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Sunday, May 01, 2016

The Duopoly Strikes Back

If all Democrats had the same beliefs and agenda, the only real question for the primaries would be who could best represent those values in the general election. Likewise, there would be no reason for candidates who weren't successful to continue, and when they withdrew they could be counted on to fall in behind the winner. But there are vast differences between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, so even though at this point it will be impossible for Sanders to overcome Clinton's lead, Sanders' supporters still have reason to get out and vote, and Sanders has an obligation to stay in the race and represent them -- at least as long as the campaign has sufficient funds, which doesn't appear to be a problem.

Sanders' people pretty much all understand this. They can give you a list of substantive platform differences between Sanders and Clinton. Moreover, they can point out that Sanders has a long and impressive record of sticking to his positions, whereas the Clintons have a history of playing up populist themes while they're campaigning then turning around and working for special interests once elections are over. Many voters, having been lied to and screwed over repeatedly, are looking not just for policies that help them but for politicians who will defend them tenaciously.

On the other hand, Clinton's people don't quite get this, although not always for the same reasons. Under her husband, the Democratic Party was refashioned from the party of labor to the party of highly educated socially-liberal professionals and businesses. Some people made a lot of money off the Clintons (and with a clear conscience), and they see nothing untoward in their triangulations -- indeed, they form the core of her donor class. Add to that those with some form of patronage attachment to the party: for them she represents success, and a meal ticket. Then there are the settlers: the people who accept the party line that significant changes are impossible given hard realities ranging from globalization to Republicans obstructionism. That, of course, is easier to accept if those realities haven't hit you personally that hard, but the age skew between Sanders and Clinton supporters suggests that they're getting harder to ignore. Indeed, Clinton's most favorable demographic got their start in more benign economic times -- before the Clintons came to power.

Less partisan observers may have noticed that the Clintons actually had something to do with the rise of the superrich and the hollowing out of the middle class, the creation of an economy that is stagnant for all but the rich, and the cult of austerity that thrown such a wet blanket on the very possibility that "the government of the people" might actually work to the benefit of the vast majority. Indeed, Thomas Frank has argued that only a Democrat could have blunted rank-and-file opposition to allow things like NAFTA, "welfare reform," deregulating banks and financial markets, declaring "the era of big government is over," and balancing the budget to pass -- all "highlights" of Bill Clinton's presidency. Frank even argues that Democrats like Clinton may turn out to be much worse than the "lesser evil" they're often viewed on the left as.

Both political parties are necessarily coalitions of imperfectly aligned interests, some attracted positively, others negatively. Both have always crossed class lines, because money has always mattered in American politics, and increasingly so lately. As the middle class withered, both have had to find voters where they could. The GOP went for the white backlash vote, playing up religion and patriotism (war) and the "fear of falling" (as Barbara Ehrenreich put it), while using whatever power they gained to feather the coffers of the rich. That cost the Democrats large chunks of their New Deal coalition -- Baptists in the South, Catholics in the North -- while the unions declined and shifted from manufacturing to services (mostly government), which they eventually replaced with educated professionals, high-tech businesses, and anyone sufficiently terrified by the rightward march of Republicans.

Still, if we've learned anything from this year's primaries, it's that the masses who picked their party negatively have started to turn on the party leaders. We've seen this in Democratic Party with the widespread rejection of Hillary Clinton -- has any Democrat other than an incumbent president ever started with such complete control of the party, then gone on to perform so poorly? Bernie Sanders nearly upset her, running on a platform the party rulers couldn't even conceive of. And something similar happened among the Republicans, where the masses preferred Donald Trump to every proper establishment candidate (even the loathsome Ted Cruz).

I started writing this to introduce some comments on recent posts by Paul Krugman, who has been so relentless in his recent attempts to discredit Bernie Sanders that he's risking becoming an incoherent crank. For instance, see Why I Haven't Felt the Bern and Sarandonizing Economics, as well as minor digs like A Note on the Soda Tax Controversy (really? I wouldn't mind a VAT if other taxes were sufficiently progressive, but a sin tax on soda is just the sort of moral snub that makes liberals seem so overbearing, so intent on imposing their values on everyone else). The "Sarandonizing" post only mentions the actress/activist once:

The way to think about this, I'd say, is that it's the economics nerd equivalent of Susan Sarandon dismissing Hillary Clinton as "the best Republican out there." Anyone who tells you that you can't get everything you want, in economics or politics, is just evil and useless.

So Sarandon is "evil and useless" because made a joke about Hillary -- one that is built on numerous kernels of truth, from her past as a "Goldwater girl" to other traits we associate more with Republicans, like her coziness with Walmart (she's a former board member) and Goldman Sachs (that $650k speech) to her notorious hawkishness. What makes the joke effective (maybe even insidious) is the suspicion that Hillary's not really on our side -- that when push comes to shove she'll always wind up siding with the people who got the money and the power. That's certainly her track record. Why should we think that now will be any different?

For some reason, Krugman can't stand the idea that anyone on the left should have the temerity to question Clinton's leadership. She is, after all, the only person standing between civilization as we know it and the Republican Dark Ages. Still, it's not just Clinton he's getting so defensive about. It's also the authority of all those Very Serious People in the economic profession that he hasn't already lampooned himself: you know, the ones like Christy Romer and Larry Summers (and himself) who properly understand the true gospel of IS/LM. He's upset that Sanders is proposing a very serious expansion in the level of investment in infrastructure, not so much because he's against such investments as because some pro-Sanders economists have argued that the expansion will result in a level of economic growth (like 4.5%) that his own faction of economists have decided is impossible -- therefore he's repeatedly panned such analyses as equivalent to the "supply side" snake oil that right-wing ideologues like Arthur Laffer have been peddling.

When Krugman tries to explain his position, he gets slippery:

What you see, on this as on multiple issues, is the casual adoption, with no visible effort to check the premises, of a story line that sounds good. It's all about the big banks; single-payer is there for the taking if only we want it; government spending will yield huge payoffs -- not the more modest payoffs conventional Keynesian analysis suggests; Republican support will vanish if we take on corporate media.

In each case the story runs into big trouble if you do a bit of homework; if not completely wrong, it needs a lot of qualification. But the all-purpose response to anyone who raises questions is that she or he is a member of the establishment, personally corrupt, etc.. Ad hominem attacks aren't a final line of defense, they're argument #1.

I know some people think that I'm obsessing over trivial policy details, but they're missing the point. It's about an attitude, the sense that righteousness excuses you from the need for hard thinking and that any questioning of the righteous is treason to the cause. When you see Sanders supporters going over the top about "corporate whores" and such, you're not seeing a mysterious intrusion of bad behavior into an idealistic movement; you're seeing the intolerance that was always just under the surface of the movement, right from the start.

What's he trying to say here? That the left only has pie-in-the-sky visions, but can't come up with any stepwise programs to get there? (That the only "reforms" possible are cynical schemes that right-wing think tanks used to kick out, the sort of things Clinton/Obama have dusted off and presented as bipartisan?) And that the left cannot even defend their pie-in-the-sky on its merits without sinking into "ad hominem" attacks against their supposed enemies, because they're fundamentally irrational and vindictive even when they see themselves as idealistic? Or is he just talking about Sanders, who by simplifying leftist ideas into sound bites has brought out his followers latent anti-intellectualism? Or is he just saying that only professional mandarins like himself are competent to weigh in on economic matters?

There can be no doubt that social scientists have a bad history of doing "research" that winds up doing little more than advancing their prejudices. For starters, we can point to the history of race studies, since virtually every "scientific" claim to find differences has been thoroughly debunked. Economics is rife with political scams, and Krugman has slayed more than a few of them. Back when I majored in sociology, it seems like I spent most of my time identifying untoward presumptions in studies -- indeed, a common textbook at the time was How to Lie With Statistics. David Hackett Fischer wrote a whole book cataloguing Historian's Fallacies. So Krugman's warning against something real, but rejecting Sanders' programs out of hand is every bit as arbitrary. If he didn't start out with a political bone to pick, he might put some effort into refining the proposals. For instance, he's probably right that breaking up "too big to fail" banks doesn't solve the problems with "shadow banking," and he may even be right that the latter is more crucial than the former. So why not show Sanders that it's possible to come up with a plan that better achieves his goals? One reason might be he's opposed to those goals. Another is that he just doesn't like Sanders or his followers. Another is that he's committed to Hillary regardless of the issues.

I don't know which it is, but Krugman certainly fits Frank's concept of "the liberal class" -- that may be pigeonholing him a bit, but for the most part the shoe fits. His reluctance to back Sanders, much like the reluctance of similarly aged, educated, and well-heeled feminists like Gloria Steinem, smacks of class consciousness. Even if they can understand and empathize with the profound damage caused by inequality and war, they still feel that class bond with Hillary, not least because in large part they've personally never felt the costs of her mistakes.

Sure, I snuck war into that line belatedly, but that's a perilous issue to ignore with Hillary. And much like economists like Krugman are very good at rationalizing liberal compromises -- indeed, it was mostly Krugman who convince me that ACA was a pretty significant improvement even though it was far from what I wanted -- there exists a comparable body of foreign policy and security mandarins that can be counted on to rationalize all sorts of American military interventions, regardless of the track record of previous wars. I'd even say that the latter are far worse than the economists -- the latter are blinkered to alternative approaches, but the former are nothing less than obsessed with their own hegemony.

I'm reminded here of something McGeorge Bundy said, about the difference between how Kennedy and Johnson approached the challenges of war: Kennedy wanted to be smart, but Johnson wanted to be seen as tough. Both faced pressures to escalate the wars in Southeast Asia, and while Kennedy did some things there that turned out to be not so smart, Johnson made the really disastrous decisions. One might say the same things about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton: he wants to be smart (but isn't always), and she wants to be seen as tough (even if that puts her in the "do stupid shit" faction). That's an analogy that doesn't bode well.

I also wanted to mention David Frum: How to Save the Republican Party, aside from begging the question of "why bother" -- we now seem to be generations removed from any form of Republican Party that that might make any sort of constructive contribution to the political system. Still, Frum's vantage point on the far right occasionally yields insights, like his observation that where the Republicans fear their base, the Democrats loathe theirs. Consider this:

The trouble is: 2016 was the year that the great American center actually did rise up against the extremism of the corrupt two-party duopoly and actually did disrupt outdated ideologies. A secular businessman who backed both parties, who denounced big money in politics, who promised to do deals and bring back jobs -- isn't that what you had in mind? No? And if, like J. Alfred Prufrock, you murmur, "That is not it at all, That is not what I meant, at all" then it's time to reckon with the fact that the great American center wasn't what you imagined it was at all either.

The people who like Michael Bloomberg are the least underrepresented people in American life. They don't always get their way -- who does? -- but it's not for lack of candidates eager to take their money and voice their views. Hillary Clinton is almost as perfect a candidate as the Davos consensus could wish, and to the extent she deviates from that consensus -- favoring somewhat higher taxes, expressing rather more skepticism about the benignity of large financial institutions -- it can be pardoned as a necessary concession to political reality.

Donald Trump spoke to genuinely underrepresented people. Concerned that the GOP was captured by theocratic Southerners? Where Republicans are most secular and supposedly most moderate -- the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic -- Trump has done best. By all indications, he'll do crushingly well in California, too. It's where Republicans are least moderate that he was most resisted: Texas, Utah, and wherever party activists gather in caucuses and conventions. That's where an Independent candidacy would be most effectively aimed.

When I first read this I reasoned that he was generalizing about both parties -- that "the center" rose up to nominate Clinton as well as Trump -- but he's really only concerned with the Republicans. Still, although Sanders is well to the left of Clinton, Sanders' supporters may well be closer to the center, certainly to the "underrepresented" masses that flocked to Trump. That the Democratic Party end of the "duopoly" was able to prevail over the uprising was mostly due to the party elites' unity behind a single candidate. The Republican elites had no such unity, partly because all of the candidates recited from the same party talking points -- or so it seemed at first.

The only issue Republicans were much divided on was immigration, where elites liked the idea of using guest workers to weaken labor markets, but a great many Republican-leaners were fantic not just in opposition to "amnesty" but to anything that would dilute white America. And that was the issue Trump captured, not by taking the most uncompromising stand possible but by expressing his stand with the most unforgivable rhetoric -- folks knew he meant it when he wouldn't take it back. Trump later proved shameless, refusing to walk back one gaffe after another, everything from quoting Mussolini to getting endorsed by David Duke. His willingness to go off message started to trouble the party nabobs, but all they seemed to be able to charge Trump with was not being a true conservative. As Frum shows, that turned out to be a toothless complaint, as nothing the GOP has been peddling has resonated less with the base than laissez-faire economics. One suspects that the real problem party bigwigs have with Trump is that he risks unselling their scams to help the rich. Indeed, one thing that makes him suspect is that he isn't under the thumb of a trusted billionaire. He is his own billionaire, which makes him less controllable -- even if he ultimately reverts to pursuing his own self-interest (like his doppelganger Berlusconi).

Frum is properly alarmed by Trump, and blames "the failings and self-seeking of Republican leaders":

Much of the old conservative message is out of date. Not all of it, but much. Yet the people who formed the conservative coalition remain. They've misplaced their faith and trust in Donald Trump. But then, it's not as if their faith and trust were honored by the party's plutocratic former leadership, either.

Frum thinks it's possible to save the party by articulating a program which actually serves the base, that returns some tangible reward for their support. I have no idea what that might look like, because I don't see anything Republicans support or believe in that offers any actual hope to anyone but the already rich.

On the other hand, one can imagine the Democratic Party flipping from Clinton to Sanders, much as they previously flipped from Grover Cleveland to William Jennings Bryan, or from Al Smith to Franklin Roosevelt. Such changes occur when conservative elites no longer have answers for real world problems. But Republicans have no answers: just homilies to "family values," and a media that stokes seething rage against their supposed enemies (pretty much everyone but the rich, and even there they manage to find enemies).

Some miscellaneous links (since this is Sunday):

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Daily Log

Today's primary results: Clinton won four (of five) primaries today, taking: Connecticut 51.7-46.5%, Delaware 59.8-39.2%, Maryland 63.0-33.3%, and Pennsylvania 55.6-43.6%; Sanders won Rhode Island 55.0-43.3%. Clinton won 194 delegates (12+27+11+53+91), Sanders 129 (9+24+13+24+59). With her superdelegates, Clinton now has 89.8% of the delegates she needs for the nomination. She is 242 short of clinching the nomination, with 1303 still undecided, so all she needs is to win 18.6% of the remainder. Safe to say she's won.

Trump won all five Republican primaries, with Kasich finishing ahead of Cruz in four of them: Connecticut 57.7-28.5-11.7%, Delaware 60.8-20.4-15.9%, Maryland 54.4-23.0-18.9%, Rhode Island 63.8-24.4-10.4%. Cruz came in second in Pennsylvania, which Trump won 56.7-21.6-19.4%. Trump won 105 delegates (28+16+35+17+9), vs. 5 for Kasich and 1 for Cruz (not clear what happened to most of the Pennsylvania delegates). Until New York last week, Trump had not topped 50% in any primary, but he did so in all five today. It's tempting to say Trump's surging, but his majorities have coincided with sharply lower Republican turnout. Whereas 25.6% of eligible voters voted in the Republican primary in Wisconsin (which Cruz won), only 9.9% have voted for any Republican in the six east coast states where Trump won majorities. Trump now has 950 delegates, 76.8% of what he needs to win the nomination. He still needs 287, 46.1% of the 622 still available.

Cruz is a slight favorite in Indiana next week: 37.9-37.5-22.5%, although those polls came out before Kasich agreed to stop campaigning in Indiana (in exchange, Cruz agreed to give Kasich a free hand in Oregon and New Mexico). Not clear whether that deal will throw the state to Cruz or create a backlash for Trump. As Nate Silver puts it:

But Kasich and Ted Cruz are also deeply flawed, and somewhat factional, candidates. It's asking a lot of voters to cast a tactical vote against Trump when that tactic requires (i) going to a contested convention in order to (ii) deny the candidate with the plurality of votes and delegates the nomination in order to (iii) give the nomination to a candidate they don't particularly like anyway. The #NeverTrump voters might not be voting for Trump, but they might be staying at home.

Book Roundup

It's been about two months since my last roundup of book blurbs (Feb. 24). I started to cherry pick some important political books -- frequently noted writers like Andrew Bacevich, Thomas Frank, Jacob Hacker/Paul Pierson, Adam Hochschild, as well as Matthew Desmond's much touted Evicted -- but I wound up filling out this set of forty with the older entries in my scratch file. Almost have enough left over for a second forty, so that could come later in the week, or next week, or next month -- not clear at the moment.

Julian Assange, ed: The WikiLeaks Files: The World According to US Empire (2015, Verso): A big chunk of data from leaked US diplomatic documents in 2010-11, edited, indexed, with notes on context -- I've seen this described as an "executive summary" to an Internet-searchable cache of 2.3 million documents. People went to jail, or were otherwise harassed, to make this information public. Other people should go to jail for what it shows.

Andrew J Bacevich: America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History (2016, Random House): Vietnam veteran, conservative critic of America's imperial overreach, especially since his important The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War appeared in 2005 in the wake of Bush's ill-fated invasion of Iraq. That book helped explain why American politicians lost their fear of getting trapped in foreign quagmires. Here he moves from the toxic effects militarism has had on American civil society to the endless chain of disasters US entanglement in the Middle East has caused going back to the 1980s. Very likely another important book.

Yochai Benkler: The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs Over Self-Interest (2011, Crown Business): Title comes from the free software ethos of Linux (with its happy penguin logo) and Hobbes' politico-philosophical landmark where the unfettered pursuit of self-interest turns into a war of all against all. It shouldn't be hard to show that cooperation is more productive -- indeed, the main thing that companies do is to build a sheltered space where workers can build together, even in a world where competition between companies can be cutthroat. Adam Smith, for instance, imagined an "invisible hand" but what he really demonstrated was the productive advantages of a division of labor. Author previously wrote The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (2006, Yale University Press).

Phyllis Bennis: Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror: A Primer (paperback, 2015, Olive Branch Press): One more in a series of short primers (Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, Ending the Iraq War, Understanding the US-Iran Crisis, Ending the US War in Afghanistan), provides the basics, the history, a firm understanding of international law, and a common sense critique of American imperial hubris. Probably quite useful, but one thing I wonder about is how the idea of ISIS elicits such a knee-jerk reaction from the American psyche: the Syrian Civil War was widely regarded as such a complete mess that US intervention would be foolish, yet as soon as you uttered the words "Islamic State" the US plunged back into war, both in Syria and Iraq, and ISIS has turned into the magic word to justify US bombing in Libya and Yemen. This reaction has proved so instantaneous and unthinking I'm not sure that even Bennis can negate it.

Ari Berman: Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America (2015, Farrar Straus and Giroux): A history of the civil rights movement, especially the struggle to pass the Voting Rights Act. The book comes shortly after said Act was gutted by the Roberts Court. Congress should have responded by extending the Act's protections to all states, especially since the Republicans discovered they do better when voter turnout is low and started passing restrictive "voter ID" laws all over the country.

Wendell Berry: Our Only World: Ten Essays (2015, Counterpoint): Kentucky tobacco farmer, poet, essayist, recently passed into his 80s, can be cranky about new technology but has great sensitivity to communal life and the natural world. Recent essay collections have tended to collect older works, so I'm not sure if the essays in this "new collection" are really new. I am sure that the old ones are very much worth your time.

Beth Buczynski: Sharing Is Good: How to Save Money, Time and Resources Through Collaborative Consumption (paperback, 2013, New Society Publishers): One thing I've come to realize is that damn near none of ths things I own is in use at any given time, nor does the percentage grow much over days, week, months. I assume that's at least part of what's going on here. (I have a cousin who lives in a retirement community where the houses are tiny but nearly everything imaginable is available in shared buildings -- when I visit, it always strikes me as something of a communist paradise.) So this seems like a reasonable idea for a lower cost, higher value, sustainable future, not that I doubt the devil is in the details. Other books along these lines: Rachel Botsman: What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption (2010, Harper Business; paperback, 2011, Collins); Lisa Gansky: The Mesh: Why the Future of Business Is Sharing (paperback, 2012, Portfolio); Chelsea Rustrum/Gabriel Slempinski/Alexandra Liss: It's a Shareable Life: A Practical Guide on Sharing (paperback, 2014, Shareable Life); Jay Walljasper: All That We Share: How to Save the Economy, the Environment, the Internet, Democracy, Our Communities and Everything Else That Belongs to All of Us (paperback, 2010, New Press); Malcolm Harris/Neal Gorenflo, eds: Share or Die: Voices of the Get Lost Generation in the Age of Crisis (paperback, 2012, New Society Publishers).

Horace Campbell: Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya (paperback, 2013, Monthly Review Press): It's pretty clear in hindsight that the NATO intervention in Libya in 2011 took a bad situation -- a civil war as Muammar Gaddafi used military force to try to suppress a popular revolt -- and turned it into chaos and who knows what? You'd think this would be cause for reflection, but the intervention came and went too fast to get onto book schedules, and since then little has been published other than the right wing's Benghazi! propaganda, so I thought I'd search out what's available. This book, very critical of NATO, was the first I found. Some others: Alison Pargeter: Libya: The Rise and Fall of Qaddafi (2012, Yale University Press); Vijay Prashad: Arab Spring, Libyan Winter (paperback, 2012, AK Press); Ethan Chorin: Exit the Colonel: The Hidden History of the Libyan Revolution (2012, Public Affairs); Maximilian Forte: Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO's War on Libya and Africa (paperback, 2012, Baraka Books); Francis A Boyle: Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade US Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution (paperback, 2013, Clarity Press); Christopher S Chivvis: Toppling Qaddafi: Libya and the Limits of Liberal Intervention (paperback, 2013, Cambridge University Press); Hugh Roberts: The Fall of Muammar Gaddafi: NATO's War in Libya (2016, Verso).

Satyajit Das: The Age of Stagnation: Why Perpetual Growth Is Unattainable and the Global Economy Is in Peril (2016, Prometheus Books): Well, it does seem like the economies of the United States and Europe haven't bounced back from the 2008 financial meltdown like they did from previous recessions, and lately we've seen downturns in China and other "developing countries" that had fared so well in the previous decades. Das attributes all of this to the low interest "easy money" policies used to fight the recession and the overall growth of debt (especially public debt). I see this same stagnation, but I'm more inclined to attribute it to deliberate political policies protecting the issuers of all that debt while letting everyone else slide into an ever deeper mire. What makes this even more disagreeable is how neoliberals use debt as a cudgel to argue for austerity. An unspoken alternative would be to liquidate much of that debt, which would go a long ways toward reversing the increasing inequality trend (and all of its vile consequences).

Matthew Desmond: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (2016, Crown): Stories of tenants and landlords in poor parts of Milwaukee c. 2008-09: the struggle to meet the rent for bad housing in hard times, "a cycle of hurt that all parties -- landlord, tenant, city -- inflict on one another." Seems to be one of the more important books on American poverty in recent years.

Cynthia Enloe/Joni Seager: The Real State of America Atlas: Mapping the Myths and Truths of the United States (paperback, 2011, Penguin Press): A short (128 pp) book of maps and charts slicing and dicing the US economy and society in various ways. For instance, one map shows military deaths in Iraq by state: Texas (414) is a close second to California (468), and Oklahoma (76) is more than 50% higher than Kansas (47) (per capita would be more revealing, although it would reduce the OK/KS ratio).

Keith P Feldman: A Shadow Over Palestine: The Imperial Life of Race in America (2015, University of Minnesota Press): Takes the thesis that the US relationship to Israel belongs more to US domestic than foreign policy, and explores how US racial attitudes influence that policy. I imagine there's something to this, especially in the 1980s when Israel was one of South Africa's last close allies, but I imagine one can find less explicit evidence earlier -- especially as you don't have to go back very far to get past the taboo against explicit racism. Deeper down, both Israel and the US are colonial outposts of colonial outposts of Europe, and heirs of its crusader mythos -- Jews were long considered outsiders to all this, but one can argue that in colonizing Palestine they became "white," approximately even "Christian" (as the recently popular "Judeo-Christian" terminology shows).

Norman G Finkelstein: Method and Madness: The Hidden Story of Israel's Assaults on Gaza (paperback, 2014, OR Books): Chronicles three major assaults on Gaza since Israel dismantled its settlements in the blockaded territory: codes names Cast Lead (2008-09), Pillar of Defense (2012), and Protective Edge (2014). Finkelstein examines the logic behind these attacks, concluding they "have been designed to sabotage the possibility of a compromise peace with the Palestinians, even on terms that are favorable to [Israel]." Seems to be a collection of essays, less detailed than the book he wrote on Cast Lead: 'This Time We Went Too Far': Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion.

Ronald P Formisano: Plutocracy in America: How Increasing Inequality Destroys the Middle Class and Exploits the Poor (2015, Johns Hopkins University Press): Argues that rule by the rich (plutocracy) undermines both the poor and "the middle class" -- which I take to be a way of saying "democracy." Or as Louis Brandeis put it: "We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few; we can't have both." I think inequality is a very important topic not so much because it is unfair and unjust as because it introduces all sorts of twists and distortions into how we relate to each other. Author previously wrote The Tea Party: A Brief History and For the People: American Populist Movements From the Revolution to the 1850s.

Thomas Frank: Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (2016, Metropolitan Books): After three notable books on the rise of the right -- What's the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (2004), The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule (2008), and Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right (2012) -- Frank takes a hard look at the Democrats who have aided and abetted the far right's stranglehold on politics. Given how the Republicans have gone from bad to worse without totally marginalizing themselves, this may seem to be an untimely subject to bring up, but politics is not just a game where you tote up points and celebrate the winner: it's how we as a democratic society try to cope with real problems, and that process has become perverted to a staggering degree. Frank is not the first writer on the left to notice that "liberal" leaders like Clinton and Obama often give up rather than fight for the people who elected them -- cf. Chris Hedges: The Death of the Liberal Class (2010), or for that matter the Bernie Sanders campaign.

Rose George: Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate (paperback, 2014, Picador): One of those books on basic, everyday life, and the technology and business that makes it possible. Author previously tried this with another important topic: The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters (2008).

Stanley B Greenberg: America Ascendant: A Revolutionary Nation's Path to Addressing Its Deepest Problems and Leading the 21st Century (2015, Thomas Dunne): Pollster to hegemonic Democrats like Clinton and Gore, consultant to companies like Boeing and Microsoft, and all around hack reassures us that the future is rosy and won't be clouded by a Republican Party which is self-destructing as we speak. He seeks the nation "turning to Democrats to take on the country's growing challenges," continuing "the social transformations that are making the country ever more racially and culturally diverse, younger, a home to immigrants, and the metropolitan centers that foster a rising economic and cultural dynamism."

Dave Grossman/Gloria DeGaetano: Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie & Video Game Violence (1999; rev ed, paperback, 2014, Harmony): Grossman was a Lt. Col. who had second thoughts and wrote On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society (1995; paperback, 1996, Back Bay Books). I don't think there is a simple relationship between witnessing violence in fictional contexts and killing (or for that matter between watching porn and sex crimes), although I also don't doubt that habituation and desensitization can lead some people to become more dangerous. And I'm particularly suspicious of video games, where the point seems to be not just to kill but to develop an automatic reflex to do so thoughtlessly. But I'd worry more about the morals conveyed by our national celebration of "the troops" and their "heroism" -- by the nearly constant practice of war by the United States over the last 75 years. That the military itself is so gung-ho on games is a bad sign, but probably has less to do with violence today than the proliferation of their other favorite toy: firearms.

Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper (2016, Simon & Schuster): Once upon a time Ronald Reagan told a joke -- something like "the scariest words in the English language are 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help'" -- and some people took it as profound insight and blew it up into a nihilistic war against any and all forms of government activity, especially the kind that tries to actually help people. Hacker & Pierson have written a number of important books -- Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy (2005), The Great Risk Shift: The Assault on American Jobs, Families, Health Care, and Retirement and How You Can Fight Back (2007), Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer, and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (2010) -- and now this one, where the remind us that public investment has long been a foundation of prosperity here, and why the movement against it makes us poorer.

Adam Hochschild: Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 (2016, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): As Franco turned to Hitler and Mussolini to support his movement in Spain's civil war, many others around the world, including 2800 Americans, rallied to the cause of Spanish democracy, becoming (in the terminology of the post-WWII CIA, "premature antifascists." This tries to tell their story, while picking up a few others like George Orwell. Author has written several notable books about (mostly British) protest movements against war and colonialism, such as King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves, and To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918.

Philip T Hoffman: Why Did Europe Conquer the World? (2015, Princeton University Press): Economist, sees the answer in economics, basically the relatively intense competition between late medieval European states involving nearly continuous war. Their rivalry favored whoever could advance science and technology for destructive purposes, and whoever could solve the financial problems of such military adventures. Along the way, Hoffman rejects various other theories, like those of Jared Diamond (Guns Germs and Steel, which as I recall includes similar economic arguments among others). Evidently doesn't address the obvious next question, which is why Europe made such a mess of the world it conquered. Both rise and fall, after all, are intimately related.

Jessica Hopper: The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic (paperback, 2015, Featherproof Books): She mostly writes for Pitchfork, which I don't read enough to have any sense of who she is or what she likes. Pitchfork's business model is based on the ideas that bits are cheap and so are writers, so make the latter crank out plenty of the former -- always more than it takes to glaze my eyes over. Her title is provocative, and not just because Ellen Willis and Lillian Roxon are dead, or because others like Ann Powers went straight into books without bothering to gather up their numerous short pieces. Still, the main reason I mention this book is to throw in a plug for Carol Cooper's Pop Culture Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race: Selected Critical Essays (1979-2001), which belies Hopper's title.

Philip K Howard: The Rule of Nobody: Saving America From Dead Laws and Broken Government (2014; paperback, 2015, WW Norton): Lawyer, political theorist, wrote The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America (1994), followed by The Collapse of the Common Good: How America's Lawsuit Culture Undermines Our Freedom (2002) and Life Without Lawyers: Liberating Americans From Too Much Law (2009). His big point -- that too many laws and regulatory rules, and lawyers and bureaucrats, has turned into a trap that has all sorts of bad effects, from inhibiting common sense to sapping freedom -- is something that we can all relate to, but still you have to wonder who benefits? For instance, lawsuits have never been the great leveler of theory, but sometimes they do manage to bring corporate abuses to an end. Howard wants to get rid of most lawsuits, which sounds laudable but not if doing so leaves us without recourse to right wrongs. It turns out that Howard is founder and chair of Common Good, a "nonpartisan, nonprofit legal reform coalition" trying to implement his recommendations. He seems to have support from members of both political parties, but most of the names mentioned in his Wikipedia page (which reads like PR) are Republicans (Jeb Bush, Alan Simpson, Mitch Daniels) and mouthpieces like David Brooks. Still, I imagine someone could rewrite Howard's books to arrive at a more progressive result -- although that may involve equalizing access to lawyers and lobbyists before cutting back on the overkill. Howard, by the way, wrote another book that is alarming and self-discrediting on the surface: The Lost Art of Drawing the Line: How Fairness Went Too Far (2001): nothing then or since suggests that we're suffering from too much fairness.

Ian Kershaw: To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949 (2015, Penguin): Part of a series called The Penguin History of Europe, joining the two world wars and the turbulent interwar period -- Arno Mayer called this period "the 30 years war of the 20th century." Kershaw has written several big books on the tail end of this period, including Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed the World, 1940-1941 (2007) and The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany (2011). On the same time period, Heinrich August Winkler: The Age of Catastrophe: A History of the West 1914-1945 (2015, Yale University Press), even longer (1016 pp).

Peter H Lindert/Jeffrey G Williamson: Unequal Gains: American Growth and Inequality Since 1780 (2016, Princeton University Press): The authors crunch numbers for a much longer stretch of American history than anyone else has done before, and find two time stretches where inequality rose steeply: from the 1970s to today, as you damn well know by now, and from 1774 to 1860, which actually predates the legendary robber baron period of the late 19th century and the great bubble of the "roaring '20s" -- two periods where the wealth of the very richest was especially conspicuous. Meanwhile there were three periods when the wealthy took serious hits: during the Revolution, the Civil War, and the Great Depression.

Mike Lofgren: The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government (2016, Viking): Previously wrote The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted (2012) -- no idea whether he's someone who can be trusted politically, but in a nutshell that sounds like the story of our times. Leaving aside the Republicans for the moment, one thing that has made Democrats so useless is how readily Clinton in 1993 and Obama in 2009 abandoned a great many of their campaign promises as soon as they had to face with Washington's entrenched bureaucracies -- more or less what Lofgren calls "the deep state." This especially seems to be the case with security and treasury, where new advisory jobs always seem to go to old hands. But I suspect the extraordinary influence of lobbyists and donors -- not technically part of the state, but perhaps promiscuously intertwined with it -- is at least as large. And one can throw in big media (mainstream and otherwise) which are always vigilant to police what politicians can think and say.

Branko Milanovic: Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization (2016, Belknap Press): Looks at inequality in a global context, finding that while inequality has been increasing within nations (especially the US), it has been falling among/between nations -- in large part because large developing nations like China and India have been promoting middle class incomes at the same time the US has been destroying them. A follow up to the author's The Haves and the Have-Notes: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality (2010).

Ilan Pappé, ed: Israel and South Africa: The Many Faces of Apartheid (paperback, 2015, Zed Books): Various papers on comparisons and analogies, the upshot is that Israel is becoming every bit the international pariah state South Africa's apartheid regime became. Don't know if the book gets into this, but there are significant differences. Most importantly, Israel has become almost independent of cheap Palestinian labor, whereas South Africa was literally built on cheap labor.

Susan Pedersen: The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire (2015, Oxford University Press): A history of the world from 1920-1939 as seen through the League of Nations, the international organization created in the wake of World War I to ensure world peace. It, of course, failed, largely because the great powers were still preoccupied with their imperialist and colonialist rivalries and grudges.

Richard J Perry: Killer Apes, Naked Apes & Just Plain Nasty People: The Misuse and Abuse of Science in Political Discourse (2015, Johns Hopkins University Press): "Delivers a scathing critique of determinism" -- the notion that human behavior is genetically fixed or inherently programmed, particularly for violence. The title reminds me of certain bestsellers from back in the 1960s and 1970s, although I had thought they were pretty well debunked by now.

Serhii Plokhy: The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine (2015, Basic Books): Ukraine has lately become a major flash point in the West's renovated cold war to contain and isolate Putin's Russia, so it's about time someone wrote a history of the nation itself rather than consigning it to a sidebar in the history of Russia. Of course, most of its long history is subsumed under Russia or any of a number of other invading tribes or nations -- early chapters include "The Advent of the Slavs," "Vikings on the Dnieper," "Byzantium North," and "Pax Mongolica" before there is any hint of "The Making of Ukraine."

Robert Pollin: Greening the Global Economy (2015, MIT Press): Leftist economist, I found his book Contours of Descent: US Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity (2003) insightful. This short (176 pp) book argues that it is possible to replace fossil fuels with renewables -- indeed, it is happening -- and grow the economy as a result.

Bill Press: Buyer's Remorse: How Obama Let Progressives Down (2016, Threshold Editions): It's certainly true that "in many ways President Obama has failed to live up to either his promises or his progressive potential" -- I've often been critical both of his strategic vision and of his tactical choices -- but I (and policy-wise I'm easily to the left of Bernie Sanders) think "remorse" suggests much more disillusionment than nearly any Obama voter feels. (Remorse is more like Lyndon Johnson, who campaigned to save us from the belligerent madness of Barry Goldwater, then promptly plunged us into the Vietnam War.) So I wonder what's up here, not least because I associate the publisher with right-wing cranks (e.g., Mark Levin, Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, Oliver North).

Ray Raphael: Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past [Tenth Anniversary Edition] (2004; rev ed, paperback, 2014, New Press): Remarkable how many stories people think they know about the American Revolution have been transformed over the ages into myth -- what the author calls "cherished fabrications." Raphael has written many books aimed at broadening and deepening understanding of the period by stripping away those myths, so this is his core text, newly revised. His other books include: A People's History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence (2001, New Press; paperback, 2002, Harper Collins), and including Founders: The People Who Brought You a Nation (2009, New Press); Mr. President: How and Why the Founders Created a Chief Executive (2012, Knopf); and Constitutional Myths: What We Get Wrong and How to Get It Right (2013, New Press).

Eric Rauchway: The Money Makers: How Roosevelt and Keynes Ended the Depression, Defeated Fascism, and Secured a Prosperous Peace (2015, Basic Books): George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are widely regarded as sainted presidents, but in many ways Franklin Roosevelt's many accomplishments are more remarkable -- he's just never had the sort of activist beatification committee that has managed to deface vast swathes of America naming shit for Ronald Reagan. This story deserves to be retold, not least because we are still plagued by goldbuggers -- probably the single dumbest idea still held by any reputable politician in America.

Nicholas Stargardt: The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945 (2015, Basic Books): Attempts to create a broad portrait of how the German people viewed and were engaged in the German war against Europe, notably finding that "the Wehrmacht in fact retained the staunch support of the patriotic German populace until the bitter end."

Jim Wallis: America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America (2016, Brazos Press): Edits a Christian evangelical magazine called Sojourners tied to a Protestant religious sect he helped found, but has steered away from "Christian conservative" politics, recently writing books that take up political themes: like God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It (2005), and Rediscovering Values: On Main Street, Wall Street, and Your Street. Here he tackles the history and legacy of racism, and appeals to end it.

Karine V Walther: Sacred Interests: The United States and the Islamic World, 1821-1921 (2015, University of North Carolina Press): Time framework extends from the Greek War of Independence (1821) to the Greco-Turkish War (1919-22) -- curiously that period skips over the Barbary Wars (1801-05) when the US first tangled with the Ottoman Empire -- "excavates the deep history of American Islamophobia, showing how negative perceptions of Islam and Muslims shaped US foreign relations from the Early Republic to the end of World War I." I imagine thee is some evidence of that, but I've long been under the opposite impression: that US foreign policy toward the Ottomans was relatively benign, and only became more consequential once the oil industry got involved.

Ellen Willis: The Essential Ellen Willis (paperback, 2014, University of Minnesota Press): A pioneering feminist polemicist who early on wrote some notable rock criticism, since her death in 2006 her daughter, Nona Willis Aronowitz, has done a fine job of collecting her various writings for posterity -- before this general collection there appeared Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music (2011), and reissues of Beginning to See the Light: Sex, Hope, and Rock-and-Roll and No More Nice Girls: Countercultural Essays (both 2012, all University of Minnesota Press paperbacks). I've never been much of a fan -- partly because she seemed to be too glib about war for a leftist, partly because of a tone I recall in her feminism, like wrapping oneself in a flag -- but I don't doubt that these books are chock full of interesting insights.

Tim Wise: Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America (paperback, 2015, City Lights): It isn't enough for the rich to steal from the poor. They also demand that we praise the rich for their successes, and condemn for poor for their failures. Wise wrote a rather similar book in 2014: Culture of Cruelty: How America's Elite Demonize the Poor, Valorize the Rich and Jeopardize the Future. Before that he mostly wrote about racism, which works much the same way.

Recently I decided that I needn't write a full paragraph of every book worth noting, so I started building a list. Here are a few examples that may (or may not) pique your curiosity:

  • David Axelrod: Believer: My Forty Years in Politics (2015; paperback, 2016, Penguin Books)
  • Alastair Bonnett: Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies (2014, Houghton Mifflin)
  • Dan Baum: Gun Guys: A Road Trip (paperback, 2013, Vintage)
  • Gregory Clark: The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility (2014, Princeton University Press)
  • Ed Conway: The Summit: Bretton Woods, 1944: JM Keynes and the Reshaping of the Global Economy (2015, Pegasus)
  • Timothy Egan: The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero (2016, Houghton Mifflin)
  • Barney Frank: Frank: A Life in Politics From the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage (2015, Farrar Straus and Giroux; paperback, 2016, Picador)
  • Lani Guinier: The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America (2015, Beacon Press)
  • Andrew Hammond: The Islamic Utopia: The Illusion of Reform in Saudi Arabia (paperback, 2012, Pluto Press)
  • Luke Harding: The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World's Most Wanted Man (paperback, 2014, Vintage)
  • Mark Kelly: The Bus on Jaffa Road: A Story of Middle East Terrorism and the Search for Justice (2014, Lyons Press)
  • Paul Rogat Loeb: The Impossible Will Take a Little While: Perseverance and Hope in Troubled Times (2004; rev ed, paperback, 2014, Basic Books)
  • Nur Masalha: The Palestinian Nakba: Decolonising History, Narrating the Subaltern, Reclaiming Memory (paperback, 2012, Zed Books)
  • David McCullough: The Wright Brothers (2015, Simon & Schuster)
  • Mark Miodownik: Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World (2014, Houghton Mifflin).
  • Nathaniel Philbrick: Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution (2016, Viking)
  • Douglas Rushkoff: Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity (2016, Portfolio)
  • Joe Sacco: Journalism (paperback, 2013, Metropolitan Books)
  • Lynne Segal: Out of Time: The Pleasures and the Perils of Ageing (paperback, 2014, Verso)
  • John Summers/Chris Lehmann/Thomas Frank, eds: No Future for You: Salvos From the Baffler (2014, MIT Press)
  • James Tracy: Dispatches Against Displacement: Field Notes From San Francisco's Housing Wars (paperback, 2014, AK Press)

I used to append a few paperback reissues of books I had previously written about, with additional blurbs, but I've tended to skip that recently. Since I've been collecting at least some, I'll list them here:

  • Reza Aslan: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (2013; paperback, 2014, Random House)
  • Andrew J Bacevich: Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country (2013, Metropolitan Books; paperback, 2014, Picador)
  • Max Blumenthal: Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel (2013; paperback, 2014, Nation Books)
  • Ian Buruma: Year Zero: A History of 1945 (2013; paperback, 2014, Penguin Books)
  • David Harvey: Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism (2014; paperback, 2015, Oxford University Press)
  • David Mirowski: Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown (2013; paperback, 2014, Verso)
  • Harvey Pekar/JT Waldman: Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me (2012, Hill & Wang; paperback, 2014, Farrar Straus and Giroux)
  • Nomi Prins: All the Presidents' Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power (2014; paperback, 2015, Nation Books)
  • Jeremy Scahill: Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield (2013; paperback, 2014, Nation Books)
  • Orville Schell/John Delury: Wealth and Power: China's Long March to the Twenty-first Century (2013; paperback, 2014, Random House)

Monday, April 25, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 26541 [26515] rated (+26), 413 [418] unrated (-5).

Rated count back down. Still probably would have hit thirty had I not spent Thursday cooking dinner from China Moon Cookbook and listen to Prince's The Hits/The B-Sides instead. As you're no doubt aware, Prince died last week -- Papa Wemba too. I hadn't gotten around to looking up Prince's two records last year (turns out they're not on Rhapsody), but his two 2014 albums weren't bad, and I credit him with two A- albums in the previous decade (Musicology in 2004, 3121 in 2006). And, of course, much more earlier. Some links follow.

Expect Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. Not a huge amount in the file, but I haven't been all that lazy either. Still, don't feel much like writing tonight, or much of anything else either. Guess that means a lazy evening of TV. What isn't self-explanatory below will be revealed soon enough.

Recommended music links:

New records rated this week:

  • Antonio Adolfo: Tropical Infinito (2016, AAM): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Nik Bärtsch's Mobile: Continuum (2015 [2016], ECM): [dl]: A-
  • Bibio: A Mineral Love (2016, Warp): [r]: B
  • The Dynamic Les DeMerle Band: Comin' Home Baby (2014 [2016], Origin): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Gambari Band: Kokuma (2016, Membran Media): [r]: A-
  • PJ Harvey: The Hope Six Demolation Project (2015 [2016], Vagrant): [r]: B+(**)
  • Louis Heriveaux: Triadic Episode (2014 [2016], Hot Shoe): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Keefe Jackson/Jason Adasiewicz: Rows and Rows (2015 [2016], Delmark): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Julie Kjaer 3: Dobbeltgaenger (2015 [2016], Clean Feed): [cd]: A-
  • The Del McCoury Band: Del and Woody (2016, McCoury Music): [r]: A-
  • The Oatmeal Jazz Combo: Instant Oats (2016, LGY): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Phil Palombi: Detroit Lean (2015 [2016], Xcappa): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Pierette Ensemble: Akrostik (2014, Gateway Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • Noah Preminger: Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground (2015 [2016], self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Carol Saboya: Carolina (2016, AAM): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Yves Theiler Trio: Dance in a Triangle (2015 [2016], Musiques Suisses): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Trio Da Paz: 30 (2011 [2016], Zoho Music): [r]: B+(**)
  • WorldService Project: For King and Country (2015 [2016], Rare Noise): [cdr]: D+

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

  • John Abercrombie: The First Quartet (1978-80 [2015], ECM, 3CD): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Awalom Gebremariam: Desdes (2007 [2016], Awesome Tapes From Africa): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sonny Rollins: Holding the Stage: Road Shows Vol. 4 (1979-2012 [2016], Okeh): [cd]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • Taana Gardner: Taana Gardner (1979, West End): [r]: B+(***)
  • Del McCoury & the Dixie Pals: Classic Bluegrass (1974-84 [1991], Rebel): [r]: B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Claudia Quintet: Super Petite (Cuneiform): June 24
  • Rob Clearfield: Islands (Ears & Eyes): June 3
  • Jeremy Cunningham Quartet: Re: Dawn (From Far) (Ears & Eyes): June 17
  • Cory Healey's Beautiful Sunshine Band: Beautiful Sunshine (Shifting Paradigm)
  • Sari Kessler: Do Right (Ruby Street Music): May 6
  • The Tony Lustig Quintet: Taking Flight (Bimperl)
  • Adam Meckler Quintet: Wonder (Shifting Paradigm): April 23

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Weekend Roundup

The New York primaries were held last week. Hillary Clinton won a huge win with 58.0% of the vote, giving her 139 delegates to Bernie Sanders 108. On the Republican side, Donald Trump won with his first majority in a primary all year, a big one with 60.4% of the vote vs. 25.1% for John Kasich and 14.5% for that sworn enemy of "New York values" Ted Cruz. Trump got 89 delegates, Kasich 4, and Cruz 0, so this primary went a long ways to putting Trump back on track for a first ballot win at the Republican Convention. Still, it's worth noting that Trump only got 19.5% of the votes cast on Tuesday. Sanders got 28.4%, and Clinton got 39.2% -- together the Democrats got 67.7% of the total vote, a big change from earlier primaries where Republicans generally got more votes than Democrats.

I looked at 538's What Went Down in the New York Primaries, and one thing I checked was the Clinton-Sanders split by congressional district. What I found was that Clinton ran especially well in New York City, and was much stronger in districts represented by Democrats (she won 17 of 18, only losing around Albany). Sanders, on the other hand, won 5 (of 9) districts represented by Republicans, and did better than his state average in the other four (also in Democratic districts in Buffalo and Rochester, plus the 6th in Queens and the 18th in Westchester). What this suggests is that the party machine and its patronage network held firm for Clinton. Of course, one thing that helped the machine was that the primary was closed (way in advance of the vote), so independents, which Sanders has regularly won this year, often by large margins, couldn't vote.

I came out of this feeling pretty down, not so much because I expected a Sanders win -- I did think it might be closer, but knew Clinton had a lot of structural advantages there -- but because it underscored how difficult it's going to be to dislodge the Party's power structure. Sanders could win in Republican areas because he appealed especially to people deprived of power, but the Democrats so controlled New York City that the oligarchy -- especially the nabobs of Wall Street -- owned the Party. And what made matters worse for me was that while this smackdown was going on, I was reading Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?, where his big point is that the Democrats ever since Carter had courted educated professionals (following Chris Hedges, he calls them the Liberal Class), often at the expense of the workers and unions who had previously been the most effective supporters of the Democratic Party -- the net effect is that the Democrats are as much in bed with big business as the Republicans, making them preferable only in that they'll try to defend certain liberties and civil rights, and work a bit less hard at destroying the middle class. That explains the sort of marginal differentiation that is supposed to convince us that we need Clinton to save the world from Trump or Cruz, even though there is no reason to think she'll even try to do the things that need to be done to reverse the increase in inequality and the rot in practically everything else. So while the horserace watchers saw New York as the primary that virtually cinched Clinton's nomination, it looked more to me like the end of any hope for change.

Next Tuesday's primaries promise to be more of the same. Clinton is favored in Connecticut (56.2-41.3%, closest poll Clinton +6), Maryland (63.3-33.9%, closest +13), and Pennsylvania (58.9-38.2%, closest +6); I don't see any polling on Delaware and Rhode Island, but I'd expect them to be similar to Maryland and Connecticut (although there is one Delaware poll with Clinton +7, suggesting much closer than Maryland). Trump is also expected to mop up: 45.2-31.7-21.3% in Connecticut (Kasich over Cruz), 40.3-30.6-27.1% in Maryland (Kasich over Cruz), and 41.1-29.4-27.4% in Pennsylvania (Cruz over Kasich -- looks like a second straight brutal week for Cruz).

Looking further ahead, Clinton should keep on winning: 52.7-44.4% in Indiana (May 3), 56.8-41.7% in California (June 7), 51.0-41.4% in New Jersey (also June 7). Trump continues to lead in the Republican races (with Cruz getting a bit closer): 38.1-37.5-22.2% (T-C-K) in Indiana, 41.9-33.5-23.4% (T-C-K) in California, and 50.4-23.4-17.2% (T-K-C) in New Jersey.

Meanwhile I have to share the following image. Just think, with three-hundred million people in America, this is the best we can do?

Back in 1776 there were only four million people in America, yet somehow we managed to find a wide range of capable leaders. Now we find that the only possible surrogate for one Clinton is another, and that the best the opposition party can come up with is their former party pal. Hard to see any significant differences among this crowd, yet both Trump and Clinton have managed to convince most of their followers that the other is the Devil incarnate, and those followers are hysterical as expected. Still, the odds of a comparably jovial post-election photo are pretty high -- especially if Clinton wins and reverts to form, serving the billionaire class.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Gerald Friedman: Orthodox Economics Has Become a Place Where Visions Die and Hopes Are Banished: Subhed: "Why liberal economists dish out despair." Friedman was the economist who analyzed Bernie Sanders' platform and concluded that it would lead to a growth rate that the US economy hasn't seen in over fifty years. He was, in turn, attacked by economists like Christine Romer and Paul Krugman for suggesting that such growth rates were even possible. Basically, they regarded Friedman's calculations as proof that Sanders was fantasizing. (In fairness, a few economists like James Galbraith defended Friedman.) Much of interest here:

    There is, of course, a politics as well as a psychology to this economic theory. If nothing much can be done, if things are as good as they can be, it is irresponsible even to suggest to the general public that we try to do something about our economic ills. The role of economists and other policy elites (Paul Krugman is fond of the term "wonks") is to explain to the general public why they should be reconciled with stagnant incomes, and to rebuke those, like myself, who say otherwise before we raise false hopes that can only be disappointed. But this approach leaves liberals like Hillary Clinton with few policy options to offer in response to the siren call of demagogues like Donald Trump. And it makes the work of self-proclaimed "responsible" elite economists that much more pressing. They have to work even harder to persuade the public that nothing can be done to head off the challenge of Trump and other irresponsible politicians who capitalize on the electorate's appetite for change. They have to slap down critics like myself. "Responsible" elite economists have to keep the party of "good arithmetic" from overpromising at all costs.

    Were the orthodox classical economists correct, then of course their politics would follow. But what if they are wrong? What if government action could, in fact, raise growth rates or narrow disparities? What would be the expected value of a higher GDP growth rate? Would it be worth some academic debate, even if it leaked into the public realm? Might this debate even serve a socially useful function by giving voters an alternative to the xenophobic political economy of Donald Trump? Many Americans believe that government action can improve economic conditions, especially for workers, and many of these support Trump because they see him as the only candidate who is even willing to consider government action to help working Americans. These voters can look long and hard at the "responsible" Clinton platform for some policy, for any policy to raise growth rates and narrow income disparities. But they won't find it, because policy elites have closed their minds to the possibility of change.

    This reminds me that Krugman has repeatedly defended Democratic Party compromises (e.g., ACA, Dodd-Frank) as adequate and satisfactory (even if not ideal) solutions, while implying that little more can be done, and that when Sanders argues otherwise, he's out on some lark beyond anything that is economically possible. This gets me wondering whether there were any Keynesians during the 1930s, even after it had become clear that government spending was working to bring the economy out of the Great Depression, who could imagine what a radical expansion -- one aimed not just as restoring the pre-depression equilibrium but achieving a whole new level of prosperity -- might accomplish. That experiment was (perhaps unwittingly) done with the total mobilization for WWII. What Sanders is proposing goes way beyond repairing the damage done by Bush's bubble. What's lacking is political will, not the "laws of economics," and the net effect of Krugman's (and others') naysaying is to help suppress that political will.

    I don't doubt that there are long-term issues with sustaining economic growth, but it's also clear that the US economy is performing way below what it's capable of, and a crash program of public works -- not just to fix our sorely degraded infrastructure -- would make a big difference (even Krugman understands that much, although his argument doesn't go nearly as far as Sanders or Friedman). The infrastructure work would also move a huge current liability into the asset column, and would improve future productivity, but there's much more value to be gained from spending on public works. One area where Sanders may be overly optimistic is how to pay for this: it's not clear to me that simply "soaking the rich" with higher taxes will raise enough revenue (not that that's not worth doing in its own right), especially if one implements other reforms to reverse increasing inequality. Most likely we would need some sort of broad-based consumption tax (in addition to more progressive taxes on profits and estates), but that's almost a technical issue compared to the broader question of vision.

    I should also remind you of Philip Mirowski's big book, Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown (2013), which is largely about how mainstream economists throttled (well, more like strangled) any serious political change following a severe crisis which pretty clearly proved that their understanding of the economy was faulty.

  • Emmett Rensin: The smug style in American liberalism: Much I agreed with here, and much that rubbed me the wrong way. I believe that good politics derives from respect for everyone, notably people who grew up differently from yourself, who consequently have different world views. However, that doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't disagree with some of those world views. It's just that the ones you should reject are the ones where respect isn't reciprocal or generalizable. Many people, for instance, think they should be privileged over other groups of people, and that is a creed that is based on disrespect for the unprivileged, that cannot be generalizable. We can all, for instance, settle for equality, which is what makes it such a fundamental principle of political society. Given all this, smugness is inappropriate and often counterproductive. Yet it is pretty much impossible to engage in political discourse without at some point appearing to someone as smug. And consequently, Rensin's examples are all over the range from sensible to outrageous. There are some ideas -- the gold standard, for instance, or creationism -- that are so indefensible many of us skip past re-litigating them and resort to derision, even if that leaves the impression of smugness. Similarly there are people -- e.g., Sen. Jim Inhofe on climate change (fresh on my mind because I read a quote from him today) -- who having repeatedly clung to indefensible positions have lost the right to be taken seriously, even though such instant rejection smacks of smugness. At some point you have to realize that it's not practical to re-argue everything from first principles every time it comes up (though it is useful to be able to cite someone who has thought the issue through). Still, I don't disagree with the following:

    It is impossible, in the long run, to cleave the desire to help people from the duty to respect them. It becomes all at once too easy to decide you know best, to never hear, much less ignore, protest to the contrary.

    At present, many of those most in need of the sort of help liberals believe they can provide despise liberalism, and are despised in turn. Is it surprising that with each decade, the "help" on offer drifts even further from the help these people need?

    Even if the two could be separated, would it be worth it? What kind of political movement is predicated on openly disdaining the very people it is advocating for?

    The smug style, at bottom, is a failure of empathy. Further: It is a failure to believe that empathy has any value at all. It is the notion that anybody worthy of liberal time and attention and respect must capitulate, immediately, to the Good Facts. [ . . . ]

    The smug style did not arise by accident, and it cannot be abolished with a little self-reproach. So long as liberals cannot find common cause with the larger section of the American working class, they will search for reasons to justify that failure. They will resent them. They will find, over and over, how easy it is to justify abandoning them further. They will choose the smug style.

    One thing that Rensin has stumbled onto here is that the relationship between liberalism and the working class has been fraught with difficulty throughout American history, perhaps only bound together by accident of the egalitarian words of the Declaration of Independence and the power shifts of the New Deal. Liberalism has always focused on individuals, defined as free and equal as opposed to the old orders of aristocracy (and peasantry or slavery). As such, liberals sought to advance people one-by-one based on merit, whereas socialists sought to "level up" the working class to share in the entire nation's wealth (mostly created by the labor of the working class). As such liberals -- Chris Hedges and Thomas Frank speak of a distinct "liberal class" rooted in highly educated professionals -- have tended to accept inequities, provided that opportunities were more or less equal -- all the more so in times of increased inequality, such as ours.

    Indeed, at this point I suspect that the only thing that keeps the liberal class and the working class -- which is a pretty fair first approximation of the Clinton-Sanders contest -- from splitting the Democratic Party in two is their shared horror at the prospect of Republican rule. It will be interesting to see whether the dominant liberal faction makes any serious nods toward the white working class (with Republicans like Trump and Cruz, blacks and Latinos are pretty much locked in).

  • Yusef Munayyer: Wanted: A US Strategy in the Middle East:

    In 2006, as Israel and Hezbollah were engaged in what would be a 34­day war, the longest of any Arab­Israeli war since 1948, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reflected on the region's volatile dynamics calling them "the birth pangs of a new Middle East." She further stated, "We have to be certain that we are pushing forward to the new Middle East not back to the old one."

    Indeed, there was something new in the Middle East that Dr. Rice was observing then. For the first time, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan all seemed to align with Israel in the war and condemned Hezbollah in a very overt way. Earlier in the year, Al-Qaeda in Iraq launched the first major salvo in what became a sectarian war in Iraq when it bombed the Shi'a Al­Askari Mosque in Samarra. The Iraq war had made this regional realignment, which we have seen develop further in the years since, come into fruition.

    The invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the subsequent dismantlement of the Iraqi state had many devastating implications for the region. Perhaps most significant was the fact that it shattered any semblance of regional order in the Middle East and the long­standing modus vivendi between Riyadh and Tehran. Saddam had been a bulwark against Iran and a buffer that limited Iranian influence from reaching the Arab Gulf countries and the Levant. With Saddam gone, the US fired the starting pistol in a regional power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Militias, insurgencies, sectarianism and bloodshed would characterize this power struggle.

    Today, more than a decade into this contest, the labor pains have subsided and a demon child called ISIS, nurtured from embryo to beast in the womb of a failed Iraqi state, has not only learned to walk but is running amok across the Middle East, North Africa and beyond.

    Munayyer's big point is that while the US thought it had all the power in the world, it had no real idea what it wanted to do with that power, and consequently wound up thrashing, unable to decide on goals, or even friends and enemies (actually, both camps tended to be defined by their opposite in ways that wound up contradicting one another). And in this context US power turned out to be far less than super (let alone hyper). Munayyer sees the 2003 invasion of Iraq as pivotal, but the 1990 war was nearly as bad, and the US had made a muddle of its strategy ever since Carter declared the Persian Gulf a "vital US interest," or Nixon looked to Saudi fundamentalism as a bulwark in the Cold War, or LBJ had no interest in brokering an end to the Arab-Israeli wars despite having friends on both sides. And all through America's Orientalists never showed the slightest interest in the welfare of the region's people, least of all their desires for free societies and modern economies.

Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:

  • Dean Baker: Patently Absurd Logic on Budget Deficits and Debt: Time did a cover story attempting to rile up hysteria about the federal deficit again, so Baker knocks it down plank by plank -- stuff you should already know by now, but I'm flad he's also talking about patents:

    There is one other point about treating the debt as a serious measure of generational equity. Interest payments on debt are just one of the ways in which the government makes commitments for the future. When the government grants patent and copyright monopolies, it is also making commitments that carry into the future. Patent and copyright monopolies allow the holders to charge prices for the protected items that are hugely higher than the free market price. They are in effect a tax that is privately collected by drug companies, software companies, the entertainment industry and others.

    These payments are in fact enormous relative to the interest burdens that get the deficit hawks so excited. In the case of prescription drugs alone, the difference between what we pay for patent protected drugs, compared to drugs being sold at free market prices, is in the neighborhood of $360 billion a year. That's equal to 2 percent of the GDP, twice the size of the current interest burden on the public debt.

  • Jesse Eisinger: Why Haven't Bankers Been Punished? Just Read These Insider SEC Emails: Follows longtime SEC lawyer James Kidney. Ends with:

    Kidney became disillusioned. Upon retiring, in 2014, he gave an impassioned going-away speech, in which he called the SEC "an agency that polices the broken windows on the street level and rarely goes to the penthouse floors."

    In our conversations, Kidney reflected on why that might be. The oft-cited explanations -- campaign contributions and the allure of private-sector jobs to low-paid government lawyers -- have certainly played a role. But to Kidney, the driving force was something subtler. Over the course of three decades, the concept of the government as an active player had been tarnished in the minds of the public and the civil servants inside working inside the agency. In his view, regulatory capture is a psychological process in which officials become increasingly gun shy in the face of criticism from their bosses, Congress, and the industry the agency is supposed to oversee. Leads aren't pursued. Cases are never opened. Wall Street executives are not forced to explain their actions.

  • Rebecca Gordon: Exhibit One in Any Future American War Crimes Trial: Author of a new book titled American Nuremberg: The US Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes. Previously wrote Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States (2014, Oxford University Press). This excerpt focuses on the torture of Abu Zubaydah, which surely qualifies although I'd say that the decisions to invade and start decades-long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are far more serious crimes.

  • William Hartung: What a Waste, the US Military: Given all the evil that the US military perpetrates, the fact that they do such a lousy job of managing their bloated allowance ranks rather low on in my view, but it's always worth a reminder that their lack of care and foresight starts at home, well before they use it to screw up the rest of the world.

  • Matt Karp: Against Fortress Liberalism; Lily Geismer: Atari Democrats; Rick Perlstein: The Chicago School: three essays from Jacobin magazine, which we recently subscribed to. On the other hand, they also published a hatchet job by Jonah Walters on "hippie-hating hawk" Merle Haggard that totally misses the boat. (Kathleen Geier fumes here, and Eric Loomis gets down to brass tacks in a reply titled Walking on the Fighting Side of Me.)

  • David Swanson: US Wars Are Not Waged Out of Generosity or for Democracy: Interview by Mark Karlin with the author of War Is a Lie, originally written in 2010 and now out in a 2nd edition paperback (Just World Books), and founder of the World Beyond War website.

    In 2006, Republicans believed they'd have to end the wars, and Democrats were elected to congressional majorities with that mandate. Rahm Emanuel then openly told The Washington Post that the Democrats would keep the wars going for two more years in order to run "against" them again in 2008. The Democrats took the chairs of committees and proceeded to do nothing with them. And people who identified with the Democratic Party in 2007 began obsessing with the 2008 presidential election, at the expense of ending the slaughter in 2007 or 2008.

    Endless, lawless war at massive expense was clearly established as a bipartisan norm. Entire presidential debates in 2016 have passed by without a single mention of the world outside the United States. No candidate has been asked whether 54 percent of discretionary spending on militarism is too much, too little or just right. Young people have grown up in this climate and accepted in some cases -- just like most old people -- all the propaganda or at least the part that maintains that we are powerless to stop wars. Corruption by war profiteers and general cultural taboos contribute: The big environmental groups won't take on the biggest destroyer of the environment, the big civil liberties groups won't touch the biggest cause of rights violations etc. But the fact is that a massive movement against war is extremely active and broad in comparison to what the media suggests.

    For an excerpt from the new edition of War Is a Lie, see Fear of ISIS Used to Justify Continued Military Intervention in Middle East.

  • How Hillary Clinton Became a Hawk: As Secretary of State, Clinton was consistently more hawkish than President Obama. Indeed, she's always been quick to resort to military force. Long story, including a possibly apocryphal story about Clinton wanting to join the Navy.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Daily Log

Went to Wichita Peace Center tonight for a meeting to remember the late Manfred Menking. Born in Germany in 1934, he was traumatized by the World War and became deeply committed to peace. He won a scholarship to study in the US, met his wife Susan here, moved back to Germany for a while, then returned to the US, arriving in Wichita in 1973. Both he and his wife were doctors. They moved to Nashville in 2009, after he had had a severe stroke. He's been missed for some time, but still has friends here.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Daily Log

Fixed dinner tonight, for three guests -- one vegetarian + fish, so I tried to make adjustments. Picked all the dishes from Barbara Tropp's China Moon Cookbook, which is basically Chinese but with fusion elements from the author's San Francisco restaurant. There are a few dishes in the cookbook I've made several times, but I've never tried a whole menu from it. What I came up with was:

  • Clear-Steamed Salmon with Ginger-Black Bean Vinaigrette
  • Hunan Hot and Sour Vegetables: cauliflower, carrots, zucchini
  • Traditional Fried Rice: minus meat, sub leeks for onion, sub stir-fried baby lima beans for greens, used vegetable stock, added pine nuts
  • Strange-Flavor Eggplant
  • Orange-Ginger Pickled Carrot Coins
  • Loni's Cucumber Pickles with Chinese Black Beans: and dried shiitake mushrooms
  • Turmeric Tomatoes
  • Ginger Ice Cream

The salmon is a dish I've made before and is usually spectacular. This time I tried to shop a couple days before and found some frozen "wild caught" pacific salmon pretty cheap. Turned out not to be high quality, a rather pale pink, texture started to fall apart as soon as I thawed it the night before. Recipe calls for marinating 20 minutes, but I let it go overnight. The marinade had some vinegar in it, so it transformed the texture like ceviche. I steamed it too long to, so it came out a bit overdone. I put all the vinaigrette ingredients into the blender ahead of time, but didn't spin it until I was ready to serve the fish. Not sure if that was a problem, but it didn't come out as green as I was used to (I tried adding more cilantro, to little effect). I also didn't think it tasted as good as I remembered, although I may have been reacting to the disappointing fish. Recipe calls for homemade pickled ginger, and I used up the last of a rather old product jar (although I've never made my own in the past).

I mixed up the custard two nights before, churned it into ice cream last night. Also made the three pickles last night, and roasted the eggplant. I should have finished the eggplant early today and let it chill, but forgot about it until nearly dinner time. The eggplant is pureed, cooked a bit with aromatics and sauce, so it comes out rather mushy. The idea is to use it as a spread or dip on toasted bread (I was thinking rice crackers). So bad form there, but it did make for a tasty condiment.

I used some small, wrinkled cucumbers (about 5 inches long and 1 inch in diameter -- recipe called for English cucumbers, whatever they are). Wasn't clear whether I should peel them so I did roughly. Recipe called for dried black mushrooms. All I could find were marked shiitake, but they're pretty much what I used to be able to get. Also called for fresh water chestnuts, but I forgot to write that down on my shopping list, so we did without. Neither the cucumbers nor the carrots were really great, but the tomatoes were remarkable. (Again, I didn't have Tropp's house oil and vinegar blends, which she uses throughout the book, so had to make do with sesame oil and the usual vinegar selection.)

Also last night I decided to cook up 4 cups of Tropp's "Vegetable Infusion" -- I needed stock for the Hunan vegetables sauce, for the lima beans (I used Irene Kuo's recipe there, but substituted baby lima beans for the preferred fordhooks because I figured they'd blend into the rice better), and for the rice (although I didn't quite understand that at the time). A very last-minute decision I hadn't shopped for, so didn't have lemongrass (or something else I don't recall offhand). Used a little mild olive oil. Cooked it last night, left it in the pot overnight, rewarmed it today before straining. Don't recall even tasting it, but it was surprisingly dark and worked out very well. In particular, adding some stock to the fried rice was a revelation -- turned it into something more like risotto.

I saved one-half of one of the two 1.25 lb. slabs of salmon, so will try something different with it, and may get a better reading on the quality (or lack thereof) of the fish. Will probably do a teriyaki marinade and broil it -- probably the easiest way to cook really nice salmon.

Prince died today. Huge loss. I played Hits while I was cooking today -- a nice break from trying to grade jazz. Looked him up on Rhapsody and they don't seem to have anything. Haven't heard either of his 2015 albums, but did hear (on Rhapsody) his 2014 ones. Last A-list record I've heard was 3121 in 2006.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Daily Log

Clinton won the New York Democratic Primary with about 57% of the vote, a bit more than I expected after a highly contested couple weeks. Some preliminary data showed Clinton leading congressional districts 1-18, 24-26; that leaves Sanders 19 (R-Hudson Valley), 20 (D-Albany), 21 (R: Adirondacks), 22 (R-Utica), 23 (R-Corning), 27 (R-between Buffalo and Rochester), although he did better than his state average in 1-2 (R-Long Island), 6 (D-Queens), 11 (R-Staten Island), 18 (D-Westchester), 24 (R-Syracuse), 25 (D-Rochester), 26 (D-Buffalo). Republicans hold 9 of New York's 27 districts; Sanders won five and improved his average in the other four. Sanders won 1 (of 18) Democratic districts, and did better than average in four. In other words, Sanders did best where the party is weakest, worst where the party is strongest.

Clinton topped 70% in districts 5 (Queens), 15 (Bronx), 16 (Yonkers).

Monday, April 18, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 26515 [26475] rated (+40), 418 [425] unrated (-7).

Big bump in the rated count this week -- first time in well over a month to top 30 and did so by a bunch. Had a replenished jazz queue to work through, and until I got to the Clean Feeds they didn't require a lot of attention. Also noticed on Rhapsody a clutch of new records by artists I recognize as worth checking out (Hayes Carll, The Coathangers, Mayer Hawthorne, Parquet Courts, Sturgill Simpson, plus Kanye West finally appeared). Also had Jason Gubbels' list, and a couple Christgau Expert Witness columns (one on blues and another on alt-rock -- I had already written up Parquet Courts but not Coathangers or the new Tacocat, and my endorsement of Full Communism isn't just political).

Of the eight B+(***) records below, two were Christgau A- records (Tacocat, Kanye West). I gave up on them after two or three plays, without being certain more plays wouldn't help. Same thing for the Sturgill Simpson album, possibly an even better prospect. I'm having similar indecision with the new PJ Harvey, but save that for next week.

I voted in Downbeat's annual critics poll last week. I'm not going to do a separate post on this -- I was exhausted after it took more than 24 hours to I finish the 16 pages of ballots (with 50-some questions), on top of the usual aggravations and frustrations. Still, you can scan through my worksheet if you like. I suppose I should mention that I build each year's worksheet on the last, which helps with consistency (and jogs my increasingly damaged memory) but lets me get by without giving many questions much fresh thought. And this all the more true in categories I don't have any real thoughts -- fresh or received -- on, like Composer, Arranger, or various minor instruments (e.g., I almost never notice electric bass or keyboards, so trying to come up with three names there is even harder than trying to whittle down thirty or more luminaries on acoustic bass or piano).

I will mention that my HOF pick was George Russell. Downbeat's Hall is excessively restrictive and therefore woefully underpopulated, so there is a long list of worthies to pick from (and many more not even on Downbeat's prospect list). (By contrast, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is too large, not that the judges there have picked up all who deserve a slot.) Still, Russell is a giant among the uninducted, but he never has gotten the credit he deserves. For instance, when you think of Latin-Bebop, you recall Dizzy Gillespie (not the writer of "Cubana Be Cubana Bop"). When you think of modal jazz, you come up with Miles Davis and John Coltrane (not the guy who wrote the big book that showed how it is done). When you think of jazz workshops, you get Mingus (not Russell). Most likely you can't think of anyone who pioneered electronics in jazz. Or recall that Russell was the mentor of nearly a dozen important Scandinavian (mostly Norwegian) jazz musicians who started out in the early 1970s. When Russell returned from Norway, got a job at New England Conservatory where he was one of the architects of modern jazz education. The people who vote in Downbeat's Readers Poll are never going to put all that together, but you'd think that jazz critics would know at least this much.

Of course, many do, but they have other concerns, and the competition is stiff. It took Lee Konitz 65 years to get in last year, after finishing in the top three for nearly a decade -- leapfrogged many times recently by guys who finally got voters' attention the year before by dying (2006: Jackie McLean, 2007: Andrew Hill, 2009: Freddie Hubbard, 2011: Abbey Lincoln, 2012: Paul Motian, 2013: Charlie Haden, 2014: Jim Hall; Hank Jones won in 2008 then died in 2010; the only other living musician in this stretch was Muhal Richard Abrams in 2010; Russell died in 2009, got a boost then, but not enough). I have no idea who will win this year, but Paul Bley is probably the top choice among the recently deceased, and Anthony Braxton is the obvious pick among the living (and still very active).

I decided to write two names in, not so much because they were my next picks -- these rank lists are nowhere near that precise -- as hoping that they'll be picked up in future ballots: Mal Waldron and Jimmy Rushing. Waldron (1926-2002) is most famous as Billie Holiday's pianist, but he had a brilliant career as a leader and composer, made a remarkable move from postbop to avant-garde with his later group records like The Git Go and Crowd Scene, but perhaps his best records were duos with Steve Lacy, Marion Brown, and Jackie McLean (Left Alone '86). Rushing (1901-72) was the greatest of the Kansas City blues shouters, starting with Walter Page and Bennie Moten and following Count Basie to New York, where he cut many great albums -- a personal favorite from the year before he died is the out-of-print The You and Me That Used to Be.

This has nothing to do with music, but I should note and lament the passing of Dewane Hixon (1933-2016). He was a cousin, the oldest son of my mother's slightly older sister Edith. They moved from Oklahoma to Modesto, California in 1952, so we didn't see them much -- we drove to California in 1956; Edith, with two other sons (but I think not Dewane) came through Wichita around 1958. Dewane had a job working for an aircraft dealer and came to Wichita once for some training. He had a story about beating a traffic ticket when the cop stopped him and asked to see his pilot's license -- he whipped one out. I don't remember his father, Otis Hixon, who died from something heart-related in 1967, but relatives often said that Dewane reminded them of Otis, particularly as a practical joker. Dewane settled near Phoenix, and Edith moved there. After my mother died in 2000, we drove to Phoenix to see Edith, and spent quite a bit of time with Dewane. Edith died that December, at 89, the last of eight siblings. I went back to Phoenix two more times in the next few years. Always stopped to see Dewane, tell jokes, argue politics, and reminisce. He had a delivery service business, and was still working it last I heard last year. About half my cousins on my mother's side have passed now: all are older than me, the oldest survivor 90. Even stranger to lose that generation than my aunts and uncles before them.

Let me also note that I continue to be learn things from Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal, which I quoted from in yesterday's post. The next few pages after yesterday's quote add to the list of Bill Clinton's "counter-scheduling" practices -- the crime bill, welfare reform, the "grand bargain" he was working on with Newt Gingrich to privatize a big chunk of Social Security. Frank focuses on how these acts reflect a deeper shift in the Democratic Party from a working-class base to one based on well-to-do professionals, one that may be socially liberal but cares little about inequality. Thus far -- I've gotten to be a shamefully slow reader, as well as one who can only focus for a few pages at a time, so I'm only about half-way through a short book -- he hasn't drawn out the political conclusions: e.g., how by undermining traditional Democratic groups Clinton was able to capture the party for his own personal purposes, which include fronting his wife's candidacy. But given what Frank shows, that part is pretty obvious.

In some ways I find Frank's book even more shocking than Jane Mayer's Dark Money. If it was just the Kochs and their ilk that had set out to undermine American democracy, there would be plenty of popular reaction. But when you turn the opposition over to "leaders" like the Clintons, there's no telling what they won't surrender (supposedly to defend you).

Recommended music links:

New records rated this week:

  • Hayes Carll: Lovers and Leavers (2016, Highway 87): [r]: B+(***)
  • Cavern of Anti-Matter: Void Beats/Invocation Trex (2016, Duophonic): [r]: B+(***)
  • Chimurenga Renaissance: Rize Vadzimu Rize (2014, Brick Lane): [r]: B+(*)
  • Chimurenga Renaissance: Girlz With Gunz (2016, Glitterbeat, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Coathangers: Nosebleed Weekend (2016, Suicide Squeeze): [r]: A-
  • Shemekia Copeland: Outskirts of Love (2015, Alligator): [r]: B+(*)
  • Daria: Strawberry Fields Forever: Songs by the Beatles (2016, OA2): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Flatbush Zombies: 3001: A Laced Odyssey (2016, Glorious Dead): [r]: B+(**)
  • Michael Formanek/Ensemble Kolossus: The Distance (2014 [2016], ECM): [dl]: B+(***)
  • James Freeman: Echoes of Nature III (2016, Edgetone): [cd]: B-
  • Matthew Fries: Parallel States (2015 [2016], Xcappa): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Alexander Hawkins/Evan Parker: Leaps in Leicester (2015 [2016], Clean Feed): [cd]: A-
  • Jean-Brice Godet Quartet: Mujô (2013 [2016], Fou): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Mayer Hawthorne: Man About Town (2016, Vagrant): [r]: B+(**)
  • Kamaiyah: A Good Night in the Ghetto (2016, self-released): [r]: B+(**)
  • Roberto Magris: Need to Bring Out Love (2016, JMood): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Daniel Meron: Sky Begins (2015 [2016], Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit): [cd]: B
  • Moodymann: DJ-Kicks (2016, !K7): [r]: B+(**)
  • Roy Nathanson: Nearness and You (2015 [2016], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(*)
  • New Zion w. Cyro: Sunshine Seas (2016, Rare Noise): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Noertker's Moxie & the Melancholics: Curious Worlds: The Art & Imagination of David Beck (2016, Edgetone): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Parquet Courts: Human Performance (2016, Rough Trade): [r]: A-
  • Restroy: Saturn Return (2016, Milk Factory): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Eric Revis Trio: Crowded Solitudes (2015 [2016], Clean Feed): [cd]: A-
  • Rent Romus/Teddy Rankin-Parker/Daniel Pearce: LiR (2014 [2016], Edgetone): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Mikael Seifu: Zelalem (2016, RVNG Intl, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Sturgill Simpson: A Sailor's Guide to the Earth (2016, Atlantic): [r]: B+(***)
  • Esperanza Spalding: Emily's D+Evolution (2016, Concord): [r]: B
  • Mavis Staples: Livin' on a High Note (2016, Anti-): [r]: B+(**)
  • Starlite Motel: Awosting Falls (2014 [2016], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Tacocat: Lost Time (2016, Hardly Art): [r]: B+(***)
  • Twenty One 4tet: Live at Zaal 100 (2015 [2016], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Kanye West: The Life of Pablo (2016, Def Jam/GOOD Music): [r]: B+(***)

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

  • The Ex: The Ex at Bimhuis (1991-2015) (1991-2015 [2015], Ex, 2CD): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Ella Fitzgerald: Jazz at the Philharmonic: The Ella Fitzgerald Set (1949-54 [2016], Verve): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Rough Guide to Bottleneck Blues [Second Edition] (1926-40 [2016], World Music Network): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Rough Guide to the Blues Songsters: Reborn and Remastered (1926-35 [2015], World Music Network): [r]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • The Ex: 30 (1980-2006 [2009], Ex, 2CD): [bc]: B+(***)
  • The Ex: Catch My Shoe (2010, Ex): [bc]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Bobby Avey: Inhuman Wilderness (Inner Voice Jazz): June 24
  • The Dynamic Les DeMerle Band: Comin' Home Baby (Origin)
  • Nick Fraser: Starer (self-released): April 29
  • Alex Goodman: Border Crossing (OA2): April 15
  • Keefe Jackson/Jason Adasiewicz: Rows and Rows (Delmark)
  • Scott Neumann/Tom Christensen: Spin Cycle (Sound Footing): May 6
  • Sebastian Noelle: Shelter (Fresh Sound New Talent): advance, June 3
  • The Oatmeal Jazz Combo: Instant Oats (LGY)
  • Sonny Rollins: Holding the Stage: Road Shows Vol. 4 (1979-2012, Okeh)
  • Nana Simopoulos: Skins (Na): June 20

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Jazz at the Philharmonic: The Ella Fitzgerald Set (1949-54 [2016], Verve): B+(*) [rhapsody]
  • The Rough Guide to Bottleneck Blues (1926-40 [2016], World Music Network): B+(***) [rhapsody]
  • The Rough Guide to the Blues Songsters: Reborn and Remastered (1926-35 [2015], World Music Network): A- [rhapsody]

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Weekend Roundup

Quickly, some scattered links this week:

  • George Monbiot: Neoliberalism -- the ideology at the root of all our problems: The term is scarcely ever used in the US, where right-wing pundits insist that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher (pictured at the top) are regarded as purely conservative folk heroes. Yet the term was coined at a 1938 conference featuring Austrian economists Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, who used it to articulate an extreme belief in free markets in opposition to "collectivism" -- a term they felt rounded up all the evil political movements of the era: nazism, communism, and most importantly social democracy. The term soon fell out of use: in the US the ideas mostly appealed to red-baiting right wingers who preferred to call themselves "conservatives"; in Britain, the term has mostly been picked up by its opponents, since it seems to tie together both the Conservative and Liberal parties, as well as describe where the "New Labour" party faction went so terribly wrong. Of course, the same ideas infected the Democratic Party, particularly through Carter's deregulation mania, Clinton's embrace of "free trade" deals and "small government," continuing through Obama (whose signature plans, like health care reform and a "cap-and-trade" greenhouse gas market were originally hatched in neoliberal "think tanks"). Still, I wonder if it isn't too pat to catalog every instance of self-serving capitalist greed and dignify it with an innocuous ideological label. Monbiot notes that neoliberal policy directives have failed so often their underlying theories have achieved zombie status, then complains that "The left has produced no new framework of economic thought for 80 years. This is why the zombie walks." The zombie walks because the rich have rigged the system. What we need isn't another framework; it's countervaling power.

    Much quotable here; this is just a sample:

    The greater the failure, the more extreme the ideology becomes. Governments use neoliberal crises as both excuse and opportunity to cut taxes, privatise remaining public services, rip holes in the social safety net, deregulate corporations and re-regulate citizens. The self-hating state now sinks its teeth into every organ of the public sector.

    Perhaps the most dangerous impact of neoliberalism is not the economic crises it has caused, but the political crisis. As the domain of the state is reduced, our ability to change the course of our lives through voting also contracts. Instead, neoliberal theory asserts, people can exercise choice through spending. But some have more to spend than others: in the great consumer or shareholder democracy, votes are not equally distributed. The result is a disempowerment of the poor and middle. As parties of the right and former left adopt similar neoliberal policies, disempowerment turns to disenfranchisement. Large numbers of people have been shed from politics.

    Monbiot has a new book, How Did We Get Into This Mess? (Verso). He also cites another interesting title, Andrew Sayer: Why We Can't Afford the Rich (Policy Press, paperback in May). Also links to Paul Verhaeghe: Neoliberalism has brought out the worst in us.

  • Michael Specter: Life-Expectancy Inequality Grows in America:

    It will surprise nobody to learn that life expectancy increases with income. Coming, however, in the midst of a Presidential campaign in which the corrosive effects of income inequality have been a principal debate topic, the data and its implications for public policy are particularly striking: the richest one per cent of American men live 14.6 years longer on average than the poorest one per cent. For women, the average difference is a just over ten years.

    The gap appears to be growing fast. The researchers, led by Raj Chetty, a professor of economics at Stanford University, analyzed more than 1.4 billion federal tax returns, as well as mortality data from the Social Security Administration, from the years 2001 to 2014. In that period, the life expectancy of the richest five per cent of Americans increased by roughly three years. For the poorest five per cent, there was no increase.

  • DR Tucker: Ship of Fools: The fourth down of five straight rants about "Bernie or Bust"-ers ("who still insist that under no circumstances will they vote for the 'corporatist' Hillary Clinton if she defeats Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination"). After five paragraphs of imagining Trumpian hell, he concludes:

    The inconvenient truth is that the "Bernie or Bust" crowd is indistinguishable from right-wing fundamentalists in their loathing of compromise and their refusal to recognize that sometimes people can make bad decisions in good faith. Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Al Gore are neither evil nor corrupt. Neither is Bernie Sanders, for that matter . . . but what does it say about those who only recognize morality in the latter, and malevolence in the former?

    First, he probably should have stopped at "evil" and not brought up "corrupt": if there's anything the Clintons have done consistently throughout their political careers, it's been to cozy up to moneyed interests -- be they Tyson and Walmart in Arkansas, or Goldman Sachs and Citibank in New York. Maybe it's legal for a company that was saved by billions of dollars of federal bailouts to pay you $650k for one little speech, but it's hard to say there's nothing corrupt about it. Second, are we really talking about compromises, or simply different goals? When the Clinton's concocted their health care scheme, were they backing off from a single-payer approach just enough to secure passage, or were they trying to pitch fat business opportunities to the insurance companies and HMOs? If you want an example of a compromise, take Sanders supporting Obama's ACA even though he clearly was aware of and wanted something better. I'm not saying that the Clintons don't compromise, let alone that they have no principles to compromise. But I do think it's fair to say that their principles and aims are very different from those of people who prefer Sanders. Probably very different from their own supporters too.

    It's pathetic that Tucker can't tell the difference between Sanders supporters and right-wing fundamentalists. Also that he doesn't recognize that most Sanders supporters aren't died-in-the-wool leftists. The least of Clinton's problems is that those "Bernie-or-bust"-ers will wind up voting for Jill Stein. Two much bigger problems are that Clinton won't campaign on anything that materially promises to help the lives of the voters who have been energized by Sanders' campaign and/or that she's already lost so much credibility that many people won't trust her. And again, her problem isn't with confirmed leftists, who are hypersensitive to the perils of fascism and accustomed to settling for "lesser evils." Her problem is the vast mass of Americans who can't tell the difference between the two parties, either because they're uninformed or because they're all too aware that changing the guard in Washington hasn't made any appreciable difference in their own lives.

    Worse still is Tucker's Running Up That Hill, where he urges the DNC to ban Sanders from speaking at the Democratic Convention:

    Why should Clinton genuflect to someone who a) explicitly said she doesn't have what it takes to be president, b) called for a primary challenge to the current Democratic President, and c) is not a Democrat?

    Speaking of concessions, a compelling case can be made that if Sanders suspends his campaign after losing badly in this Tuesday's New York Democratic primary, he should be excluded from speaking in any capacity at the Democratic convention. It would be rather divisive to give a prominent speaking position at that convention to someone who seems to believe that the Democratic Party has prostituted itself to economically powerful johns and contracted the social disease of "corporatism." If Sanders addressed the convention and repeated his campaign rhetoric, would he not offend convention attendees who regard certain elements of Sanders's shtick as a tone-deaf and tacky trashing of President Obama? [ . . . ] Those who are thinking dispassionately will not be offended by the exclusion of Sanders from the convention, and will understand the reasons why he wasn't invited to speak.

    Didn't the DNC try to suppress dissent (or do I mean democracy?) once before -- in 1968? As I recall, that didn't work out so well. A sane person would see the convention as an opportunity to bind the Party divided by the primaries back together, but Tucker seems to prefer laying waste to those who had challenged party orthodoxy, thereby exacerbating the split in the Party. I suppose he could point to Pat Buchanan's speech at the Republican Convention in 1992 as an example where such a concession backfired. (If you recall that speech, it's probably because Molly Ivins allowed that "it probably sounded better in the original German.") Nonetheless, I can't imagine Sanders following suit -- especially after the votes are counted -- unless Clinton follows Tucker's advice and pushes him out. And if she's that thin-skinned, she's unprepared for the job ahead.

    PS: I wouldn't have read these pieces had they not appeared in the otherwise admirable Washington Monthly blog, which Tucker has totally hijacked for his rants. Please bring back Katherine Geier.

  • Corey Rubin: Magical Realism, and other neoliberal delusions: Among many other thoughts, this on the obsolescence of the DLC political style:

    Though I'm obviously pleased if Sanders beat Clinton in the debate, it's the other two victories that are most important to me. For those of us who are Sanders supporters, the issue has never really been Hillary Clinton but always the politics that she stands for. Even if Sanders ultimately loses the nomination, the fact that this may be the last one or two election cycles in which Clinton-style politics stands a chance: that for us is the real point of this whole thing.

    I'm always uncertain whether Clinton supporters have a comparable view. While there are some, like Jonathan Chait or Paul Starr, for whom that kind of politics is substantively attractive, and who will genuinely mourn its disappearance, most of Clinton's supporters seem to be more in synch with Sanders's politics. They say they like Bernie and agree with his politics; it's just not realistic, they say, to think that the American electorate will support that.

    Which makes these liberals' attraction to Clinton all the more puzzling. If it's all pure pragmatism for you -- despite your personal support for Bernie's positions, you think only her style of politics can win in the United States -- what are you going to do, the next election cycle, when there's no one, certainly no one of her talent or skills and level of organizational support, who's able to articulate that kind of politics?

  • Daniel Larson: The Libyan War and Obama's 'Worst Mistake': When asked one of those self-flagellating questions, Obama offered that his worst mistake was "Probably failing to plan for the day after what I think was the right thing to do in intervening in Libya." I can think of several worse ones. One was not fixing the Bush tax cuts when he had the votes to do so right after the 2008 election. (Sure, I understand that he didn't do so because raising taxes in a recession would have seemed contractionary, and because he wanted to play up his bipartisanship, and because they were due to sunset in a few years anyway, but they would have cut into the swollen deficits that caused so much alarm, in turn leading to austerity cutbacks that really were contractionary. Moreover, he could have floated tax rebates to counter the increases short-term, so they would have been neutral or better while improving the long-term outlook.) Another was pretending that the US had succeeded in Iraq when his belated withdrawal was complete, which left him open to the charge that his withdrawal turned Bush's victory into the rise of ISIS. I could come up with a few dozen more before getting into Libya, where in retrospect the intervention has come to look like a worse decision than the aftermath. As Larson puts it:

    I don't think this was Obama's biggest mistake, but it is revealing that he remains convinced that this lack of post-Gaddafi planning is worse than the far greater error of intervening in Libya in the first place. As we saw last week, this has become the self-serving rallying cry of Libyan war supporters. The only error interventionists are capable of recognizing is that of doing "too little." They can't admit that the intervention itself is a mistake without fully acknowledging their bad judgment in supporting it. [ . . . ]

    Obama knew at the time that there was absolutely no political support in the U.S. or anywhere else for a prolonged mission in Libya. Promising not to start an open-ended mission in Libya is what made the war politically viable here at home. The public would tolerate bombing for eight months and then writing off the country, but there wouldn't be similar patience for a new occupation in yet another Muslim country with the costs and casualties that would likely entail.

    It was not an oversight by the intervening governments when they left Libya to its own devices. That was part of the plan, such as it was, from the very beginning. So it is hard to take Obama seriously when he faults himself for not committing the U.S. to a larger, costlier role in Libya when he and the other allied leaders deliberately decided against doing that. They made that decision because they wanted a low-risk intervention on the cheap, and they certainly weren't prepared to make a long-term commitment to police and rebuild Libya. But they were willing to help throw the country into chaos and to destabilize the surrounding region and declare victory when the regime change they supposedly weren't seeking had been achieved.

    One last point is that the US intervention didn't end when the bombing did. Obama may not have planned for the aftermath, but the CIA blundered in anyway, which is how that Benghazi! fiasco happened.

I want to close with a fairly long quote from Thomas Frank's new book, Listen, Liberal: Or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (pp. 89-91):

[Bill] Clinton's wandering political identity fascinated both his admirers and biographers, many of whom chose to explain it as a quest: Bill Clinton had to prove, to himself and the nation, that he was a genuine New Democrat. He had to grow into presidential maturity. And the way he had to do it was by somehow damaging or insulting traditional Democratic groups that represented the party's tradition of egalitarianism. Then we would know that the New Deal was really dead. Then we could be sure.

This became such a cherished idea among Clinton's campaign team that they had a catchphrase for it: "counter-scheduling." During the 1992 race, as though to compensate for his friend-of-the-little-guy economic theme, Clinton would confront and deliberately antagonize certain elements of the Democratic Party's traditional base in order to assure voters that "interest groups" would have no say in a New Democratic White House. As for those interest groups themselves, Clinton knew he could insult them with impunity. They had nowhere else to go, in the cherished logic of Democratic centralism.

The most famous target of Clinton's counter-scheduling strategy was the civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, the bête noir of centrists and the living embodiment of the poilitics the Democratic Leadership Council had set out to extinguish. At a 1992 meeting of Jackson's Rainbow Coalition, with Jackson sitting to his left, Clinton went out of his way to criticize a controversial rapper called Sister Souljah who had addressed the conference on the previous day. The exact circumstances of Clinton's insult have long been forgotten, but the fact of it has gone down in the annals of politicking as a stroke of genius, an example of the sort of thing that New Democrats should always be doing in order to discipline their party's base.

Once Clinton was in the White House, counter-scheduling mutated from a campaign tactic to a philosophy of government. At a retreat in the administration's early days, Bill's chief political adviser, Hillary Clinton, instructed White House officials how it was going to be done. As Carl Bernstein describes the scene, Hillary announced that the public must be made to understand that Bill was taking them on a "journey" and that he had a "vision" for what the administration was doing, a "story" that distinguished good from evil. The way to dramatize this story, the first lady continued (in Bernstein's telling), was to pick a fight with supporters.

You show people what you're willing to fight for, Hillary said, when you fight your friends -- by which, in this context, she clearly meant, When you make them your enemy.

NAFTA would become the first great test of this theory of the presidency, with Clinton defying not only organized labor but much of his own party in Congress. In one sense, it achieved the desired results. For New Democrats and for much of the press, NAFTA was Clinton's "finest hour," his "boldest action," an act befitting a real he-man of a president who showed he could stand up to labor and thereby assure the world that he was not a captive of traditional Democratic interests.

But there was also an important difference. NAFTA was not symbolism. With this deed, Clinton was not merely insulting an important constituency, as he had done with Jesse Jackson and Sister Souljah. With NAFTA he connived in that constituency's ruin. He assisted in the destruction of its economic power. He did his part to undermine his party's greatest ally, to ensure that labor would be too weak to organize workers from that point forward. Clinton made the problems of working people materially worse.

One effect of Clinton's NAFTA push was that the unions were unable to muster effective support for Clinton's signature health care bill. Then in 1994 the Republicans gained control of Congress and Clinton never again had to worry about the Democrats pushing some progressive reform through Congress. And by crippling the unions, Clinton was able to consolidate his control of the Democratic Party machine, something which kept Democrats weak in Congress (except for 2006-2010, when Howard Dean was Party Chairman) and set up Hillary's campaigns in 2008 and this year. (Sure, Obama beat Hillary in 2008, but welcomed her people into his team, got rid of Dean, and restored presidential crony control of the Party machinery, making Hillary a shoe-in this year -- at least until the rank-and-file weighed in.)

The bottom line here is that most people's interests should align with the Democrats -- they damn sure don't line up with the Republicans -- yet the Democrats don't get their votes, because party leaders like the Clintons, despite whatever they may promise during a campaign, cannot be trusted to support them.

Friday, April 15, 2016


I started writing this up as a Weekend Roundup bullet item, but decided to let it stand [almost] on its own.

Tom Hayden: I Used to Support Bernie, but Then I Changed My Mind: The famed 1960s New Left radical, a founder of SDS, defendant at the Chicago 8/7 trial, and moderately successful California politician, explains:

I intend to vote for Hillary Clinton in the California primary for one fundamental reason. It has to do with race. My life since 1960 has been committed to the causes of African Americans, the Chicano movement, the labor movement, and freedom struggles in Vietnam, Cuba and Latin America. In the environmental movement I start from the premise of environmental justice for the poor and communities of color. My wife is a descendant of the Oglala Sioux, and my whole family is inter-racial.

What would cause me to turn my back on all those people who have shaped who I am? That would be a transgression on my personal code. I have been on too many freedom rides, too many marches, too many jail cells, and far too many gravesites to breach that trust. And I have been so tied to the women's movement that I cannot imagine scoffing at the chance to vote for a woman president. When I understood that the overwhelming consensus from those communities was for Hillary -- for instance the Congressional Black Caucus and Sacramento's Latino caucus -- that was the decisive factor for me. I am gratified with Bernie's increasing support from these communities of color, though it has appeared to be too little and too late. Bernie's campaign has had all the money in the world to invest in inner city organizing, starting 18 months ago. He chose to invest resources instead in white-majority regions at the expense of the Deep South and urban North.

I'm surprised to see Sanders depicted as having "all the money in the world," but checking Open Secrets I was even more surprised to see that he has managed to collect $139 million so far -- more than Ted Cruz ($119 million, including $52 million PAC money), still less than Hillary Clinton ($222 million, including $62 million PAC; Sanders has made a big point about not having a dark money PAC). Most of Sanders' money came in February ($42M) and March ($44M), well into the primary season. Until that happened, he was mostly dependent on volunteer efforts. I know, for instance, that he's had an active supporter group here in Wichita for over a year, and they would be pretty surprised to find he's rolling in all that money. They did, however, organize Sanders' second-largest victory margin to date -- although he's since won bigger elsewhere. As primary season unfolded, the money understandably went to critically competitive states. And Clinton, who started with (and still has) much more money, had somehow locked up the Deep South where most Democrats are black -- maybe she had made the investments Hayden charges Sanders with neglecting. (Still, isn't it interesting that a seasoned politician like Hayden sees money as the essential element in securing the loyalties of black and Latino votes? The implication is that those votes are tied to group elites in a way that approximates the old political machines.) And even more than cash, the big advantage that the Clintons brought into this election was a well-oiled patronage machine. The clearest evidence that established patronage matters is Clinton's 469-31 superdelegate lead. (Sanders' contributions have averaged $27-30, which works out to five million-plus donations though there are repeaters -- I know that my wife has donated $27 several times, probably putting her over $100 by now. Beyond her PAC money, Clinton has also gone after small donations, and claims more than one million donors. Sanders has more, "nearly two million donors" (Hillary Clinton Touts One Million Donors, While Bernie Sanders Approaches Two).

I've been somewhat mystified why Clinton enjoys such a large lead over Sanders among black voters. It's certainly not based on a sober examination of positions and issues, and I doubt if it has much to do with personal style. The best I've been able to come up with is that even with growing economic inequality and the decimation of the middle class all across America, most blacks have improved their lot, and see their solidarity with the Democratic Party as having helped them out. This isn't an unreasonable stance, and no doubt if/when Clinton wins she'll owe blacks and Latinos big time -- but she'll also owe bankers and the war industry, and in the end I suspect their investments will pay off better.

If Hayden was just a cog in the Democratic Party machine, I could see his choice: indeed, it would be as unremarkable as it's been for hundreds or thousands of Party hacks all across America. But Hayden was one of the most prominent figures in the New Left in the 1960s. One might argue that choosing Clinton over Sanders shows that he's not really much of a leftist, but more likely, I suspect, he's just proving one of the major critiques of the New Left: that it was run by people who came from privileged backgrounds and saw their role as to advocate for other people who had been denied their good fortune. That's not bad per se, but in practice shifted much of the left's focus from class to minority and identity issues like race (and sex and sexual orientation). They've done good work on all those fronts, but while they were off helping others the right smashed the unions that propped up the middle class and created vast inequality -- so much so that young people in America today have less reason to expect to live out their lives in comfort and freedom (e.g., free of debt) than any past generation for at least a century.

The upshot is that we have a guy who's spent more than fifty years working towards radical political change yet can't recognize it when it's actually happening, just because it's not coming from where he's been expecting it. The irony is that the Old Left that Hayden rejected had made the same mistake, expecting the working classes to rise up even after labor unions had won them middle-class jobs and social security, enough to buy homes (and cars, etc.) and send their kids to college and retire comfortably -- enough luxury they could even afford to look down on the less fortunate. Hayden, like much of the New Left, rebelled against the white working class as much as against the Old Left. I suspect that's because he was never of it, whereas those of us who grew up there were better able to notice when things went sour.

A few other quick links, limited to the elections. Next up is the New York primary, where 538's "projected results" favor Clinton 57.8-39.6%, although I only see one (of eight) April polls where she has that kind of margin -- 10-12% is typical. I don't expect Sanders to win, but wouldn't be surprised if it turns out to be much closer. (Friends who watched here -- I didn't, but baked them some cookies -- tell me Sanders had a very good debate last night.) On the Republican side it's Trump-Kasich-Cruz: 52.9-24.4-20.4%. You'd think that Trump's first majority win plus a third-place Cruz finish would turn the post-Wisconsin punditry around, but I doubt it. (Although I see that Josh Marshall is already out front there.) Trump, by the way, is polling well ahead in the April 27 primaries (Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania) -- as is Clinton (although Connecticut is closer, and a couple of Pennsylvania polls show her lead there down to +6 or +7).

By the way, while I was not listening to the debate, I somehow imagined Hillary saying:

Well, sure, I'm for everything that Senator Sanders is for, but I can assure you that under my administration none of that will actually get done, because I expect to spend the entire four years embroiled in one stupid scandal after another. And as I'm sure you're aware, no one -- certainly not Senator Sanders -- has more experience surviving stupid scandals than I.

Meanwhile, some brief links:

  • Jeff Merkley: Why I'm Supporting Bernie Sanders: The first endorsement of Sanders by a US Senator (Merkley represents Oregon).

    I grew up in working-class Oregon. On a single income, my parents could buy a home, take a vacation and help pay for college. My father worked with his hands as a millwright and built a middle-class life for us.

    My parents believed in education and they believed in the United States. When I was young, my father took me to the grade school and told me that if I went through those doors, and worked hard, I could do just about anything because we lived in America. My dad was right.

    Years later, my family and I still live in the same working-class community I grew up in. But America has gone off track, and the outlook for the kids growing up there is a lot gloomier today than 40 years ago.

    Many middle-class Americans are working longer for less income than decades ago, even while big-ticket expenses like housing, health care and college have relentlessly pushed higher.

    It is not that America is less wealthy than 40 years ago -- quite the contrary. The problem is that our economy, both by accident and design, has become rigged to make a fortunate few very well off while leaving most Americans struggling to keep up.

    And as economic power has become more concentrated, so too has political power. Special interests, aided by their political and judicial allies, have exercised an ever-tighter grip on our political system, from the rise of unlimited, secret campaign spending to a voter suppression movement.

  • David Jameson: Bernie Sanders Has His Own Shadowy Donors -- And They're Nurses: The Open Secrets page above shows that Sanders, despite his principled opposition to PACs, does have a tiny bit of "dark money" on his side (less than 1% of Clinton). This seems to be the explanation:

    In fairness to Sanders, there are differences between a super PAC like that of National Nurses United and one like Priorities USA, a group aligned with Clinton. Most of the money in the nurses super PAC likely comes from the dues that individual workers pay to their union, in small amounts each paycheck.

    In contrast, 98 percent of the money raised by Priorities USA Action in the second half of 2015 came from donors giving $100,000 or more, as The Huffington Post recently reported. And 90 percent of its money came from donors forking over at least $1 million.

  • Dean Baker: Bernie Sanders: Enemy of the World's Poor?:

    A popular theme in the media in recent days is that the world's poor would face disaster if Bernie Sanders ended up in the White House.[1] The story is that Sanders would try to protect jobs for manufacturing workers in the United States. The loss of these jobs has been a major source of downward pressure on the wages and living standards of a large portion of the working class over the last four decades.

    While saving manufacturing jobs here may be good for U.S. workers, the media line is that by trying to block imports from the developing world, Sanders would be denying hundreds of millions of people their route out of poverty. This story may be comforting for elites in the U.S. and Senator Sanders' political opponents, but it defies basic economics and common sense.

    The article goes on to tear the argument apart. No need to repeat the critique here, but I have to ask who would even bother to credit credit this line of thinking? Are there really people who think that Americans are so well off the government should devote itself to subsidizing the world's poorer countries? And that the best way to do that is to encourage businesses to set up sweatshops abroad? Practically every poll every taken shows that the number one (and pretty much the only) government program that a huge majority of Americans want to cut is foreign aid. It doesn't happen because (a) foreign aid doesn't really amount to much, and (b) regardless of its effect on foreign countries (and their people) aid (including trade rules) benefits certain influential Americans (usually big corporations), sometimes to the detriment of other Americans (often workers, although you can equally cast the weakening of domestic labor markets as a benefit to business interests).

  • Jason Horowitz: Bernie Sanders Campaign Suspends Jewish Outreach Coordinator for Vulgar Remarks About Netanyahu: The "vulgar remarks" were in a since-deleted Facebook post during the height of Netanyahu's Gaza slaughter last year. Those offended by the comments were were a couple of bigwigs who have never uttered a remotely critical word about Israel -- which is to say people whose touch with reality is sadly compromised. This sort of thing happens all the time to all sorts of candidates, and the standard reaction is to duck rather than fight -- even when the charge is baseless it's not something the candidate personally did and it's not something he or she wants to be distracted with. (One of the more famous examples I recall was when Obama's campaign fired Samantha Power for saying something rude about Hillary Clinton. Power was eventually given a prominent job in Obama's administration, in Clinton's State Department.) Worth noting that Sanders said some things in Thursday's debate that the Israel lobbyists would have found even more troubling (if not quite so conveniently objectionable):

    In Thursday night's debate, though, Mr. Sanders advocated a critical discussion of Israel that, while popular with his young liberal base, was unlikely to please the Jewish establishment figures who had sought to hold a common line on Israel in Democratic politics. Mr. Sanders criticized Mrs. Clinton's pro-Israel orthodoxy, called the Israeli army's use of arms against Palestinians "disproportionate" and argued that "we have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time."

  • Charles Pierce: Bill Clinton Fundamentally Doesn't Understand What Black Lives Matter Is About:

    But this is the second election in a row in which he is turning out to be one of his wife's clumsiest surrogates. I would make the modest suggestion to him that This Is Not About You. If you want to defend your record, write another massively unreadable book. If you want someone to defend your record ably, ask your wife. She seems to know how to do it best.

    I've long wondered whether Hillary's chances of becoming president wouldn't have improved had she divorced Bill after leaving office in 2001. There are many things I don't look forward to should she win, but he is high on the list. (Of course, she could divorce him then, but I figure she figures at least he's a good earner.) Maybe when The Good Wife runs its course we'll get a tangentially related but expert opinion.

    Pierce also has a piece on Thursday's debate: We Saw Bernie Sanders' Greatest Weakness Last Night: "At leas, that's what the Clinton camp is hoping you'll believe this morning." The "weakness" was that he said something unapproved (and virtually unheard of) about the Israel-Palestinian conflict:

    As somebody who is 100% pro-Israel, in the long run -- and this is not going to be easy, God only knows, but in the long run if we are ever going to bring peace to that region which has seen so much hatred and so much war, we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity.

    As Pierce put it, "In response, HRC went full pander."

  • John Judis: I am worried about Hillary Clinton again: After the debate:

    I don't understand why she can't put the Goldman, Sachs question behind her. I initially assumed that she either didn't have transcripts or that what she said was the usual milquetoast stuff politicians offer up. But her continued refusal to provide transcripts (which I now assume must exist) suggests that there must be something damning in them.

    I assume the transcripts will be anti-climactic. One's first reaction is likely to be: "Goldman Sachs is supposed to be smart about money, but they paid $650k for this?" If I was a shareholder I'd consider suing management. Maybe management could come back and explain that it wasn't just the speech they were buying, it was also a bribe. But wouldn't that make their lawyers a bit uneasy? Not to mention Clinton's lawyers. And doesn't the value of a bribe depreciate real fast when it becomes public knowledge. Perhaps better to say that part of the extraordinary value-added of a Clinton speech is its exclusivity. But why keep it exclusive unless, you know, it's some sort of, uh, favor? Judis goes on:

    I also think her refusal to answer straightforwardly questions about social security caps, carbon taxes, Libya and a $15 minimum wage makes her appear scripted at best. Like the Goldman non-answer, these kind of responses sow doubts about trust and credibility.

    For more along these lines: Anis Shivani: Half-truth Hillary finally exposed: This was the debate where Bernie Sanders changed the Democratic Party for good.

  • Aaron Bycoffe: A Huge Number of GOP Leaders Aren't Endorsing This Year: Partly because so many of the candidates they endorsed early (e.g., Marco Rubio) were rejected by the base voters, and partly because no one wants to be associated with the finalists in the GOP's race to the bottom (well, except for Chris Christie).

Monday, April 11, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 26475 [26446] rated (+29), 425 [414] unrated (+11).

Count up a bit, but that's mostly because I got into a run of listening to the legendary Dutch anarcho-punk group Ex, finding virtually all of their catalog easily accessible on Bandcamp. I discovered this cache when Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Merkuria (or Merkurya) died and I went off looking for his old Éthiopiques volume -- one I had long hoped to listen to. I also recalled that he had done a live album with the Ex (one I thought I had heard, but evidently not), as well as an A- record with Either/Orchestra (Éthiopiques 20: Live in Addis). I've long been interested in Ex, but it hasn't been easy coming across their records. Before this binge, my ratings were:

  • The Ex: Aural Guerrilla (1988, Fist Puppet): B+
  • The Ex: Singles, Period: The Vinyl Years 1980-1990 (1980-90 [2005], Ex): A-
  • The Ex: Instant (1995, Ex, 2CD): A-
  • The Ex: Turn (2004, Touch & Go, 2CD): A-
  • The Ex & Brass Unbound: Enormous Door (2013, Ex): A-

Perhaps I should also include some jazz-oriented records that guitarist Terrie Hessels (aka Terrie Ex) has done:

  • Ab Baars/Terrie Ex: Hef (2002, Atavistic): B+
  • Lean Left: The Ex Guitars Meet Nilssen-Love/Vandermark Duo, Volume 1: (2008 [2010], Smalltown Superjazz): A- -- Terrie Ex and Andy Moor
  • Lean Left: The Ex Guitars Meet Nilssen-Love/Vandermark Duo, Volume 2 (2008 [2010], Smalltown Superjazz): B+(***)
  • Offonoff: Slap and Tickle (2009, Smalltown Superjazz): B+(*) -- group with Massimo Pupillo and Paal Nilssen-Love
  • Paal Nilssen-Love/Terrie Ex: Hurgu! (2013, PNL): B+(**)

This preoccupation with the Ex has taken up so much time (and I'm still a few records short of done) that I haven't done anything in recognition of the recent deaths of Merle Haggard and Tony Conrad. The one thought I have on Haggard is that I'll always be grateful to my old friend Harold Karabell for prodding me to look beyond Hag's "Fightin' Side" jingoism. I have 25 of his records graded in my database, which leaves me far short, especially on the early LPs, but that's still quite a few. As for Conrad, I'm looking at his Early Minimalism box still sitting on my unplayed shelf over a decade after a publicist generously sent it to me. Safe to say, he's due.

I also want to note the recent death of a non-musician here, Manfred Menking. Born in Germany (East Prussia) in 1934, he survived bombing in WWII, fled west in advance of the Soviet army in 1944. He studied to become a doctor, was offered a Fulbright scholarship to complete his pediatric residency in Ohio. In 1973 he moved to Wichita, where one of his patients was my nephew. He was devoted to peace, working with Physicians for Social Responsibility and Wichita's Peace and Social Justice Center -- where we met him shortly after moving here in 1999. He was charming, delightful, very kind. It was a pleasure to have known him.

There was an uptick of incoming mail last week. Most importantly the long-awaited package from Portugal arrived -- probably a replacement after I complained last week. Probably just a temporary blip, but with my general slowdown this is the first time in a long time I've felt behind.

I commented on a Tom Carson tweet a couple days ago. Carson responded in an email that Robert Christgau forwarded to me, part of which noted that I don't allow comments on the blog. I've been using a piece of blog software called Serendipity. It has a reasonably nice feature set, but having used it for more than a decade, I'm stuck with an older version (which I've hacked on a bit), and more importantly I've been stuck on a server that isn't up to handling the now large (and somewhat bloated) database. I tried turning comments on for a while, but I didn't get much valuable feedback, partly because people had trouble with the interface. Spambots, on the other hand, seemed to sail through, and the maintenance got to be too much. Then I ran into database performance problems, so I hacked what I called a "faux blog" in parallel to the Serendipity one, and I've been updating both for some time now. I use the latter for links I post, because it's more likely you'll be served the page, but it doesn't have some nice features, like RSS, of comments.

However, because the "faux blog" is just a collection of hand-edited web pages, I can insert comments into those pages. The only thing is that you have to email them to me, and I have to decide it's worth the trouble, and we all have to wait until I update the site (which usually happens when I have something new to post, or sometimes when I've screwed up and need to fix something fast).

So I've added Carson's letter and a rather long-winded response to my Candidate Analogies post. Not sure whether this will become standard practice or is just a one-shot. I should note that I've bumped into Carson numerous times over the years. Back in the 1970s, he submitted an unassigned review of Brian Eno's Another Green World which Voice music editor Christgau liked enough to consider running alongside the review he had assigned me to write. Carson was one of the organizers of the Christgau 60th birthday Festschrift, Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough, and he edited my piece there (A Rock & Roll Critic Is Something to Be). He also offered invaluable editing advice when I wrote a "mass letter" as the 2004 election approached -- let's see, where is that thing? Oh, here. I've only read him erratically -- a big compilation of his writings would be most welcome, or maybe several as his political writings are matched by his culture critique (he long did a TV column for Esquire) -- and he's usually not only a sharp thinker but has retained a rock critic's ear for hook lines: possibly the most radical thing I've ever read was his conclusion to an essay (which I can't find now) on 1945 pointing out that winning WWII was the worst thing that ever happened to the United States.

I should also mention his novel, Gilligan's Wake -- perhaps the only novel I've read since 2001, partly because I could imagine him writing it just for me -- or more precisely because he presented a vision of 20th century America in myriad dazzling details that I was uniquely prepared to appreciate. Perhaps too much Alger Hiss, and too kind to Bob Dole, but brilliance abounds -- one bit that seems perfect is Mary Ann's self-healing hymen, maintaining her virginity no matter how much she screws around, a knack shared with America, the only country in the world that can fuck you over while remaining as pure and innocent as ever.

I've been struggling to get anything read recently, only finishing Jane Mayer's invaluable Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right a couple days ago. I should write something about the book, which updates and deepens Max Blumenthal's 2009 book Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party while paying particular attention to the Kochs and their financial and political networks, but no telling when I'll get around to it. Meanwhile, I came across Carson's review of Daniel Schulman's Koch family bio, Sons of Wichita, so thought I'd pass it along: The Brothers Koch: Family Drama and Disdain for Democracy.

New records rated this week:

  • Africaine 808: Basar (2016, Golf Channel): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Matt Criscuolo: The Dialogue (2016, Jazzeria): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jane Monheit: The Songbook Sessions: Ella Fitzgerald (2015 [2016], Emerald City): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Pet Shop Boys: Super (2016, X2): [r]: A-
  • Ernie Watts Quartet: Wheel of Time (2016, Flying Dolphin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Steve Wiest and Phröntrange: The High Road (2016, Blujazz): [cd]: B-

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

  • The Jim Cullum Jazz Band/William Warfield: George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess Live (1992 [2016], Riverwalk Jazz, 2CD): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Soul Sok Sega: Sega Sounds From Mauritius 1973-1979 (1973-79 [2016], Strut): [r]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • The Ex: Disturbing Domestic Peace (1980 [1992], Ex): [bc]: B+(**)
  • The Ex: History Is What's Happening (1982, Ex): [bc]: A-
  • The Ex: Tumult (1983 [1993], Ex): [bc]: B+(***)
  • The Ex: Blueprints for a Blackout (1984 [1992], Ex): [bc]: B+(*)
  • The Ex: Pokkeherrie (1985 [1995], Ex): B+(***)
  • The Ex: 1936, the Spanish Revolution (1986, Ex, EP): [bc]: B+(**)
  • The Ex: Too Many Cowboys (1986 [1987], Ex): [bc]: B+(***)
  • The Ex: Hands Up! You're Free (1983-86 [1988], Ex): [bc]: A-
  • The Ex: Joggers & Smoggers (1989, Ex, 2CD): [bc]: B+(*)
  • The Ex: Dead Fish (1989 [2004], Ex, EP): [bc]: B+(*)
  • The Ex + Tom Cora: Scrabbling at the Lock (1991, Ex): [bc]: B+(***)
  • The Ex + Tom Cora: And the Weathermen Shrug Their Shoulders (1993, Ex): [bc]: B+(**)
  • The Ex: Mudbird Shivers (1995, Ex): [bc]: B+(***)
  • The Ex: Starters Alternators (1998, Touch & Go): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Ex Orkest: Een Rondje Holland (2000 [2001], Ex): [bc]: B+(*)
  • The Ex: Dizzy Spells (2000 [2001], Touch & Go): [bc]: A-
  • Gétatchèw Mérkurya: Éthiopiques 14: Negus of Ethiopian Sax (1972 [2003], Buda Musique): [r]: A-
  • Getatchew Merkuria/The Ex & Guests: Moa Anbessa (2006, Terp): [bc]: A-
  • Getatchew Merkuria/The Ex & Friends: Y'Anbessaw Tezeta (1960-2012 [2012], Terp, 2CD): [bc]: B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Antonio Adolfo: Tropical Infinito (AAM): May 23
  • Daria: Strawberry Fields Forever: Songs by the Beatles (OA2): April 15
  • Matthew Fries: Parallel States (Xcappa): June 3
  • Jean-Brice Godet Quartet: Mujô (Fou)
  • Alexander Hawkins/Evan Parker: Leaps in Leicester (Clean Feed)
  • Louis Heriveaux: Triadic Episode (Hot Shoe)
  • Julie Kjaer 3: Dobbeltgaenger (Clean Feed)
  • Roy Nathanson: Nearness and You (Clean Feed)
  • New Zion w. Cyro: Sunshine Seas (Rare Noise): advance, April 20
  • Phil Palombi: Detroit Lean (Xcappa): May 24
  • Noah Preminger: Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground (self-released): May 6
  • Restroy: Saturn Return (Milk Factory): May 6
  • Eric Revis Trio: Crowded Solitudes (Clean Feed)
  • Carol Saboya: Carolina (AAM): May 23
  • Starlite Motel: Awosting Falls (Clean Feed)
  • Yves Theiler Trio: Dance in a Triangle (Migros)
  • Twenty One 4tet: Live at Zaal 100 (Clean Feed)
  • WorldService Project: For King and Country (Rare Noise): advance, April 29

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Daily Log

Heard today that Manfred Menking died (actually, April 4). Here's the obituary from the Wichita Eagle:

Menking, Friedrich Wilhelm Manfred passed away April 4, 2016, in Brentwood, TN after a long debilitating illness. His life began in Hamm, Germany on November 13, 1934. Childhood was spent in East Prussia, now part of Poland. Escaping allied bombing and the Russian push westward in 1944, his family fled to Aurich in northwest Germany, living with extended family. In 1951, he received an American Field Service scholarship to study for a year in Park Forest, IL. Following subsequent German high school graduation, he chose a medical career, studying in Munich, Vienna, and graduating at University of Marburg after which he interned. He then on a Fulbright scholarship returned to complete 4.5 years of pediatric residency and endocrine fellowship at Columbus, OH Children's Hospital. While there, he met and married wife of 49 years, Susan Winget, and welcomed his first-born, daughter Kirsten. In 1968, the family moved to Hamburg, Germany where he took further pediatric training and welcomed second daughter, Ellen. In 1973, he accepted a position at the Wichita Clinic in Wichita, KS. There, he had a successful career as pediatrician and endocrinologist, taking many diabetic youth on summer camp and backpacking experiences, and was well-loved by patients, parents and colleagues. His wartime childhood experiences led him to work fervently for world peace through education and understanding with active involvement in several peace and social justice organizations, national board membership of Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Inter-Faith Ministries' medical missions to Haiti. He and Susan moved to Nashville, TN in 2008 to enjoy grandparenthood. He is survived by wife, Susan; daughters, Dr. Kirsten Menking (Dr. Roger Anderson) with grandson, Blake Menking, Ellen Menking (Jack Jezioro) with grandson, Luke Jezioro; brother-in-law, Dr. Douglas Winget (Dottie) of Cincinnati, OH; German relatives: brother, Rainer Menking (Betty) of Munster; sister, Gisela Haensel (Klaus) of Kassel; as well as many local friends, nieces and nephews in Ohio, Wichita, Germany and Nashville. Memorial Life Celebration pending. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial contributions be directed to Physicians for Social Responsibility or Camp Discovery c/o in Wichita, KS. An online guestbook is available at, (615)-377-0775

We met Manfred shortly after we moved to Wichita in 1999. He was involved in the Peace Center here, and had long been active in Physicians for Social Responsibility. Turned out we had something else in common: he had been my nephew's pediatrician. A charming, delightful, very kind man. We were disappointed when he and his wife Susan moved to Nashville in 2008. I believe "long debilitating illness" referred to in the obit was Alzheimer's. Reports were that he had lost most of his memory of people and things, so it seemed pointless to try to visit or keep up, but he was amiable as always. It was a pleasure to have known him.

Facebook comment, on trombonists:

I only recently started getting some comments on this thread in the mail, so I had to wonder why no one mentioned Roswell Rudd -- but it turns out he was (quite properly) the first trombonist mentioned. He has two very solid A- records this year, one avant and one with a standards singer. His first important record came out in 1962, "School Days," with Steve Lacy. One of Ken Vandermark's greatest groups was named School Days for that album, featuring Jeb Bishop on trombone -- you can find their great albums on the Catalytic Sound Bandcamp. Someone mentioned "Flexible Flyer" then cast aspersions about the vocals, attributing them to Rudd's wife; actually, it's Sheila Jordan, and my favorite jazz vocal album ever. (Maybe the commenter is thinking of Lacy's wife, Irene Aebi.) Someone previously asked about great albums never on CD: Rudd's "Numatik Swing Band" (also with Jordan) has got to be in the running. Also seek out his various Herbie Nichols tributes (e.g., "Regeneration" -- for that matter seek out Nichols' mid-50s piano trios). Rudd also went through a world music phase -- v. "Blue Mongol" (with the throat singers). Lots of other important trombonists: Ray Anderson (cf. BassDrumBone) is nearly as important. George Lewis' solo album is a landmark. Craig Harris. Steve Swell. Grachan Moncur III did some important albums in the 1960s. Mangelsdorff, Rutherford, and Conny Bauer have already been mentioned. I love old-timers like Miff Mole, Dicky Wells, Kid Ory, Teagarden and Dickenson, Ellington's guys, Armstrong's too (he never went anywhere without a good bone player) and trad guys like Chris Barber. JJ, of course, but also Eddie Bert from the '50s, and Phil Ranelin from the '70s. Julian Priester. Steve Turre. Joe Fiedler is one of the best young players. Long list, rich tradition.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Candidate Analogies

I wanted to reply to this tweet by Tom Carson, but no way to unpack so much misunderstanding in 144 characters:

Bernie is the lefty Goldwater, Hils is the lefty Nixon. I suspect I'll end up voting for Nixon, but I've seen this movie before.

First, very obvious point: left and right are never symmetric, let alone mirror images of one another. Granted, the core issue can be viewed as a continuum: people on the left believe that all people are fundamentally decent, that everyone shares equal rights and deserves respect and fairness, while people on the right hold that for civilization to exist and survive society must be organized as a hierarchy, with those favored by great wealth lording over the hapless masses, using whatever force is needed to maintain order. Unpack this a bit and you'll see that left and right are inhabited by fundamentally different kinds of people. So when you say "X is the lefty Y" the main thing you're saying is that X is so profoundly different from Y that analogies can only be superficial.

Even so, the only linkage I can imagine Carson making between Goldwater and Sanders is that he thinks Sanders, if nominated, will lose as badly this year as Goldwater did in 1964. Leaving that for the moment, it's hard to see much similarity -- even in the funhouse mirror of centrist punditry. Most obviously, Goldwater was extremely rigid in his adherence to principles -- most scandalously in his opposition to using the federal government to secure civil rights systematically denied by a dozen-plus state governments -- whereas Sanders has always been flexible and pragmatic (e.g., in supporting Obamacare even though he knew it wasn't the best, or even a very good, solution). And Goldwater was so fanatic in his opposition to Communism he couldn't be trusted not to start a thermonuclear war. Sanders elicits no such fears -- which isn't to deny that neocon warmongers fear him.

As for the Nixon-Clinton mashup, I reckon that the association here is that both are unscrupulous opportunists willing to say and do anything that seems to work to their personal advantage. No doubt that both Clintons have been opportunistic at times, often siding with rich and powerful interests against the very people they depend on for votes. Nothing unusual about that, but you have to question how far left they really are on the left-right line I plotted above. I don't really consider them lefties at all.

Still, for all the times the Clintons have been slagged as liars -- Christopher Hitchens' book on them was titled No One Left to Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family -- I'm hard pressed to recall specific deceits (aside from the Lewinsky blow jobs, and blaming Arafat for the Camp David failure, the latter a big one), as opposed to grandstanding (like the Sista Souljah slam) or plain old bad policy choices (like NAFTA, or repealing Glass-Steagall). I don't doubt that the Clintons are greedy, ambitious, and vain -- willing to use office to get rich, and to use their wealth to build a political machine to seek further office. Still, the scandals that have dogged their rise have been remarkably hollow.

On the other hand, Nixon holds a unique place in American history, not just for bad policy and malign intentions but for actual crimes against American democracy as well as egregious crimes against world peace -- sure, the later have since become routinized and Nixon didn't invent them all, but the scope of his crimes was breathtaking -- and for a while shocking, although his obsession with winning at all costs and his cynicism at manipulating people's fears has since become baked into the American pie. If Carson wanted to pose a true conundrum, he might have posed a choice between the real right-wingers Goldwater and Nixon. I have no more answer there than I would have had if asked who is the best (in the sense of least awful) of this election's crop of Republican presidential aspirants.

Carson at least is right to place Nixon on the right, avoiding the recent revisionism trying to rehabilitate him as some kind of closet liberal. I suppose the main impetus behind this has been to show how far the right has stooped since Nixon's time, but doing so forgets (and forgives) the fact that the rotten impulses that have permeated today's right owe more to Nixon's craven realpolitik than to Goldwater's so-called principles.

If you do have to make predecessor analogies, you might try casting Trump as Nixon and Cruz as Goldwater. With the latter pair you at least know what you're up against and start organizing against it, although the prospect of itchy trigger fingers is always a threat. But with the Nixon-Trump pair, you don't know shit -- just that it's likely to be pretty nauseating and the sickness they sow is likely to return again as precedent, possibly for even worse.

I suspect that what worries Carson about Sanders has less to do with Goldwater's 1964 loss than McGovern's in 1972, thanks in no small part to Nixon's dirty tricks. McGovern wasn't fundamentally more liberal (let alone lefty) many other Democratic candidates -- Hubert Humphrey in 1968, Walter Mondale in 1984, Michael Dukakis in 1988, John Kerry in 2004, Barack Obama in 2008 -- but he lost bad, due I think to a combination of factors. One is that the media has always had it in for anyone who might rock the boat (Roosevelt was the exception, but he came along after the boat had already capsized, and Obama got something of a pass for the same reasons). McGovern also ran afoul of the Democratic Party's patronage-focused elites, especially their hawk faction, and also the rump Wallace voters -- all of whom chose Nixon's dirty tricks over the most decent and honest politician the Democrats ever nominated.

All those losses by self-avowed liberals -- a string that really starts with Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956 -- have left centrist pundits with the stunted thought that Americans refuse to lean left. If Sanders is further to the left than McGovern (or anyone else on that loser-laden list) what's to stop the entire establishment banding together to stop him? (Billionaire self-promoter Michael Bloomberg has already vowed to run a spoiler third-party campaign if Sanders is nominated.) That seems like a fair question, but I'm not sure the coincidences it is based on really supports the conclusion. Several things have changed since, say, McGovern won and lost:

  1. The Cold War is not only over, it's rapidly becoming ancient history. Before 1990 the ideological struggle between capitalism and communism allowed the right to question the patriotism of anyone even remotely on the left, and more often than not Democrats joined in on the red baiting, often to their own detriment. Moreover, with continued abuse the old slurs have lost their potency.

  2. The long period of post-WWII affluence left a large segment of the middle class basically feeling satisfied with their lot and to be hopeful of their future prospects, making it easier to identify with the system. The shift toward increasing inequality after 1980, and the subsequent hollowing out of the middle class, have finally reached a point where the system is no longer viewed as fair or hopeful -- and recognizing that loss of opportunity has finally become unavoidable for young adults.

  3. The mass media of the post-WWII years, which did so much to homogenize public discourse, has fragmented into more limited but more partisan media, allowing each of us to customize our own bubble of information. This both pulls many of us in a more partisan way and leaves many others so poorly informed that they drop out of the political system.

  4. Unlimited political spending has pushed the Republican Party far to the right, so they pose a much greater threat to our liberties, security, and well being than ever before. In fact, they threaten us so severely that it's becoming increasingly hard for centrist Democrats to break ranks, as many did against McGovern in 1972, not to mention William Jennings Bryan in 1896-1908.

These point don't guarantee that Sanders can defeat a full bore Republican assault, but they offer some reasons to think that he might do much better than McGovern did. The similarity to McGovern that I worry more about is Sanders' exceptional integrity and public spirit, which at least in McGovern's case was overwhelmed by Nixon's dark money and dirty tricks. The one thing we can be sure of is that in this year's election the Republicans and their dark money sponsors won't hesitate to go places Nixon only dreamed of. The voters could very well reject such tactics, but the Republicans have had no small measure of success thus far at manipulating people to vote against their own interests and desires.

Hillary Clinton has relied heavily on arguments that she's much more electable than Sanders is. The most common argument here is that she can attract a broader slice of the left-right spectrum, allowing her to pick up moderate/centrist voters Sanders can't reach while keeping the left captive, if only as the lesser evil. There are several problems with this formulation: most people don't fit comfortably, let alone mechanically, on a left-right axis, but bring other factors into play, including several where Clinton may compare poorly against Sanders -- for instance, integrity and credibility. Sanders has stood firm with his principles much more consistently than Clinton, and a good part of the reason for that is that he's much less tainted by association with private interests -- e.g., he's never spoken to Goldman-Sachs, much less for $650K. One thing that's clear from primary results so far is that Sanders has done much better among (presumably centrist) independents than Clinton has.

Indeed, in head-to-head polls Sanders regularly outperforms Clinton against virtually any Republican candidate, suggesting that for whatever reason Sanders is the more electable Democrat. Yet some Clinton supporters, even ones who admit to being closer to Sanders on the issues, persist in their belief that Clinton is more electable. Aside from ideology, the other reason they commonly give is the claim that Clinton has already had to face so many attacks from right-wingers that she has been thoroughly vetted, whereas Sanders has yet to feel the full fury of the Republican hate machine. That may be true but glosses over several things, including that Clinton has more points on which she is compromised, and that she's not exactly unscathed by all those attacks -- her unfavorability polls are exceptionally high.

On the other hand, I think there is one area where Clinton does have a substantial advantage over Sanders, and that is her ability to raise dark money and use it to underwrite the same sort of vicious mudslinging right-wingers can be counted on doing. So when the campaign gets dirty, as it's sure to do, she's arguably in a much better position to fight that kind of fight. Whether that's an argument in her favor is hard to say, but it's certainly a reasonable position -- the counter is that if Sanders could win without PACs and dark money that might help break the grip big money has on the political system, and our democracy would be much better for it.

Still, Clinton wooing big money donors and playing the dark money game won't be enough to make her Nixon, even a hypothetical lefty version. Nor will it make her a right-winger, even though it would indebt her to people who are on right of center, at least in terms of equality. And having done all of that, I wonder how much energy or will she is going to be able to muster to start to reverse the nation's long slide into oligarchy. At some point things get so bad that lesser evils don't cut it. If Sanders' popularity shows anything it's that many Democrats believe we've passed the point where yesterday's palliatives are all it takes.

It's normal for people to reach for historical analogies when trying to understand today's issues, but it can also lock you into illusions and blind you to opportunities. And sometimes produce outright absurdities. My original response to Carson's tweet just touched on one small aspect of this post, which is that real people don't necessarily gravitate toward the middle when faced with real choices:

Hell, even my George Wallace/George McGovern-voting mother knew one key thing about politics: never vote for Nixon.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 26446 [26420] rated (+26), 414 [410] unrated (+4).

Rated count up a bit this week, probably because I only spent one day and a couple nights working on my sister's house. Also because I wrapped up a Rhapsody Streamnotes. Still, short of the 30-milestone that constitutes a productive week. On the other hand, seasonal allergies hit with force, and I barely sleepwalked my way through yesterday's abbreviated Weekend Roundup. But at least I had Jason Gubbels' unranked list of 40 recommendations, New Music 2016: First Quarter, to start wading through. Thus far everything I've checked out has been pretty good, although I've mostly left them at B+(***) -- aside from the Margo Price find, the closest of the HMs was the Heliocentrics album, where I talked myself out of an A- by re-reading my review. (An edit of my Willie Nelson review also resulted in downgrading Summertime. The Rihanna upgrade occurred after at least five replays.)

Not much new jazz coming in, and not much good among what does show up. I usually start the day with a CD from the queue, and several days I haven't had anything to follow it up with. Only seven actual CDs in the list below (and, OK, they're better than I remembered: 3 ***, 3 **, 1 *; as I recall, the previous week's CDs left a lot more to be desired, and today's mail doesn't look very promising). One big disappointment is that a month after I got the promo material by email I still haven't received the March package from Clean Feed. Mail is often slow from Portugal, but it would hugely bum me out if they drop me. (Not that I wouldn't look up what I could on Rhapsody.)

I did get an invite to vote in Downbeat's annual Critics Poll today. I've also gotten a record number of personal pleas to vote for them, something I'm pretty good at forgetting instantly. (I mind less when I get past-year lists from publicists because they help me identify things that fell through the cracks -- I don't think I've gotten any of them this year, but have in the past, and they're a regular year-end ritual.) I'll take the time to vote later this week -- I've never managed to plod through the ballot in just one day, so it's a big commitment -- and I'll publish an annotated ballot once I do. Aside from albums, which follow that aggravating April-March annual skew, this year's should be much like last year's ballot. I'd argue that having an extra three months to let the old calendar year (2015 in this case) settle down would be worth more than pretending we're already on top of the first quarter of 2016. (For that matter, the Readers Poll, which skews three months later, could also benefit from a settling-down period.)

Well, one ballot change is that since last year's HOF pick, Lee Konitz, finally won, George Russell will move up as my top pick. A second big annoyance about the poll is the HOF bottleneck. Downbeat has 141 inductees into its Hall of Fame (starting with Louis Armstrong in 1952). Compare this with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which has 312 inductees (749 people) since 1986. Now, you can argue that that's too many, and make a pretty good case by pointing to the 2016 crop (Cheap Trick, Chicago, Deep Purple, Steve Miller, and NWA). But fewer than five of the names in the Downbeat HOF (which basically expands at 2 per year, plus they've recently added a Veterans Committee which helps a bit) raise an eyebrow (rockers Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix, although I can't begrudge the latter; some others I wouldn't have voted for but can (sort of) understand -- Glenn Miller, Red Rodney, Maynard Ferguson, Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea, Michael Brecker, Pat Metheny), maybe a "veteran" who seems a bit obscure (Jimmy Blanton, Paul Chambers, Baby Dodds). On the other hand, just working from last year's ballot, the list of non-inductees includes: Han Bennink, Paul Bley, Anthony Braxton, Jaki Byard, Don Byas, Don Cherry, Jack DeJohnette, Jimmy Giuffre, Benny Golson, Grant Green, Dave Holland, Abdullah Ibrahim, Illinois Jacquet, John McLauglin, Tito Puente, Sam Rivers, Pharoah Sanders, Tomasz Stanko, Cedar Walton, Randy Weston, Phil Woods.

And that must mean that the following didn't even qualify for the ballot (and this list could grow much longer): Rashied Ali, Henry "Red" Allen, Mildred Bailey, Billy Bang, Chris Barber, Gato Barbieri, Chu Berry, Carla Bley, Ruby Braff, Cab Calloway, Sid Catlett, June Christy, Buck Clayton, Arnett Cobb, Cozy Cole, Vic Dickenson, Harry "Sweets" Eddison, Art Farmer, Tommy Flanagan, Bud Freeman, Slim Gaillard, Herb Geller, Lars Gullin, Al Haig, John Hicks, Budd Johnson, Leroy Jenkins, Wynton Kelly, Louis Jordan, Sheila Jordan, Eddie Lang, George Lewis (either/both), Albert Mangelsdorff, Misha Mengelberg, David Murray, Herbie Nichols, Anita O'Day, Evan Parker, William Parker, Houston Person, Louis Prima, Don Pullen, Don Redman, Charlie Rouse, Jimmy Rushing, Luis Russell, Alex von Schlippenbach, Irène Schweizer, Bud Shank, Sonny Sharrock, Archie Shepp, Stuff Smith, Horace Tapscott, Lucky Thompson, Stanley Turrentine, Mal Waldron, David S. Ware, Barney Wilen, Gerald Wilson. Just saying, a lot of (to use an old Downbeat phrase) talent deserving wider recognition.

RIP: Argentine saxophonist Gato Barbieri (1934-2016), and Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Mekurya (1935-2016).

New records rated this week:

  • Ralph Alessi: Quiver (2014 [2016], ECM): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Beauty School: Residual Ugly (2015, Humbler): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Big Ups: Before a Million Universes (2016, Exploding/Tough Love): [r]: B+(***)
  • Michael Blake: Fulfillment (2016, Songlines): [r]: B+(*)
  • Bombino: Azel (2016, Partisan): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jaimeo Brown Transcendence: Work Songs (2016, Motema): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Ian Carey Quintet + 1: Interview Music (2015 [2016], Kabocha): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Tim Daisy: Relucent: Music for Marimba, Radios and Turntables (2016, Relay): [bc]: B
  • Stephen Davis/Ralph Alessi/Kris Davis: Sugar Blade (2015, Babel): [r]: B+(**)
  • Eli Degibri: Cliff Hangin' (2014 [2016], Blujazz): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Dressy Bessy: Kingsized (2016, Yep Roc): [r]: B+(**)
  • Marty Elkins: Walkin' by the River (2014 [2016], Nagel Heyer): [cd]: B+(***)
  • The Heliocentrics: From the Deep (2016, Now-Again): [r]: B+(***)
  • Russ Johnson: Meeting Point (2014, Relay): [bc]: B+(**)
  • La Sera: Music for Listening to Music To (2016, Polyvinyl): [r]: B+(**)
  • Matt Lavelle's 12 Houses: Solidarity (2014 [2016], Unseen Rain): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Steven Lugerner: Jacknife: The Music of Jackie McLean (2015 [2016], Primary): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Iggy Pop: Post Pop Depression (2016, Loma Vista): [r]: B+(*)
  • Margo Price: Midwest Farmer's Daughter (2016, Third Man): [r]: A-
  • Rocco John Quartet: Embrace the Change (2015 [2016], Unseen Rain): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Steel Bridge Trio: Different Clocks (2015, Relay): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Gwen Stefani: This Is What the Truth Feels Like (2016, Interscope): [r]: A-
  • Vox Arcana: Caro's Song (2014 [2015], Relay): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Christopher Zuar Orchestra: Musings (2014 [2016], Sunnyside): [cd]: B+(**)

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

  • Punk 45: Chaos in the City of Angels and Devils: Hollywood From X to Zero & Hardcore on the Beaches: Punk in Los Angeles 1977-81 (1977-81 [2016], Soul Jazz): [r]: B+(***)

Grade changes:

  • Willie Nelson: Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin (2016, Legacy): [r]: [was B+(*)] B
  • Rihanna: Anti (2016, Roc Nation): [r]: [was B+(**)] A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Matt Cirscuolo: The Dialogue (Jazzeria): April 4
  • The Jim Cullum Jazz Band/William Warfield: George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess Live (2016, Riverwalk Jazz, 2CD): June 1
  • James Freeman: Echoes of Nature III (Edgetone)
  • Roberto Magris: Need to Bring Out Love (JMood)
  • Daniel Meron: Sky Begins (Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit): April 26
  • Jane Monheit: The Songbook Sessions: Ella Fitzgerald (Emerald City)
  • Noertker's Moxie & the Melancholics: Curious Worlds: The Art & Imagination of David Beck (Edgetone)
  • Rent Romus/Teddy Rankin-Parker/Daniel Pearce: LiR (Edgetone)
  • Ernie Watts Quartet: Wheel of Time (Flying Dolphin): April 15

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Weekend Roundup

Started to work on this, then got so waylaid by allergies my brain froze up. Of course, trying to write about whether Trump is a fascist is a question that begs so much backtracking it's easy to get lost.

Worth noting here that the Wisconsin primary is Tuesday. Cruz has long been favored over Trump and Kasich: the latest 538 poll averages are 44.1-32.1-21.4%, and since it's mostly winner-take-all Trump is likely to fall short of the delegate count to stay on track for a first ballot win -- so expect some pundit talk about Trump stumbling, but Trump is a lock for a big win in New York on April 19, and has a good chance of scoring his first greater than 50% win there (538's poll average is 52.1-24.0-21.8%, with Cruz second and Kasich third).

More interesting is the Democratic primary, which 538 still gives to Clinton, but the poll averages have narrowed to 48.8-48.6%, with Sanders leading in five of the seven most recent polls. At this point I expect Sanders to win there, but it won't be a landslide. 538 is still showing Clinton with a huge lead in New York, 61.0-37.0%, but the last two polls there have Clinton +12 and +10, a far cry from the 71-23% outlier 538 still factors in. Clinton also has big leads in the other April primaries (65.9-30.5% in Pennsylvania, 70.6-27.0% in Maryland); also in California and New Jersey on June 7.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Steve Coll: Global Trump:

    Trumpism is a posture, not a coherent platform. [ . . . ]

    Trump hasn't indicated that he would definitely pull out of treaty commitments to Europe and Asia. He seems to think that his threats and his pleas of poverty will soften up allies so that, once in the White House, he can close some of those great deals he often talks about. For "many, many years," he told the Times, the U.S. has been the "big stupid bully and we were systematically ripped off by everybody," providing military security without adequate compensation.

    Like a hammer viewing everything as a nail, Trump desperately wants to reconceive foreign relations as something that can be fixed by a flamboyant and shrewd deal maker -- i.e., by himself. He reminds me of a guy who was brought in to become CEO of a troubled company I used to work for. The company had racked up massive losses over several quarters, staving off bankruptcy only because they had sold a lot of bonds a few years earlier -- they didn't need the bonds but sold them "because they could" and just sat on the cash until they burned it all up. Anyhow, this new CEO (I don't even remember the name now) had the huge ego you get in jobs like that, so the first thing I decided to do was to renegotiate all of the company's supplier contracts, just because he figured he was a better negotiator than his predecessor. Turned out that he never successfully renegotiated a thing: all he did was piss off suppliers the company was already in arrears to, companies that no longer saw us as viable long-term customers. America isn't in as bad shape as my company was, but if Trump follows through and tries to shake down traditional allies, he's not likely to net much other than bad will. (Japan, for instance, pays us for defense because it's a pittance compared to our trade deficits. Maybe they'll pay a bit more, but the US market isn't what it used to be, nor is the US commitment to defend them.)

    Coll has a pretty rosy view of American military spending abroad -- surprising for someone who's mostly covered the Middle East for the last twenty-some years:

    Trump also argues that reduced defense spending abroad would free up funds for investment at home. We do need to rebuild bridges, airports, railways, and telecommunications. But defense spending isn't stopping us from doing so; the problem is the Republican anti-tax extremists in Congress, who refuse to either raise revenues or take advantage of historically low long-term interest rates. In all probability, the U.S. can afford its global-defense commitments indefinitely, and an open economy, renewed by immigration and innovation, should be able to continue to grow and to share the cost of securing free societies. The main obstacle to realizing this goal is not an exhausted imperial treasury. It is the collapse of the once-internationalist Republican Party into demagoguery, paralysis, and Trumpism.

    That, of course, is pretty much the Clinton position, one that argues that America is still great, has never been anything else. Such platitudes are baked into the Belt Area foreign/security policy professional class. They even seep into Stephen M Walt: No, @realDonaldTrump Is Not a Realist.

  • Tierney Sneed: How Trump Ticked Off Anti-Abortion Groups by Trying to Prove His Creed: So Trump commits this gaffe, realizes his error (or more likely has it pointed out to him), and walks it back within hours.

    For months, the major concern the anti-abortion movement had with Donald Trump was that he was too wobbly on the issue. But on Wednesday, Trump staked out an abortion position so extreme that he blew up years of abortion foes' careful messaging.

    Trump's remark at an MSNBC town hall that an abortion ban should carry a punishment for women who seek out the procedure sent anti-abortion activists immediately scrambling to correct the damage.

    "Mr. Trump's comment today is completely out of touch with the pro-life movement and even more with women who have chosen such a sad thing as abortion," Jeanne Mancini, the president of March for Life Education and Defense Fund, said in a statement rushed out about an hour after Trump's remarks were first broadcast. "No pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion. This is against the very nature of what we are about."

    In practical terms this should be treated as a wash -- like a muons which appears in a high-energy burst then vanishes within microseconds -- except that I think it shows two things:

    1. Trump understands the logic of the anti-abortion movement, which is about little more than punishing women (for sexual licentiousness, or getting raped, or just being poor), much as he understands punishment as the essential means of disciplining errant children and other rabble. No doubt being a major league misogynist helped Trump on this score.
    2. The much alleged "political correctness" police on the left are pikers compared to those who dictate orthodoxy on the right: the latter turned Trump around in hours, whereas Trump held firm on his assertions that "Mexicans are rapists" and his embrace of support from the KKK and outright Fascists. Sure, one might argue that this proves that the offenses he held firm on reflected deeply held beliefs, whereas his anti-abortion stance was never more than pure political opportunism. But I doubt he has any bedrock beliefs beyond his obsessions with the media spotlight and making money off that.

    Also see Here's How a Republican Is Supposed to Answer That Abortion Question Trump Flubbed, which shows how Ted Cruz handled the same question. The summary:

    See, Donald? That's how you do it. When someone asks you about abortion penalties after the overturn of Roe, here's what you do:

    You attack the questioner.

    You attack the media.

    You attack Barack Obama.

    You tell them what a swell pro-life person you are.

    You do everything except answer the question.

  • Olivia Ward: Is Donald Trump actually a fascist? I'll add that leftists like myself are hypersensitive to fascist airs, and apply the label broadly to any right-winger who threatens violence, glories in empire, and/or seeks to reverse liberal progress (which they often decry as decadence and decay). Trump loosely qualifies, but so does Cruz and Kasich and most Republican activists, especially anyone who thinks America enjoyed a golden age under Calvin Coolidge or William McKinley (or Jefferson Davis). What makes Trump seem exceptional is the way he draws the sort of people who historically have supported fascism: racists, xenophobes, ultra-nationalists, those who want to use state power to enforce religious morality, those who hate unions, those who are contemptous of democracy (and other people), those who are prone to violence and hung up on patriarchy, those who feel the need to follow a charismatic and forceful leader. So it's not so much that Trump started out as a fascist as that by style and temperament he's been anointed as the Führer of the fascists, a role he hasn't shirked.

  • Susan Sarandon Lives in a Very Small World: A not-very-smart critique of the "scandal" caused when Sarandon said that some Sanders supporters won't vote for Clinton against Trump, and that her own view was "I don't know. I'm going to see what happens." I wrote more about this piece then tore it up. Two points are that Sanders' popularity shows that there is much more quasi-left in America than anyone gave us credit for, and that transitioning from voting for one candidate who wants changes you want to another one who wants to defend the status quo (or somewhat mitigate the damage the goons on the other side are plotting) isn't likely to be smooth or automatic: perhaps if Clinton wins the nomination she should campaign for Sanders' supporters instead of veering to the right so to come off as slightly saner than Trump or Cruz, assuming everyone else will fall in line. At any rate, it's premature to worry about Sanders' supporters breaking ranks. As for the ad hominem attacks about Sarandon "living in a very small world," I think her political engagement is admirable and far-sighted, showing much more awareness of other people than is common in her tax bracket.

  • Brief links:

Daily Log

This item started for the Roundup never really tied up nice, so I pulled it:

  • Susan Sarandon Lives in a Very Small World: Probably as good a place as any to comment on the "scandal" that occurred when Chris Hayes asked Sarandon who she would vote for given a choice between Clinton and Trump and she said "I don't know." I've said all along that I'd vote for Clinton over any of the actual declared Republican candidates (although when given a real choice, I voted for Sanders over Clinton). Still, I suspect that for someone actually engaged in the Sanders campaign, now is a bit too soon to declare you'll loyally switch to the candidate you're now running against, one who opposes nearly everything you're working for, especially since part of her campaign pitch is "electability" -- defined as ability to raise buckets of corporate cash because she's marginally more liberal than the Republicans. Maybe we'll be stuck with her come November, but why concede now? Come November she can redirect her campaign to convincing people that the Republican is clearly worse -- and if she fails at that, you can only imagine how much worse she would be as president.

    But the author doesn't leave it at that. He insists in dredging up a bunch of hoary cliches to bash Sarandon with. These are, to quote (my numbers added):

    1. Most Sarandon critics are describing this as a wealthy white Sandersite letting her privilege run amok -- she's going to be just fine even in the event of a Trump presidency, so heighten those contradictions!
    2. I think, in her view, Clinton really might not be any worse than Trump, and besides, the contradictions don't actually need heightening because America is on the brink of revolution already. [ . . . ] Sarandon apparently think there's a large revolutionary force in America that's on a hair trigger. Big changes are imminent. She says, "some people feel that Donald Trump will bring the revolution immediately if he gets in, things will really explode." She says "a lot of people" are likely to reject Clinton in November from the left.
    3. In elections, America is more or less evenly Democratic and Republican -- Democrats do better in presidential elections, Republicans do better in other elections -- but there are far more self-described conservatives than liberals. What that means is that many Democratic voters are moderates. They're not ready to take to the streets in response to reactionary or even repressive government [ . . . ] Sarandon doesn't seem to have any idea that the Democratic electorate includes such people -- people who are regular Democratic voters only once every four years, who aren't deeply progressive, and who may even vote Republican when the biggest race is for governor. Her friends are genuine progressives, so she thinks all Democratic voters are. [ . . . ] The problems she thinks are pushing us to the brink of revolt are problems we're not up in arms about, except in small pockets of America. She needs to get out more, and see the rest of the country.

    There's a lot of circuitous thinking going on here. The third point assumes that people get the government they want, so if that government isn't very liberal, that's because liberals are a minority in America. Sarandon is then guilty of multiple offenses: as a liberal she's out of step with most Americans, but thinks her ideas are more popular than they are because she lives in a bubble, and in any case has nothing at risk if her candidate loses, since Republicans will look out for rich white folk like herself.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 26420 [26400] rated (+20), 410 [411] unrated (-1).

Another short week, but at least I found a few recommendables this week, thanks, I must admit, to slipstreaming other critics. You can read more substantive reviews of Kendrick Lamar's 2010 mixtape and Anderson Paak's new one (also HM Kyle) by Robert Christgau, of Bonnie Raitt (and BJ the Chicago Kid -- a tip he fed me a couple weeks ago) by Michael Tatum, and Audio One by Tim Niland. Tatum also has an excellent review of Hamilton (a record he likes a lot and I rather admire, although I'll mention that I was blown away by Daveed Diggs' Small Things to a Giant), a Willie Nelson review I don't buy at all (his awkward avoidance of any hint of swing couldn't keep other versions -- I've heard thousands -- from crowding my mind; above all Ella and Louis Again), and a cursory HM for Lyrics Born's Real People, my (and Laura's) favorite album of 2015.

I suppose I need to revisit Rihanna's Anti, which I gave two stars to a couple weeks back, before Tatum's A- and Christgau's A. (I had Erykah Badu's You Caint Use My Phone, A- by Tatum and two stars by Christgau, as an A- back in December. Tatum also reviews Archy Marshall's A New Place 2 Drown, an A- for me in February.) Hopefully by the time I post Rhapsody Streamnotes, no later than the end of the month.

Aside from two advances from the Swiss label Intakt, one of the worst weeks for the new jazz queue ever. One problem is that the queue got down to one record before I added in this week's haul. (Audio One was sampled from Bandcamp, as were the Borah Bergman and Paal Nilssen-Love albums.) Got email from the publicist today that the Vijay Iyer-Wadada Leo Smith album A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke is "out NOW." Not a high water mark in either catalog, but the only ECM record I've been able to play in my CD player for several years now, so I suppose it's worth a mention. Reminds me I have more ECM links to download -- most promising is a new record by Nik Bärtsch.

Thought I'd go back and catch up on the old Bonnie Raitt records I had missed (including three Christgau A-). Her debut was pretty good, but it seemed somewhat less than several contemporary groups she evoked -- e.g., Delaney & Bonnie, Joy of Cooking -- and for that matter the two albums she followed it with (Give It Up and Takin' My Time). I didn't get much out of the others, although with Longing in Their Hearts (1994) still missing I decided to give The Best of the Capitol Years a chance, and it makes a pretty good case for her MOR period.

I'm not sure why I've never cared much for Raitt, given how pivotal my one brief encounter with her had been (this would have been in 1973, or maybe 1972). Carl Boggs was a Poli Sci professor at Washington University, a lefty and a big fan. He came up with the idea of hiring Raitt to do a concert meant to be a benefit for paying down legal bills of one of the guys arrested for burning down the Wash U ROTC building before I got there. I was in a student group called Notes on Everyday Life -- we published a very underground tabloid -- so he used us to get the concert staged on campus. I had little to do with this other than filing the paper work, and almost missed the concert: I hooked up with my first girl the night before (or was it two?) and we only got out of bed to make the show, so I was pretty dazed that night. But I'm pretty sure it was the first concert I ever went to, not that I remember any of it. We went to the the party at Boggs' house afterwards. I saw Raitt there -- in fact, almost smashed into her -- but was far too shy to even say hello. (She was probably the first celebrity I had ever gotten that close to. What I remember was her looking very tired, and short.) That may also have been the first time I smoked pot -- I was very late getting to any of these milestones. When the party pooped out, we wound up getting breakfast with eight or ten others. Then my girlfriend and I went back to her house, to bed. Had these events played out in different order I might have credited Raitt for turning me into a human being. As it was, she was at most a distraction. I only listened to her albums much after the fact.

New records rated this week:

  • Anderson .Paak: Malibu (2016, OBE/Steel Wool/ArtClub/Empire): [r]: A-
  • Audio One: What Thomas Bernhard Saw (2014 [2015], Audiographic): [bc]: A-
  • Cristina Braga & Brandenburger Symphoniker: Whisper (2015 [2016], Enja): [cd]: B-
  • Rex Cadwallader/Mike Aseta/Arti Dixson/Tiffany Jackson: A Balm in Gilead (2015 [2016], Stanza USA): [cd]: B-
  • Florian Egli Weird Beard: Everything Moves (2014 [2016], Intakt): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Darren English: Imagine Nation (2014 [2016], Hot Shoe): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Piere Favre: DrumSights NOW (2015 [2016], Intakt): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Jeff Guthery: Black Paintings (2015 [2016], self-released): [cd]: B-
  • The James Hughes/Jimmy Smith Quintet: Ever Up & Onward (2015 [2016], self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Kyle: Smyle (2015, Indie Pop): [r]: B+(***)
  • Gabriela Martina: No White Shoes (2015 [2016], self-released): [cd]: B
  • Naked Truth: Avian Thug (2015 [2016], Rare Noise): [cdr]: B+(*)
  • Pram Trio: Saga Thirteen (2015 [2016], self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Bonnie Raitt: Dig In Deep (2016, Redwing): [r]: A-
  • Marcos Varela: San Ygnacio (2012 [2016], Origin): [cd]: B
  • Michiyo Yagi/Lasse Marhaug/Paal Nilssen-Love: Angular Mass (2011 [2015], PNL): [bc]: B
  • Michiyo Yagi/Joe McPhee/Paal Nilssen-Love/Lasse Marhaug: Soul Stream (2013 [2015], PNL): [bc]: B+(*)

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

  • Borah Bergman/Peter Brötzmann/Frode Gjerstad: Left (1996 [2016], Not Two): [bc]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Anderson .Paak: Venice (2014, OBE/Steel Wool): [r]: B+(**)
  • Kendrick Lamar: Overly Dedicated (2010, Top Dawg Entertainment): [r]: A-
  • Bonnie Raitt: Bonnie Raitt (1971, Warner Brothers): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bonnie Raitt: Streetlights (1974, Warner Brothers): [r]: B
  • Bonnie Raitt: The Glow (1979, Warner Brothers): [r]: B
  • Bonnie Raitt: Green Light (1982, Warner Brothers): [r]: B+(**)
  • Bonnie Raitt: Nine Lives (1986, Warner Brothers): [r]: B-
  • Bonnie Raitt: Road Tested (1995, Capitol, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Bonnie Raitt: The Best of Bonnie Raitt on Capitol 1989-2003 (1989-2003 [2003], Capitol): [r]: A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • The Ian Carey Quintet + 1: Interview Music (Kabocha): April 8
  • Eli Degibri: Cliff Hangin' (Blujazz)
  • Matt Lavelle's 12 Houses: Solidarity (Unseen Rain): May 6
  • Steven Lugerner: Jacknife: The Music of Jackie McLean (Primary): April 22
  • Kat Parra: Songbook of the Americas (Jazzma): April 29
  • Rocco John Quartet: Embrace the Change (Unseen Rain): May 6
  • Sirius Quartet: Paths Become Lines (Autentico): April 13
  • Steve Wiest and Phröntrange: The High Road (Blujazz)
  • Christopher Zuar Orchestra: Musings (Sunnyside): April 1

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Weekend Roundup

We finally got around to seeing the movie Spotlight (A-) on Wednesday afternoon. When we came out of the theatre in west Wichita, the sky to the west was extremely dark but mostly featureless, and the wind was blowing hard from the south. Looked very ominous, but not like the squall lines and thunderstorms we're used to seeing. Turns out that what we were seeing was smoke from wildfires to our southwest: at the time, about 72,000 acres had burned from the Oklahoma border to near Medicine Lodge, and there were two smaller fires to the northwest in Reno and Harvey counties. The next day the wind turned around to the north, which cleared the smoke from Wichita but expanded the wildfire to more than 400,000 acres (625 square miles). Here's a report on Anderson Creek fire in Oklahoma and Kansas. The fire is still burning as I write this, although reports are that it is no longer expanding.

Winters are typically dry in south-central Kansas, and high winds are common, so this is the prime season for grass fires. (A large chunk of south-central Kansas was subject of a red flag warning back on February 8.) Still, this year has been dryer than normal, and much warmer, which set the stage for what is already the largest wildfire in Kansas history. The area is very sparsely populated, the farms more used to pasture cattle than to grow wheat. No cause has been determined (although we can rule out lightning). I've seen lots of reports about cattle (and deer) but nothing yet about oil wells, which are fairly common in the most heavily fracked (and recently most earthquake-prone) part of the state. (Most wells collect oil in adjacent tanks, so I'd be surprised if a few didn't contribute to the fire.)

I also ran across this report on a 160-acre fire near Salina caused by gun nuts shooting at exploding targets:

Exploding targets consist of two ingredients that when mixed by the end user create an explosive when shot by a high-velocity projectile. They have caused many fires since they became more popular in recent years, have been banned in some areas, and caused the death of one person. In June, 2013 a man attending a bachelor-bachelorette party in Minnesota was killed after shrapnel from the device struck him in the abdomen causing his death. The Missoulian reported that two years ago a woman in Ohio had her hand nearly blown off while taking a cellphone video of a man firing at an exploding target placed in a refrigerator about 150 feet away.

You'd think that natural selection would start to limit this kind of stupidity, and evidently it works very slow.

Meanwhile, Governor Brownback declared two counties to be disaster areas. That leaves him 103 counties short, but if he declared disasters everywhere he has caused them he'd have to commit to fixing some of the problems he's caused. That would cost money, and require that someone in power care, so no chance of that.

Bernie Sanders won all three Democratic caucuses on Saturday, by landslides, with 69.8% in Hawaii, 72.7% in Washington, and 81.6% in Alaska. When Kansas voted back on March 5, Sanders' 67.7% share here was his second largest total (after Vermont), but he has since done better in Idaho (78.0%), Utah (79.3%), and yesterday's trio. Next up is Wisconsin on April 5, Wyoming on April 9, and New York on April 19. 538's polling average favors Clinton in Wisconsin 55.6-42.1%, and much more dubious polling has Clinton ahead in New York 67.4-24.3% (only one poll in March, a 71-23% outlier; three previous polls had Clinton +21, going back to September). Nothing on Wyoming, but Sanders has won four (of four) abutting states (Montana and South Dakota haven't voted yet).

If you care about such things, Cruz is heavily favored to win Wisconsin (polling average 42.8-32.2-22.4%, Trump ahead of Kasich), while Trump is ahead in New York (limited polling: 58.8-11.6-2.8%, which would give him his first majority win, but Kasich's share strikes me as way low). The Republicans have already done Wyoming, with Cruz winning.

Not much time for this, but some quick scattered links this week:

  • Franklin Foer: Donald Trump Hates Women: E.g.:

    Humiliating women by decrying their ugliness is an almost recreational pastime for Trump. When the New York Times columnist Gail Collins described him as a "financially embittered thousandaire," he sent her a copy of the column with her picture circled. "The Face of a Dog!" he scrawled over her visage. This is the tack he took with Carly Fiorina, when he described her facial appearance as essentially disqualifying her from the presidency. It's the method he's used to denounce Cher, Bette Midler, Angelina Jolie, and Rosie O'Donnell -- "fat ass," "slob," "extremely unattractive," etc. -- when they had the temerity to criticize him. The joy he takes in humiliating women is not something he even bothers to disguise. He told the journalist Timothy L. O'Brien, "My favorite part [of the movie Pulp Fiction] is when Sam has his gun out in the diner and he tells the guy to tell his girlfriend to shut up. Tell that bitch to be cool. Say: 'Bitch be cool.' I love those lines." Or as he elegantly summed up his view to New York magazine in the early '90s, "Women, you have to treat them like shit."

    Also see: Nancy LeTourneau: The Nexus of Trump's Racism/Sexism: Dominance. She quotes Foer and various others, including Rebecca Traister, whose summed up her reflections on Trump (and Cruz) as The Election and the Death Throes of White Male Power. While I don't disagree with the general point, pieces like this tempt me to point out that Trumpism isn't the only common response to economic and/or social decline by whites (even males). Said group also makes up a substantial slice of support for Bernie Sanders' campaign -- and I doubt that any white males who've backed Sanders have done so expecting him to restore lost white/male privileges, or to deny the benefits he's campaigned for to blacks, Latinos, and/or women.

    Meanwhile, I suppose this is where I should file links like Mary Elizabeth Williams: Donald Trump despises women: Mocking Heidi Cruz's looks is a new low in this grotesque sausage-waving campaign and Gary Legum: Trump vs. Cruz: How the National Enquirer became a battleground in the GOP primary

  • David Kurtz: What Just Happened in North Carolina?: Quotes a reader, who was more on the ball than TPM:

    In a span of 12 hours, the GOP political leadership of this state [North Carolina] called the General Assembly back to Raleigh for a special session, introduced legislation written by leadership and not previously made available to members or the public, held "hearings" on that legislation, passed it through both chambers of the legislature, and it was signed by the GOP Governor.

    The special legislation was called, ostensibly, to prevent an ordinance passed last month by the Charlotte City Council, from going into effect on April 1. That ordinance would have expanded the city's LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance, and would have allowed transgendered people to use public restrooms that corresponds with their gender identity.

    But the legislation introduced and passed into law by the General Assembly yesterday didn't simply roll back that ordinance. It implemented a detailed state-wide regulation of public restrooms, and limited a person's use of those restrooms to only those restrooms that correspond with one's "biological sex," defined in the new state law as the sex identified on one's birth certificate. [ . . . ]

    But wait, there's more. The legislation also expressly states that there can be no statutory or common law private right of action to enforce the state's anti-discrimination statutes in the state courts. So if a NC resident is the victim of racial discrimination in housing or employment, for example, that person is now entirely barred from going to state court to get an injunction, or to get damages of any kind. The new law completely defangs the state's anti-discrimination statute, rendering it entirely unenforceable by the citizens of the state.

    For more, see Caitlin MacNeal: NC's Sweeping Anti-Gay Law Goes Way Beyond Targeting LGBTs. The US prides itself on a unique system of "checks and balances," but this is the clearest example yet of what can happen when voters cede complete political control to one party, at least if that party is of one mind -- in North Carolina that would be Art Pope, who personally spent millions electing that legislative majority and governor. (Of course, it's still possible that the courts will throw this law out, but the Republicans are working that angle too.) Also note two key things: the speed, intended to produce a fait accompli before there could be any public discussion let alone organized opposition; also how the bill's used the "emergency" to push through extra measures that most likely couldn't have stood on their own.

    Also in the captured red state category: Amanda Marcotte: Mike Pence's sadistic abortion law: Indiana passes draconian anti-choice bill geared towards humiliating and bankrupting women who have abortions.

  • Caitlin MacNeal: AIPAC Denounces Trump Criticism of Obama's Relationship With Israel: Trump's actual speech to AIPAC contained nothing but red meat for Israel's bloodthirsty right wing, yet somehow he managed to offend at least one important faction in the lobby's leadership -- perhaps the one that realizes that Obama is still president, and that while he hasn't been the perfect lackey of their dreams, he has still treated pretty generously. AIPAC's annual conference provided an opportunity for all aspiring American politicians to show their colors and salute the flag of the Jewish State. And once again pretty much everyone played their assigned role as expected -- indeed, Hillary Clinton was second to none in her obsequiousness, which may be why she has a fair number of AIPAC's high rollers backing her. I doubt that they really minded what Trump said in his speech -- I heard the thing, and he certainly didn't lack for applause -- so their worries have more to do with what he's said elsewhere. And even there it's probably not so much that he's promised to be a "neutral" peacemaker (hard to take that seriously) or that he doesn't think the US should spend so much on military aid to the 4th (or 5th) largest military power on earth (more possible, but still not likely) as in his slogan about "making America great again" -- as opposed to being a big country in thrall to its little "ally."

    Some other AIPAC-related links:

    You can also Read the speech Bernie Sanders planned to give to AIPAC. Doesn't go nearly as far as I'd like, but wouldn't have gone over well at AIPAC (see the link above). Also see: Richard Silverstein: Bernie Finally Addresses Israel-Palestine.

  • Eamon Murphy: 'Do we get to win this time?': Trump foreign policy appeal based on revenge for Iraq War failure: The notion that the American military's persistent failure to win wars -- in the sense of achieving initial intentions; I'm more inclined to argue that all sides in war invariably lose, so the concept of winning is excluded by definition -- is caused by civilian leaders holding the soldiers back is America's own peculiar version of the Dolchstoßlegende (the stab-in-the-back myth). Trump's embrace of this theory is one more thing he shares with past generations of fascists, a minor one unless his own ego is so huge that he thinks his leadership genius will turn the tide.

    Though the public may feel burned by what was undeniably a wasteful war launched on trumped-up pretexts, withdrawal is always unacceptable, on patriotic grounds -- a sentiment at least as old as the overseas U.S. empire. ("American valor has easily triumphed in both sea and land," declared Senator David Hill, an advocate of annexing the Philippines, in 1898, "and the American flag floats over newly acquired territory -- never, as it is fondly hoped, to be lowered again.") The advent of ISIS compounded this problem, mocking official claims that American arms had achieved some measure of progress in Iraq. The resultant agony was epitomized by a January 2014 New York Times story, "Falluja's Fall Stuns Marines Who Fought There": completely ignoring Iraqi suffering, the reporter rendered vividly the anguish of veterans at the city's takeover by Sunni insurgents, which left them "transfixed, disbelieving and appalled," and was "a gut punch to the morale of the Marine Corps and painful for a lot of families who are saying, 'I thought my son died for a reason.'"

    So what is to be done? If invading Iraq was a costly mistake, how can we keep fighting there? But if we paid so dearly for it, how can we not?

  • Richard Silverstein: Identities of IDF Soldier Who Executed Unarmed Palestinian -- and His Commanding Officer -- Exposed: You've probably read about stabbing incidents in Israel/Palestine, where typically Jewish victims receive light injuries, often treated at the scene, and Palestinian assailants are usually shot dead. You may be expected to think that the shooting was necessary to disarm fanatic knife-wielders, but this is a case where the Palestinian was executed after being disarmed, and this case is not unique or all that exceptional (aside from the video).

    The shooter later told investigators that he shot a-Sharif because he was "moving," and was afraid he would detonate a suicide vest. The victim is seen clearly on the video and he has no suicide vest. Nor does his Shapira seem to sense danger as he stands near the wounded man speaking on the telephone.

    Let no one think of this is a one-off aberration. Palestinians are executed in the same fashion virtually every day. Nor are these summary executions a product of Israeli policy over the past few months alone. Such murders go all the way back to the 2002 incident I described above. The murderers are rewarded for their callousness as Levy has been, by being a respected member of the Knesset.

  • Stephen M Walt: Monsters of Our Own Imaginings: A big news story last week was the terror bombing in Brussels, which unlike other big bombings last week (e.g., in Baghdad and Lahore) was meant to scare us and/or was used to promote further reinforcement of the war against ISIS (see More US Combat Troops Headed to Iraq Soon -- no, we don't get any say in the matter; how could we when Brussels is on TV 24/7?). Walt says, sure, this is a serious problem, but let's not get hysterical, and offers four key points. The fourth is the most important: "Terrorists cannot deeat us; we can only defeat ourselves."

    The bottom line: Terrorism is not really the problem; the problem is how we respond to it. My first thought when I heard the news from Brussels, I'm sorry to say, was "Brexit," meaning my worry that this act of violence might irrationally bolster support for the United Kingdom leaving the EU, thereby dealing that already-struggling experiment another body blow. It might also boost the political fortunes of xenophobes in other Western countries, further poisoning the political climate in Europe. It is also worth noting that presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have already offered up idiotic proposals of their own (such as Cruz's call for stepped-up police patrols in Muslim neighborhoods in the United States), steps that would give the Islamic State a new propaganda victory. But these developments would be entirely our own doing, and we have no one to blame but ourselves if we try to fight extremism by abandoning our own values and becoming more like them.

    Does anyone really fail to understand that Brussels was attacked because it's the headquarters of NATO and NATO is engaged in killing Muslims in a broad swath from Afghanistan to Libya but especially in the parts of Iraq and Syria ISIS is trying to govern? But who actually says that? Hardly anyone, because doing so would imply that the most effective way to safeguard Europe and America against terrorism would be to withdraw from the fruitless wars the US and Europe (and proxies like the Saudis who epitomize "Islamic extremism") have been waging. Walt prays for leaders who understand the "value the calm resolution in the face of danger or adversity" without noting that (a) that's a fair description of Barack Obama, and (b) Obama still hasn't managed to end the wars his predecessors started. Granted, replacing Obama with Trump or Cruz could result in even more counterproductive acts -- their proposals to "police Muslim neighborhoods" (are there any?) and otherwise harass Muslims seem deliberately designed to radicalize US Muslims, even worse than their reckless escalation abroad.

    Walt's exemplars are WWII heroes -- he even asks "what would Churchill say?" which is like asking the proverbial stopped clock for the time -- but his list includes one name who did successfully face a colonial quagmire not unlike the present situation: Charles DeGaulle, who stood up to enormous pressure and withdrew French forces from Algeria.

    Also see: Tom Engelhardt: Don't Blame It All on Donald Trump, or "Entering Uncharted Territory in Washington," which points out how far "grown ups" like Obama have already veered toward creating a world where terrorism will long be a fact of life. Engelhardt cites a news story from the last week or two (I forget exactly), when the US "killed 150 more or less nobodies (except to those who knew them) and maybe even a top leader or two in a country most Americans couldn't locate on a map" (Somalia):

    The essential explanation offered for the Somali strike, for instance, is that the U.S. had a small set of advisers stationed with African Union forces in that country and it was just faintly possible that those guerrilla graduates might soon prepare to attack some of those forces (and hence U.S. military personnel). It seems that if the U.S. puts advisers in place anywhere on the planet -- and any day of any year they are now in scores of countries -- that's excuse enough to validate acts of war based on the "imminent" threat of their attack. [ . . . ]

    When was it, by the way, that "the people" agreed that the president could appoint himself assassin-in-chief, muster his legal beagles to write new "law" that covered any future acts of his (including the killing of American citizens), and year after year dispatch what essentially is his own private fleet of killer drones to knock off thousands of people across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa? Weirdly enough, after almost 14 years of this sort of behavior, with ample evidence that such strikes don't suppress the movements Washington loathes (and often only fan the flames of resentment and revenge that help them spread), neither the current president and his top officials, nor any of the candidates for his office have the slightest intention of ever grounding those drones.

    And when exactly did the people say that, within the country's vast standing military, which now garrisons much of the planet, a force of nearly 70,000 Special Operations personnel should be birthed, or that it should conduct covert missions globally, essentially accountable only to the president (if him)? And what I find strangest of all is that few in our world find such developments strange at all.

  • Brief links:

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Daily Log

Shopping for DVR. Some notes:

  • WD Purple 4TB Surveillance Hard Disk Drive: $156.99 [az]
  • Dahua DHI-HCVR7104H-S2 DVR: $150 [ne], no hard drive

Monday, March 21, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 26400 [26384] rated (+16), 411 [411] unrated (-0).

Rated count continues to plummet: after averaging 39 in February, March's totals are 24, 21, and now 16. Last week I made up for the shortfall by finding seven A- records, but this week I didn't come up with any (can't remember when the last time that happened was, other than weeks I shut down for travel). Best I can do is six high HMs, with Jeff Williams probably the closest call. Maybe Larry Young's In Paris should get extra credit for its huge booklet?

Main reason for falling short is that I've been out of the house, trying to help my sister fix up our late parents old house so she can move in. That should give me something practical to do over the next several weeks. Nonetheless, the incoming queue has slowed down to the point where I'm still keeping pace. I do have some download links I can tap into, but I don't count them before they hatch, and I haven't felt much energy for dealing with the hassle.

I'll post a Rhapsody Streamnotes some time before the end of the month, even though it's likely to be a short one -- only have 85 capsules at present.

New records rated this week:

  • Raul Agraz: Between Brothers (2013-15 [2016], OA2): [cd]: B
  • Ehud Asherie: Shuffle Along (2015 [2016], Blue Heron): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Kenny Barron Trio: Book of Intuition (2015 [2016], Impulse): [r]: B+(**)
  • Oguz Buyukberber/Tobias Klein: Reverse Camouflage (2015 [2016], TryTone): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Taylor Cook: The Cook Book (2015 [2016], self-released): [cd]: B
  • Hanami: The Only Way to Float Free (2015 [2016], Ears & Eyes): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Julian Hartwell: The Julian Hartwell Project (2015, self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Hendrik Meurkens: Harmonicus Rex (2010 [2016], Height Advantage): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Willie Nelson: Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin (2016, Legacy): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ratatet: Arctic (2015 [2016], Ridgeway): [cd]: B
  • Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra: Portraits and Places (2015 [2016], Origin): [cd]: B-
  • Rihanna: Anti (2016, Roc Nation): [r]: B+(**)
  • Zhenya Strigalev: Never Group (2015 [2016], Whirlwind): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jeff Williams: Outlier (2015 [2016], Whirlwind): [cd]: B+(***)
  • La Yegros: Magnetismo (2016, Soundway): [r]: B+(***)

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

  • Larry Young: In Paris: The ORTF Recordings (1964-65 [2016], Resonance, 2CD): [cd]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Nathan Davis: Happy Girl (1965 [2006], MPS): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Larry Young Trio: Testifying (1960 [1992], New Jazz/OJC): [r]: B+(***)
  • Larry Young: Groove Street (1962 [1995], Prestige/OJC): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Ehud Asherie: Shuffle Along (Blue Heron): April 8
  • Florian Egli Weird Beard: Everything Moves (Intakt): advance, April
  • Marty Elkins: Walkin' by the River (Nagel Heyer)
  • Darren English: Imagine Nation (Hot Shoe)
  • Piere Favre: Drum Sights (Intakt): advance, April
  • Jeff Guthery: Black Paintings (self-released): May 6
  • The Hughes-Smith Quintet: Ever Up & Onward (self-released)

Monday, March 14, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 26384 [26363] rated (+21), 411 [413] unrated (-2).

Rated count dropped further (was 24 last week). Next week will most likely be lower still, at least if I manage to spend any substantial amount of time working on my sister's house. Not sure what happened last week. I suspect both interest and listening time were down as I'm coming off my 2015 wrap up efforts but not paying much attention to 2016. Still, relatively high share of recommended records this week. The Tom Zé was recommended by Christgau the previous week, but it took me a while to find it on Rhapsody. (The other Zé record Christgau liked, Tropicália Lixo Lógico, was an A- back in 2012.) BJ the Chicago Kid and Wussy were tips from Michael Tatum (although Christgau wasted no time certifying Wussy). Threadgill was the most obvious prospect in the incoming queue, aside from vault discoveries from Thad Jones/Mel Lewis and Larry Young (still pending).

Two HMs came close. The Kendrick Lamar dump is mostly up to snuff, maybe even genius, but I kept stumbling on some dull stretches that should have been edited out -- although doing so would have cut the "album" well under 30 minutes. The Danny Green record grew on me despite my usual disinterest in piano trios and dislike for string quartets. I rarely fall for postbop jazz that lush, but it almost became the exception -- indeed, might have had I stuck with it longer.

I'll also note that the Loretta Lynn record is likely to be much enjoyed by fans, although it doesn't really add much. The concept there is to do for her what Rick Rubin did for Johnny Cash in his final years: to capture his voice on a vast songbook that may (or may not) enhance his legacy. That worked mostly because Cash had such a unique voice. Lynn's voice isn't in that rarefied league, although she's sounding remarkably good here, and she's got a lot more production support than Cash had. John Carter Cash co-produced, along with Lynn's daughter, and I hear they have 200+ songs recorded since 2007, so I expect we'll be hearing a lot more from them -- perhaps part of the reason I managed to curb my initial enthusiasm.

Also bothered to listen to five Rough Guide releases -- a couple were Christgau HMs, but the best of the batch was a pick back in 2009 (fun fact: I also have 2001's The Rough Guide to Merengue and Bachata and 2006's The Rough Guide to Merengue at A-). Most I tried to track down the source dates for, with the usual mixed results. The label's compilers usually have good ears, but I've long been irritated by their shoddy documentation -- wouldn't you think that a company that publishes books would take that more seriously? Working off Rhapsody is even more frustrating, as I can only imagine how bad the booklets might be.

John Morthland, one of the finest rock critics to emerge in the golden age of the art, died last week. It came as a complete shock to me, partly because only a couple months ago he sought me out with a Facebook friend request -- I was honored. I met him in the 1970s when I moved to New York. He had recently moved to New York himself from working at Creem in Michigan, along with Lester Bangs and Georgia Christgau. I didn't run into him much, but after he moved to Austin in the mid-1980s Georgia would occasionally mention him, and I wound up corresponding with him a bit. Sometime around 2003 I even managed to drive through Austin, and looked him up and had lunch. He asked if I was still strictly into rock, and I told him that I had mostly moved on, much as he had -- in fact, his The Best of Country Music guide book helped me out a lot (although I grew up close enough to country music it wasn't much of a leap; when it was cut out, I bought a stack of his book and handed them out as presents; one thing I probed him on was doing a website around his book, but he didn't have any interest in going back there). He was a very kind and generous person, an encyclopedic mind which he shared freely. His passing is a real loss.

I meant to collect more links, but for now I'll just go with his interview. Also Katy Vine's memoir, from Texas Monthly.

New records rated this week:

  • B.J. the Chicago Kid: In My Mind (2016, Motown): [r]: A-
  • Renato Braz: Saudade (2005-15 [2016], Living Music): [cd]: C
  • Andy Brown Quartet: Direct Call (2015 [2016], Delmark): [cd]: B
  • Patrick Cornelius: While We're Still Young (2014 [2016], Whirlwind): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Dominican Jazz Project: The Dominican Jazz Project (2015 [2016], Summit): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Danny Green Trio: Altered Narratives (2015 [2016], OA2): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Kendrick Lamar: Untitled Unmastered (2013-16 [2016], Top Dawg Entertainment): [r]: B+(***)
  • Tom Lellis: The Flow (2015 [2016], Beamtime): [r]: C-
  • Loretta Lynn: Full Circle (2016, Legacy): [r]: B+(**)
  • Roberta Piket: One for Marian: Celebrating Marian McPartland (2015 [2016], Thirteenth Note): [cdr]: B+(*)
  • Leslie Pintchik: True North (2015 [2016], Pintch Hard): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Logan Richardson: Shift (2013 [2016], Blue Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • Henry Threadgill Ensemble Double Up: Old Locks and Irregular Verbs (2015 [2016], Pi): [cd]: A-
  • Wussy: Forever Sounds (2016, Shake It): [r]: A-
  • Tom Zé: Vira Lata Na Via Láctea (2014, self-released): [r]: A-

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

  • William Hooker: Light: The Early Years 1975-1989 (1975-89 [2016], NoBusiness, 4CD): [cd]: A-
  • Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra: All My Yesterdays (1966 [2016], Resonance, 2CD): [cd]: A-
  • The Rough Guide to Cumbia [Second Edition] (1975-2012 [2013], World Music Network): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Rough Guide to Latin Disco (1975-2014 [2015], World Music Network): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Rough Guide to Merengue Dance ([2009], World Music Network): [r]: A-
  • The Rough Guide to Psychedelic Cumbia (1969-2014 [2015], World Music Network): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Rough Guide to the Best Arabic Music You've Never Heard (2008-14 [2015], World Music Network): [r]: B

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Raul Agraz: Between Brothers (OA2): March 18
  • Cristina Braga & Brandenburger Symphoniker: Whisper (Enja): May 6
  • Oguz Buyukberber/Tobias Klein: Reverse Camouflage (TryTone)
  • Julian Hartwell: The Julian Hartwell Project (self-released)
  • Pram Trio: Saga Thirteen (self-released)
  • Ratatet: Arctic (Ridgeway): March 11
  • Scptt Reeves Jazz Orchestra: Portraits and Places (Origin): March 18

Daily Log

Miscellaneous notes:

  • The Rough Guide to Cumbia [Second Edition] (1975-2010 [2013], World Music Network): B+(***) [rhapsody]
  • The Rough Guide to Psychedelic Cumbia (1969-2014 [2015], World Music Network): B+(***) [rhapsody]

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