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Monday, June 19, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28293 [28254] rated (+39), 373 [385] unrated (-12).

Covered a lot of records last week, came up with a nice mix with more than usual highly recommended. Once again, streaming played a large roll: only one of three A-list jazz albums came in the mail (Steve Coleman, the most marginal, the one that took the most work, but regardless of my reservations I predict a top-five poll finish). Christgau's latest featured "a flood of new country" -- especially Jason Isbell, who I've never gotten and still don't, and Steve Earle, for the week's easiest pick. But I've been working on another country list, thanks to Saving Country Music, which brought me to Jason Eady, Zephaniah OHora, Marty Stuart, Jaime Wyat, and some others we'll get to soon -- Joseph Huber, Colter Wall, Dalton Domino, the Brother Brothers, Shinyribs, and possibly more in the fine print. (I'd already checked out Sunny Sweeney, John Moreland, Willie Nelson, Rodney Crowell, Whitney Rose, Chris Stapleton, Angaleena Presley).

The latest Downbeat steered me to Jimmy Greene, Gerald Clayton, Ambrose Akinmusire, Regina Carter, and Louis Hayes. I've seen some raves about Akinmusire, but only one or two cuts come close to justifying them. His last album came in 3rd in Jazz Critics Poll (I gave it a B-), so this one might too. At least I feel like I can hear what Coleman's doing, even if I'm not wild about it. Greene's previous album was also hugely admired, but I didn't like it nearly as much as I do this one. The featured reviews also includes a new one by Tomasz Stanko, which I've snarfed a download of but haven't bothered with yet. (Actually, I've yet to play a single ECM download this year, although I have most of them somewhere -- I think mostly on the wrong computer.)

Speaking of computers, I'm running into big problems with the ISP that hosts I struggled getting yesterday's posts up because the server ran out of disk space. I'm using 398MB on a virtual server disk partition with 67GB, so my slice is a mere 0.59% of the partition, and the server has another 141GB partition that's only 56% used (but inaccessible to me). I've filed a problem report but they haven't responded let alone done anything. The company is I've been there a long time, and they've become increasingly dysfunctional, so I should move -- in fact, should have moved years ago, but didn't because it's not actually possible to get a clean dump of the blog database. I do have all the flat files elsewhere, but it would be a huge job to rebuild the blog database (probably not even worth doing since almost all of the writing is in the Notebook and there never have been many comments).

Compounding this is my main working computer, which is stuck on a very old release of Ubuntu. The main reason that's a problem is that that particular version of Firefox seems to be real buggy especially when running JavaScript. I've gotten by for a long time by running NoScript, but I have to enable JavaScript for many sites. The result is that the program quickly becomes bogged down -- as I'm currently writing this it's just sitting idle but top reports it's using 102% of CPU -- and soon crashes. I had it hang or crash three times yesterday, which means it's getting worse -- over the last few months it's usually managed to stay up about 2-3 days at a time. What I need to do is to copy everything off, load a fresh batch of software, and restore all the websites and writing and archives and so forth. Ugh.

I've known I've had to upgrade for some time, but have held back due to the general mess in the office. I finally made a small amount of progress last week on getting the mountains of CDs organized and filed, and hope to continue working on that this week. In the meantime, there's some possibility that the website will temporarily go away.

I did make some progress early last week on the Jazz Guides, but that got stalled mid-week. Current page counts: 682 + 599. Still in the Jazz '80s file, up to Adam Pieronczyk. I took a dive into Amina Claudine Myers' back catalogue while working on this: mostly AACM-meets-Bessie Smith. The Leo album was a Penguin 4-star, and really takes off on the backstretch.

Incoming mail took a nosedive last week, although I got two new releases from Intakt today. There's usually a seasonal dip later in the summer, but as the trawl through Downbeat demonstrated, I'm no longer getting a lot of new jazz (9/35 records individually reviewed this month). Looks like I'm no longer getting records from Clean Feed, which I've regarded as a reason to carry on. Maybe I'll find some on Napster.

New records rated this week:

  • Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society: Simultonality (2014-15 [2017], Eremite): [bc]: A-
  • Ambrose Akinmusire: A Rift in Decorum: Live at the Village Vanguard (2017, Blue Note, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ignacio Berroa Trio: Straight Ahead From Havana (2017, Codes Drum Music): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Steve Bilodeau: The Sun Through the Rain (2017, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Gerald Cannon: Combinations (2017, Woodneck): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Regina Carter: Ella: Accentuate the Positive (2017, Okeh): [r]: B+(*)
  • Gerald Clayton: Tributary Tales (2017, Motéma): [r]: B
  • Steve Coleman's Natal Eclipse: Morphogenesis (2016 [2017], Pi): [cd]: A-
  • Dálava: The Book of Transfigurations (2016 [2017], Songlines): [r]: B+(*)
  • Roger Davidson Trio With Hendrik Meurkens: Oração Para Amanhã/Prayer for Tomorrow (2016 [2017], Soundbrush): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Rick Davies: Thugtet (2015 [2017], Emlyn): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jason Eady: Jason Eady (2017, Old Guitar): [r]: A-
  • Steve Earle & the Dukes: So You Wannabe an Outlaw (2017, Warner Bros.): [r]: A-
  • Alex Goodman: Second Act (2017, Lyte): [cd]: B
  • The Great Harry Hillman: Tilt (2017, Cuneiform): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Jimmy Greene: Flowers: Beautiful Life Volume 2 (2017, Mack Avenue): [r]: A-
  • Louis Hayes: Serenade for Horace (2017, Blue Note): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: The Nashville Sound (2017, Southeastern): [r]: B+(**)
  • Tift Merritt: Stitch of the World (2017, Yep Roc): [r]: B+(*)
  • Amina Claudine Myers: Sama Rou: Songs From My Soul (2016, Amina C): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ed Neumeister & His NeuHat Ensemble: Wake Up Call (2014 [2017], MeisteroMusic): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The New Vision Sax Ensemble: Musical Journey Through Time (2017, Zak Publishing): [cd]: B+(*)
  • North Mississippi Allstars: Prayer for Peace (2017, Legacy): [r]: B+(***)
  • Zephaniah OHora & the 18 Wheelers: This Highway (2017, MRI): [r]: B+(**)
  • Perfume Genius: No Shape (2017, Matador): [r]: B-
  • Errol Rackipov Group: Distant Dreams (2015 [2017], OA2): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Rag'n'Bone Man: Human (2017, Columbia): [r]: B-
  • Oumou Sangaré: Mogoya (2017, No Format): [r]: A-
  • Scenes: Destinations (2016-17 [2017], Origin): [r]: B+(*)
  • Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives: Way Out West (2017, Superlatone): [r]: B
  • Thundercat: Drunk (2017, Brainfeeder): [r]: B+(*)
  • Thurst: Cut to the Chafe (2017, self-released): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Carlos Vega: Bird's Up (2016 [2017], Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Jaime Wyatt: Felony Blues (2017, Forty Below, EP): [r]: B+(*)

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

  • Dave Liebman/Joe Lovano: Compassion: The Music of John Coltrane (2007 [2017], Resonance): [cd]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Amina Claudine Myers: Salutes Bessie Smith (1980, Leo): [r]: A-
  • Amina Claudine Myers Trio: The Circle of Time (1983 [1984], Black Saint): [r]: B+(***)
  • Amina Claudine Myers Trio: Women in (E)Motion (1988 [1993], Tradition & Moderne): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Llop: J.Imp (El Negocito)
  • Mike Reed: Flesh & Bone (482 Music): August 25

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Weekend Roundup

I thought I'd start with some comments on the Trump-Russia mess. As far as I can tell (and this isn't very high on the list of things I worry about these days), there are four separate things that need to be investigated and understood:

  1. What (if anything) Russia did to affect the course and outcome of the 2016 elections, and (harder to say) did this have any actual impact on the results. You might want to delve deeper and understand why they did what they did, although there's little chance they will be forthcoming on the subject, so you're likely to wind up with little but biased speculation. [I suspect the answer here is that they did a lot of shit that ultimately had very little impact.]

  2. Did the meetings that various people more/less tied to the Trump campaign had with various Russians (both officials and non-officials with ties to the Russian leadership) discuss Russian election ops. In particular, did Trump's people provide any assistance or direction to the Russians. [Seems unlikely, but hard to tell given that the people involved have repeatedly lied, and been caught lying, about meetings, so what they ultimately admit to isn't credible -- unless some sort of paper trail emerges, such as Sislyak's communiques to Moscow.]

  3. Did Trump's people, in their meetings with various Russians, make or imply any changes in US policy toward Russia that might reward or simply incline the Russians to try to help Trump's campaign and/or hinder Clinton's campaign? [This seems likely, as the campaign's public statements imply a less punitive tilt toward Russia, but it could be meant for future good will rather than as any sort of quid pro quo for campaign help. The Russians, of course, could have found this reason enough to help Trump vs. Clinton. Again, we don't know what transpired in the meetings, and the fact that Trump's people have lied about them doesn't look good.]

  4. Did Trump and/or his people seek to obstruct the investigation, especially by the Department of Justice, into the above? [It's pretty clear now that they did, and that Trump was personally involved. It's not clear whether this meets the usual requirements for prosecution -- for instance, it's not clear that there has been any fabrication of evidence or perjury, but there clearly have been improper attempts to apply political pressure to (in the quaint British phrasing) pervert the course of justice.]

The problem is that even though these questions seem simple and straightforward, they exist in a context that is politically highly charged. Again, there are several dimensions to this:

  1. Clinton and her supporters were initially desperate to find any reason other than their candidate and campaign to explain her surprise loss to one of the most unappealing (and objectively least popular) major party candidates in history, so they were quick to jump on the Russian hacking story (as well as Comey's handling of the email server fiasco). Early on, they were the main driving force behind the story. [This made it distasteful for people like me who thought she was a bad candidate, but also helped turn it into a blatantly partisan issue, where Trump supporters quickly became blindered to any attacks on their candidate.]

  2. A second group of influential insiders had reason to play up a Russia scandal: the neocon faction of the security meta-state, who have all along wanted to play up Russia as a potential enemy because their security state only makes sense if they can point to threats. If Trump came into office thinking he could roll back sanctions and reverse US policy on Russia, they would have to hustle to stop him, and blowing up his people's Russia contacts into a full-fledged scandal helped do the trick. [This is pretty much fait accompli at this point, although Trump himself isn't very good at sticking to his script. But while some Republicans chafe, the Democrats have been completely won over to a hard-line policy on Russia, even though rank-and-file Democrats are overwhelmingly anti-war. One result here is that by posturing as hawks Democrat politicians are losing their credibility with their party's base -- recapitulating one of Clinton's major problems in 2016.]

  3. As the scandal has blown up, Democrats increasingly see it as a way of focusing opposition to Trump and disrupting the Republican agenda. Meanwhile, Republicans feel the need to defend Trump (even to the point of crippling investigation into the scandal) in order to get their agenda back on track. Thus narrow legal matters have become broad political ones, turning not on facts but on opinions. [This makes them impossible to adjudicate via normal procedures, and guarantees that whatever investigators find will be dismissed to large numbers of people who put their allegiances ahead of the facts. Ultimately, then, the issues will have to be weighed by the voters, who by the time they get a chance will have plenty of other distractions. Meanwhile the Democrats are missing countless scandals and even worse policy moves, while Republicans are getting away with -- well, "murder" may not be the choicest word here, but if Republicans pass their Obamacare repeal many more people will die unnecessarily than even America's itchy trigger-fingers can account for.]

Here are some links on subjects related to Trump/Russia:

Someone named James T Hodgkinson took a rifle to a baseball field in Arlington, VA where several Republican members of Congress (and a few hangers-on) were practicing for a charity baseball game, and started shooting. He wounded five, most seriously Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) before he in turn was shot and killed by police. Hodgkinson had a long history of writing crank letters-to-the-editor, as well as a history of run-ins with the law, including complaints of domestic abuse and shooting guns into trees, but he was also virulently anti-Trump, so right-wing talking heads had a field day playing the victim. Still, it's doubtful that this brief experience of terror will move any of the Republicans against the wars we export abroad, let alone question their vow of allegiance to the NRA. Some relevant links:

  • Angelina Chapin: The Virginia gunman is a reminder: domestic abusers are a danger to society

  • Esme Cribb: Steve King Partly Blames Obama for Divisive Politics That Led to Shooting

  • David Frum: Reinforcing the Boundaries of Political Decency: He declares that "across the political spectrum, there is only revulsion" to acts like the shooting members of Congress, he notes that we're much less repulsed when our politicians and commentators threaten violence:

    In the wake of this crime, as after the Gabby Giffords attack in 2011, we'll soon be talking about whether and when political rhetoric goes too far. It's an important conversation to have, and the fact that the president of the United States is himself the country's noisiest inciter of political violence does not give license to anyone else to do the same. Precisely because the president has put himself so outside the boundary of political decency, it is vitally important to define and defend that border. President Trump's delight in violence against his opponents is something to isolate and condemn, not something to condone or emulate.

    What Frum doesn't note is that while assassination is still frowned on here inside America, it is official government policy to hunt down and kill select people who offend us abroad, as well as anyone else who happens to be in the vicinity of one of our targets.

  • Charlie May: Trump's favorite right-wing websites aren't listening to his calls for unity following GOP shooting: As Alex Jones put it: "The first shots of the second American Civil War have already been fired." Nor was it just the alt-right that wanted to jump on the shooting to score cheap shots against the left: see Brendan Gauthier: New York Times tries, fails to blame Virginia shooting on Bernie Sanders.

  • Heather Digby Parton: Don't miss the point on Alexandria and San Francisco: There is a solution for mass shootings: The San Francisco shooting didn't get anywhere near the press of the one in Alexandria, despite greater (albeit less famous) carnage: "an angry employee went into a UPS facility and opened fire, killing three co-workers and himself."

    Mother Jones gathers data on mass shootings and has pretty strict criteria for inclusion: The shooting must happen in a public place and result in three or more deaths. This leaves out many incidents in which people are only injured, such as the shooting of 10 people in Philadelphia last month, or those that take place on on private property, such as the recent killing of eight people in Mississippi during a domestic violence shooting spree. (The Gun Violence Archive collects incidents that involve the shooting of two or more victims. It is voluminous.)

    According to the Mother Jones criteria, yesterday's Virginia shooting doesn't even count since it didn't meet the death threshold. The San Francisco UPS shooting does, bring the total of such mass shootings to six so far this year. . . .

    Meanwhile, 93 people on average are shot and killed every day in America, many of them in incidents involving multiple victims. More than 100,000 people are struck by bullets every year. President Donald Trump was right to speak about "carnage" in America in his inaugural address. He just didn't acknowledge that the carnage is from gun violence.

    OK, another boring gun control piece ensues. And no doubt fewer guns (better regulated, less automatic) would reduce those numbers. Still, there are other reasons why America is so trigger-happy, and change there would also help. For starters, we've been at war almost continuously for seventy-five years, with all that entails, from training people to kill to cheering them when they do, and making it easier by dehumanizing supposed enemies. We've internalized war to the point that we habitually treat projects or causes as wars, which often as not leads to their militarization (as in the "war on drugs"). We've increasingly turned politics into a bitter, no holds, drag out brawl; i.e., a war. And we've allowed corporations to be run like armies, which is one reason so many mass shootings are job-related (or loss-of-job-related). Another is that we've increasingly shredded the safety net, especially when it comes to getting help for mental health problems. (Veterans still get more help in that regard, but not enough.) It might help to require companies to provide counseling to laid-off workers (or if that's too much of an imposition, let the public pick up the tab). Free (or much cheaper) education would also help. Decriminalizing drugs would definitely help. And then there's this notion, from a tweet by Sen. Rand Paul:

    Why do we have a Second Amendment? It's not to shoot deer. It's to shoot at the government when it becomes tyrannical!

    That notion proved impractical as early as the 1791 Whiskey Rebellion. The Second Amendment actually spoke of well-regulated militias, which the various states maintained up to the Civil War. Once that was over, the role for such militias (and as such the Amendment) vanished, until it was refashioned by opportunistic politicians and activist judges to give any crackpot a chance to kill his neighbors. As Alexandria shows, that right doesn't help anyone. But then the left half of the political spectrum already knew that, partly because they've much more often been the targets of crackpots, and partly because they've generally retained the ability to reason about evidence.

  • Charles Pierce: When White People Realize American Politics Are Violent: "It's not news to anyone else." He notes America's long history of political violence, including lynchings and a couple of wholesale racist massacres, but also mentioning an attack on miners in Colorado. Pierce then turned around and wrote: This Is Not an Ideal Time to Have White Supremacists Infiltrating Law Enforcement. Come on, is there ever a time when it was harmless much less ideal? I recalled a prime example from fifty-some years ago, a guy named Bull Connor. (By the way, when I went to check the name, I also found this story: Deputy shoots dog after many loses everything in trailer fire. The man was then charged with disorderly conduct, but acquitted. One of many understatements: "The Madison County Sheriff's Department has seen greater problems than the shooting of a dog.")

Some scattered links this week in Trump's many other (and arguably much more important) scandals:

And finally some other items that caught my eye:

Six Days and Fifty Years

I noticed this letter by Stu Blander in the New York Times Book Review, a response to a review by Gal Beckerman, 50 Years On, Stories of the Six Day War and What Came After, and saw that it provided a brief set of talking points meant to defend Israel's 50-years-and-counting Occupation. I thought I'd quote these points (in bold below) and see how well they hold up:

  1. the historical connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel (both sides of the Green Line, e.g., Hebron) spans two millenniums; As expressed this may be true but carries no weight. Many peoples have comparably long historical connections to this or other lands, but that doesn't give them any right to claim land and subjugate and/or eject those living there -- as Israelis have done. The louder form of this argument, one often heard from Israelis, is that God gave them the land, but while that may be an article of faith for Jews it is arbitrary and unconvincing to anyone else. (Those Christians who are pro-Zionist are more likely to base their views on Revelations than on Exodus. But aside from the British of 1922-39, Christian rulers of Palestine -- Romans, Byzantines, and Crusaders -- prohibited Jewish immigration, in contrast to the Arabs and Ottomans, who allowed it).

  2. the Green Line was intended as a temporary armistice line, not a final border; The UN's 1947 Partition Resolution was intended to be a final border, but Israelis, while campaigning hard for UN approval, rejected it when they declared independence without specifying any borders and launched Plan D to seize West Galilee, Jerusalem, and environs -- indeed to seize as much land as they could without too many Palestinian Arabs. The "temporary borders" of the UN-brokered armistice agreements were expected to be finalized in peace agreements, which Israel didn't make any effort to negotiate in good faith. That is primarily because David Ben Gurion and his successors always contemplated seizing and annexing more territory by armed force. Regardless of Israeli intent, the Green Line did over nearly 20 years come to be regarded as a de facto border, as recognized in UNSCR 242 following the 1967 War, and it was eventually accepted by all nations of the Arab League, by the PLO, and finally Hamas. It is only Israel that isn't satisfied with the Green Line as a border.

  3. the territories were acquired in a defensive war; The 1967 War was initiated in a surprise attack by Israel, and followed a plan aimed at rapidly conquering territory previously held or administered by Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. Egypt provoked a crisis by demanding that UN monitor troops leave their territory in the Sinai Peninsula, and once that happened by closing the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. Both of those reversed concessions that Egypt had made following Israel's attack on Egypt in 1956. There is no reason to think that Egypt (or any other Arab country) would have attacked Israel at that time, and it is likely that had Israel not attacked the crisis would have been resolved diplomatically. Syria and Jordan were dragged into the war because they had signed mutual defense deals with Egypt -- a failed attempt at deterring Israeli attack. Even if they fired on Israel first, it was only after Israel had attacked Egypt, and Israel responded with an aggressive campaign to seize strategic territory.

  4. Security Council Resolution 242 contemplates the retention of some of the territories; The preamble very clearly refers to the "inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war," so there is no reason to think that the Resolution "contemplates the retention of some of the territories." While Israel officially accepted the Resolution, they thought they had a loophole, arguing that the lack of a definite article (withdrawal "from territories occupied in the recent conflict" instead of withdrawal "from the territories"). By that bit of nitpicking, Israel could claim to respect international law while "creating facts on the ground" to carve out territories they would refuse to ever withdraw from. The first such "fact on the ground" -- the razing of a Palestinian neighborhood adjacent to the Western Wall of the Temple Mount -- took place before the war ended, and Israeli annexation of a greatly expanded Jerusalem very shortly after. As internal documents from the time were declassified, it has become clear that Israeli leaders never intended to give up various territories.

  5. the 1948-49 war resulted in the destruction of existing Jewish settlements (e.g., Gush Etzion) to which Israelis returned after 1967; The massacre at Gush Etzion is a rare case where Arab militia were able to destroy an isolated Jewish settlement. On the other hand, Israeli forces destroyed some 700 Palestinian villages, and forced some 700,000 Palestinians to flee. The net effect of the 1948-49 was was that Israel expanded its territory from 55% offered in the UN Partition Resolution to 72% while at the same time reducing the non-Jewish population from 45% to 20% -- a massive demographic shift that nowadays we commonly refer to as "ethnic cleansing." No doubt the massacre at Gush Etzion was unjust, as was the 1929 attack on the Zionist settlement in Hebron, which resulted in its retreat, and another early post-1967 settlement. But if you want to redress those acts, you need to do it for both sides, which would mean allowing 700 resettlements of Israel by Palestinian refugees. Otherwise, those settlements are just land grabs by the superior military force.

  6. there are significant security reasons for continued control of the territories; Maybe there were some valid reasons in 1967, and possibly up to the 1977 Peace Treaty with Egypt, but Israel has not faced any significant border threats since roughly that time. Israel created a problem with Lebanon when Israel intervened there in 1978 and especially 1982, and when Israel escalated a minor border incident in 2006 into a major war, but all of those were preventable or could have been handled otherwise. And Israel's Occupation creates far more dissent and resistance, and far more immediate threats, than allowing those territories to develop independently (as, for instance, the Oslo Accords promised but never delivered, again due to Israeli sabotage).

  7. international law is far from clear as to which side has the better of the "legal" argument; One point international law is very clear on is that the Jewish-only settlements Israel has been building on territory seized by force in the 1967 War are illegal. A second point is that Israel has refused to permit refugees from the 1948-49 and 1967 Wars to return to their homes or compensate them for their losses, contrary to UN Resolution. There are also various laws regarding treatment of people in Occupied Territories that Israel is likely to have violated. Israel runs a very coercive and invasive Occupation regime, which systematically discriminates against civil and human rights of Palestinians. Israel routinely practices collective punishment against Palestinians. It's not clear to me what the "legal" arguments on the other side may be, or how they can possibly offset these complaints.

I can see some merit in some of these points, especially up through the 1967 War. European settler colonies have either succeeded or failed depending on whether they were able to establish a demographic majority -- as they clearly did in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, but as they failed to do in Algeria, South Africa, Rhodesia, or Kenya. Until the 1948-49 War, the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine was limited to about 32% of the total population, which didn't bode well. This is why Ben Gurion and the Zionist leadership embraced Partition and Transfer as well as open Jewish immigration (which the British had suppressed since 1939, and earlier from Arab countries). That they emerged from the war with 72% of the land in Palestine and an 80% majority ensured their survival, but it took some years after that before the lesson was impressed on the Palestinians and neighboring Arabs. Algeria, for instance, rejected the French only in 1964, and it took another 25 years for white South Africans to give up their system of Apartheid. So Zionism won the struggle for existence and statehood in 1948-49, but like so many successful people, they didn't stop there. They got greedy: both in terms of expanding their territorial grasp and in how completely they were able to dominate their opponents. The result has been an extraordinary human tragedy, both for the oppressed and for the souls of the dominators.

Blander's letter continues:

I do not think that these arguments (individually or in combination) dictate continued retention of the territories and perpetuation of the occupation. But it is frankly absurd to characterize the current situation as, say, akin to that of France in Algeria or the British in India.

Aside from demography, the other settler colony consideration is whether you can return, as the British in India and the French in Algeria clearly could. Boers in South Africa might have been able to return to the Netherlands, but (unlike the English in South Africa) were long separated from those roots -- which is one reason they hung on so dearly. Jews in Palestine/Israel had few other options -- Americans could come and go, and some others did move on to Western Europe, but the majority from East Europe and the MENA countries had few options and little appetite to return.

On the other hand, if you don't recognize Zionism to be a creed of settler colonialism, you'll miss the underlying rationales for why the Zionist settlers did what they did, and why they've gone on to create a regime that systematically denies the native population any semblance of human or civil rights, a system which it regularly reinforces with violence. Otherwise, you might just think their racism and militarism derive from some intrinsic evil. As a white settler American (albeit 4-10 generations removed from Europe), I can relate, but I also understand the trap such identity sets, and the need to outgrow that. Israelis have succeeded in transplanting themselves to the Middle East, but not for as long, and with a more precarious majority, than we have, so it's understandable that they're much more on edge (plus there's the Holocaust, which they've preserved memory of to an unhealthy degree -- kind of like the way the Civil War was remembered in the US South well into my lifetime, whereas we've done a pretty good job of sweeping traumas to minorities like slavery and the Indian wars under the rug).

I guess this is why I find the last paragraph of Blander's letter confusing:

One more thing. After a couple of pages of essentially holding Israel responsible for the continued occupation, the essay ends with a plea by Raja Shehadeh that until the Israelis "accept that the land must be shared and that both people have the right to self-determination, peace will remain elusive." Maybe so. But how to square that with Nir Baram's conclusion (apparently endorsed by Beckerman) that the conflict is not about "final borders" and there remains "total and irreconcilable difference" between the parties?

You can't really square away those and dozens of other things people say, each coming from a limited and parochial vantage point. It would helps to see where the Zionists came from, what they sought and hoped for and built, and how they coped with real and imagined threats, but one also needs to accept the Palestinians as they were and have become, to put their words and actions into a historical context and understand how their options have been severely constrained. The next line might be something about how if they could all just learn to understand and empathize with each other the conflict would be easy to resolve. But that won't happen, at least broadly: the views are too limited and the experiences too raw. It often takes distance to be able to see both sides clearly, to find some common ground or viable modus vivendi.

I think that's the point of Nathan Thrall's new book, The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine. Thrall is taking a line that Israelis have often said about Arabs -- one of many things Zionist colonizers learned from their British patrons (along with house demolitions and other forms of collective punishment, and indeed the legal code Israel built its Occupation on), and reflecting it back. The saying usually ends with "is violence," which Thrall left out, because he realizes that force can take other forms. In The One-State Condition: Occupation and Democracy in Israel/Palestine, Ariella Azoulay and Adi Ophir make a distinction between "eruptive violence" (what you normally think of as violence) and "potential violence" (what you feel when you see an Occupation soldier, or are arrested, or served with a warrant by a state that depends on arms for enforcement, or even a veiled threat). Israeli society positively seethes with "potential violence" like this. The closest analogy I can think of, one that Americans should (but often cannot) be able to relate to, is how the all-pervasive legal strictures of the Jim Crow South were reinforced with lynching (and note that many white Southerners had their own "Holocaust memories" dating from Civil War and Reconstruction, their own sense that their renascent power was only achieved through violent struggle).

As someone who abhors violence in all forms and degrees, I find it disturbing to note that Jim Crow was only dismantled because a superior force -- the US federal government -- intervened. (Same for slavery a century earlier, much more violently.) Similarly, it is hard to see any glimmer of hope that Israeli society might voluntarily dismantle its own "matrix of control" (Jeff Halper's apt phrase and thorough analysis) without the application of considerable external pressure. One problem is that the world isn't much good at this: partly because many powers are convinced they can solve their international problems through violence, and partly because the targets of that violence are more likely to hunker down and carry on than to give up. Germany and Japan gave up their imperial ambitions only after utter devastation, but Vietnam and Afghanistan suffered comparable ruin and carried on. And while economic sanctions seem less brutalizing, about the only case you can point to where they worked was South Africa (which at least is much more similar to Israel than such failed sanctions targets as Cuba, North Korea, Iraq, and Iran). The BDS movement is promising not so much because it punishes Israel for misbehaving as because it shows that the world no longer considers Israel's violent repression of millions of people subject to its power to be morally acceptable.

As fascinating as the past is, this is a conflict which can only be resolved in the present, and the key to that is to stop treating each other badly. To do that we need to condemn every transgression on every side, and we need to refuse to allow either side's misdeeds to justify the other. Most obviously, Israel's "right to defend itself" doesn't extend to bombing, shooting, bulldozing, kidnapping or starving -- all typical Israeli acts justified under the "self-defense" umbrella. One could even imagine a simple and elegant system where, for instance, every time someone in Gaza shoots a rocket over the wall Israel can present the authorities in Gaza with a bill for damages and a warrant for the arrest of whoever's responsible. Of course, Gaza could do the same every time Israel lobs a shell or drops a bomb on Gaza. While the warrants may be difficult to satisfy, the damages at least could be deducted from the streams of aid both Israel and the Palestinians receive. The formalities themselves would both publicize infractions and deter against them. Moreover, this wouldn't require a grand deal to establish a "final status" verdict. All it would require is mutual agreement that shooting and bombing is something that shouldn't be allowed or excused any more.

We also need to lighten up and let go of things. You can't go back and rectify the past, but you can start again and try to get it right from here on out. No one starts with a clean slate, and I'm not sure that one is even possible, but a little self-awareness and a little more effort to respect others can go a long ways. I know, for instance, that I'm not free of the racism and sexism and Christianity and American jingoism I grew up with, but I've managed to contain them to the point where I'm not much of a problem for other people. That much seems doable, even if it's not done often enough.

But one last point: we should understand why ending (or at least ameliorating) this conflict matters. It's not just that mistreatment anywhere is bad, or even that Israel is bucking a worldwide trend toward deconialization (not so much a return of settlers to Europe as a general blurring of racial and ethnic identities all around the world), but especially for us in America a recognition that Israel's all-encompassing belief in using violence to perpetuate inequality infects us as well (or in some cases, such as Jim Crow, even originated here). America's self-destructive lurch to the right parallels and feeds off Israel's, and it's unlikely we can stave off the one without at least separating it from the other.

For another review of Thrall's book and several others, see David Shulman: Israel's Irrational Rationality (or as the cover put it: "Israel: From Military Victory to Moral Failure"). Here's a quote:

By far the most cogent of the new books, however, is Nathan Thrall's The Only Language They Understand, which surveys the last five decades and comes to a remarkable conclusion: the only way to produce some kind of movement toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to apply significant coercive force to the parties involved, and in particular to Israel.

No amount of coddling and reassuring, no increased bribes in the form of more money or military aid, will have any effect on Israeli policy for the simple reason that Israel considers any sacrifice that would be necessary for peace far worse than maintaining the current situation. As Thrall writes, "no strategy can succeed if it is premised on Israel behaving irrationally." In this reading of the worldview that has driven all Israeli governments -- right, pseudo-left, or center -- over these decades, "it makes no sense for Israel to strike a deal today rather than wait to see if . . . imagined threats," such as an apartheid state ruling over a Palestinian demographic majority, and thus the end of Israeli democracy, "actually materialize." The assumption that Israel genuinely wants a peace agreement is simply wrong; the costs of such an agreement are tangible, immediate, and perhaps overwhelming, involving the loss of territory, an end to colonization, and potential political collapse, whereas the costs of maintaining the status quo are for many Israelis, if at times unpleasant, eminently bearable.

Also, further down, after detailing the author's personal experiences with Israeli settlers near Hebron:

A diary that kept track of such assaults on Palestinians would run to thousands of pages, with daily, perhaps hourly, entries. And I have not yet mentioned the endless demolitions of Palestinian houses -- entire villages, such as Susiya and Umm al-Khair, are in danger of extinction -- or the remorseless processes of expulsion and ethnic cleansing that we see everywhere in the occupied territories. The occupation is also a surreal world of denial, where lies mask themselves as truth and truth can't be uttered, at least not by the officers and politicians who hold power. I recommend the graphic and moving descriptions of the current situation in the West Bank and Gaza in Kingdom of Olives and Ash, a volume of personal essays by well-known writers, including the Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, edited by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman and published to coincide with the fifty-year anniversary.

The settlers themselves, however obnoxious, bear only a portion of the blame for the atrocities they commit. They carry out the policies of the Israeli government, in effect maintaining a useful, steady level of state terror directed against a large civilian population. None of this can be justified by rational argument. All of it stains the character of the state and has, in my experience, horrific effects on the minds and hearts of young soldiers who have to carry out the orders they are given. A few unusually aware and conscientious ones have had the courage to speak out; as always in such situations, most people just go along.

Shulman also mentions a "binational" scheme which is close to where my own thinking has led me:

There exist other templates for some sort of resolution. The most interesting and creative is probably the Two States One Homeland proposal by Meron Rapoport, Awni al-Mashni, and the group of Palestinians and Israelis they have gathered around them. They envision two states within a single geographical space and a movement toward simultaneous sharing and separation. The blueprint speaks of two independent polities with Jerusalem as their capital; freedom of movement and even freedom to settle on both sides of the border, subject to agreement on the number of citizens of each state who will become permanent residents of the other; a Joint Court for Human Rights, a Joint Security Council, and other common institutions functioning alongside the institutional structures of each state.

Of the other books reviewed, Matti Steinberg's In Search of Modern Palestinian Nationhood strikes me as possibly the most interesting. The author "served for many years as a senior adviser to the heads of the Shin Bet" and he seems to have made a careful, nuanced study of what Palestinian writers were actually thinking as their view of Israel evolved from "roughly 1973" on. There is an interesting movie called The Gatekeepers of interviews with five former Shin Bet heads, showing in each case a career evolution from youthful hawk to aged, wizened dove, so one imagines that even while they towed the standard political line, they actually learned real things about the people they were spying on. Unfortunately, the more they learned, the more they regretted, the more likely they were to be replaced with someone younger and more reckless. I think that rule often applies to Israeli politicians as well, although Netanyahu has managed to be single-mindedly obstructionist for what seems like forever.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28254 [28225] rated (+29), 385 [383] unrated (+2).

Barely less than the thirty that for me marks a productive week, but close enough, especially given that my cutoff for the week's report was relatively early, and since then I'm already as I write this up to seven records for next week. I've continued to add items to the Music Tracking file, especially from early "so far" lists (although I ran out of patience when I tried to scoop up the 2017 jazz review list from All About Jazz). I've been picking promising (well, in some cases just much touted) records from the list, and getting the usual hit-and-miss results. I found two A- records there: a rapper who surprised me, and a pop star who still sounded convincing after four plays. The hardest call was the Mountain Goats' Goths, which probably got six plays without clearly making the grade -- still, a damn nice album. Two records I didn't spend much time on but you might turn out to be more to your taste: MUNA and Jay Som.

The other A- is American Epic: The Soundtrack, which is the tip of an iceberg that includes much more I haven't found time to deal with, notably a 5-CD box and a bunch of individual artist compilations for genres (Blues, Country) and artists I already have serviceable anthologies by (Carter Family, Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Willie Johnson, Leadbelly, Memphis Jug Band). Chances are any of those would do you well. But the box is a lot to focus on coming off the computer, and I wouldn't be able to review the doc -- always important with reissues -- without actually getting my hands on the product. As for the original music, I haven't seen the PBS shows, and don't know where to begin. The whole thing is much like the Ken Burns jazz and Martin Scorsese blues campaigns, except I'm much less engaged.

As for the mid-year lists (and obviously we're still close to a month shy), so I'm working from a short and arbitrary sample. Without resorting to math, I'll give you my subjective impression of how this list would shape up if we had more data. Also, I've included my grades, where known, in brackets:

  1. Kendrick Lamar: Damn (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope) [A-]
  2. Sampha: Process (Young Turks) [*]
  3. The XX: I See You (Young Turks) [A-]
  4. Father John Misty: Pure Comedy (Sub Pop)
  5. Syd: Fin (Columbia) [A-]
  6. Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels 3 (Run the Jewels) [A-]
  7. Mount Eerie: A Crow Looked at Me (PW Elverum & Sun) [*]
  8. Drake: More Life (Young Money/Cash Money) [*]
  9. Spoon: Hot Thoughts (Matador) [***]
  10. Thundercat: Drunk (Brainfeeder) [*]
  11. Migos: Culture (QC/YRN/300) [***]
  12. Jay Som: Everybody Works (Polyvinyl) [*]
  13. Khalid: American Teen (Right Hand/RCA) [A-]
  14. Perfume Genius: No Shape (Matador) [B-]
  15. Chris Stapleton: From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville) [***]
  16. Slowdive: Slowdive (Dead Oceans) [*]
  17. Dirty Projectors: Dirty Projectors (Domino)
  18. Jens Lekman: Life Will See You Now (Secretly Canadian) [***]
  19. Laura Marling: Semper Femina (More Alarming) [*]
  20. The Magnetic Fields: 50 Song Memoir (Nonesuch) [B-]

The top slot is a slam dunk. The next three could go any way, with XX a clear leader in UK, Misty in US, and Sampha broader (but not so deep) everywhere. I think RTJ3 is underrepresented, probably because its release straddled the New Year. The sample is skewed toward hip-hop, so I tended to slide those records back a bit (especially Drake, which showed up on the third most lists). Also I pushed Christgau favorites Lekman and Magnetic Fields up (onto) the list (the latter quite a bit, but also note that its Metacritic score is very high).

Some other, somewhat less likely, possibilities: Ryan Adams: The Prisoner; Arca [B]; Joey Bada$$: All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ [A-]; Cloud Nothings: Life Without Sound [**]; Future: Hndrxx; (Sandy) Alex G: Rocket; Japandroids: Near to the Wild Heart of Life [**]; Kehlani: SweetSexySavage [*]; The New Pornographers: Whiteout Conditions [***]; Paramore: After Laughter [***]; Priests: Nothing Feels Natural [**]. Also on my "first pass" list: Mary J. Blige: Strength of a Woman [***]; Julie Byrne: Not Even Happiness; Charly Bliss: Guppy; Feist: Pleasure [B]; Future Islands: The Far Field; Girlpool: Powerplant [B]; Gorillaz: Humanz; Jlin: Black Origami [**]; Aimee Mann: Mental Illness; Rick Ross: Rather You Than Me; Sorority Noise: You're Not as ___ as Your Think; Stormzy: Gang Signs & Prayer [*].

More 2017 best of (so far) lists:

I should also note that Robert Christgau has a review of several books by Terry Eagleton: With a God on His Side.

New records rated this week:

  • Joey Bada$$: All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ (2017, Pro Era/Cinematic): [r]: A-
  • Chicano Batman: Freedom Is Free (2017, ATO): [r]: B-
  • Bill Cunliffe: BACHanalia (2013-16 [2017], Metre): [cd]: B-
  • Joey DeFrancesco and the People: Project Freedom (2017, Mack Avenue): [r]: B+(**)
  • Drake: More Life (2017, Young Money/Cash Money): [r]: B+(*)
  • Art Fristoe Trio: Double Down (2017, Merry Lane, 2CD): [cd]: B
  • Gabriel Garzón-Montano: Jardin (2017, Stones Throw): [r]: B
  • Terry Gibbs: 92 Years Young: Jammin' at the Gibbs House (2016 [2017], Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Japandroids: Near to the Wild Heart of Life (2017, Anti-): [r]: B+(**)
  • J.I.D: The Never Story (2017, Dreamville/Interscope): [r]: B+(***)
  • Brian McCarthy Nonet: The Better Angels of Our Nature (2016 [2017], Truth Revolution): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Charnett Moffett: Music From Our Soul (2017, Motéma): [r]: B+(***)
  • Kyle Motl: Solo Contrabass (2016 [2017], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • The Mountain Goats: Goths (2017, Merge): [r]: B+(***)
  • MUNA: About U (2017, RCA): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Necks: Unfold (2017, Ideologic Organ): [r]: B+(***)
  • Larry Newcomb Quartet With Bucky Pizzarelli: Living Tribute (2016 [2017], Essential Messenger): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Jay Som: Everybody Works (2017, Polyvinyl): [r]: B+(*)
  • Dayna Stephens: Gratituge (2017, Contagious Music): [r]: B+(**)
  • Becca Stevens: Regina (2017, GroundUp): [r]: B-
  • Matthew Stevens: Preverbal (2017, Ropeadope): [r]: B
  • Dylan Taylor: One in Mind (2015-16 [2017], Blujazz): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Urbanity: Urban Soul (2017, Alfi): [cd]: B
  • Shea Welsh: Arrival (2017, Blujazz): [cd]: B-
  • Wire: Silver/Lead (2017, Pinkflag): [r]: B+(*)
  • Charlie Watts/The Danish Radio Big Band: Charlie Watts Meets the Danish Radio Big Band (2010 [2017], Impulse): [r]: B+(**)
  • Charli XCX: Number 1 Angel (2017, Asylum): [r]: A-

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

  • American Epic: The Soundtrack ([2017], Columbia/Third Man/Legacy): [r]: A-
  • Alice Coltrane: The Ecstatic Music of Turiyasangitananda [World Spirituality Classics 1] (1982-95 [2017], Luaka Bop): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Steve Bilodeau: The Sun Through the Rain (self-released)
  • Burning Ghosts: Reclamation (Tzadik): advance
  • The Four Bags: Waltz (NCM East)
  • Kate Gentile: Mannequins (Skirl)
  • The Great Harry Hillman: Tilt (Cuneiform): cdr
  • Dave Liebman/Joe Lovano: Compassion: The Music of John Coltrane (2007, Resonance): June 16
  • Molly Miller Trio: The Shabby Road Recordings (self-released)
  • Ed Neumeister & His NeuHat Ensemble: Wake Up Call (MeisteroMusic): July 15
  • Jeremy Rose: Within & Without (Earshift Music)
  • Samo Salamon Sextet: The Colours Suite (Clean Feed)
  • The Vampires: The Vampires Meet Lionel Loueke (Earshift Music)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Started this on Saturday and finished before midnight on Sunday, so quick work given all the crap I ran into. If I had to summarize it, I'd start by pointing out that as demented as Trump seems personally, the real damage is coming from his administration, his executive orders, and the Republican Congress, and all of that is a very logical progression from their rightward drift since the 1970s. To paint a picture, if you're bothered by all the flies buzzing and maggots squirming, focus first on the rotting carcasses that are feeding them. Secondly, America's forever war in the Middle East seems to have entered an even more surreal level, which again can be traced back to a bunch of unexamined assumptions about friends and enemies and how we relate to them that ultimately make no sense whatsoever. The simplest solution would be to withdraw from the region (and possibly the rest of the world) completely, at least until we get our shit together, which doesn't seem likely soon. That's largely because we've come to tolerate a political and economic system of all-against-all, where we feel no social solidarity, where we tolerate all kinds of lying, cheating, and gaming -- anything that lets fortunate people get ahead of and away from the rest of us. Last week's UK election suggests an alternative, but while the votes there were tantalizingly close, the resolution is still evasive -- probably because not enough of us are clear enough on why we need help.

Meanwhile. this is what I gleaned from the week that was, starting with a summary piece I could have fit several places below, but it works as an intro here: Matthew Yglesias: The week, explained: Comey, Corbyn, Qatar, and more -- Obamacare repeal, debt ceiling. I don't doubt that the section on Qatar is true, but still don't really understand it (nor, clearly, does Trump: see Zeshan Aleem: Trump just slammed US ally Qatar an hour after his administration defended it; also Juan Cole: Tillerson-Trump Rumble over Qatar shows White House Divisions; Richard Silverstein: All's Not Well in Sunnistan; also Vijay Prashad: ISIS Wins, as Trump Sucks Up to the Saudis, and Launches Destructive Fight with Qatat; and perhaps most authoritatively, Richard Falk: Interrogating the Qatar rift; more on Qatar below).

The UK held its "snap election" on Thursday, electing a new parliament (House of Commons, anyway) and, effectively, prime minister. Conservative (Tory) Party leader Theresa May called the election, hoping to increase her party's slim majority -- a result that must have seemed certain given polls at the time. But after a month or so of campaigning -- why can't we compress American elections like that? -- the Tories lost their majority, but will still be able to form a razor-thin majority by allying with the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party, a right-wing party which holds 10 seats in Northern Ireland). The results: 318 Conservative (-12), 262 Labour (+30), 35 SNP (Scottish National Party, -21), 12 Liberal Democrats (+4), 10 DUP (+2), 13 others (-2). The popular vote split was 42% Conservative, 40% Labour (up from 30% with Ed Miliband in 2015, 29% with Gordon Brown in 2010, and 35% for Tony Blair's winning campaign in 2005 -- almost as good as Blair's 40.7% in 2001).

As victory margins go, the Tories are no more impressive than Trump's Republicans in 2016, but like Trump and the Republicans they've seized power and can do all sorts of horrible things with it. Still, this is widely viewed as a major, perhaps crippling setback for May and party. And while it doesn't invalidate last year's Brexit referendum, it comes at the time when the UK and EU are scheduled to begin negotiations on exactly how the UK and EU will relate to each other during and after separation.

Perhaps more importantly, the gains for Labour should (but probably won't) end the charges that Jeremy Corbyn is too far left to win an election. At the same time the business-friendly New Democrats (e.g., Clinton and Gore) took over the Democratic Party in the 1990s, the similarly-minded Tony Blair refashioned New Labour into a neoliberal powerhouse in the UK. Both movement proved successful, but over the long haul did immense damage to the parties' rank-and-file, who were trapped as opposition parties moved ever further to the right. After New Labour finally crashed, Corbyn ran for party leader, won in a stunning grassroots campaign, and faced down a mutiny by surviving Labour MPs by again rallying the rank-and-file. The result is that this time Labour actually stood for something, and the fact that they improved their standing rebukes the Blair-Clinton strategy of winning by surrendering. We, of course, hear the same complaints about Bernie Sanders. It may well be that the majority is not yet ready for "revolution," but voters (especially young ones) are getting there, and many more are rejecting the NDP/NLP strategy appeasement.

Some scattered UK election links:

And the usual scattered links on this week's Trump scandals:

  • Dean Baker: Trump Versus Ryan: The Race to Eliminate the Federal Government: Another piece on Trump's budget. It bears repeating that the real reason conservatives seek to shrink government is that they want people to forget that the government is there to serve them, and that with integrity and a sense of public service government can make their lives better. So anything they can do to make government look bad works to their favor. And, of course, they don't apply their pitch lines to the parts of government they not only like but depend on to maintain their privilege. On a related issue, see William Rivers Pitt: We Are Not Broke: Trashing the Austerity Lies. One of their favorite pitches is that we can't afford to do things (yet somehow we manage to spend a trillion dollars on a war machine that does little but blowback).

  • Peter Baker/Maggie Haberman: Trump Grows Discontented With Attorney General Jeff Sessions: Trump may have thought he was appointing a loyalist who would make his legal problems go away, but all he got was a racist/right-wing ideologist who recognizes there are still some limits to how much he can undermine America's system of justice.

  • Moustafa Bayoumi: Trump's Twitter attacks on Sadiq Khan reveal how pitiful the president is

  • Mohamad Bazzi: The Trump Administration Could Provoke Yet Another Mideast War: "Trump has emboldened a recklessly aggressive Saudi government, which is now destroying Yemen, imposing a blockade on Qatar -- and could even stumble into a war with Iran." Long piece on how "the Saud dynasty views itself as the rightful leader of the Muslim world" and how that view leads them into conflicts with Iran, all secular Arab nationalists, and challengers (like the Muslim Brotherhood) and pretenders (like ISIS). A little short on exactly why the Saudis turned on Qatar, another rich autocracy which has turned into a rival by becoming even more prone to intervention:

    Aside from their anger toward Iran, the Sauds were also enraged by Qatar's support for the revolutions in Tunisia, Libya, and especially Egypt, where Qatar became a primary backer of the Muslim Brotherhood, which in 2012 won the first free elections in Egypt's modern history. (Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates later backed an Egyptian military coup, in July 2013, against the government of President Mohamed Morsi, a Brotherhood leader.) The Sauds were already irritated at Qatar for pursuing an independent foreign policy and trying to increase its influence after the regional turmoil unleashed by the US invasion of Iraq. And, like other Arab monarchs and autocrats, the Sauds disdained Qatar's Al Jazeera satellite network, which was critical of the monarchies and supported the uprisings in 2011.

  • Shawn Boburg: Trump's lawyer in Russia probe has clients with Kremlin ties

  • Gilad Edelman: Trump's Plan to Make Government Older, More Expensive, and More Dysfunctional: "Slashing federal employees doesn't save money. It just makes the government more dependent on private contractors and more prone to colossal screw-ups."

  • Robert Greenwald: Trump Is Sending a Murderer to Do a Diplomat's Job: "Trump just put Michael D'Andrea -- the man who invented so-called 'signature drone strikes' -- to head up intelligence operations in Iran. Probably pure coincidence that almost immediately Tehran was hit by an ISIS terror bomb attack (see Juan Cole: ISIL Hits Tehran; Trump Blames Victim, Iran Hard-Liners Blame Saudis -- who probably blame Qatar, a country they've broken relations with while suggesting they have ties to Iranian terrorists). Also, Richard Silverstein asks Iran Terror Attack: Who Gains? And then there's this: US Congressman suggests his country should back ISIS against Iran following Tehran attacks: That's Dana Rorhbacher (R-CA).

  • Mark Karlin: Organizations Representing Corporations Pass Regressive Legislation in the Shadows: Interview with Gordon Lafer, who wrote The One Percent Solution: How Corporations Are Remaking America One State at a Time. One reason Republicans have spent so heavily at taking over state legislatures is that they can use that power base for cultivating corporate favors. For an excerpt from Lafer's book, see Corporate Lobbies Attack the Public Interest in State Capitols.

  • Anne Kim: Deconstructing the Administrative State: "Donald Trump promises that his deregulatory agenda will lead to a boom in jobs. The real effect will be the opposite."

  • Naomi Klein: The Worst of Donald Trump's Toxic Agenda Is Lying in Wait -- A Major US Crisis Will Unleash It: Long piece, adapted from Klein's new book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need.

  • Paul Krugman: Wrecking the Ship of State: Also see Jacob Sugarman's more pointed comments: If You Think the United States Is a Disaster Now, Just Wait.

  • Mike Ludwig: Pulling Out of the Paris Climate Pact, Trump Is Building a Wall Around Himself

  • Josh Marshall: Trump's Saudi Arms Deal Is Actually Fake: $110 billion in arms sales -- think of all the jobs (well, actually not that many, and not working on anything valuable in itself, like infrastructure). But:

    The $110 price tag advertised by the Trump White House includes no actual contracts, no actual sales. Instead it is made up of a bundle of letters of intent, statements of interest and agreements to think about it. In other words, rather than a contract, it's more like a wishlist: an itemized list of things the Saudis might be interested in if the price of oil ever recovers, if they start more wars and things the US would like to sell the Saudis. . . .

    As I said, it's remarkably like the Trump-branded phony job announcements: earlier plans, themselves not committed to, rebranded as new decisions, with the Saudis happy to go along with the charade to curry favor with the President who loves whoever showers praise on him.

    Also, as the Bazzi piece above notes, "From 2009 to 2016, Obama authorized a record $115 billion in military sales to Saudi Arabia, far more than any previous administration. (Of that total, US and Saudi officials inked formal deals worth about $58 billion, and Washington delivered $14 billion worth of weaponry from 2009 to 2015.)"

  • Ruth Marcus: Why Comey's testimony was utterly devastating to Trump: This was the story Washington insiders obsessed about all week. Everyone has an opinion, so I should probably just drop into second-tier bullets and let you figure it out (if you care):

  • Jim Newell: Trumpcare Is on the March: "GOP Senators have quietly retooled a Trumpcare bill that could pass." This was also noted by Zoë Carpenter: Senate Republicans Hope You Won't Notice They're About to Repeal Obamacare. Also, in case you need a refresher: Alex Henderson: 9 of the most staggeringly awful statements Republicans have made about health care just this year:

    1. Raul Labrador claims that no one dies from lack of health insurance in the U.S.
    2. Rep. Jason Chaffetz compares cost of health care to cost of iPhones
    3. Warren Davidson's message to the sick and dying: Get a better job
    4. Mo Brooks equates illness with immorality
    5. Mick Mulvaney vilifies diabetics as lazy and irresponsible
    6. Roger Marshall claims that America's poor "just don't want health care"
    7. President Trump praises Australian health care system, failing to understand why it's superior
    8. Steve Scalise falsely claims that Trumpcare does not discriminate against preexisting conditions
    9. Ted Cruz, Jim Jordan claim Canadians are coming to U.S. in droves for health care, without a shred of evidence

    Still, the main feature of the Republicans' Senate bill is that the text is being worked on in secret, and hasn't even been leaked. It is, in short, the closest Washington as ever come to the Schrödinger's Cat experiment: until you open the box, the cat could be alive or dead, just as the bill could be insanely great or a complete travesty. For some rather speculative commentary, see: Paul Krugman: The Silence of the Hacks. Krugman writes:

    But now we have legislation that will change the lives of millions, and they haven't even summoned the usual suspects to explain what a great idea it is. If hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, Republicans have decided that even that's too much; they're going to try to pass legislation that takes from the poor and gives to the rich without even trying to offer a justification.

    And they'll try to do it by dead of night, of course.

    This has nothing to do with Trump, who is, as I've been saying, an ignorant bystander -- yes, he's betraying every promise he made, but what else is new? It's about Congressional Republicans.

    Which Congressional Republicans? All of them. Remember, three senators who cared even a bit about substance, legislative process, and just plain honesty with the public, could stop this. So far, it doesn't look as if there are those three senators.

    Nonetheless, we already know what the House passed, with 23 million people losing health insurance, prices going up, coverage disappearing, and a massive transfer from poor to rich. The Senate plan may turn out to be a bit less "mean, mean, mean" (as Trump described the House bill) but there's no way to reconcile what Republicans want (let alone Trump's campaign-era fantasies) with a functioning, solvent health care system. For a reminder of Trump's promises (what naive people hoped they'd get when they voted for him), see: Matthew Yglesias: Trump betraying all his health care promises is the biggest Trump scandal of all.

  • Ben Norton: Emails Expose How Saudi Arabia and UAE Work the US Media to Push for War

  • Jonathan O'Connell: Foreign payments to Trump's businesses are legally permitted, argues Justice Department: Something else Trump "hoped" the DOJ would see his way.

  • Daniel Politi: Afghan Soldier Opens Fire on US Troops, Kills Three Service Members: I first heard this story from a TV report, where VP Mike Pence was proclaiming the dead soldiers "heroes" and no one mentioned that the shooter was a supposed ally. Now we hear that the shooter was a Taliban infiltrator. However, note another same day report: US Air Raid Kills Several Afghan Border Police in Helmand. "Several" seems to be 10, and they were "patrolling too close to a Taliban base."

  • Nomi Prins: In Washington, Is the Glass(-Steagall) Half Empty or Half Full? Republicans in Congress are hard at work tearing down the paltry Dodd-Frank reforms that Congress put in place to make a repeat of the 2008 financial meltdown less likely -- it was, quite literally, the least they could do. The Wichita Eagle ran an op-ed today by our idiot Congressman Ron Estes and it gives you an idea what the sales pitch for the Finance CHOICE Act is going to be: Repealing Obama's regulatory nightmare. Republicans seem to think that all they have to do to discredit regulations is count them (or compile them in a binder and drop it on one's foot). As Estes put it, "The scale of regulations added is incredible. Dodd-Frank added almost 28,000 new rules, which is more than every other law passed under the Obama administration combined." He may be right that some of those regulations "hinder smaller local lenders" -- the Democrats' Wall Street money came from the top, and while they weren't fully satisfied (at least after they got bailed out), they did get consideration. Beyond that Estes spools out lie after lie -- the baldest is his promise that "consumers must be protected from fraud." (The first bullet item on Indivisible's What is the Financial CHOICE Act (HR 10)? says the act would: "Destroy the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and obliterate consumer protections as we currently know them, including allowing banks to gouge consumers with credit card fees." One reason Dodd-Frank needed so many regulations was how many different ways banks could think of to screw consumers.

    Prins' article doesn't mention Financial CHOICE, but does mention a couple of mostly-Democratic bills to restore the separation concept of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act. Arguably that isn't enough, but one can trace a direct line from the 1999 Glass-Steagall repeal (which was triggered by Citibank's merger with Traveler's Insurance -- a much smarter response would have been to prosecute Citibank's CEO and Board) to the 2008 meltdown and bailouts. Also see Paul Craig Roberts: Without a New Glass-Steagall America Will Fail.

  • Ned Resnikoff: Trump ends infrastructure week with some binder-themed prop comedy

  • Chris Riotta: Donald Trump Is Sputtering with Rage Behind the Closed Doors of the White House

  • Mica Rosenberg/Reade Levinson: Trump targets illegal immigrants who were given reprieves from deportation by Obama

  • Bill Scheft: Who in the hell is Scott Pruitt?! Everything you were afraid to ask about this suddenly important person

  • Derek Thompson: The Potemkin Policies of Donald Trump: Last week was "Infrastructure Week," during which he unveiled a plan to privatize air traffic control that the big airlines have been lobbying for quite a few years, and something about reducing environmental impact studies to no more than two pages, presumably by eliminating the study part. Trump has also been heard complaining that all the Russia investigations have gotten in the way of doing important work, like jobs, or terrorism, or something like that.

    The secret of the Trump infrastructure plan is: There is no infrastructure plan. Just like there is no White House tax plan. Just like there was no White House health care plan. More than 120 days into Trump's term in a unified Republican government, Trump's policy accomplishments have been more in the subtraction category (e.g., stripping away environmental regulations) than addition. The president has signed no major legislation and left significant portions of federal agencies unstaffed, as U.S. courts have blocked what would be his most significant policy achievement, the legally dubious immigration ban.

    The simplest summary of White House economic policy to date is four words long: There is no policy.

    To be sure, this void has partially been filled up with Paul Ryan's various plans -- wrecking health care, tax giveaways to the rich, undoing regulation of big banks, etc. -- which is the point when people finally realize just how much damage Trump and the Republicans are potentially capable of. So much so that the one thing I'm not going to fault Trump on is the stuff he's threatened but never tried to do. There's way too much bad stuff that he's done to shame him for not doing more. It used to be said that at least Mussolini got the trains to run on time. About the best Trump can hope for is to destroy all the schedules so no one can be sure whether they're on time or not.

  • Trevor Timm: ICE agents are out of control. And they are only getting worse.

  • Paul Woodward: Whatever we call Trump, he stinks just as bad: Reports that CNN fired Reza Aslan after a tweet about Trump, then hired former Trump campaign strategist Corey Lewandowski. For the record, here is Aslan's tweet:

    This piece of shit is not just an embarrassment to America and a stain on the presidency. He's an embarrassment to humankind.

    Woodward comments:

    Donald Trump is the embodiment and arguably purest distillation of vulgarity and yet the prissy gatekeepers of American mainstream-media civility have a problem when vulgar language is used to describe a vulgar man.

    What other kind of language is in any sense appropriate?

    There's no good answer to this. The fact is it's impossible to convey the extent and intensity to which I'm personally disgusted by Trump both in word and action, and I'm not alone. Sometimes I erupt with vulgarity. Sometimes I try to be clever. Most of the time I try to explain with some factual reference which should be self-evident. But nothing seems to break through the shell his supporters wear. Still, I can't blame anyone for trying. I can't blame Kathy Griffin for her severed head joke. (Actually, I smiled when I saw the picture, and that doesn't happen often these days. Then my second thought was, "that's too good for him.") But I don't like getting too personal about Trump, because regardless of how crass he seems, the real problems with his politics are much more widespread, and in many cases he's just following his company around. So that's why I'd object to Aslan's tweet: it narrows its target excessively. Still, I wouldn't fire him. He's got a voice that's grounded in some reasonable principles -- more than you can say for "the tweeter-in-chief."

  • Stephen M Walt: Making the Middle East Worse, Trump-Style: I've lodged a number of links on the Saudi-Qatari pissfest, the ISIS-Iran terror, and the long-lasting Israel-Palestine conflict elsewhere in this post, and apologize for not taking the time to straighten them out. But this didn't fit clearly as a footnote to any of those: it's more like the core problem, so I figured I should list it separately. Walt continues to be plagued by his conceit that the US has real interests in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world other than supporting peace, justice, and broad-based prosperity, so what he's looking for here is a "balance of power" division, something Trump is truly clueless about.

    I don't think Trump cares one way or the other about Israelis or Palestinians (if he did, why would he assign the peace process to his overworked, inexperienced, and borderline incompetent son-in-law?) but jumping deeper into bed with Saudi Arabia and Egypt isn't going to produce a breakthrough.

    The folly of Trump's approach became clear on Monday, when (Sunni) Saudi Arabia and five other Sunni states suddenly broke relations with (Sunni) Qatar over a long-simmering set of policy disagreements. As Robin Wright promptly tweeted, "So much for #Trump's Arab coalition. It lasted less than two weeks." Trump's deep embrace of Riyadh didn't cause the Saudi-Qatari rift -- though he typically tried to take credit for it with some ill-advised tweets -- but this dispute exposed the inherent fragility of the "Arab NATO" that Trump seems to have envisioned. Moreover, taking sides in the Saudi-Qatari rift could easily jeopardize U.S. access to the vital airbase there, a possibility Trump may not even have known about when he grabbed his smartphone. And given that Trump's State Department is sorely understaffed and the rest of his administration is spending more time starting fires than putting them out, the United States is in no position to try to mend the rift and bring its putative partners together.

    One completely obvious point is that if the US actually wanted to steer the region back toward some sort of multi-polar stability the first thing to do would be to thaw relations with Iran, and to make it clear to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, and Israel that we won't tolerate any sabotage on their part. The US then needs to negotiate a moderation of the efforts of all regional powers to project power or simply meddle in other nations' business (and, and this is crucial, to moderate its own efforts). Obviously, this is beyond the skill set of Trump, Kushner, et al. -- they're stuck in kneejerk reaction mode, as has been every American "tough guy" since (well before) 2001. But this isn't impossible stuff. All it really takes is some modesty, and a willingness to learn from past mistakes. Would Iran be receptive? Well, consider this:

    Last but not least, Trump's response to the recent terrorist attack in Tehran was both insensitive and strategically misguided. Although the State Department offered a genuine and sincere statement of regret, the White House's own (belated) response offered only anodyne sympathies and snarkily concluded: "We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote." A clearer case of "blaming the victim" would be hard to find, and all the more so given Trump's willingness to embrace regimes whose policies have fueled lots of terrorism in the past.

    Contrast this with how Iranian President Mohammad Khatami responded after 9/11: He offered his "condolences" and "deepest sorrow" for the American people and called the attack a "disaster" and "the ugliest form of terrorism ever seen." There was no hint of a lecture or snide schadenfreude in Khatami's remarks, even though it was obvious that the attacks were clearly a reaction (however cruel and unjustified) to prior U.S. actions. It is hard to imagine any modern American presidents responding as callously as Trump did.

  • Matthew Yglesias: The Bulshitter-in-Chief: "Donald Trump's disregard for the truth is something more minister than ordinary lying." Quotes philosopher Harry Frankfurt's essay "On Bullshit" for authority when making a distinction between bullshitting and lying, then gives plenty of examples (most familiar/memorable). One interesting bit here comes from Tyler Cowen: Why Trump's Staff Is Lying:

    By asking subordinates to echo his bullshit, Trump accomplishes two goals:

    • He tests the loyalty of his subordinates. In Cowen's words, "if you want to ascertain if someone is truly loyal to you, ask them to do something outrageous or stupid."
    • The other is that it turns his aides into members of a distinct tribe. "By requiring subordinates to speak untruths, a leader can undercut their independent standing, including their standing with the public, with the media and with other members of the administration."

    Sounds to me like how cults are formed. Yglesias continues:

    But the president doesn't want a well-planned communications strategy; he wants people who'll leap in front of the cameras to blindly defend whatever it is he says or does.

    And because he's the president of the United States, plenty of people are willing to oblige him. That starts with official communicators like Spicer, Conway (who simultaneously tries to keep her credibility in the straight world by telling Joe Scarborough she needs to shower after defending Trump), and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. But there are also the informal surrogates. . . .

    House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes embarrassed himself but pleased Trump with a goofy effort to back up Trump's wiretapping claims. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who certainly knows better, sat next to Trump in an Economist interview and gave him totally undeserved credit for intimidating the Chinese on currency manipulation. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross hailed a small-time trade agreement with China consisting largely of the implementation of already agreed-upon measures as "more than has been done in the whole history of U.S.-China relations on trade."

    This kind of bullshit, like Trump's, couldn't possibly be intended to actually convince any kind of open-minded individual. It's a performance for an audience of one. A performance that echoes day and night across cable news, AM talk radio, and the conservative internet.

Plus a few other things that caught my eye:

  • Patrick Cockburn: Britain Refuses to Accept How Terrorists Really Work: After ISIS-claimed attacks in Manchester and London:

    When Jeremy Corbyn correctly pointed out that the UK policy of regime change in Iraq, Syria and Libya had destroyed state authority and provided sanctuaries for al-Qaeda and Isis, he was furiously accused of seeking to downplay the culpability of the terrorists. . . .

    There is a self-interested motive for British governments to portray terrorism as essentially home-grown cancers within the Muslim community. Western governments as a whole like to pretend that their policy blunders, notably those of military intervention in the Middle East since 2001, did not prepare the soil for al-Qaeda and Isis. This enables them to keep good relations with authoritarian Sunni states like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan, which are notorious for aiding Salafi-jihadi movements. Placing the blame for terrorism on something vague and indefinable like "radicalisation" and "extremism" avoids embarrassing finger-pointing at Saudi-financed Wahhabism which has made 1.6 billion Sunni Muslims, a quarter of the world's population, so much more receptive to al-Qaeda type movements today than it was 60 years ago.

  • Eric Foner: The Continental Revolution: Review of Noam Maggor: Brahmin Capitalism: Frontiers of Wealth and Populism in America's First Gilded Age, about economic development following the US Civil War.

  • Thomas Frank: From rust belt to mill towns: a tale of two voter revolts: The author of What's the Matter With Kansas?, The Wrecking Crew, and Listen, Liberal tours Britain on the eve of the election. He doesn't predict the election very well, but he does notice things, like this:

    When I try to put my finger on exactly what separates Britain and America, a story I heard in a pub outside Sheffield keeps coming back to me. A man was telling me of how he had gone on vacation to Florida, and at one point stopped to refuel his car in a rural area. As he was standing there, an old man rode up to the gas station on a bicycle and started rummaging through a trash can. The Englishman asked him why he was doing this, and was astonished to learn the man was digging for empty cans in order to support his family.

    The story is unremarkable in its immediate details. People rummaging through trash for discarded cans is something that every American has seen many times. What is startling is that here's a guy in Yorkshire, a place we Americans pity for its state of perma-decline, relating this story to me in tones of incomprehension and even horror. He simply couldn't believe it. Left unasked was the obvious question: what kind of civilisation allows such a fate to befall its citizens? The answer, of course, is a society where social solidarity has almost completely evaporated.

    What most impressed me about the England I saw was the opposite: a feeling I encountered, again and again, that whatever happens, people are all in this together. Solidarity was one of the great themes after the terrorist bombing in Manchester, as the city came together around the victims in a truly impressive way, but it goes much further than that. It is the sense you get that the country is somehow obliged to help out the people of the deindustrialised zones and is failing in its duty. It is an understanding that every miner or job-seeker or person with dementia has a moral claim upon the rest of the English nation and its government. It is an assumption that their countrymen will come to their rescue if only they could hear their cries for help.

  • John Judis: What's Wrong With Our System of Global Trade and Finance: Interview with economist Dani Rodrik, who has written several books on globalization. The main thing I've learned from him is that when nations open up trade (and/or capital and/or labor flows), sensible ones recognize that there will be losers as well as winners and act to mitigate losses. The US, of course, isn't one of the sensible ones. And while Trump seems to recognize some of the losses, he doesn't have anything to offer that actually helps fix those problems. Still, he offers that some sort of real change needs to come:

    I think the change comes because the mainstream panics, and they come to feel that something has to be done. That's how capitalism has changed throughout its history. If you want to be optimistic, the good news is that capitalism has always reinvented itself. Look at the New Deal, look at the rise of the welfare state. These were things that were done to stave off panic or revolution or political upheaval. . . .

    So I think the powerful interests are reevaluating what their interest is. They are considering whether they have a greater interest in creating trust and credibility and rebuilding the social contract with their compatriots. That is how to get change to take place without a complete overhaul of the structure of power.

  • Christopher Lydon: Neoliberalism Is Destroying Our Democracy: An interview with Noam Chomsky.

  • Ed Pilkington: Puerto Rico votes again on statehood but US not ready to put 51st star on the flag; also Michelle Chen: The Bankers Behind Puerto Rico's Debt Crisis.

  • Matthew Rozsa: Kris Kobach, "voter fraud" vigilante, is now running for Kansas governor: He's been Kansas' Secretary of State since 2011, a fairly minor position whose purview includes making sure elections are run fairly, and to that end he's managed to get a "voter ID" bill passed, purge thousands of voters from the registration rolls, and prosecute perhaps a half dozen people for voting twice. Earlier he was best known as author of several anti-immigration bills, and he's continued to do freelance work writing far right-wing bills -- by the way, virtually all of the ones that have been passed have since been struck down as unconstitutional. He is, in short, a right-wing political agitator disguised as a lawyer, and is a remarkably bad one. He was the only Kansas politician to endorse Donald Trump, and he wrangled a couple job interviews during the transition, but came up empty. It's not clear whether Trump worried he might not be a team player (i.e., someone who sacrifices his own ideas to Trump's ego), or simply decided he was an asshole -- the binders he showed up with suggest both. Kobach launched his gubernatorial campaign with a ringing defense of Sam Brownback's tax cuts, which the state legislature had just repealed (overriding Brownback's veto). Rosza asks, "have the people of Kansas not suffered enough under Sam Brownback?" Good question. Although he's by far the most famous (or notorious) candidate, and he ran about 4 points above Brownback in their 2014 reëlection campaigns, I think it's unlikely he will win the Republican primary. For starters, his fanatical anti-immigrant shtick doesn't play well in western Kansas where agribusiness demands cheap labor and hardly anyone with other options wants to live. But also, most business interests would rather have someone they can keep on a tighter leash than a demagogue with national ambitions (a trait Kobach shares with Brownback). Still, either way, I doubt the state's suffering will end any time soon.

  • Reihan Salam: The Health Care Debate Is Moving Left: "How single-payer went from a pipe dream to mainstream." The author isn't very happy about this, complaining "that Medicare has in some ways made America's health system worse by serving the interests of politically powerful hospitals over those of patients." Still:

    If faced with a choice between the AHCA and Medicare for all, Republicans shouldn't be surprised if swing voters wind up going for the latter. The AHCA is an inchoate mess that evinces no grander philosophy for caring for the sick and vulnerable. Single-payer health care is, if nothing else, a coherent concept that represents a set of beliefs about how health care should work. If Republicans want the single-payer dream to go away, they're going to have to come up with something better than the nothing they have now.

  • Sabrina Siddiqui: Anti-Muslim rallies across US denounced by civil rights groups: On Saturday, a group called Act for America tried to organize "anti-Sharia law" rallies in a number of American cities ("almost 30"; I've heard 28). They seem to have been lightly attended. (My spies here in Wichita say 30 people showed up. There wasn't a counter-demonstration here, although in many cases more people came to counter -- needless to say, not to defend Sharia but to reject ACT's main focus of fomenting Islamophobia.)

  • Ana Swanson/Max Ehrenfreund: Republicans are predicting the beginning of the end of the tea party in Kansas: The overwhelmingly Republican Kansas state legislature finally managed to override Gov. Sam Brownback's veto of a bill that raised state income taxes and eliminated a loophole that allowed most businessmen to escape taxation altogether. The new tax rates are lower than the ones in effect before Brownback's signature "tax reform" became law and blew a hole in the state budget, leading to a series of successful lawsuits against the state over whether education funding was sufficient to satisfy the state constitution. Republicans have done a lot of batshit-insane stuff since Brownback took office in 2011, but the one that kept biting them back the worst was the Arthur Laffer-blessed tax cut bill. One can argue that this represents a power shift within the Republican Party in Kansas: in 2016 rabid right-wingers (including Rep. Tim Huelskemp) actually lost to "moderate" challengers, whereas earlier right-wingers had often won primaries against so-called moderates. But as this article points out, right-wingers like Kris Kobach and their sponsors like the Koch Brothers are pissed off and vowing civil war. Meanwhile, the Ryan-Trump "tax reform" scam looks a lot like Brownback's, with all that implies: e.g., see Ben Castleman et al: The Kansas Experiment Is Bad News for Trump's Tax Cuts.

  • Mark Weisbrot, et al: Did NAFTA Help Mexico? An Update After 23 Years: Executive summary to a longer paper (link within):

    Among the results, it finds that Mexico ranks 15th out of 20 Latin American countries in growth of real GDP per person, the most basic economic measure of living standards; Mexico's poverty rate in 2014 was higher than the poverty rate of 1994; and real (inflation-adjusted) wages were almost the same in 2014 as in 1994. It also notes that if NAFTA had been successful in restoring Mexico's pre-1980 growth rate -- when developmentalist economic policies were the norm -- Mexico today would be a high-income country, with income per person comparable to Western European countries. If not for Mexico's long-term economic failure, including the 23 years since NAFTA, it is unlikely that immigration from Mexico would have become a major political issue in the United States, since relatively few Mexicans would seek to cross the border.

  • Lawrence Wittner: How Business "Partnerships" Flopped at the US's Largest University

I've also collected a few links marking the 50th anniversary of Israel's "Six-Day War" and the onset of the 50-years-and-counting Occupation:

  • Ibtisam Barakat: The Persistence of Palestinian Memory: "Growing up under occupation was like living in a war zone, where people were punished for wanting dignity and freedom."

  • Omar Barghouti: For Palestinians, the 1967 War Remains an Enduring, Painful Wound

  • Neve Gordon: How Israel's Occupation Shifted From a Politics of Life to a Politics of Death: "Palestinian life has become increasingly expendable in Israel's eyes." The piece starts:

    During a Labor Party meeting that took place not long after the June 1967 war, Golda Meir turned to Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, asking, "What are we going to do with a million Arabs?" Eshkol paused for a moment and then responded, "I get it. You want the dowry, but you don't like the bride!"

    This anecdote shows that, from the very beginning, Israel made a clear distinction between the land it had occupied -- the dowry -- and the Palestinians who inhabited it -- the bride. The distinction between the people and their land swiftly became the overarching logic informing Israel's colonial project. Ironically, perhaps, that logic has only been slightly modified over the past 50 years, even as the controlling practices Israel has deployed to entrench its colonization have, by contrast, changed dramatically.

    By the way, the bride/dowry metaphor is the organizing principle for Avi Raz's important book on Israel's diplomatic machinations following the 1967 war: The Bride and the Dowry: Israel, Jordaon, and the Palestinians in the Aftermath of the June 1967 War (2012, Yale University Press). Based on recently declassified documents, the book shows clearly how Israel's ruling circle (especially Abba Eban) weaved back and forth between several alternative post-war scenarios to make sure that none of them got in the way of Israel keeping control of its newly conquered territories.

  • Mehdi Hasan: A 50-Year Occupation: Israel's Six-Day War Started With a Lie

  • Rashid Khalidi: The Israeli-American Hammer-Lock on Palestine

  • Guy Laron: The Historians' War Over the Six-Day War: Author of a recent book, The Six-Day War: The Breaking of the Middle East (2017, Yale University Press). Surveys a number of earlier books on the war, including works by Randolph Churchill, Donald Neff, Michael Oren, and Tom Segev (1967: Israel, the War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle East -- the one of those four I've read, but far from the only thing).

  • Hisham Melhem: The Arab World Has Never Recovered From the Loss of 1967: I'm reminded here of Maxime Rodinson's late-1960s book, Israel & the Arabs, which was written at a time when many Arab countries were palpably moving toward modern, secular, socialist societies. The 1967 war didn't in itself kill that dream, but it tarnished it, with Egypt, Syria, and Iraq soon calcifying into stultifying militarist (and hereditary) dictatorships, sad parodies of the monarchies Britain left in its wake. The US Cold War embrace of salafist-jihadism (and the ill-fated Shah in Iran) further clouded the picture, turning Islam into the last refuge of the downtrodden.

  • Jonathan Ofir: The issue isn't 'occupation,' it's Zionism:

    The status of Palestinian citizens within Israel has likewise not been regulated into equal status, as one might expect from a democratic country when it finally offers citizenship. This community is subject to some 50 discriminatory laws, as well as -- and this deserves special attention -- ethnic cleansing, as we have seen recently in the case of Umm Al-Hiran [a Bedouin village razed in 2015].

    We must therefore see Israel's 'occupation' as an all-encompassing paradigm, reaching beyond isolated localities and beyond this or that war or conquering campaign. Occupation is simply what we DO, in a very broad sense.

  • Philip Weiss: How 1967 changed American Jews: Weiss gives many other telling examples, but the one I most vividly recall was that of M.S. Arnoni (1922-1985), who edited and largely wrote a very pointed antiwar (or at least anti-Vietnam War) publication called A Minority of One. I found this magazine early on as I found my own antiwar views, but after the 1967 Six-Day War Arnoni shifted gears and from that point on wrote almost exclusively about Israel and its valiant struggle against the exterminationist Arab powers. I recall that even before I bailed, Bertrand Russell resigned his honorary seat on the editorial board. At the time I was generally sympathetic to Israel -- I hadn't read much about it, but had read a number of things on the Holocaust, including Simon Wiesenthal's The Murderers Among Us. Still, this struck me as a bizarre personal change, which only many years later started to fit into the general pattern Weiss writes about. I do recall watching all of the UN debates on the war, and being impressed both by Israeli ambassador Abba Eban and by whoever the Saudi ambassador was. The event which really made me rethink my sympathy to Israel was the 1982 Lebanon War, although I didn't read Robert Fisk's 1990 book Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon until after 2001. Since then I've read a lot on the subject -- most recently Ilan Pappe's Ten Myths About Israel, a very useful short primer. Still, the single best book is probably Richard Ben Cramer's How Israel Lost: The Four Questions (2004), because it makes clear the subtle self-deceptions that success and power breed, how the quest for safety morphed into an addiction to war. And that ties back around to how Arnoni (and many other American Jews) got lost in identity and paranoia and gave up what they once understood about peace and justice.

  • Philip Weiss: 'The greatest sustained exercise in utterly arbitrary authority world has ever seen' -- Chabon on occupation: On a recent book edited by Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon, Kingdom of Olives and Ash.

  • Charlie Zimmerman: Dispatch from 'the most ****ed up place on Earth,' Hedron's H2 quarter: And this is what the Occupation has come down to.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28225 [28187] rated (+38), 383 [387] unrated (-4).

Published April's Streamnotes last Wednesday. I usually try to make a push at the end of the month to find a few more A-list albums, but gave up after nothing but the Paul Rutherford archival tape clicked. I stopped adding records late Tuesday and posted mid-day Wednesday, but as it turned out Wednesday netted seven good records: 1 A- (Lord Echo), 3 B+(***) (Heliocentrics, Sleaford Mods, Chris Stapleton), and 3 B+(**) (Gato Libre, Ryan Keberle, Umoja). A good start for a better June column.

Still, I decided I needed to do some better research for the future. For some years now, I've kept a file I call Music Tracking: basically a long list of the year-to-date's releases. Records I have physical copies of are shown in blue (220 so far this year) -- I add them to the list during unpacking -- and other records I've sampled off the internet and written about are in green (110). For most of this year that's all I've done with the file (although previous year's files have been much more extensive). But the idea is to sort the unheard records into four priorities (0, 1, 2, 3), where: 3 = things I must hear; 2 = things I want to hear, or things lots of other people think I should hear; 1 = things some people think are worth hearing, but I'm not in much of a rush; and 0 = things I've noticed but have no real interest in. The 0 priority albums don't show up in the default presentation, but when I search the source file I'll find them (and think, no bother looking into that further).

This year I haven't been using 0 or 3, but I do find myself searching for priority 2 records for something to listen to. So last week I added a bunch of albums to the file. I got these first by going through AOTY's Highest Rated Albums of 2017 list, jotting down everything in the top 200 and a few things I recognized as interesting below that. I then used the "Source" option to select specific publications, and picked up the top 25 for most of them (I skipped Alternative Press but have since gone back and picked up their 90+ ratings). Also, in a few cases that review a lot of varied records, I went deeper (Pitchfork, PopMatters, Guardian -- those three had 100+ records rated 80+). I probably need to go back and probe a few other sites deeper, and maybe check Metacritic's album releases by score list, and look at a few mid-year best-of lists: thus far I've checked Billboard, DJBooth, Entertainment Weekly, Mass Appeal, NME, Observer [Hip-Hop], Observer [Jazz], Thrillist; I also see new lists from: The Free Weekly, The Musical Hype, Spin, The Telegraph, and Uproxx. (Note that I've opted not to pursue several lists of minor interest and/or unfriendly to my browser: FACT, HotNewHipHop, Loudwire, Metal Storm, PopCrush, Sputnik, Time.) I also notice there are a few things on Phil Overeem's First Quarter Report I haven't heard. including his top rated Harriet Tubman album (also number 2 for Chris Monsen).

The file currently lists 105 priority 2 albums and 503 priority 1, so there should be enough there to keep me busy in weeks ahead.

New records rated this week:

  • Tony Allen: A Tribute to Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers (2017, Blue Note, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mary J Blige: Strength of a Woman (2017, Capitol): [r]: B+(***)
  • Blondie: Pollinator (2017, BMG): [r]: B
  • Chastity Belt: I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone (2017, Hardly Art): [r]: B+(*)
  • Gato Libre: Neko (2016 [2017], Libra): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Freddie Gibbs: You Only Live 2wice (2017, ESGN/Empire): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Brett Gold New York Jazz Orchestra: Dreaming Big (2016 [2017], Goldfox): [cd]: B+(*)
  • GoldLink: At What Cost (2017, Squaaash Club/RCA): [r]: B+(***)
  • Halsey: Hopeless Fountain Kingdom (2017, Astralwerks): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Heliocentrics: A World of Masks (2017, Soundway): [r]: B+(***)
  • Innocent When You Dream: Dirt in the Ground (2017, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Jesus and Mary Chain: Damage and Joy (2017, ADA/Warner): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jlin: Black Origami (2017, Planet Mu): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ryan Keberle & Catharsis: Find the Common, Shine a Light (2017, Greenleaf Music): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Zara Larsson: So Good (2017, Epic/TEN): [r]: B+(**)
  • Lord Echo: Harmonies (2017, Soundway): [r]: A-
  • Low Cut Connie: "Dirty Pictures" (Part 1) (2017, Contender): [r]: B
  • John McLean/Clark Sommers Band: Parts Unknown (2017, Origin): [cd]: B-
  • Jason Miles: Kind of New 2: Blue Is Paris (2017, Lightyear): [cdr]: B+(*)
  • Thurston Moore: Rock N Roll Consciousness (2017, Caroline): [r]: B+(*)
  • John Moreland: Big Bad Luv (2017, 4AD): [r]: A-
  • Quinsin Nachoff/Mark Helias/Dan Weiss: Quinsin Nachoff's Ethereal Trio (2016 [2017], Whirlwind): [cd]: A-
  • Vadim Neselovskyi Trio: Get Up and Go (2017, Blujazz): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Mason Razavi: Quartet Plus, Volume 2 (2016 [2017], OA2): [cd]: B
  • Riverside [Dave Douglas/Chet Doxas/Steve Swallow/Jim Doxas]: The New National Anthem (2015 [2017], Greenleaf Music): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Sleaford Mods: English Tapas (2017, Rough Trade): [r]: B+(***)
  • Slowdive: Slowdive (2017, Dead Oceans): [r]: B+(*)
  • Omar Souleyman: To Syria, With Love (2017, Mad Decent): [r]: A-
  • Chris Stapleton: From a Room: Volume 1 (2017, Mercury Nashville): [r]: B+(***)
  • Tamikrest: Kidal (2017, Glitterbeat): [r]: B+(**)

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

  • Hayes McMullan: Everyday Seem Like Murder Here (1967-68 ]2017], Light in the Attic): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Rough Guide to Hillbilly Blues (1920s-30s [2017], World Music Network): [r]: A-
  • The Rough Guide to Jug Band Blues (1920s-30s [2017], World Music Network): [r]: A-
  • Sun Ra & His Arkestra: Thunder of the Gods (1966-71 [2017], Modern Harmonic): [r]: B-
  • Paul Rutherford/Sabu Toyozumi: The Conscience (1999 [2017], NoBusiness): [cd]: A-
  • Umoja: 707 (1988 [2017], Awesome Tapes From Africa, EP): [r]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Gregg Allman: One More Try: An Anthology (1973-88 [1997], Capricorn/Chronicles, 2CD): [dl]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Gerald Cannon: Combinations (Woodneck)
  • Steve Coleman: Morphogenesis (Pi): June 23
  • Alex Goodman: Second Act (Lyte): June 23
  • Errol Rackipov Group: Distant Dreams (OA2): June 16
  • Scenes: Destinations (Origin): June 16
  • Carlos Vega: Bird's Up (Origin): June 16

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Weekend Roundup

These weekend posts are killing me. I didn't even make it through my tabs this time -- nothing from Alternet, the New Yorker, Salon, TruthOut, Washington Monthly, nor much of what I was tipped off to from Twitter. Just one piece on the upcoming UK elections, which would be major if Jeffrey Corbyn and Labour pull an upset. Just a couple links on Israel, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of their great military land grab in 1967, which is to say 50 years of their unjust and often cruel occupation. A couple of uncommented links on the problems Democrats face getting out of their own heads and into the minds of the voters. And only a mere sampling of the Trump's administration's penchant for graft and violence. Just an incredible amount of crap to wade through.

Big story this week was Trump's decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate change deal, joining Nicaragua and Syria as the only nations on record as unwilling to cooperate in the struggle to keep greenhouse gases from pushing global temperatures to record highs. One might well criticize the Paris accords for not going far enough, but unlike the previous Kyoto agreement this one brought key developing nations like China and India into the fold.

Here are some pertinent links:

  • Vicki Arroyo: The US is the biggest loser on the planet thanks to Trump's calamitous act:

    The Paris agreement was a groundbreaking deal that allowed each country to decide its own contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Even though it is non-binding, the agreement puts the world on the path to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2C, which scientists warn would be disastrous for our planet.

    By abandoning the agreement, we are not only ceding global leadership but also effectively renouncing our global citizenship. The US is joining Nicaragua (which felt the agreement did not go far enough) and Syria (in the midst of a devastating civil war) as the only nations without a seat at the Paris table. As an American, I am embarrassed and ashamed of this abdication of our responsibility, especially since the US has been the world's largest contributor of carbon emissions over time. We have become a rogue nation.

  • Perry Bacon Jr/Harry Enten: Was Trump's Paris Exit Good Politics? They look at a lot of polling numbers, and conclude it was fine with the Republican base, but unpopular overall. Key numbers:

    Only a third of Republicans rate protecting the environment from the effects of energy production as a top priority. Polling from Gallup further indicates that 85 percent of Republicans don't think that global warming will pose a serious threat in their lifetime. Education was a major dividing line in the 2016 election, but Republicans of all education levels think the effects of global warming are exaggerated. . . .

    An overwhelming majority of Democrats (87 percent) and a clear majority of independents (61 percent) wanted the U.S. to stay in the climate agreement, according to a poll that was released in April and conducted jointly by Politico and Harvard's School of Public Health. Overall, 62 percent of Americans wanted the U.S. to remain part of the accord (among Republicans, 56 percent favored withdrawal). . . .

    It's also possible that Trump gave a win to his base on an issue they don't care that much about while angering the opposition on an issue they do care about. Gallup and Pew Research Center polls indicate that global warming and fighting climate change have become higher priorities for Democrats over the past year.

    As of this writing, 538's "How Popular Is Donald Trump?" is at 55.1% Disapprove, 38.9% Approve, so down a small bit since the announcement.

  • Daniel B Baer, et al: Why Abandoning Paris Is a Disaster for America:

    The president's justifications for leaving the agreement are also just plain wrong.

    First, contrary to the president's assertions, America's hands are not tied and its sovereignty is not compromised by the Paris climate pact. The Paris agreement is an accord, not a treaty, which means it's voluntary. The genius (and reality) of the Paris agreement is that it requires no particular policies at all -- nor are the emissions targets that countries committed to legally binding. Trump admitted as much in the Rose Garden, referring to the accord's "nonbinding" nature. If the president genuinely thinks America's targets are too onerous, he can simply adjust them (although we believe it would be shortsighted for the administration to do so). There is no need to exit the Paris accord in search of a "better deal." Given the voluntary nature of the agreement, pulling out of the Paris deal in a fit of pique is an empty gesture, unless that gesture is meant to be a slap in the face to every single U.S. ally and partner in the world.

    The second big lie is that the Paris agreement will be a job killer. In fact, it will help the United States capture more 21st-century jobs. That is why dozens of U.S. corporate leaders, including many on the president's own advisory council, urged him not to quit the agreement. As a letter sent to the White House by ExxonMobil put it, the agreement represents an "effective framework for addressing the risk of climate change," and the United States is "well positioned to compete" under the terms of the deal.

    Action on climate and economic growth go hand in hand, and are mutually reinforcing. That is why twice as much money was invested worldwide in renewables last year as in fossil fuels, and why China is pouring in billions to try to win this market of the future. A bipartisan group of retired admirals and generals on the CNA Military Advisory Board is about to release a report that will also spell out the importance of competitiveness in advanced energy technologies -- not just to the economy, but also to the country's standing in the world. Pulling out of climate will result in a loss of U.S. jobs and knock the United States off its perch as a global leader in innovation in a quickly changing global economic climate.

    The article especially harps on "Trump is abdicating U.S. leadership and inviting China to fill the void." As you may recall, China pretty much torpedoed the Kyoto accords in the 1990s by insisting on building their burgeoning economy on their vast coal reserves, but lately they've decided to leave most of their coal in the ground, so agreeing to the Paris accords was practically a no-brainer. The same shift has actually been occurring in the US, admittedly with Obama's encouragement but more and more it's driven by economics, even without anything like a carbon tax to factor in the externalities. And unless Trump comes up with a massive program to subsidize coal use, it's hard to see that changing, and even then not significantly.

    Another point they make: "Pulling out of Paris means Republicans own climate catastrophes." Over the last several decades, we've all seen evidence both of climate drift and even more so of freakish extreme weather events, and the latter often trigger recognition of the former, even when they are simply freakish. But also, despite the popularity of Reagan's "I'm from the government and I'm here to help" joke, when disaster strikes, no one really believes that. Rather, they look immediately (and precisely) at the government for relief, and they get real upset when it's not forthcoming, even more so when it's botched (e.g., Katrina).

  • Coral Davenport/Eric Lipton: How GOP Leaders Came to View Climate Science as Fake Science: Trump's decision shows how completely his mind has been captured by a propaganda campaign orchestrated by "fossil fuel industry players, most notably Charles D. and David H. Koch, the Kansas-based billionaires who run a chain of refineries (which can process 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day) as well as a subsidiary that owns or operates 4,000 miles of pipelines that move crude oil." The Kochs run Americans for Prosperity, perhaps the single most effective right-wing political organization (e.g., they've been critical in flipping Wisconsin and Michigan for Trump). One of their major initiatives has been to get Republicans they back to sign their "No Climate Tax Pledge," which appears here:

    Americans for Prosperity is launching an initiative to draw a line in the sand declaring that climate change legislation will not be used to fund a dramatic expansion in the size and scope of government. If you oppose unrestrained growth in government at taxpayer's expense and hidden under the guise of environmental political correctness, then sign the pledge at the bottom of this page and return it to our office, or visit our website at

    Regardless of which approach to the climate issue you favor, we should be able to agree that any climate-change policy should be revenue neutral. Revenue neutrality requires using all new revenues generated by a climate tax, cap-and-trade, or regulatory program, dollar for dollar, to cut taxes. There must also be a guarantee that climate policies remain revenue neutral over time. . . .

    Any major increase in federal revenue should be debated openly on its merits. We therefore encourage you to pledge to the American people that you will oppose any effort to hide a revenue increase in a feel-good environmental bill.

    Thus they ignore any substantive environmental impacts while tying the hands of lawmakers, preventing the people from using government to do anything for our collective benefit. That's one prong of their attack. Denying climate science is another, and a third is their long-term effort to undermine collective efforts through international organizations -- a complete about-face from the 1940s when the US championed the UN and the Bretton-Woods organizations as a way of opening the world up and making it more hospitable to American business. Back then Americans understood that they'd have to give as well as take, and that we as well as they would benefit from cooperation. That's all over now, thanks to the right-wing propaganda effort, itself based on the premise that dominant powers (like corporate rulers) can impose dictates to mold their minions to their purposes.

    When I opened the opinion page in the Wichita Eagle today, I found an op-ed piece, Withdrawing from Paris accord is a smart decision by Trump. The contents were total bullshit. And the author, Nicolas Loris, was identified is "the Morgan Research Fellow in Energy and Environmental Policy at The Heritage Foundation."

    By the way, the Eagle's other op-ed was by Sen. Jerry Moran: A strong national defense also means a strong economy, which was almost exclusively taking credit for some work on the B-21 ("the world's most advanced stealth bomber") will be done in Spirit's Wichita plant. Evidently no problem with spending precious taxpayer money to better threaten a world that Trump has clearly shown nothing but contempt for.

  • Geoff Dembicki: The Convenient Disappearance of Climate Change Denial in China: "From Western plot to party line, how China embraced climate science to become a green-energy powerhouse." The transition seems to have occurred in 2011, when the leadership stopped publishing tracts decrying climate change as a Western plot and started investing heavily in renewables. One thing that helped tip the balance was air pollution in Chinese cities. Another was a purge of corrupt managers in the oil industry.

    Shortly after Donald Trump won the presidency, Xi told him in a call that China will continue fighting climate change "whatever the circumstances." Though the new U.S. president has staffed his administration with skeptics such as Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, China released data suggesting it could meet its 2030 Paris targets a decade early. "The financial elites I talk with," Shih said, "they think that the fact that the Trump presidency has so obviously withdrawn from any global effort to try to limit greenhouse gases provides China with an opportunity to take leadership."

    The paths both countries are taking couldn't be more divergent. While Trump rescinded Obama's Clean Power Plan with a promise to end America's "war on coal," China aims to close 800 million tons of coal capacity by 2020. The U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy is facing a budget cut of more than 50 percent when China is pouring over $361 billion into renewable energy. All this "is likely to widen China's global leadership in industries of the future," concluded a recent report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

  • Michael Grunwald: Why Trump Actually Pulled Out of Paris: "It wasn't because of the climate, or to help American business. He needed to troll the world -- and this was his best shot so far."

    No, Trump's abrupt withdrawal from this carefully crafted multilateral compromise was a diplomatic and political slap: It was about extending a middle finger to the world, while reminding his base that he shares its resentments of fancy-pants elites and smarty-pants scientists and tree-hugging squishes who look down on real Americans who drill for oil and dig for coal. He was thrusting the United States into the role of global renegade, rejecting not only the scientific consensus about climate but the international consensus for action, joining only Syria and Nicaragua (which wanted an even greener deal) in refusing to help the community of nations address a planetary problem. Congress doesn't seem willing to pay for Trump's border wall -- and Mexico certainly isn't -- so rejecting the Paris deal was an easier way to express his Fortress America themes without having to pass legislation. . . .

    The entire debate over Paris has twisted Republicans in knots. They used to argue against climate action in the U.S. by pointing out that it wouldn't bind China and other developing-world emitters; then they argued that Paris wouldn't really bind the developing world, either, but somehow would bind the United States. In fact, China is doing its part, dramatically winding down a coal boom that could have doomed the planet, frenetically investing in zero-carbon energy. And it will probably continue to do its part even though the president of the United States is volunteering for the role of climate pariah. It's quite likely that the United States will continue to do its part as well, because no matter what climate policies he thinks will make America great again, Trump can't make renewables expensive again or coal economical again or electric vehicles nonexistent again. California just set a target of 100 percent renewable energy by 2045, and many U.S. cities and corporations have set even more ambitious goals for shrinking their carbon footprints. Trump can't do much about that, either.

  • Mark Hertsgaard: Donald Trump's Withdrawal From the Paris Accords Is a Crime Against Humanity; also Sasha Abramsky: Trump Echoes Hitler in His Speech Withdrawing From the Paris Climate Accord.

  • Zachary Karabell: We've Always Been America First: "Donald Trump is just ripping off the mask."

    Also cites l David Frum: The Death Knell for America's Global Leadership. Frum was actually talking more about Trump's refusal to commit to Article 5 of the NATO treaty, but the two go hand-in-hand. Karabell also wrote: Pay attention to Donald Trump's actions, not his words.

  • Naomi Klein: Climate Change Is a People's Shock: Long piece, prefigured by her 2014 book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Also includes a link to Chris Hayes' 2014 piece The New Abolitionism, about "forcing fossil fuel companies to give up at least $10 trillion in wealth" (by leaving that much carbon in the ground).

  • Tom McCarthy: 'Outmoded, irrelevant vision': Pittsburghers reject Trump's pledge: "The president said he was exiting the Paris climate deal on behalf of Pittsburgh -- but his view of the environmentally minded city is off by decades, residents say." Also: Lauren Gambino: Pittsburgh fires back at Trump: we stand with Paris, not you; and Lucia Graves: Why Trump's attempt to pit Pittsburgh against Paris is absurd.

  • Daniel Politi: John Kerry: Trump Plan for Better Climate Deal Is Like OJ Search for "Real Killer"

  • Joseph Stiglitz: Trump's reneging on Paris climate deal turns the US into a rogue state

  • Hiroko Tabuchi/Henry Fountain: Bucking Trump, These Cities, States and Companies Commit to Paris Accord

  • Katy Waldman: We the Victims: "Trump's Paris accord speech projected his own psychological issues all over the American people."

  • Ben White/Annie Karni: America's CEOs fall out of love with Trump: An amusing side story is that several corporate bigwigs have started to distance themselves from Trump, especially over the decision to pull out of the Paris climate accords. As the US evolves from hegemonic superpower to tantrum-prone bully, laughing stock, and rogue state, America's global capitalists have ever more to disclaim and apologize for, and it won't help them to be seen as too close to Trump. On the other hand:

    Trump regularly touts himself as a strongly pro-business president focused on creating jobs and speeding up economic growth. But both of those depend in part on corporate confidence in the administration's ability to deliver on taxes and regulation changes. . . .

    One corporate executive noted that Trump is often swayed by the last person he talks to, so, the executive said, remaining in the president's good graces and keeping up access is critical. The senior lobbyist noted that next week is supposed to be focused on changing financial regulations with the House expected to pass a bill rolling back much of the Dodd-Frank law and Treasury slated to release a report on changing financial laws.

    One problem here is that so many of the things corporations and financiers want from Trump come at each other's expense, Thus far, Republicans have been remarkably sanguine about letting business after business rip each other (and everyone else) off, because few businesses look at the costs they incur, least of all externalities like air and water, but those costs add up. For instance, one reason American manufacturing is at a disadvantage compared to other wealthy countries is the exorbitant cost of health care and education, and making up the difference by depressing wages isn't a real solution. There are corporations that love Trump's Paris decision -- ok, the only one I'm actually sure of is Peabody Coal -- but they're actually few and far between. Most don't care much either way, or won't until the bills come due.

    By the way, this piece also includes this gem:

    From a purely political perspective, the distancing of corporate CEOs may not be especially bad for Trump. He won as a populist railing against corporate influence, specifically singling out Goldman Sachs.

    Since the election, he has continued to single out Goldman Sachs: he's tapped more of their executives for key administration jobs than any other business.

  • Richard Wolffe: Trump asked when the world will start laughing at the US. It already is

  • Paul Woodward: Trump believes money comes first -- he doesn't care about climate change

Plus more on the Trump administration's continuing looting and destruction:

  • Daniel Altman: If Anyone Can Bankrupt the United States, Trump Can

  • Bruce Bartlett: Donald Trump's incompetence is a problem. His staff should intervene: The author is a conservative who worked in the White House for Reagan and Bush I, though he was less pleased with Bush II. Still, his prescriptions hardly go beyond what was standard practice for Reagan: "He should let his staff draft statements for him and let them go through the normal vetting process, including fact-checking. And he must resist the temptation to tweet or talk off the top of his head about policy issues, and work through the normal process used by every previous president." Of course, what made that work for Reagan was that he was used to being a corporate spokesman before he became president -- after all, he worked for GE, and he was an actor by trade. Trump has done a bit of acting too, but he's always fancied himself as the boss man, and bosses in America are turning into a bunch of little emperors. On the other hand, Reagan's staff were selected by the real powers behind the throne to do jobs, including keeping the spokesman in line. Trump's staff is something altogether different: a bunch of cronies and toadies, whose principal job seems to be to flatter their leader. And that's left them sadly deficient in the competencies previous White House staff required -- in some cases even more so than the president himself.

  • Jamelle Bouie: What We Have Unleashed: "This year's string of brutal hate crimes is intrinsically connected to the rise of Trump."

  • Juliet Eilperin/Emma Brown/Darryl Fears: Trump administration plans to minimize civil rights efforts in agencies

  • Robert Faturechi: Tom Price Bought Drug Stocks. Then He Pushed Pharma's Agenda in Australia

  • David A Graham: The Panic President: "Rarely does a leader in a liberal democracy embrace, let alone foment, fear. But that's exactly what Donald Trump did in response to attacks in London, as he has done before." Graham starts by showing how London mayor Sadiq Khan responded to the attack, then plunges into Trump's tweetstorm. Also see: Peter Beinart: Why Trump Criticized a London Under Attack; and David Frum: What Trump Doesn't Understand About Gun Control in Great Britain.

  • Matthew Haag: Texas Lawmaker Threatens to Shoot Colleague After Reporting Protesters to ICE

  • Whitney Kassel/Loren De Jonge Schulman: Donald Trump's Great Patriotic Purge: "The administration's assault on experts, bureaucrats, and functionaries who make this country work isn't just foolish, it's suicidal." The most basic difference between Republicans and Democrats is how they view the government bureaucracy: Republicans tend to view everything government does as political, so they insist on loyalists consistent with their political views; Democrats, on the other hand, see civil servants loyal only to the laws that created their jobs. Republicans since Nixon have periodically tried to purge government, but those instincts have never before been so naked as with Trump, nor has the Republican agenda ever before been so narrow, corrupt, or politically opportunistic. Moreover, instilling incompetency doesn't seem to have any downside for Republicans, as they've long claimed that government is useless (except for lobbyists).

    In a signature theme of its first 100 days, the Trump administration, encouraged by conservative media outlets, has launched an assault on civil servants the likes of which should have gone out of style in the McCarthy era. Attacks on their credibility, motivations, future employment, and basic missions have become standard fare for White House press briefings and initiatives. In doing so, the administration and its backers may be crippling their legacy from the start by casting away the experts and implementers who not only make the executive agenda real but provide critical services for ordinary Americans. But in a move that should trouble all regardless of political affiliation, they also run the risk of undermining fundamental democratic principles of American governance.

    Searching for policy-based or political rationale for these moves overlooks a key point: that the United States civil service can be an enormous asset for presidential administrations regardless of party, and undermining it belies a misunderstanding of what public servants actually do. These good folks, the vast majority of whom do not live in Washington, get up in the morning to cut social security checks, maintain aircraft carriers, treat veterans, guard the border, find Osama bin Laden, and yes, work hard to protect the president and make his policies look good. Many of them earn less than they would in the private sector and are deeply committed to serving the American people. Any effort to undercut them is irrational on its face.

  • Mark Mazzetti/Matthew Rosenberg/Charlie Savage: Trump Administration Returns Copies of Report on CIA Torture to Congress

  • Daniel Politi: Democratic Challenger to Iowa Lawmaker Abandons Race Due to Death Threats

  • CIA Names the 'Dark Prince' to Run Iran Operations, Signaling a Tougher Stance: Michael D'Andrea.

  • Rebecca Solnit: The Loneliness of Donald Trump: "On the corrosive privilege of the most mocked man in the world." She cites a Pushkin fable on green, and is surely not the first to apply F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic line to Trump: "They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made." She goes on, adding to the mocking of "the most mocked man in the world":

    The American buffoon's commands were disobeyed, his secrets leaked at such a rate his office resembled the fountains at Versailles or maybe just a sieve (this spring there was an extraordinary piece in the Washington Post with thirty anonymous sources), his agenda was undermined even by a minority party that was not supposed to have much in the way of power, the judiciary kept suspending his executive orders, and scandals erupted like boils and sores. Instead of the dictator of the little demimondes of beauty pageants, casinos, luxury condominiums, fake universities offering fake educations with real debt, fake reality tv in which he was master of the fake fate of others, an arbiter of all worth and meaning, he became fortune's fool.

    Still, if someone made him read this, he would surely respond, "but I'm president, and you aren't." And while he goes about his day "making America great again," he gives cover to a crew that is driving the country into a ravine. When they succeed, all this mockery will seem unduly soft and peculiarly sympathetic. On the other hand, I suspect that treating Trump and the Republicans as badly as they deserve will provoke a kneejerk reaction to defend them. Even now, the scolds are searching hard for instances where they can argue that satire has crossed hypothetical boundaries; e.g., Callum Borchers: Maher, Griffin, Colbert: Anti-Trump comedians are having a really bad moment. I found the Griffin image amusing -- not unsettling like the first time I saw an image of one person holding up the severed head of another, because this time the head was clearly fake and symbolic. The other two were jokes that misfired, partly because they used impolite terms but mostly because they made little sense. That's an occupational hazard -- no comedian ever hits all the time -- but singling these failures out reveals more about the PC squeamishness of the complainers. (Where were these people when Obama was being slandered? Or were they just overwhelmed?) And note that Maher is often a fountain of Islamophobic bigotry, but that's not what he's being called out for here.

  • Lisa Song: Trump Administration Says It Isn't Anti-Science as It Seeks to Slash EPA Science Office

  • John Wagner: Trump plans week-long focus on infrastructure, starting with privatizing air traffic control: During his campaign one of Trump's most popular talking points was on the nation's need for massive investment in infrastructure. After the election, Democrats saw infrastructure investment as one area where they could work with Trump, but as with health care the devil's in the details. Since he took office, it's become clear that Trump's infrastructure program will be nothing but scams fueling private profit with public debt.

    It's worth noting that the scam for "privatizing" air traffic control has been kicking around for years, backed by big airlines, but it's very unpopular here in Kansas because it portends higher charges to general aviation users. That should cost Trump two votes, so his only hope of passing the deal is to pick up Democrats, who should know better.

  • Paul Woodward: Donald Trump plays at being president. He doesn't even pretend to be a world leader:

    At this stage in his performance -- this act in The Trump Show which masquerades as a presidency -- it should be clear to the audience that the motives of the man-child acting out in front of the world are much more emotive than ideological.

    Trump has far more interest in antagonizing his critics than pleasing his base.

    No doubt Trump came back from Europe believing that after suffering insults, he would get the last laugh. A senior White House official (sounding like Steve Bannon) described European disappointment about Trump's decision on Paris as "a secondary benefit," implying perhaps that the primary benefit would be the demolition of one of the key successes of his nemesis, Barack Obama.

    Thus far, The Trump Show has largely been ritual designed to symbolically purge America of Obama's influence.

  • Matthew Yglesias: Trump has granted more lobbyist waivers in 4 months than Obama did in 8 years; also by Yglesias: An incredibly telling thing Trump said at today's Paris event wasn't about climate at all ("He simply has no idea what he's talking about on any subject"); and Jared Kushner is the domino Trump can least afford to fall in the Russia investigation ("His unique lack of qualification for office makes him uniquely valuable").

And finally a few more links on various stories one or more steps removed from the Trump disaster:

Monday, May 29, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28187 [28166] rated (+21), 387 [397] unrated (-10).

As this weekly post falls on Memorial Day, I'd like to dedicate it our fallen heroes: not those who lost their lives in the many pointless wars this nation has waged since shortly before I was born, but to those who spoke, wrote, and often demonstrated against those wars, especially those who recognized how tightly war was bound up with social and economic injustice, who saw the struggle against both as equally necessary.

Foremost in my mind today are Alice Powell and Mary Harren, who late in their lives became good friends as well as comrades, and Elizabeth Fink, one of the finest, most steadfast, and most principled legal minds of our generation. I could, of course, come up with a few dozen more names of people I've known, and many more who inspired me from a distance -- David Dellinger is one of the latter I often find myself returning to. And, thankfully, there are many more still living, still struggling to turn minds and souls against America's fascination with empire and its attendant inequality and injustice.

Among the living one I should mention is Gail Pellett, who I knew briefly in St. Louis in the early 1970s. She was a graduate student in the sociology department at Washington University, and I was in several classes with her and ran into her socially and politically. She graduated and left for Boston, then a couple years later moved to New York, working in public radio and teaching journalism. In 1980 she got a job as a "foreign language expert" for Radio Beijing in China, and spent a year there trying to fit in and ultimately getting rejected (or at least dejected). A couple years ago she wrote a memoir of her time in China, Forbidden Fruit, which I recently read. Terrific book, taught me a lot about the post-Mao transition in China -- the scars of the Cultural Revolution and the fitful reforms of Deng Xiaoping's zig and zag toward economic reform and prosperity minus democracy. But it also filled in some earlier and later history of Gail I never knew, and reminded me how much I adored her when our paths crossed. Also note all the music she mentions. Those years were the ones that got me interested in music and its social context, so she probably had something to do with all that.

Relatively light week of record processing: partly because I was distracted with all the Trump nonsense, partly because I took some time off to paint the fence and cook, partly because I'm having a lot of trouble making up my mind about good-but-not-great albums. Two of those inched into the A- column this week, with a couple more falling arbitrarily short (Cuong Vu was probably the most tempting, followed by Diet Cig and Klaus Treuheit, with Shakira most volatile (only 2 plays, could go either way), and I still haven't made up my mind on Riverside after 6-7 plays).

Feeling a big nostalgic, so I made fried chicken, biscuits & gravy, and green beans tonight -- the chicken and gravy like my mother taught me (and they came out near-perfect), but I cheated a bit on the rest (much to the meal's detriment: I used a microwave bag of green beans and some really old Bisquick that didn't rise). Just for us, so I wasn't too embarrassed, but I can do better.

Looks like I need to post Streamnotes tomorrow or Wednesday. Draft file currently has 106 albums, so the post will be lighter than usual, not that I've slacked off too badly this month. Still don't have many good non-jazz leads to chase down.

New records rated this week:

  • Amok Amor [Christian Lillinger/Petter Eloh/Wanja Slavin/Peter Evans]: We Know Not What We Do (2016 [2017], Intakt): A-
  • Anemone [Peter Evans/John Butcher/Frederic Blondy/Clayton Thomas/Paul Lovens]: A Wing Dissolved in Light (2013 [2017], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Daddy Issues: Deep Dream (2017, Infinity Cat): [r]: A-
  • Diet Cig: Swear I'm Good at This (2017, Frenchkiss): [r]: B+(***)
  • Fred Frith/Hans Koch: You Are Here (2016 [2017], Intakt): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Hurray for the Riff Raff: The Navigator (2017, ATO): [r]: B+(*)
  • José James: Love in a Time of Madness (2017, Blue Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • B.J. Jansen: Common Ground (2016 [2017], Ronin Jazz): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Diana Krall: Turn Up the Quiet (2017, Verve): [r]: B+(***)
  • Ed Maina: In the Company of Brothers (2017, self-released): [cd]: B
  • Mumpbeak: Tooth (2017, Rare Noise): [cdr]: B
  • Simona Premazzi: Outspoken (2016 [2017], self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Tom Rizzo: Day and Night (2015 [2017], Origin): [cd]: B
  • Jamie Saft/Steve Swallow/Bobby Previte With Iggy Pop: Loneliness Road (2017, Rare Noise): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Shakira: El Dorado (2017, Sony Latin Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • Klaus Treuheit/Lou Grassi: Port of Call (2016 [2017], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Cuong Vu 4-Tet: Ballet (2017, Rare Noise): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Jürg Wickihalder/Barry Guy/Lucas Niggli: Beyond (2016 [2017], Intakt): [cd]: B+(***)

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

  • Itaru Oki/Nobuyoshi Ino/Choi Sun Bae: Kami Fusen (1996 [2017], NoBusiness): [cd]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Independence Hall Jazz Band: Louis: The Oliver Years (2002, Stomp Off): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Ignacio Berroa Trio: Straight Ahead From Havana (Codes Drum Music): August 7
  • Roger Davidson: Oração Para Amanhã/Prayer for Tomorrow (Soundbrush): June 14
  • Rick Davies: Thugtet (Emlyn)
  • Brian McCarthy Nonet: The Better Angels of Our Nature (self-released)
  • Kyle Motl: Solo Contrabass (self-released)
  • The New Vision Sax Ensemble: Musical Journey Through Time (Zak Publishing): June 12
  • Simona Premazzi: Outspoken (self-released)

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Weekend Roundup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some scattered links this week in Trump world:

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

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Midweek Roundup

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

Some quick links on Manchester:

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

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

Some scattered links this week in the Trumpworld:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Scattered links on Trump's holy war trek:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Scattered links on Trump/Comey/Russia:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Back to the story, Taibbi writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Music Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New records rated this week:

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

Old music rated this week:

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail last two weeks:

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

Music Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

New records rated this week:

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

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

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

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Weekend Roundup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, some links on the purge:

Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Daily Log

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

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

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

Monday, May 08, 2017

Music Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New records rated this week:

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

Old music rated this week:

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

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

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Weekend Roundup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some scattered links this week directly tied to Trump:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 01, 2017

Music Week

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

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

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

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

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

New records rated this week:

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

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

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

Old music rated this week:

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

Grade changes:

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

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

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Weekend Roundup

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

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

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

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

First, some 100-day reviews:

Some more scattered links this week in Trump world:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Streamnotes (April 29)

Pick up text from here.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Book Roundup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other recent books merely noted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mikhail Gorbachev: The New Russia (2016, Polity)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selected paperback reprints of books previously noted:

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 24, 2017

Music Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New records rated this week:

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

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

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

Old music rated this week:

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

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

   Mar 2001