January 2018 Notebook
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Monday, January 15, 2018

Music Week

Music: Current count 29181 [29150] rated (+31), 367 [368] unrated (-1).

Initial calculation came out at 24 new ratings, surprisingly low. Still, the list below only comes to 26. I looked through the unrated list and found the discrepancies, plus a few others, nudging me over the thirty mark. That should have been easy given the weather and the availability of EOY lists suggesting things to check out. Still, main reason I didn't get more done was the Danny Fox Trio album, which I must have listened to 7-8 times. Came out pretty much as I surmised from the first play, but I couldn't come up with anything to write -- indeed, I don't seem to have any vocabulary to describe what I was hearing. Very frustrating.

Also must have played Gregory Lewis at least five times -- a surprise, but I noticed several critics jumped the gun and listed this 2018 release on their 2017 Jazz Critics Poll ballots. One record with some upside potential that only got two plays was Big K.R.I.T.'s double: I concluded, as far as I got, that first disc is A-, but second falls a bit short.

One thing I could use some help on is proofreading updates to Robert Christgau's CG database. All of the reviews from January through June 2017 are here (please excuse the style sheet confusion). I'll add a second batch when I get it entered. Christgau is writing a Pazz & Jop piece for the Village Voice this year. Not sure when that's going to be posted, but he expressed a desire that I get his reviews up by then. (Probably won't happen this week, but odds are much better for next.) Main things to look out for are missing italics and elided words -- for technical reasons the things I'm most likely to screw up.

I'm still fiddling with my EOY Aggregate file. It should correlate somewhat well with the Pazz & Jop results, but retains a relative (but not very significant) UK bias, and has a distortion that raised three Expert Witness favorites into the top twenty (Jason Isbell, Jens Lekman, Waxahatchee). I went back and spent more time on several Christgau favorites, resulting in two upgrades (Isbell, Princess Nokia), though I couldn't quite see adding them to my still short non-jazz A-list.


New records rated this week:

  • Big K.R.I.T.: 4Eva Is a Mighty Long Time (2017, Multi Alumni/BMG, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Anouar Brahem: Blue Margins (2017, ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Daniel Caesar: Freudian (2017, Golden Child): [r]: B+(*)
  • CunninLynguists: Rose Azura Njano (2017, A Piece of Strange Music/RBC): [r]: B+(**)
  • CupcakKe: Ephorize (2018, self-released): [r]: B+(***)
  • Eminem: Revival (2017, Aftermath/Shady/Interscope): [r]: A-
  • Danny Fox Trio: The Great Nostalgist (2016 [2018], Hot Cup): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Ghostpoet: Dark Days + Canapes (2017, Play It Again Sam): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ishmael Ensemble: Songs for Knotty (2017, Banoffee Pies, EP): [r]: B
  • Kondi Band: Salone (2017, Strut): [r]: B+(***)
  • Gregory Lewis: Organ Monk Blue (2017 [2018], self-released): [cd]: A-
  • Lil Uzi Vert: Luv Is Rage 2 (2017, Atlantic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Roc Marciano: Rosebudd's Revenge (2017, Quality Control/300/Atlantic): [r]: B+(**)
  • JD McPherson: Undivided Heart & Soul (2017, New West): [r]: B+(*)
  • Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band: Front Porch Sessions (2017, Family Owned): [r]: B+(**)
  • Portico Quartet: Art in the Age of Automation (2017, Gondwana): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dan Pugach Nonet: Plus One (2017 [2018], Unit): [cd]: B-
  • Steve Slagle: Dedication (2017 [2018], Panorama): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Mavis Staples: If All I Was Was Black (2017, Anti-): [r]: B+(***)
  • David Virelles: Gnosis (2016 [2017], ECM): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mark Wade Trio: Moving Day (2017 [2018], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Wiki: No Mountains in Manhattan (2017, XL): [r]: B+(**)

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

  • Otim Alpha: Gulu City Anthems (2004-15 [2017], Nyege Nyege): [bc]: B
  • Willie Nelson: Willie's Stash Vol 2: Willie Nelson and the Boys (2011-12 [2017], Legacy): [r]: B+(*)
  • Hermeto Pascoal & Grupo Vice Versa: Viajando Com O Som: The Lost 1976 Vice Versa Studio Sessions (1976 [2017], Far Out): [r]: B+(**)
  • Soul of a Nation: Afro-Centric Visions in the Age of Black Power: Underground Jazz Street Funk & the Roots of Rap 1968-79 (1968-79 [2017], Soul Jazz): [r]: B+(*)


Grade (or other) changes:

  • Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: The Nashville Sound (2017, Southeastern): [r]: [was B+(**)] B+(***)
  • Princess Nokia: 1992 Deluxe (2017, Rough Trade): [r]: [was B] B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Dawn Clement: Tandem (Origin): January 19
  • George Cotsirilos Quartet: Mostly in Blue (OA2): January 19
  • Kate McGarry/Keith Ganz/Gary Versace: The Subject Tonight Is Love (Binxtown)
  • Leslie Pintchik: You Eat My Food, You Drink My Wine, You Steal My Girl! (Pintch Hard): February 23
  • Margo Rey: The Roots of Rey/Despacito Margo (Origin): January 19
  • Edgar Steinitz: Roots Unknown (OA2)
  • Kevin Sun: Trio (Ectomorph Music): February 2
  • Thiefs: Graft (Le Greffe) (Jazz & People)
  • Michael Waldrop: Origin Suite (Origin): January 19

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Weekend Roundup

After Trump made his "shit-hole countries" comment, Matt Taibbi asked on Twitter whether any president had previously said anything comparable. Not sure what he found out. My own first thought was that Thomas Jefferson probably said something less succinct but roughly equivalent about Haiti, and such views were probably very common among American politicians -- certainly as long as slaveholders remained in power, and probably much later. Indeed, GW Bush's critique of "nation building" was pointedly directed at Haiti, and the Clinton operation Bush so disparaged was primarily instigated to stem the influx of refugees from Haiti's dictatorship. (Indeed, it was Clinton who converted Guantanamo from a navy base into a prison "holding tank" for Haitian refugees.)

But I do want to share one example I picked up from a tweet (by Remi Brulin). This is evidently from a transcript of a conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, from May 4, 1972:

President: I'll see that the United States does not lose. I'm putting it quite bluntly. I'll be quite precise. South Vietnam may lose. But the United States cannot lose. Which means, basically, I have made my decision. Whatever happens to South Vietnam, we are going to cream North Vietnam. . . . For once, we've got to use the maximum power of this country . . . against this shit-ass little country, to win the war. . . . The only place where you and I disagree . . . is with regard to the bombing. You're so goddamned concerned about the civilians and I don't give a damn. I don't care.

Kissinger: I'm concerned about the civilians because I don't want the world to be mobilized against you as a butcher . . .


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: The 4 most important stories in politics this week: Trump scuttled a DACA deal; CHIP got cheaper but still didn't pass; Trump said some things; Arizona's Senate race heated up. Other Yglesias posts:

    • Arizona's already very complicated Senate race, explained.

    • Tuesday's DACA negotiation stunt showed how dangerously we've lowered the bar for Trump.

      There's something more than a little pointless about the mental fitness debate. Trump is, for better or worse, now pursuing an utterly orthodox Republican Party approach on every policy issue under the sun. Ultimately, Trump's slothful work habits and boundless incuriosity are more a problem for that party's leaders than for anyone else. If their considered judgment is that this policy agenda is better pursued by a lazy, ignorant cable news addict than by Mike Pence, that's really their problem.

      The agenda itself, however, is a problem. . . .

      On a policy level, however, Ike Brannon and Logan Albright of the Cato Institute have concluded that "deporting the approximately 750,000 people currently in the DACA program would be over $60 billion to the federal government along with a $280 billion reduction in economic growth over the next decade."

      Of course, there is no realistic way that all 750,000 DACA recipients will be deported, but losing legal authorization to live and work in the United States will hurt them nonetheless by forcing them out of the legitimate labor market and into the shadows. A report compiled this summer by the Center for American Progress concluded that obtaining DACA protection raised recipients' wages by 69 percent on average, and it stands to reason that losing it would cause a large-scale reversal with concomitant negative effects for GDP growth, productivity, and tax collection.

      With the economy finally enjoying low unemployment (as Trump likes to brag), there is no conceivable upside to deporting a large group of young, well-educated workers who are contributing meaningfully to the American economy. Which is precisely why Republicans keep teasing their willingness to offer them some legislative relief. But instead of doing the right thing for the country, the GOP is hung up on the idea of using the DACA issue as leverage to jam up the Democrats and either extract some concessions on other immigration issues or force the party into an internecine argument about whether they are doing enough for the DREAMers.

    • Trump is mad that "Sneaky Dianne Feinstein" debunked a key Republican theory on Trump and Russia.

    • Newly released Senate testimony debunks a key conservative theory on Trump and Russia.

    • Donald Trump's phony war with the press, explained.

    • Filing your taxes on a postcard isn't going to happen.

  • Thomas Frank: Paul Krugman got the working class wrong. That had consequences: Frank's been pushing a line about how white blue-collar workers have been flocking to the Republican Party at least since his 2004 book What's the Matter With Kansas?, while Krugman has preferred to point out that base support for the Republicans comes from above-average income families. I've tended to agree with Krugman on this for two reasons: one is that the data generally shows support for Republicans -- even Trump -- is more upscale; the other is that I've felt that the urban professionals Democrats have tried to appeal to lately have been too quick to discard or ignore the white working class, and this blunts their understanding of inequality. Still, if the trend has gotten worse -- and Trump's election argues that it has -- this is largely because Frank is right about the corrosive effects of the New Democrats' appeal to urban elitism. Moreover, it matters not just because it's cost the Democrats some critical elections; it's one problem that would be relatively straightforward to fix. For instance, see: Joan C Williams: Liberal elite, it's time to strike a deal with the working class.

  • Greg Grandin: The Death Cult of Trumpism:

    Trump won by running against the entire legacy of the postwar order: endless war, austerity, "free trade," unfettered corporate power, and inequality. A year into his tenure, the war has expanded, the Pentagon's budget has increased, and deregulation has accelerated. Tax cuts will continue the class war against the poor, and judicial and executive-agency appointments will increase monopoly rule.

    Unable to offer an alternative other than driving the existing agenda forward at breakneck speed, Trumpism's only chance at political survival is to handicap Earth's odds of survival. Trump leverages tribal resentment against an emerging manifest common destiny, a true universalism that recognizes that we all share the same vulnerable planet. He stokes an enraged refusal of limits, even as those limits are recognized. "We're going to see the end of the world in our generation," a coal-country voter said in a recent Politico profile, explaining what he knows is his dead-end support for Trump.

  • Glenn Greenwald: The Same Democrats Who Denounce Donald Trump as a Lawless, Treasonous Authoritarian Just Voted to Give Him Vast Warrantless Spying Powers: The House passed a bill to renew NSA's warrantless eavesdropping on American citizens, rejecting an amendment to at least require a warrant. Among the bill's backers were Nancy Pelosi and the House Democratic leadership, including many who have spent much of the last year arguing that Trump is in league with Putin. For more, see: John Nichols: Democratic Defections Allow an Assault on Civil Liberties to Pass the House.

  • Sean Illing: Richard Rorty's prescient warnings for the American left: Rorty died in 2007, and this is mostly picked up from his 1998 book Achieving Our Country, a time when what was probably America's largest "left" organization, Move On, was preoccupied with defending President Bill Clinton from impeachment charges based on lies about his consensual but inappropriate sex with a White House intern. That wasn't what you'd call a high water point for the American left. Sure, we might have found ourselves in the same lame position in 2017 had Hillary Clinton been elected president, but while her loss has been a setback for mainstream liberals, it has done wonders to clarify why we need a principled and ambitious left. As such, events have rendered Rorty's book obsolete. Two problems here: first is that Rorty's task -- to explain why the left in America had become atrophied and ineffective -- has been rendered academic by the renascent left; and second, his answer turns out not to have been a very good one. He tries to argue that the problem is that the "reformist left," which had accomplished so many important reforms from 1900 to 1964, gave way to a "cultural left," which abandoned effective politics as it retreated into academia to focus on cultural matters. He starts critiquing the latter by charging that the new left was hostile to "anyone opposed to communism -- including Democrats, union workers, and technocrats." Makes you wonder whether he was paying any attention at all: in the first place, what distinguished the new left from the old was its rejection of the Soviet Union (and its Trotskyite and Maoist critics) as the model and exemplar of socialism. Still, it is true that the new left were critical of US practice in the Cold War -- especially the practice of Democratic Party leaders like presidents Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson. The all-important fact is that the fundamental directive of the Cold War was to undermine labor and anti-colonial movements around the world and ultimately within the US itself. The fact is that Democrats failed to support unions as business waged an unrelenting struggle to contain, cripple, and roll back labor even well before the new left -- and even more so when the New Democrats rose under Reagan and ruled with Clinton.

    I'm getting rather tired of people blaming "the left" for the rise of the right since the late 1970s. The left has never come anywhere near the levers of power in the US. At best, the labor movement in the 1930s, civil rights in the 1960s, antiwar and environment and women in the 1970s, prodded establishment liberals into making some reforms to calm down the challenge. And while Democrats have enjoyed brief periods of power from Carter in 1977 through Obama in 2016, the ones in power have done damn little to advance the quintessential left positions: toward more equality, peace, and freedom.

  • Jonathan M Katz: This is how ignorant you have to be to call Haiti a 'shithole': After overthrowing slavery in 1804, and defeating a force sent by Napoleon to reclaim the colony. France demanded "reparations" in 1825, effectively bankrupting Haiti for the rest of the 19th century. After that, the Americans entered, invading Haiti in 1915 and occupying the country until 1934, returning periodically through CIA coups and other acts, with full-scale military invasions in 1994 and 2004.

    Some more relevant links here:

  • Mike Konczal: 3 Reasons Why Republicans Will Let the Rich Abuse the Tax Code. Also by Konczal: Trump Is Creating a Grifter Economy.

  • Andrew Prokop: Wall Street Journal: Trump's lawyer arranged for $130,000 in hush money for an ex-porn star.

  • Corey Robin: If authoritarianism is looming in the US, how come Donald Trump looks so weak? Offers a cautionary note on the temptation to compare Trump to Hitler, that other notorious racist demagogue who came into power through a crooked back door deal. As Robin points out, the big difference is that a year after seizing power Hitler had consolidated his control to the point where he had thousands of opponents locked up in concentration camps, whereas Trump's most public opponents headline high-rating television shows and are looking forward to massive election wins later this year. Maybe you can liken ICE under Trump to the Gestapo, but their charter is so limited few Americans give them a second thought. I have no doubt but that the Republican Party, with its gerrymanders and voter suppression and psychological research and propaganda machine, has taken a profoundly anti-democratic turn -- I've been reading Nancy McLean's brilliant and deeply disturbing Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America -- and I'm sure Trump would score very high on Theodor Adorno's F-Scale (a measure of "authoritarian personality" developed right after WWII). And, sure, MAGA has overtones similar to Thousand-Year Reich, but Republicans are more interested in smashing and stripping the state than building it up its power. Trump may blunder his way into nuclear war, but he isn't about to conquer the world. Trump's nationalism is peculiarly hollow. Even his racism comes off more as bad manners than as a coherent belief. I'm not one to belittle how much real damage he is doing, but we shouldn't overstate it either. Still, I'm extra worried about his threats because America has already suffered (even if survived) a long series of Republican malefactors, whose repeated depredations have contributed to the toll Trump adds to. Robin does us a service to quoting Philip Roth on Nixon in 1974:

    Of course there have been others as venal and lawless [as Richard Nixon] in American politics, but even a Joe McCarthy was more identifiable as human clay than this guy is. The wonder of Nixon (and contemporary America) is that a man so transparently fraudulent, if not on the edge of mental disorder, could ever have won the confidence and approval of a people who generally require at least a little something of the 'human touch' in their leaders.

  • Tierney Sneed: How Kris Kobach Has Created a Giant Headache for the Trump Administration.

  • Emily Stewart: Hawaii's missile scare "reminds us how precarious the nuclear age is": For nearly a year now Trump and Kim Jong Un have been taunting one another about nuclear war, setting an ominous context for Saturday's false alarm of a "ballistic missilb threat inbound to Hawaii." Also see (posted before the Hawaii event) Robert Andersen/Martin J Sherwin: Nuclear war became more likely this week -- here's why.

    Stewart also wrote: Gamer who made "swatting" call over video game dispute now facing manslaughter charges: This is a local Wichita story. While I believe that the guy who called in the false report that resulted in deployment of a SWAT team and the killing of a totally innocent man is some kind of criminal act, there's been no mention in the local press whatsoever of the SWAT cop who actually fired the shot. The fact that only one cop fired underscores how unclear it was that anyone needed to shoot. I've also seen no discussion of whether it's reasonable policy to dispatch an entire SWAT team to a situation where there has been no on-site investigation to determine that such a response is appropriate -- in this case it clearly wasn't. Speaking of Wichita, also note this story: Wichita Police Officer's Shot Misses Dog, Injures Girl. This was in response to a "domestic dispute," but the man and woman weren't even in the room when, for some unexplained reason (or, I suppose, none) a cop decided to shoot the dog. He missed, the bullet richocheted, and the girl was hit.

  • More fallout from Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury:

Monday, January 08, 2018

Music Week

Music: Current count 29150 [29119] rated (+31), 368 [364] unrated (+4).

Expected rated count would be a bit higher, given that I've mostly been working off EOY lists, but it checks out fairly well. Some quick numbers: rated count for 2017 releases: 1048; length of Jazz A-List: 80; length of Non-Jazz A-List: 55; number of new albums in EOY Aggregate: 1936; number of total albums in Music Tracking List: 2895.

The ratio of Jazz/Non-Jazz A-list always starts out high, but usually balances out around by the end of January. Last year it wound up 75/67 (52.8% jazz, up to 59.2% jazz this year). If I recall correctly, in previous years it was closer to even, sometimes even favoring non-jazz. Most likely explanation is that my ratio of jazz/non-jazz grades is higher than usual: currently 673/296 (69.4% jazz), vs. 689/358 (65.8% -- closer than I expected, but still likely to explain part of the greater split).

Someone pointed out on Facebook that I hadn't given a single A grade to a new release in 2017. I think it's safe to say that's never happened before, although the numbers have been declining, especially the last few years: from 2010 on { 15, 6, 7, 6, 12, 2, 3, 0 }. Several reasons occur to me: the number of physical CDs I've received has been dropping, and I've almost completely stopped buying CDs; I only listen to streamed or downloaded material while working on the computer, and when I do so it's almost something I haven't rated yet. For instance, back in 2010 I rated 133 A/A- records, of which 36 (27.0%) were streamed. This year I have 136 A/A- records, 79 streamed (58.0%). The increase in the top 30 is even more extreme, going from 2 (6.7%) in 2010 to 14 (46.7%) in 2017. Also note that the jazz split in the top 30 increased from 12 (40.0%) to 19 (63.3%).

I've always thought that part of the definition of an A (vs. A-) record was that it held up over many plays over time. Indeed, in past years I routinely promoted 4-6 albums from A- to A at EOY time. This year I got crushed at deadline time and hardly replayed anything, leaving little but memory and notes to help me compile my ballots. It's probably also true that my listening time has declined a bit -- although the number of records processed this year is similar to 2010 (1009 new + 73 old music, vs. 968 new + 81 old in 2017), so maybe I'm rushing more?

Of course, there are other possibilities. While it seems unlikely that there is less good music being released these days, it may well be harder to find. More likely is that my own interest is flagging, whether due to age and creeping infirmity or to general depression. Back in my twenties I discovered music to be a psychic refuge from all sorts of everyday ordeals, and that's a big part of the reason I got so deep into it. While I don't think my taste or erudition or even my memory have declined much, it does seem that music has lost a bit of its magic for me. I wouldn't be surprised if I listen to less and less in the future. But I do note an uptick in unpacking this week, so that may keep me going.

I meant to write more about the EOY Aggregate files (link above), which I've kept adding to. Major adds in the last week include close to forty top-ten lists from the Facebook Expert Witness group, which has produced major spurts for Jens Lekman, Jason Isbell, Waxahatchee, and Alex Fahey (the only one without a Christgau A grade). I've also added Christgau's grades next to mine, so a mutual A- gets an 8 point boost regardless of how obscure (e.g., Matt North, Conor Oberst, Robt Sarazin Blake, Swet Shop Boys, Starlito & Don Trip, Chuck Berry). Neither of these tweaks, nor anything else, has had much impact on the top of the list, which remains: Kendrick Lamar, Lorde, SZA, LCD Soundsystem, St. Vincent, Vince Staples, The National, then a tight knot of (105-100 points): Jay-Z, Sampha, War on Drugs, Slowdive, and Perfume Genius.


New records rated this week:

  • Wali Ali: To Be (2017, Mendicant): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jeff Baker: Phrases (2017 [2018], OA2): [cd]: B
  • Blanck Mass: World Eater (2017, Sacred Bones): [r]: B+(*)
  • Cigarettes After Sex: Cigarettes After Sex (2017, Partisan): [r]: A-
  • EABS: Repetitions (Letters to Krzysztof Komeda) (2017, Astigmatic): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Hillary Gardner/Ehud Asherie: The Late Set (2017, Anzic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Japanese Breakfast: Soft Sounds From Another Planet (2017, Dead Oceans): [r]: B+(**)
  • Perfect Giddimani: Live My Life Again (2017, Giddimani): [r]: B+(*)
  • Natalie Hemby: Puxico (2017, GetWrucke): [r]: B+(**)
  • LeeAnn Ledgerwood: Renewal (2016 [2017], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(**)
  • Daniele Luppi and Parquet Courts: Milano (2017, 30th Century/Columbia): [r]: B+(***)
  • Mad Professor/Jah9: Mad Professor Meets Jah9 in the Midst of the Storm (2017, VP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Marker: Wired for Sound (2017, Audiographic): [bc]: B
  • Michete: Cool Tricks 3 (2017, self-released, EP): [sc]: B
  • Roscoe Mitchell: Discussions (2016 [2017], Wide Hive): [r]: B+(**)
  • Youssou N'Dour: Seeni Valeurs (2017, Jive/Epic): [r]: A-
  • Evan Parker/Mikolaj Trzaska/John Edwards/Mark Sanders: City Fall: Live at Café Oto (2014 [2017], Fundacja Sluchaj): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Protomartyr: Relatives in Descent (2017, Domino): [r]: B+(***)
  • As Is Featuring Alan & Stacey Schulman: Here's to Life (2017 [2018], self-released): [cd]: B
  • Thiefs: Graft (Le Greffe) (2017 [2018], Jazz & People): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Tricky: Ununiform (2017, False Idols): [r]: B+(*)
  • Valley Queen: Destroyer (2017, self-released, EP): [r]: B-
  • Ken Vandermark: Momentum 2 & 3 (2016 [2017], Audiographic): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Trevor Watts/Veryan Weston/Alison Blunt/Hannah Marshall: Dialogues With Strings: Live at Café Oto in London (2017, Fundacja Sluchaj): [bc]: B+(*)

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

  • Airstream Artistry: Jim Riggs' Best of the TWO (1991-2008 [2017], UNT, 3CD): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Gary Husband: A Meeting of Spirits (2005 [2017], Edition): [r]: B+(*)
  • Legacy: Neil Slater at North Texas (1982-2015 [2017], UNT, 4CD): [cd]: B
  • Sun Ra: Discipline 27-II (1972 [2017], Strut/Art Yard): [r]: B
  • The Revelators: We Told You Not to Cross Us [20th Anniversary Edition] (1997 [2017], Crypt): [bc]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • EABS: Puzzle Mixtape (2012-15 [2016], self-released): [bc]: B+(*)
  • The Revelators: Let a Poor Boy Ride . . . (1998 [2009], Crypt): [bc]: A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • As Is Featuring Alan & Stacey Schulman: Here's to Life (self-released): February 16
  • Jeff Baker: Phrases (OA2)
  • Raoul Björkenheim Ecstasy: Doors of Perception (2017, Cuneiform): advance
  • Harley Card: The Greatest Invention (self-released): January 12
  • Sylvie Courvoisier Trio: D'Agala (Intakt): January 19
  • Danny Fox Trio: The Great Nostalgist (Hot Cup): January 19
  • Satoko Fujii: Solo (Libra): January 26
  • Jeff Hamilton Trio: Live From San Pedro (Capri): February 18
  • Musique Noire: Reflections: We Breathe (self-released)
  • The Ed Palermo Big Band: The Adventures of Zodd Zundgren (Cuneiform): advance
  • Dan Pugach Nonet: Plus One (Unit): February 16
  • Jamie Saft: Solo a Genova (RareNoise): January 26
  • Mark Wade Trio: Moving Day (self-released): February 2
  • Weird Beard [Florian Egli/Dave Gisler/Martina Berther/Rico Bauman]: Orientation (Intakt): January 19


Miscellaneous notes:

  • Now That's What I Call Tailgate Anthems (1975-2016 [2017], Sony Music Entertainment): B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Started collecting the Yglesias links and Taibbi on Wolff last night, and this is as far as I got today. Of Yglesias' big four stories, I left oil drilling, anti-pot enforcement, and the Pakistan aid cut on the floor: mostly didn't run across anything very good on those subjects, although that's partly because it seems like my source trawling has taken a big hit (especially since Paul Woodward's WarInContext went on hiatus). That leaves a bunch on the Wolff book, the unseemly end of the Kobach Commission, and some Iran links. Oh, and dumb Trump tricks, but that's a gimme.

Of the missing stories (and, of course, there are many more than the "known unknowns"), the break with Pakistan seems likely to be most fateful. Americans have bitched since 2002 that they're not getting their money's worth in Pakistan, but Pervez Musharraf's turn against the Taliban was never popular there, especially with the ISI, and only a combination of sticks and carrots made the move at all palatable. It remains to be seen whether Trump removing the carrots will tip the balance, but renewed Pakistani support for the Taliban could make the US stake in Afghanistan much more precarious -- at worst it might provoke a major US escalation there, with pressure to attack Pakistan's border territories ("sanctuaries"), with a real risk of igniting a much larger conflagration. Probably won't come to that, but Pakistan is a country with more than 200 million people, with a large diaspora (especially in the UK), with nuclear weapons, with a military which has fought three major wars with India and remains more than a little paranoid on that front.

The reasonable solution for Arghanistan is to try to negotiate some sort of loose federation which allows the Taliban to share power, especially in the Pashtun provinces where it remains popular, while the US military exits gracefully. This is unlikely to happen because the Trump administration has no clue how diplomacy works and no desire to find out. Pakistan could be a useful intermediary, so cutting them out seems like a short-sighted move. But it is a trademark Trump move: rash, unconsidered, prone to violence with no regard for consequences; cf. Syria, Libya, Somalia, Palestine, North Korea. It's only a matter of time before one of those bites back hard.

Same is basically true of the offshore oil leases, but probably on a slower time schedule. It will take several years before anyone starts drilling, and there will be a lot of litigation along the way. But eventually some of those offshore rigs will blow up and spread oil all over tourist beaches in Florida and/or California. Some people will make money, at least short-term, and some will be hit with losses in the longer term, but at least it will mostly be money. That matters a lot to Trump, but less so to you and me.

Less clear what the marijuana prosecution impact will be. In theory Sessions just kicked the ball down to local US attorneys, who can choose to prosecute cases or not. But a year ago Sessions initiated a purge and replaced all of Obama's prosecutors with his own, so it's likely that at least some of them will take the bait and try to make names for themselves. Meanwhile, politicization of the Department of Justice keeps ratcheting up. Trump and Congressional Republicans have renewed attacks on Sessions for failing to protect Trump from the Mueller investigation, and they've gone further to question the political loyalties of the FBI. Meanwhile the courts are increasingly being filled up with Republican hacks. The net result of all this is that people on all sides are coming to view "justice" in America as a vehicle of partisan patronage. It's going to be hard to restore trust in law once it's been abused so severely by goons like Trump and Sessions.

I haven't written much about the whole Russia situation. A big part early on was the fear that neocons were just using it to whip up a new cold war, which is something they were very keen on at least as early as 2001, when Bush took office and Yeltsin gave way to Putin. With his KGB background, it's always been easy to paint Putin as bearing Cold War grudges, even more so as a master of underhanded tactics -- most egregiously, I think, in his reopening of the Chechen War. The Cold War was very good for the defense industry, and generally bad for the American people (as well as many others around the world), so I regard any effort to reignite it as dastardly.

The neocons had modest success doing so during the Obama years, especially with recent sanctions in response to the Russia annexing Crimea and, allegedly, supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine. Hillary Clinton was especially vociferous at Russia-baiting, so it was no surprise that Putin favored her opponent. Trump himself had pitched numerous business ventures to Russian oligarchs, so he must have seemed to Putin like someone to deal with. Indeed, there seems to have been mutual attraction between many Republicans and Putin, possibly based on the former's admiration of strong men and contempt for democracy. It's worth noting that Russia is the only country where the ultra-rich have profited more inequally since 2000 than the United States.

The second major reason for resisting the post-election claims of Russian interference has been how it was used by Clinton dead-enders as an excuse for losing the 2016 election. Their desperation to blame anyone but the candidate has blinded them to the real lessons of the campaign's failure. (Presumably I don't need to reiterate them here.) A third reason, I reckon, is the hypocrisy of blaming Russia while ignoring Israel's much more pervasive involvement in US elections: I've seen numerous liberals describe Trump as "Putin's bitch" (most recently in Dawn Oberg's song, "Nothing Rhymes With Orange"), but if Trump's anyone's bitch, it's Netanyahu's (or more directly, Sheldon Adelson's -- who, as Philip Weiss notes in the link below put more money into the campaign than Trump himself did).

On the other hand, the "Russiagate" story is sticking, and lately the focus has shifted to culprits one feels no sympathy whatsoever for. The problem isn't really collusion: Trump's people were very sloppy about their meetings with Russians, but they were sloppy and inept in pretty much everything they did. On the other hand, it sure looks like they would have colluded had they figured out how, and they were aware enough that they were overstepping bounds to lie about it afterwards -- greatly increasing their culpability. It's also clear that Flynn and Manafort had their own Russian deals, which wound up looking worse than they initially were after they joined the campaign.

What Russia actually did to tilt the election toward Trump wasn't much -- certainly cost-wise it's a small drop in the ocean of money agents working for Adelson and the Kochs spent to get Trump elected. It would be a mistake to play up Russia's hacking genius, just as one shouldn't underestimate the effect of AFP's grassroots organizing. Elections are run in a crooked world -- even more so since the Citizens United ruling unlocked all that "dark money" -- but one thing that Clinton really can't complain about is not having enough money to compete.

On the other hand, what "Russiagate" is making increasingly clear is the utter contempt that Donald Trump and (increasingly) the whole Republican Party have for law, justice, truth, and fairness. I don't hold any fondness for James Comey, whose own handling of the Clinton email server case was shameless political hackery, and I've actively disliked Robert Mueller for decades -- ever since he prosecuted that ridiculous Ohio 7 sedition case (which my dear friend, the late Elizabeth Fink, was a successful defense counsel on). But Trump's interference in their jobs has been blatantly self-serving -- if not technically obstruction of justice easily conveying that intent. We seem to only be a short matter of time until Trump's contempt becomes too blatant to ignore, and while I doubt that will phase his Republican enablers or his most fervently blinkered base, it should at least help bury his awful political agenda.


Meanwhile, here are some other ways Trump has stunk up last week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: Trump's week of feuds with Bannon, Pakistan, marijuana smokers, and ocean waters, explained: Trump broke ties with Steve Bannon; Trump opened up huge areas to offshore drilling; Trump is cracking down on marijuana; Trump is cutting off aid to Pakistan. Trump breaking with Bannon doesn't amount to much, but Bannon will struggle for a while without the Mercers' money. Basically what happened there was that Bannon's always been a side bet for them, useful for electing Trump but unnecessary with Trump in office, able to further their graft. The oil drilling story is a prime example of graft under Trump, while the other two are cases where ideology and arrogance threaten to blow things up. Other Yglesias stories:

    • The Steele dossier, explained, with Andrew Prokop.

    • Cory Gardner showed how Senate Republicans could check Trump if they wanted to.

    • 2018 is the year that will decide if Trumpocracy replaces American democracy: Two takeaway points here: one is that despite all of the chaos surrounding him, Trump has consolidated effective power within the Republican Party, such that opposing him in any significant way marks one has a heretic and traitor; the second is that if Republicans are not rebuffed in the 2018 elections Trump's control will harden and become even more flagrant and dangerous. Yglesias gets a little carried away on the latter point, at one point noting that "even Adolf Hitler was dismissed by many as a buffoon" -- Trump's megalomania is comparatively fickle and suffused with greed, making African dictators like Idi Amin and Mobutu closer role models. He also fails to note the key point: that in all substantive respects, it was Trump who surrendered to the orthodox Republicans. Trump didn't bend anyone to his will; he merely proved himself to be a useful tool of movement conservatism, which in turn agreed to provide him cover for his personal graft. In some ways, this makes the Republicans more vulnerable in 2018, if Democrats can convince voters that the Party and the President are one.

    • The scary reality behind Trump's long Tuesday of weird tweets: "He's relying on Fox News for all his information." Of course, that was equally true before he became president. Back during the campaign, I noted that he didn't engage in didn't follow Republican custom in couching his racism in "dog whistle" terms because he wasn't a "whistler," he was a "dog." Among Republican rank-and-file, his lack of subtlety and cleverness was taken as authenticity and conviction, even though he merely echoed the coarseness he heard on Fox. Of course, one might reasonably expect a responsible statesman to seek out more reliable information, even if as a politician he chooses to bend it to his own purposes. But Trump lacks such skills, and would probably just get confused trying to sort out the truth. Sticking with Fox no doubt makes his life easier, but makes ours more dangerous.

  • Esme Cribb: Trump: 'Ronald Reagan Had the Same Problem' as Me With 'Fake News': Actually, Reagan had the same problem with facts, with truth, although even Reagan knew when to throw in the towel. After all, what was his Iran-Contra quote? "A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions tell me that's true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not." As Matt Taibbi notes (see link below), Reagan was cognitively impaired well before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's: e.g., the CIA used to shoot movies to brief Reagan on world leaders, finding that the only way to get his attention. Still, no previous president has shown so little regard for facts or so much hostility to honest investigation so early in his term as Trump. While it's possible that age-related cognitive impairment may contribute to this, it strikes me as overly charitable to blame mental illness. From early on, Trump was a liar and scoundrel, a spoiled one given his inherited wealth, and he's only gotten worse as he's gotten caught up in his many intrigues.

    Josh Marshall (see Is President Trump Mentally Ill? It Doesn't Matter) adds this comment:

    All the diagnosis of a mental illness could tell us is that Trump might be prone to act in ways that we literally see him acting in every day: impulsive, erratic, driven by petty aggressions and paranoia, showing poor impulsive control, an inability to moderate self-destructive behavior. He is frequently either frighteningly out of touch with reality or sufficiently pathological in his lying that it is impossible to tell. Both are very bad.

  • John Feffer: Trump and Neocons Are Exploiting an Iran Protest Movement They Know Nothing About: I don't doubt that most Iranians have good reason to assemble and protest against their government, indeed their entire political system, and indeed as an American I sympathize with the rights of people everywhere to organize and petition their governments for change. But Washington pols habitually play their kneejerk games, touting dissent against so-called enemies while overlooking suppression of dissent by so-called allies, showing their own motives to be wholly cynical. Thus, American support for protests in Iran immediately taints those protesters as pro-American and anti-Iranian. (Nor are we just talking about Trump, who has become little more than an Israeli-Saudi puppet on Iran; Hillary Clinton was also quick to support the Iranian masses against theocracy, jumping to the conclusion that their goals are the same as her own.) For more, see Trita Parsi: These Are the Real Causes of the Iran Protests; Simon Tisdall: Iran unrest: it's the economy, stupid, not a cry for freedom or foreign plotters; and Sanam Vakil: How Donald Trump's tweets help Iran's supreme leader.

  • German Lopez: Trump has disbanded his voter fraud commission, blaming state resistance and Trump's voter fraud commission, explained: Presidential commissions have long been a method for addressing matters of broad and/or deep concern. Lyndon Johnson, for instance, convened two of the more famous ones: the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the Kerner Commission on domestic violence (i.e., the "race riots" of 1965-68). They've rarely proved very satisfactory, although the commission investigating the Challenger NASA disaster (famously including physicist Richard Feynman) did appear to get to the bottom of the story. But Obama's sop to the deficit hawks, the Simpson-Bowles commission, proved to be biased and useless. There were some suggestions that Trump should have appointed a commission to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, but (not by choice) he wound up with a special prosecutor instead. One area where a commission might be useful would be to look into immigration laws and patterns, to try to clear away many of the popular myths on the subject, and try to come up with a sensible balance between all the competing interests and views. (Of course, had Trump done that, he would have stacked the deck supporting his own prejudices, thereby losing any possibility of building consensus.) Instead, the one (and only) problem Trump decided to be worthy of a presidential commission was the vanishingly tiny question of voter fraud. This was widely viewed as a vehicle for Kansas Secretary of State (and ALEC busybody) Kris Kobach, who appeared on Trump's doorstep with a folder full of schemes -- this appears to be the one that struck Trump's fancy: as the article makes clear, "the voter fraud myth has been used repeatedly to suppress voters." And few things have been more evident over recent decades than Republican efforts to undermine the popular vote. Indeed, that makes perfect sense, given that the Republican agenda heaps favors on the rich and powerful while undermining the vast majority -- people who could rise up and vote them out of office if only the Democrats offered a credible alternative.

  • Jeff Sparrow: Milo Yiannopoulos's draft and the role of editors in dealing with the far-right.

  • Michael Wolff: Donald Trump Didn't Want to Be President: An excerpt from Wolff's new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, Amazon's #1 bestseller and the talk of Washington (except on Fox News) this past week. The excerpt runs from election night to a few months past inauguration -- Priebus and Bannon are still on board at the end, but probably not Flynn -- but the title focuses on election night, when "the unexpected trend" shook Trump, who "looked as if he had seen a ghost. Melania was in tears -- and not of joy."

    Some other pieces on the book:

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Music Week

Music: Current count 29119 [29058] rated (+61), 364 [388] unrated (-24).

Initial calculation on rated count was +41, which seemed plausible enough, but when I moved the albums list from the scratch file to the notebook I counted 44, so clearly something was amiss. I went back and searched for unrated albums and found 20 I had failed to update -- obviously going back before last week, in some cases more than a year. I don't have a lot of unrated physical 2017 CDs -- maybe a dozen, including some inconvenient but still playable vinyl -- so I've been doing a lot of streaming, especially items from interesting EOY lists, and a fair number of them have been short: the Dawn Oberg is just three songs, more are legitimately EPs, and with the refocusing on vinyl a lot of regular albums clock in close to 30 minutes. I try to work faster streaming, avoiding replays unless I really feel the need to confirm a good record, and short goes faster still.

December's Streamnotes went up on the last possible day, which has in turn pushed Weekend Roundup and this post a day later than normal -- three-day weekends and all that.

I got a last minute Pazz & Jop invite, thanks to some strings Bob Christgau pulled. I finally did a quick sort on my Best Non-Jazz list without actually resampling anything, then slipped William Parker's Meditation/Resurrection into the top ten to maintain a little jazz cred. (Also bumps Kendrick Lamar's Damn, which I have little doubt will win without me.) I have no confidence that these are the ten best (mostly non-jazz) albums of 2017, but they are good ones, interesting ones, ones worth noting:

  1. William Parker Quartets: Meditation/Resurrection (AUM Fidelity) 12
  2. Orchestra Baobab: Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng (Nonesuch/World Circuit) 10
  3. Sylvan Esso: What Now (Loma Vista) 10
  4. Pere Ubu: 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo (Cherry Red) 10
  5. Joey Bada$$: All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ (Pro Era/Cinematic) 10
  6. Hamell on Trial: Tackle Box (New West) 10
  7. Re-TROS: Before the Applause (Modern Sky Entertainment) 10
  8. The Perceptionists: Resolution (Mello Music Group) 10
  9. Steve Earle & the Dukes: So You Wannabe an Outlaw (Warner Bros.) 9
  10. Craig Finn: We All Want the Same Things (Partisan) 9

I don't keep track of singles, so I'm hopeless there. One idea that did occur to me was to look up anti-Trump songs. I found lists from Guardian, Mic, Pitchfork, and Rolling Stone. In the end, I picked (only seven, but I expected zero):

  • Joey Bada$$, "Land of the Free" (Pro Era/Cinematic)
  • Oddisee, "NNGE" (Mello Music Group)
  • The XX, "On Hold" (Young Turks)
  • DJ Shadow (feat. Run the Jewels), "Nobody Speak" (Mass Appeal)
  • Perfect Giddimani, "Dollnald Trummp" (Giddimani)
  • L7, "Dispatch From Mar-a-Lago" (Don Giovanni)
  • Dawn Oberg, "Nothing Rhymes With Orange" (self-released)

Obviously, could have done better had I spent more time, but top four would probably have hung on. I did manage to sample another half-dozen songs, including Fiona Apple's "Tiny Hands" and YG's "FDT" (but didn't get to Brujeria's "Viva Presidente Trump!" -- on virtually all the lists -- until too late).


New records rated this week:

  • Aesop Rock & Homeboy Sandman: Triple Fat Lice (2017, Stones Throw, EP): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Alvvays: Antisocialites (2017, Polyvinyl): [r]: B+(**)
  • Julien Baker: Turn Out the Lights (2017, Matador): [r]: B
  • Blushh + Maddie Ross: Split (2017, self-released, EP): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Brockhampton: Saturation (2017, Question Everything/Empire): [r]: B+(*)
  • Brockhampton: Saturation II (2017, Question Everything/Empire): [r]: B+(**)
  • Brockhampton: Saturation III (2017, Question Everything/Empire): [r]: B+(**)
  • Tyler Childers: Purgatory (2017, Hickman Holler): [r]: B+(**)
  • CupcakKe: S.T.D (Shelters to Deltas) (2016, self-released): [r]: B+(**)
  • CupcakKe: Audacious (2016, self-released): [r]: B+(***)
  • CupcakKe: Queen Elizabitch (2017, self-released): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dev: I Only See You When I'm Dreamin' (2017, Devishot): [r]: A-
  • Fever Ray: Plunge (2017, Rabid/Mute): [r]: B+(*)
  • Dori Freeman: Letters Never Read (2017, MRI): [r]: A-
  • Charles Gayle Trio: Solar System (2016 [2017], ForTune): [bc]: A-
  • Justin Gray & Synthesis: New Horizons (2017 [2018], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Emily Herring: Gliding (2017, Eight 30): [r]: B
  • Homeboy Sandman: Veins (2017, Stones Throw, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Hvalfugl: By (2017, self-released): [r]: B+(**)
  • NERD: No One Ever Really Dies (2017, I Am Other/Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • New York Electric Piano: State of the Art (2017, Fervor): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Dawn Oberg: Nothing Rhymes With Orange (2017, self-released, EP): [bc]: B+(*)
  • One O'Clock Lab Band: Lab 2017 (2017, UNT): [cd]: B
  • Rapsody: Laila's Wisdom (2017, Def Jam): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dave Rempis/Matt Piet/Tim Daisy: Hit the Ground Running (2017, Aerophonic): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Eve Risser/Kaja Draksler: To Pianos (2017, Clean Feed): [r]: B
  • Serengeti: Jueles/Butterflies (2017, self-released): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Peter Sommer: Happy-Go-Lucky Locals (2017, self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Moses Sumney: Aromanticism (2017, Jagjaguwar): [r]: B+(*)
  • Takaaki: New Kid in Town (2016 [2017], Albany): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Turnpike Troubadours: A Long Way From Your Heart (2017, Bossier City): [r]: B
  • The United States Air Force Band Airmen of Note: Veterans of Jazz (2017, self-released): [cd]: D+
  • Charli XCX: Pop 2 (2017, Asylum): [r]: B+(***)

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

  • Vinny Golia Wind Quartet: Live at the Century City Playhouse: Los Angeles, 1979 (1979 [2017], Dark Tree): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Nice! Jay Saunders' Best of the TWO (2009-14 [2017], UNT, 2CD): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Art Pepper: Presents "West Coast Sessions!" Volume 1: Sonny Stitt (1980 [2017], Omnivore, 2CD): [r]: A-
  • Art Pepper: Presents "West Coast Sessions!" Volume 2: Pete Jolly (1980 [2017], Omnivore): [r]: B+(***)
  • Art Pepper: Presents "West Coast Sessions!" Volume 3: Lee Konitz (1982 [2017], Omnivore): [r]: A-
  • Art Pepper: Presents "West Coast Sessions!" Volume 4 With Bill Watrous (1980 [2017], Omnivore): [r]: A-
  • Art Pepper: Presents "West Coast Sessions!" Volume 5: Jack Sheldon (1980 [2017], Omnivore): [r]: A-
  • Art Pepper: Presents "West Coast Sessions!" Volume 6: Shelly Manne (1981 [2017], Omnivore): [r]: A-
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of West Africa ([2017], World Music Network): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sweet as Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes From the Horn of Africa (1969-2002 [2017], Ostinato): [r]: B+(***)

Monday, January 01, 2018

Weekend Roundup

As 2017 ends, I'm reminded of how sick to my stomach I was election night 2016 -- I normally stay up past 4AM, so pretty much the whole weight of the catastrophe was clear before I tried to sleep. At that point I could predict a whole series of unfortunate future events. In that regard, I haven't been especially surprised by what Trump and the Republicans have done in 2017. They've pretty much lived up to the threat they clearly posed -- the main surprises coming in the form of comic excess, like cabinet secretaries Betsy DeVos, Rick Perry, and Ben Carson. Trump himself has proven to be even more of a bloviating buffoon than he was during the campaign. And his scatterbrained reign is succeeding in one important respect where Hillary Clinton's campaign failed: through his own ineptness, he's making it clear that the real threat to most Americans these days comes from regular Republicans. One shouldn't get overoptimistic that Democrats will capitalize on that point with a resounding electoral win in 2018, but that's not as much of a fantasy as it was a year ago when Clinton et al. snatched defeat from what should have been a clearcut victory.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Umair Irlan/Brian Resnick: Megadisasters devastated America this year. They're going to get worse. The big ticket items were hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, but floods, droughts, tornadoes, wildfires, and other severe weather took their toll.

    Requests for federal disaster aid jumped tenfold compared to 2016, with 4.7 million people registering with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

    As of October, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had counted 15 disasters with damages topping $1 billion, tying 2017 with 2011 for the most billion-dollar disasters in a year to date. And that was before the California wildfires.

    Many people reflexively blame these disasters on climate change, and there is evidence that some of that is true -- the piece looks at several such arguments. But the price tag is also rising due to increasing development, and also due to infrastructure neglect -- the Puerto Rican power grid the most obvious example. The other big question (not really raised here) is what happens if/when government fails to cope with disaster costs. Unfortunately, we're bound to find out the hard way.

  • Fred Kaplan: The UN Vote on Jerusalem Was a Dramatic Rebuke to Trump That He Brought on Himself: The UN voted 128-9 (with 35 abstentions) to "declare null and void the United States' recent recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel." The US (Trump and Nikki Haley) responded by throwing a hissy fit:

    The rebuke is amplified by the fact that Trump had announced the day before that he would revoke financial aid for any country that voted for the resolution. "Let them vote against us," he said at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday. "We'll save a lot. We don't care. But this isn't like it used to be where they could vote against you and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars. We're not going to be taken advantage of any longer."

    Trump's U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, wrote a letter to other delegates, warning, "The U.S. will be taking names" during the roll call. "As you consider your vote," she elaborated, "I encourage you to know the president and the U.S. take this vote personally. She then tweeted, "At the UN we're always asked to do more and give more. So, when we make a decision, at the will of the American ppl, abt where to locate OUR embassy, we don't expect those we've helped to target us." . . .

    The countries that voted for the resolution -- or, as Trump sees it, against him -- include four of the five biggest recipients of U.S. aid: Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, and Jordan. They also include countries that Trump has courted since taking office -- Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and Vietnam. They also include every country in Western Europe, though Trump might not care about that.

  • Ezra Klein: Incoherent, authoritarian, uninformed: Trump's New York Times interview is a scary read. Charles P Pierce has a similar take on the same interview: Trump's New York Times Interview Is a Portrait of a Man in Cognitive Decline. Trump's becoming so incoherent it's impossible to discern any method in his madness. That may seem alarming, but it's giving too much credit to the office, assuming the myth of leadership that hasn't been true for many years. Even highly competent presidents -- Obama, most clearly, or Clinton or Johnson, or for that matter Eisenhower -- are often prisoners of their administrations, alliances and choices. Having approved a series of astonishingly bad personnel picks, Trump's already handed his administration over to its fate, something which will be increasingly clear as he continues to lose his grip. The best we can do under these circumstances is to refocus on what his staff actually do, and recognize the corruption and moral rot it's shot through with.

  • Paul Krugman: America Is Not Yet Lost: Still, it's been pretty bad:

    Many of us came into 2017 expecting the worst. And in many ways, the worst is what we got.

    Donald Trump has been every bit as horrible as one might have expected; he continues, day after day, to prove himself utterly unfit for office, morally and intellectually. And the Republican Party -- including so-called moderates -- turns out, if anything, to be even worse than one might have expected. At this point it's evidently composed entirely of cynical apparatchiks, willing to sell out every principle -- and every shred of their own dignity -- as long as their donors get big tax cuts.

    Meanwhile, conservative media have given up even the pretense of doing real reporting, and become blatant organs of ruling-party propaganda.

    Like Yglesias below, Krugman sees hope in the broad popular resistance that has risen up against Trump and the Republicans. Still:

    And even if voters rise up effectively against the awful people currently in power, we'll be a long way from restoring basic American values. Our democracy needs two decent parties, and at this point the G.O.P. seems to be irretrievably corrupt.

    Isn't that the rub? The Republicans have clawed their way back into power, after eight GW Bush years that by any objective standards should have been totally discrediting, precisely because most Americans (not just Republicans but many Democrats who supported Clinton) see avarice, greed, power, and corruption as the American value. That is what needs to be changed to restore decency to politics, to make democracy work for all. In that regard, I'd focus more on converting one party than both. The Republicans will change, as they always have, once the vast majority recoil against their corruption. But that won't happen until the people are presented with an honest alternative, which is what Hillary Clinton somehow failed to do in 2016.

    Krugman also wrote: Republicans Despise the Working Class and Republicans Despise the Working Class, Continued:

    Josh Barro argues that Republicans have forgotten how to talk about tax cuts. But I think it runs deeper: Republicans have developed a deep disdain for people who just work for a living, and this disdain shines through everything they do. This is true both on substance -- the tax bill heavily favors owners over workers -- and in the way they talk about it.

    I think one pretty obvious clue came when Ayn Rand groupie Paul Ryan gave a Labor Day speech extolling America's entrepreneurs ("job creators") without even mentioning the people who actually do the work. Such people regard jobs alternatively as charity or more often as a bottom line loss -- an expense best cut by automation or offshoring.

  • Sharon Lerner: Banned from the Banking Industry for Life, a Scott Pruitt Friend Finds a New Home at the EPA: Albert Kelly, head of the EPA's Superfund program -- a job he has no relevant experience for, unless fraud counts.

  • Maryam Saleh: One Year of Immigration Under Trump: My first thought a year ago was that of all the areas Trump could affect as president, the one he's likely to impact most directly, and most cruelly, is immigration. Plenty of competition, and some of his efforts have been partially stymied, but that fear has proven well grounded.

  • Mitch Smith: Fatal 'Swatting' Episode in Kansas Raises Quandry: Who Is to Blame? Big story here in Wichita also noted nationwide. A gamer in Los Angeles called police in Wichita reporting a murder and hostage situation. Police deployed a SWAT team to the prank address and shot and killed a resident.

  • Matthew Yglesias: The political lesson of 2017: resistance works: No week-in-review piece this week, but this is a fair note to strike to sum up the past year. Problem, of course, is that while resistance has halted or slowed down some very bad things, it hasn't won anything of note, while Trump and the Republicans have pushed lots of things through that will be hard if even possible to reverse. True, several attempts at "repeal and replace of Obamacare" failed, but Republicans still managed to sneak a repeal of the "individual mandate" -- never very popular but long touted as the cornerstone of any scheme to get to universal coverage through private insurance -- tacking it onto a bill that was already overwhelmingly unpopular. Where Democrats are easily cowed by any hint of unpopularity, Republicans just get more determined to use the power they have to enact the changes they want, always figuring they can con the public into giving them more power. That the electoral tide has shifted is a good sign, but in the short term will only make them more desperate. The tax bill is a prime example of taking what you can when you can, with no regard to public opinion. Indeed, the whole "smash and grab" operation known as the Trump administration is driven like that.

    Other Yglesias pieces:

    • How to Make Metro Great Again: Tinkering with the DC subway system.

    • The biggest surprise of Trump's first year is his hard-right economic policy: About the only "populist" move of Trump's early campaign was the scorn he heaped on big money donors, a luxury he enjoyed only so long as he could afford to self-finance his campaign. He eased off on that late in the campaign, secure that many voters would cut him some slack compared to the donor queen, Crooked Hillary. There never was any substance to his "economic populism" -- e.g., look at his tax cut proposals during the campaign -- and he wasted no time surrendering all the key economic positions to ultra-rich donors and their lackeys. Less successfully, he's let orthodox Republicans in Congress run his legislative agenda; in exchange, they haven't questioned his personal or political scandals, and more often than not tried to provide him cover. In the end, he lacks both the moral courage and intellectual depth to plot his own way. Hence he's turned himself into little more than a tool, a particularly rusty one at that.

    • The economy is normal again

  • Micah Zenko: How Donald Trump Learned to Love War in 2017: Well, seems to be an inescapable part of the job. In his first year, Obama may not have come to love war -- at least not as ardently as GW Bush in his first year -- but he was well on the way to becoming an enthusiastic participant. Hillary Clinton tried to convince us that she, and not Trump, the one truly prepared to be Commander-in-Chief, but all it takes is deference to the top brass to get passing marks in that test -- something she should have remembered as it was key to husband Bill's embrace of the military in his first war-loving year. The hope some had for Trump was that he would push his fondness for business deals ahead of the failed neocon agenda and realize that customary rivals like Iran, Russia, China, and even North Korea could be turned into business opportunities, benefiting American investors (if not workers).

    In reality, the Donald Trump administration has demonstrated no interest in reducing America's military commitments and interventions, nor committed itself in any meaningful way to preventing conflicts or resolving them. Moreover, as 2017 wraps up, the trend lines are actually running in the opposite direction, with no indication that the Trump administration has the right membership or motivation to turn things around.

    President Trump has maintained or expanded the wars that he inherited from his predecessor.

    As Jennifer Wilson and I pointed out in an appropriately titled column in August, "Donald Trump Is Dropping Bombs at Unprecedented Levels." Within eight months of assuming office, Trump -- with the announcement of six "precision aistrikes" in Libya -- had bombed every country that former President Barack Obama had in eight years. One month after that, the United States surpassed the 26,172 bombs that had been dropped in 2016. Through the end of December 2017, Trump had authorized more airstrikes in Somalia in one year (33), than George W. Bush and Obama had since the United States first began intervening there in early 2007 (30).

    The growth in airstrikes was accompanied by a more than proportional increase in civilian deaths, . . . But as the volume of airstrikes and deaths increased, the Trump administration has subsequently made no progress in winding down America's wars. Moreover, it doesn't even pretend that the United States should play any role in supporting diplomatic outcomes.

    While Obama was campaigning, he liked to say that he wants to change the way we think about war, but in remarkably short time it was he who changed his thinking. Trump scarcely had any thinking to change. His instinct to give the generals unstinting support locked him into Obama's failing wars. The Russia collusion scandal precludes any opening there. Obeisance to Israel and Saudi Arabia have reopened conflict with Iran. His own stupid bluster has turned North Korea into a potential nuclear confrontation. Meanwhile, he's tearing down the international institutions that offer the only path toward peace and stability.

  • TPM: 2017 Golden Dukes Winners Announced! Considering everything they had to choose from, a pretty lame selection: Scott Pruitt is guilty alone of more conspicuous corruption than anyone ranked here. Or maybe they didn't have that much to choose from? Maybe they only read TPM headlines? Rep. Duke Cunningham raked in millions and wound up in jail to get this award named.



Dec 2017