders are the nail in the coffin of Trump's economic populism: Well, it was starting to stink anyway. For more (especially on "shadow banking"), see Mike Konczal: Now Republicans want to undo the regulations that helped consumers and stabilized banking.


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

  • Matt Apuzzo et al.: Comey Tried to Shield the FBI From Politics. Then He Shaped an Election: Fairly in-depth reporting on Comey's political ploy which did much to throw the election to Donald Trump.

    But with polls showing Mrs. Clinton holding a comfortable lead, Mr. Comey ended up plunging the F.B.I. into the molten center of a bitter election. Fearing the backlash that would come if it were revealed after the election that the F.B.I. had been investigating the next president and had kept it a secret, Mr. Comey sent a letter informing Congress that the case was reopened.

    What he did not say was that the F.B.I. was also investigating the campaign of Donald J. Trump. Just weeks before, Mr. Comey had declined to answer a question from Congress about whether there was such an investigation. Only in March, long after the election, did Mr. Comey confirm that there was one.

  • John Cassidy: The Real Trump Agenda: Helping Big Business

  • Ira Chernus: It's Time to Resurrect the Counterculture Movement: "The largest mobilization for progressive politics since the Vietnam era offers a unique opportunity to go beyond simply treating symptoms to start offering cures for the underlying illness." I'm not sure I'd call that "counterculture" -- what I think of by that term has perhaps been the deepest, broadest, and most persistent outgrowth from the political and cultural upheaval of the late 1960s. Rather, what we need to bring back is the New Left -- the political critique of war, empire, the security state, sexism, racism, consumption, the despoilment of the environment, and various related cultural mores -- only we need to bring back the Old Left focus on inequality and we need to come up with a better solution for securing political gains. I've long felt that the New Left was a huge success in changing minds, but the intrinsic distrust of political organizations has left those gains vulnerable to a right-wing counterattack focused on securing narrow political power. The latter has in fact become so pervasive we need a refresher course in basic principles, which is I think where Chernus is heading.

  • Patrick Cockburn: America Should Start Exploring How to End All the Wars It's Started

  • Paul Cohen: Could Leftist-Jean-Luc Mélenchon Win the French Presidency? First round of France's presidential election is Tuesday, with centrist Emmanuel Macron and "Thatcherite" François Fillon the fading establishment candidates, Marine Le Pen on the far right, and Mélenchon "surging" from the left. This gives you some background on the latter. As for the horse race, see Harry Enten: The French Election Is Way Too Close to Call: the chart there shows Macron barely ahead of Le Pen, a couple points ahead of Fillon, in turn barely ahead of Mélenchon -- who has the sole upward trajectory, but it's mostly been at the expense of Socialist Party candidate Benoit Hamon. Meanwhile, Robert Mackey: Trump Hopes Paris Attack Boosts Le Pen, One Day After Obama Calls Macron. Clearly, Americans have few if any qualms about interfering in someone else's election. (As for Russian interests, well, Le Pen-Putin friendship goes back a long way.)

    [PS: Projected votes as of 4:13PM CDT: Macron 23.8%, Le Pen 21.7%, Fillon 19.8%, Mélanchon 19.2%, Hamon 6.5%. So there will be a runoff between Macron and Le Pen, with Macron heavily favored.]

  • Michael Hudson: Running Government Like a Business Is Bad for Citizens: The latest idiot to express the cliché is Jared Kushner, although the Trump administration is so weighted toward business résumés that it was pretty much in the air (or should I say Kool Aid?). The idea is, of course, ridiculous, even before we signed off on the notion that the only reason behind business is to extract and return profits to investors (something less obvious back in the days when companies could afford loftier goals, like offering useful goods/services), and before we forgot the idea of there being a public interest, which includes providing services to people who have difficulty getting by on their own. When asked for historical examples of governments run like businesses, Hudson mentioned Russia under Boris Yeltsin -- a kleptocracy run through the Kremlin. If Trump admires Putin, that's probably why.

  • Mark Karlin: Israeli Government Is Petrified of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement: Interview with Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace and editor of On Antisemitism: Solidarity and the Struggle for Justice. I spent a couple days last week with Palestinian civil rights lawyer Jonathan Kuttab: he gave several presentations here in Kansas in Mennonite churches in support of a BDS resolution they will be voting on later this year, which is itself an indication of how much progress BDS is making. (Another indication is that the Kansas legislature is likely to pass a law prohibiting the state from contracting with any companies which support BDS.) Last year's resolution was tabled for fear it might seem anti-semitic, so Kuttab reached out to JVP for support on that count, and they arranged for Laura Tillem to join Kuttab (she started by reading her poem).

    Meanwhile, you might note Richard Silverstein's recent posts: Former Israeli Defense Minister Confirms Israeli Collaboration with ISIS in Syria; Israel Criminalizes Palestinian Muslim Activism; and Justice Department to Prosecute Israeli-American Teen Who Masterminded Wave of Threats Against Jewish Institutions. The latter may have been a prank, but it reminded me of the Lavon Affair (the most notorious of Israeli "false flag" operations). With the alt-right providing cover, Michael Kaydar's phone threats helped raise the profile of anti-semitism in America, which played into the hands of anti-BDS hysterics. For a reminder of what's actually happening in Israel/Palestine, it's worth your while to check up every now and then on Kate's regular compendiums of news reports. The latest is called Settlers from Kushner family-funded community attack 3 Israeli grandmothers, but that's only the lead story, with much more outrage following.

  • Paul Krugman: Why Don't All Jobs Matter? He asks the question, why only focus on lost mining and manufacturing jobs (so dear to Trump voters, if not necessarily to the boss-man himself), when we're also seeing major job losses in sectors like department stores:

    Over the weekend The Times Magazine published a photographic essay on the decline of traditional retailers in the face of internet competition. The pictures, contrasting "zombie malls" largely emptied of tenants with giant warehouses holding inventory for online sellers, were striking. The economic reality is pretty striking too.

    Consider what has happened to department stores. Even as Mr. Trump was boasting about saving a few hundred jobs in manufacturing here and there, Macy's announced plans to close 68 stores and lay off 10,000 workers. Sears, another iconic institution, has expressed "substantial doubt" about its ability to stay in business.

    Overall, department stores employ a third fewer people now than they did in 2001. That's half a million traditional jobs gone -- about eighteen times as many jobs as were lost in coal mining over the same period.

    Dean Baker's response: Paul Krugman Gets Retail Wrong: They Are Not Very Good Jobs. Still, Krugman's end-point is right on:

    While we can't stop job losses from happening, we can limit the human damage when they do happen. We can guarantee health care and adequate retirement income for all. We can provide aid to the newly unemployed. And we can act to keep the overall economy strong -- which means doing things like investing in infrastructure and education, not cutting taxes on rich people and hoping the benefits trickle down.

    I recall Dani Rodrik, I think, arguing that the problem with free trade wasn't trade -- it was the failure of some countries (e.g., the United States) to recognize that trade deals inevitably have losers as well as winners, and to help minimize the hurt imposed those who lose out. Another bigger picture point is that these losses of retail jobs aren't caused by lower demand; they're being driven by the more efficient service that online retailers offer. As a society we could just as well convert those efficiencies into fewer work hours, and all be better off for that. But we don't, largely because politically we insist that even the least productive workers toil at minimum wage jobs while allowing companies to extract ever more hours from their more productive employees.

  • Eric Margolis: What Would Korean War II Look Like? The illustration is a nuclear mushroom cloud, and that's certainly within the realm of possibility -- both sides possessing such weapons. The US, of course, fears that North Korea might some day use their growing stock of atomic warheads and long-range missiles, but the immediate danger is that the US will precipitate such at attack with some arrogant ultimatum or more overt act. The result would be awful messy: beyond the kill zone any nuclear exchange would "cause clouds of lethal radiation and radioactive dust to blanket Japan, South Korea and heavily industrialized northeast China, including the capital, Beijing." (Actually, given that prevailing winds blow east, the radioactive cloud wouldn't take long to blow over America.) Even if both sides restrain themselves, North Korean artillery aimed at Seoul threaten to turn the city (pop. 10 million) "into a sea of fire." Presumably the US military could invade and conquer North Korea, but the latter has a large conventional army and has long been obsessed with preparing to repel an invasion. No one thinks it would be easy, or painless. Margolis counters that "All this craziness would be ended if the US signed a peace treat with North Korea ending the first Korean War and opened up diplomatic and commercial relations." That hasn't happened because Americans are petty and vindictive, still harboring a grudge over their inability to rid Korea of Communism in the extraordinarily brutal 1950-53 war. And because neocons are so wrapped up in their own sense of omnipotence they refuse to acknowledge that any other country might be able to present a credible deterrence against American aggression. The fact is that North Korea, like China and Russia (and probably Iran, even without nukes) has one, and the only way to counter that is to decide that the old war is over and that we're never going to restart it. You don't have to like Kim Jong Un or his very strange, isolated and paranoid country, to decide to stop hurting yourself and endangering the world -- which is really all Trump's Korea policy amounts to. You might even find they become a bit more tolerable once you stop giving them so much reason to be terrified.

    Alao see: Robert Dreyfuss: Trump's Terrifying North Korea Standoff; Mike Whitney: The US Pushed North Korea to Build Nukes: Yes or No?; Richard Wolffe: Donald Trump's 'armada' gaffe was dangerous buffoonery.

  • Sophia A McClennan: Bill O'Reilly Ruined the News: 10 Ways He and Fox News Harassed Us All; also Justin Peters: The All-Spin Zone.

  • Robert Parry: Why Not a Probe of 'Israel-gate'? After all, far more than Russia, no other nation has so often or so profoundly tried to influence American elections and political processes for its own interests. This piece reviews a fair selection of the history, not least Israel's 1980 efforts to defeat Jimmy Carter. Indeed, Israel's influence has become so exalted that both Trump and Clinton prostrated themselves publicly before AIPAC -- and who knows what they did behind the closed doors of Israel-focused donors like Abelson and Sabin.

  • Margot Sanger-Katz: Bare Market: What Happens if Places Have No Obamacare Insurers? Even though the ACA is basically a "safety net" for insurance industry profits, the marketplace is failing -- mostly, I think, due to concentration in the industry, but also because the ACA not only subsidizes profits, it limits them. In Kansas, when I applied for Obamacare when it opened for business, there were many plans, but only two providers, and one of them was, frankly, worthless, so the much vaunted "choice" devolved to a maze of deductible variations -- as usual, insurance company profits depended mostly on their ability to dodge paying for anything. Now we're finding some states (or counties within states) with even fewer choices -- potentially none. One way to fix this would be to throw even more money at the insurance companies. Another would be to provide a "public option" -- a government guarantee which could compete with private plans. Or we could bow to the inevitable and extend medicare and/or medicaid to undercut the private insurance industry altogether. The problem is, any such solution depends on a political will that Trump and the Republicans don't have and can't muster, so the failure of Obamacare they've been predicting will most likely be hastened by their own hands. Also by the author: No, Obamacare Isn't in a 'Death Spiral', and Trump's Choice on Obamacare: Sabotage or Co-opt? And from Charles Pierce: House Republicans Have a New Plan to Make Your Healthcare Worse.

  • Matt Taibbi: Yikes! New Behind-the-Scenes Book Brutalizes the Clinton Campaign: Review of Jonathan Allen/Arnie Parnes: Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign (Crown), a first draft on what's already turned out to be a fateful slice of history. The insider dirt ("sourced almost entirely to figures inside the Clinton campaign") focuses on the mechanics of running the campaign, with Taibbi singling out the vexing question of why she was running in the first place:

    The real protagonist of this book is a Washington political establishment that has lost the ability to explain itself or its motives to people outside the Beltway.

    In fact, it shines through in the book that the voters' need to understand why this or that person is running for office is viewed in Washington as little more than an annoying problem.

    In the Clinton run, that problem became such a millstone around the neck of the campaign that staffers began to flirt with the idea of sharing the uninspiring truth with voters. Stumped for months by how to explain why their candidate wanted to be president, Clinton staffers began toying with the idea of seeing how "Because it's her turn" might fly as a public rallying cry.

    The authors quote a campaign staffer explaining, "We were talking to Democrats, who largely didn't think she was evil." But the number of people who did think she was evil mushroomed beyond the cloistered party ranks, and her campaign to continue a status quo that seemed to work only for the donors she preferred to spend time with (especially when wrapped up in vacuous clichés like "America's always been great") offered nothing but negatives even to voters who Republicans would only prey on. As I recall, back in 1992 when Bill Clinton first ran, he made all sorts of populist promises. Hillary was doubly damned: not only did she fail to deliver Bill's "man from Hope" shtick, she started out handicapped by the legacy of his broken promises. (But since he won, she probably counted that as an asset -- it certainly did help introduce her to the powers he sold out to.)

    One story in the book is about how Hillary scoured her 2008 campaign email server for evidence of staffers who betrayed her, so this story seems inevitable: Emily Smith: Hillary camp scrambling to find out who leaked embarrassing info.

  • Glenn Thrush, et al.: Trump Signs Order That Could Lead to Curbs on Foreign Workers: Specifically, legal, documented workers under the H-1B Visa program, which is widely used by American companies to hire skilled technical workers (admittedly, at below open market wages). Also see: EA Crunden: Trump's crackdown on H-1B visas goes far beyond tech workers; also Max Bearak: Trump and Sessions plan to restrict highly skilled foreign workers. Hyderabad says to bring it on -- the implication here is that if companies can't hire foreign labor to work here, they'll send the work to offshore firms.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28033 [28009] rated (+24), 401 [404] unrated (-3).

Lowest rated count February 27 (20), second lowest this year. About the only excuse I can think of is that the relative bumper crop of A- records took a lot of extra time -- even the ones on Napster were more likely to get three than two spins, and the Perelman-Shipp CDs have proven nearly impossible to rank or even to sort out -- though they've been a constant pleasure to play.

I'll also note that my office space has turned into a horrible mess, where the normally FIFO new jazz queue is now a teetering pile. I need to do a lot of "spring cleaning" -- especially moving trays of CDs to shelves, a fairly hideous task given deterioration of my eyesight. Anyhow, my short-term workaround has been to play old music on the computer, the selections suggested by wherever I'm stuck in compiling my last fifteen years of jazz reviews into two book files.

I'm at the stage where I'm going through the database files and fishing the reviews out of a large text file. I just finished Jazz (1960-70s), so next one up is the even longer Jazz (1980-90s), then the really huge Jazz (2000- ), plus post-2000 vocalists, separate files for Latin and Pop Jazz, and some scattered names I've filed elsewhere (Avant-Garde, Classical, New Age, maybe Africa or Latin or Electronica?). The 20th Century file is growing slowly now -- mostly records that came out before I started writing seriously about jazz, plus some later reissues -- at 610 pages (271k words), but the 21st Century file is picking up speed, with 338 pages (159k words).

Given how long the last database file took, I can't even imagine when I'll be done (in the sense of finishing the compilation phase. (August? October?) And I expect the result then will be terribly redundant and shot full of holes -- certainly not something a real publisher might take any interest in. To come up with something useful I'd have to go back and take each artist in turn, write a short bio and critical summary, and fill in a few holes. I might also need to take less of a kitchen sink approach -- just focus on "notable" (especially "recommended," maybe even "essential") albums to cover up how much of the rest I never managed (or will manage) to get to.

On other fronts, Lee Rice Epstein has a nice piece on the late Arthur Blythe (the star, by the way, of the Horace Tapscott album right/below). I also got notes that Alan Holdsworth and Jay Geils died recently.

I had hopes of driving out to the EMP Pop Conference in Seattle (April 20-23), but it's clear now I'm not going to make it. Would have been a nice way to break out of my winter rut, but I guess I'm stuck.

Not much more to say. Listening to more Stanley Cowell at the moment. By the way, Cowell's debut album is on Napster as Travellin' Man, but I went with the title of the LP I bought back in 1977 (like many old LPs it slipped my mind when I compiled my original rated records list; glad to fill this one in).


New records rated this week:

  • Jacob Collier: In My Room (2016, Membran): [r]: C+
  • Larry Coryell, Barefoot Man: Sanpaku (2016, Purple Pyramid): [r]: B+(*)
  • David Feldman: Horizonte (2016 [2017], self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Craig Finn: We All Want the Same Things (2017, Partisan): [r]: A-
  • Gerry Gibbs & Thrasher People: Weather or Not (2016 [2017], Whaling City Sound): [cd/r]: B
  • Rhiannon Giddens: Freedom Highway (2017, Nonesuch): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: The Art of Perelman-Shipp, Volume 1: Titan (2016 [2017], Leo): [cd]: A-
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: The Art of Perelman-Shipp, Volume 2: Tarvos (2016 [2017], Leo): [cd]: A-
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: The Art of Perelman-Shipp, Volume 3: Pandora (2016 [2017], Leo): [cd]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • Stanley Cowell: Blues for the Viet Cong (1969 [1977], Arista/Freedom): [r]: A-
  • Blood & Burger: Guitar Music (2002 [2003], Dernière Bande): [r]: B+(**)
  • Red Records All Stars [Jerry Bergonzi/Bobby Watson/Victor Lewis/Kenny Barron/Curtis Lundy/David Finck]: Together Again for the First Time (1996 [1998], Red): [r]: B+(***)
  • Horace Tapscott Quintet: The Giant Is Awakened (1969, Flying Dutchman): [r]: A-
  • Charles Tyler Ensemble: Black Mysticism (1966, ESP-Disk): [r]: B+(***)
  • Charles Tyler Ensemble: Eastern Man Alone (1967, ESP-Disk): [r]: B+(**)
  • James Blood Ulmer: Revealing (1977 [1990], In+Out): [r]: A-
  • James Blood Ulmer: Part Time (1983 [1984], Celluloid): [r]: B+(**)
  • Bobby Watson: Live in Europe: Perpetual Groove (1983 [1984], Red): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bobby Watson: Appointment in Milano (1985, Red): [r]: A-
  • Bobby Watson & Tailor Made With Tokyo Leaders Big Band: Live at Someday in Tokyo (2000 [2001], Red): [r]: B+(*)
  • Bobby Watson: The Gates BBQ Suite (2010, Lafiya Music): [r]: B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Craig Fraedrich With Trilogy and Friends: All Through the Night (Summit)
  • Mats Holmquist: Big Band Minimalism (Summit)
  • Sarah Partridge: Bright Lights & Promises: Redefining Janis Ian (Origin)
  • Cuong Vu 4-Tet: Ballet (Rare Noise): advance, April 28

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Weekend Roundup

After a long post on Saturday, I need to keep this one short, almost schematic.

Saddened to hear of the death of Amy Durfee, 88, a neighbor of my wife's when she was growing up in Oak Park, Michigan. Amy and Art Durfee remained close friends of the family, people we saw every trip we made to Detroit. I feel fortunate to have known them.

The big story this past week has been the Trump Administration's attempt to show North Korea that when they get into a pissing contest the US will not only stand up the challenges but will take the extra step in showing itself to be more insanely belligerent. As best I recall, even Nixon regarded his infamous "madman" ploy as something of a joke -- a nuance Trump clearly is incapable of fathoming. So far, it's been hard to argue that any of Trump's belligerence has transgressed lines that Hillary Clinton was comfortable with, but in Korea he could easily step out too far. This is probably something to write a long post about. Indeed, I've written about Korea several times, including a passage at the start of my memoir, given that I was born the same week China entered the Korean War and turned an American rout into a bloody stalemate. That was the beginning of the end of America both as a global empire and as a nation that could lay some claim to decent and honorable values. Korea was where Americans learned to become the sore losers who invest so much effort in bullying the world and are so unforgiving of any offense. And here we are, sixty-six years later, still picking at the scab of our past embarrassment.


Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:

  • Robert Bateman: Why So Many Americans Support Deadly Aerial Warfare: "It took decades of propaganda to get here." Last week's use of the 21,000 pound "Mother of All Bombs" signifies more as a propaganda coup than for the 90 "ISIS fighters" it killed. The notion of "Victory Through Airpower" goes way back, but what it mostly means today is that we can punish our "enemies" at virtually no risk to ourselves. Removing that risk helps strip away our inhibitions against bombardment, as does the distance. Of course, it matters that one only attacks "enemies" that don't have the capability to respond in kind. ISIS and the Taliban have no airpower to speak of, and lately the US has been able to bomb Iraq and Syria at will with no obvious repercussions (other than the stream of bad press due to civilian casualties, but that rarely registers in "the homeland"). One danger of listening to your own propaganda is a false sense of confidence, which can lead to reckless provocations, like Trump's macho bluff against North Korea.

  • Medea Benjamin: The "Mother of All Bombs" Is Big, Deadly -- and Won't Lead to Peace: Actually, this feels like a publicity stunt, a way to follow up on the gushing press Trump's cruise missile attack on Syria generated. Benjamin doubts that MOAB is "a game changer," then asks: "Will Trump drag us deeper into this endless war by granting the US Afghan commander, Gen. John Nicholson, his request for several thousand more troops?" What worries me more isn't that the US will throw good troops after bad, but that Trump will conclude that what he really needed was a bigger bang -- that MOAB is just a precursor to deploying tactical nuclear weapons.

  • Frank Bruni: Steve Bannon Was Doomed: Bannon always seemed shaky because he clearly had his own ideas and agenda, where Trump had little of either.

    He didn't grapple with who Trump really is. Trump's allegiances are fickle. His attention flits. His compass is popularity, not any fixed philosophy, certainly not the divisive brand of populism and nationalism that Bannon was trying to enforce. Bannon insisted on an ideology when Trump cares more about applause, and what generates it at a campaign rally isn't what sustains it when you're actually governing. . . .

    Bannon is still on the job, and Trump may keep him there, because while he has been disruptive inside the White House, he could be pure nitroglycerin outside. He commands acolytes on the alt-right. He has the mouthpiece of Breitbart News. He has means for revenge. He also has a history of it.

    As for how Bannon could hurt Trump, Bruni cites Sean Illing: If Trump fires Steve Bannon, he might regret it. One need only note that the audience that Bannon cultivated is used to getting screwed over by false heroes, and it will be easy to paint Trump that way. Illing also has an interview with Jane Mayer On the billionaire behind Bannon and Trump

  • Lee Fang: Paul Ryan Raised $657,000 While Avoiding His Constituents During Recess: I guess the buck doesn't stop with Trump.

  • Elizabeth Grossman: "It couldn't get much worse": Trump's policies are already making workplaces more toxic

  • Fred Kaplan: Return of the Madman Theory: Found this after I wrote the "madman" line in the intro, if you want deeper speculation on the subject. Kaplan's argument that Trump's "erratic and unpredictable" foreign policy "might just make the world more stable -- for a short time" is a reach -- it could just as easily backfire spectacularly. For instance, Trump doesn't understand that America's "leadership of the Free World" was something paid for generously, not something simply accorded because the US had the most bombs and the longest reach. So when he tries to shake down NATO members or to flip trade deficits with East Asia he doesn't realize how easy it would be for supposed allies to go their own way.

  • Paul Krugman: Can Trump Take Health Care Hostage?

  • Jon Marshall: Thinking About Spicer's Chemical Weapons Gaffe: I thought about writing more about the use of chemical weapons as the Syria incident/response unfolded, and both Spicer's spouting and Marshall's "thinking" suggests people are short on some of the basics. Marshall writes, "It's no accident that since World War I, the rare uses of chemical weapons have been as terror weapons, as Saddam Hussein did with the Kurds in the 1980s and Assad has during the Syrian Civil War." Actually, more typical examples were by the British in Iraq in the early 1920s and by Italy in Ethiopia in 1937: poison gas is a favored weapon against people with no protection and no ability to respond in kind. I think the only time since the Great War where it was used against a comparable army was by Iraq against Iran, where Iran ruled out reprisals on moral grounds. Saddam Hussein against the Kurds was an isolated incident tied to the Iran War. It's also not clear to me that Assad ever used it in Syria, regardless of what Marshall thinks. No doubt poison gas is terrifying, but so is every other method of killing in war. The international treaties and the general taboo about chemical weapons are just one part of a more general effort to prohibit war, and it's the general case we should focus on.

    For more on Spicer's "doofusery" (Marshall's apt term), see: Amy Davidson: Sean Spicer Is Very Sorry About His Holocaust Comments; also: Brant Rosen: All Pharaohs Must Fall: A Passover Reflection on Sean Spicer.

  • Charles P Pierce: Is Trump Actually in Charge? Or Is It Worse Than We Feared? I don't get the Fletcher Knebel references, but what I take away from the Trump quotes is that he simply lets the military brass do whatever they want, assuming that whatever they come up with will be just great: "We have the greatest military in the world . . . We have given them total authorization, and that's what they're doing. Frankly, that's why they've been so successful lately." This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone: from the start of his campaign, Trump's only original idea was that Obama weakened the country by telling the military "no" too many times. (Personally, I thought Obama said "yes" way too often.) But the problem here isn't uncertainty of control. It's that the military -- indeed, all militaries in recent history -- have tended to be over-optimistic about their own powers, while under-estimating the risks of action, and having no fucking idea about where their aggression might lead.

    Pierce cites Eric Fehrnstrom: The generals come to Trump's rescue, which starts: "Thank God for the gneerals. No one thought they would turn out to be the moderates in the Trump White House. . . . If not for them, Trump's grade on his first 100 days would go from middling to poor." Fehrnstrom is a big fan of "Mattis, McMaster, and Kelly," yet the best he can say for them is that the "first 100 days" have been "middling"?

  • Gareth Porter: New Revelations Belie Trump Claims on Syria Chemical Attack; also Rick Sterling: How Media Bias Fuels Syrian Escalation.

  • Matt Taibbi: For White America, It's 'Happy Days' Again: Or, there ain't gonna be any federal civil rights enforcement while Jeff Sessions is Attorney General. Also the DOJ (formerly Department of Justice) won't be reviewing any alleged instances of local police abuses. Not sure why turning you back on decades of civil rights justice (lackluster as it's been) is supposed to make white people happy -- more like ashamed, I'd say.

  • Annie Waldman: DeVos Pick to Head Civil Rights Office Once Said She Faced Discrimination for Being White.

  • Jon Wiener: On the Road in Trump Country: Interview with Thomas Frank, whose 2016 book Listen, Liberal prefigured the Hillary Clinton debacle.

  • Matthew Yglesias: Trump's pivot is real -- he's more right-wing than ever; or as David Dayen put it, President Bannon Is Dead, Long Live President Cohn.


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

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Election Warmup

There was an election in south-central Kansas on Tuesday to fill the House of Representatives seat vacated by CIA Director Mike Pompeo. The Republican candidate, Kansas State Treasurer Ron Estes, won with 52.5% of the vote, beating Democrat James Thompson (45.7%) and Libertarian Chris Rockhold (1.7%). In 2016, Pompeo won with 60.67% of the vote, a margin of 30.06% over Democrat Dan Giroux. (Miranda Allen ran as an independent and took 6.91% of the vote. In 2016, Trump carried the district by 27 points. According to 538, only 19% of all Congressional districts are more Republican than this district (KS-4, see: Harry Enten: Why Republicans Are Worried About Kansas).

Thompson ran 20 points better than the Democratic Party national ticket only six months later (about three months into the Trump presidency). That augurs well for a Democratic rebound in 2018, which is likely for several other reasons: the party not in the White House usually gains in mid-term elections, Trump is already very unpopular (uniquely by historical standards), and there is very little reason to expect that Trump's administration will be more popular once its acts and effects have taken their toll. No doubt some Trump voters have already turned against their hero, but nowhere near enough to affect this election.

Rather, I see four differences this time. The first is that all the awful Trump news has energized part of the Democratic base here in Wichita -- specifically the part that gave Bernie Sanders a 70% victory on the 2016 caucuses. The second is that they nominated a relatively charismatic newcomer in Thompson, narrowly over the party establishment's candidates. The third is that the Republican convention nominated their insider guy, a thoroughly lackluster party hack. And fourth: the candidates started out even in money and name recognition (whereas Pompeo, and before him Todd Tiahrt, rarely entered a reëlection with less than a million dollar warchest), and until he last week or two Thompson was able to run competitively by raising samll contributions. (In the last week, the national party and their dark money benefactors tilted the balance, although their ads were so tone-deaf I doubt they helped much.)

Conversely, the Democratic Party (both state and national) took little interest in the race -- a source of much debate and friction; e.g., see John Nichols: Coulda Woulda Shoulda -- Democrats Miss a Huge Opportunity in Kansas, vs. Jim Newell: Democrats Didn't Tank Kansas 4th District. The latter piece, ostensibly defending the Party elites, is pretty embarrassing:

The excuse the DCCC -- and the Democratic consulting class at large -- have been peddling is that keeping its involvement below the national radar (i.e., not getting involved) was the only way to win such a red district. A DCCC official told the Huffington Post on Monday that "the party's involvement would have been 'extremely damaging' to Thompson because it would have been used against him by Republicans, who have poured significant money into the race." If the national party had made a big show of the race, per the argument, it would have awoken the traditionally red Kansas electorate to turn out at normal election levels.

Someone should inform the DCCC that no matter how invisible they try to be, grassroots hatred of the Democratic Party elites will be stoked by Republican ads: the main one that ran this time featured a split screen with Thompson and Nancy Pelosi, even though neither (at least as far as I know) ever even acknowledge the other. Still, what the DCCC's lack of interest suggests to me is not tact, but rather disdain, tinged with self-awareness that the national party doesn't have anything to offer people in states like Kansas. This may have started with the pragmatic idea that given the electoral college there's no point in ever running in right-of-center states, but what really locked it in was basic graft. As political parties became ever more in thrall to big business money -- and really, the thing that made Obama and the Clintons stars in the party wasn't their brains or policy skills and especially wasn't their empathy with Democratic voters. Rather, it was their appeal to big money donors. And in order to deliver to their donors they had to win elections -- something they turned into a narrowly technical set of skills and tricks. In that schema, states like Kansas weren't just lost causes -- efforts to win them were just plain inefficient. And making matters much worse, the Clintons and Obama put their own personal needs way above those of the Party, leaving it hollow and ineffective, and the party's loyal supporters unrepresented.

The rationalizations of the national Democratic Party won them a few elections, but they've driven the states they've written off -- both traditionally Republican ones like Kansas and formerly supportive ones like West Virginia -- ever deeper into Republican clutches. To understand why this happened it helps to look at how democracy has evolved (and recently devolved) in America. The key idea is that democracy provides a general method for arbitrating differences between the various stakeholders. Early on those stakeholders were limited to property owners, notably including owners of slaves. Over time, the franchise expanded, although even today there is much pressure (especially from Republicans) to limit who can vote, and therefore to shift the balance of power. For instance, despite the fact that "no taxation without representation" was a founding principle, the US denies the vote to tax-paying resident aliens.

One result of the initial restriction of the franchise was that all political parties catered to elite interests, a practice which with few exceptions has persisted to this day. Republicans not only seek to restrict the franchise; they also seek to expand the influence and importance of money. The effect of this is to shift the balance of power toward the wealthy, so that government is more responsive to their concerns, and becomes less concerned with the poor or merely less affluent. The Republicans, especially after Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980, have been remarkably successful at this, so Democrats have been left with two largely incompatible choices. One is to organize the vastly greater numbers left out and often hurt by Republican policies. The other is to compete with Republicans for the money and influence of the elites.

The Democratic Party establishment, with Obama and the Clintons among its stars, has mostly done the latter. They've had quite a bit of success courting socially liberal donors in knowledge-intensive industries like high tech, communications, and finance, and have tailored their policy initiatives to their benefit. This has let Obama and Clinton raise more money for the last three presidential campaigns than Republicans were able to, but Republicans have done better down ticket, in large part because they've put their money to more effective use in media and organization, and in developing candidates. Meanwhile, Obama and the Clintons have done much to alienate the voters they depend on: partly because they've let their policies become warped by their donors, but mostly because they've neglected (and often undermined) building up a strong party organization. One can only speculate as to why, but one suspects that they fear an organized Democratic rank and file might upset their ability to serve their sponsors -- a prime example being Bill Clinton's decision to favor NAFTA over the unions which had long provided Democratic votes. (Obama made the same choice with TPP, which so unpopular among Democrats Hillary Clinton was forced to reverse course and oppose it.)

As I mentioned above, there is an alternative to the focus on donors that has been so prevalent among the elites of the Democratic Party, which is to try to build a mass organization. That is what Bernie Sanders tried to do in 2016, and his near success, combined with Hillary Clinton's abject failure to beat Donald Trump -- by all measures the most blatantly flawed candidate either party has run since, well, forever -- points toward the alternative: one that makes stronger promises to the voters the Democratic Party courts (and counts on), and which by building a strong organization can finally deliver on those promises. (The main knock on Sanders in 2016 wasn't that he couldn't win but that he had so little backing among elected Democrats that he couldn't govern and/or couldn't follow through on his platform. Something like this happened to Trump, but he's so lazy and unprincipled he just turned the reins over to mainstream Republicans. Sanders at least cares about his platform and the people who voted for him.)

This is the context that explains the DCCC's snub of Thompson and Kansas. Thompson came out of the Sanders campaign, he built a grass roots organization, and wound up doing much better than anyone expected. It didn't appear to me that he ran an especially radical or populist campaign: he avoided negatives, didn't push a lot of policy positions, just promised to fight for people (building on his personal story). I think he should have slammed the Republicans harder, but given how biased the district was I could be wrong. (By contrast, Estes' ads were extremely negative -- so hateful I would have voted against him without knowing anything else, but there can be little doubt that the Republicans know how to push their voters' buttons.) Thompson's organization was very focused on Wichita, and he wound up carrying Sedgwick County by a couple thousand votes (so Wichita by much more). He came real close to a tie in Harvey County, but he lost the other larger counties about 3-to-2, and the outliers badly, some by 4-to-1 or more.

Thompson says he'll run again in 2018, which will bring him much up the learning curve. The obvious downside is that Estes will enter 2018 with a huge funding advantage (unless he gets burned in a primary -- Susan Wagle is talking about a run, and Todd Tiahrt still thinks he's entitled to reclaim his old seat). Also, turnout will be higher -- this election only got 43.52% as many votes as 2016; 2018 will probably split the difference. Hard to say who that will help. The bigger wild card is how much worse off most Kansans will be in 2018 -- as Brownback finishes his second term, with two years of Trump and Ryan doing their worst.

It's still going to be hard for Democrats to win in KS-4. It's not so much that Republicans have a huge natural advantage as that the Republican Party (and affiliates like the Kochs) have put a lot of work and money into building a grass roots organization, and have hooked into the national right-wing propaganda network (especially, but not exclusively, Fox) to all but automatically win elections. Still, their intentionally divisive strategy runs the risk of backfiring. On the one hand, it often promotes weak and often very flawed candidates. On the other, the lies build up, and it's become ever more obvious that too much Republican power causes more harm than good. Still, they win if nobody runs against them, which has more often than not been the case. And that's why James Thompson's run was important: not only is he an impressive candidate, he's not out to wheedle his way in by trying to meet Republican talking points half way. He represents real change, and only that promise has a chance against the GOP machine.


As you probably know, the first post-election effort to move the national Democratic Party focus toward the voters instead of the donors was Keith Ellison's campaign for DNC chairman. He barely lost to Tom Perez, after the latter made all sorts of conciliatory promises like a return to Howard Dean's "50 state strategy." However, consider this Perez quote from Jamie Peck: The Democratic party is undermining Bernie Sanders-style candidates:

In an interview with The Washington Post, Perez confirmed the DNC would not be giving Thompson a dime. "We can make progress in Kansas," he said. "There are thousands of elections every year, though. Can we invest in all of them? That would require a major increase in funds." Fact check: the DNC has a fund just for Congressional elections, of which there are just ten this year. . . .

One person the party does not think will be hurt by their help is Jon Ossoff, who is running in a similarly red, but much wealthier, district in Georgia. To date, the DNC has raised some $8.3m for him and has committed to sending nine field staffers to organize on-the-ground efforts.

Although he is young, he's an acolyte of the Democratic establishment, having worked for Representatives John Lewis and Hank Johnson, and he endorsed Hillary Clinton in the primary. He went to Georgetown followed by the London School of Economics and speaks fluent French. He has the support of several Hollywood celebrities.

Democrats think Ossoff is just the guy to bring his affluent suburban district back into the fold. (Clearly, losing a national election was not enough to reverse course on that most doomed of 2016 strategies: trading blue collar whites for wealthy, suburban ones.)

I hope Ossoff wins, but if he does it won't have nearly as much impact as a Thompson win would have had in Kansas. The fact is that Kansans have suffered as much under Republican rule as anyone in the country. Democrats should be able to make their case here as pointedly as anywhere, but they can't unless they try, and they won't as long as they remain dedicated to chasing the donor bucks of the upscale urban liberals they've courted ever since they let the unions go bust and manufacturing jobs move to ever cheaper labor markets abroad. And make no mistake: no matter how much Republicans wanted those changes, Democrats let them happen. Letting districts like KS-4 rot is one way they do that.

Also see Harry Enten's post-election piece, Is Trump or Brownback to Blame for the Surprisingly Close Race in Kansas 4?:

Still, Estes's underperformance in Kansas 4 should worry Republicans because special elections as a group have done a decent job of predicting midterm results over the past few cycles. Kansas's result comes on top of Democrats' doing 18 points better than the past presidential vote suggested in California's 34th special election last week. In no midterm cycle since 2002, except for 2006 when Democrats took back the House, did Democrats outperform the past presidential vote in at least two districts as much as they did in California 34 and Kansas 4. Those outcomes are potentially indicative of a wave large enough for Democrats to take back the House in 2018.

I wouldn't get too excited here, although I'm pretty sure Trump will be even more extensively despised by 2018. The California race is pretty atypical -- it was an open primary, with two Democrats nominated for the runoff, and few (if any) serious Republicans ran. And while anti-Trump feeling motivated some Thompson volunteers, it's too soon for many Trump fans to feel betrayed. (For one thing, they're not exactly "high info" voters.) Georgia-6 next week is probably a better test, and a race in Montana is coming up soon, too -- both have serious candidates, which wasn't exactly a given here in Kansas.

One big hole the Democrats have dug for themselves is that they've lost sight of the notion of a public interest as they've pursued special interest donors. They need people to understand that there are large aggregates of people whose interests are being trampled on in the mad rush to satisfy the big lobbies. Secondly, they need to bring back the notion of countervailing power: the idea that government can level the playing field so that people who don't have power bases (like businesses) can get a fair shake. One can argue that the Republicans have far too much power, so it would be only prudent to tilt back toward Democracy.

Of course, it would be terrific to get rid of the exalted role of money in politics, but as long as the Republicans think that works to their favor, and as long as they have any substantial power, that won't happen. The next best thing is to make people constantly aware of the tinge of political corruption, and that would be an easier task for Democrats if they'd stop indulging in it so conspicuously. (And yes, that means stop nominating Clintons and their cronies.) What Democrats need more than anything is to re-establish a bond of trust among the voters. Republicans do this by exploiting the prejudices and rage of their target audience. Democrats are hard pressed to compete on that level. The only real chance they have to succeed is to become trustworthy. To do this they need to recruit plain-spoken candidates who understand what it means and takes to fight for the underprivileged. James Thompson is just that, and if he can make KS-4 competitive, think what more candidates like him can do all across the nation.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Daily Log

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Daily Log

Election day today to fill Mike Pompeo's House seat. Republican Ron Estes won with 52.5% of the votes, vs. 45.7% for James Thompson (D) and 2,082 for Chris Rockhold (L). That meaans that the total vote was 120.867, compared to 275,251 on 2016, when Pompeo won with 60.67% of the vote. So the turnout was less than half (43.52%) of 2016. Thompson won Sedgwick County, which includes Wichita, with 50.32% vs. 48.03% for Estes and 1.64% for Rockhold. Estes won every other county in the district -- barely in Harvey (Newton), but by huge margins elsewhere: 61.98% in Butler, 55.79% in Cowley, 62.36% in Sumner, 63.92% in Pratt, more than 2-to-1 in all of the smaller counties.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Music Week

First, a couple more links I missed last night:

I should also note that there will be a special election here in Kansas to pick the successor to Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Koch), who has moved on to become Trump's CIA Director. The favored Republican is Ron Estes, who combines the worst aspects of Pompeo and predecessor Todd Tiahrt (R-Boeing) with a markedly lower IQ -- I wouldn't want to pick on someone just because he looks stupid, but all evidence suggests Estes is the real deal. Republicans have plowed a lot of money into this race, but all they've come up with are smears that attack Democrat James Thompson for supporting "late-term abortion" ("he's too extreme for Kansas") and split screens with Nancy Pelosi. Republicans have held the seat since 1994, usually with big margins, and their base has grown as the district has spread out from Wichita. The Nation finally took note of Thompson: see John Nichols: A Berniecrat Takes on Trump and the Koch Brothers in Kansas. I will add that Thompson hasn't tried to make this a referendum on Trump nor does his advertising cite Bernie Sanders. I think he missed an opportunity there, but he has a strong personal story, and his ads have a lot of guns, so we'll see how that plays out.

There are also special elections to fill House vacancies in Georgia and Montana. See: Charlie May: A blue wave begins? Republicans may be in trouble in Kansas, Montana and Georgia elections.


Music: Current count 28009 [27981] rated (+28), 404 [400] unrated (+4).

Round number notice, as I passed 28,000 records rated. At 30/week it takes 8-9 months to accumulate a thousand, so unless I slow down I'll probably hit 29,000 around the end of the year, and 30,000 close to Labor Day 2018. Big assumption. I've certainly slowed down going through the new jazz queue, mostly because this week's four A-listed records on Intakt and Cuneiform got four or more plays each. On the other hand, the records I downloaded or checked out on Napster got much less attention -- usually a single play, which is what kept the week from being a major wipeout.

The old music by Herbie Hancock, Freddy Hubbard, and Pete La Roca was suggested as I was slogging through the database adding entries to the jazz guides (currently 590 + 299 pages, so +5 and +13 over the week -- damn slow progress).

For Hancock and Hubbard, I stopped after the Blue Notes ran out (well, I included one Hubbard MPS, which had gotten some Critics Poll reissue votes last year). Both artists declined afterwards, and I figured I had heard enough for now. La Roca had two widely spaced Blue Notes and one outlier, and I wound up most impressed by the latter (John Gilmore is the secret ingredient, as he so often was).

Other recent jazz albums were suggested by the Downbeat Critics Poll album ballot (Cameron Graves, Heads of State, Derrick Hodge, Kneebody, Julian Lage, One for All, Bria Skonberg, Nate Smith -- Trio 3 and JLCO were also on the ballot but unrated in my queue). Can't say as I had missed much, but now I can say I didn't. I took the time to compile my usual notes. The invite from Downbeat's editor claimed that some critics can fill out the 20-page ballot in 25 minutes, but it took me over six hours, and that only because I skimmed through the backstretch, most often repeating last year's picks rather than taking the extra time to rethink everything. Horrible experience.

The non-jazz records were suggested by Robert Chrisgau's latest: obviously, I like the New Pornographers and Shins considerably less, but was pleasantly surprised by Conor Oberst's neo-Dylanisms. I had previously given Old 97's' Graveyard Whistling a B+(***). Still need to check out that Craig Finn record.


New records rated this week:

  • Chicago-London Underground: A Night Walking Through Mirrors (2016 [2017], Cuneiform): [cdr]: A-
  • Colorado Jazz Repertory Orchestra: Invitation (2016 [2017], OA2): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Tom Dempsey/Tim Ferguson Quartet: Waltz New (2015 [2017], OA2): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Cameron Graves: Planetary Prince (2017, Mack Avenue): [r]: B-
  • Heads of State: Four in One (2017, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(**)
  • Oscar Hernández & Alma Libre: The Art of Latin Jazz (2016 [2017], Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Derrick Hodge: The Second (2016, Blue Note): [r]: B-
  • The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra: The Music of John Lewis (2013 [2017], Blue Engine): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Kneebody: Anti-Hero (2017, Motéma): [r]: B
  • Julian Lage: Live in Los Angeles (2016, Mack Avenue, EP): [r]: B
  • The Microscopic Septet: Been Up So Long It Looks Like Down to Me: The Micros Play the Blues (2016 [2017], Cuneiform): [cdr]: A-
  • The New Pornographers: Whiteout Conditions (2017, Collected Works/Concord): [r]: B+(***)
  • Conor Oberst: Ruminations (2016, Nonesuch): [r]: B+(**)
  • Conor Oberst: Salutations (2017, Nonesuch): [r]: A-
  • One for All: The Third Decade (2015 [2016], Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(**)
  • Matt Otto With Ensemble Ibérica: Ibérica (2016 [2017], Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • The Ed Palermo Big Band: The Great Un-American Songbook: Volumes I & II (2016 [2017], Cuneiform, 2CD): [cdr]: B+(*)
  • The Shins: Heartworms (2017, Columbia): [r]: B+(*)
  • Bria Skonberg: Bria (2016, Okeh/Masterworks): [r]: B+(***)
  • Nate Smith: Kinfolk: Postcards From Everywhere (2017, Ropeadope): [r]: B
  • Spoon: Hot Thoughts (2017, Matador): [r]: B+(***)
  • Trio 3: Visiting Texture (2016 [2017], Intakt): [cd]: A-
  • Trio Heinz Herbert: The Willisau Concert (2016 [2017], Intakt): [cd]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • Herbie Hancock: Cantaloupe Island (1962-65 [1994], Blue Note): [r]: B+(***)
  • Herbie Hancock: Speak Like a Child (1968, [2005], Blue Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • Herbie Hancock: The Prisoner (1969 [2000], Blue Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Freddie Hubbard: Goin' Up (1960 [1961], Blue Note): [r]: B+(***)
  • Freddie Hubbard: Hub Cap (1961, Blue Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Freddie Hubbard: The Hub of Hubbard (1969 [1971], MPS): [r]: B+(*)
  • Pete La Roca: Basra (1965 [1995], Blue Note): [r]: A-
  • Pete La Roca: Turkish Women at the Bath (1967 [2004], Fresh Sound): [r]: A-
  • Pete (LaRoca) Sims: SwingTime (1997, Blue Note): [r]: B


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Buffalo Jazz Octet: PausaLive (Cadence Jazz)
  • Peter Campbell: Loving You: Celebrating Shirley Horn (self-released)
  • Oliver Lake Featuring Flux Quartet: Right Up On (Passin' Thru): April 21
  • Gregory Lewis: Organ Monk: The Breathe Suite (self-released): May 5
  • Jason Miles: Kind of New 2: Blue Is Paris (Lightyear): advance, May 12
  • Jared Sims: Change of Address (self-released): April 14
  • Günter Baby Sommer: Le Piccole Cose: Live at Theater Gütersloh (Intuition)
  • Trichotomy: Known-Unknown (Challenge)
  • Ronny Whyte: Shades of Whyte (Audiophile): May 5
  • Alex Wintz: Life Cycle (Culture Shock Music): May 19

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Trump Flirts With Infamy

On Thursday, April 6, 2017, Donald Trump ordered the US Navy to fire 59 cruise missiles from ships in the Mediterranean targeting the al-Shayrat airbase in central Syria (near Homs). This was widely reported as the first time US forces had directly attacked forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. My first reaction to write up another Day of Infamy post, like I did the day after March 17, 2003, when Bush launched his invasion and occupation of Iraq with a similar volley of cruise missiles. But since those missiles blew up on or near their target, the US hasn't followed up with an invasion or any notable escalation of war. It's not even much of a precedent, as the US has been bombing Syrian territory held by ISIS for several years, and has stationed "military advisers" ("special forces") well inside Syria's pre-war borders. And the US and its nominal allies have been running guns and munitions to various anti-Assad groups within Syria almost from the very start of Syria's Civil War. Obama had gone on record as insisting that Assad "must go" early in that war -- an extraordinarily arrogant stance coming from the leader of a nation which used to proclaim its belief that each nation has a right to choose its own leaders and political system ("self-determination").

The US has had a checkered relationship with Syria and the Assad dynasty since it seized power in the mid-1960s, sometimes forming alliances against common enemies (like Iraq and al-Qaeda), but one issue has effectively kept Syria on the US enemies list and that is Israel -- especially since 1967 when Isreal seized and annexed a strip of territory it calls the Golan Heights. That issue pushed Syria into becoming a military client of the Soviet Union (later Russia -- in neither case for ideological reasons, but because its opposition to Israel closed off access to American arms), and that alignment only (plus the similar one with Iran) only added to the peculiar combination of antipathy, indifference, opportunism, and intolerance which has characterized America's increasingly violent and fitful intervention in the Middle East.

The immediate rationale for this particular act of war was the use of poisonous gas, allegedly by Assad's forces, in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, in "rebel-held territory" in Idlib Province. Obama had arbitrariy proclaimed a "red line" that would be crossed should Syria use poison gas. When Syria appeared to have used poison gas in 2013, the US prepared a "punitive" attack against Syria, but backed down, partly because Congress was wary of authorizing US intervention in Syria, but also because Russia intervened and negotiated a deal between Assad and Kerry committing Syria to destroy its stocks of chemical weapons. Although few Republicans wanted to intervene in Syria, neocons were critical of Obama for failing to punish Syria, and Trump picked up that theme on the campaign trail. Given a similar provocation, it's hardly surprising that Trump would want to show his toughness by bombing first -- especially given that the US had a long history, dating back to Reagan in Libya, of punitive bombing against Middle Eastern targets. (Clinton did the same in Afghanistan and Sudan, and turned the pummeling of Iraq into a kneejerk response every time he wanted to deflect attention from his own scandals. Trump understood this political tactic well enough to tweet (not sure when): "Now that Obama's poll numbers are in tailspin -- watch for him to launch a strike in Libya or Iran. He is desperate.")

But while Trump's now-signature attack isn't far removed from "business as usual" for the US in the region, it will take some effort to various threads that came together to make Trump's own decision little more than a kneejerk response. One question has to do with the chemical attack cited as the rationale. It's hard to get politically untainted data from the site, but it makes little if any sense that Assad would use chemical weapons after having given them up. As Jason Diltz reports, one possible explanation, promoted by Russia, is "that no such gas attack took place to begin with, and that a Syrian conventional strike hit a rebel warehouse full of chemicals." Russia, having brokered the deal to rid Assad of chemical weapons, isn't a disinterested observer here, but it is likely that chemical weapons caches fell into "rebel" hands early in the war, and there has been reason to suggest that some of the pre-2013 poison gas incidents had been "false flag" operations by "rebels" to goad the US into taking punitive action against Assad.

More generally, Assad has evidently been gaining ground recently, and several countries had come to the conclusion that Assad would continue to play a role in a negotiated post-conflict Syria -- even the US seemed to be moving toward that conclusion, at least as part of Trump's more amicable stance toward Russia. So why would Assad risk all that by doing something practically guaranteed to trigger a belligerent response from Trump? It makes no sense -- which doesn't prove it's untrue but does raise suspicion. If you look at who benefits from the chemical attack, it isn't Assad or his foreign allies; it's the anti-Assad "rebels" and elements within the US security establishment who have long benefited from sowing discord with Russia and Iran; e.g., the very people who applauded Trump loudest. Diltz also reports that the Pentagon is investigating whether Russian planes took part in the chemical attack, and that Rex Tillerson says Russia bears responsibility for Assad's gas attack. Strategic thinkers in and around the Pentagon have long cherished Russia as an enemy.

The key thing in Trump's attack against the Syrian airfield wasn't what he did so much as how quickly he did it. Speed saved Trump from a lot of possible headaches: he never had to explain what he intended to do, and he didn't give anyone the chance to second-guess him, let alone organize opposition. He didn't consult anyone in Congress. Despite Nikki Haley's recent flurry of tantrums, he didn't engage the UN. What he wanted to do was to show that he could act decisively (unlike Obama, or even Bush, but ironically much more like Clinton). He informed the president of China only after the missiles were launched, and only because they were having dinner together and he was too pleased with himself to keep a secret like that. About the only one he did as much as notify before the fact was the Russians, who were given ample time to clear the air base, minimizing damage and casualties. (Press reports stated that the 59 cruise missiles -- at $1.5 million each he liquidated $90 million in inventory in seconds -- had killed nine Syrians.) You'd think that hardcore Trump-Russia conspiracy devotees would be up in arms over such collusion, but most of them are Clinton dead-enders, and by and large they were so elated by the fireworks they let such details pass.

So even if you've forgotten the movie Wag the Dog, it was pretty obvious that the chief objective in bombing Syria had to do with domestic politics. Trump has been struggling in the polls, and he's especially been dogged by charges of underhanded hanky-panky with Vladimir Putin and the Russians -- whose interference in America's notoriously corrupt political system is popularly regarded as nefarious (as opposed to, say, Israel's completely kosher manipulations). So in one stealth blow, Trump shows his independence from Putin as well as his allegiance to the imperial war state, and gets a moment doing the one thing Americans of most political stripes seem to regard as truly "presidential": blowing shit up. And to think that until he did just that, Trump was widely regarded as a dangerous maniac.

Conspicuous among those applauding Trump were not only perennial Republican war-mongers like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, but virtually all of the so-called opposition leadership, starting with Chuck Shumer ("the right thing to do") and Nancy Pelosi. Even former presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton came in from the woods to, just before the fact, demand that Trump step up to the challenge and bomb Syria's airfields. (Anyone who thought that Trump might be less hawkish than Clinton has by now been thoroughly disabused of such fantasies, but thus far Trump still hasn't done anything crazier than Clinton herself promised.) Even John Kerry, who negotiated the chemical weapons deal with Assad and Putin, has turned into one of Trump's loudest cheerleaders.

Still, the speed with which Trump acted belies the likely fact that he actually has no idea how to end the war. When someone like Kerry looks at Trump's escalation, he sees pressure pointed toward a negotiated settlement, and he sees bombing Assad now as a means of bringing his ambitions down a notch or two. He no doubt recalls Bosnia, where a round of American bombing brought the Serbs to an agreement known as the Dayton Accords. But that was a relatively simple and easy conflict, and the US had virtually no history as a nemesis to Serbia (or Yugoslavia) so had a relatively clean track record as an arbiter. Yugoslavia was also a country that could be sliced up into fairly neat regions, so the outlines of a solution were much more obvious. Also there was very little international involvement, so other countries (even the US) had no real stakes in the outcome. Even so, the Dayton Accords were hardly a model of impartial diplomacy: they halted a war, but didn't repair the ruins, and war soon flared up again in Kosovo, which was resolved far less elegantly.

Anyone who gives Syria even a modicum of thought must realize that the only way the war ends there is in an agreement which shares power among all factions. That is especially difficult because there are so many factions, many defined against each other, and many backed by various foreign powers, few (if any) out of any concern for the people who live (or, increasingly, lived) in Syria. The only way to cut through this Gordian Knot is to systematically focus on what would be best for the people, regardless of what it means for the outside parties -- but that is a skill that Americans in particular have great difficulty with. Some aspects of a solution seem fundamental. First, power should be radically decentralized, with each section determined democratically, and much flexibility as to how to organize each section. (This is what should have been done in Aghanistan and Iraq, but wasn't because the US wanted to control local politics through the apparatus of a central state, no matter how alien or unpopular that state became.) This would allow, for instance, some sections to be popularly organized as Islamist statelets, others to be dominated by Sunnis or Alawis or Kurds, and others to favor secular socialism (or even Texas-style crony capitalism, Bush's initial plan for Iraq). Those local sections would need to be demilitarized, and to allow free movement of people to other sections. There would need to be a comprehensive amnesty, and limits on punishment inside sections (some sort of "bill of rights," where mobility was one such right).

Such an agreement could be agreed to or imposed, and indeed a broadly agreed to framework might have to be imposed on recalcitrant factions. If imposed, it should be done by neutral soldiers who have no lasting political interests in Syria, and should involve disarmament. An agreed framework could slowtrack disarmament. The settlement would gradually remove all foreign forces, and provide an international agreement against aggression against Syria (Israel and Turkey are two countries with bad track records here). It would also come with a redevelopment bank that would provide grants and loans for rebuilding and development, and would be subject to policing of corruption.

I don't see how any other solution might work, although I can imagine various half-assed compromises, like leaving Assad in charge of a rump Syrian state that would be prohibited from infringing the basic rights of the Syrian people, with vague promises of future elections, etc. -- you might call this "surrender with dignity." Or if you cannot condone Assad, you might conspire to turn the country over to Al-Qaeda and hope they evolve into Saudi Arabia. Or I suppose the world powers might get Turkey to occupy and annex Syria, although there's no reason to think they'd do a better job than they have in their Kurdish regions. But none of these are remotely good ideas. They're merely better than maintaining Syria as a hot battleground for the cold wars of a dozen regional and international rivals -- i.e., the status quo.

While Kerry might relish the prospect of using the Trump stick to bully Assad and others to a Bosnia-like settlement (or better), it's hard to see Rex Tillerson (let alone Trump) even imagining as much, much less accomplishing it having basically decapitated the State Department (he, of course, in the role of the chicken's disembodied head). Ironically, the only one involved who possesses anything near that sort of imagination is Putin, so wouldn't a plan designed to drive a wedge between Putin and Trump be counterproductive? That's pretty clearly why McCain and Graham, and for that matter Shumer and Pelosi and Clinton and her crew, were so quick to climb on board.

Still, without a plan this will go down in history as just another arbitrary and ultimately pointless American atrocity, like so many before it, and Trump's blip in the polls will dissolve into the hole dug by his nasty incompetence. His day of infamy is likely to quickly be forgotten, until his next one anyway. It's not just that those who are ignorant of history are condemned to repeat it. Those who respond only to the moment's temptation will never have firm ground to stand on.

One last point I want to make: what disturbs me more than Trump's missile attack has been how easily, how uncritically many Democrats and most of the media have lapped up the rationale behind the attack. OK, whatever rationale suited their prejudices best -- some exalted in American power and Trump's "presidential" resolve, some preferred to play up the vileness of the "enemy," some even believed that the killing and destruction served some humanitarian greater good. But all of them bought into the idea that the US (and the US alone) is entitled to play God and deliver justice. Back in 2008 when Barack Obama said he wants to change the way we think about war, nobody expected that what he meant was that the US should simply become more efficient and precise in its ability to project power across the globe, especially through riskless, remotely controlled long distance weapons. Surely a more reasonable reading would have been that the US should back away from its world policing role in favor of developing international organizations that could keep the peace by putting all nations on an equal footing.

Of course, no one expects the Republicans to understand all that, but shouldn't we demand as much from the Democrats. After all, what kind of practical resistance can they offer against Trump and company without making a commitment to peace, justice, and humanity?


Some more links on Trump's little venture into Syria:

  • Michael R Shear/Michael R Gordon: 63 Hours: From Chemical Attack to Trump's Strike in Syria: An hour-by-hour countdown focusing on Trump: what he knew (not much), what options he had (not many), when he decided to blow things up.

  • Peter Baker: For Obama, Syria Chemical Attack Shows Risk of 'Deals With Dictators': Misleading title, and for that matter article. I don't see any current quote from Obama -- just lots of former Obama advisers like Anne-Marie Slaughter who were always hawkish on Syria, who felt like the US missed an opportunity to flex its muscles when Obama agreed to chemical weapons disarmament. The dumbest of these quotes is from Tom Malinowski, arguing that "deterrence is more effective than disarmament." The real problem with the deal was that it didn't end the war, which was the context that made any surviving chemical weapons (including those in "rebel" hands) so dangerous. Still, from a PR angle, it's automatically assumed that any poison gas in Syria is Assad's fault, and this article (like so many in the NY Times) reinforces that propaganda. (Not that I don't mind saying that the war is Assad's fault, although its continuation is not exclusively his fault.)

  • Moustafa Bayoumi: Trump's senseless Syria strikes accomplish nothing; also: Julian Borger/Spencer Ackerman: Trump's response to Syria's chemical attack exposes administration's volatility.

  • Phyllis Bennis: The War in Syria Cannot Be Won. But It Can Be Ended. I heard Bennis interviewed on Democracy Now with two Syrian women who were almost giddy with delight over Trump's rocket attack in Syria, so when she says "the left is profoundly divided over the conflict" that may be in the back of her mind. I'd say that the Syrian women failed to understand that the problem in Syria is not just Assad (although it's hard to overstate how badly he's acted) but war itself, something Trump and Putin and many others are fully guity of. The fact is that nothing good can happen until the war stops.

  • Lauren Carroll: Fact-checking Trump's changing opinion on Syria and the 'red line'

  • Peter Cary: Hillary Clinton called for Donald Trump to 'take out' Assad airfields hours before air strikes: Talk about lending comfort to the enemy. The day after the strikes, Michelle Goldberg posted Hillary Clinton Is Not Going Away and answering "Good." Goldberg's apologia included this paragraph:

    As bittersweet as it was to hear Clinton talk and imagine the sort of president she might have been, the interview offered a stark reminder of why many on the left distrusted her. Speaking hours before Trump launched airstrikes on Syria, she made it clear that she'd also have been a hawkish president. The United States, she said, should take out Bashar al-Assad's airfields, "and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop Sarin gas on them." During the campaign, she said, people asked her if she was afraid that her plan to impose a no-fly zone in Syria would lead to a Russian response. "It's time the Russians were afraid of us!" she said heatedly. "Because we were going to stand up for human rights, the dignity and the future of the Syrian people."

    The Russians should be afraid of us? The whole world should cower before our Shock and Awe? Running guns to Al-Qaeda while bombing ISIS somehow is a stand for "human rights, the dignity and the future of the Syrian people"? Given the alternative, I'm still sorry that she lost, but really, this is batshit insane! And while at least I can ascribe much of the horror that Trump leads on his own peculiar mix of cynicism and laziness, compounded by the general mean-spiritedness of his adopted political party, Clinton comes off as a true believer in her self-aggrandizing fantasy. The rejection of her was the only sane aspect of the 2016 election. It speaks volumes that the American people were so desperate to get rid of her that they were willing to accept the alternative. The more she returns to public life, the more she detracts from the urgent task of resisting Trump.

  • Juan Cole: What Is It With US Presidents and Tomahawk Cruise-Missile Strikes? Cole notes numerous examples, some I've referred to above, others I hadn't -- e.g., Obama's first air assault against ISIS in Syria started in 2014 with 47 Tomahawk missiles. I think the answer to Cole's question is that the Tomahawks have much more range than fighter-bombers or drones and require little preparation, so they're the easiest weapon to choose when presidents want immediate results. Still, the real question is why are such missile attacks so addicting to presidents? What makes them feel entitled to kill so cavalierly? And why can't they come up with more effective ways to resolve such problems? A big part of this is that American politicians have become obsessed with their omnipotence, so they find these massive missile volleys very reassuring. I remember that back in the 1980s when DOD planners were thinking of putting weapons in space, they designed one that was nothing more than a huge tungsten rod that could be dropped anywhere in the world. The tungsten would resist burning up in the atmosphere, and it would gather the speed (and energy) of a meteor before it crashed in a tremendous explosion. They named this terror Rods From God. And more generally, their term for showering a target with overwhelming force was Shock and Awe.

  • Steve Coll: Trump's Confusing Strike on Syria: Another comment which shows that once you get past gut reactions, Trump had no plan or inkling what he was doing:

    If President Trump broadens his aims against Assad, to establish civilian safe havens, for example, or to ground Syria's Air Force, or to bomb Assad to the negotiating table, he will enter the very morass that Candidate Trump warned against. He would have to manage risks -- military confrontation with Russia, an intensified refugee crisis, a loss of momentum against ISIS -- that Obama studied at great length and concluded to be unmanageable, at least at a cost consistent with American interests.

  • Michael Crowley: Democratic Syria hawks love Trump's airstrikes

  • Robert Dreyfuss: Trump's Dangerous Syria Attack; also Janet Reitman: What to Make of Trump's About-Face on Syria.

  • Greg Grandin: The Real Targets of Trump's Strike Were His Domestic Critics: Six "thoughts," each hitting home. For example:

    The bombing reveals that there are no limits to the media's ability to be awed, if not shocked, by manufactured displays of techno-omnipotence. Just as it did in the 1991 Gulf War, the Pentagon passed footage of its nighttime missile launches to the networks. And just as what happened then -- when, CBS's Charles Osgood called the bombing of Iraq "a marvel" and Jim Stewart described it as "two days of almost picture-perfect assaults" -- today MSNBC's Brian Williams called the Tomahawk takeoff "beautiful." In fact, he described it as "beautiful" three times: "'They are beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments making what is for them what is a brief flight over to this airfield,' he added, then asked his guest, 'What did they hit?'" Why, don't you know, they hit their target: Williams and his colleagues' ability to have a critical thought.

  • Glenn Greenwald: The Spoils of War: Trump Lavished With Media and Bipartisan Praise for Bombing Syria

  • Simon Jenkins: His emotions have been stirred -- but Trump's bombs won't help Syria:

    There is nothing in the world more dangerous than an American president watching television. Donald Trump last night followed Ronald Reagan in 1982 and George Bush in 2001 as an isolationist turned interventionist in the Middle East. His past pragmatism towards Syria's Assad regime and its Russian backers underwent a 180-degree turn as 59 American missiles rained down on a Syrian airbase. Welcome back to mission creep.

    None of those three really count as isolationists (a historical stance I have much respect for, although no one who held such views would have ever described themselves as such; the label was coined by their opponents, meant to suggest an ostrich burying its head in the sand, oblivious to real threats all around). But all three share a remarkably shallow sense of the world, as well as a cavalier eagerness to use violence when they see some short-term political advantage. And like any good politician, Trump put his heart on his sleeve:

    Breaking from dinner with the Chinese leader, Trump spoke of his reaction to "slow and brutal deaths," choking bodies and beautiful babies. He three times invoked God. He had been moved to act, he said, because Assad's "attack on children had a big impact on me." As for Russia's role in the attack, Trump's secretary of state said it was "either complicit or incompetent."

    Safe to say that Trump won't react with the same "emotion" to reports of Syrian children mangled by American bombs, because he won't be able to find any political advantage in doing so.

  • Adam Johnson: Five Top Papers Run 18 Opinion Pieces Praising Syria Strikes -- Zero Are Critical: Leave the dissent to The Onion.

  • Fred Kaplan: The Morning After in Syria

  • Alex Lockie: Syrian forces defiantly take off from airfield hit by onslaught of US cruise missiles: Additional fallout: Russia just suspended key military agreements with the US -- raising the risk of war.

  • Carol Morello: Trump officials tell Russia to drop its support for Syria's Assad: Henry Kissinger liked to study Clausewitz. Others preferred to draw strategy lessons from Sun Tzu. This makes it sound like Trump's people have been reading up on stupid pet tricks: Roll over. Play dead.

  • Robert Parry: Trump's 'Wag the Dog' Moment

  • Vijay Prashad: Is Trump Going to Commit the Next Great American Catastrophe in Syria? This focuses on the alleged chemical weapons attack, and covers what (little) is known and how it is known. It doesn't really move into the question of how the US might parlay misunderstanding into full-scale catastrophe, although there is a long record of just that sort of thing.

  • David Smith: Doves and hawks: how opinion was divided about airstrikes in Syria: Features four hawks and four doves, the former deeply ensconced in Trump's White House and War Machine, the doves rather oddly all right-wingers more/less associated with Trump: Steve Bannon (recently booted from the NSC), Mike Cernovich (alt-right blogger), Ann Coulter (all-around bigot), and Rand Paul (part-time libertarian).

    Smith also co-wrote As warplanes return to scene of sarin attack, Trump defends missile launch: Twenty-four hours after Trump's attack, the bombed airbase is open again, and planes from it are attacking "rebel"-held Khan Sheikhun, albeit not with sarin gas this time. Meanwhile, Trump is basking in the adoring glow of "liberal humanitarians" for making the children of Syria so much safer.

  • Joan Walsh: Too Many of Trump's Liberal Critics Are Praising His Strike on Syria: And not just Democrats with long records as neocon hawks (like Hillary Clinton):

    On CNN's New Day Thursday, global analyst Fareed Zakaria declared, "I think Donald Trump became president of the United States" last night. To his credit, Zakaria has previously called Trump a "bullshit artist" and said, "He has gotten the presidency by bullshitting." But Zakaria apparently thinks firing missiles make one presidential.

    Walsh cites many others, including Bernie Sanders and Kirsten Gillibrand, who at least had reservations. She also cited Mark Landler: Acting on Instinct, Trump Upends His Own Foreign Policy, which points out how impulsively Trump reacted (original title: "On Syria attack, Trump's heart came first"): quotes Trump as saying "even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack" -- referring to the Syrian chemical attack, but those words could just as well describe many of Trump's own authorized bombing runs.

    Also see: Owen Jones: Why are liberals now cheerleading a warmongering Trump?

    One of the main objections to Trump was that he was unstable, impulsive, with authoritarian instincts, and would disregard constitutional norms. This has turned out to be true, while being applauded by his erstwhile detractors for doing so, emboldening him to go further. Yet "I'm no fan of Trump, but . . ." will be the battle cry of his erstwhile detractors. Still, the children of Syria will die, just as they will die in Yemen and Iraq and elsewhere. History will ask: how did this man become president? And how did he maintain power when he did? Look no further than the brittle, weak, pathetic liberal "opposition."

  • Whitney Webb: Russia Reports Discovery of Rebel-Held Chemical Weapons at Site of Idlib Gas Attack

  • Matthew Yglesias: Trump brought his economics team to his Syria strike watch party, for some reason: Well, there's also this story: Tom Boggioni: Donald Trump personally profited from missile-maker Raytheon's stock jump after his Syria attack. There was also a spike in oil stock prices, which should warm Rex Tillerson's slimy heart.

  • North Korea says Syria airstrikes prove its nukes justified: And here you were, thinking Trump's best and brightest had figured out all the angles.

  • The Onion: Trump Confident US Military Strike on Syria Wiped Out Russian Scandal: OK, probably satire (as "fake news" used to be called), not least the alleged Trump quote:

    After ordering the first U.S. military attack against the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, President Donald Trump held a press conference Friday to express his full confidence that the airstrike had completely wiped out the lingering Russian scandal. "Based on intelligence we have received over the past several hours, the attack on the al-Shayrat air base in Homs has successfully eliminated all discussions and allegations about my administration's ties to the Russian government," said Trump, adding that at approximately 4:40 a.m. local time, 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from U.S. naval ships obliterated all traces of the widespread controversy in news outlets across the media. "Ordering this strike was not a decision I took lightly, but given that it was the only way to decisively eradicate any attention being paid to congressional investigations into possible collusion between key members of my staff and high-ranking Kremlin officials, I decided it was a necessary course of action. If we learn that any remnants of this scandal remain after this attack, I will not hesitate to order further strikes." Trump went on to say that he is leaving the option open for a potential ground invasion of Syria if any troubling evidence emerges that the Russian government manipulated the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

Tweets I've noticed along the way:

  • Anne-Marie Slaughter: Donald Trump has done the right thing on Syria. Finally!! After years of useless handwringing in the face of hideous atrocities.
  • Lee Fang: Like clock work all cable news has retired generals (many of whom work at defence firms) on air to give the sports-style play-by-play
  • Christopher Hayes: As legions of ex-Obama officials endorse the strike, it's more and more clear the degree to which Obama was resisting his own advisors.
  • Asad Abukhalil: Let me get this straight: so according to DC pundits, Trump was a dangerous maniac . . .until he started bombing?


A couple of unrelated links, just to note them:

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Daily Log

After finishing my Downbeat Critics Poll ballot, I resumed work on the jazz guides, starting with Harold Mabern in the '60s-'70s file. Opening page counts: 582/275. Finished the evening with Roscoe Mitchell. Closing page counts: 585/286, so +3 and +11.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Daily Log

Thought I'd use up some of the fish in the freezer, so thawed out a pair of red snapper fillets. Thought I'd do a Greek recipe I had made for my birthday, but couldn't find the recipe, so I borrowed (liberally) from a baked fish recipe in Tess Mallos' The Complete Middle Eastern Cookbook (from Crete, actually). Spread a little olive oil around a baking pan. Sprinkled some panko crumbs and parsley and five chopped garlic cloves. Rubbed a little oil on the fish, then salt and pepper, and placed them in the middle of the pan. Peeled two russet potatoes and cut them quarter-inch planks, half length, and put them in a bowl with some olive oil, salt, black pepper, and garlic powder. Cut half a carrot up similarly, and added it. I had half of a yellow onion, so sliced it in fat (quarter-inch) rounds. I arranged the potato mix around the fish, sliced three tomatoes and covered the fish, then squeezed juice from one lemon over everything, and covered the dish with foil. The recipe called for baking the fish 35-40 minutes at 350F, removing the foil after 15 minutes. I suspected that was too low and not enough time, and was right. I set the oven to 375F, then bumped it up to 400F after an hour, when the potatoes still were nowhere near done. I probably baked it another 30 minutes after raising the temperature, finally removing it when the potatoes were done and partly browned, and the tomatoes had been dried. Fish came out nice and flaky, not notably dried out. After I pulled it from the oven, I scattered some flat parsley and squeezed juice from a second lemon.

The recipe didn't call for the carrot or onion, but I happened to have them left over in the refrigerator, and figured they wouldn't hurt. In any case the potatoes were the gating factor. The garlic powder was another improvisation: I thought of it before I realized that I had fresh garlic. If I make this again, I'll probably start the oven at 400F, and keep the foil for 30 minutes. The original recipe called for whole fish instead of fillets. I usually do a different baked fish recipe, where I top the fish with a salsa made from canned diced tomatoes, green olives, and capers, topped with bread crumbs, and I bake that in a 400F oven (that recipe is here). I've tried baking potatoes at the same time, which works only if I cut them small.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 27981 [27951] rated (+30), 400 [397] unrated (+3).

Most of this week's records were rolled up in the March Streamnotes, and for that matter look there for tips on how I found what. As you'll see, one event that set me off searching for albums was the death of alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe. I'm not sure why, but a reader in Australia (chpowell) sent me a letter with a batch of links -- all to AMG, which I'm boycotting at present, but if you're not (my grades where I have them):

As these links suggest, it would be nice to have a more comprehensive Blythe discography. I was unaware of the two Roots albums that showed up on Napster and are listed below. I checked Spotify and they have a couple items I couldn't find on Napster. At some point I need to decide whether to sign up for their "premium" service, but I've never found much there not on Napster (not that searching is any easier). They do, for instance, have the Joey Baron album I've heard, but not the one I haven't.

One grade below will probably prove controversial, if not downright offensive. Pretty much everyone I know likes the Magnetic Fields' 50 Song Memoir -- Christgau, Tatum, Ryan Maffei posted that "50 Song Memoir sampler is an A+." I finally looked it up on Napster and found that they only had 16 songs posted, so I played them. Probably not a sufficient sample to proclaim anything a masterpiece -- rule of thumb is the stuff they leave out isn't as good as what they're pitching you with -- but I disliked it so thoroughly I figure the sample is good enough for a (low) grade. Admittedly, not without its occasional charm, and possibly catchy if you can acclimate yourself to his voice, but it left me with no desire to pursue the matter further. Even made me suspect I've overrated him in the past. (I'm certainly not as fond of 69 Love Songs as my A- grade suggests, though I should also note that my wife, who has impeccable taste in music, adores all of it, and probably enjoyed what she heard of the new one much more than I did.)

Jazz Guide compilation continues sporadically -- haven't touched it for a couple days around Weekend Roundup and this post -- currently at 575 pages (20th century) and 272 pages (21st century). Next artist in the 1960s jazz file is Freddie Hubbard.

Apologies for dragging my feet on new jazz. Pending queue is up to 46 now, and I've mostly been handling it FIFO. I'm reminded of this because Tim Niland is up to Volume 4 of the six Ivo Perelman-Matthew Shipp CDs, and he's broken that series up to review a couple AUM Fidelity releases I wasn't at all aware of (one with Shipp, the other by William Parker).

By the way, if anyone can offer some pointers on converting the Christgau website to a smartphone app, please send them my way. Seems like a reasonable thing to do, but right now I'm at the wrong end of the learning curve.


Recommended music links:


New records rated this week:

  • Iro Haarla: Ante Lucem (2012 [2016], ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Jü: Summa (2016 [2017], Rare Noise): [cdr]: B
  • The Magnetic Fields: 50 Song Memoir (2017, Nonesuch, 5CD): [r]: B-
  • Laura Marling: Semper Femina (2017, More Alarming): [r]: B+(*)
  • MEM3: Circles (2011 [2017], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Bill O'Connell: Monk's Cha Cha: Live at the Carnegie-Farian Room (2016 [2017], Savant): [cd]: B
  • Orchestra Baobab: Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng (2017, Nonesuch/World Circuit): [r]: A-
  • Rocco John: Peace and Love (2014 [2016], Unseen Rain): [cd]: A-
  • Trygve Seim: Rumi Songs (2015 [2016], ECM): [dl]: B
  • University of Toronto Jazz Orcherstra: Sweet Ruby Suite (2016 [2017], UofT Jazz): [cd]: B+(*)
  • University of Toronto 12Tet: Trillium Falls (2016 [2017], UofT Jazz): [cd]: B
  • David Virelles: Antenna (2016, ECM, EP): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Daniel Weltlinger: Samoreau: A Tribute to the Fans of Django Reinhardt (2016 [2017], Rectify): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jim Yanda Trio: Home Road (2016 [2017], Corner Store Jazz, 2CD): [cd]: B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Count Ossie and the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari: Tales of Mozambique (1970-75 [2016], Soul Jazz) **
  • Nigeria Soul Power: Afro Funk, Disco and Boogie (1970s-80s [2016], Soul Jazz): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jim Yanda Trio: Regional Cookin' (1987 [2017], Corner Store Jazz): [cd]: B+(*)

Old music rated this week:

  • John Abercrombie/Arthur Blythe/Terri Lyne Carrington/Anthony Cox/Mark Feldman/Gust Tsilis: Echoes (1996 [2005], Alessa): [r]: B+(*)
  • Arthur Blythe: Put Sunshine in It (1985, Columbia): [r]: B
  • Lester Bowie: The 5th Power (1978, Black Saint): [r]: C+
  • Herbie Hancock: Inventions & Dimensions (1963 [1964], Blue Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Leaders: Unforseen Blessings (1988 [1989], Soul Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • Roots [Arthur Blythe/Sam Rivers/Nathan Davis/Chico Freeman/Don Pullen/Santi Debriano/Tommy Campbell]: Salutes the Saxophone (1991 [1992], In+Out): [r]: A-
  • Roots: Stablemates (1992 [1993], In+Out): [r]: A-
  • Gust William Tsilis & Alithea With Arthur Blythe: Pale Fire (1988, Enja): [r]: B


Grade changes:

  • Syd: Fin (2017, Epic): [r]: [was: B+(***)] A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Chris Greene Quartet: Boundary Issues (Single Malt): April 14
  • Larry Ham/Woody Witt: Presence (Blujazz)
  • Allegra Levy: Cities Between Us (SteepleChase)
  • Jesse Lewis/Ike Sturm: Endless Field (Biophilia)
  • Mas Que Nada: Sea Journey (Blujazz)
  • Michael Morreale: Love and Influence (Blujazz)
  • Renaud Penant: In the Mood for a Classic (ITI Music): April 7
  • Torben Waldorff: Holiday on Fire (ArtistShare): April 30

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Let's start with a tweet from Dak Zak, in response to someone asking "Why couldn't they have done this before the election!?!":

Newspapers everywhere did this before the election. Editorial after editorial said "stop this man." People didn't hear, listen or care.

As best I can tell (the twitter links are circuitous) the original question refers to the Los Angeles Times' editorial Our Dishonest President (the first of a promised four-part series running through Wednesday, not that I wouldn't be surprised if they find enough new material for a fifth installment by Thursday. Zak's response is pretty much true, but he underestimates the media's failure by an order or magnitude or more. Sure, they warned us to "stop this man," but they were also so thoroughly bemused by him, and enticed by the ratings his campaign offered, that they repeatedly let him slip the hook. But more important, they didn't say "stop this party" -- because ultimately what makes Trump so disastrous is not that he's "a narcissist and a demagogue who used fear and dishonesty to appeal to the worst in American voters" (to quote the LA Times), but that he was swept into power with complete control of Congress ceded to the Republican Party and its agenda to rig politics and the economic and social systems to perpetuate oligarchy. Trump may be especially flagrant (or perhaps just embarrassingly transparent) but the Republican Party has embraced demagoguery and dishonesty as essential political tactics for well over a generation. Trump is more a reflection of the party's propaganda machine than he is a leader. For proof, look how often he gets caught up in obvious contradictions and incoherencies, yet always resolves them by moving in the direction of party orthodoxy.

On the other hand, there is ample evidence that the media is still being bamboozled by the aura of Republican legitimacy, even while individual cases like Trump and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback turn into public embarrassments. For instance, south-central Kansans will go to the polls a week from Tuesday to elect a replacement for Trump's CIA director Mike Pompeo. The Wichita Eagle, which we often think of as a voice for moderation in Kansas, endorsed Republican Ron Estes, a Brownback flunky lacking a single original thought (they like to describe him as "affable"). The Eagle even singled out Estes' vow to repeal Obamacare as one of their reasons -- even without the usual nostrum "and replace," even with the editorial facing a Richard Crowson cartoon slamming Brownback for vetoing a bill passed by Kansas' Republican legislature to expand Medicaid under the ACA. You'd think a public-interested media would easily see through a partisan hack like Estes, especially given that the Democrats have nominated their strongest candidate in decades ( James Thompson -- saw one of his ads tonight and I can't say I was pumped by the gun bits or even the concern for veterans and jobs, but those things have their constituencies; also thought he should have hit Trump harder, but if he wins that'll be the takeaway).


More fallout from the GOP's health care fiasco:

  • Angela Bonavoglia: The Fight to Save the Affordable Care Act Is Really a Class Battle

  • EJ Dionne: The lessons Trump and Ryan failed to learn from history: Also some lessons they never learned:

    But the bill's collapse was, finally, testimony to the emptiness of conservative ideology. . . . To win the 2012 presidential nomination, Romney could not afford to be seen as the progenitor of Obamacare because conservatism now has to oppose even the affirmative uses of government it once endorsed.

  • Lee Fang: GOP Lawmakers Now Admit Years of Obamacare Repeal Votes Were a Sham

  • Richard Kim: The Tea Party Helped Build the Bridge to Single-Payer: Picture shows a young guy holding a sign that reads "Health care is a human right." That, of course, has nothing to do with the Tea Party, and the argument here is forced:

    Since the first year of Obama's presidency, the Republican establishment has allowed its extreme right-wingers to run off the leash. It has amplified their every outburst, fed every conspiracy theory, nurtured every grievance, and enabled every act of hostage-taking. Now, it -- and the vandal in chief that the Tea Party helped elect president -- is their hostage. In the battles ahead on infrastructure spending, taxation, and the debt ceiling, there's no reason to believe that the GOP will behave in any less dysfunctional a manner.

    A better way to look at it is this: during the Obama years, the Tea Party acted as the "shock troops" of Republican obstruction, and somehow their role there has come to be viewed as a success. So why shouldn't the Tea Party/Freedom Caucus continue to obstruct, even with Republicans controlling Congress and the White House, if they still do things that the insurgents find objectionable? That's what's happening, and mainline Republicans don't have the margins they need to rule without the Caucus, and sometimes realize that catering to them will cause even worse things to happen. Given that the mainliners are pretty awful on their own, we might as well enjoy the Caucus's obstruction, but that doesn't get us to anywhere we need to go.

  • Sam Knight: Bannon-Style "Administrative Deconstruction" of Obamacare Is Coming: Aside from the Bannon-speak, the point here is that the guy in charge of the Obamacare system is its arch-enemy, Tom Price, and there is still a lot of harm bad administration can do, even if it's nominally pledged to support the law. Reminds me that the OEO (Office of Economic Opportunity, one of LBJ's main "War on Poverty" programs) had done quite a bit of good until Nixon appointed Donald Rumsfeld to run it.

  • Mike Konczal: Four Lessons from the Health Care Repeal Collapse: I mentioned this piece in Monday's post, but it's worth mentioning again. I also just noticed Konczal's December 2, 2016 piece: Learning From Trump in Retrospect. Probably could only be written between the election and the inauguration, a period when one could balance off the sensations of surprise and disgust. Two months into his reign and we're back to wondering how anyone could have been taken in by this shallow fraud.

  • Charles Krauthammer: The road to single-payer health care: Rest assured he's against it, and wants to see something far worse than Obamacare even, but he understands the logic that universal coverage, even in its corrupt Obamacare form, makes more efficient solutions like "single payer" ("Medicare for All") more attractive.

  • Paul Krugman: How to Build on Obamacare: Krugman has long been the most persuasive propagandist for the ACA, so no surprise that he sticks within its limits: urging that we spend more money to lower deductibles and make policies more attractive, and revive the "public option" to provide more marketplace competition. His point is that "building on Obamacare wouldn't be hard," but Trump would rather see it "explode," and just for the satisfaction of blaming Democrats -- a tactic which proved viable when Democrats were in power, but looks pretty puerile at the moment.

    Krugman also wrote Coal Country Is a State of Mind, picking on West Virginia, where:

    Why does an industry that is no longer a major employer even in West Virginia retain such a hold on the region's imagination, and lead its residents to vote overwhelmingly against their own interests?

    Coal powered the Industrial Revolution, and once upon a time it did indeed employ a lot of people. But the number of miners began a steep decline after World War II, and especially after 1980, even though coal production continued to rise. This was mainly because modern extraction techniques -- like blowing the tops off mountains -- require far less labor than old-fashioned pick-and-shovel mining. The decline accelerated about a decade ago as the rise of fracking led to competition from cheap natural gas.

    So coal-mining jobs have been disappearing for a long time. Even in West Virginia, the most coal-oriented state, it has been a quarter century since they accounted for as much as 5 percent of total employment.

    What, then, do West Virginians actually do for a living these days? Well, many of them work in health care: Almost one in six workers is employed in the category "health care and social assistance."

    Oh, and where does the money for those health care jobs come from? Actually, a lot of it comes from Washington.

    West Virginia has a relatively old population, so 22 percent of its residents are on Medicare, versus 16.7 percent for the nation as a whole. It's also a state that has benefited hugely from Obamacare, with the percentage of the population lacking health insurance falling from 14 percent in 2013 to 6 percent in 2015; these gains came mainly from a big expansion of Medicaid.

    It's true that the nation as a whole pays for these health care programs with taxes. But an older, poorer state like West Virginia receives much more than it pays in -- and it would have received virtually none of the tax cuts Trumpcare would have lavished on the wealthy.

    Now think about what Trumpism means for a state like this. Killing environmental rules might bring back a few mining jobs, but not many, and mining isn't really central to the economy in any case. Meanwhile, the Trump administration and its allies just tried to replace the Affordable Care Act. If they had succeeded, the effect would have been catastrophic for West Virginia, slashing Medicaid and sending insurance premiums for lower-income, older residents soaring.

    A couple quick points here. First is that we live in a time when business is gaining increasing influence on politics, so while coal companies represent a vanishingly small number of jobs, they dominate the political discourse in states like West Virginia. (If, indeed, jobs mattered you wouldn't find politicians backing company schemes like mountain-top removal, which is profitable primarily because it reduces jobs -- well, as long as the companies don't have to pay the costs of their pollution.) Second, while Democrats are more dependable supporters of effective transfers to poorer states like West Virginia (and Mississippi and much of the South), they almost never campaign on the fact, as they have very little presence in states that have swung against them primarily on race. Rather, Democrats focus on states where they have more upscale supporters, and cater to the businesses of those states (like high-tech in California and Massachusetts, and banking in New York).

  • Bill Moyers: Trump and the GOP in Sickness and Health

  • Charles Ornstein/Derek Willis: On Health Reform, Democrats and Republicans Don't Speak the Same Language

  • Jon Queally: Sen. Bernie Sanders Will Introduce "Medicare for All" Bill; also see Zaid Jilani: Bernie Sanders Wants to Expand Medicare to Everybody -- Exactly What Its Architects Wanted.

  • Kate Zernike et al.: In Health Bill's Defeat, Medicaid Comes of Age

Some scattered links this week in the world of Trump:

  • Stephen Braun/Chad Day: Flynn Earned Millions From Russian Companies: OK, that's the jump headline. The article itself is "Document Dump Reveals Flynn's Russian and Turkish Income Sources." And the "millions" shrink to "$1.3 million for work for political groups and government contractors, as well as for speeches to Russian companies and lobbying for a firm owned by a Turkish businessman." Doesn't seem like much, but then what else can a former general do? You don't expect him to live on his exorbitant pension, do you? Lachlan Markay has more: Michael Flynn Failed to Disclose Payments From Russian Propaganda Network. Also: Zack Beauchamp: Michael Flynn's immunity request, explained:

    More fundamentally, it's hard to see Democrats granting one to a widely disliked former Trump official when there's still a chance the FBI might prosecute him for allegedly lying to the bureau about his contacts with the Russian envoy to the US. The Trump administration's call for Flynn to appear before Congress, in Sean Spicer's Friday press briefing, could very well harden their resolve against immunity.

    This is all very bad news for Flynn, who ironically said that asking for immunity was proof that you had done something wrong when discussing Hillary Clinton's email scandal during the campaign. "When you are given immunity, that means that you have probably committed a crime," he told NBC's Chuck Todd in an interview.

  • Esme Cribb: Trump Will Sign Repeal of Obama-Era Internet Privacy Rules: The bill, which passed Congress on straight party votes, allows Internet service companies to track your on-line activity and sell that information to other companies without your permission or awareness.

  • Amy Davidson: Trump v. the Earth: About Trump's executive order to pretend that burning coal doesn't have any impact on the environment. Or, as Trump put it, "Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth":

    President Trump said that his order puts "an end to the war on coal." In reality, it is a declaration of war on the basic knowledge of the harm that burning coal, and other fossil fuels, can do. Indeed, it tells the government to ignore information. The Obama Administration assembled a working group to determine the "social cost" of each ton of greenhouse-gas emissions. Trump's executive order disbands that group and tosses out its findings. Scott Pruitt, the new E.P.A. administrator -- who, as attorney general of Oklahoma, had joined a lawsuit attempting to undo the endangerment finding -- announced that the agency was no longer interested in even collecting data on the quantities of methane that oil and gas companies release.

  • Robert Faturechi: Tom Price Intervened on Rule That Would Hurt Profits, the Same Day He Acquired Drug Stock: Actually $90k in stocks of six drug companies, so his payback would more closely model the industry-wide average. "Price was among lawmakers from both parties who signed onto a bill that would have blocked a rule proposed by the Obama administration, which was intended to remove the incentive for doctors to prescribe expensive drugs that don't necessarily improve patient outcomes." This was back when Price was in Congress, before joining Trump's cabinet. Related: Fired US Attorney Preet Bharara Said to Have Been Investigating HHS Secretary Tom Price; also When a Study Cast Doubt on a Heart Pill, the Drug Company Turned to Tom Price.

  • Ane Gearan: US leads major powers in protesting UN effort to ban nuclear weapons: Nikki Haley asks, "Is it any surprise that Iran is supportive of this?" Nearly every nation signed the NPT renouncing nuclear weapons on the understanding that the grandfathered nuclear powers would disarm as well -- something which hasn't happened, largely because the US feels it's important that someone like Donald Trump should have the option of blowing the world up.

  • Michelle Goldberg: Why Won't Republicans Resist Trump? That's the link headline. The article title is even funnier: "Where Are the Good Republicans?" We're talking about people in Congress whose singular mission over the past eight years (and this really dates back to the arrival of Newt Gingrich as House Speaker in 1995) has been to make Democrats look bad. They've refused to even consider Obama appointees. They passed bills to repeal the ACA fifty times but couldn't agree on anything to replace it with this year. They've tried to extort favors by holding the federal debt limit hostage. And when you ask them for anything they'd consider working with Obama on, the only things they can come up are points that would make Obama look bad to the Democratic Party base (like TPP, or more war). If any Republican member of Congress has felt the slightest twinge of shame over this behavior, he or she has done a good job of hiding it. And their bottom line is that Trump's, well, not their leader but their winner, the guy whose surprise win has allowed them to advance their agenda, which may have some more hopeful aims but for all practical purposes is to wreck, ruin and despoil America, to the detriment of nearly everyone who lives here. And really, the only examples we've seen so far of dissent within Republican ranks have come from the fringe right, who feel Trump and Ryan and McConnell aren't moving fast or hard enough toward the end times. Even there the media is struggling to salvage Republican reputations; see. e.g., Ross Barkan: Give Donald Trump credit: the Freedom Caucus really is terrible.

  • Malak Habbak: War Correspondents Describe Recent US Airstrikes in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

  • Ben Hubbard/Michael R Gordon: US War Footprint Grows in Middle East, With No Endgame in Sight: Anyone who thought that Trump might tone down the War on Terror -- and I gave that non-zero but not very good odds -- has by now been thoroughly disabused of such wishful thinking:

    The United States launched more airstrikes in Yemen this month than during all of last year. In Syria, it has airlifted local forces to front-line positions and has been accused of killing civilians in airstrikes. In Iraq, American troops and aircraft are central in supporting an urban offensive in Mosul, where airstrikes killed scores of people on March 17.

    Two months after the inauguration of President Trump, indications are mounting that the United States military is deepening its involvement in a string of complex wars in the Middle East that lack clear endgames.

    Rather than representing any formal new Trump doctrine on military action, however, American officials say that what is happening is a shift in military decision-making that began under President Barack Obama. On display are some of the first indications of how complicated military operations are continuing under a president who has vowed to make the military "fight to win."

    The suggestion is that the only thing that has happened is that the military has been freed of whatever limiting or inhibitory role Obama played: Trump's basically given them carte blanche to keep doing what they've been doing so badly for years. On the other hand, Trump hasn't gotten involved enough to really screw things up with his "fight to win" slogan. The fact is the US hasn't "fought to win" since WWII for the simple reason that there's never been anything you could actually win by fighting. Rather, US military policy has been to make any challenge to US power and hegemony as painful as possible, to deter challengers from even raising the issue. Arguably, that has yielded diminishing returns as it's become increasingly obvious that US forces are vulnerable to asymmetric strategies (ranging from guerrilla war to "terrorism") and because the US has become increasingly inept at occupying hostile areas. Still, the solution to that problem isn't resolving to "fight to win" -- it's reducing the need to fight at all.

  • Charles Pierce: The Trump Administration Has Pushed the Limits of American Absurdity: If one were to teach a writing class, that title might be a good little assignment. I can imagine dozens of ways to approach it, all equally valid, and I'd still be surprised when Pierce handed in a piece with a piece starting with an Ignatius Donnelly quote. (And I'm one of the few people around who knows who Donnelly was, having read him as a teenager back before Paul Ryan, for instance, lost his mind in Ayn Rand.) Of course, Pierce soon moves on to more disturbing, although curiously mundane, realms of fantasy: namely Sean Spicer's press conferences.

  • Daniel Politi: Judge: Lawsuit Against Trump Can Proceed, Inciting Violence Isn't Protected Speech

  • David E Sanger/Eric Schmitt: Rex Tillerson to Lift Human Rights Conditions on Arms Sale to Bahrain

  • Jon Schwarz: Russia Investigation Heading Toward a Train Wreck Because Republicans Don't Care What Happened: Not a subject I'm at all partial to, mostly because it seems to cast a Cold War gloss on what strikes me as ordinary corruption, and partly because it skips over decades of stories about US interference in other peoples' politics, as well as the much more common (and I think damaging) Israeli efforts to steer American politics (anyone remember Netanyahu's campaigning for Romney, or his collusion with Boehner?). Still, if Republicans (and Democrats) learned anything from the Clinton years it's that unbridled investigations take on a life of their own, where being investigated is never a good omen.

    Unfortunately, on this planet we're on a trajectory to the worst possible outcome. It's now easy to imagine a future in which Trump and Russia become the millennials' equivalent of the John F. Kennedy assassination: A subject where no one can honestly be sure whether there was no conspiracy or a huge conspiracy, the underlying reality concealed by the thick murk of government secrecy, and progressives exhausting themselves for decades afterwards trying to prove what really happened.

  • Lisa Song: As Seas Around Mar-a-Lago Rise, Trump's Cuts Could Damage Local Climate Work: This is an amusing little piece. I've long thought that the people who should be most worried about global warming are the rich -- the people who own nearly all of the property endangered by climate change, especially from rising sea levels. Yet Republicans have been oblivious to the threats. They've convinced themselves of the importance of protecting the rights of individuals to practice predatory capitalism, and they pretty much completely deny that there can be any public interest separate from private profit-seeking (although they somehow believe that no those private interests are harmful to others, and that the sum of them must be good for everyone). I can't think of any idea more misguided and dangerous, but they've built not just an ideology but a political movement around it. I just wonder: when Mar-a-Lago is underwater, is Trump still going to be thrilled that those coal and oil magnates were able to make all that money?

  • Jessica Valenti: Mike Pence doesn't eat alone with women. That speaks volumes: Evidently, the VP can't pull his mind out of the gutter long enough to consider sharing a meal with a woman other than his wife. But then these are strange times, especially in the company Pence does keep:

    The same week the first lady gave a speech at the state department's International Women of Courage Awards, insisting: "We must continue to fight injustice in all its forms, in whatever scale or shape it takes in our lives," the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, chastised the veteran reporter April Ryan for "shaking her head" at him. (Just last month, Trump asked Ryan if the those in the Congressional Black Caucus were "friends" of hers.)

    While the president was asking a room full of women if they had ever heard of Susan B Anthony, the conservative Fox News host Bill O'Reilly was under fire for making a racist and sexist comment about the California congresswoman Maxine Waters' hair and an Iowa legislator said that if a pregnant woman found out her fetus has died, she should carry the pregnancy to term anyway.

    And while Pence trended on Twitter for his old-school sexism, what went largely unremarked on was that the vice-president cast the tie-breaking vote to push forward legislation that allows states to discriminate against Planned Parenthood and other healthcare providers that provide abortion when giving out federal Title X funds.

  • Matthew Yglesias: So far, Donald Trump as delivered almost nothing on his trade agenda:

    On trade, exactly nothing has happened. The long-dead TPP is still dead, but NAFTA is very much still with us. No new protective measures have been put in place, and American companies have been subject to no punitive retaliations. No legislation appears to be in the works.

    This status quo acknowledges rising anti-trade sentiment on the left and right by halting forward progress on any new trade and investment deals, while refusing to take the risk of altering any existing arrangements.

    Part of the reason is that those "existing arrangements" all have big business supporters, especially among the Goldman-Sachs wing of the Trump administration, whereas Trump has yet to pick an unemployed auto-worker or coal miner for any post of influence (they shot their wad on Nov. 9 and won't get another chance for four years). Yglesias doesn't mention the "border adjustment tax" here, but it does show up in The 7 big questions Republicans have to answer on tax reform. Taxes look to be the next big Congressional battle for Trump and Ryan, and their proposals are likely to be every bit as unpopular as what they came up with for health care. Again, their problem won't be Republicans coming to their senses, but ones who want to seize the opportunity to make things even worse. At least you can't say you weren't warned.


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

  • Eric Alterman: The Perception of Liberal Bias in the Newsroom Has Nothing Whatsoever to Do With Reality: Unlike, say, the conservative bias in the board rooms. But even that oversimplifies the story. Conservative scapegoating both presses and seduces the media, with its completely normal self-image as fair and objective, into legitimizing outrageous claims from the right and gives viewers/listeners/readers a readymade excuse to doubt everything they see/hear/read. Moreover, it's not entirely wrong. The fact is no one can be free from biases any more than one can escape experience or language. Critical self-reflection helps, as does a willingness to question one's own precepts. A friend recently asked me how these days one can figure out who to trust. My reaction is that I never trust anyone beyond what I can make sense of and verify. If, for instance, you told me that cutting marginal tax rates on the rich would make the economy grow in ways that helped people beyond those who saved on their tax bills, I could look for test cases and see how they turned out. Same if you told me that spending more money on the military would make it less likely that a country would be attacked by others. It so happens that there is a lot of evidence on both of these questions, and the evidence strongly disputes the assertions. If you look at many such questions, you may start to think that some sources are more trustworthy than others, but you should never cease to question them, especially when they don't make sense.

    To take a slightly different perspective, and I find it often helps to try to refocus from different angles, I've been worrying about (and distrusting) "liberal bias" since the mid-1960s, when liberals tended to take political positions I disagreed with (like supporting the US war in Vietnam). Liberals back then had an active fantasy life, as they in some cases still have today (e.g., their obsession with Russia). Both then and now it's fairly easy to pick apart issues where they are wrong and where their errors are self-serving (the Russia thing seems to be a way Clinton-supporters can avoid the shortcomings of their candidate). It shouldn't be surprising that conservatives are pretty adept at spotting and exploiting cases where liberals spin things to their own advantage. Nor vice versa -- perspective often gets clearer from a distance. Still, in reality, bias and interest isn't symmetrical between right and left, and it is a grave error to think otherwise. The right, by definition, serves private interests, often at the expense of the public. The left takes the opposite tack, favoring the broadest class interest over the most elite. We should at least be able to agree on that much, but the right has struggled mightily to confuse the issue, not least with their charges that the media is rife with "liberal bias."

    To understand this, you need to recognize that America was founded on liberal (Enlightenment) principles, notably on the notion that "all men are born equal" and share "equal rights under the law," a law meant to advance "the common welfare" and which is vouchsafed through a system of democracy. And those principles have been so internalized that even the right, which at all times has defended the claims of "virtuous elites" to rule over everyone else, has had to pay lip-service to democracy and to argue that their self-serving policies benefit some greater good. To do so they've dressed up their rhetoric with all sorts of market-tested claims, often disguising themselves as "populists" while practicing their art of divide-and-conquer -- flattering one part of the demos as the only true Americans while derogating others as deservedly inferior. And the more their claims fail, the harder they work as obfuscating their failures. One way they've done this has been to convince their followers that any unseemly facts are the product of "liberal bias." Of course, such charges ring hollow to anyone who's bothered to examine the right's own agenda, but thus far they've gotten quite a bit of mileage out of this ruse. To get an idea of how much, consider the Occupy Wall Street formulation that divides us between a 1% (which is clearly the orientation of the Republican platform) and the remaining 99%. If politics were understood this way, the Republicans should never win an election, yet somehow they manage to keep their share around 30% (vs. a more/less equal 30% for the Democrats and 40% for those who don't vote). Of course, relatively even results aren't solely due to the skill of Republican machinations -- many Democrats, including Obama and the Clintons, seem to be very cozy with the 1% and have a mediocre record of serving the 99%, both making them vulnerable to the "populist" ploys of a Trump.

  • Dean Baker: Trade Denialism Continues: Trade Really Did Kill Manufacturing Jobs: Rebuts and debunks "a flood of opinion pieces and news stories in recent weeks wrongly telling people that it was not trade that led to the loss of manufacturing jobs in recent years, but rather automation." Baker also wrote The Fed's Interest Rate Hike Will Prevent People From Getting Jobs.

  • Pepe Escobar: North Korea: The really serious options on the table

  • Chris Hayes: Policing the Colony: From the American Revolution to Ferguson: Adapted from Hayes' new book, A Colony in a Nation, on the persistence of racism in America, explained by the tendency to even now treat black people as something different from equal citizens under the law. One sample paragraph:

    In Ferguson, people were enraged at Michael Brown's death and grieving at his passing, but more than anything else they were sick and tired of being humiliated. At random, I could take my microphone and offer it to a black Ferguson resident, young or old, who had a story of being harassed and humiliated. A young honors student and aspiring future politician told me about watching his mother be pulled over and barked at by police. The local state senator told me that when she was a teenager, a police officer drew a gun on her because she was sitting in a fire truck -- at a fireman's invitation. At any given moment, a black citizen of Ferguson might find himself shown up, dressed down, made to stoop and cower by the men with badges.

  • John Judis: Can Donald Trump Revive American Manufacturing? An Interview With High-Tech Expert Rob Atkinson: Short answer: well, someone could, but clearly not Donald Trump.

  • Greg Kaufmann: A Cruel New Bill Is About to Become Law in Mississippi: "Legislation passed this week would enrich a private contractor while throwing people off public assistance." Not Trump's fault, per se, but another example of the Republicans at work, preying on the poor.

  • Richard D Wolff: Capitalism Produced Trump: Another Reason to Move Beyond It

  • Democratic Mega-donor Saban Doesn't Rule Out Hillary Clinton 2020 Run: More proof that cluelessness is endemic among billionaires.

Daily Log

Fixed some beef soup tonight. No recipe, other than that I borrowed a couple things from Moslem-Style Hot and Sour Soup. I started with the stock left over from New England Boiled Dinner (corned beef, potatoes, cabbage, turnips, parsnips, carrots, onions, etc.). I concentrated it a bit before storing, and skimmed off the extra fat. I bought a couple pieces of boneless steak (sirloin, I think) on sale. Sliced them down to half thickness, then cut them into thin strips. Marinated them per Tropp's Hot and Sour Soup recipe: soy sauce, rice wine, water, sugar, cornstarch, sesame oil, black pepper, and I also added some Szechuan roasted pepper salt and five-spice powder. I mixed some potato starch in cold stock. I diced an onion, and sweated it in some butter, then added three cloves of garlic, some finely chopped ginger, half a carrot cut into a small dice. Then a package of fresh shiitake mushrooms. I cut five small potatoes and one turnip down to about 1/3-inch dice. I added the potatoes and stock, some extra spices (whole cloves, allspice, two star anise), and simmered for 15 minutes, then added the turnips, and simmered for another 45 minutes. I turned the fire out and we went out to walk the dog. When we got back, I brought it back to a boil, added some soy sauce, white wine vinegar, and black pepper. I turned the heat down to a simmer, added the beef, swirled it around, then added the thickener (perhaps a bit too much). I took an egg, broke it up with a fork, and slowly poured it into the soup, breaking up the threads. Checked the taste, then finished with two chopped scallions and some parsley. I tried to pick the hard spices out, but some lurked as surprises.


Mar 2017 May 2017