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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Three fairly prominent figures died in the last couple days -- at least prominent enough to warrant articles in the Wichita Eagle: Jim Bunning, Greg Allman, and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Naturally, I go back furthest with Bunning. I became conscious of baseball in 1957, when I was six, and for many years I could recite the all-star teams from that (and practically no other) year. Bunning was the starting pitcher for the AL, vs. Curt Simmons for the NL. That was the year Cincinnati stuffed the ballot boxes, causing a scandal by electing seven position players to the NL team. Commissioner Ford Frick overruled the voters and replaced Gus Bell and Wally Post with Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. In my memory, he also picked Stan Musial over Ted Kluszewski at 1B and Eddie Matthews over Don Hoak at 3B, but he stopped short and didn't pick the equally obvious Ernie Banks vs. Roy McMillan. According to the Wikipedia page, Musial actually won, and Hoak (and McMillan and 2B Johnny Temple and C Ed Bailey) started. My memory of the AL team somehow lost 1B Vic Wertz (no idea who played there, since I was pretty sure it wasn't Moose Skowron, on the team as a reserve) and 2B Nellie Fox (I thought Frank Bolling, who didn't make the team -- Casey Stengel liked to stock his bench with Yankees, so he went with Bobby Richardson).

Bunning won the game, pitching three scoreless innings while Simmons walked in two runs. Biggest surprise from the game summary was that Bell pinch-hit for Robinson (no doubt the only time that ever happened, despite being teammates for many years) and came up with a two-run double. Bunning had his best season in 1957, going 20-8, although he also won 19 in 1962, and after he was traded to Philadelphia in 1964 had three straight 19-win years, winding up with a 234-184 record and a lot of strikeouts (2855). He played during a period (1955-71) when W totals were especially depressed -- I worked out a system for adjusting W-L totals over the years but don't have the data handy (one significant result was that Cy Young, Walter Johnson, and Warren Spahn came out with almost identical adjusted W-L totals). But also Bunning spent most of his career as the star on losing teams, so that also reduced his career standing. Still, a marvelous pitcher. He was also one of the more militant leaders in the baseball players union, but after he retired he turned into an extreme right-wing crank and got elected to the Senate from Kentucky, where his two terms went from dismal to worse. If there was a Hall of Fame for guys kicking the ladder away after they used it, he'd be in.

I have far less to say about Allman, but nothing negative. His most recent albums were engaging and enjoyable, and early in his career he contributed to some even better ones.

People much younger than me might remember Brzezinski for his biting criticism of GW Bush's Iraq fiasco. He was the Democrats' original answer to Henry Kissinger, a foreign policy mandarin with a deep-seated hatred of the Soviet Union and anything even vaguely communist, and he seemed to be the dominant force that bent Jimmy Carter's his initial foreign policy focus on human rights toward an unscrupulously anti-communist stance. Still, decades later, after the fall of the Soviet Union, even after Carter wrote his essential book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, Carter stuck to his line that his signature peace treaty between Israel and Egypt was driven primarily by his desire to curtail Soviet influence. It's not that Brzezinski offered any real break from the rabid anti-communism of previous administrations so much as he kept Carter from changing course, and in their Iran and Afghanistan policies they set the stage for everything the US has butchered and blundered ever since -- including Trump's "Arab NATO" summit last week.

Last week when I was reading John D Dower's new book The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II I ran across a paragraph I wanted to quote about how Reagan both adopted and extended policies begun under the Carter administration, while simultaneously belittling and slandering Carter. It seemed to me that we are witnessing Trump making the same move. But since then Zbigniew Brzezinski died, so I figure in his honor I should start with the previous paragraph:

Although Carter failed in his bid for a second term as president his "doctrine" laid the ground for an enhanced US infrastructure of war, especially in the Greater Middle East. Less than two months after his address, Carter oversaw creation of a Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force that tapped all four major branches of the military (army, navy, air force, and marines). Within two years, this evolved into Central Command (CENTCOM), responsible for operations in Southwest Asia, Central Asia, and the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, initiating what one official navy historian called "a period of expansion unmatched in the postwar era. Simultaneously, Carter's national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski launched the effective but ultimately nearsighted policy of providing support to the Afghan mujahedeen combating Soviet forces in their country. Conducted mainly through the CIA, the objective of this top-secret operation was in Brzezinski's words, "to make the Soviets bleed for as much and as long as is possible."

Carter's successor Ronald Reagan inherited these initiatives and ran with them, even while belittling his predecessor's policies. In his presidential campaign, Reagan promised "to unite people of every background and faith in a great crusade to restore the America of our dreams." This, he went on -- in words that surely pleased the ghost of Henry Luce -- necessitated repudiating policies that had left the nation's defense "in shambles," and doing "a better job of exporting Americanism."

If Trump seems less committed to "exporting Americanism" than Reagan (or Luce, who coined the term/slogan "American century"), it's not for lack of flag-waving bluster, arrogance, or ignorance. It's just that decades of excoriating "weak leaders" like Carter, Clinton and Obama, and replacing them with "strong" but inept totems like Reagan, the Bushes, and Trump have taken their toll. The lurches toward the right have weakened the once-robust economy and frayed social bonds, and those in turn have degraded institutions. And while it's easy to put the blame for this decay on a right-wing political movement dedicated to the aggrandizement of an ever-smaller circle of billionaires, the equally important thing I'm noticing here is how completely Carter, Clinton, and Obama internalized the logic of their/our enemies and failed to plot any sort of alternative to the right's agenda, which ultimately has less to do with spreading "the American way of life" than with subjugating the world to global capital. Indeed, it appears as though the last people left believing in Luce's Americanism are the hegemonic leaders of the Democratic Party.

I wound up completely exhausted and disgusted from last week's compilation of Trump atrocities (see my Midweek Roundup). I know I said, shortly after Trump's inauguration, that "we can do this shit every week," but I'm less sure now -- not to mention I'm doubting my personal effectiveness.

In particular, the Montana election loss took a toll on my psyche. Then I saw the following tweet (liked by someone I thought I liked): "I wonder what Bernie has learned from his massive loss and that of his scions, Mello, Feingold, Teachout, Thompson, Quist. Probably nothing." Quist, in Montana, ran anywhere from 6-12% ahead of Clinton (at least in the counties I've seen). So did Thompson here in Kansas. They lost, but at least they ran, they gave voters real choices, and they got little or no support from the Clinton-dominated national party (which has made it their business to reduce party differences to a minimum, even as the Republicans stake out extreme turf on the right). The others I haven't looked at closely, but Bernie wasn't the one who lost to Donald Trump. What lessons should he learn from those defeats? Offer less of an alternative? Take his voters for granted? Further legitimize the other side? Clinton Democrats have been doing those things for 25 years now, and look where they've gotten us.

Meanwhile, a few quick links, probably little commentary -- but these things pretty well speak for themselves.


Some scattered links this week in Trump world:


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

What a bummer this is all turning into. Nor can I say it's different than I expected. And it's really unhealthy to go through life with so many occasions to say "I told you so."

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Midweek Roundup

Didn't do a Weekend Roundup on Sunday, not for lack of material but because I had something better to do. Still, this stuff has been piling up at an incredible rate, with no likelihood of abating any time soon. One thing I didn't get to is the terror bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, UK, which killed 22, mostly young girls. The bomber was from Libya, set loose by NATO's entry into civil war there, itself prefigured by the 2003 US-UK invasion of Iraq, and indeed decades of UK and US intervention in the area, originally to exploit resources (and open the Suez Canal), then to support repressive crony governments, and ultimately just to sell arms and encourage everyone to kill each other. When atrocities like this happen, it's always proper not just to condemn the ones who directly did this but to recall and curse those US/UK politicians who paved the way, including Democrats like Obama and the Clintons, Labourites like Blair, as well as the usual right-wingers.

Some quick links on Manchester:

Trump's Thursday schedule includes a meeting of NATO, where UK Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to use the Manchester bombing as an excuse to formally join fight against Isil. No one expects Donald Trump to be the voice of reason at this meeting: even without NATO's "help" US Killed Record Number of Civilians in Past Month of ISIS Strikes.

Also on Thursday, Montana will elect a new House member. See Both Parties Are Spinning Hard in Montana's Strange, Evolving Special Election; also Ed Kilgore/Margaret Hartmann: Montana GOP Candidate Allegedly 'Body Slams' Journalist, Is Charged With Assault.


Some scattered links this week in the Trumpworld:

  • Dean Baker: Will President Trump Make Rust-Belt Manufacturing Great Again? No evidence so far. Baker also wrote A Job Guarantee and the Federal Reserve Board.

  • Sharon Begley: Trump wasn't always so linguistically challenged. What could explain the change? Some people who have researched Trump's various utterances from decades ago argue that he wasn't always such a scattered, incoherent moron:

    For decades, studies have found that deterioration in the fluency, complexity, and vocabulary level of spontaneous speech can indicate slipping brain function due to normal aging or neurodegenerative disease. STAT and the experts therefore considered only unscripted utterances, not planned speeches and statements, since only the former tap the neural networks that offer a window into brain function.

    The experts noted clear changes from Trump's unscripted answers 30 years ago to those in 2017, in some cases stark enough to raise questions about his brain health. They noted, however, that the same sort of linguistic decline can also reflect stress, frustration, anger, or just plain fatigue.

    Begly also wrote: Psychological need to be right underlies Trump's refusal to concede error.

  • Russell Berman: The Trump Organization Says It's 'Not Practical' to Comply With the Emoluments Clause

  • Bridgette Dunlap: Trump's Abortion Policy Isn't About Morality -- It's Coercion

  • Mike Konczal: How the "Populist' President Is Creating an Aristocracy

  • Sharon Lerner: Donald Trump's Pick for EPA Enforcement Office Was a Lobbyist for Superfund Polluters: Meet Susan Bodine.

  • Eric Lipton: White House Moves to Block Ethics Inquiry Into Ex-Lobbyists on Payroll:

    Dozens of former lobbyists and industry lawyers are working in the Trump administration, which has hired them at a much higher rate than the previous administration. Keeping the waivers confidential would make it impossible to know whether any such officials are violating federal ethics rules or have been given a pass to ignore them.

  • Dahlia Lithwick: Is Donald Trump Too Incapacitated to Be President? The 25th amendment to the constitution would seem to be the simplest way to dispose of the increasingly erratic Donald Trump. Whereas impeachment requires a simple majority of the House and a two-thirds super-majority of the Senate to convict, all the 25th amendment takes is the Vice President and a majority of the cabinet to decide that the President is "incapacitated but not dead." Still, this approach suffers from the fact that so many of the people who would have to sign off were chosen by Trump primarily for their own incompetence (a list I would start with Mike Pence himself):

    Moreover, so many of the Cabinet officials who might rightly affirm that Trump is unable to discharge his duties are similarly unable to discharge their own. Trump's chief infirmity -- the vanity, wealth, and self-regard that was mistakenly confused with effective leadership -- is actually shared by the vast majority of his Cabinet, most of whom -- in the manner of any individual Kardashian -- seem to prize money and power more than they prize governance or democracy. For instance, it's abundantly clear that neither Betsy DeVos nor Ben Carson are fit to execute their own Cabinet positions. Are they also to be summarily removed? Jeff Sessions has gone along with the worst of Trump's plans, drafting the legal justification for the stalled-out Muslim ban. If we can see clearly enough to judge Trump unfit, surely Sessions is as well.

    We already know that the people with the power to stop Trump -- the Republicans in the House and Senate who declare themselves "troubled" and "concerned" by his actions -- are so hell-bent on destroying the regulatory state, harming the weak, imposing Christianity on nonbelievers, and giving tax breaks to the wealthy that Trump's fitness raises no alarms. Unfortunately, that isn't a DSM-IV level diagnosable pathology. It's what we call conservatism in America.

  • Lauren McCauley: Comcast Threatens Legal Action Against Net Neutrality Proponents: FCC chairman Ajit Pai is working on rescinding the "net neutrality" rules, which currently require internet service providers (like Comcast) to provide equal access to all websites. Without those rules, they'd be free to pick and choose, and to scam both providers and users.

  • Jose Pagliery: Trump's casino was a money laundering concern shortly after it opened: Old history, but recently dug up through a FOIA request:

    The Trump Taj Mahal casino broke anti-money laundering rules 106 times in its first year and a half of operation in the early 1990s, according to the IRS in a 1998 settlement agreement. . . .

    Trump's casino ended up paying the Treasury Department a $477,000 fine in 1998 without admitting any liability under the Bank Secrecy Act.

  • Jamie Peck: Billionaire Betsy DeVos wants to scrap student debt forgiveness. Surprised? After WWII the American economy was growing fast and science was held in high esteem, so government worked hard to expand access to higher education, to make it affordable and accessible to many more people, to build up a much better educated workforce (and citizenry). Then, from the 1980s on, the economy slowed, collage came to be viewed more as a certification program for getting ahead (or not falling back), and costs skyrocketed. Now we've entered into a stage where the rich want to keep the advantages of education to themselves, or at the very least make everyone else pay dearly for the privilege. And that's the mindset of rich people like DeVos and Trump, who inherited their fortunes. So, sure, this policy makes perfect sense to them, while condemning everyone else to servitude and penury.

  • CJ Polychroniou/Marcus Rolle: Illusions and Dangers in Trump's "America First" Policy: An Interview With Economist Robert Pollin

  • Priebus: Trump Considering Amending or Abolishing 1st Amendment: One of the scarier things Trump said during the campaign was how he wanted to change libel laws so that people with thin skins and deep pockets (like himself) can sue people who criticize (or make fun of) them. Libel laws are primarily limited by the first amendment (freedom of speech and press), although one always has to worry that the courts will carve out some kind of exception (as they did, for instance, to prosecute "obscenity"). It's not inconceivable that Trump could pass something like that and pack the courts to uphold it, although it's also not very likely. But repealing the first amendment is certainly way beyond his dreams, and if he recognizes that that's what it would take, his scheme is pretty much dead. Still, useful to know that his respect for American democracy is so low that he'd even consider the prospect. But didn't we already know that?

  • Shaun Richman: Republicans Want to Turn the National Labor Relations Board Into a Force for Union Busting: I already thought it was, but I suppose it could get even worse.

  • Jeremy Scahill/Alex Emmons/Ryan Grim: Trump Called Rodrigo Duterte to Congratulate Him on His Murderous Drug War: "You Are Doing an Amazing Job"

    According to one former hitman, Duterte formed an organization called the "Davao Death Squad" -- a mafia-like organization of plainclothes assassins that would kill suspected criminals, journalists, and opposition politicians, often from the backs of motorcycles. Multiple former members of the group have come forward and said that they killed people on Duterte's direct orders.

    Duterte has even bragged that he personally killed criminals from the back of a motorcycle. "In Davao I used to do it personally," he told a group of business leaders in Manila. "Just to show to the guys [police officers] that if I can do it, why can't you."

    In 2016, Duterte campaigned on a policy of mass extermination for anyone involved in the drug trade. "I'd be happy to slaughter them. If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have me," Duterte said after his inauguration in September.

    Despite human rights concerns, the U.S. has long considered the Philippines a military ally, and under Obama the U.S. gave the country's military tens of millions of dollars in weapons and resources per year. The U.S. government does not provide lethal weapons directly to the Philippine National Police, which has a decadeslong history of extrajudicial killings. But it does allow U.S. weapons manufacturers to sell to them directly. In 2015 the State Department authorized more than $250 million in arms sales from U.S. defense contractors to security forces in the Philippines.

  • Nate Silver: Donald Trump's Base Is Shrinking: His overall approval numbers haven't dropped this much, but those who "strongly approve" of Trump has dropped "from a peak of around 30 percent in February to just 21 or 22 percent of the electorate now." Meanwhile, the number of people who "strongly disapprove" of him has shot up "from the mid-30s in early February to 44.1 percent as of Tuesday."

  • Matthew Stevenson: Is Trump the Worst President Ever? Posted back on February 17, so too early for a fair hearing, but it's not really his point to answer the question ("such a milestone could be a tall order. He would need to match Nixon's paranoia and arrogance with Lyndon Johnson's military incompetence, and then throw in Chester Arthur's corruption and maybe Harding's lust for life") -- just to provide a quick review for your history buffs.

  • Amy B Wang: Sinkhole forms in front of Mar-a-Lago; metaphors pour in

  • Matthew Yglesias: Trump isn't a toddler -- he's a product of America's culture of impunity for the rich: Notes that both Ross Douthat and David Brooks have recently tried to explain Trump away as "a toddler" (so that's the kind of original thinking that lands you a job writing opinion for the New York Times?):

    My 2-year-old son misbehaves all the time. The reason is simple: He's a toddler.

    He stuck his foot in a serving bowl at dinner Tuesday night. He screams in inappropriate situations. He's terrified of vacuum cleaners. He thinks it's funny to throw rocks at birds. He has poor impulse control and limited understanding of the consequences of his actions.

    But he's also, fundamentally, a good kid. If you tell him no, he'll usually listen. If you remind him of the rules, he'll acknowledge them and obey. He shows remorse when his misdeeds are pointed out to him, and if you walk him through a cause-and-effect chain he'll alter his behavior. Like all little kids, he needs discipline, and he's got a lot to learn. But he is learning, and he has some notion of consequences and right and wrong.

    Trump is not like that -- at all. . . .

    He's 70 years old. And he's not just any kind of 70-year-old. He's a white male 70-year-old. A famous one. A rich one. One who's been rich since the day he was born. He's a man who's learned over the course of a long and rich life that he is free to operate without consequence. He's the beneficiary of vast and enormous privilege, not just the ability to enjoy lavish consumption goods but the privilege of impunity that America grants to the wealthy.

  • Scattered links on Trump's holy war trek:

    • Peter Beinart: What Trump Reveals by Calling Terrorists 'Losers':

      So why is Trump putting ISIS in the same category in which he places Rosie O'Donnell? Because for him, America's primary goal is not freedom or tolerance. It's success. Trump espouses no deeply held political, religious, or moral doctrine. He sees government through the lens of business. And thus, he's more comfortable with the language of winning and losing than the language of right and wrong. That's why he's so obsessed with the margin of his electoral victory and the size of his crowds. It's why he responds to articles critical of him by saying that the newspapers that published them are "failing." For Trump, losing is worst thing you can do.

      If there's a silver lining here, it's that people who judge right and wrong (or good and evil) are often far more deranged, precisely because their value judgments are more deeply buried in their personal history and circumstances. It's interesting how quickly Trump's prejudices seem to melt away when he actually meets such obviously successful people as the leaders of China, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia (and, one might add, Russia). Maybe he needs state visits to Iran and North Korea? I might add that for normal people, being called a "loser" is less taunting (and less inaccurate) than what Bush called the 9/11 terrorists: "cowards."

    • Bryan Bender: Israeli Officers: You're Doing ISIS Wrong: Israel has its own foreign policy objectives, and they've long been peculiarly at odds with its supposed ally, the United States. When, for instance, the US was supporting Iraq's war against Iran, Israel was helping Iran -- even to the point of selling Iran American weapons (which was OK with Reagan as long as some of the profits were channeled to the Contras in Nicaragua, which Reagan was legally barred from funding on his own -- you know, the "Iran-Contra Scandal"). Israel has repeatedly intervened in Syria, not to promote any constructive agenda, just to balance off the forces to keep the war going longer. But if they had to choose, they'd rather see ISIS come out ahead than Hezbollah, and now they're casting aspersions about the US for tilting the other direction. The bottom line is that while the US always assumes that the goal is peace and stability -- even if that's hard to discern from what the US does -- Israel never wants peace or stability: they seek continual turmoil and conflict, because any lasting peace would involve them settling with the Palestinians, and that's the one thing they can't consider. When this finally sinks in, you'll begin to understand how schizophrenic US policy is in the region. We keep thinking we have allies in the region, but actually all we have are alignments: temporary, fragile, counterproductive, and often downright embarrassing.

    • Natasha Bertrand: Flabbergasted anchor points out to commerce secretary why there wasn't a 'single hint of a protester' in Saudi Arabia: Wilbur Ross was delighted by the reception the Trump entourage received in Saudi Arabia ("there was not a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time").

    • James Carden: What Explains Trump's Sharp About-Face on Saudi Arabia? I don't quite buy that the Trump administration really has an "obsession with Iran" -- that's just a clever way to curry favor with people who still have deep-seated resentment against post-Shah iran. It's obvious that Israel turned on Iran only once Iraq was squashed in 1991 because they needed an "existential security threat" to talk about whenever brought up the Palestinians. (For the long history of this, see Trita Parsi's 2007 book, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States.) Saudi Arabia was threatened by Ayatollah Khomeini during the 1979 revolution -- effectively he challenged Saudi pre-eminence in the holy places of Islam, which hit the Kingdom very close to home. But nothing since then justifies the Saudi's evident obsession with Iran -- other than the ease with which anti-Iranian rhetoric ingratiates themselves with the US. Before the Saudis got all worked up over Iran, their desires to purchase American arms were frustrated by the Israel lobby -- the two states were, after all, nominal enemies. Now they seem to be virtual allies inasmuch as they share a common enemy, but isn't the real reason that matters their new desire to become an effective hegemon over the Sunni Arab world? Meanwhile, first Obama and now Trump have found it convenient to sell arms to the Saudis: effectively, it's a jobs program that never has to navigate through Congress or even hit the US budget. The new thing is that Trump's finally selling it as such, but he's picked a terrible time to do so: pre-Salman the Saudis never used their expensive toys, but lately they've been increasing violence and chaos everywhere they reach, and entangling the US as they go.

      I should work this in somewhere and this seems as good a place as any: the visceral reaction most Americans had to the self-declaration of an Islamic State would have been just as easy to stir up against the real Islamic State: Saudi Arabia. This didn't happen because the Saudis have a lot of oil and money, and because they feign allegiance and (perhaps rent?) alliance to the United States. They also may have seemed less threatening for lack of territorial ambitions, but they have invaded Yemen, attempted to buy Lebanon (through Rafik Hariri), supported proxy forces in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, and largely treat the Persian Gulf sheikdoms as vassals. Although they've bought lots of American arms for a long time, they never organized them into an effective military for fear of a coup -- until Salman acceded to the throne and they launched the war in Yemen. Until recently they had enough money to buy loyalty, but they're faced now with both sinking oil prices and declining reserves -- along with buying more arms, that means belt-tightening elsewhere, and the most obvious waste is the bloated and often embarrassing royal family. The odds of a coup in the near future have shot up, and if/when it happens it is most likely to adopt the IS model with its renewed Caliphate. It may be possible to rout ISIS from the cities of Upper Mesopotamia, but the idea of a Caliphate will survive, as it has since the 7th Century, and no one could adopt it more readily then the regime that controls Mecca and Medina -- a regime armed to the teeth thanks to Obama and Trump.

    • Patrick Cockburn: Trump's Extravagant Saudi Trip Distracts from His Crisis at Home

    • Andrew Exum: What Progressives Miss About Arms Sales: Thinks "Trump had a great visit to Saudi Arabia" -- great for him, great for the Saudis "and other Arab Gulf states, and -- last but not least -- it was a great visit for magical, glowing orbs." Especially great was the "deliverable": "$110 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia -- with an additional $240 billion committed over a 10-year period." He then chides "progressives" for not celebrating:

      I want to spend a little time talking about one of the reasons why the trip went so well. I'll warn you: This is a somewhat taboo subject for progressive foreign-policy types. The subject, friends, is arms sales. Progressives don't like arms sales very much, but they need to pay attention to them, because they're one big way Republicans are fighting for -- and winning -- the votes of working-class Americans who have traditionally voted for Democrats.

      As I've pointed out elsewhere, Obama (considered a "progressive" in some parts) has been using arms sales, especially to dictatorial Arab States and Eastern Europe, as a jobs program for much of his two terms. For many years selling arms to the Saudis seemed harmless enough -- they never used them, and they had lots of dollars we wanted back -- but eventually these arms sales started to make the world more conflict-prone and dangerous: US relations with Russia deteriorated as Obama kept pushing NATO closer to Russia's borders, and the Saudis and Qataris started using their arms, first in Libya and even more dramatically in Yemen. While the Saudis have generally tried to align their foreign interventions -- until recently mostly cash and propaganda -- with the US, they've always cast their efforts in their own terms, which from the founding of the tribe with its Wahhabist trappings in the late 18th century has always been framed as jihad. Jihadist warfare has actually been very rare in Islamic history, but since the Saudis started spending billions to promote their peculiar flavor of Salafism it's become ubiquitous, more often than not rebounding back against the US, who so encouraged the Saudis to frame their opposition to Communism (and Nasserism and Baathism, nationalist movements seen as Soviet proxies) in religious terms. Further complicating this is that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies are among the most reactionary and repressive states in the world. By feeding them arms -- and by little things like Trump participating in that sword dance and orb touching -- the US becomes complicit not only in their jihadism but also in their suppression of human rights. One effect of this is that US leaders have lost control of their own policy, and while this has become increasingly evident over the past year -- the tipping point was Saudi Arabia's attack on Yemen -- the event that people will remember is Trump's visit, where the formerly "great" America has been reduced to grovelling for arms sales (or, if you're a pseudo-progressive, "jobs").

      Exum may be right that many defense contractor workers voted for Trump, but that's only after the Democrats abandoned the unions that were formerly common -- e.g., Boeing shut down their Wichita factory after office workers there unionized, moving their operations to union-free South Carolina and Texas. Still, what Chalmers Johnson liked to call Military Keynesianism has steadily declined in value ever since WWII, and there are plenty of healthier things progressives can push for. Meanwhile, it's no accident that Republicans like Trump have thrived in the increasingly vicious atmosphere of violence and hate generated by perpetual war.

    • Kareem Fahim: After assurances by Trump, Bahrain mounts deadliest raid in years on opposition

    • Emma Green: Pope Francis, Trump Whisperer? Article is interesting, but let me first point to the picture, which shows Melania and Ivanka wearing headware (veils), in marked contrast to their scarfless appearance in Saudi Arabia.

    • Fred Kaplan: Trump's Sunni Strategy: "The president wants America to take sides in the Middle East's sectarian rivalry. That won't end well." Actually, it's already started badly. As recently at the 1970s there was essentially no violent conflict between Sunni and Shi'a, but then the Saudis started pushing their Salafist sectarianism, Ayatollah Khomeini challenged their control of Mecca, and the Saudis backed the US-Pakistani promotion of jihadism in Afghanistan. In the 1990s the US tried to raise up Shi'a resistance in Iraq, which became the basis of a sectarian civil war after the US invasion in 2003 -- one where the US played both sides against one another. Then the US wound up opposing both sides in Syria through various proxies it has no real control over, including the Saudis and Qataris, both backing jihadist groups. Year after year this muddled strategy has only produced more war and more backlash.

    • Rashid Khalidi: Why Donald Trump's 'Arab Nato' would be a terrible mistake

    • Paul Pillar: Trump's Riyadh Speech: Bowing to the Saudi Regime

    • David Shariatmadari: Who better to lecture Muslims than Islam expert Donald Trump? Worse still, Trump's big speech in Saudi Arabia was mainly written by Steven Miller, although the result was little more than a sop -- for someone so belligerent toward strangers, it doesn't seem to take more than a little shameless flattery to win Trump over.

      This is not only hard to defend morally. Siding with Saudi Arabia and antagonising Iran in order to weaken jihadism won't work, to put it mildly. Though the Saudi kingdom has taken part in military action against Isis, its state textbooks are deemed acceptable in Isis-run schools. It has backed militant Islamist rebels in Syria, and continues to export an extremely intolerant version of Islam.

      Trump cut a weird figure at Murabba Palace on Saturday night, bobbing along to a traditional sword dance like someone who'd stumbled into the wrong wedding reception.

    • Richard Silverstein: Trump's Saudi Soliloquy: "one of the most hypocritical speeches in American political history." Curious that I have yet to see a single post which contrasts Trump's Riyadh speech with the Cairo speech Obama gave early in his presidency, even though the latter turned out to be pretty hypocritical as well. Still, reading Silverstein's comments I'm more stuck by the extraordinary amount of falsehood and nonsense in the speech. Silverstein also wrote a bit about the Jerusalem leg of Trump's tour: Trump Selfie with Israeli MK Features Two Moral Degenerate Birds of a Feather. The selfie Trump was cornered into was with Oren Hazan, who bills himself "the Israeli Trump."

    • Paul Woodward: Trump struts onto the world stage only to become a laughingstock: Also cites Susan B Glasser: 'People Here Think Trump Is a Laughinstock'.

  • Scattered links on Trump/Comey/Russia:


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

  • Max Boot: The Seth Rich 'Scandal' Shows That Fox News Is Morally Bankrupt

  • Beth Gardiner: Three Reasons to Believe in China's Renewable Energy Boom: Some astonishing numbers here, like "China added 35 gigawatts of new solar generation in 2016 alone" and that coal consumption "fell in 2016 for the third straight year." Meanwhile, back in the USA: Dahr Jamail: Scientists Predict There Will Be No Glaciers in the Contiguous US by 2050 -- but Trump Is Stomping on the Gas Pedal.

  • Paul Krugman: Trucking and Blue-Collar Woes: Starts with a chart on "wages of transportation and warehousing workers in today's dollars, which have fallen by a third since the early 1970s." He further explains the obvious:

    Why? This is neither a trade nor a technology story. We're not importing Chinese trucking services; robot truck drivers are a possible future, but not here yet. The article mentions workers displaced from manufacturing, but that's a pretty thin reed. What it doesn't mention is the obvious thing: unions.

    Unfortunately the occupational categories covered by the BLS have changed a bit, so it will take someone with more time than I have right now to do this right. But using the data at unionstats we can see that a drastic fall in trucker unionization took place during the 1980s: 38 percent of "heavy truck" drivers covered by unions in 1983, already down to 25 percent by 1991. It's not quite comparable, but only 13 percent of "drivers/sales workers and truck drivers" were covered last year.

    In short, this looks very much like a non tradable industry where workers used to have a lot of bargaining power through collective action, and lost it in the great union-busting that took place under Reagan and after.

    Krugman speculates that "the great majority of the people whose chance at a middle-class life was destroyed by those political changes voted for Trump." But he doesn't follow up. Why did they vote for Trump? It sure wasn't because Trump promised to bring unions back, because he never did. All they got from Trump was a chance to vent their spleen. But Clinton didn't offer to bring back unions either. Maybe she offered them a chance to go back to school somewhat cheaper, but even that wasn't clear. If you want to have a middle class, you have to pay middle class wages to blue-collar workers. And if you aren't willing to go that far, everything you say about "middle class" is cant.

    Elsewhere, Krugman linked to Sarah Birnbaum: An Economist reporter dishes on Trump's 'priming the pump' interview, including the story of how Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue saved NAFTA:

    So Sonny Perdue literally asked his staff to draw up a map of the bits of America that had voted for Donald Trump and the bits of America that do well from exporting grain and corn through NAFTA. [The map] showed how these two areas often overlap. So he went in, said to Donald Trump, "Actually, Trump America, your voters, they do pretty well out of NAFTA." And the president said, "Oh. Then maybe I won't withdraw from NAFTA."

    Evidently there was no one around to point out that those same grain and corn exports was what drove so many Mexican peasants from their farms to seek employment in the US -- the single most dramatic effect of NAFTA wasn't the loss of American factory jobs but the decimation of Mexican agriculture due to the flood of cheaper US grain. But then, the piece also includes a quote from David Rennie, describing the "atmosphere" of the Oval Office:

    It's kind of like being in a royal palace several hundred years ago, with people coming in and out, trying to catch the ear of the king. That's the feel at the Trump Oval Office. He likes to be surrounded by his courtiers. . . .

    And the role of some pretty senior figures, including cabinet secretaries, was to chime in and agree with whatever the president had just said, rather than offering candid advice.

    There was a moment with Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary.

    We were talking [to Trump] about China and currency manipulation. On the campaign trail, Trump was very ferocious about [calling China a currency manipulator.] [In our interview], he said, "As soon as I started talking about China being a currency manipulator, they cut it out." Actually that's not true. China [stopped manipulating the currency] two or three years ago.

    What was striking was, when he made that point, Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, chimed in and said, "Oh yeah. The day he became president, they changed their behavior!" And factually, that's just not right. It's quite striking to see a cabinet secretary making that point in that way.

  • Laura Secor: The Patient Resilience of Iran's Reformers: While Trump was forging his anti-Iran coalition in Saudi Arabia, Iran had a presidential election, where 75% of the electorate turned out and 57% of the voters reëlected Hassan Rouhani, the "moderate reformer" who signed the deal halting Iran's "nuclear program," over a much more conservative, anti-Western opponent. Also: Hooman Majd: Iran Just Prove Trump Wrong; Muhammad Sahimi: As Iran Elects a Moderate, Trump Cozies up to its Terrorist Enemy Saudi Arabia.

  • Matt Taibbi: Roger Ailes Was One of the Worst Americans Ever: Makes a good case, but that got me wondering who were the ten worst Americans ever. Naturally, the list tends toward political figures, because their misdeeds tend to be amplified in ways that mere bank robbers and serial killers can never attain (compare, e.g., Ted Bundy and McGeorge Bundy, although at least Ted was solely culpable where McGeorge was wrapped up in groupthink and depended on others to do the actual dirty work. Here's a quick, off the top of my head, list, in more-or-less chronological order:

    • Aaron Burr, who made the first blatant attempt to turn the young republic into a kleptocracy; he could have been our Yeltsin or Suharto or Mubarak or Mobuto.
    • John C. Calhoun, the would be architect of slavocracy and de facto designer of the use of "states rights" to perpetuate white supremacy.
    • John Wilkes Boothe, whose assassination of Abraham Lincoln ended any chance for a graceful reconstruction (not that such was actually guaranteed).
    • John D. Rockefeller, whose ruthlessness turned business into empire building on a grand scale.
    • J. Edgar Hoover, whose iron control of the FBI created a bureaucracy that could cower presidents.
    • Joseph McCarthy, whose witch hunts elevated the "paranoid style" so common in American politics to an unprecedented level of viciousness.
    • Richard Nixon, for many things including his singular lack of scruples when it came to winning elections.
    • Henry Kissinger, the foreign policy mandarin who exported dirty wars all around the world.
    • Antonin Scalia, the judge and legal theorist whose "originalism" set new standards for sophistry in support of right-wing politics.
    • Dick Cheney, the prime driver behind the so-called "global war on terrorism"; i.e., the poisonous projection of American power into every corner of the globe.

    Can Ailes crack that list? That's a tall order, but I wouldn't dismiss the suggestion out of hand. One might argue that the conservative backlash that lifted Nixon and Reagan was just a matter of re-centering politics after exceptionally liberal periods, but the right-wing resurgence from 1994 onward has almost exclusively been manufactured by a broad network of well-funded behind-the-scenes actors and their success is mostly due to the creation of a hardcore propaganda network, of which Ailes' Fox News has been the flagship. The only other individual to rise out of this swamp to a comparable level of notoreity has been Charles Koch -- another prime candidate, especially if we expand the list a bit.

    Back to the story, Taibbi writes:

    Moreover, Ailes built a financial empire waving images of the Clintons and the Obamas in front of scared conservatives. It's no surprise that a range of media companies are now raking in fortunes waving images of Donald Trump in front of terrified Democrats.

    It's not that Trump isn't or shouldn't be frightening. But it's conspicuous that our media landscape is now a perfect Ailes-ian dystopia, cleaved into camps of captive audiences geeked up on terror and disgust. The more scared and hate-filled we are, the more advertising dollars come pouring in, on both sides.

    Trump in many ways was a perfect Ailes product, merging as he did the properties of entertainment and news in a sociopathic programming package that, as CBS chief Les Moonves pointed out, was terrible for the country, but great for the bottom line.

    The the nth time, Taibbi exaggerates the symmetry, because right and center have very distinct approaches to reality, not to mention vastly different political agendas. Right-wing fear and loathing of Clinton/Obama had less to do with policy than with style, and only touched reality when they caught the Democrats doing something corrupt. Clinton and Obama, at least, almost never actually changed anything, so heaping scorn on them seemed to have little effect. The media might be just as happy ridiculing Trump -- indeed, the effort bar is pretty low there -- but less obviously (especially to the media) Trump and the Republicans are doing real damage, undermining our welfare and way of life, and it's pretty scandalous just to think of that as entertainment.

  • Alex Tizon: My Family's Slave: "She lived with us for 56 years. She raised me and my siblings without pay. I was 11, a typical American kid, before I realized who she was."


Whew! Think I'll spend the next couple days away from the computer, out back painting the fence.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28166 [28141] rated (+25), 397 [394] unrated (+3).

I spent pretty much all of Sunday and Monday cooking birthday dinner for my sister, Kathy, after spending a good chunk of Saturday shopping. During that time I mostly played oldies, especially 50 Coastin' Classics, which never sounded better. She requested a couple Indian curries "and all the fixin's" so I did what I could. I wound up making (mostly from Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking):

  • Lamb brained in aromatic cream sauce: Rogani gosht, with chunks of lamb and potatoes.
  • Fish in velvet yogurt sauce: Pacific cod, but I substituted coconut cream for the yogurt.
  • Smooth buttered cabbage
  • Smoked eggplant with fresh herbs: ok, roasted eggplant (and Japanese at that), with frozen peas
  • Green beans with coconut and black mustard seeds
  • Fragrant buttered greens: spinach, kale, collard greens with fried potatoes
  • Patiala pilaf: minus the fried onion garnish
  • Okra and yogurt salad: fried okra folded ito raita
  • Tomato, onion, and cucumber relish: from Madhur Jaffrey
  • Hot Hyderabad tomato relish: well, maybe not so hot
  • Banana tamarind relish: cheated, using tamarind paste
  • Major Grey chutney: mango chutney, from a web recipe
  • Sweet lemon pickle with cumin: ok, made this way back, so just pulled from refrigerator

Half of the dishes were made on Sunday then reheated, again taking hints from Sahni. I had hoped to make kadhi (chickpea dumplings in yogurt sauce), but got cold feet, then added several relishes/salads that seemed easier. Too many dishes, but not many complaints: the lamb and fish were luxurious, the four vegetables dishes superb, the rice a little bland but sumptuous, the yogurt/okra lovely, the chutneys/pickles intense. I meant to fry up some frozen, store-bought paratha but it slipped my mind in the rush to serve everything (which, by the way, was on scheduled time).

For dessert we had spiced tea, flourless chocolate cake, and store-bought vanilla ice cream.

We had eight people for dinner. Fairly extravagant, but I've made at least three larger Indian dinners -- a birthday dinner in NJ consumed 22 onions, whereas this one only took 10. Aside from the chutneys, the tomato-cucumber-onion (the least impressive dish), and the rice, not a lot of leftovers. Seems like a lot of work, but I don't get many chances to do something nice for others, nor to feel like I'm actually being productive -- e.g., as opposed to just reacting to the worldwide train wreck. (Expect a belated Weekend Roundup mid-week, and a Streamnotes by end-of-month.)


The jazz guides are up to 661 + 527 pages, still less than midway in the Jazz '80s-'90s database file. I never expected the 20th century to reach 700 pages, but that now seems likely. Still, I think, only has 1/4 to 1/3 as many records as The Penguin Guide, which has long been my bible. The 21st century file should still more than double in length, and it's not inconceivable that the pair will top 2000 pages.

One side effect of that work is that every now and then I check Napster for missing jazz records, as I did with banjoist John Gill's early work. I was pleased to find many recordings on Stomp Off, long one of the best trad jazz labels. As you're probably aware, most of my higher picks are avant-garde, but I've always had a soft spot for trad jazz, and even more so for small group swing (which I swear was the cradle of rock and roll). So I went on a bender here, checking out Gill, his trumpet buddies Duke Heitger and Chris Tyle, and records I had missed by two pianists I liked, Ted Des Plantes and Keith Nichols. Biggest problem here is that they're hard to sort out on just one or two plays -- they nearly all sound good, but differentiating isn't as easy. Second biggest problem is that Stomp Off is probably the most media-adverse label in the world -- they don't have a website, and almost none of their records are listed by Discogs -- so it's been very hard to get any info on them (the most reliable source is The Penguin Guide, plus occasionally I've found back cover scans which at least give credits, release dates, and song lists. Probably quite a few more to check out in weeks to come.

In contrast, new jazz seems to sit in my changes for 3-4 plays regardless of whether it's much good or not, so I'm making slow progress through the queue. (The unpacking below is longer than usual because I forgot to post last week's intake.) And the only non-jazz records I checked out last week were two from Robert Christgau's Expert Witness (couldn't find the newer, and longer, Daddy Issues last week, but it's there now, so next week). I'm just not aware of much I want to seek out there, at least for now.


New records rated this week:

  • Daddy Issues: Can We Still Hang (2015, Infinity Cat, EP): [r]: B+(***)
  • Girlpool: Powerplant (2017, Anti-): [r]: B
  • Jari Haapalainen Trio: Fusion Madness (2017, Moserobie): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Rebecca Hennessy's Fog Brass Band: Two Calls (2017, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Jason Kao Hwang: Sing House (2015 [2017], Euonymous): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Chad Lefkowitz-Brown: Onward (2017, self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Bob Merrill: Tell Me Your Troubles: Songs by Joe Bushkin (2017, Accurate): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Eve Risser/Benjamin Duboc/Edward Perraud: En Corps: Generation (2016 [2017], Dark Tree): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Sult/Lasse Marhaug: Harpoon (2017, Conrad Sound/Pica Disk): [cdr]: B+(*)
  • Joris Teepe & Don Braden: Conversations (2009-16 [2017], Creative Perspective Music): [cd]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Ted Des Plantes' Washboard Wizards: Midnight Stomp (1991, Stomp Off): [r]: B+(***)
  • Ted Des Plantes' Washboard Wizards: Shim-Sham-Shimmy Dance (1997 [1998], Stomp Off): [r]: A-
  • John Gill's San Francisco Jazz Band: Turk Murphy Style (1989 [1992], GHB): [r]: A-
  • John Gill's Novelty Orchestra of New Orleans: "Smile, Darn Ya, Smile" (1991, Stomp Off): [r]: B+(***)
  • John Gill's Novelty Orchestra of New Orleans: Headin' for Better Times (1992 [1993], Stomp Off): [r]: B+(***)
  • John Gill's Dixie Serenaders: "Listen to That Dixie Band!!" (1997 [1998], Stomp Off): [r]: B+(**)
  • John Gill's Jazz Kings: "I Must Have It!" (2004, Stomp Off): [r]: B+(***)
  • Learn to Croon: John Gill & His Sentimental Serenaders Remember Bing Crosby (2009 [2011], Stomp Off): [r]: B+(**)
  • Duke Heitger and His Swing Band: Rhythm Is Our Business (1998-99 [2000], Fantasy): [r]: A-
  • Duke Heitger's Big Four: Prince of Wails (2001, Stomp Off): [r]: B+(***)
  • Duke Heitger With Ken Mathieson's Classic Jazz Band: Celebrating Satchmo (2010, Lake): [r]: B+(**)
  • Sergey Kuryokhin: The Ways of Freedom (1981 [2001], Leo Golden Years of New Jazz): [r]: B+(***)
  • Keith Nichols & the Cotton Club Orchestra: Harlem's Arabian Nights (1996 [19997], Stomp Off): [r]: B+(***)
  • Chris Tyle's New Orleans Rover Boys: A Tribute to Benny Strickler (1991, Stomp Off): [r]: B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last two weeks:

  • Bill Cunliffe: Bachanalia (Metre): June 2
  • Art Fristoe Trio: Double Down (Merry Lane): June 2
  • Gato Libre: Neko (Libra)
  • Terry Gibbs: 92 Years Young: Jammin' at the Gibbs House (Whaling City Sound)
  • The Brett Gold New York Jazz Orchestra: Dreaming Big (Goldfox)
  • Innocent When You Dream: Dirt in the Ground (self-released): May 26
  • Ryan Keberle & Catharsis: Find the Common, Shine a Light (Greenleaf Music): June 16
  • Christian Lillinger/Petter Eloh/Wanja Slavin/Peter Evans: Amok Amor (Intakt)
  • Quinsin Nachoff's Ethereal Trio (Whirlwind): May 19
  • Vadim Neselovskyi Trio: Get Up and Go (Blujazz): May 19
  • Larry Newcomb Quartet With Bucky Pizzarelli: Living Tribute (Essential Messenger): June 2
  • Riverside [Dave Douglas/Chet Doxes/Steve Swallow/Jim Doxas]: The New National Anthem (Greenleaf Music): June 16
  • Elliott Sharp With Mary Halvorson and Marc Ribot: Err Guitar (Intakt)
  • John Stein/Dave Zinno: Wood and Strings (Whaling City Sound)
  • Dylan Taylor: One in Mind (Blujazz)
  • Urbanity: Urban Soul (Alfi)
  • Shea Welsh: Arrival (Blujazz)

Monday, May 15, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28141 [28119] rated (+22), 397 [399] unrated (-2).

A bit surprised that the rated count isn't any higher. I couldn't think of much to stream on Napster, so decided to focus on the jazz queue, and most of those records were instantly forgettable. However, the two I did like took a lot of time -- Amado was pretty automatic, but still got many plays before I finally wrote something, while Miwa had to overcome my normal "that's nice" reaction to piano trio. The other new A- record was reviewed by Robert Christgau here. (Christgau also published a piece in the Voice last week: Songs of Love and War: Syria's Omar Souleyman.)

I keep expecting a new Downloader's Diary from Michael Tatum any day now, so thought I should check before posting this, and found instead something he posted back on February 20: Orts from the 2016 Table -- just three reviews: American Honey (A+), Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial (A), and De La Soul and the Anonymous Nobody (B). I should add them to his Archive -- but later this week, I think, or maybe when the first 2017 column appears.

I didn't do anything for Mother's Day other than write my long Weekend Roundup, but the day before I tried making one of the few non-traditional dishes from my childhood: Spanish rice with pork chops. I made it the way Mom might have made it: using Zatarain's boxed rice kit (add water, a can of diced tomatoes, butter). As best I recall, she browned the pork chops, then baked them with the rice, but I did it all on the stove top, starting the rice in one pot while I browned the chops in a deep skillet. I then dumped the partly cooked rice on top of the chops, covered, and turned the heat low to finish. The mix had long-grain rice, dried onions, and spices. It wouldn't be hard to come up with a scratch recipe -- Google has many suggestions. Mom almost never made rice -- this was the only real dish I can recall, but I vaguely remember her making Minute Rice as a side some time. Much later I taught her how to make Chinese fried rice to go with 1-2-3-4-5 Spare Ribs, but she most often just made the latter -- especially after she got my sister to pre-mix the ingredients, so she just ad to measure out 1/2 cup.

I hope to write up some sort of cookbook/food memoir built around her cooking (but with a few of my things slipped in). I have her recipe cards, but they're mostly disappointing and unrepresentative: too many things that she collected from friends and family to be polite -- way too many casseroles and jello salads -- but never made again. The main things that are well covered are cakes, cookies, and candy. Virtually absent are meats (she fried, or sometimes roasted, them), gravy, and vegetables (mostly boiled to death). I don't recall her ever consulting a cookbook (though she may have had one, possibly Betty Crocker) but she did crib recipes off cans and boxes, which is where she got the idea for baking fried steak in mushroom soup. I've tried recreating some of her dishes, and had generally good results, so that will eventually go into the book.

Other big project last week was to repaint the steel fence on the south side of the back yard. Got everything scraped earlier last week, then painted primer on 2 (of 7) penels on Saturday. Slow going, will probably take most of this week to finish (or longer, allowing for periodic storms).


New records rated this week:

  • Gonçalo Almeida/Rodrigo Amado/Marco Franco: The Attic (2015 [2017], NoBusiness): [cd]: A-
  • David Binney: The Time Verses (2016 [2017], Criss Cross)
  • Joseph Bowie/Oliver Lake: Live at 'A SPACE' 1976 (1976 [2017], Delmark/Sackville): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Bryan and the Aardvarks: Sounds From the Deep Field (2017, Biophilia): [cdr]: B-
  • Duo Baars Henneman & Dave Burrell: Trandans (2016 [2017], Wig): [cd]: B
  • Dominique Eade & Ran Blake: Town and Country (2015-16 [2017], Sunnyside): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Craig Fraedrich With Trilogy and Friends: All Through the Night (Summit)
  • Grandaddy: Last Place (2017, 30th Century/Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mats Holmquist: Big Band Minimalism (2015 [2017], Summit): [cd]: C+
  • Jentsch Group Quartet: Fractured Pop (2009 [2017, leur de Son): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Kehlani: SweetSexySavage (2017, Atlantic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Les Amazones d'Afrique: Republique Amazone (2017, RealWorld): [r]: A-
  • Jesse Lewis/Ike Sturm: Endless Field (2017, Biophilia): [cdr]: B
  • Migos: Culture (2017, QC/YRN/300): [r]: B+(***)
  • Yoko Miwa Trio: Pathways (2016 [2017], Ocean Blue Tear Music): [cd]: A-
  • Michael Morreale: Love and Influence (2013-16, Blujazz, 2CD): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Noertker's Moxie: Druidh Penumbrae (2011-15 [2016], Edgetone): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Paramore: After Laughter (2017, Fueled by Ramen): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jeannie Tanner: Words & Music (2017, Tanner Time, 2CD): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Trichotomy: Known-Unknown (2016 [2017], Challenge): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Paul Tynan & Aaron Lington Bicoastal Collective: Chapter Five (2016 [2017], OA2): [cd]: B
  • Ronny Whyte: Shades of Whyte (2016 [2017], Audiophile): [cd]: B

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

  • Joseph Bowie/Oliver Lake: Live at 'A SPACE' 1976 (1976 [2017], Delmark/Sackville): [cd]: B+(**)

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Arthur Protin asked me to comment on a recent interview with linguist George Lakoff: Paul Rosenberg: Don't think of a rampaging elephant: Linguist George Lakoff explains how the Democrats helped elect Trump. Lakoff has tried to promote himself as the liberal alternative to Frank Luntz, who's built a lucrative career polling and coining euphemisms for Republicans. I first read his 2004 primer, Don't Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, which consolidated ideas from his earlier Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think -- a dichotomy he's still pitching as "the strict father/nurturent parent distinction." I've never liked this concept. I'll grant that conservatives like the flattering "strict father" construct, not least because it conflates family and society, in both cases celebrating hierarchical (and, sure, patriarchal) order, and there's something to be said for recognizing how they see themselves. But the alternative family model isn't something I'd like to see scaled up to society, where nurturing morphs into something patronizing, condescending, and meddlesome, and worse still that it grants the fundamentally wrong notion that what's good for families is equally good and proper for society and government. This is just one of many cases where Lakoff accepts the framing given by Republicans and tries to game it, rather than doing what he advises: changing the framing. I don't doubt that his understanding of cognitive psychology yields some useful insights into how Democrats might better express their case -- especially the notion that you lead with your values, not with mind-numbing wonkery. But it's not just that Democrats don't know how best to talk. A far bigger problem is that Democrats lack consensus on values, except inasmuch as they've been dictated by the need to collect and coalesce all of the minorities that the Republicans deplore.

You see, back in Nixon days, with Kevin Phillips and Pat Buchanan doing the nerd-work, Republicans started strategizing how to build a post/anti-New Deal majority. They started with the GOP's core base (meaning business), whipped up a counterculture backlash (long on patriotism and patriarchy), and lured in white southerners (with various codings of racism) and Catholics (hence their about face on abortion), played up the military and guns everywhere. The idea was to move Nixon's "silent majority" to their side by driving a wedge between them and everyone else, who had no options other than to become Democrats. The Democrats played along, collecting the votes Republicans drove their way while offering little in return. Rather, with unions losing power and businesses gaining, politicians like the Clintons figured out how to triangulate between their base and various moneyed interests (especially finance and high-tech).

Lakoff is right that Clinton's campaign often played into Trump's hands. While some examples are new, that's been happening at least since Bill Clinton ran first for president in 1992. Clinton adopted so many Republican talking points -- on crime and welfare, on fiscal balance, on deregulating banks and job-killing trade deals -- that the Republicans had nowhere to go but even further right. For more on Clinton and his legacy, see Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal! Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? The key point is that Clinton almost never challenged the values Republicans tried to put forth. Rather, he offered a more efficient (and slightly less inhumane) implementation of them. Indeed, his administration oversaw the largest spurt of growth in the wealth of the already rich. If the rich still favored Republicans, that was only because the latter promised them even more -- maybe not wealth, but more importantly power. That Clinton left the rich unsatisfied was only part of the problem his legacy would face. He also left his voters disillusioned, and his post-presidency buckraking left him looking even more cynical and corrupt, in ways that could never be spun or reframed.

So Hillary Clinton's own political career started with two big problems. One was that she was viewed as a person whose credentials were built on nepotism -- not on her own considerable competency, except perhaps in marrying well -- and even when she seemed to be in charge, he remained in her shadow. The second was that she couldn't separate herself from the legacy of ashes -- the demise of American manufacturing jobs, the concentration of wealth for a global financial elite. Indeed, with her high-paid speeches to Wall Street, she seemed not just blind but shameless. Her husband had refashioned the Democratic Party into a personal political machine, both by promoting personal cronies and by losing control of Congress (a source of potential rivals), leaving her with a substantial but very circumscribed fan base.

As for Hillary's campaign, as Lakoff says, the focus was against Trump:

The Clinton campaign decided that the best way to defeat Trump was to use his own words against him. So they showed these clips of Trump saying outrageous things. Now what Trump was doing in those clips was saying out loud things that upset liberals, and that's exactly what his followers liked about him. So of course they were showing what actually was helping Trump with his supporters.

Lakoff doesn't say this, but the lesson I draw was that Clinton's big failure was in treating Trump as an anomalous, embarrassing personal foe, rather than recognizing that the real threat of a Trump administration would be all of the Republicans he would bring into government. She thought that by underplaying partisan differences she could detach some suburban "moderates" to break party ranks, and that would make her margin. Her indifference to her party (and ultimately to her base) followed the pattern of her husband and Barack Obama, who both lost Democratic control of Congress after two years, after which they were re-elected but could never implement any supposed promises. You can even imagine that they actually prefer divided power: not only does it provide a ready excuse for their own inability to deliver on popular (as opposed to donor-oriented) campaign promises, it makes them look more heroic staving off the Republican assault (a threat which Republicans have played to the hilt). When Harry Truman found himself with a Republican Congress in 1946, he went out and waged a fierce campaign against the "do-nothing Congress." That's one thing you never saw Clinton or Obama do.

So, sure, you can nitpick Clinton's framing and phrasing all over the place. A popular view in my household is that she lost the election with her "deplorables" comment, but you can pick out dozens of other self-inflicted nicks. I saw an interview somewhere where a guy said that "everything she says sounds like bullshit to me" where Trump "made sense." Maybe she could have been coached into talking more effectively, but the subtext here is that the guy distrusts her and (somehow) trusts Trump. Lakoff is inclined to view Trump as some kind of genius (or at least idiot savant) for this feat, but my own take is that Hillary was simply extraordinarily tarnished goods. Democrats have many problems, but not recognizing that is a big one.

Lakoff has a section on "how Trump's tweets look":

Trump's tweets have at least three functions. The first function is what I call preemptive framing. Getting framing out there before reporters can frame it differently. So for example, on the Russian hacking, he tweeted that the evidence showed that it had no effect on the election. Which is a lie, it didn't say that at all. But the idea was to get it out there to 31 million people looking at his tweets, legitimizing the elections: The Russian hacks didn't mean anything. He does that a lot, constantly preempting.

The second use of tweets is diversion. When something important is coming up, like the question of whether he is going to use a blind trust, the conflicts of interest. So what does he do instead? He attacks Meryl Streep. And then they talk about Meryl Streep for a couple of days. That's a diversion.

The third one is that he sends out trial balloons. For example, the stuff about nuclear weapons, he said we need to pay more attention to nukes. If there's no big outcry and reaction, then he can go on and do the rest. These are ways of disrupting the news cycle, getting the real issues out of the news cycle and turning it to his advantage.

Trump is very, very smart. Trump for 50 years has learned how to use people's brains against them. That's what master salesmen do.

The three things may have some validity, but Lakoff lost me at "very, very smart." Much empirical observation suggests that he's actually very, very stupid. Indeed, much of the reason so many people (especially in the media) follow him is that they sense they're watching a train wreck. But also he gets away with shit because he's rich and famous and (now) very powerful. But can you really say tweets work for Trump? As I recall, his campaign shut down his Twitter feed the week or two before the election, just enough to cause a suspension in the daily embarrassments Trump created.

Lakoff goes on to talk about how advertisers use repetition to drum ideas into brains, giving "Crooked Hillary" as an example. Still, what made "Crooked Hillary" so effective wasn't how many times Trump repeated it. The problem was how it dovetailed with her speeches and foundation, about all the money she and her husband had raked in from their so-called public service. It may have been impossible for the Democrats to nominate an unassailable candidate, but with her they made it awfully easy.

For a more detail exposition of Lakoff's thinking, see his pre-election Understanding Trump. There is a fair amount to be learned here, and some useful advice, but he keeps coming back to his guiding "strict father" idea, and it's not clear where to go from there. As someone who grew up under a strict (but not very smart or wise) father, my instinct is to rebel, but I wouldn't want to generalize that -- surely there are some fathers worthy of emulation, and I wouldn't want to condemn such people to rule by the Reagans, Bushes, and Trumps of this world. The fact is that I consider conservative family values as desirable, both for individuals and for society. On the other hand, such family life isn't guaranteed to work out, nor is it all that common, and I've known lots of people who grew up just fine without a "strict father." But more importantly, the desired function of government isn't at all analogous to family. This distinction seems increasingly lost these days -- indeed, important concepts like public interest and countervailing power (indeed, checks and balances) have lost currency -- but that's in large part because the Democrats have followed the Republicans in becoming whores of K-Street.

Still, I find what Lakoff and, especially, Luntz do more than a little disturbing. They're saying that we can't understand a thing in its own terms, but instead will waver with the choice of wording. It's easy to understand the attraction of such clever sophistry for Republicans, because they often have good reason to cloak their schemes in misleading rhetoric. Any change they want to make is a "reform." More underhanded schemes get more camouflage -- the gold standard is still Bush's plan to expedite the clearcutting of forests on public lands, aka the "Healthy Forests Initiative." Similarly, efforts they dislike get labels like Entitlement Programs or Death Taxes or Obamacare. And so much the better when they get supposedly neutral or even opposition sources to adopt their terminology, but at the very least they make you work extra hard to reclaim the language.

Republicans need to do this because so much of their agenda is contrary to the interests of many or most people. But I doubt that the answer to this is to come up with your own peculiarly slanted vocabulary. Better, I think, to debunk when they're trying to con you, because they're always out to con you. Even the "strict father" model of hierarchy is a con, originating in the notion that the social order starts with the king on top, with its extension to the family just an afterthought. But they can't very well lead with the king, given that we fought a foundational war to free ourselves from such tyranny. Indeed, beyond the dubious case of "strict fathers" it's hard to find any broad acceptance of social hierarchy in America -- something Democrats should give some thought to.

On the other hand, Democratic (or liberal) euphemisms and slogans haven't fared all that well either, and to the extent they obfuscate or distort they undermine our claims to base our political discourse in the world of fact and logic. Aside from "pro-choice" I can't think of many examples. (In contrast to "right-to-life" it actually means something, but I believe that a more important point is that entering into an extended responsibility requires a conscious choice -- pregnancy doesn't, but the free option of an abortion makes parenthood a deliberate choice. But I also think that deciding to continue or abort a pregnancy is a personal matter, not something the state should involve itself in. So there are two reasons beyond the frivolous air of "choice.")

There is, by the way, a growing body of literature on the low regard reason is held in regarding political matters. One book I have on my shelf (but somehow haven't gotten to) is Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012); another is Drew Westen's The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation (2007). These books and similar research provide hints for politicians to try to scam the system. They also provide clues for honest citizens trying to foil them.


The big news story this week was Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey. This has forced me to revisit two positions I have tended to hold in these pages. The first is that when people would warn of some likely coup, I always assumed they meant that some organization like the US military might step in to relieve Trump of his power. This, pretty clearly, was not going to happen: (1) the US military still has some scruples about things like this; and (2) Trump is giving them everything they want anyway, so what reason might they have to turn on him? Trump's firing of Comey isn't a coup, because Trump was already in power. It was a purge, and not his first one -- he fired all those US Attorneys, and several other people who dared to question him. But those were mostly regular political appointees, so to some extent they were expected. As I understand it, the FBI Director enjoys the job security of a ten-year term, so Trump broke some new ground in firing Comey. It seems clear now that Trump will continue to break new ground in purging the federal government of people he disagrees with -- to an extent which may not be illegal but is already beyond anything we have previously experienced.

Second, I tended to disagree with the many people who expected Trump not to survive his 4-year term. I would express this in odds, which were always somewhat a bit above zero. I still don't consider a premature termination of some sort to be likely, but the odds have jumped up significantly. I don't want to bother with plotting out various angles here. Just suffice it to say that he's become a much greater embarrassment in the past week. In particular, I don't see how he can escape an independent prosecutor at this point. Sure, he'll try to stall, like he has done with his tax returns, but I think the Russia investigation will be much harder to dodge. Also, I think he's dug a deeper hole for himself there. It seems most likely that Comey would have done to him what he did to Hillary Clinton: decide not to prosecute, but present a long list of embarrassments Democrats could turn into talking points (after all, he's a fair guy, and that would balance off his previous errors). Hard to say whether an independent prosecutor would do anything differently. Probably depends on whether he draws some partisan equivalent of Kenneth Starr.

Meanwhile, some links on the purge:


Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:


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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Daily Log

Trump fired James Comey as FBI Director yesterday. I was surprised, inasmuch as I was under the impression that the staggered 4-year terms for FBI Directors (his started in 2013, so would have ended later this year anyway) protected his job from the customary housecleaning when a new president takes office. Laura mentioned to me that Comey had stood up to the Bush White House in 2004. I remembered that the Deputy AG had, but didn't think that was Comey. I researched this a bit and she was right. I wrote her with what I found:

Looks like you were right: Comey was Deputy AG from December 2003 to August 2005. In March 2004, as acting AG while Ashcroft was hospitalized, he "refused to certify the legality of central aspects of the NSA program." He appointed Patrick Fitzgerald as special counsel to investigate the "Plame Affair" after Ashcroft recused himself. In 2005 he "endorsed a memorandum approving the use of 13 enhanced interrogation techniques" by the CIA (although he later claimed he opposed the techniques, not on legal but on policy grounds). Obama appointed him to head FBI in September 2013. In between, he was General Counsel and Senior VP for Lockheed Martin, then General Counsel for Bridgewater Associates, then Senior Research Scholar at Columbia Law School. He was registered Republican until 2016, when he changed registration to Independent. Before 2003, he was US Attorney for Southern District of New York, where he investigated the Bill Clinton pardon of Marc Rich, and successfully prosecuted Martha Stewart.

I did recall that Comey had a previous adversarial relationship with the Clintons (some would say vendetta) dating back to the Rich pardon. I was struck at the time by the lengths Comey went to in his initial statement on the Email server matter to impugn and smear Hillary Clinton, even though the point of his statement was to clear her from possible prosecution. His later statement about re-opening the investigation turned out to be the pivotal moment in the 2016 presidential election, damaging Clinton's campaign in ways that his later clearance could not repair.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28119 [28096] rated (+23), 399 [396] unrated (+3).

Something I missed for yesterday's Weekend Roundup, but two TPM stories gave me pause: White House Blames Obama for Trump Hiring Flynn, and Obama Warned Trump Not to Hire Flynn as National Security Adviser. Seems typical that Trump would do the opposite of what Obama recommended then blame Obama when he turned out to be right. This illustrates the extraordinary extent to which Trump has based his own agenda on the desire to reflexively undo everything Obama has done over the past eight years -- to effectively erase the Obama administration from American history. Moreover, this contrasts sharply with Obama's own considered efforts to maintain continuity when he replaced GW Bush, despite the latter's dreadful legacy of failure.

I've long felt that Obama's emphasis on continuity was terrible political strategy -- he gave up the option of continuing to blame the lingering problems he inherited (like the Great Recession and the continuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) on the person/party responsible for them, he made it possible for Americans to forget and forgive. The astonishing result was that two years later the Republicans could surge back as the party of resentment against America's corrupt elites. I've long felt that Obama cut not just his own but his party's throat because he bought so deeply into the myths of American Exceptionalism, and that compelled him to rationalize and defend his country even when it had gone wrong. Trump, clearly, has no such scruples or ideals, so it's hardly surprising that his reflexive contempt of Obama so often strikes against Obama's idealized America. One might expect his blind contempt to backfire more often than it has, but unfortunately the Democrats are still more inclined to defend their cherished myths -- e.g., Hillary's "America's always been great" -- than to recognize real problems, identify their causes, and propose real solutions.

I'd also like to add that in thinking about the French elections I posted a tweet, which I'll expand a bit here to get past the 140 character cramp:

One difference between elections in France and US is that French media never let you forget Le Pen is a fascist, while US media never notices our native fascism.

My point is that an honest recollection of what Republicans have done and tried to do since Reagan would have shown them to be as dastardly and disreputable as the Vichy-rooted National Front. But the media insists on treating Republicans -- even ones as vile as Trump, Cruz, and Ryan -- as respectable Americans, even though that requires massive amnesia. I'm reminded once again of Tom Carson's metaphor of America (embodied in the quintessentially all-American Mary Ann) as a perpetual virgin, regrowing her hymen after every act of intercourse. Unfortunately, the only people still suckered by this myth of American purity are elite Democrats, and their disconnection from reality is killing their party and sacrificing their voters.


Not much to say about music this week. Rated count is down, probably just because I've been slow, though I can point to repairing a fence as a distraction, and I took a couple breaks to make nice dinners-for-two (since our social entertaining seems to have withered to nothing). I did find a good record from Buffalo (one of my favorite towns) -- or perhaps I should say it found me. Among the high B+ list (all jazz) the pecking order is probably: Fiedler, Oh, Dickey, Durkin. Three of those came from Napster, as did four jazz records from the next tier down (Preservation Hall, Watson, the two Parker duos). Still have a couple dozen CDs in the mail queue, but lately they haven't been amounting to much. Still, this week's unpacking looks relatively promising.

Christgau's Expert Witness last week featured several rap records: Kendrick Lamar's Damn (an A- here last week), two each by Migos and Future (haven't heard yet). He also publisher two pieces last week: Who the Fuck Knows: Covering Music in Drumpfjahr II (something he did for the EMP Conference), and Rob Sheffield Explores How the Beatles Live on Inside Our Heads. There's also an interview Tom Slater did with him at Sp!ked Review.

Modest progress collecting the Jazz Guide reviews: currently at 635 + 436 pages, through Eliane Elias in the Jazz '80s file (27%).


New records rated this week:

  • Buffalo Jazz Octet: Live at Pausa Art House (2016 [2017], Cadence Jazz): [cd]: A-
  • Whit Dickey/Mat Maneri/Matthew Shipp: Vessel in Orbit (2017, AUM Fidelity): [r]: B+(***)
  • Andrew Durkin: Breath of Fire (2016, PJCE): [r]: B+(***)
  • Feist: Pleasure (2017, Interscope): [r]: B
  • Joe Fiedler: Like, Strange (2017, Multiphonics Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • David Gilmore: Transitions (2016 [2017], Criss Cross): [r]: B+(*)
  • Pasquale Grasso/Renaud Penant/Ari Roland: In the Mood for a Classic (2014 [2017], ITI Music): [r]: B+(**)
  • Larry Ham/Woody Witt: Presence (2016 [2017], Blujazz): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Tristan Honsinger/Antonio Borghini/Tobias Delius/Axel Dörner: Hook, Line and Sinker (De Platenbakakkerij): [dvd]: B+(*)
  • Keith Karns Big Band: An Eye on the Future (2015 [2017], Summit): [cd]: C+
  • Oliver Lake Featuring Flux Quartet: Right Up On (2016 [2017], Passin' Thru): [r]: B
  • Gregory Lewis: Organ Monk: The Breathe Suite (2017, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Willie Nelson: God's Problem Child (2017, Legacy): [r]: B+(**)
  • Linda May Han Oh: Walk Against Wind (2016 [2017], Biophilia): [cd]: B+(***)
  • William Parker & Stefano Scodanibbio Duo: Bass Duo (2008 [2017], Centering): [r]: B+(**)
  • Sarah Partridge: Bright Lights & Promises: Redefining Janis Ian (2016 [2017], Origin): [cd]: B
  • Preservation Hall Jazz Band: So It Is (2017, Legacy): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chuck Prophet: Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins (2017, Yep Roc): [r]: B+(*)
  • Günter Baby Sommer: Le Piccole Cose: Live at Theater Gütersloh (2016 [2017], Intuition): [r]: B+(*)
  • Torben Waldorff: Holiday on Fire (2016 [2017], ArtistShare): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Bobby Watson: Made in America (2017, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(**)
  • Alex Wintz: Life Cycle (2016 [2017], Culture Shock Music): [r]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Joëlle Léandre & William Parker: Live at Dunois (2009, Leo): [r]: B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Gonçalo Almeida/Rodrigo Amado/Marco Franco: The Attic (NoBusiness)
  • Anemone [Peter Evans/John Butcher/Frederic Blondy/Clayton Thomas/Paul Lovens]: A Wing Dissolved in Light (NoBusiness): cdr
  • Joseph Bowie/Oliver Lake: Live at 'A SPACE' 1976 (Delmark/Sackville)
  • Fred Frith/Hans Koch: You Are Here (Intakt)
  • B.J. Jansen: Common Ground (Ronin Jazz): June 23
  • Mat Maneri/Evan Parker/Lucian Ban: Sounding Tears (Clean Feed): advance, May 26
  • John McLean/Clark Sommers Band: Parts Unknown (Origin): May 19
  • Itaru Oki/Nobuyoshi Ino/Choi Sun Bae: Kami Fusen (NoBusiness): cdr
  • Mason Razavi: Quartet Plus, Volume 2 (OA2): May 19
  • Tom Rizzo: Day and Night (Origin): May 19
  • Paul Rutherford/Sabu Toyozumi: The Conscience (1999, NoBusiness)
  • Joris Teepe & Don Braden: Conversations (Creative Perspective Music): May 30
  • Klaus Treuheit/Lou Grassi: Port of Call (NoBusiness): cdr
  • Paul Tynan & Aaron Lington Bicoastal Collective: Chapter Five (OA2): May 19
  • Jürg Wickihalder/Barry Guy/Lucas Niggli: Beyond (Intakt)

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Weekend Roundup

I originally planned on writing a little introduction here, on how bummed I've become, partly because I'm taking the House passage of Zombie Trumpcare hard -- my wife likes to badmouth the ACA but it afforded me insurance for two years between when she retired and I became eligible for Medicare, and it's done good for millions of other people, reversing some horrible (but evidently now forgotten) trends -- and partly because the 100 days was just a dry run for still worse things to come. But I wound up writing some of what I wanted to say in the Savan comment below.

One thing that's striking about the Trumpcare reactions is how morally outraged the commentators are ("one of the cruelest things," "war on sick people," "moral depravity," "sociopathic," "hate poor and sick people," "homicidal healthcare bill"). If you want more details, follow the Yglesias links: he does a good job of explaining how the bill works. It's also noteworthy how hollow and facetious pretty much everything the bill's supporters say in defense of it is. I've offered a few examples, but could easily round up more. I've added a link on Democrats-still-against-single-player (a group which includes Nancy Pelosi and Jon Ossoff, names mentioned below). Let me try to be more succinct here: single-payer is the political position we want to stake out, because it's both fairly optimal and simple and intuitive. If you can't get that, fine, compromise with something like ACA plus a "public option" -- an honest public option will eventually wind up eating the private insurance companies and get you to single-payer. But you don't lead with a hack compromise that won't get you what you want or even work very well, because then you'll wind up compromising for something even worse. We should remember that Obama thought he had a slam dunk with ACA: he lined up all of the business groups behind his plan, and figured they'd bring the Republicans along because, you know, if Republicans are anything they're toadies for business interests. It didn't work because the only thing Republicans like more than money is power. (They're so into power they were willing to tank the economy for 4 or 8 years just to make Obama look bad. They're so into power they held ranks behind Trump even though most of the elites, at least, realized he was a hopeless buffoon.)

On the other hand, the shoe is clearly on the other foot now: it's the Republicans who are fucking with your health care, and they're doing things that will shrink insurance rolls by millions, that will raise prices and weaken coverage, that will promote fraud and leave ever more people bankrupt. Those are things that will get under the skin of voters, and Republicans have no answer, let alone story. The other big issue noted below is the environment. The EPA is moving fast and hard on policies that will severely hurt people and that will prove to be very unpopular -- maybe not overnight, but we'll start seeing big stories by the 2018 elections, even more by 2020, and air and water pollution is not something that only happens to "other people."

I didn't include anything on how these changes have already affected projections for 2018 elections, because at this point that would be sheer speculation. To my mind, the biggest uncertainty there isn't how much damage the Republicans will do (or how manifest it will be) but whether Democrats will develop into a coherent alternative. That's still up for grabs, but I'll see hope in anything that helps bury the generation of party leaders who were so complicit in the destruction of the middle class and in the advance of finance capital. To that end, Obama's $400,000 Wall Street speech clearly aligns him with the problems and not with the solutions.


[PS: This section on the French election was written on Saturday, before the results came in. With 98% reporting, Emmanuel Macron won, 65.8% to 34.2% for Marine Le Pen. TPM's post-election piece included a line about how the election "dashed [Le Pen's] hopes that the populist wave which swept Donald Trump into the White House would also carry her to France's presidential Elysee Palace." I don't see how anyone can describe Trump's election as a "populist wave" given that the candidate wasn't a populist in any sense of the word -- not that Le Pen is either. Both are simple right-wingers, who advance incoherent and mean-spirited programs by couching them in traditional bigotries. While it's probable that the center in France is well to the left of the center in the US, a more important difference is that Trump could build his candidacy on top of the still-respected (at least by the mainstream media) Republican Party whereas Le Pen's roots trace back to the still-discredited Vichy regime. But it also must have helped that Macron had no real history, especially compared to the familiar and widely-despised Hillary Clinton. (Just saw a tweet with a quote from Macron: "The election was rly not that hard I mean . . . how despised do you have to be to get beaten by a fascist am I right?" The tweet paired the quote with a picture of Hillary.)

[More reaction later, but for now I have to single out Anne Applebaum: Emmanuel Macron's extraordinary political achievement, especially for one line I'm glad I never considered writing: "Not since Napoleon has anybody leapt to the top of French public life with such speed." She goes on to explain: "Not since World War II has anybody won the French presidency without a political party and a parliamentary base. Aside from some belated endorsements, he had little real support from the French establishment, few of whose members rated the chances of a man from an unfashionable town when he launched his candidacy last year." She makes him sound like Kiefer Sutherland, who plays the president in the TV series Designated Survivor -- which despite much centrist corniness is a pleasing escape from our actual president.]

France goes to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president. The "outsider" centrist Emmanuel Macron is favored over neo-fascist Marine Le Pen -- the latter frequently described as "populist" in part because Macron, a banker and current finance minister, is as firmly lodged in France's elites as Michael Bloomberg is here. The polls favor Macron by a landslide, less due to the popularity of the status quo than to the odiousness of Le Pen. One interesting sidelight is how foreigners have weighed in on the election -- one wonders whether the French are as touchy as Americans about outside interference. For instance, Barack Obama endorsed Macron -- Yasmeen Serhan: Obama's Endorsement of Macron -- as did, perhaps more importantly, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis -- Daniel Marans: Top European Economist Makes the Left-Wing Case for Emmanuel Macron, or in Varoufakis' own words, The Left Must Vote for Macron. On the other hand, Le Pen's foreign supporters include Donald Trump -- Aidan Quigley: Trump expresses support for French candidate Le Pen -- and Vladimir Putin -- Anna Nemtsova/Christopher Dickey: Russia's Putin Picks Le Pen to Rule France. And while Putin tells Le Pen Russia has no plans to meddle in French election, on the eve of the election the Macron campaign was rocked by a hacked email scandal: see, James McAuley: France starts probing 'massive' hack of emails and documents reported by Macron campaign, and more pointedly, Mark Scott: US Far-Right Activists Promote Hacking Attack Against Macron. [PS: For a debunking of the "leaks," see Robert Mackey: There Are No "Macron Leaks" in France. Politically Motivated Hacking Is Not Whistleblowing. Evidently a good deal of this isn't even hacking -- just forgery meant to disinform.]

One likely reason for Putin to support Le Pen is the latter's promise to withdraw France from NATO. The interest of Trump and US far-right activists is harder to fathom -- after all, even fellow fascists have conflicting nationalist agendas, and nationalist bigots ultimately hate each other too much to develop any real solidarity, even where they share many prejudices. For instance, why should Trump applaud Brexit and further damage to European unity? Surely it can't be because he gives one whit about anyone in Europe.

John Nichols argues that Obama's endorsement of Macron Is an Effort to Stop the Spread of Trumpism, but while right-wing nationalist movements have been gaining ground around much of the world, it's hard to see anything coherent enough to be called Trumpism, much less a wave that has to be stopped anywhere but here. Obama may have good reasons for publicizing his endorsement, and may even have enough of a following in France to make his endorsement worth something, but given his recent buckraking it could just as well be meant to solidify his position among the Davos set. Besides, I haven't forgotten his proclamation that "Assad must go" -- his assumption of America's right to dictate the political choices of others, which had the effect of tying America's diplomatic hands and prolonging Syria's civil war. At this stage I'm not sure I even want to hear his position on any American political contest -- least of all one having to do with leadership of the major political party he and the Clintons ran into the ground.


Big news this week is that the Republicans passed their "health care reform" bill -- most recently dubbed "Zombie Trumpcare 3.0" -- in the House. They had failed a while back because they couldn't get enough votes from the so-called Freedom Caucus, but solved that problem by making the bill even worse than it was. Some links:


Some scattered links this week directly tied to Trump:


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

  • David Atkins: The Argument Over Why Clinton Lost Is Over. Bernie Was Right. Now What?

    It has been a long, knock-down drag-out battle, but the ugly intramural conflict over why Clinton lost to Trump is finally over. New polls and focus groups conducted by Clinton's own SuperPAC Priorities USA shows that while racism and sexism had some effect, the main driver of Trump's victory was economic anxiety, after all. The data showed that voters who switched from Obama to Trump had seen their standards of living decline and felt that the Democratic Party had become the party of the wealthy and unconcerned about their plight. . . .

    fThose who try to win elections for a living also aren't looking forward to fighting the full power of the financial and pharmaceutical interests in addition to the regular armada of right-wing corporate groups. It would be much easier for electoral strategists if Democrats could unlock a majoritarian liberal bloc with a "rising tide lifts all boats" ideology that doesn't greatly inconvenience the urban donor class. Consultants aren't exactly looking forward to trying to win elections against interest groups angered by arguing for renegotiating NAFTA, punishing corporations for sending jobs overseas, raising the capital gains tax rate, and cutting health insurance companies out of the broad American marketplace. But that's exactly what they're going to have to do if want to win not only the presidency, but the congressional seats and legislatures dominated by increasingly angry suburban and rural voters. Not to mention angry young millennials of all identities who have essentially been locked out of the modern economy by low wages combined with outrageous cost of living, especially in the housing market that has uncoincidentally been such a major investment boon for their lucky parents, grandparents, and the financial industry.

  • Patrick Cockburn: Fall of Raqqa and Mosul Will Not Spell the End for Isis: One should recall, first of all, that Raqqa and Mosul weren't conquered by Isis so much as abandoned by hostile but ineffective central governments in Damascus and Baghdad. Before, pre-Isis was just another salafist guerrilla movement, as it will remain once its pretensions to statehood have been removed. And the Iraqi government is no more likely to be respected and effective in Mosul than it was before. (I have no idea about what happens to Raqqa if Isis falls there -- presumably not Assad, at least not right away.)

  • Richard Eskow: Who's Behind the Billionaire PAC Targeting Elizabeth Warren? Well, not just Warren. They're looking to muddy the waters for any Democratic candidate conceivable in 2020. The group is America Rising:

    America Rising was formed in 2013 by Matt Rhoades, the director of Mitt Romney's failed 2012 presidential campaign, and it represents the worst of what our current political system offers. Its goal is not to debate the issues or offer solutions to the nation's problems. Instead, the PAC gets cash from big-money donors and spends it trying to tear down its political opponents.

    The Republican National Committee's "autopsy" of its 2012 presidential loss reportedly concluded that the party needed an organization that would "do nothing but post inappropriate Democratic utterances and act as a clearinghouse for information on Democrats."

  • Mehdi Hasan: Why Do North Koreans Hate Us? One Reason -- They Remember the Korean War. Bigger problem: they don't remember it ending, because for them it never really did: they're still stuck with the sanctions, the isolation, the mobilization and felt need for constant vigilance. One might argue that the regime has used these strictures to solidify its own rule -- that in some sense they're more satisfied with a continuing state of crisis than anything we'd consider normalcy, but we've never really given them that option. America's failure to win the Korean War was an embarrassment, and no one since then has had the political courage to admit failure and move on. Hence, we're stuck in this cycle of periodic crises.

    In Terror Is in the Eye of the Beholder, John Dower wrote a bit about Korea, after noting how the US dropped 2.7 million tons of bombs in Europe and 656,400 tons in the Pacific:

    The official history of the air war in Korea (The United States Air Force in Korea 1950-1953) records that U.S.-led United Nations air forces flew more than one million sorties and, all told, delivered a total of 698,000 tons of ordnance against the enemy. In his 1965 memoir Mission with LeMay, General Curtis LeMay, who directed the strategic bombing of both Japan and Korea, offered this observation: "We burned down just about every city in North and South Korea both . . . We killed off over a million civilian Koreans and drove several million more from their homes, with the inevitable additional tragedies bound to ensue."

    Other sources place the estimated number of civilian Korean War dead as high as three million, or possibly even more. Dean Rusk, a supporter of the war who later served as secretary of state, recalled that the United States bombed "everything that moved in North Korea, every brick standing on top of another."

    Americans killed in the Korean War totaled 33,739, a little more than 1% of the number of Koreans killed, so sure, we remember the war a bit less ominously. Dower's new book is The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War Two.

  • Michael Howard: Let's Call Western Media Coverage of Syria by its Real Name: Propaganda: Starts off with two paragraphs on Ukraine -- same story. The bottom line is that all parties work hard to control how news is reported, and the country is too dangerous for journalists not aligned with some special interest to search out or verify stories. Howard also cites Stephen Kinzer: The media are misleading the public on Syria, who explains:

    Reporting from the ground is often overwhelmed by the Washington consensus. Washington-based reporters tell us that one potent force in Syria, al-Nusra, is made up of "rebels" or "moderates," not that it is the local al-Qaeda franchise. Saudi Arabia is portrayed as aiding freedom fighters when in fact it is a prime sponsor of ISIS. Turkey has for years been running a "rat line" for foreign fighters wanting to join terror groups in Syria, but because the United States wants to stay on Turkey's good side, we hear little about it. Nor are we often reminded that although we want to support the secular and battle-hardened Kurds, Turkey wants to kill them. Everything Russia and Iran do in Syria is described as negative and destabilizing, simply because it is they who are doing it -- and because that is the official line in Washington.

  • Mark Karlin: Government Has Allowed Corporations to Be More Powerful Than the State: An interview with Antony Loewenstein, author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, so it focuses on corporations profiting from disasters around the world. That's interesting and revealing, but I would have taken the title in a different direction. What I've found is that we've allowed corporations so much control over their workers that a great many people are effectively living under totalitarian rule, at least until they quit their jobs (and in some cases beyond -- I, for instance, was forced to sign a no-compete agreement that extended for years beyond my employment). And that sort of thing has only gotten worse since I retired.

  • Jonathan Ohr: 100 senators throw their bodies down to end UN 'bias' against Israel: including Bernie Sanders, although his line about not writing the letter (just signing on) was kind of funny.

  • Nate Silver: The Comey Letter Probably Cost Clinton the Election: FBI czar James Comey spent a couple days last week testifying before Congress on his strategic decision to announce, on October 28 before the November 8 election, that the FBI was investigating a fresh batch of Hillary Clinton's emails, reopening a case that had been closed several months before. As Silver notes, "the Comey letter almost immediately sank Clinton's polls," starting a spiral that cost her a polling lead she had held all year long. There are, of course, lots of factors which contributed to her loss, but this is one of the few that can be singled out, precisely because the "what if" alternative was itself so clear cut -- Comey could simply have held back (which would have been standard FBI policy) and nothing would have happened. Many people have made this same point, not least the candidate herself, but Silver backs it up with impressive data and reasoning. He recognizes that the swing was small, and shows how even a small swing would have tilted the election. He also makes a case that somewhat larger swing (what he calls "Big Comey") was likely. The way I would put this is: Clinton has been dogged by scandals constantly since her husband became president in 1993 -- the first big one was "Whitewater" and there had been a steady drumbeat of them all the way through Benghazi! and the emails and speaking fees and Clinton Foundation. Clinton had somehow managed to put those behind her by the Democratic Convention, when she opened up her largest polling lead ever (although, something I found troubling at the time, she never seemed able to crack 50% -- her 10-12% leads were more often the result of Trump cratering). What the Comey letter did was to bring all the fury and annoyance of her past scandals back into the present. Trump's final ad hit that very point: maybe we have lots of difficult problems, but voters had one clear option, which was to get rid of Clinton and all the scandals, both past and future. And that was the emotional gut reaction that swung the election -- even though a moment's sober reflection would have realized that Trump is far worse in every negative respect than Clinton.

    Silver points his piece toward a critique of the media, which consistently played up Clinton scandals while laughing off Trump's, and I think more importantly made no effort to critique let alone to delegitimize the right-wing propaganda machine. Still, he doesn't really get there. For more on this, see: Richard Wolfe: James Comey feels nauseous about the Clinton emails? That's not enough

  • John Stoehr: Nancy Pelosi Is the Most Effective Member of the Resistance: News to me. One thing I do know is that Republicans still get a lot of mileage out of slamming Pelosi and smearing anyone remotely connected to her. I can see where that's unfair and even horrifying, but writing a puff piece about her doesn't help. Moreover, it's not as if she's all that dependable. When Trump launched all those cruise missiles at a Syrian base, she jumped up and applauded. And she's as blind a devotee of Israel as anyone in Congress. Maybe she does have a keen sensitivity to injustice, but it's never interfered with her realpolitik. Less impressed with Pelosi is Klaus Marre: Dems Have Difficult Time Capitalizing on Trump Presidency of Blunders; also: Sam Knight: Pelosi Refuses to Back Single Payer, Despite GOP Deathmongering Suddenly Taking Center Stage.

  • Steve W Thrasher: Barack Obama's $400,000 speaking fees reveal what few want to admit: "His mission was never racial or economic justice. It's time we stop pretending it was." It does, however, suggest that his real mission -- what many people take to be the real meaning of the phrase "American dream" -- is not just to be accepted and respected by the very rich, but to join them. As the Clintons have shown, one way to become rich in America is to get yourself elected president. And as has been pretty convincingly demonstrated, anything the Clintons can do, Obama can do much better.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28096 [28064] rated (+32), 396 [397] unrated (-1).

Most of what's listed below appeared in Saturday's Streamnotes, so old news there. I made a last minute stab at checking out some 2017 non-jazz releases, and continued that after the column posted. No additional A-list albums after the column, but Body Count's Bloodlust came close -- actually a remarkable album, just one I didn't want to give the extra spins that probably would have moved it over the A- cusp. Ardor & Zeal is a bit less in every respect, including a bit less irritating to a metal-phobe like myself. For Christgau on those two records, look here.

Christgau also praised the new Brad Paisley record, the biggest flop of four (I think) overrated full-A records he's found this year (Jens Lekman, New Pornographers, Khalid -- OK, I gave the latter an A-, the others high B+). I like Paisley in small doses, but he never seems to approach album-length without wearing out his welcome, either because his Nashville rock gets boring or because he says something stupid (often both, like here). After grading, I read a bunch of Facebook comments on Bob's review, and it seemed like quite a few were closer to my position.

On the other hand, I don't have any non-jazz this year remotely close to full-A: the non-jazz set of the 2017 list-in-progress are (with Christgau grades where known): Orchestra Baobab (A-), Run the Jewels (A-), XX, Jesca Hoop, Kendrick Lamar, Tinariwen (**), Craig Finn (B+), Conor Oberst (A-), Syd (A-), Arto Lindsay, Matt North (A-), Angaleena Presley (A-), Colin Stetson, Khalid (A-). (I normally count Stetson as jazz -- he's a saxophonist -- but he crossed over into post-rock and that's where pretty much all of his critic/fan bases are.) That's 14 records, vs. 22 jazz records (38.9% non-jazz), actually not far from what I had before the EOY lists started rolling in last year. But before last week's 5-0 the split was 9-to-22 (29.0% non-jazz), so I was right to shift focus. I'd do a better job of keeping up if more people I trusted wrote more often. Maybe we'll see some 4-month lists soon.

As you may have noticed, I bumped up the grade on Stanley Cowell's Departure #2. I was on the fence at the time, but hedged low until I remembered how much better it was than the 4-5 good Cowell records I played after it. Really pleased that so many SteepleChase albums have appeared on Napster. Lots to catch up on there.


New records rated this week:

  • Arca: Arca (2017, XL): [r]: B
  • Body Count: Bloodlust (2017, Century Media): [r]: B+(***)
  • Peter Campbell: Loving You: Celebrating Shirley Horn (2016 [2017], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Cloud Nothings: Life Without Sound (2017, Carpark): [r]: B+(**)
  • Rodney Crowell: Close Ties (2017, New West): [r]: B+(***)
  • Brian Eno: Reflection (2017, Warp): [r]: B+(**)
  • Gas: Narkopop (2017, Kompakt): [r]: B
  • Chris Greene Quartet: Boundary Issues (2016 [2017], Single Malt): [cd]: B
  • Marien Hassan/Vadiya Mint El Hanevi: Baila Sahara Baila (2015, Nubenegra): [r]: A-
  • Mariem Hassan: La Voz Indómita (del Sahara Occidental) (2017, Nubenegra): [r]: B+(***)
  • Billy Jones: 3's a Crowd (2017, Acoustical Concepts): [cd]: B
  • Kendrick Lamar: Damn (2017, Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope): [r]: A-
  • Allegra Levy: Cities Between Us (2016 [2017], SteepleChase): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Arto Lindsay: Cuidado Madame (2017, Northern Spy): [r]: A-
  • Mas Que Nada: Sea Journey (2017, Blujazz): [cd]: B
  • Mount Eerie: A Crow Looked at Me (2017, PW Elverum & Sun): [r]: B+(*)
  • Matt North: Above Ground Fools (2017, self-released): [r]: A-
  • Brad Paisley: Love and War (2017, Arista Nashville): [r]: B
  • Michael Pedicin: As It Should Be: Ballads 2 (2016 [2017], Groundblue): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Angaleena Presley: Wrangled (2017, Thirty Tigers): [r]: A-
  • Priests: Bodies and Control and Money and Power (2014, Don Giovanni, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Priests: Nothing Feels Natural (2017, Sister Polygon): [yt]: B+(**)
  • Jason Rigby: Detroit-Cleveland Trio: One (2016 [2017], Fresh Sound New Talent): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Scott Routenberg Trio: Every End Is a Beginning (2017, Summit): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Sarah Shook & the Disarmers: Sidelong (2015 [2017], Bloodshot): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jared Sims: Change of Address (2017, Ropeadope): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Colin Stetson: Sorrow: A Reimagining of Gorecki\'s 3rd Symphony (2016, 52Hz): [r]: B-
  • Colin Stetson: All This I Do for Glory (2017, 52Hz): [r]: A-
  • Stormzy: Gang Signs & Prayer (2017, Merky): [r]: B+(*)
  • Vagabon: Infinite Worlds (2017, Father/Daughter): [r]: B+(*)
  • Valerie June: The Order of Time (2017, Concord): [r]: B+(**)
  • Zeal & Ardor: Devil Is Fine (2016 [2017], MKVA): [r]: B+(***)

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

  • Outro Tempo: Electronic and Contemporary Music From Brazil, 1978-1992 (1978-92 [2017], Music From Memory): [r]: B+(*)

Old music rated this week:

  • Mariem Hassan: Mariem Hassan Con Leyoad (2002, Nubenegra): [r]: B+(***)


Grade changes:

  • Stanley Cowell Trio: Departure #2 (1990, SteepleChase): [r]: [was: B+(***)] A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Dominique Eade & Ran Blake: Town and Country (Sunnyside): June 9
  • Jason Kao Hwang: Sing House (Euonymous): May 5
  • Ed Maina: In the Company of Brothers (self-released): May 6
  • Bob Merrill: Tell Me Your Troubles: Songs by Joe Bushkin (Accurate): May 19
  • Mumpbeak: Tooth (Rare Noise): advance, May 26
  • Jamie Saft/Steve Swallow/Bobby Previte With Iggy Pop: Loneliness Road (Rare Noise): advance, May 26


Apr 2017