June 2016 Notebook


Sunday, July 31, 2016

Weekend Links

After the big post on the Democratic National Convention and the mad scramble to wrap up July's Streamnotes, I figured I'd skip attempting a Weekend Roundup today. I started this in the Notebook, then decided what the hell, might as well share it. Tried to avoid adding comments. Read the links at your leisure and the comments will probably be obvious. Some links:

One quote from these pieces I want to single out: from the Frum article, a quote from an anonymous Trump supporter:

"The Putin thing. You think you've really nailed Donald with the Putin thing. Get it through your head: Our people are done fighting wars for your New World Order. We fought the Cold War to stop the Communists from taking over America, not to protect Estonia. We went to Iraq because you said it was better to fight them over there than fight them over here. Then you invited them over here anyway! Then you said that we had to keep inviting them over here if we wanted to win over there. And we figured out: You care a lot more about the "inviting" part than the "winning" part. So no more. Not until we face a real threat, and have a real president who'll do whatever it takes to win. Whatever it takes.

My emphasis. Funny thing is that the first time I heard "New World Order" in the last decade -- I think the phrase goes back to people in the first Bush administration, circa the first Iraq War -- was in the house of a Trump supporter. He attributed it to Obama, and was greatly bothered by the whole idea. Democrats are vulnerable to this because they grew up in the internationalist tradition from Wilson to Roosevelt to Johnson, and the Carters and Clintons and Obamas have just sheepishly followed in line. It started just helping US companies do business abroad, evolved into a protection racket for global capitalism, and eventually became a self-serving monster, starting wars just to punish countries for disrespecting our omnipotence. This never meant anything to most Americans aside from the fears they were dictated, but after Eisenhower beat Taft in 1952 the Republicans were always in on the deal, so nobody had a chance to hear otherwise -- until Trump. This is a big risk for Hillary: her political education has taught her to always spout the Washington establishment's clichés and, if pressed, always to hedge on the side of being more hawkish. Against Trump, especially viz. Russia, she could easily convince people that she's the dangerous maniac (as well as that she's weak -- not willing to do "whatever it takes" because she's hung up on sensitivities to foreigners and international law).

I also might have noted that on Saturday 538's Who will win the presidency? showed Clinton and Trump dead even at 50.0%, with Trump enjoying a slight edge in electoral votes (269.4 to 268.2) but Clinton still leading the popular vote (46.3 to 45.5%, with Gary Johnson at 6.9% and Jill Stein off the chart). Clinton's decline nudged Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, and New Hampshire into the Trump column. On Sunday new polls bumped Clinton up to 51.0%, 270.2-267.4 in the electoral college, 46.3-45.4% popular vote, but didn't tip any states. Right now, the closest state is Pennsylvania, only D+0.8, followed by Nevada R+0.9, Florida R+1.2, and Virginia D+1.2. Clinton has been sinking since FBI Director James Comey's press conference put the private email server issue to rest (at least the threat of a possible indictment), so the RNC bounce had some prior momentum. We're not seeing much of a DNC bounce yet -- at least it's not coming as fast as what was taken as a RNC bounce did. (Silver footnote from the article cited above: "Although interestingly, if you chart the numbers, it's not easy to distinguish Trump's convention bounce from a continuation of the previous trend toward him.")

Don't know if this has been factored in, but RABA Research's post-DNC poll has Clinton ahead of Trump 46-31% (7% for Johnson, 2% for Stein), a big bump from their post-RNC/pre-DNC poll, which Clinton led 39-34%. (Still, aren't the undecided remains awfully large here? Seems like a lot of people don't want to face the choice they've been given.)

Daily Log

We've been binge watching Inspector George Gently on Netflix. Got to an episode this week where a character made quiche lorraine for dinner, which reminded me that I hadn't made that dish since, well, I left St. Louis forty years ago. At the time, it was one of the few things in my repertoire, although I don't remember how it got there, and rather suspect that I wasn't much into making and rolling out the pastry crust. So I resolved to try again, finding a recipe in Reichl's Gourmet Cookbook. Made the crust from scratch, baking it using kidney beans for pie weights. Had a relatively old but unopened package of uncured bacon in the refrigerator, so I wound up frying all of it (50% more than the eight slices called for, but being cut thick it may have been even more). Also added a cup of shredded gruyere to the custard mix (four whole eggs plus two yolks, 2 cups cream, 1 cup milk, 1 tsp salt, grated a little nutmeg) -- the cookbook had an alternative recipe called Ultimate Quiche which included the cheese and upgraded the cream to crème fraiche. Laura had asked me whether the quiche had gruyere, so seeing that I decided to indulge her. I made a mistake baking the quiche: I put the pan on a cookie sheet and some aluminum foil and placed it on the bottom rack -- I was afraid it might boil over -- so it didn't cook in time. I wound up moving it to the top rack (leaving the hot sheet below), and after 15 minutes or so it finally looked (and tested) done. Took a picture. I should have let it cool down some before cutting. As it was, I struggled to get a slice out for Laura, and just wound up spooning my slice out -- a hideous pile of scrambled eggs, but tasted pretty good. Leftovers served cold the next day were even better, pretty close to perfect.

Looking through the Gourmet Cookbook I ran across other famous dishes I wanted to try. Bought groceries for ghoulash and pastisio, and will fix them in coming days. Also need to do something with the beans I used as pie weights. Gourmet suggests a red bean and bacon soup, but another pound of bacon doesn't have a lot of appeal at the moment.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Streamnotes (July 2016)

Pick up text here.

Friday, July 29, 2016

DNC Update

The first day of the Democratic National Convention put the party's best face forward. It featured Michelle Obama, a couple of prominent senators who could have mounted credible campaigns for what Howard Dean once called "the democratic wing of the Democratic Party" -- Al Franken and Elizabeth Warren -- but didn't dare run up against the the Clinton machine, and one guy who did have the guts to try, and who damn near won, because he had the issues and integrity to pose a real alternative to the party's comfort with the status quo: Bernie Sanders. It offered a glimpse of what might have been, and more than hinted that Hillary Clinton might have learned something from Sanders' "political revolution."

I didn't see Michelle's speech, which was by all accounts monumental. I did catch bits of Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison, and all of the speeches by Warren and Sanders -- both superb, and in the former's slam on Trump and the latter's mapping of his agenda to her platform more than she could have hoped for. Could be that if the occasion presents itself she's opportunistic enough to slide to the left. At least in presenting this night she showed some recognition that she understands what the Democratic base wants. Not that she didn't keep three more days open to pander to the donors.

One retrospectively nice thing about the first night was that I didn't hear a single mention of foreign policy, war, America's vast military-security-industrial complex, and all the mayhem that they have caused. This is odd inasmuch as those issues weigh heavily in any comparison between Sanders and Clinton, but expected in that they still loom as major differences. It's not so much that Sanders has promised much change from fifteen years of "war on terror" -- the self-perpetuating struggle to shore up American hegemony over a part of the world which has suffered much from it -- as that Clinton's instinctive hawkishness promises even more turmoil as far out as anyone can imagine. Of course, the jingoism would come back in subsequent nights, but for Monday at least one could hope for a world where such things would no longer be worth fretting over.

I skipped the second night completely, including Madeleine Albright's neocon horror show and Bill Clinton's soggy valentine valentine ("not quite first-spouse speech").

Also missed the third night when Tim Kaine, Joe Biden and Barack Obama spoke. I gather that Obama spoke in his usual mode, as a pious Americanist, a super-patriot proud of his country's deep liberal roots, validated by his own elevation to the presidency. He may not have reconciled Republicans and Democrats in the real world, but he's unified us all in his own mind, and that's such a pretty picture only those with their heads implanted in their asses can fail to take some measure of pride. Even if he hasn't fully convinced the talking heads of the right, hasn't he at least made it ludicrous for people like Trump and Cruz and Ryan to argue that they can "bring us together" in anything short of a concentration camp?

I paid even less attention to Hillary Clinton's speech, which I gather was superbly crafted and broadly targeted. John Judis faulted her for not weasel-wording enough on immigration -- after all, Trump already set the bar on that issue awfully low. Paul Krugman tweeted: "I keep talking to people asserting that she'll 'say anything,' but last night she clearly only said things she really believes. Socially (very) liberal, wonkish with center-left tilt on economic and domestic policy, comfortable with judicious use of military power. So, do we people realize that HRC's speech didn't involve any pandering at all? It was who she is." Either that, or Krugman's fooled himself into thinking he's looking at her when he's looking in the mirror.

But rather than ruminating more on this -- at some point I do have to just post what I have and catch up with what I missed sometime later -- let me point you to a long piece on the many complaints people have had lodged against her since she came to prominence in 1992: Michelle Goldberg: The Hillary Haters. Goldberg comes up with a long list illustrated by real people: "She strikes me as so programmed and almost robotic"; "She is disingenuous and she lies blatantly"; "I think she's more of a Republican than a Democrat"; "If I could make her a profit she'd be my best friend"; "She is a sociopath"; "She feels like she's above the law, and she's above us peasants." Reading this list (and the article that expands on them) I'm not sure which I'd rather argue: for one thing, none of these strike me as particularly true, but even if they were true they don't strike me as good reasons not to vote for her (at least given the Republicans she's run against). On the other hand, the Goldberg line that the editors pulled out as a large-type blurb -- "Americans tend not to like ambitious women with loud voices" -- does strike me as being at the root of much opposition to her (and also helps explain why some people, and not just women, like her so much even when they disagree with much of her policy record).

I had rather high hopes for Bill Clinton after his 1992 campaign, which were quickly diminished after he cozied up to Alan Greenspan and capitulated to Colin Powell and sunk ever lower pretty much month by month over eight years. By 1998 I would have voted to impeach him, not because I cared about the Republicans' charges but because I was so alarmed by his bombings of Iraq and elsewhere, acts I considered war crimes (even if I didn't fully comprehend how completely they set the table for the Bush wars that followed). Even so, I thought he might redeem himself after leaving office, much as Jimmy Carter had done. However, it's been hard to see his Foundation as anything other than the vehicle for a political machine, one intent on returning him to power through proximity to his wife. My view was influenced by the fact that through the 1980s most of the women who had become governors in the South were nothing more than proxies for their term-limited husbands. Nor had I ever been a fan of political dynasties, a view that became all the more bitter after the Bore-Gush debacle.

Of course, Hillary was different from all those other Southern governors' wives, and I recognized that -- even admired her at first, a view that diminished as her husband got worse and worse but never quite sunk so low. Still, her own record of policy and posturing in the Senate, as Secretary of State, and campaigning for president, never impressed me as especially admirable -- and sometimes turned out to be completely wrong, as with her Iraq War vote. Given a credible alternative in 2008 -- one that would break the tide of nepotism and dynasty building, and one that offered what seemed at the time like credible hope -- I supported Obama against her. Of course, I was later disappointed by many things that I thought Obama handled badly -- all too often noticing folks previously associated with Clinton in critical proximity -- but I also appreciated how much worse things might have been had a wacko warmonger like McCain or an economic royalist like Romney had won instead. Again this year I found and supported an alternative to Hillary -- one I felt could be trusted to stand up to the Republicans without degrading into what I suppose we could call Clintonism. In the end, she wound up beating Sanders, something I don't ever expect to be happy about. But we're stuck with her, and all I can say is that we owe it to her to treat her honestly and fairly. Which means rejecting all the mean, vicious, repugnant, and false things people and pundits say about her, while recognizing her limits and foibles, and resolving to continue saying and doing the right things, even if doing so challenges her. After all, what really matters isn't whether we're with her. It's whether she's with us. That's something she's actually made some progress towards this week -- not that she doesn't still have a long ways to go.

Some links:

  • George Zornick: Welcome to the 2016 DNC, Sponsored by Special Interests: Points out that these are the first presidential conventions since 1968 for which there is no government financing, leaving the parties at the mercy of private donors and loose regulations.

  • The Atlantic is doing daily coverage of the DNC, with lead-in pieces and lots of short notes from their many writers. See Day 1: Bernie Gives in to Hillary, Day 2: The First Lady to Become the Nominee, Day 3: Obama Endorses Hillary as America's Best Hope, Day 4: Hillary Clinton Begins Building Her Coalition. The comments jerk in and out of chronological sequence, some are scattered and many are trivial, but they probably give you as thorough an idea of what's happened as sitting on a cable new station (or surfing between them whenever anything annoying happens, which is often).

  • Molly Ball: The Long Fall of Debbie Wasserman Schultz: The Sanders campaign has been feuding with the Democratic Party Chair since she tried to stack the debate schedule to ensure minimum press coverage. Her bias was unsurprising given how effective the Clintons were at clearing the field of potential challengers, and of course became even more obvious with last week's Wikileaks dump of her emails, but she would probably have been dumped anyway.

    Few Democrats will miss Wasserman Schultz, who was widely seen as an ineffective leader. She was a poor communicator whose gaffes often caused the party headaches; a mediocre fundraiser; and a terrible diplomat more apt to alienate party factions than bring them together. "Only Donald Trump has unified the party more," Rebecca Katz, a Democratic consultant who supported Sanders in the primary, told me wryly. [ . . . ]

    The litany of Wasserman Schultz's offenses during the primary was familiar to supporters of Sanders and other Clinton rivals: scheduling debates at odd times, shutting Sanders out of the party's data file, stacking convention committees with Clinton supporters. But her tenure was rocky long before that -- in fact, within a month of her being named in 2011 to finish the term of Tim Kaine, who had just been elected to the Senate, Democrats were starting to grumble about her. When her term ended after Obama's reelection, there was more sniping about her leadership, and Obama's advisors urged him to bring in someone new, but Wasserman Schultz made it clear she wouldn't go without a fight, according to reports at the time and my sources inside the DNC. And so the White House chose the path of least resistance and kept her in.

    "Good fucking riddance," one former top DNC staffer during her tenure told me of Wasserman Schultz's ouster. "But she was convicted for the wrong crime." Critics charged that Wasserman Schultz treated the committee as a personal promotion vehicle, constantly seeking television appearances and even urging donors to give to her personal fundraising committee. A different former staffer went so far as to compare her personality to Donald Trump's, describing a "narcissism" that filtered everything through her personal interests.

    The larger issue, many Democrats told me, was the White House's lack of concern with the health of the party, which allowed the DNC to atrophy. "There's a lot of soul-searching and reckoning to be done going forward about the role of the party," Smith said. Obama won the nomination by running against the party establishment, and once he got into office converted his campaign into a new organization, Organizing for America. It was technically a part of the DNC, but in reality served as a rival to it that redirected the party's organizing functions, effectively gutting its field operation. The weakened DNC bears some of the responsibility for the epic down-ballot losses -- in Congress, state offices, and legislatures -- that have occurred during Obama's presidency.

    "The president doesn't give a shit about the DNC, and he's the only one with the leverage to do something about it," said Jamal Simmons, a Democratic consultant and commentator who has advised the DNC. "Barack Obama made it abundantly clear that he didn't care about the DNC, so why have that fight?" [ . . . ]

    The irony to many of Wasserman Schultz's critics was that if she was, in fact, trying to "rig" the primary for Clinton, she didn't do it very well, and by antagonizing Sanders supporters she might have even helped power Clinton's opposition. "She had lost trust from every corner of the party," said Mo Elleithee, a former communications director for the DNC under Wasserman Schultz. "Congressional Democrats had lost trust in her, the White House had lost trust in her, the Clinton campaign was rapidly losing trust in her. So once she started to lose the grassroots, which was her only strength, she had nothing left."

  • Timothy B Lee: DNC email leaks, explained: A fair introduction to the Wikileaks dump of some 20,000 DNC emails. Key lines: "The email trove contains some embarrassing revelations but no bombshells"; "The hack included a lot of donors' personal information"; and "There's significant evidence linking the attacks to the Russian government." I'm not so sure about the latter point, which has been repeated so many times that it's turning into an assumption -- see, e.g., Patrick Tucker: Was Russia Behind the DNC Hack? and Isaac Chotiner: Is the DNC Hack an Act of War?. It's easy to be sloppy here because anti-Russian prejudice is such a well-practiced art in Washington that it's almost second nature. (For instance, we routinely hear that Putin is a dictator, even though he's in power by virtue of having clearly been elected in competitive contests. Also, Putin is easily charged with being the aggressor in places like Georgia and Ukraine -- ignoring that the US engaged in covert campaigns in both to turn governments there against Russia.) It's easy to imagine that Democrats jumping on the opportunity to blame Russia -- it certainly helps distract from the embarrassments in the emails itself, and it's the sort of rhetoric that Americans have long fallen for. The big problem here is that the US seems hell-bent to resurrect some sort of Cold War against Russia, as seems clear by the steady advance of NATO forces toward Russia's borders and the imposition of crippling economic sanctions on Russia's already depressed economy. Given all this, it's pretty easy to imagine Russia "striking back" via cyberwarfare -- after all, the US is already heavily invested in that sort of mischief. On the other hand, the stakes -- chiefly embarrassing the already discredited Debbie Wasserman Schultz -- are pretty low.

    On the other hand, this gives Democrats who have already shown a knack for Putin-baiting an opportunity to rehash the supposed ties between Putin and Trump, which must be true because Trump hasn't shown much relish at joining in on the Putin-bashing as have the Democrats -- one of the few areas where Trump has been significantly less crazy and reckless than Clinton. Possibly the most extreme statement of this is Franklin Foer: Putin's Puppet:

    Vladimir Putin has a plan for destroying the West -- and that plan looks a lot like Donald Trump. Over the past decade, Russia has boosted right-wing populists across Europe. It loaned money to Marine Le Pen in France, well-documented transfusions of cash to keep her presidential campaign alive. Such largesse also wended its way to the former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, who profited "personally and handsomely" from Russian energy deals, as an American ambassador to Rome once put it. [ . . . ]

    There's a clear pattern: Putin runs stealth efforts on behalf of politicians who rail against the European Union and want to push away from NATO. He's been a patron of Golden Dawn in Greece, Ataka in Bulgaria, and Jobbik in Hungary. [ . . . ]

    Donald Trump is like the Kremlin's favored candidates, only more so. He celebrated the United Kingdom's exit from the EU. He denounces NATO with feeling. He is also a great admirer of Vladimir Putin. Trump's devotion to the Russian president has been portrayed as buffoonish enthusiasm for a fellow macho strongman. But Trump's statements of praise amount to something closer to slavish devotion. [ . . . ] Still, we should think of the Trump campaign as the moral equivalent of Henry Wallace's communist-infiltrated campaign for president in 1948, albeit less sincere and idealistic than that. A foreign power that wishes ill upon the United States has attached itself to a major presidential campaign.

    Most of this is fantasy stitched into conspiracy -- not that I doubt that Putin has pitched some money at right-wing (ultra-nationalist) political movements in Europe, but Russians got a raw deal in the '90s when they opened their doors to capitalism, leaving them defensive and nostalgic for a leader that demanded more respect. One can argue whether he is one, or whether he's succumbed to the corruption of the Yeltsin era, or whether his occasional flex of muscle is productive, but it's absurd to claim he intends to destroy Europe and America, and even more so to think he can do so by cyberhacks -- especially ones that at most reveal their victims to have been fools.

    On the other hand, the neocon idea that they can push and prod a nation with a staggering number of nuclear weapons into a powerless little corner is dangerous indeed -- and that's what Clinton risks by slipping into Cold War revanchism. As for Trump, he's demonstrating a truism: that people and nations that do business together are less likely to confront each other militarily. Indeed, the real distinction between America's "allies" and "enemies" almost exactly correlates with ease of doing business together -- which is why, of course, neocons are so eager to impose sanctions on countries like Russia and Iran (and why they turn a blind eye to the real Islamic state, Saudi Arabia, and why they are so eager to quash Boeing's airliner deal with Iran).

    For more on Trump's business dealings with Russia, see Josh Marshall's initial post, Jeffrey Carr's fact-check, and Marshall's riposte. I do admit that all this leaves me with a serious question: if Trump's business ties to Russia compromise his ability to put his own finances aside and serve the interests of the American people, what about the rest of his business interests? As I recall, the Kennedys put all of their vast inherited wealth into blind trusts when they went into politics. Wouldn't it be fair and reasonable to insist that Trump do the same thing?

    PS: Marshall later tweeted: "Everything else aside, let's stop talking about 'red-baiting,' 'McCarthyism.' Russia's not a communist or a left state. That's silly." Sure, there's no reason to think that Trump has fallen under the spell of Bolshevism, but anti-Russian rhetoric both before and after the fall of Communism has been remarkably consistent -- in both cases Russia is casually charged with plotting the destruction of Europe and America, and motives are rarely discussed (mostly because they would make one wonder "really?"). And today's Putin-baiting works so effortlessly because yesterday's red-baiting so effectively greased the slide. Moreover, although Russia may have moved from left to right since 1990, America's unelected "security state" is still run by the same people who cut their teeth on the Cold War, and who will to their deaths view Russia as the enemy. Does anyone really think that the US is surrounding Russia with anti-ballistic missile rings because we're worried about oligarchy and corruption?

  • Gideon Lewis-Kraus: Could Hillary Clinton Become the Champion of the 99 Percent? The political winds have changed since the early '90s brought the Clintons and their "blue dog" DLC coalition to Washington, so opportunist that Hillary has always been, could she blow back the other way? One thing that's happened is that as the right-wing "think tanks" have lost touch with reality, left-leaning ones have matured -- the article here features Felicia Joy Wong of the Roosevelt Institute, and also singles out long-time Clinton economic adviser Joseph Stiglitz (who's moved steadily leftward since the '90s), whose Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy is a full-fledged political platform. Another thing is that Bernie Sanders nearly beat her running further to the left than anyone previously imagined possible. Still, very little here about Clinton:

    To Wong, though, much of the hand-wringing about Clinton is beside the point. People like to kibitz on the subject of who a politician "really" is, to claim that some votes or statements or gaffes or alliances are deeply revealing and others merely accidents, frivolities or improvisatory performances. We isolate and label a politician's essence in the hope we might predict with certainty how she'll behave in the future. But in Wong's view, the question of who a politician is -- and above all who this particular presidential candidate is -- is irrelevant. Her strategy is to proceed in public as if the candidate is certain to rise to the occasion. [ . . . ]

    "After all," Wong said to me more than once, "she is unknowable. Nobody can know her. I certainly can't know her. All I can go by is what is on the public record, and who she's got around her. I'm sure I'll be disappointed again. Over the next few months, we'll all be disappointed again. But I'm only optimistic because there's evidence for me to be that way."

    When people talk about Hillary as a "genuine progressive" I can't help but scoff: where's the evidence, anyone? On the other hand, it has occurred to me that the situation might nudge her in the right direction. I even came up with a precedent, Woodrow Wilson: early in his administration he oversaw a number of progressive reforms, even though he really didn't have a progressive bone in his body -- he also adopted Jim Crow as federal policy, started two fruitless wars with Mexico, blundered into the big war in Europe, implemented the most draconian assault on civil liberties in the nation's history, and was so ineffective in negotiating the end of the war that he was soundly rejected both at home and abroad. Still, if Wilson can be remembered as a progressive, maybe the bar isn't too high for Clinton. Of course, you might argue that FDR was another one who rose to progressivism because the circumstances dictated it.

    Also along these lines: Mark Green: Is Hillary Ready for a Progressive 'Realignment'?, and Katrina vanden Heuvel: Hillary Clinton Can Become the Real Candidate of Change.

  • Allegra Kirkland: Conservatives Stunned by How Much They Liked Obama's DNC Speech: There's an old Mort Sahl joke where he quotes Charlton Hesston as saying that he hopes his children will some day live in a fascist dictatorship, then quips that if Hesston was more perceptive he'd be a happy man today. One of the great absurdities of our times is that conservatives have been so hateful to Obama, who has always gone out of his way to embody and celebrate their most cherished and most hackneyed myths. As I've said before, Barrack Obama is a man whose conservatism runs so deep he's incapable of imagining a world where Jamie Dimon isn't still head of JP Morgan-Chase. There has never been a better "poster child" for the American Dream than him, yet many self-proclaimed conservatives have insisted on attacking him, insisting that he is perversely bent on destroying the very nation had flattered him so by electing him president. That's never been credible, but it's taken eight years and the counterexample of Donald Trump for it to sink into these numbskulls.

    Pundits who fundamentally disagree with the majority of Obama's policies expressed grudging admiration for an optimistic speech that praised America's inclusive democracy. It provided a stark contrast to the ominous address about the threats facing the United States that Donald Trump gave at last week's Republican convention in Cleveland.

    Some suggested that Obama's speech, which quoted the Declaration of Independence and framed the U.S. as a "light of freedom, dignity and human rights," did a better job at expressing conservative values than Trump's did.

    In some ways we're fortune that they were so dense. Give his lifelong habit of sucking up to power and his earnest desire for "bipartisan" solutions, there's no telling what "compromises" he might have made had the Republicans not been so obstructionist. His continuation of the Bush wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, his revival of the war in Iraq and Syria, his expansion of loosely targeted assassinations via the drone program, and his relentless defense of America's secret police against whistleblowers have been among the darket blots on his administration -- all cases where Republicans have cheered him on and taunted him to do even worse. Even today, Obama remains the last significant politician supporting TPP. In time conservatives will appreciate what they missed and lost -- much like today they hail the once-hated Harry Truman for blundering his way into the Cold War. But their blinders are a necessary part of their identity: whenever you look back at American history for something inspiring, something to be proud of, you necessarily have to embrace some aspect of liberal tradition. What makes Obama such a great conservative is his liberalism, and that's what they cannot abide, even less admit -- at least until they've found themselves stuck with Trump, a convervative standard bearer who promises to usher a smaller, poorer, meaner America -- and all he has to do is call it Great. That makes Trump the perfect anti-Obama, logically the ideal candidate for everyone who bought the anti-Obama vitriol of the last eight years. If some conservatives are having second thoughts, maybe they're more perceptive than we thought.

  • Shibley Telhami: Are Clinton's supporters to the right of Sanders's on the Middle East? Hardly. Telhami has been polling on questions like this for years:

    Over the past few years, I have asked Americans about their attitudes on American policy toward Israeli settlements. In a November 2015 poll, 49 percent of Democrats expressed support for imposing sanctions or harsher measures on Israeli settlements. In a May 2016 poll, 51 percent of Democrats expressed the same view (within the margin of error of the November poll).

    Those expecting Clinton's backers to be less supportive of such measures than Sanders's are in for a surprise: 51 percent of Sanders's supporters wanted punitive measures imposed, and 54 percent of Clinton's expressed the same opinion -- a statistical tie. In contrast, only 24 percent of Trump supporters voiced support for such measures.

    Telhami asks a number of similar questions, again finding no real differences between Clinton and Sanders supporters' views, so he asks "why are candidates' rhetoric different when supporters' views are similar?" He doesn't really answer this clearly, but two reasons seem obvious to me: one is that Clinton has two levels of donors, and the big shots -- the ones who kick in enough to get personal contact -- are rabidly pro-Israel, so they pull her in that direction; Sanders, on the other hand, draws nearly all of his financing from his base, so he leans that direction. But also, both Sanders and Clinton start out exceptionally pro-Israel, partly because the Israel lobby has become so hegemonic in Washington, partly because the very powerful defense complex is so intertwined with Israel. Sanders is also Jewish, and of an age when Israel was a much more attractive proposition. Still, I would imagine that while there is no general difference in opinion between Sanders and Clinton supporters, those who are very concerned about the issue should favor Sanders -- if only because Clinton has boxed herself into a hole from which she has effectively committed to do nothing whatsoever to help resolve the conflict. Sanders at least understands something that political expediency doesn't allow Clinton to admit: that Palestinians must be treated as human beings. This makes me wonder how many other issues there are where Clinton supporters are well to the left of their candidate.

  • Clare Foran: Can Jill Stein Lead a Revolution? Nothing here suggests to me that she can -- not that there's much here to suggest what she stands for or why that matters -- it's mostly about Bernie supporters who aren't reconciled to Hillary, a number that's likely to drop by half come election day. The fact that Stein is in Philadelphia this week suggests she realizes that the real forum for the left isn't her third party effort -- it's the Democratic Party, which Bernie came close to winning over, and even after Hillary's win is still where most of the people "the revolution" needs do their business. Still, neither Foran nor Jordan Weissmann (in Jill Stein's Ideas Are Terrible. She Is Not the Savior the Left Is Looking For) talk about the one idea that could make a difference, which is to play up the fear that Hillary's hawkishness could be even more self-destructive than Trump's brutishness, and that people who believe that America should radically retrench from the ambition to be the world's sole hegemon need to withdraw their votes from both. That at least is an argument, one that needn't depend on the tired homily that both sides are equivalent, and one that might scare or shame Hillary enough that she makes an effort not to alienate the large number of antiwar voters who otherwise see her as preferable to Trump. Of course, Stein will still lose half of her sympathizers on election day (as will libertarian Gary Johnson), just because votes aren't worth so much that they have to be perfect.

  • Michelle Goldberg: The DNC Has Been a Rousing Success. So Why Am I Terrified? Basically because she doesn't trust the American people to do the sane thing:

    One of the unofficial slogans of this election, at least among the green room flotsam and millennial ironists on Twitter, is "nothing matters." It's an expression of weary incredulity at each new Trumpian outrage that should be the end of him but isn't. This election isn't a contest of ideology. It's certainly not about experience or competence. It's being fought at the level of deep, unconscious, Freudian drives. Trump promises law and order, but he is the Thanatos candidate, appealing to the people so disgusted by the American status quo that they're willing to blow it up. Clinton is the candidate of dull, workmanlike order and continuity. She once described herself as a "mind conservative and a heart liberal," but her convention has almost been the opposite, with the most liberal platform in decades married to a show of sunny, orderly patriotism. "America is already great!" is as anti-radical slogan as can be imagined. The question in this election is whether the forces of stability are a match for those of cynical nihilism. This convention has been, for the most part, impeccably choreographed. Will it matter? Will anything?

    That "mind conservative/heart liberal" thing tells me that she's bought the conservative line hook and sinker: only conservatives think that liberalism is an ailment of the heart, and only people hopelessly mired in the past fail to recognize that conservatism has become a form of mental derangement. (I would concede that a conservative ethos is a good thing for a person to have, provided you understand that it doesn't work for social/political/economic matters. It's all good and well any person to be self-sufficient, but as a society we need mutual respect, concern, and help.)

    My own great fear is watching Hillary one-on-one in the debates as Trump goads her into World War III.

    On the other hand, see: Jamelle Bouie: The Democrats Make Their Pitch to a New Silent Majority. Not my favorite turn of phrase, but they started making this pitch in 2012, when after four years when it seemed like only the Tea Party could get media attention Obama won the presidential election rather easily. (Still, only 57.5% came out to vote in 2012, less than the 62.3% who voted in 2008 when Obama won even more handily.) I'm less impressed by the Wednesday lineup than Bouie is ("figures of authority -- all white men -- who in different ways sought to delegitimize Donald Trump and persuade the most Republican-leaning whites with degrees to switch sides and abandon the GOP") -- Leon Panetta, Admiral John Hutson, Michael Bloomberg -- but they do suggest that a swath of the establishment realizes they'd be better off with Hillary, and not rocking the boat has much to do with that. I think it is the case that an awful lot of Americans don't like to rock the boat -- otherwise why would they have stuck with so many losers for so long?

Plus a few shorts:

PS: Incorrectly credited a TPM editorial to Josh Marshall. Author was John Judis, as corrected above.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 26851 [26822] rated (+29), 431 [435] unrated (-4).

Much better than average week of mail: two packages from Clean Feed in Portugal, one from Fou in France, the new Steve Lehman from Pi, and a new Stephan Crump with Ellery Eskelin and Tyshawn Sorey. Didn't quite make the 30 rated mark, although there's some chance that I missed counting something (found two of those earlier today). Not sure why given that I hardly ventured outside the house (temperature was into triple digits all week, and that's not the "feels like" figure although it certainly does). Probably because I mostly worked from the new jazz queue, and made an effort to play some downloads I've collected but find annoying to bother with. I think Thumbscrew got five plays before I gave up on it, but others got cut short -- Anat Fort, perhaps. Two HMs I probably should have given another spin: Domo Genesis and André Gonçalves. The former is a rapper and I've been having a lot of trouble parsing them on Rhapsody. The latter is very minimal-concept electronica (although on a jazz label).

The Fred Hersch Solo is from last year. It finished 11th in the Jazz Critics Poll, second highest among records I hadn't heard (after 3rd place Jack DeJohnette, ahead of Roscoe Mitchell at 31 and Brad Mehldau at 34). Its publicist didn't service me at the time, probably recognizing that I'm usually a wet blanket as far as solo piano is concerned, but I found it on her annual wrap up (along with Ran Blake's solo Ghost Tones, 27th in the Poll). I'm duly impressed after two plays, although I'm still undecided about Hersch's new trio (which I did receive), tauntingly titled Sunday Night at the Vanguard -- either A- or very high B+ (find out next week, or probably sooner, as I should have a Rhapsody Streamnotes column sometime this week).

Rich Halley and The Paranoid Style also got quite a bit of play, both winding up slightly above the A- line. The saxophonist's album is a bit scattered with more unison playing than I'd like and the trombonist very hit-and-mess plus I'm never sure what Vince Golia is up to, but it has more thrilling moments than anything I can recall in the last couple months. I'm still having trouble with Elizabeth Nelson's sociopolitical theorizing, but ultimately went with the review she provided in a lyric: "it can't all be that bad because it's also entertaining."

New records rated this week:

  • Jon Balke: Warp (2014 [2016], ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Aaron Bennett/Darren Johnston/Lisa Mezzacappa/Tim Rosaly: Shipwreck 4 (2015 [2016], NoBusiness): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Carla Bley/Andy Sheppard/Steve Swallow: Andando el Tiempo (2015 [2016], ECM): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Bobby Bradford/Hafez Modirzadeh: Live at the Open Gate (2013 [2016], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Brothers Osborne: Pawn Shop (2016, EMI Nashville): [r]: B+(*)
  • Toronzo Cannon: The Chicago Way (2016, Alligator): [r]: B+(*)
  • Cavanaugh: Time and Materials (2015 [2016], Mello Music): [r]: B+(**)
  • Suzanne Dean: Come to Paradise (2016, Ship's Bell Music): [cd]: B
  • Fail Better!: Owt (2014 [2016], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Anat Fort Trio/Gianluigi Trovesi: Birdwatching (2013 [2016], ECM): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Gaudi: EP (2016, RareNoise, EP): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Domo Genesis: Genesis (2016, Odd Future): [r]: B+(***)
  • André Gonçalves: Currents & Riptides (2016, Shhpuma): [r]: B+(***)
  • Tord Gustavsen: What Was Said (2015 [2016], ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Rich Halley 5: The Outlier (2015 [2016], Pine Eagle): [cd]: A-
  • Fred Hersch: Solo (2014 [2015], Palmetto): [dl]: A-
  • Hinds: Leave Me Alone (2016, Mom + Pop): [r]: B
  • Lefteris Kordis: Mediterrana (Goddess of Light) (2013-15 [2016], Inner Circle Music): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Elektra Kurtis & Ensemble Elektra: Bridges From the East (2016, Elektra Sound Works/Milo): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Tina Marx: Shades of Love (2007 [2016], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Anthony E. Nelson Jr.: Swift to Hear, Slow to Speak (2016, Music Stand): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Os Clavelitos: Arriving (2016, self-released): [cd]: B-
  • The Paranoid Style: Rolling Disclosure (2016, Bar/None): [r]: A-
  • Tommy Smith: Modern Jacobite (2015 [2016], Spartacus): [cd]: B-
  • Jim Snidero: MD66 (2016, Savant): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Peggy Stern: Z Octet (2015 [2016], Estrella Productions): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Thumbscrew: Convallaria (2015 [2016], Cuneiform): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Brahja Waldman: Wisdomatic (2016, Fast Speaking Music): [cdr]: A-
  • Nate Wooley/Hugo Antunes/Jorge Queijo/Mario Costa/Chris Corsano: Purple Patio (2012 [2016], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B

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

  • Putumayo Presents: Blues Party (1968-2013 [2016], Putumayo World Music): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Arthur Williams: Forgiveness Suite (1979 [2016], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Karlis Auzins/Lucas Leidinger/Tomo Jacobson/Thomas Sauerborn: Mount Meander (Clean Feed)
  • Carate Urio Orchestra: Ljubljana (Clean Feed)
  • Cortex: Live in New York (Clean Feed)
  • Stephan Crump: Stephan Crump's Rhombal (Papillon): September 13
  • Whit Dickey/Kirk Knuffke: Fierce Silence (Clean Feed)
  • Daunik Lazro/Joëlle Léandre/George Lewis: Enfances 8 Janv. 1984 (Fou)
  • Steve Lehman: Sélébéyone (Pi): August 19
  • Joey Locascio: Meets the Legend (Blujazz)
  • Modular String Trio: Ants, Bees and Butterflies (Clean Feed)
  • Roji: The Hundred Headed Woman (Clean Feed)
  • Susana Santos Silva/Lotte Anker/Sten Sandell/Torbjörn Zetterberg/Jon Fält: Life and Other Transient Storms (Clean Feed)
  • Stirrup: Cut (Clean Feed)

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Weekend Roundup

First, some leftover (or late-breaking) links on Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and last week's Republican National Convention:

  • Matt Taibbi: Trump's Appetite for Destruction: That was the week that was. Some highlights, but not necessarily the best jokes:

    It wasn't what we expected. We thought Donald Trump's version of the Republican National Convention would be a brilliantly bawdy exercise in Nazistic excess.

    We expected thousand-foot light columns, a 400-piece horn section where the delegates usually sit (they would be in cages out back with guns to their heads). Onstage, a chorus line of pageant girls in gold bikinis would be twerking furiously to a techno version of "New York, New York" while an army of Broadway dancers spent all four days building a Big Beautiful Wall that read winning, the ceremonial last brick timed to the start of Donald's acceptance speech . . .

    But nah. What happened instead was just sad and weird, very weird. The lineup for the 2016 Republican National Convention to nominate Trump felt like a fallback list of speakers for some ancient UHF telethon, on behalf of a cause like plantar-wart research. [ . . . ]

    That the press seemed let down by the lack of turmoil on the streets was odd, given that the Trump convention itself was, after all, a historic revolt.

    Thirteen million and three hundred thousand Republican voters had defied the will of their party and soundly rejected hundred-million-dollar insider favorites like Jeb Bush to re-seize control of their own political destiny. That they made perhaps the most ridiculous choice in the history of democracy was really a secondary issue.

    It was a tremendous accomplishment that real-life conservative voters did what progressives could not quite do in the Democratic primaries. Republican voters penetrated the many layers of money and political connections and corporate media policing that, like the labyrinth of barricades around the Q, are designed to keep the riffraff from getting their mitts on the political process.

    But it wasn't covered that way. What started a year ago as an amusing story about a clown car full of bumbling primary hopefuls was about to be described to the world not as a groundbreaking act of defiance, but as a spectacular failure of democracy. [ . . . ]

    We could never quite tell what [Trump] was: possibly the American Hitler, but just as possibly punking the whole world in the most ambitious prank/PR stunt of all time. Or maybe he was on the level, birthing a weird new rightist/populist movement, a cross of Huey Long, Pinochet and David Hasselhoff. He was probably a monster, but whatever he was, he was original.

    Then came Thursday night.

    With tens of millions of eyes watching, Trump the Beltway conqueror turtled and wrapped his arms around the establishment's ankles. He spent the entirety of his final address huddled inside five decades of Republican Party clichés, apparently determined to hide in there until Election Day. [ . . . ]

    But it wasn't new, not one word. Trump cribbed his ideas from the Republicans he spent a year defaming. Trump had merely reprised Willie Horton, Barry Goldwater's "marauders" speech, Jesse Helms' "White Hands" ad, and most particularly Richard Nixon's 1968 "law and order" acceptance address, the party's archetypal fear-based appeal from which Trump borrowed in an intellectual appropriation far more sweeping and shameless than Melania's much-hyped mistake. [ . . . ]

    In the end, Trump's populism was as fake as everything else about him, and he emerged as just another in a long line of Republican hacks, only dumber and less plausible to the political center.

    Which meant that after all that we went through last year, after that crazy cycle of insults and bluster and wife wars and penis-measuring contests and occasionally bloody street battles, after the insane media tornado that destroyed the modern Republican establishment, Trump concluded right where the party started 50 years ago, meekly riding Nixon's Southern Strategy. It was all just one very noisy ride in a circle. All that destruction and rebellion went for nothing. Officially now, he's just another party schmuck.

  • Rick Perlstein: Mr. Trump, You're No Richard Nixon: Paul Manafort promised that Trump's acceptance speech would be based on Nixon's 1968 speech, but as Perlstein says, "I've studied Richard Nixon. And you're no Richard Nixon." He goes on to explain:

    And, contra Manafort, there was a hell of a lot of "happy talk" in Nixon's speech. That was the soul of its success. Nixon was fond of a spiritual ideal he learned in his Quaker youth: "peace in the center." This speech's very logic was saturated by it -- that a God-spark of grace lay buried underneath America's currently, temporarily degraded circumstances: the "quiet voice in the tumult and the shouting," heirs to "world's oldest revolution, which will never grow old."

    Sure, it was in some respects a rhetorical con: Nixon identified that quiet voice with a certain type of American, the "good people," the "decent people; they work and they save, and they pay their taxes, and they care." But his conception of this core -- which he later, with a more snarling tinge, tagged the "Silent Majority" -- was considerably more gracious than the angry, cornered victims, straining to lash out at their tormenters, that Trump had in mind last night. Nixon stepped back from that brink, granting them a charitable core and calling them to further charity: "They know that this country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless it is a good place for all of us to live in." Later, he said, "Just to be alive in America, just to be alive at this time, is an experience unparalleled in history. Here is where the action is."

    Try imagining those words coming out of Donald Trump's mouth. Try to imagine them getting the warm, extended applause that they got from the Republicans of 1968. [ . . . ]

    But the single most telling divergence between Trump's acceptance speech and its Nixonian model, and the easiest to forget, comes down to this: Nixon never said it would be easy. Trump says nothing else. It was the theme of his convention.

    Nixon: "And so tonight I do not promise the millennium in the morning. I do not promise that we can eradicate poverty and end discrimination, eliminate all danger of war in the space of four or even eight years."

    Trump: "I have a message for all of you: The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end." (That was what the teleprompter said. Trump spontaneously added, "and I mean very soon.") "Beginning on January 20th 2017, safety will be restored."

    Trump, again: "We are going to defeat the barbarians of ISIS." (Again, that was the teleprompter version; he added, "And we're going to defeat them fast.") And then these words on the teleprompter -- "we must work with all of our allies who share our goal of destroying ISIS and stamping out Islamic terror" -- followed by his own hasty interposition: "Doing it now, doing it quickly, we're going to win, we're going to win fast!" [ . . . ]

    It all came down to Donald Trump's own patented brand of alchemical magic: turning coal into diamonds, bending steel with his mind. After all, "Our steelworkers and miners are going back to work. With these new economic policies, trillions of dollars will start flowing into our country. This new wealth will improve the quality of life for all Americans."

  • Benjamin Wallace-Wells: The Strangely Quiet Streets of Cleveland: As Taibbi pointed out in the piece above, protesters and counter-protesters in Cleveland for the RNC were vastly outnumbered by journalists, many evidently hoping for some street-fighting to fuel the notion that Trump's 1968 Nixon rip-off had some relevance to the real world. The fact is not many people showed up, and nothing much happened.

    One feature of American politics right now is a sensitivity to the influence of the fringe. The campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, and the angry call-and-response of Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter, have raised the possibility of new forces at work, and a popular anthropology has followed. People like the young white nationalist writers Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos have become ubiquitous, because they fit the general story and because they suggest something new. But in Cleveland the people who embraced the racial grievances of the Convention were not the bearded conspiracists of the fringe but the delegates themselves.

  • David Frum: Donald Trump's Bad Bet on Anger: Compares Trump's speech to Nixon's from 1968 and also mentions Pat Buchanan's in 1992, citing Michael Barone's observation that "Buchanan would no nowhere in politics because Americans aren't angry people, and they don't trust angry people with power." That observation will certainly be tested this year.

    But unlike Richard Nixon, Donald Trump is not speaking for a silent majority. He is speaking for a despairing minority.

    The range and reach of Trump's voice will be inescapably limited by all the people he does not speak to. He does not speak to those rising and thriving in today's America. He does not speak to entrepreneurs and business owners. He does not speak to people who work in creative industries or the sciences or technology. He does not speak to those who feel emancipated by the lifting of inherited cultural and physical limits. He does not speak to those who feel that this modern age, for all its troubles, is also a time of miraculous achievement and astonishing possibility.

    I've compared Donald Trump to William Jennings Bryan, who forfeited the chance in 1896 to build an alliance of all those discontented with industrial capitalism because he only truly felt at home with rural people -- and could not refrain from inflammatory language about cities and city people. Tonight this comparison seems even more valid than ever. Trump's right about the shock of globalization and the disruption of migration. But it's not enough to be right to become president, as Henry Clay famously quipped. You have to be right in the right way and at the right time. You have to be the right messenger to carry the right message.

    Actually, Trump's not even very right on "the shock of globalization and the disruption of migration" -- those are fairly minor problems (to the extent they are problems at all), ones that could have been handled by more sensible policies and a greater commitment to a "safety net" to help out those few people who were hurt. (Same for those unemployed coal miners and their depressed communities, although their plight was caused by something else entirely.) Still, one has to wonder how many people actually believe the Republicans' endlessly repeated message of America's economic and cultural and political decline under Obama. Compared to Bush, I can't find a single objective indicator of such decline: the economy has grown steadily, (as has been much commented on) crime rates continue to decline, and the number of American soldiers killed or maimed abroad is also down. Sure, none of these metrics are as good as they should be, but much of the blame there belongs with the Republican stranglehold on Congress (and so many state governments -- Wisconsin vs. Minnesota is an especially telling example).

    This is the first I've seen of the Bryan comparison, and there is something interesting to it, but it's also a bit misleading. For one thing, the two major political parties in the 1890s weren't polarized by class like they are now: there were progressive movements in both parties, struggling against oligarchic control of each. Bryan led a revolt in the Democratic Party against extreme conservatives like Grover Cleveland, and the conservatives got their revenge by throwing the election to McKinley (something they repeated in 1972, and would have been tempted to do this year had Sanders won). So, sure, it's interesting that Bryan didn't have the temperament to rally urban workers and blacks (most of whom voted Republican back then). And, sure, neither does Trump, but one other similarity is that both embraced simplistic and ultimately non-credible solutions: silver for Bryan, and walls and barricades for Trump. Also, Bryan was a heroically decent politician (not unlike McGovern later, but much preachier), whereas Trump is a greedy self-centered asshole -- and while the latter may be a better fit for our times, it's still not clear how many people have sunk to his level.

  • Corey Robin: Check Your Amnesia, Dude: On the Vox Generation of Punditry: Feedback from Trump's foreign policy interview (which I wrote about last time) included a tweet from Peter W. Singer: "It is the most irresponsible foreign policy statement by a presidential nominee of any party in my lifetime." Robin notes that "Barry Goldwater said the US should consider using tactical nukes in Vietnam," but that was before Singer was born, so he concentrated on various outrageous Ronald Reagan pronouncements. Robin goes on to make some generalizations about "the Vox generation of pundits" that may (or may not) be insightful (I'm not sure), but his "Update" is worth quoting. There he's responding to Matt Yglesias attacking Trump for having "proven time and again he's much too lazy to do the job." Robin responds with four bullet items from Ronald Reagan, then adds:

    Yglesias's complaint is a frequently heard among liberals. As Alex Gourevitch reminded me, they said the same thing about George W. Bush. Remember all those vacations he took? (879 days, or 30% of his time in office.)

    But here's the thing: Ronald Reagan (or George W. Bush] wasn't terrifying because he was lazy. Do we honestly think that if he had worked harder he would have been less terrifying? When your entire belief system is jackboots and smiles, it doesn't get less scary because you work harder; the opposite, in fact. Honestly, I'm thankful Reagan was as lazy as he was. God only knows how much more havoc he might have wreaked had he been awake during those precious afternoon nap hours.

    Likewise, Donald Trump. The notion here is that if he had more knowledge of the things he talks about, if he just worked harder at his job, his positions would be moderated. Like Ted Cruz?

    On the other hand, laziness at the top allowed those they had (perhaps carelessly) appointed to lower positions to do considerable damage (as bit Reagan in the HUD and Iran-Contra scandals, although the machinations of Ed Meese's Justice Department were probably more damaging in the long run; Bush may have been the primary instigator of his war and terror regime, but he stocked his administration with people who would not only go along but would push him further). There is no reason to think Trump will pick better underlings. Exhibit A: Mike Pence.

As for the rest of the world, some scattered links:

  • John Quiggin: Anti-militarism: A short piece on definitions.

    My case for anti-militarism has two main elements.

    First, the consequentialist case against the discretionary use of military force is overwhelming. Wars cause huge damage and destruction and preparation for war is immensely costly. Yet it is just about impossible to find examples where a discretionary decision to go to war has produced a clear benefit for the country concerned, or even for its ruling class. Even in cases where war is initially defensive, attempts to secure war aims beyond the status quo ante have commonly led to disaster.

    Second, war is (almost) inevitably criminal since it involves killing and maiming people who have done nothing personally to justify this; not only civilians, but soldiers (commonly including conscripts) obeying the lawful orders of their governments.

    Quiggin allows an exception for "humanitarian intervention" which is neither well-developed nor well-critiqued. Most actual wars justified on "humanitarian" grounds have turned out to have bad consequences -- Iraq and Libya are pretty clear recent examples -- often because the motives of the "humanitarians" are never quite pure but also because no amount of good intentions ever really compensates for the criminal killing inextricably bundled into war. (As I recall, Noam Chomsky has cited two wars that he approved of: India's 1971 war with Pakistan which spun Bangladesh off as an independent country, and the 1999 UN defense of the former Portuguese colony of East Timor against forced annexation by Indonesia. Both resulted in independent states which were not subsequently controlled or dominated by interveners -- which isn't to say they didn't have their own reasons that were only loosely cloaked in "humanitarian" rhetoric.)

    Advocates of "humanitarian intervention" point to the high death tolls in places like Rwanda where no military jumped in, or to Syria now (although how anyone could think there's been no intervention in Syria is way beyond me). The fact is that nobody knows whether fewer people would have died in Rwanda had outside powers intervened, because no one know what the effect would be of Euroamericans, with their long histories of racism and colonialism, coming in and shooting up the place, killing people on both sides ostensibly to keep them from killing each other. Nor does anyone have any idea what the invaders would have done after the shooting stopped (although with the US, UK, France and others, the temptation would have been to set up shop and recoup expenses; i.e., neocolonialism).

    It's easy enough to conjure up a fantasy that some omnipotent foreign force could march through Syria and end the civil war there by killing anyone who resists (assuming, of course, you could keep all the other foreign forces from supporting their own favorite factions), but would such a force be willing to turn the spoils over to the Syrian people and let them decide to do whatever they wished with their country -- just without the resort to violence. We've seen the US in a position to do just that at least twice (in Afghanistan and Iraq) and neither time the US was capable of even feigning neutrality. The odds the US might do the right thing in Syria are even slimmer, given that the Americans who plot wars (and imagine them to be humanitarian) already see Syria as a microcosm of region- and world-wide rivalries with "enemies" like Russia and Iran and both Islamist and secular (socialist) tendencies in all Arab nations and "allies" having as many conflicting views and aims as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, France, the UK, and its former (but still reigning) emirates and vassals.

    As Quiggin notes, we are now well into the hundredth anniversary of the original Great War. The reaction to that horror was to demilitarize, but that world was still driven by dreams of empire, and the inequitable settlement left Germany hungering for another shot and Japan and Italy thinking they were still on the rise, so there followed another, even more devastating and frightful war, capped by the emergence of a bomb capable of devastating whole cities in seconds. Again, nearly everyone hoped to render war obsolete and impossible. Some measures were taken, starting with declaration of a universal "rights of man" that if truly honored would render the old reasons for war -- chiefly, empire and plunder -- obsolete. It would be smart to revisit those ideas and try to reinvigorate them. Because clearly piling one armed outrage on top of another isn't working.

  • Matt Taibbi: Democrats Will Learn All the Wrong Lessons From Brush With Bernie: This came out after the California and New Jersey primaries in early June. I don't recall whether I saw it at the time, but it's still timely with the Democratic National Convention up this coming week.

    Politicians are so used to viewing the electorate as a giant thing to be manipulated that no matter what happens at the ballot, they usually can only focus on the Washington-based characters they perceive to be pulling the strings. Through this lens, the uprising among Democratic voters this year wasn't an organic expression of mass disgust, but wholly the fault of Bernie Sanders, who within the Beltway is viewed as an oddball amateur and radical who jumped the line.

    Nobody saw his campaign as an honest effort to restore power to voters, because nobody in the capital even knows what that is. In the rules of palace intrigue, Sanders only made sense as a kind of self-centered huckster who made a failed play for power. And the narrative will be that with him out of the picture, the crisis is over. No person, no problem.

    This inability to grasp that the problem is bigger than Bernie Sanders is a huge red flag. As Thacker puts it, the theme of this election year was widespread anger toward both parties, and both the Trump craziness and the near-miss with Sanders should have served as a warning. "The Democrats should be worried they're next," he says.

    But they're not worried. Behind the palace walls, nobody ever is.

    Since then we have seen Sanders having some influence on the Democratic Party platform, although many issues remained firmly within Clinton parameters (Israel, for one). Clinton has even moved a bit toward free college, but with numerous caveats. On the other hand, picking Tim Kaine as her running mate showed no desire to reward or even acknowledge Sanders' voters -- not that Kaine is so awful, just that he offers nothing Clinton doesn't already have.

  • Michael Tomasky: Can the Monster Be Elected? It may seem like I should have filed this under Trump, but on the cover of The New York Review of Books this was titled "Will She Win?" with a less than flattering picture of Hillary Clinton. Inside it's nominally a review of two books: John Sides/Lynn Vavreck: The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election, and Christopher H. Achen/Larry M. Bartels: Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government, not that he has much to say about either. Nor does he make a case that either candidate is a monsters (although Trump, and for that matter Clinton, are vivid enough you can confirm your own conclusions. Rather, his main argument is that not much actually changes in an election. He points out, for instance, that in December 2011 Obama was leading Romney in the polls by four points, and eleven months later Obama won by the same four points. "Nothing that happened seems to have made any difference. [ . . . ] The whole race, and all those billions of dollars spent on it, might as well never have happened." He attributes most of this to polarization, the process by which most people have locked themselves into one party/worldview regardless of candidate. One could take such an analysis and argue that Trump, at least, is something different, but Tomasky doesn't go there. He sees Clinton winning, narrowly but solidly, for the usual reason: there's just not so much so wrong that most people will risk such a seemingly radical change. Indeed, Sides and Vavreck argue that "Mitt Romney's crucial error was his relentless hammering away at the terrible economy," because that message then strayed so far from reality. Yet they don't draw the obvious conclusion, that Trump is painting a far more extreme picture, even farther from reality, and offering "solutions" that can hardly be described as anything but magic. So for me a key question is why so many on the left are so terrified by Trump. By all evidence, he is less trigger-happy than McCain, and less of an economic royalist than Romney -- those two were my idea of really scary candidates -- but he is racist like we've rarely seen in recent years, he seems excited by violence, he has extraordinary delusions of grandeur, but those are all things sensible candidates would ridicule, not fear. Those who fear him seem to think he has some special yoke on the white working class, a group they seem to fear and despise as if they've been locked in a theatre and force fed Richard Nixon speeches -- but also a group that they know New Democrats have screwed over and abandoned, something they should feel guilty for.

  • Several pieces on Turkey:

    • Mustafa Akyol: Who Was Behind the Coup Attempt in Turkey? Argues that it was, indeed, followers of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, so Erdogan's insistence that the US arrest Gulen and turn him over to Turkey isn't so far-fetched.

      The Gulen community is built around one man: Fethullah Gulen. His followers see him not merely as a learned cleric, as they publicly claim, but the "awaited one," as I have been told in private. He is the Mahdi, the Islamic version of the Messiah, who will save the Muslim world, and ultimately the world itself. Many of his followers also believe that Mr. Gulen sees the Prophet Muhammad in his dreams and receives orders from him.

      Besides Mr. Gulen's unquestionable authority, another key feature of the movement is its cultish hierarchy. The Gulen movement is structured like a pyramid: Top-level imams give orders to second-level imams, who give orders to third-level imams, and it goes on like that to the grass roots.

      What does the group do? Its most visible activities include opening schools, running charities that provide social services to the poor and maintaining "dialogue centers" that preach love, tolerance and peace. There is nothing wrong with that, of course. I personally have spoken many times at Gulen institutions as a guest, and met modest, kind, lovable people.

      But, as one disillusioned Gulenist told me last year, "there is a darker side of the movement, and few of its members know it as it is." For decades, the movement has been infiltrating Turkey's state institutions, like the police, judiciary and military. Many believe that some Gulenists, taking orders from their imams, hide their identities and try to rise through these institutions in order to capture state power.

      The Turkish army has long been a bastion of Kemalist secularism, but Akyol argues that an alliance of Erdogan and the Gulenists effectively purged the armed forces of secularists, and that the coup itself was precipitated by Erdogan's efforts to purge the Gulenists from the military.

    • Dov Friedman: The Causes of the Coup Attempt in Turkey: A History of the Usual Suspects: Much more on the history of Islamist movements in Turkish history, including the 1997 "postmodern coup" which deposed Welfare Party Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan and send Fethullah Gulen into exile. When democracy was restored, Erdogan's AKP rose to power, and formed an alliance with the Gulenists to counter the secular bias in the military and government bureaucracy. That alliance fell apart after 2012:

      The rift only widened. Gulen himself voiced criticisms of the government's handling of the May 2013 Gezi protests, when the government's grip on power momentarily appeared to wobble. In October of that year, the government proposed legal changes to close university entrance exam prep schools -- a key source of Gulenist revenue and youth recruitment.

      In December 2013, the Gulenists revealed evidence of large-scale corruption that reached all the way to the highest ranks of the AK Party, implicating Erdogan himself, his family, and key ministerial allies. The attempted coup de grace failed. Erdogan survived the crisis and unleashed a backlash of sustained intensity that continues to this day. He purged Gulenist sympathizers from every part of the bureaucracy, closed Gulenist media organizations, punished Gulenist-owned companies, and orchestrated the insolvency and takeover of the formerly Gulenist-aligned Bank Asya. Since this eruption, Erdogan has taken every opportunity to accuse the Gulenist movement of functioning as an illegal parallel state subverting institutions and engaging in terrorism.

      Another factor here is the breakdown of peace talks with the Kurds, increasing aggressiveness of the Turkish military against Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq, and Turkey's own rather schizophrenic approach to Syria (promoting anti-Assad forces, allowing the US to bomb ISIS from Turkey, trying to undermine Syria's Kurds, and finding itself targeted by ISIS terrorists). It's just not clear how these factors play out, in part because the main effect of the coup attempt has been to allow Erdogan to greatly accelerate his power grab within Turkey.

      Ever the opportunist, Erdogan has recognized an opening to amass the formalized broad powers he seeks -- and long sought, even before the failed coup. This is why the Erdogan loyalist-controlled judicial appointments board sacked 2,745 judges within hours of the coup. The government has been in the slow process of remaking the judiciary -- one of the last state institutions not entirely under thumb. The purges have only deepened -- with more than 50,000 suspended or detained, among them teachers, civil servants, and university administrators. The AK Party government has accelerated the process in a way that would not have been possible without the coup attempt.

Friday, July 22, 2016

RNC Update

I started this on day two of the Republican National Convention, and it just kept growing as the writing came in. Still doesn't cover day four, with Trump's monumental acceptance speech, very well, but you can kind of fill that in given all you already know about Trump. Some late-breaking pieces include Trump Just Rehashed Literally Every Feud He's Ever Had With Cruz, John Nichols: If Trump's Speech Sounded Familiar, That's Because Nixon Gave It First, Charles Pierce: Donald Trump Sold Us Fear. Next Comes the Wrath, Margaret Doris: And Then the Balloons Dropped, and Then the World Started Coming to an End, Nate Silver: Donald Trump Goes 'All-In.' How Will Clinton Respond?, DD Guttenplan: The RNC Is a Disaster -- So Why Can't I sleep at Night, Ben Cohen: The RNC Was Not the End of the GOP, It Was Its Rebirth as a Fascist Party, Andrew O'Hehir: After that diabolical, masterful performance, Donald Trump could easily end up president, and New Media Guru Clay Shirky Drops 'Stop Trump' Tweetstorm on White Liberals. The latter posts may seem alarmist, but 538's Election Forecast has reduced Clinton's "chance of winning" to 58.5% (from 77.2% as recently as on July 11). That suggests that Trump did indeed get a bounce from the Convention, even though I can't recall one that looked more haggard and repulsive. Actually, most of that drop occurred before the convention, following the FBI's report on Hillary Clinton's email server affair.

The links below come from a mix of left, liberal, and mainstream sites -- I don't bother with anything on the far right, although my wife has a weak spot for Fox News (especially on days most embarrassing to the right), so I watched more of that than I would have if it were up to me. In my youth, I used to watch party conventions gavel to gavel, but haven't for many decades, especially as they became ever more tightly programmed for propaganda effect. But also the coverage has changed, so you have a lot more commentary on the side, fewer interviews with delegates, and even some of the speeches get skipped (in part because they've become ever more predictable). I did manage to watch late-night coverage by Stephen Colbert and Seth Myers, much of which could have been scripted before events -- not that I have any reason to think they missed their marks.

One theme you'll see much of below is the notion that Donald Trump is the vilest and scariest candidate any party has ever nominated. Indeed, you'll find Wichita's own mild-mannered centrist Davis Marritt describing the prospect of a Trump triumphant as "democracide." Or as Seth Myers put it: "Donald Trump's campaign manager, Paul Manafort, told reporters that, 'once Donald Trump is accepted by the American people as someone who can be president the race will be over with.' I assume he means the human race."

I can't think of any level on which I admire or even like Trump, but I can't view him as uniquely apocalyptic. Rather, I think the rot has been setting into the Republican Party for decades now, and any of the sixteen original candidates would have been more/less equally atrocious. In strictly policy terms most of the candidates were much worse than Trump -- not that he's consistent enough to trust, but rigor made Cruz perhaps the worst of all. And even in terms of personality and temperament, I'm not not certain that Trump is worse than Carson or Jindal or Huckabee or Santorum or even Chris Christie. Still, there is one area where Trump stands out: he's given vent to, and effectively legitimized, racism to a degree that no American politician, at least on the national stage, has dared since George Wallace. And the effect of his example has been to elicit the worst instincts in his followers -- indeed, diehard racists from all around the world have flocked to his cause. He's especially horrible in that regard, which would be reason enough to oppose him. I doubt that even most of his followers back him there, although they are the sort that can be amazingly blind to racial slurs, and he has clearly earned points with them for refusing to back down any time he offends the imaginary "code of political correctness" -- what we more generally refer to as civil decency.

Then there is the charge that Trump is a fascist, or would be our first fascist president. I don't think it took his Mussolini tweets or his father's Hitler fetish to show that his temperament and belief system leaned that way. There was, for instance, his endorsement of street violence by his supporters, and his more general way with hateful speech. And even before him segments of his party have been obsessed with enforcing their notions of religious morality on the population, and in undermining democracy -- both preventing their opponents from being able to vote and allowing business interests to flood campaigns with money and false advertising. Moreover, Trump's expressed a desire for extraordinary powers, including the ability to purge the government of Democrats. He hardly seems like someone whose oath to "defend and protect the constitution" would be worth much.

Then there's his goal of "making America great again" -- a claim, a project, that reeks of war and imperialism, although it is far from clear how he intends to accomplish that, or even what he means. (Clinton, on the other hand, will counter that "America has never not been great," and will embrace American exceptionalism on her way to continuing the same world-hegemonic ambitions of her predecessors, even though the entire project has been patently absurd for decades now. Trump may be less predictable and more dangerous because of his combination of ignorance and petulance, but she is more certain to continue the bankrupt policies of the last fifteen years.) For one thing, he fancies himself more the dealmaker than the conquistador, and sees America's interests as more economical than ideological.

However, there is one area of American life where near-totalitarian power exists, and that is Trump's area: business. Not since the 1920s, if ever, have businesses had more control over their employees than they have now -- a fact that Trump has flaunted on his TV show given the flourish with which he fires underlings who in any way displease him. No doubt he will expect the same powers as President -- indeed, his plans may depend on them -- and he will certainly promote them. Anyone concerned about Trump's potential for fascism should start by looking at the culture he comes from. Indeed, that culture is a rich source of reasons why Trump should not be president.

Next week, we move on to the Democratic Convention, where Hillary Clinton will be nominated as the only realistic alternative to Donald Trump. One hopes that she will be able to present herself as a much different person than Trump, and also that she will show that America need not be the dystopia that fires the desire for a Führer like Trump. That's going to be a tall order.

Some links:

  • Ezra Klein: Donald Trump's speech introducing Mike Pence showed why he shouldn't be president:

    Back in May, E.J. Dionne wrote that the hardest thing about covering Donald Trump would be "staying shocked." Watching him, day after day, week after week, month after month, the temptation would be to normalize his behavior, "to move Trump into the political mainstream."

    But today helped. Trump's introduction of Mike Pence was shocking. Forget the political mainstream. What happened today sat outside the mainstream for normal human behavior. [ . . . ]

    Even when he did mention Pence, he often managed to say exactly the wrong thing. "One of the big reasons I chose Mike is party unity, I have to be honest," Trump admitted midway through his speech, at the moment another candidate would have said, "I chose Mike because he'll be a great president." Trump then segued into a riff on how thoroughly he had humiliated the Republican establishment in state after state. Thus he managed to turn Pence from a peace offering into a head on a pike, a warning to all who might come after.

    When Trump finally stuck to Pence, at the end of his lengthy speech, he seemed robotic, bored, restless. He recited Pence's accomplishment like he was reading his Wikipedia page for the first time, inserting little snippets of meta-commentary and quick jabs as if to keep himself interested.

    The final humiliation was yet to come: Trump introduced Pence and then immediately, unusually, walked off the stage, leaving Pence alone at the podium.

    When Trump initially picked Pence I was pretty upset. The one thing I always gave Trump credit for was his rejection of the economic nostrums that had were the bedrock of the conservative movement, that obviously had proven so hurtful to the vast majority of the Republican base but were locked into Republican dysfunction by the donor class. Yet picking Pence tied him to the same program of devastation that his voters had just rejected -- the only saving grace was that Pence seems never to have had an original thought, unlike figures like Gingrich, Brownback, and Cruz who have pioneered new ways of degrading America. But what I hadn't realized was how utterly colorless Pence was -- Trump needn't have denigrated him so, as he was quite capable of humiliating himself. Indeed, in his speech he uttered the best joke line of the convention: "Trump is a man known for his large personality, a colorful style and lots of charisma, so I guess he was looking for some balance." Funny line, but he made it seem pathetic.

  • Ezra Klein: Donald Trump's nomination is the first time American politics has left me truly afraid: I've always been more focused on policy, so I found the extreme ideological neoconservatism of McCain and the equally extreme ideological neoliberalism of Romney, combined with the eagerness of both to kowtow to the neofascist Christian right, scarier than the scattered heterodoxy and opportunism of Trump, but Klein crafts a pretty strong case, with sections on (follow the link for details):

    • Trump is vindictive.
    • Trump is a bigot.
    • Trump is a sexist.
    • Trump is a liar.
    • Trump is a narcissist.
    • Trump admires authoritarian dictators for their authoritarianism.
    • Trump is a conspiracy theorist.
    • Trump is very, very gullible.
    • Trump doesn't apologize, and his defensiveness escalates situations.
    • Trump surrounds himself with sycophants.
    • Trump has proven too lazy to learn about policy.
    • Trump as run an incompetent campaign and convention.
    • Trump is a bully.
    • Trump has regularly incited or justified violence among his supporters.

    Not specifically on the convention but on the candidate, see Jane Mayer: Donald Trump's Ghostwriter Tells All -- based on the co-author of Trump's Art of the Deal, which he now feels would be better titled Sociopath. (James Hamblin examines the evidence for that claim in Donald Trump: Sociopath?.) Mayer recounts Schwartz's attempts to elicit information for the book from Trump:

    After hearing Trump's discussions about business on the phone, Schwartz asked him brief follow-up questions. He then tried to amplify the material he got from Trump by calling others involved in the deals. But their accounts often directly conflicted with Trump's. "Lying is second nature to him," Schwartz said. "More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true." Often, Schwartz said, the lies that Trump told him were about money -- "how much he had paid for something, or what a building he owned was worth, or how much one of his casinos was earning when it was actually on its way to bankruptcy." [ . . . ]

    When challenged about the facts, Schwartz says, Trump would often double down, repeat himself, and grow belligerent. This quality was recently on display after Trump posted on Twitter a derogatory image of Hillary Clinton that contained a six-pointed star lifted from a white-supremacist Web site. Campaign staffers took the image down, but two days later Trump angrily defended it, insisting that there was no anti-Semitic implication. Whenever "the thin veneer of Trump's vanity is challenged," Schwartz says, he overreacts -- not an ideal quality in a head of state.

    Trump's response to this piece, unsurprisingly, has been to threaten to sue Schwartz. See Mayer's follow-up, Donald Trump Threatens the Ghostwriter of The Art of the Deal.

  • George Saunders: Who Are All These Trump Supporters?: Many anecdotes in the article, including some about how some Trump supporters seem to relish violence, but this is close to a fair definition:

    The Trump supporters I spoke with were friendly, generous with their time, flattered to be asked their opinion, willing to give it, even when they knew I was a liberal writer likely to throw them under the bus. They loved their country, seemed genuinely panicked at its perceived demise, felt urgently that we were, right now, in the process of losing something precious. They were, generally, in favor of order and had a propensity toward the broadly normative, a certain squareness. They leaned toward skepticism (they'd believe it when they saw it, "it" being anything feelings-based, gauzy, liberal, or European; i.e., "socialist"). Some (far from all) had been touched by financial hardship -- a layoff was common in many stories -- and (paradoxically, given their feelings about socialism) felt that, while in that vulnerable state, they'd been let down by their government. They were anti-regulation, pro small business, pro Second Amendment, suspicious of people on welfare, sensitive (in a "Don't tread on me" way) about any infringement whatsoever on their freedom. Alert to charges of racism, they would pre-counter these by pointing out that they had friends of all colors. They were adamantly for law enforcement and veterans' rights, in a manner that presupposed that the rest of us were adamantly against these things. It seemed self-evident to them that a businessman could and should lead the country. "You run your family like a business, don't you?" I was asked more than once, although, of course, I don't, and none of us do.

    It seems like a lot of liberal writers have this fixed idea of Trump's supporters as an ignorant, embittered white lumpenproletariat, ground down by globalized business and lashing out at the blacks and immigrants who they see as gaining from their misfortune and the overeducated urban liberals who help them. (For example, see Davis Merritt: The day of GOP's democracide arrives: "Consider that [Trump] has drawn millions of votes from America's unhappiest, most dispossessed people by inflaming their righteous grievances and deepest fears for their future.") But in fact Trump's supporters are relatively well off -- I've seen a study that indicates that their average family income is about $20,000 over the national average. Of course, some of that is that they're white and they're mostly older, and both of those skew the median up. I see them as basic conformists: the kind of people who get promoted at work not just because they work hard but because they suck up to the boss and adopt his worldview, as well as conforming to the time-tested verities of faith and patriotism. Such people believe that they earned their success, and that others could do the same if only they conformed to the social order like they did. There's nothing terribly wrong with this -- my recommendation for anyone who wants to succeed in America is to adopt a conservative lifestyle -- but several factors work to twist their worldview. One is that their success isn't generalizable: their success, their promotions, etc., depend on bypassing other people, deemed less worthy mostly because they are less able to conform. Second, these people tend to live in homogeneous suburbs where they rarely encounter diversity -- of course, when they do see other kinds of people as human like themselves, they make exceptions, but not often enough to shed their generalizations. Third, they experience the distant world through a media that is finely tuned to flatter themselves and shock them with the horrors of the outside world -- especially those that threaten their worldview.

    That media, of course, is a key part of a political project launched by the conservative business class in the 1970s, aimed at making sure that as America declined in the world the pinch wouldn't be felt by themselves. Richard Nixon came up with the basic concept in what he called the "silent majority" and sought to agitate them into becoming a loyal political force. Later, under Reagan, they were rebranded the "moral majority." After Clinton won in 1992 -- conservative economic ideas were already proving to be disastrous for America's once vast middle class -- the media effort went into overdrive with its scorched earth attacks on "liberal elites," and that only intensified after Obama's win in 2008 (following the incompetence revealed in eight disastrous years of Bush's aggressive conservative agenda). Many of us have had no trouble rejecting this agenda, but much of the targeted audience have bought it all, bringing electoral success to a party which seems bound and determined to dismantle much of the framework that makes our country and world livable. Saunders has an explanation for this:

    Where is all this anger coming from? It's viral, and Trump is Typhoid Mary. Intellectually and emotionally weakened by years of steadily degraded public discourse, we are now two separate ideological countries, LeftLand and RightLand, speaking different languages, the lines between us down. Not only do our two subcountries reason differently; they draw upon non-intersecting data sets and access entirely different mythological systems. You and I approach a castle. One of us has watched only "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," the other only "Game of Thrones." What is the meaning, to the collective "we," of yon castle? We have no common basis from which to discuss it. You, the other knight, strike me as bafflingly ignorant, a little unmoored. In the old days, a liberal and a conservative (a "dove" and a "hawk," say) got their data from one of three nightly news programs, a local paper, and a handful of national magazines, and were thus starting with the same basic facts (even if those facts were questionable, limited, or erroneous). Now each of us constructs a custom informational universe, wittingly (we choose to go to the sources that uphold our existing beliefs and thus flatter us) or unwittingly (our app algorithms do the driving for us). The data we get this way, pre-imprinted with spin and mythos, are intensely one-dimensional.

    I don't get the castle example, but you can substitute many other concepts/events and see clear divides -- torture comes to mind, as I'm currently reading James Risen's Pay Any Price. Still, the left/right breakdown doesn't depend solely on one's chosen ideological envelope: one chooses that envelope based on other factors, perhaps most importantly whether you can see yourself or can empathize with the victim of some act. The RNC made it very clear that Republicans are deeply moved by violence against police, yet their only concern about police who kill unarmed black is the racism they perceive in the Black Lives Matter demonstrators.

    For an example of how absurd this can get, see Kansas Senate president: Obama 'has stoked the fires of anger and hostility' toward police. Susan Wagle is rarely the dumbest Republican in Kansas, yet she took the prize this time attempting to reap political gain from a tragic shooting. Of Obama, she said: "He's our national leader. We take his responses very seriously, and I think his role should be one of being an encourager for people to get along and for people to build relationships and for police to be fair in their treatment of all people and for the public to appreciate their role in our communities." It's obvious to me that that's exactly what he's always done, yet she refuses to recognize that and goes further to accuse him of the opposite, based on absolutely nothing but her visceral hatred of the man. That sort of carelessness about facts and views and the motives of people is endemic in her party.

  • Christine Aschwenden: There's Probably Nothing That Will Change Clinton or Trump Supporters' Minds: Another iteration of Saunders' conclusions (with gratuitous equivalencies about Clinton -- the author is evidently one of those "both sides do it" middle-of-the-roaders):

    To his ardent supporters, Donald Trump is an exemplar of power and status. Donald Trump is going to make America great again. He'll put America First. He refuses to be silenced by the thought police. He's so rich, he can't be bought. He speaks his mind. He'll get the job done.

    To those who oppose him, he's a racist, misogynistic, narcissistic buffoon. Repeated lies, racist statements and attacks on women have led many people, including some prominent conservative donors, to conclude that Trump is unfit to be president, yet these missteps don't seem to bother his supporters much. Trump told a campaign rally in January that, "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK? It's incredible."

    Trump's claim might seem like an exaggeration, played up for drama, but research suggests that once people board the Trump train, there's little that can prod them to jump off. (You could probably say something similar about Hillary Clinton supporters.) As much as we like to think that we use reason to evaluate evidence and come to conclusions, "It really goes back assward, a lot of times," said Peter Ditto, a psychologist at University of California, Irvine. "People already have a firm opinion, and that shapes the way they process information." We hold beliefs about how the world works and tend to force new information to fit within these pre-existing narratives.

    There's also this, which reminds me of Goebbels' "big lie" principle:

    Detractors shake their heads over Trump's habit of repeating lies that have already been publicly debunked. (PolitiFact has documented at least 17 times when Donald Trump said one thing and then denied it, and they've found that only five of the 182 Trump statements they evaluated were true, while 107 of them were false or "pants on fire" false.) But this strategy might not be as foolish as it seems. Work by political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler has shown that once an incorrect idea is lodged in someone's mind, it can be hard to overturn and corrections can actually strengthen people's belief in the misperception via the "backfire effect." When presented with information that contradicts what they already believe about controversial issues or candidates, people have a tendency to counterargue. They draw on the available considerations, malign the source of unwelcome information and generate ways to buttress the position they are motivated to take. As a result, they can end up becoming surer of their misconceptions, Nyhan said.

  • Jeff Carter: Terrifying politics aside, let's take a moment to lavish in the supreme weirdness of the RNC spectacle:

    Say what you will about Donald Trump's almost infinite ignorance about every issue confronting the country, there is nobody, absolutely and unequivocally nobody, who can stage a Trump adore-a-thon better than Donald Trump. It's going to be huge! The best convention ever convened! The best speakers ever gathered! It will have the best platform ever conjured forth by a political party (not that Trump will ever read it or know what's in it, but it'll be great!). Xenophobes, Klansmen, White Nationalists, misogynists, Birthers and other Republican constituency groups will be gathered as one to sing hosannas to Donald Trump.

  • Heather Digby Parton: Fear and loathing of Clinton:

    After Melania Trump left the stage people began filtering out of the hall since she'd been billed as the main attraction but the speeches went on and on afterwards with a bizarre, rambling speech from retired general Michael Flynn that sounded like it too was plagiarized -- from "Dr. Strangelove." Senator Joni Ernst spoke to a hall that was two thirds empty and there were even more people speaking late into the night after she was done. For a convention that was supposed to be showbiz slick, the first night certainly had a haphazard feeling to it.

  • Tierney Sneed/Lauren Fox: Gloomy Old Party: GOP Clings to Themes of Threats, Violence, and Betrayal:

    The night's other prevailing theme -- besides America is going to hell -- is that Hillary Clinton is going to prison.

    "Hillary Clinton is unfit to be president. We all know she loves her pantsuits. Yes, you know what's coming. We should send her an e-mail and tell her she deserves a bright orange jumpsuit," said Colorado Senate candidate Darryl Glenn, merging two of the GOP's favorite Hillary memes into one.

    Later in the night the convention crowd broke out into chants of "lock her up."

    The rhetoric provided a theme around which the fractured Republican Party could rally. They may not all see Trump as their white knight, but they were united in fear about the state of the world and the country.

    Incarcerating Clinton may actually be a minority position among GOP delegates. There is, for instance, this: Trump Adviser: Clinton Should Be 'Shot for Treason' Over Benghazi Attack. But really, judging from the tone of the speakers and the crowd chants, many won't be satisfied until they see her head on a spike. And while Trump is amazingly quick to recant any time he says something that offends conservative orthodoxy, he has never shied away from his followers' penchant for racism and violence, even here: The Trump Campaign Is Now Wink-Winking Calls to Murder Clinton:

    Calls for violence or the killing of a political opponent usually spurs the other candidate to totally disavow the person in question. Frankly, it's a pretty new thing for a prominent supporter of a prominent politician to call for killing opposing candidates at all. But the Trump campaign is still "incredibly grateful his support" even though "we don't agree" that Clinton should be shot.

  • Emily Plitter: Trump could seek new law to purge government of Obama appointees: When I first read this headline, I wondered whether Trump was jealous of Turkish president Erdogan, who has started a massive purge of the Turkish military and bureaucracy to get rid of anyone who had gone along with the coup attempt (or more generally, anyone hostile to the ruling AKP party). Turns out this is more focused at a small number of appointees whose jobs are reclassified as civil service. Still, such a law would be a step toward such a purge, and could be used to further politicize the civil service -- as, e.g., GW Bush did when he fired a couple dozen federal prosecutors who weren't adequately following his partisan program.

  • Lauren Fox/Tierney Sneed: 'I Feel Like I Am Living a Dream': The GOP Convention From the Inside:

    [Mary Susan Rehrer, a delegate from Minnesota] said she was floored so many in the media had walked away from Monday night's convention with the similarities between Melania's speech and Michelle Obama's in 2008 as their headline.

    "I'm in business, OK, and I speak for a living as one of the things that I do. All the best stuff is stolen and there is nothing original, so it's all hocus pocus," Rehrer said. "We're supposed to share."

  • Daniel Victor: What, Congressman Steve King Asks, Have Nonwhites Done for Civilization?: From one of those panel discussions that have filled up the airways during the RNC, this one on MSNBC chaired by Chris Hayes with Iowa Rep. King as the only far right voice:

    "If you're really optimistic, you can say this was the last time that old white people would command the Republican Party's attention, its platform, its public face," Charles P. Pierce, a writer at large at Esquire magazine, said during the panel discussion.

    In response, Mr. King said: "This whole 'old white people' business does get a little tired, Charlie. I'd ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you are talking about? Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?"

    "Than white people?" Mr. Hayes asked.

    Mr. King responded: "Than Western civilization itself that's rooted in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States of America, and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world. That's all of Western civilization."

    I see this mostly as an example of how Trump's ascendancy has loosened the tongues of white supremacists. But I can't say as it's helpful to have their opinions freely expressed again -- and make no mistake that such opinions had a long run as freely spoken, to extraordinarily cruel effect. But even if his assertion is true -- and you can't say "western civilization" without conjuring up, at least in my mind, Gandhi's quote that "that would be a nice idea" -- what does King think that means? That white people deserve due respect? Sure. That white people are entitled to special privileges in our democracy? Not really. I think that Pierce is wrong: that white Republicans would rather go down with the ship than diversify, clinging to their control of "red states" even if they cease to be competitive nationally. Of course, a different kind of Republican Party could incubate in "blue states" but it's hard to see how they gain traction after the party has so totally succumbed to conservative extremism. If the core idea of Republicanism is to help rich business interests against labor and the poor, that isn't a very promising platform on which to build a political majority: that's why they've had to resort to racism, religious bigotry, and militaristic jingoism in the first place. What else do they have?

    Article includes several reaction tweets. My favorite, not included, is from Jason Bailey: "Steve King must have the shittiest iTunes library."

  • Scott Eric Kaufman: Ted Cruz refuses to endorse Trump: To quote him: "Vote your conscience, for candidates you believe will be faithful to the Constitution." Mario Rubio also tiptoed through his speaking slot without offering a Trump endorsement, while Nikki Haley offered a "tepid semi-endorsement." Other GOP luminaries didn't bother to attend, especially Ohio Governor John Kasich, who was reportedly offered the vice-president slot and who could have justified attending just to promote home-state business, also the Bush clan. But Cruz was widely reviled afterwards, although I don't see how imploring folks to "vote your conscience" implicates one who has none. My main question about Cruz (and for that matter Kasich) is why if he's so adamantly opposed to Trump did he fold up his tent after losing Indiana? Surely there were still Republican voters, especially in California, prepared to resist Trump? The most likely reason is that his billionaire backers pulled the plug, and he was so totally their creature he didn't have the guts to continue on his own. Aside from Trump and Carson, that was the situation with all the Republicans: they ran because they lined up rich backers, and quit as soon as the money ran dry. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, could hang on to the bitter end because his supporters backed his program, rather than looking for an inside track on favors if he won.

    Martin Longman, by the way, saw the Cruz speech thus: I Thought Trump Sabotaged Cruz. He makes a pretty good case that Trump, who had seen the speech two hours before, timed the disruption to highlight Cruz's treachery, even if it turned him into a martyr:

    In other words, he simply didn't say anything at that particular point in the speech that would logically inspire a spontaneous stomping protest of outrage. On the other hand, if you had read the speech ahead of time and were planning to boo Cruz off the stage, that was the logical point to do it. It was the point in which he failed to say the magic words. That was knowable with the speech in hand, but not knowable if you were just listening to the speech and had no idea what was coming next or how it would end.

    To me, it's clear that Trump coordinated the whole thing, told the New York delegation when to protest, timed his entrance for just that time, prepped his running mate and others to have their talking points ready, and "loved" the result, as he said.

  • David E Sanger/Maggie Haberman: Donald Trump Sets Conditions for Defending NATO Allies Against Attack: Details Trump's latest pontifications on foreign policy, which among other things questioned why the US should foot much of the bill for NATO.

    "This is not 40 years ago," Mr. Trump said, rejecting comparisons of his approaches to law-and-order issues and global affairs to Richard Nixon's. Reiterating his threat to pull back United States troops deployed around the world, he said, "We are spending a fortune on military in order to lose $800 billion," citing what he called America's trade losses. "That doesn't sound very smart to me."

    Mr. Trump repeatedly defined American global interests almost purely in economic terms. Its roles as a peacekeeper, as a provider of a nuclear deterrent against adversaries like North Korea, as an advocate of human rights and as a guarantor of allies' borders were each quickly reduced to questions of economic benefit to the United States.

    The neocons went beserk over this, with Lindsey Graham, John Kasich, John Bolton, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg prominent. (Trump flack Scott Brown assures us there's nothing to worry about because Melania "is from that region.") More worrisome to me is that counterattacks have also sprung up among liberals (as opposed to the left, as they frequently are): e.g., in TPM Sara Jerde: The 3 Most Dangerous Things Trump Said in Bonkers NYT Foreign Policy Interview. I don't doubt that the interview was bonkers, but what's so dangerous about these three things? -- "America's role in assisting NATO allies," "Reining in US bases abroad," and "Solving Islamic State unrest through 'meetings'"? In the first place, the US has never actually assisted any allies through NATO. The US uses NATO to threaten Russia, exacerbating tensions that could more easily be reduced through neutrality, trade and openness (as has happened within Europe). Why the US does this is more complex, some combination of neocon "sole super power" supremacism, subsidies for the US defense industry, and providing a fig leaf of international support for America's wars in Afghanistan, the Middle East, and North Africa -- but there's not a single good idea in that mix. Moreover, Trump's right that most US bases abroad are no more than economic subsidies, tolerated because they pay their own way. One could go further and point out that major US base complexes in Germany and Japan, while largely inoffensive to those countries, are critical way stations for America's wars in Asia and Africa. Shutting them down would make it harder for the US to try to solve problems by warfare and would (horror of horrors) make it more important to hold "meetings." (In fairness, I don't think Trump proposed meetings with ISIS; rather, he was talking about Turks and Kurds, and Jerde took license to poison the argument.)

    What I fear happening here is that liberal hawks (Hillary Clinton certainly qualifies) will seize this opportunity to attack Trump as soft on Putin (and ISIS). I am especially reminded of the 1984 debates between Reagan and Mondale, where Mondale proved himself to be the far more rigorous and militant red-baiter -- a stance that did him no good, partly because most people didn't care, partly because Reagan's own "star wars" dreams were so loony he held onto the lunatic right, and possibly because he turned off anyone actually concerned about peace. Trump's interview suggests that he might actually be saner regarding world war than Clinton. It would be a terrible mistake should she prove him right.

    Note that Lyndon Johnson beat Barry Goldwater bad by convincing people that Goldwater would be the dangerous lunatic, even though it was Johnson who insanely escalated the war in Vietnam. Similarly Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt campaigned on their kill at keeping America out of world wars they joined post-election. Even GW Bush was circumspect when campaigning about the wars he hoped we now know he had every intention of launching. So why would Clinton want to present herself as the warmonger in the 2016 race? Insecurity perhaps, or maybe conviction, but clearly not smarts.

    PS: Jeffrey Goldberg has already fired the first shot of Hillary's campaign to out-warmonger Trump: see It's Official: Hillary Clinton Is Running Against Vladimir Putin. Featured blurb: "Unlike Trump, leaders of countries like Estonia believe that the US still represents the best hope for freedom." So why shouldn't tiny, unstrategic countries like Estonia (or Georgia or Israel) be able to usurp and direct American foreign policy simply by uttering a few magic words?

    Unlike Trump, leaders of such countries as Estonia believe that the United States still represents the best hope for freedom. In his interview with Haberman and Sanger, Trump argued, in essence, that there is nothing exceptional about the U.S., and that therefore its leaders have no right to criticize the behavior of other countries: "When the world looks at how bad the United States is, and then we go and talk about civil liberties, I don't think we're a very good messenger."

    PPS: More liberal hawks: Nancy LeTourneau: Trump's Outrageous Foreign Policy Views (in Washington Monthly), and Kevin Drum: Donald Trump Just Invited Russia to Attack Eastern Europe (in Mother Jones).

  • Paul Krugman: The GOP's Original Sin: I'd trace this back a bit further, but lots of bad ideas that fermented in the 1970s only became manifest once Reagan became president.

    What I want to talk about is when, exactly, the GOP went over the edge. Obviously it didn't happen all at once. But I think the real watershed came in 1980-81, when supply-side economics became the party's official doctrine. [ . . . ]

    Yet 35 years ago the GOP was already willing to embrace this doctrine because it was politically convenient, and could be used to justify tax cuts for the rich, which have always been the priority.

    And given this, why should anyone be surprised at all the reality denial and trashing of any kind of evidence that followed? You say economics is a pseudo-science? Fine. First they came for the economists; then they came for the climate scientists and the evolutionary biologists.

    Now comes Trump, and the likes of George Will, climate denier, complain that he isn't serious. Well, what did you think was going to happen?

Bonus link: Michelle Obama's Glorious, Savvy 'Carpool Karaoke' Clip, with James Corden. We've spent much of the last eight years griping about Obama, but will miss her -- and may even miss him. Also see John Stewart Returns to Savage Trump, Hannity: well, he doesn't actually refer to Hannity. Calls him "Lumpy."

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Daily Log

Got this from Robert Christgau re recent posts:

I don't like being in political disagreement with my friends, but this year the prospect of a literally fascist president makes that hard to avoid. So I have on my to-do list a letter about the difference between vanity, sense of entitlement, arrogance, and pride, but this is not that letter. Nor is it a letter about my permanent bad feelings about having voted for Ralph Nader, a man I dislike and disliked a good deal more than I do Bernie Sanders.

The rest of the mail had to do with proofreading corrections, which I have dealt with. I also wrote back:

"Dislike" struck me as an awfully personal way of making a political statement. I thought about writing something further about how people supposedly voted for Bush over Gore because they thought the former would be better company for a beer (a judgment in no way based on fact or even anecdote). Never seemed to me like a good idea to make political decisions based on distant perceptions of interpersonal traits. (Just saw a clip of Trump supporters defending their choice, and of course they have nothing else to go on, so that's all the piece showed.)

Why you should dislike Sanders (or for that matter Nader) is a second question. I don't regret my vote for Nader in 2000, although I did have second thoughts later. In particular, I noted that in Kansas, where Gore did zero campaigning, Gore still outpolled Nader 37.2% to 3.4% (I had imagined it would be much closer). My conclusion from that was that for any left agenda to be successful it would have to first win the Democratic Party, because that's where the allegiance was for most of the people that you'd want to appeal to. Accordingly, I didn't vote for Nader in 2004 -- I voted for Kerry. (Of course, I had a better sense of Bush by that time, and as the incumbent he was more clearly the issue -- and more responsible for the wars, although Kerry had gone along both with Afghanistan and Iraq, whereas Nader would not have consented to either. By the way, I still see no reason to think that Gore would have avoided either war -- he had supported the first Gulf War and as far as I know had backed Clinton's bombing campaigns in Iraq and his "reprisal" strikes in Afghanistan and Sudan -- whereas once again Nader would have made a real difference.)

As for "vanity, sense of entitlement, arrogance, and pride" I don't know what distinctions you see but together they all seem like synonyms for Hillary Clinton. I had pretty much reconciled myself to her inevitability before the campaigns started up, so while I'm disappointed now I'm not struggling with anything -- other than a certain sadness realizing that her election offer no prospect of reversing the major problems of war/empire and inequality. But also there is a glimmer of hope that Sanders' movement might keep her more conscious of the needs of the Democratic base than, e.g., Obama has been.

Still, I was surprised by the number of old lefty friends I ran into on the east coast who were wary of Sanders and committed to Hillary. There seems to be some kind of Icarus complex at work here, where old lefties are so used to losing (and so fearful of the fascist right) they no longer dare to ask for anything -- and so they're willing to settle for nothing. That may be fine for those of us with more savings than we have healthy years left, but most younger people don't have that luxury. Kansas, which is on the cutting edge of Republican-induced pain and suffering, went over 70% for Sanders, and almost all of those people were young and struggling.

Trump will have to be a subject for another time. I could argue both sides of whether he's a fascist, and I'm not sure which I buy (but there's no doubt that his popular appeal is akin to fascism). I admit that I was rather pleased to see him beating Cruz, Rubio, et al. -- impossible to overstate how bankrupt and degenerate "conventional" conservative ideology has become, and it's gratifying to see how little hold it has on the Republican base. Still, he's an horrifying racist, and the effect he's had in terms of drawing out and legitimizing racism has been appalling. And I can't think of any other redeeming features -- maybe there's a 10% chance that he might be significantly better than Hillary on foreign policy, but even more likely he could be much worse. And he's so devoid of anything resembling policy interest that his administration will inevitably be populated by the same flacks and ideologues who would turn up in any other Republican administration.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 26822 [26780] rated (+42), 435 [445] unrated (-10).

High rated count is a combination of factors: I've been taking the new jazz queue FIFO, and ran through a dull patch -- only records that got as many as three plays were Evenfall, Mathias Landaeus, and Joel Miller (more of an art rock album), with only a couple more getting two plays; quite a few EPs and short albums among the streaming picks (the Sheer Mag 7-inchers are really 4-song EPs, the Michete and Wire EPs are 23-29 minute albums, Modern Baseball's LP barely tops 30 minutes), so they go fast. (On the other hand, the Drake album is insanely long.) I continued to check out stuff from various mid-year best-of lists, with the usual mixed results.

I've also been working on Christgau's database, and am finally up to date locally, which is to say almost a year ahead of what you see on the site. I'm waiting for some people (including Bob) to do some proofreading before I update the site. Work on that reminded me to check out The Rough Guide to South African Jazz and God Don't Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson -- two records that weren't on Rhapsody when I previously checked, but are now. (Speaking of which, their rebranding as Napster has taken place. Ugh!)

Also checked out Christgau's rap picks from last week: Vic Mensa and Joey Purp. Both good records, but I wound up with reservations about each. Still, Mensa's "16 Shots" is timely, urgent even, and may be something to return to. Purp's mixtape is stronger musically. Still, my picks this week lean toward electropop and new wave. Best I've heard from Wire in over a decade. I counted it as an EP, but it runs eight songs, 25:55.

I've added a "Artist Search" form to the "fake blog" left navigation menu. I would have liked to make it available on all standard pages, but I'm temporarily confused about how to do that. The search page is here.

New Steve Lehman album and a bunch of new Clean Feeds came in the mail today, so it'll be tempting to break FIFO order on the new jazz queue.

Here's an early report from Cleveland where my nephew Mike is covering the Republican Convention for Fusion.

New records rated this week:

  • The Avalanches: Wildflower (2016, Astralwerks): [r]: B
  • James Blake: The Colour in Anything (2016, Polydor): [r]: B-
  • The Michael Blum Quartet: Chasin' Oscar: A Tribute to Oscar Peterson (2015 [2016], self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Brazzamerica: Brazzamerica (2016, self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Corey Christensen: Factory Girl (2015 [2016], Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Dan Cray: Outside In (2015 [2016], Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Debo Band: Ere Gobez (2016, FPE): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Diva Jazz Orchestra: Special Kay! (2013 [2016], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Drake: Views (2016, Cash Money): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Evenfall Quartet: Evenfall (2015 [2016], Blue Duchess): [cd]: A-
  • Cheryl Fisher: Quietly There (2015 [2016], OA2): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Sara Gazarek/Josh Nelson: Dream in the Blue (2015 [2016], Steel Bird): [cd]: B
  • Hard Working Americans: Rest in Chaos (2016, Melvin): [r]: B+(**)
  • Tim Hecker: Love Streams (2016, 4AD/Paper Bag): [r]: B
  • Marquis Hill: The Way We Play (2016, Concord Jazz): [r]: B+(***)
  • Mike Jones Trio: Roaring (2015 [2016], Capri): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Joonsam: A Door (2014 [2016], Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Corey Kendrick Trio: Rootless (2016, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Ron King: Triumph (2016, self-released): [cd]: B
  • Mathias Landaeus: From the Piano (2016, Moserobie): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Jessy Lanza: Oh No (2016, Hyperdub): [r]: A-
  • Låpsley: Long Way Home (2016, XL): [r]: B+(*)
  • Alison Lewis: Seven (2016, self-released): [cd]: B-
  • Macklemore & Ryan Lewis: This Unruly Mess I've Made (2016, Macklemore): [r]: B+(*)
  • Vic Mensa: There's Alot Going On (2016, Roc Nation): [r]: B+(***)
  • Michete: Cool Tricks (2015, self-released, EP): [r]: B+(***)
  • Michete: Cool Tricks 2 (2016, self-released, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Joel Miller With Sienna Dahlen: Dream Cassette (2014 [2016], Origin): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Bob Mintzer: All L.A. Band (2016, Fuzzy Music): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Modern Baseball: The Nameless Ranger (2011, Lame-O, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Modern Baseball: Holy Ghost (2016, Run for Cover): [r]: B+(**)
  • Maren Morris: Hero (2016, Columbia Nashville): [r]: B
  • Joey Purp: iiiDrops (2016, self-released): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Sheer Mag: II 7" (2015, Wilsuns RC/Katorga Works, EP): [bc]: B
  • Sheer Mag: III 7" (2016, Wilsuns RC/Static Shock, EP): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Skepta: Konnichiwa (2016, Boy Better Know): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sound Underground: Quiet Spaces (2016, Tiny Music): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Tegan and Sara: Love You to Death (2016, Vapor): [r]: A-
  • Tweet: Charlene (2016, eOne): [r]: B+(**)
  • Wire: Nocturnal Koreans (2016, Pink Flag, EP): [r]: A-

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

  • The Cucumbers: The Fake Doom Years (1983-1986) (1983-86 [2016], Lifeforce): [dl]: A-
  • God Don't Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson (2016, Alligator): [r]: A-
  • The Rough Guide to South African Jazz [Second Edition] ([2016], World Music Network): [r]: A-

Grade changes:

  • Todd Snider: Live: The Storyteller (2010 [2011], Aimless, 2CD): [cd]: was A-, now: A

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Fred Hersch: Sunday Night at the Vanguard (Palmetto)
  • Steffen Kuehn: Leap of Faith (Stefrecords): July 29
  • Jason Roebke Octet: Cinema Spiral (NoBusiness)
  • Rent Romus' Life's Blood Ensemble: Rising Colossus (Edgetone)
  • Jerome Sabbagh/Simon Jermyn/Allison Miller: Lean (Music Wizards)
  • Slavic Soul Party: Plays Duke Ellington's Far East Suite (Ropeadope)

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Weekend Roundup

July is a month I can hardly wait to get done with, even though it leaves six or seven weeks of brutal heat to come. This year is about average for Kansas, aside from a surplus of rain that more than wiped out the spring deficit. Fitting that the major party conventions will also be dispatched during this month, although as I'm writing this they still loom: the candidates are settled, so no suspense there, and one of the veeps was revealed this week -- the utterly repugnant Mike Pence -- so the only remaining question is how to what extent each party embarrasses itself in trying to put forth its best face. Most years there is a post-convention bump in the polls. This year there's a fairly good chance for a post-convention slump.

Some prominent news items from this past week:

  • Bernie Sanders gave up his presidential campaign, acknowledging that Hillary Clinton had clinched the nomination, and endorsed her, vowing to do everything in his power to defeat Donald Trump in November -- mostly by repeating the planks of his "political revolution" platform, which Hillary is increasingly obliged to cozy up to.
  • Donald Trump, on the other hand, boxed himself into a corner and got stuck with Cruz-supporter Pence as his VP nominee. Pence is considered a sensible mainstream choice because he rarely initiates the right-wing lunatic programs he invariably winds up supporting. He's acceptable to Trump because he's so pliable he's already reversed himself on all of Trump's campaign platform, setting a fine example for all the other Republicans who had opposed Trump by showing them how a good puppy can roll over and play dead.
  • The UK has a new Prime Minister, Theresa May, committed to carrying out the Brexit referendum, in her own sweet time (and without the possible complication of electing a new parliament). She then picked the more flamboyant and demagogic Boris Johnson as Foreign Minister.
  • Factions of the Turkish military attempted a coup to seize power and oust democratically elected president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been widely criticized lately for recent laws that have restricted popular rights -- a power grab occasioned by worsening relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority and several "terrorist incidents" blamed on ISIS. The coup appears to have failed, with various members of the military being arrested in what threatens to turn into a large-scale purge.
  • Obama decided against a planned withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, changing their engagement orders to initiate offensive operations against the Taliban, thus widening and extending the war there. Escalations against Syria and Iraq continue, putting the US on its most aggressive military stance in years. At the same time, Obama is committing more US/NATO troops to the Russian frontier in Eastern Europe, increasing "cold war" tensions.
  • Eighty-four people were killed by a truck plowing through a Bastille Day crowd in Nice, France. The driver was Tunisian, so this is being played up as a "terrorist attack" although there doesn't seem to be any indication that he was politically or religiously motivated. (Which isn't to say the ISIS folks don't dig what he did.)
  • Three police officers were killed in Baton Rouge, a little over a week after Baton Rouge police killed Alton Sterling, starting off a round of Black Lives Matter protests. Early reports show that the shooter was another ex-Marine (like the shooter in Dallas).

Meanwhile, some scattered links this week:

  • Julie Bosman: Public Schools? To Kansas Conservatives, They're 'Government Schools': And like conservatives everywhere, they understand that the first step in demonizing someone or something is establishing what it's called. Until recently, Kansans prided themselves on their public school system (not that my own experience was very positive). That started to change as home schooling became popular for Christian fundamentalists, and turned into something more vicious when Republicans discovered that school teachers might pose a political threat, and more generally that education in the liberal arts and sciences might work against their dogmatically cultivated interests. And lately, of course, it has come down to money: public spending on education adds to deficits and/or taxes.

  • Patrick Cockburn: A Hillary Clinton Presidency Could End Up Letting Isis Off the Hook: Cites a paper by Michele Flournoy, widely considered to be Hillary's likely pick as Secretary of Defense, arguing that the US should refocus its Syria efforts against Assad rather than against ISIS. Still, it's not like she'd switch sides and back ISIS against Assad -- something that might actually work (distasteful as it may be; it's not as if the US has never supported Islamist fanatics before). No, she wants to buck up the pro-American Syrian rebels, the least effective group in the long civil war. Still, that doesn't justify Cockburn's provocative headline: Hillary is enough of a hawk she'd be happy to pound ISIS and Assad alike, and for however long it takes. Cockburn also implies that Hillary would forget the lessons Obama had learned about the futility of war in the Middle East (giving Obama far more credit than he deserves):

    The world may soon regret the passing of the Obama years as a Clinton administration plunges into conflicts where he hung back. He had clearly learned from the outcome of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya in a way that she has not. He said in a speech on terrorism in 2013 that "any US military action in foreign land risks creating more enemies" and that the Washington foreign establishment's tendency to seek ill-considered military solutions was self-defeating. [ . . . ]

    All this is good news for Isis and al-Qaeda, whose spectacular growth since September 11 is mainly due to the US helping to spread the chaos in which they flourish. Obama could see the risks and limitations of military force, but Clinton may play straight into their hands.

    As for Hillary, what I find more worrying is that she still doesn't seem to be totally onboard with Obama's Iran Deal; see Philip Weiss: Iran deal is still imperilled by deep state -- hardliners, Israel lobby, Hillary Clinton. Part of the problem here is that Democrats and GOP are in a race to the bottom on Israel.

  • Donald Johnson: The iron law of institutions versus Bernie Sanders: Cites various editorials at the New York Times, finding them consistently obsessed with demonizing Sanders.

    Clinton supporters at the NYT have been almost uniformly nasty -- they hate Sanders and don't bother concealing it. Ultimately his policy based critiques of Clinton terrifies them and they don't want him or the movement he represents to have any credibility even if he endorses Clinton, because he hasn't retracted his critique. And yes, this does tie in with the Israel-Palestine conflict, because Clinton support for Benjamin Netanyahu flatly contradicts liberal ideals, so she either does this for the money or because she is a militarist like Netanyahu or both. (I think both). They tiptoe around that.

    This is a quibble, but I think Netanyahu is much more racist than militarist, not that they don't share an abiding belief in their respective nation's exceptionalism, especially as exemplified through military prowess (in both cases long in moral decline). But then I guess I'm leaning toward the "money" explanation for Hillary. Despite a term as Secretary of State which should have opened her eyes a bit, she seems completely in thrall to the donor class, which has in turn been completely cowed by Netanyahu, rendered blind to the racism which pervades Israeli political culture.

    It's not just institutions that are bitter over Sanders. Consider this Robert Christgau tweet: "This is more than I thought the progressives would get and has cut into how personally dislikable I find Sanders." "This" is Heather Gautney: How Bernie Sanders Delivered the Most Progressive Platform in Democratic Party History. Christgau is clearly closer on the issues to Sanders than to Hillary but supported the latter, I guess because he found Sanders "personally dislikable" -- I doubt that the two ever met, yet this seems to matter more to him more than, say, the Iraq War vote. There are others I know and respect politically who have directed even worse snark at Sanders, a personal bitterness I find unfathomable -- I certainly can't rationalize it like Johnson does for those New York Times flacks.

  • Martin Longman: Mike Pence Is Not a Conventional Politician: On Trump's Veep:

    Let's start with some things that are being said that simply aren't true. Writing for the BBC, Anthony Zurcher says "In a year that has defied political conventions, he was a very conventional choice."

    But there's absolutely nothing "conventional" about Mike Pence. He is a man who cannot say if he believes in the theory of evolution and has spent twenty years spreading doubt about climate change. He's a man who wants teenage girls (including victims of incest) to get parental consent to use contraceptives, who has done all he can to deny contraception to women of every age, who signed a law mandating that all aborted fetuses should receive proper burials, who supports discrimination against gays and wants to withhold federal funding from any organization that "encourage(s) the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus." [ . . . ]

    Obviously, I could go on for a long time highlighting things about Pence that are alarming or ridiculous, but I'm trying to focus on things that set him apart from even mainstream conservatives. I mean, it matters that he loved the idea of fighting in Iraq or that he has rigorously supported the same kinds of free trade agreements that Trump opposes, but he's not alone in those things.

    To the degree that it can be legitimately argued that Pence is "conventional," it's an enormous testimony to how far right the party has drifted since the time of Jack Kemp and Dan Quayle and Poppy Bush and Gerald Ford. But it's actually not true that we've seen someone this far right nominated before. No, not even Palin or Cheney were this radical across the board.

    For more, see Longman's pre-pick Mike Pence Makes Zero Sense as Veep:

    If Trump is using the same theory of the case that McCain used in picking Sarah Palin, that it was necessary to shore up weak support from the Christian conservative base, then we already saw that this is a losing strategy.

    Selecting Pence will drive responsible business leaders even further into Clinton's camp. It will severely alienate women and moderates on social issues. Millennials will flee in panic. And, once the press picks over Pence's congressional record, any reassurance that Trump will have a steady hand to deal with Congress will be completely undermined.

    Pence has actual negative charisma, so he won't win over anyone by being smart or funny or charming.

    Other pieces on Pence: Sean Illing: The sad incurious case of Mike Pence; Nico Lang: Mike Pence is even worse than you think; John Nichols: Trump Pick Pence Is a Right-Wing Political Careerist Who Desperately Wants Out of Indiana; Charles Pierce: Of Course, Donald Trump's Vice Presidential Announcement Was All About Trump; Mike Pence Is a Smooth-Talking Todd Akin; George Zornick: Vice President Pence Would Be a Dream for the Koch Brothers.

  • Ron Paul: Fool's Errand: NATO Pledges Four More Years of War in Afghanistan: Obama may be a "lame duck" as far as appointing new judges is concerned, but no one seems to be using the term as he's laying out the framework that will tie up his successor in hopeless wars through that successor's term: adding troops in Afghanistan and Iraq/Syria (and on the Russian frontier in Eastern Europe). I don't often cite Paul because I don't generally approve of his snark, but this isn't terribly off base:

    President Obama said last week that the US must keep 3,000 more troops than planned in Afghanistan. The real reason is obvious: the mission has failed and Washington cannot bear to admit it. [ . . . ] Where else but in government would you see it argued that you cannot stop spending on a project because you have already spent so much to no avail? In the real world, people who invest their own hard-earned money in a failed scheme do something called "cut your losses." Government never does that. [ . . . ]

    The neocons argue that Iraq, Libya, and other US interventions fell apart because the US did not stay long enough. As usual they are wrong. They failed and they will continue to fail because they cannot succeed. You cannot invade a country, overthrow its government, and build a new country from the ground up. It is a fool's errand and Washington has turned most Americans into fools.

    Paul underestimates the ingenuity of the war crowd. For instance, Mark Perry: How Islamic State Is Getting Beaten at Home -- and Taking Terror Abroad argues that events like Nice show how much progress Obama is making against ISIS in Syria. Perry confuses killing people, which the US is quite proficient at, with providing a viable, peaceful alternative, something the US evidently has no clue how to do. He could have noted that the recent shootings of police in Dallas and Baton Rouge are at least as much a part of the war coming home as the "sudden radicalization" of the truck driver in Nice.

  • Dani Rodrik: The Abdication of the Left: An important economist on globalization issues faults the left in Northern Europe for failing to respond coherently to the negative repercussions for their countries:

    Latin American democracies provide a telling contrast. These countries experienced globalization mostly as a trade and foreign-investment shock, rather than as an immigration shock. Globalization became synonymous with so-called Washington Consensus policies and financial opening. Immigration from the Middle East or Africa remained limited and had little political salience. So the populist backlash in Latin America -- in Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, and, most disastrously, Venezuela -- took a left-wing form.

    The story is similar in the main two exceptions to right-wing resurgence in Europe -- Greece and Spain. In Greece, the main political fault line has been austerity policies imposed by European institutions and the International Monetary Fund. In Spain, most immigrants until recently came from culturally similar Latin American countries. In both countries, the far right lacked the breeding ground it had elsewhere.

    But the experience in Latin America and southern Europe reveals perhaps a greater weakness of the left: the absence of a clear program to refashion capitalism and globalization for the twenty-first century. From Greece's Syriza to Brazil's Workers' Party, the left has failed to come up with ideas that are economically sound and politically popular, beyond ameliorative policies such as income transfers. [ . . . ]

    A crucial difference between the right and the left is that the right thrives on deepening divisions in society -- "us" versus "them" -- while the left, when successful, overcomes these cleavages through reforms that bridge them. Hence the paradox that earlier waves of reforms from the left -- Keynesianism, social democracy, the welfare state -- both saved capitalism from itself and effectively rendered themselves superfluous. Absent such a response again, the field will be left wide open for populists and far-right groups, who will lead the world -- as they always have -- to deeper division and more frequent conflict.

    We in America have far too little appreciation for the destructiveness of the right's conflicts, not just because we fight our wars far away -- not that US policy in Central America and Haiti hasn't sent waves of emigrés our way, but refugees from US wars in the Middle East mostly head for Europe -- but also because we are reluctant to credit our wars with the right's division and depradation of the middle class here, let alone the growing frequency of sporadic violence.

  • David Smith: Donald Trump: the making of a narcissist: Long profile on a guy you probably think you already know too much about. Still, some of his key insights are based on a profile and book by Mark Singer:

    In the nine years since, Singer has seen nothing to alter his view of Trump as unburdened by a hinterland. "People talk about a private Trump and a public Trump," he says in his Manhattan apartment. "I'm not so convinced because I've seen both and the bombast is there, the obvious extreme self-involvement has always been there. He doesn't have a sense of irony. He's a terrible listener but that's a characteristic of narcissistic people. They're not engaged with anybody else's issues."

  • Tierney Sneed: Forget Trump! The GOP's Convention Platform Makes It the Party of Kris Kobach: Kobach's day job is Secretary of State in Kansas -- i.e., the guy in charge of making sure that undesirables can't vote -- but he's also a notorious moonlighter, crafting dozens of pieces of legislation for Republican state legislatures, most of which are subsequently declared unconstitutional. He was the only Republican of note in Kansas who endorsed Trump before the caucuses (Brownback, Roberts, and Pompeo lined up for Rubio, while Huelskamp -- locked in another primary challenge by farmers who don't appreciate his opposition to farm subsidies -- is still proud to be known as a Cruz supporter), so he had an inside track on Trumpifying the GOP platform, and as usual he's first in line to take credit for feats normal lawyers would find embarrassing. One peculiarly Kansas touch was "language opposing the inclusion of the prairie chicken and sage grouse on the endangered species list" -- oil people find those birds annoying, and Kansas Republicans can hardly wait for them to become extinct, and therefore no longer a threat to the oil bidness.

    For more on the platform, see Donald Trump's weaponized platform: A project three decades in the making. I seriously doubt that Trump came up with any of his idea by reading William S. Lind and/or Paul Weyrich or that he's come up with anything as coherent (if that's the word).

  • Sophia Tesfaye: Will Republicans listen to one of their own? The Senate's only black Republican reveals his own experiences with racial profiling: I've seen reports that the late Philando Castile (shot dead by police in Minnesota) had been repeatedly pulled over by police for minor or imaginary infractions, but it's worth noting that wealth or ideology doesn't prevent this sort of profiling from happening, as Scott's story makes clear.

    But during his speech, the second on policing and race this week, Scott also shared the story of a staffer who was "pulled over so many times here in D.C. for absolutely no reason other than driving a nice car." The staffer eventually traded in his Chrysler for a "more obscure form of transportation" because "he was tired of being targeted."

    He asked his Senate colleagues to "imagine the frustration, the irritation, the sense of a loss of dignity that accompanies each of those stops."

    "I do not know many African-American men who do not have a very similar story to tell no matter their profession. No matter their income, no matter their disposition in life," he said. "There is absolutely nothing more frustrating, more damaging to your soul than when you know you're following the rules and being treated like you are not."

    "Recognize that just because you do not feel the pain, the anguish of another, does not mean it does not exist," the Republican reminded his fellow conservatives.

  • Some links on the Turkish coup:

Monday, July 11, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 26780 [26750] rated (+30), 445 [449] unrated (-4).

Fairly respectable week, again boosted by looking for records that had showed up on various mid-year lists: last week I identified Anohni, Kaytranada, and Mitski as among the fifteen most frequently cited albums so far (at this point the others I haven't gotten to are Beyoncé, James Blake, and Tim Hecker. Not far down the list were Blood Orange, Car Seat Headrest, and The 1975, and also mentioned were Angry Angles, Frankie Cosmos, Theo Croker, Fruit Bats, Robert Glasper, The Julie Ruin, King, Jeff Parker, and Leon Vynehall. Needless to say, some are better than others, but the only touted records not worth my trouble this week were by Carrie Underwood (Christgau likes them).

Also played enough out of my jazz queue to modestly reduce the backlog, with two records (David Greenberger, Jon Lundbom) edging over the A- threshold, and three more (Sylvie Courvoisier, Fresh Cut Orchestra, Jürgen Wuchner) just missing. I should also note that I had to resort to Rhapsody for five of this week's jazz albums (Croker, Alan Ferber, Glasper, René Marie, Parker). They didn't fare to well, although three of them appeared on The Observer's mid-year jazz list (as well as Jack DeJohnette [A-], Alfredo Rodriguez [**], Julian Lage [*], Logan Richardson [*], Snarky Puppy [C+], and 2 records I haven't heard yet: Anat Fort, Marquis Hill -- not what I'd call a good list).

I'll try to get to more listed records in the next couple weeks.

Some brief notes on Downbeat's Critics Poll results, posted in their August 2016 issue:

  • Number of critics voting: 142. In a quick scan of the voter names I recognized 54 as former Jazz Critics Poll voters, so a little less than 40% (a little more than 40% of JCP voters). Most of the others were associated with Downbeat, and I recognized very few of them. I didn't notice any affiliations outside of the US. (JCP probably has less than ten, something I've lobbied to expand, but at least they've got more than zero.)
  • Randy Weston won the HOF slot, finishing ahead of Anthony Braxton, Don Cherry, and Pharoah Sanders. He wasn't high on my list, but I'm still pretty pleased with that result. Weston is 90 this year, had a pretty good record as recently as 2013 (The Roots of the Blues). I count four A- records in my database: Blue Moses (1972), Carnival (1974), The Spirits of Our Ancestors (1991), and Khepara (1998). I should probably dig deeper. Mal Waldron and Cedar Walton shouldn't be far behind, but will be as they've passed and been buried with everyone else Downbeat's schema has missed.
  • The Veterans Committee added Hoagy Carmichael to their HOF. I think of him mostly as a songwriter, but he sang and played piano and I can heartily recommend RCA's 1994 compilation of Stardust and Much More (1927-34). Runner up was George Gershwin, and if he can't make it it's going to be a long road for the next dozen or so obvious standards writers. Only two other candidates were listed: Scott LaFaro and Herbie Nichols. I have very little sense of LaFaro beyond the obvious point that he played on Bill Evans' best trio recordings (especially Live at the Village Vanguard, recorded ten days before LaFaro's fatal car crash, age 25). Nichols lived to be 44, but only recorded in his 1955-57 trios: three CDs on Blue Note, one on Bethlehem, all brilliant.
  • Downbeat skews Album of the Year by three months, which kicked JCP winner Rudresh Mahanthappa's Bird Calls off the ballot. Maria Schneider's The Thompson Fields had virtually tied Mahanthappa, but fell way behind here, finishing second to Kamasi Washington's crossover hit The Epic. I've complained about the skew before (actually, every time I've mentioned it): what would it hurt to give critics an extra three months to get some more perspective on last year's records? (For that matter, why not give the Readers' Poll voters an extra six months?). For the record, the top early 2016 release in the poll was Charles Lloyd's I Long to See You (6th), followed by Michael Formanek's The Distance (9th). Neither strikes me as an A-list record, although they're on labels that get noticed. On the other hand, I only had one A-list album finish in the top 20: Henry Threadgill's In for a Penny, in for a Pound (4th), and only two more in the next 20: Amir ElSaffar's Crisis and Joe Lovano's Sound Prints.
  • For the last twenty years or so Trumpet has been a contest between Wynton Marsalis and Dave Douglas, but that seems to be over now as they finished 5th and 4th this year, topped by new winner Ambrose Akinmusire, followed by Tom Harrell and Wadada Leo Smith. I've voted for Smith myself, haven't had access to Harrell in recent years (and have never been much of a fan), and have no idea what other critics hear in Akinmusire.
  • Perennial Piano winner Keith Jarrett dropped to 12th place this year, below Robert Glasper and Matthew Shipp. Kenny Barron won, followed by Vijay Iyer and Fred Hersch -- reasonable picks. Jarrett's tailed off a bit, but I still count an A- record as recent as 2013's Somewhere (OK, recorded in 2009), and doesn't everyone else like him more than I do?
  • I'm a bit bothered that Ken Vandermark didn't make the Tenor Sax list -- more so than that David Murray, who hasn't released a record in a few years, has dropped to 16th. May just mean that Vandermark is spreading himself too thin: he did finish 9th for Baritone Sax and 16th for Clarinet. Peter Brötzmann did make the Tenor list (17th), but not Evan Parker (13th on Soprano).
  • Most egregious non-finish is that William Parker didn't make the top 21 for Bass. Leaders: Christian McBride, Dave Holland, Ron Carter, Linda Oh, Stanley Clarke, Esperanza Spalding. No kidding.
  • Top record labels: ECM, Pi, Blue Note, Mack Avenue, Motéma, Clean Feed, Sunnyside, HighNote. I only get physical CDs from two of those labels -- coincidentally two that I voted for. If other critics are as corruptible (or grateful) as I am, the standings probably give you a fair measure of what they're listening to, and you'll probably find that reflected in what they voted for.
  • Top "Beyond" albums: David Bowie, Kendrick Lamar, Mavis Staples, Alabama Shakes, Lucinda Williams. Only in Downbeat.
  • Probably the less said about the Rising Star categories, the better. I will note that last year's RS Guitar winner, Michael Blum, who had written personal letters to me and other critics imploring us for our votes, dropped off the list completely this year (Liberty Ellman won, followed by twenty mostly reasonable names ending with Jeff Parker). Also, most surprising winner -- even more so than the flautist I've never heard of (Elena Pinderhughes) -- was Khan Jamal for vibes. Not a bad choice, it's just that he's 70 now, and I haven't heard anything by him in decades (although I see he has a 2009 album on SteepleChase). Also speaking of late-bloomers, Mort Weiss (81) finished 11th in Clarinet, and Kali Fasteau (69) 3rd in flute (she actually plays ney).

For more, see my ballot and notes.

One last thing: I hacked together a little script which gives you a form to type a name in and prints out my grade list. Try it. Initial version only matched an exact (complete) string, but I've since modified it to allow you to use lower case instead of caps, and to map most accented characters to their accentless bases. The changes make it quite a bit slower, which you may (or may not) notice. In any case, it saves you from having to scan through the many flat files I've been building on every update.

So far, this took me just a couple hours. Adding reviews would be a huge undertaking. Don't expect it any time soon.

New records rated this week:

  • The 1975: I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It (2016, Dirty Hit/Interscope): [r]: B+(*)
  • Anohni: Hopelessness (2016, Secretly Canadian): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ricardo Bacelar: Concerto Para Moviola: Ao Vivo (2015 [2016], Bacelar): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Blood Orange: Freetown Sound (2016, Domino): [r]: A-
  • Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial (2016, Matador): [r]: B+(***)
  • Chat Noir: Nine Thoughts for One Word (2016, Rare Noise): [cdr]: B+(*)
  • Frankie Cosmos: Next Thing (2016, Bayonnet): [r]: B+(***)
  • Theo Croker: Escape Velocity (2015 [2016], Okeh): [r]: B+(*)
  • Sylvie Courvoisier/Mark Feldman/Ikue Mori/Evan Parker: Miller's Tale (2015 [2016], Intakt): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Orbert Davis' Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble: Havana Blue (2013 [2016], 3Sixteen): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Alan Ferber: Roots & Transitions (2016, Sunyside): [r]: B
  • Fresh Cut Orchestra: From the Vine (2015, self-released): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Fresh Cut Orchestra: Mind Behind Closed Eyes (2016, Ropeadope): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Fruit Bats: Absolute Loser (2016, Easy Sound): [r]: B+(**)
  • Robert Glasper: Everything's Beautiful (2016, Legacy): [r]: B+(**)
  • David Greenberger, Keith Spring, and Dinty Child: Take Me Where I Don't Know I Am (2016, Pel Pel): [cd]: A-
  • The Julie Ruin: Hit Reset (2016, Hardly Art): [r]: A-
  • Kaytranada: 99.9% (2016, XL): [r]: A-
  • King: We Are King (2016, King Creative): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: Play All the Notes (2016, Hot Cup, EP): [cdr]: A-
  • Magnet Animals: Butterfly Killer (2016, Rare Noise): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • René Marie: Sound of Red (2015 [2016], Motéma Music): [r]: B+(*)
  • Russ Miller and the Jazz Orchestra: You and the Night and the Music (2015 [2016], Doctheory): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Mitski: Puberty 2 (2016, Dead Oceans): [r]: B+(*)
  • Bryan Nichols: Looking North (2016, Shifting Paradigm): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jeff Parker: The New Breed (2015 [2016], International Anthem): [r]: B
  • Daniel Schmitz/Johannes Schmitz/Jörg Fischer: Botanic Mob (2016, Sporeprint): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Todd Terje/The Olsens: The Big Cover-Up (2016, Olsen): [r]: B+(**)
  • Carrie Underwood: Storyteller (2015, 19/Arista Nashville): [r]: B-
  • Leon Vynehall: Rojus (Designed to Dance) (2016, Running Back): [r]: A-

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

  • Angry Angles (2005 [2016], Goner): [r]: B+(**)
  • Carrie Underwood: Greatest Hits: Decade #1 (2005-14 [2014], Arista Nashville, 2CD): [r]: C-
  • Jürgen Wuchner/Rudi Mahall/Jörg Fischer: In Memoriam: Buschi Niebergall (1997 [2016], Sporeprint): [cd]: B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Livio Almeida: Action and Reaction (self-released)
  • Rich Halley 5: The Outlier (Pine Eagle)
  • Lefteris Kordis: Mediterrana (Goddess of Light) (Inner Circle Music): July 26
  • Zach Larmer Elektrik Band: Inner Circle (self-released)
  • Anthony E. Nelson Jr.: Swift to Hear, Slow to Speak (Music Stand): July 25
  • Sergio Pereira: Swingando (self-released): July 15
  • Sundae + Mr. Goessl: Makes My Heart Sway (self-released)

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Weekend Roundup

The biggest story in the US last week involved the fatal shootings of seven people in three separate incidents: one each in Louisiana and Minnesota (Alton Sterling and Philando Castile), and five in Dallas. All of the shootings involved police and race, and appear to be unjustifiable by any conceivable criteria. Needless to say, they all involved guns, but one thing they had in common point been little commented on: all eight victims were armed, and their guns worthless for self-defense. (Remind me again how safe we would all be if everyone had guns for self-defense.) As a practical matter, carrying guns not only failed to save the victims, but probably contributed to their deaths. The Louisiana and Minnesota incidents may have occurred because police panicked when they discovered that the black people they were harrassing were armed. The Texas incident came later, when an ex-army soldier snapped and decided to shoot some white police -- perhaps as indiscriminate revenge (isn't that how he was trained to respond to "the enemy" in Afghanistan?), the sort of warped injustice self-appointed vigilantes are prone to.

For some time now, I've felt that as long as people legimately believe that they need to own and carry a gun for their own protection it would be unwise and unfair for government to deny them that option. However, I've always wondered whether carrying a gun actually made anyone safer: has anyone ever studied this, putting such (probably rare) events in statistical context against all the other things that can go wrong with guns?

There are other ways one can approach these tragic events. One I think should be given more weight is that the Dallas shooter learned his craft in the US military, which no doubt considered him a hero until the moment he started shooting at white American cops. Not all killers were trained by the US military, but they do pop up with some frequency. I'm reminded of a scene in Full Metal Jacket where the Marine Gunnery Sergeant lectures his boot camp trainees on "what one motivated Marine and his rifle can do," offering a few examples: Lee Harvey Oswald, Charles Whitman, Richard Speck. Should we be surprised that a country that is so invested in celebrating its heroic killers abroad should more than occasionally encounter the same at home? And not infrequently by the same hands?

Of course, another way to approach this is to note that last week's bombing in Baghdad killed over 175 -- more than twenty times the death toll discussed above. But that scarcely registers here, even though the Bush invasion and occupation of Iraq is still most responsible for continued bloodshed there. As bad as gun violence has become here, it still pales against the violence of US forces and the rivals they stir up abroad.

I suppose the second biggest story last week was the FBI decision not to prosecute Hillary Clinton for risking classified data by running a private email server while she was Secretary of State. FBI Director Comey went out of his way to scold Clinton for being "extremely careless" regarding state secrets before admitting that they couldn't come up with a credible criminal case against her. The way Comey put it allowed Republicans to reiterate their talking points, adding they couldn't understand the decision not to indict based on Comey's exposition.

As I understand the "scandal" (see Wikipedia for a long rundown, and perhaps also Clinton's own The Facts About Hillary Clinton's Emails), the problem with running a non-government server is that it doesn't allow for efficient collection of emails that are considered to be public records (under the Federal Records Act). To comply with the FRA, Clinton had to sort through her emails and turn over the ones she considered to be State Department business while retaining ones she considered to be personal -- i.e., the two had been mixed. A better solution might have been to turn all the emails over and let the Department sort out which ones were personal -- at least then she couldn't be accused of hiding emails that should have gone into the public record. On the other hand, had she kept separate public and private email accounts, there still would likely have been cross-contamination. (There is a similar controversy here in Kansas, where a member of Gov. Sam Brownback's staff was found to be communicating with lobbyists via his personal account, thereby avoiding public records disclosure.)

Still, one wonders why the FRA issue didn't arise while Clinton was actually Secretary of State. It only seems to have been recognized as a problem several years after she left office, when the Republican Benghazi! witchhunt got under way. Further complicating things is the question of whether Clinton's emails contained classified material. Clinton, of course, had a top security clearance, but her private email server wasn't fully secured for handling "secret" missives, so it could have been, well, I'm not sure what, some form of breach in the security state. Again, this seems not to have bothered anyone until well after the fact. And curiously, the audits revealed that some emails contained material that was classified only after it was sent, so most of this charade has been focused on Clinton's threat to national security. Frankly, I'd respect her more if she had been a source of leaked data. But all this episode really shows is her knack for getting caught up in trivial scandals.

I'd be happy to never hear of the email matter again, but there's little chance of that. Instead, I expect the Republicans to flog the matter on and on, much as they did every conjured taint from Whitewater to Benghazi, even though their complaints will fail to impress anyone but themselves, and in the end prove counterproductive. In particular, those of us who consider Hillary at best a lesser evil will wonder why they don't attack her with something she's truly guilty of, like voting for Bush's Iraq War.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Phyllis Bennis: What the Democratic Party Platform Tells Us About Where We Are on War: Unwilling to break with a past that has caused us nothing but grief, of course. "The draft asserts that the United States 'must continue to have the strongest military in the world' and criticizes the 'arbitrary cuts that the Republican Congress enacted as part of sequestration.'"

  • Carl Bialik: The Police Are Killing People As Often As They Were Before Ferguson: "The deaths [of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile] have driven renewed attention to the more than 1,000 people killed each year by police officers." I have to admit that's a higher number than I would have expected, but maybe I was just being naïve. For instance, see: Ben Norton: Before Alton Sterling, Louisiana police killed mentally ill black father Micahel Noel -- and 37 others since 2015.

  • Jessica Elgot: Tony Blair could face contempt of parliament motion over Iraq war: Not quite a full hearing at the Hague, but the Chilcot Report makes clear what we already pretty much knew -- that Blair lied to Parliament and the public to join Bush in invading and occupying Iraq in 2003 -- and a public rebuke is in order. Public opinion in the US is if anything even more unanimous in recognizing Bush's scheming to launch that war, yet the prospect of Congress acknowledging this with a similar resolution is, well, unthinkable.

  • Harry Enten: Is Gary Johnson Taking More Support From Clinton or Trump?: Johnson, a former Republican governor of New Mexico, is the Libertarian candidate for president this year. In theory a larger than usual slice of Republicans should lean Libertarian given that the GOP candidate is basically a Fascist. A Libertarian should have less appeal to Democrats, especially on economic issues, but Hillary is exceptionally weak on two issues that many Democrats care about, ones Johnson could exploit: drug prohibition and global warfare. Enten's research doesn't shed much light here, but polls that bother to list Johnson show him gathering close to 10% in western states like Arizona and California (also Vermont). I have a friend who thinks that Trump will destroy the Republican Party and Johnson's Libertarians will rise to take the GOP's place. I think the chances of that happening are nil. For one thing, more of the Republican base leans fascist than libertarian, and for another, the Kochs have pretty clearly shown that no matter how much they may philosophize about freedom, they put their money on the party of graft. On the other hand, given that both major party candidates have extremely low favorability ratings, this will likely be a good year to be "none of the above."

  • Stephen Kinzer: Is NATO Necessary?: I would have preferred that the UK vote on leaving NATO over quitting the EU, but I have seen a number of (admittedly left-wing) Brexiters touting their win as a rebuke of NATO. Indeed, any Englishman worried about loss of sovereignty to the EU should be apoplectic about NATO, which the US regularly uses to consign British soldiers to fight and die in America's imperial wars.

    Britain's vote to quit the European Union was a rude jolt to the encrusted world order. Now that the EU has been shocked into reality, NATO should be next. When NATO leaders convene for a summit in Warsaw on Friday, they will insist that their alliance is still vital because Russian aggression threatens Europe. The opposite is true. NATO has become America's instrument in escalating our dangerous conflict with Russia. We need less NATO, not more. [ . . . ]

    This week's NATO summit will be a festival of chest-thumping, with many warnings about the Russian "threat" and solemn vows to meet it with shows of military force. The United States plans to quadruple spending on NATO military projects on or near Russia's borders. In recent weeks NATO has opened a new missile base in Romania, held the largest military maneuver in the modern history of Poland, and announced plans to deploy thousands more American troops at Baltic bases, some within artillery range of St. Petersburg. Russia, for its part, is building a new military base within artillery range of Ukraine and deploying 30,000 troops to border posts. Both sides are nuclear-armed.

    Ever since the Brexit vote the US has been escalating its focus on Russia, inflating the threat by provoking it, all the better to keep Europe subservient to US schemes in Africa and the Middle East.

  • Nancy LeTourneau: Some Things You Need to Know About the Dallas Police Department: Evidently before last week's shootings, Dallas Police Chief David Brown had made notable progress on reducing complaints of excessive police force, including "a 30 percent decline in assaults on officers this year, and a 40 percent drop in shootings by police."

  • Conor Lynch: Paranoid politics: Donald Trump's style perfectly embodies the theories of renowned historian: Reference is to Richard Hofstadter's 1964 book The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Lynch is part wrong: the book was written at a time when McCarthyite paranoia could be viewed as history, which is part of the reason Goldwater seemed so ridiculous. Hofstadter's examples go further back in history, and it is true that had he not died he could update with a new chapter on Trump, with Roy Cohn and Glenn Beck key intermediaries. (Indeed, the Cohn connection is almost too karmic to be believed.)

  • Sean D Naylor: Out of Uniform and Into the Political Fray: A profile of former Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who appears to be a leading candidate as Trump's running mate. Flynn's name was familiar to me mostly due to Michael Hastings' book The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan. Flynn was deputy to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was fired by Obama for insubordination and/or his monumental cock up of command -- Flynn, of course, was a key factor in both. Flynn was subsequently head of the DIA, then retired to become Trump's "military adviser." The US has a long history of nominating ex-generals for president, but unlike Flynn all the previous ones achieved distinction in wars the US won -- most recently Eisenhower. (Since then George Wallace selected a general for his running mate, and Ross Perot picked an admiral -- precedents, sure, but not the sort that make Trump look better. Flynn, by the way, has a book coming out, The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies, written with neocon Michael Ledeen, one of the dumbest fucking assholes in America.)

  • Heather Digby Parton: Following the Trump money: He's running his campaign just like his casinos -- as a big scam: "If it's true that they've collected somewhere between $25 and $50 million for the campaign in the last month then the real grift is just about to kick in. Remember, Trump told Fortune magazine back in 2000, 'It's very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it.'"

  • Nomi Prins: Donald Trump's Anti-Establishment Scam: "After all, he's brought his brand to a far broader global audience on a stage so much larger than any Apprentice imaginable. He could lose dramatically, blame the Republican establishment for being mean to him, and then expand the Trump brand into new realms, places like Russia, where he's long craved an opening."

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Book Roundup

Here's another batch of forty book blurbs as I try to keep up with what's being published in my main areas of concern: politics, history, economics, occasionally something else. This batch isn't especially up to date: I went to work on this tonight for the first time in several weeks and found that I had already picked out 38 books, so I added two more from my scratch file. Real catch-up research begins after this post, but at this point the scratch file is pretty close to bare, so it may take some time to fill it out.

"Also noted" books are just that. They are more/less relevant and as such notable but for one reason or another I didn't feel like taking the time to write more. No "second notice" paperback reprints this time, mostly because the list is rather short. Maybe next time.

Peter Bergen: United States of Jihad: Investigating America's Homegrown Terrorists (2016, Crown): Interviewed Osama bin Laden beck before he became infamous, turning that into a career as a terrorism expert (i.e., Islamic terrorism -- he doesn't seem to recognize any other kind. His books range from Holy War, Inc to The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda's Leader to Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad.) He notes that some 300 Americans "have been indicted or convicted of terrorism charges" since 9/11, so he thought he'd look into their backgrounds and how they became such fearsome terrorists. Don't know whether he also looks into tactics used by law enforcement to identify these terrorists, since getting indicted by the US government is a pretty low bar.

Howard Brick/Christopher Phelps: Radicals in America: The US Left Since the Second World War (paperback, 2015, Cambridge University Press): Part of a series of history books, so the subject and scope were assigned (and thankfully not by David Horowitz). What follows is organized chronologically, moving from old left to new left to the broad smorgasbord of quasi-left protest and advocacy efforts that followed -- last two chapters are "Over the Rainbow" and "What Democracy Looks Like."

Douglas Brinkley: Rightful Heritage: Franklin D Roosevelt and the Land of America (2016, Harper): Brinkley has written several books about America's national parks and wilderness areas, including an obvious predecessor to this one, The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America (2009). TR was better known as an outdoorsman, but FDR greatly expanded the national park system, and his public works projects made those parks accessible to millions of Americans.

Gail Lumet Buckley: The Black Calhouns: From Civil War to Civil Rights With One African American Family (2016, Atlantic Monthly Press): A family history going back six generations, starting with Moses Calhoun, a "house slave" who became a successful businessman in post-Civil War Atlanta, following two branches of the family -- one that stayed in the South, the other migrating to Brooklyn. The author is the daughter of Lena Horne, and previously wrote The Hornes: An American Family, and American Patriots: The Story of Blacks in the Military From the Revolution to Desert Storm.

Peter Catapano/Simon Critchley: The Stone Reader: Modern Philosophy in 133 Arguments (2015, Liveright): A broad overview of what academic philosophers are thinking about these days, a big book (816 pp) of essays originally published as "The Stone" by the New York Times. Wide range of pieces, many touching on politics (or at least ethics, not unrelated), only a few going back to the canon (one title I like: "Of Hume and Bondage"). As a former philosophy major I'm intrigued, but maybe not enough. I will say that virtually none of the author names are familiar to me.

Jefferson Cowie: The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics (2016, Princeton University Press): As I understand it, Cowie is arguing that it's impossible to construct a leftward shift like the New Deal in current or future America because the actual New Deal appeared in circumstances that cannot be reproduced today. Cowie's argument is that the 1930s were a unique, "a temporary cessation of enduring tensions involving race, immigration, culture, class, and individualism" that occurred in the 1930s. Immigration was curtailed significantly in 1923, while race iniquities were locked in the deep freeze of segregation -- a non-issue only in the sense that the New Deal could largely ignore it (often by not challenging racial discrimination). Arguably, this meant a more homogeneous society, one where people could care more for others because the others weren't that different. Then WWII came along and bound together everyone -- an effect today's wars don't have because they involve so few people. I think it's more likely that the class consciousness that had been brewing since the robber baron era threatened to boil over during the Depression, but faded in the postwar affluence, especially when Cold War ideology took hold and made capitalism seem more like freedom than wage slavery. And as manufacturing gave way to service jobs, it became harder to regain that class consciousness, even as economic situations worsened. In today's environment it's easy to blame the lack of class consciousness on racial and ethnic and cultural divisions, but those differences have always existed. While major obstacles to a new New Deal persist, I think we're growing closer to seeing through the petty differences and distractions of the past.

Lee Drutman: The Business of America Is Lobbying: How Corporations Became Politicized and Politics Became More Corporate (2015, Oxford University Press): As late as the 1970s most corporations didn't have their own lobbying offices, whereas now many have 100 or more lobbyists on staff. This looks to be a pretty thorough analysis of what happened, why, and how all that lobbying distorts politics and policy.

Richard Engel: And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East (2016, Simon & Schuster): NBC's "chief foreign correspondent," a post which has put him in front of cameras in various Middle Eastern hot spots, including a brief period when he was abducted in Syria. I've never found his reporting especially astute but perhaps this is a better forum for reflection. Has two previous books: A Fist in the Hornet's Nest: On the Ground in Baghdad Before, During, and After the War (2004, which makes the word "after" stand out, as if he bought "Mission Accomplished" hook, line and sinker), and War Journal: My Five Years in Iraq (2008).

Tim Flannery: Atmosphere of Hope: Searching for Solutions to the Climate Crisis (2015, Atlantic Monthly Press): Australian paleontologist, I first ran into him with his broad sweep The Eternal Frontier: An Ecological History of North America and Its Peoples (2001) although he had previously written a similar book about his homeland: The Future Eaters: An Ecological History of the Australasian Lands and People (1994). His interests then moved to climate change, writing The Weather Makers: The History & Future Impact of Climate Change (2007) and Now or Never: Why We Must Act Now to End Climate Change and Create a Sustainable Future (2009), and this follows in that vein, trying to find some hope in geoengineering -- which even if it can compensate for too long denial, is hardly a solution to too much denialism.

Lily Geismer: Don't Blame Us: Suburban Liberals and the Transformation of the Democratic Party (2015, Princeton University Press): Focuses on the high-tech corridor of Route 128 around Boston, but that's just part of a more general movement, as the Democrats have embraced socially liberal professionals, especially in high-tech, to make up for their losses of unionized workers -- indeed, they've aided and abetted the destruction of unions in part because there's more money in professionals and similarly-minded businesses.

Gary Gerstle: Liberty and Coercion: The Paradox of American Government From the Founding to the Present (2015, Princeton University Press): A history of America refracted through a pair of concepts about governmental power. Funny thing is that the people who talk the most about liberty are often the same ones most eager to use the power of the state to impose their will on a reluctant citizenry. Gerstle previously wrote the similarly sweeping American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century.

Rebecca Gordon: American Nuremberg: The US Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes (2016, Hot Books): Previously wrote Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States (2014, Oxford University Press) and Cruel and Unusual: How Welfare "Reform" Punishes Poor People (2001), drawing on her Ph.D. in Ethics and Social Theory. This one, too, seems to focus more on torture than the grosser war crimes that seem so obvious to me.

Jacob Darwin Hamblin: Arming Mother Nature: The Birth of Catastrophic Environmentalism (2013, Oxford University Press): The story here is about how the US military has been working ever since the start of the Cold War to figure out how the US can create environmental disasters and use them as strategic weapons: inducing droughts in the Soviet Union is just one example. Not sure if this is covered, but the US military continues to war game global warming -- the idea may be taboo among right-wing politicos, but the realities impinge on global military strategy (ranging from African droughts to submarine cover in the Arctic).

Richard L Hasen: Plutocrats United: Campaign Money, the Supreme Court, and the Distortion of American Elections (2016, Yale University Press): The title a play on the Citizens United ruling, where the right-wing Supreme Court concocted a scheme to eliminate limits on campaign spending and in principle turn elections into auctions among the superrich. Hasen, a professor of law and political science, has covered this beat before, notably in The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown (2012).

Joan Hoff: A Faustian Foreign Policy From Woodrow Wilson to George W Bush: Dreams of Perfectability (paperback, 2007, Cambridge University Press): I don't normally list books this old, but when I see a blurb line like this I have to make a note: "Like no book since William Appleman Williams' The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, Hoff's study powerfully demonstrates that a better future for America (and the world) lies in coming to terms with the corrupt bargains of the past." Of course, she could have started with William McKinley but that was plain greed -- no one tops the sanctimonious arrogance of Wilson and Bush, plus you get the Dulles Brothers, Henry Kissinger, and Oliver North sandwiched in the middle.

Harold Holzer/Norton Garfinkle: A Just and Generous Nation: Abraham Lincoln and the Fight for American Opportunity (2015, Basic Books): "Rather than a commitment to eradicating slavery or a defense of the Union, [the authors] argue, Lincoln's guiding principle was the defense of equal economic opportunity." They do figure that the emancipation of slaves was a step toward such opportunity, but also bring up other efforts, casting the first Republican president as "the protector not just of personal freedom but of the American dream itself." In other words, the opposite of the party which seeks to crush that dream today.

Nancy Isenberg: White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America (2016, Vintage): A history of the white underclass in America going back to colonial immigrants, many of whom sold themselves as indentured servants, continuing through generation after generation of impoverishment and the various forms of approbation heaped on them by the more affluent -- I rather wish she had used the term "waste people" for the title. Author previously wrote Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr and co-authored (with Andrew Burstein) Madison and Jefferson.

Susan Jacoby: Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion (2016, Pantheon): Looks into the history of various people converting to one religion of another, with Saul/Paul a prominent early example, and Muhammad Ali and George W Bush among the more recent. Secularism has been a repeated theme in Jacoby's writing, especially Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (2004).

Greg Jobin-Leeds/AgitArte: When We Fight, We Win: Twenty-First Century Social Movements and the Activits That Are Transforming Our World (paperback, 2016, New Press): I can't say as I consider all of the author's examples as victories, but it is clear that they all resonate with substantial numbers of (mostly) young people, to such point that they've become reference posts for more conventional political campaigns. I suspect a more accurate title might be If We Don't Fight, We Won't Win -- and by "fight" I mean a quaint term from an earlier era: organize.

Fred Kaplan: Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War (2016, Simon & Schuster): A lot of grey lines here, especially ethically where propaganda and censorship blend into espionage and subversion, where the lack of blood may make transgressions seem more acceptable, where state and non-state actors cloak themselves in similar obscurity, where one's dirty tricks may be another's terrorism. I can't help but feel disgust over virtually every aspect of the subject. More or less related: Richard A Clarke/Robert Knake: Cyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It (paperback, 2011, Ecco); PW Singer/Allan Friedman: Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know (paperback, 2014, Oxford University Press); Shane Harris: @War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex (paperback, 2015, Mariner Books); Marc Goodman: Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It (2015, Doubleday); Richard Stiennon: There Will Be Cyberwar: How the Move to Network-Centric War Fighting Has Set the Stage for Cyberwar (paperback, 2015, IT-Harvest); Adam Segal: The Hacked World Order: How Nations Fight, Trade, Maneuver, and Manipulate in the Digital Age (2016, PublicAffairs).

Robert D Kaplan: In Europe's Shadow: Two Cold Wars and a Thirty-Year Journey Through Romania and Beyond (2016, Random House): Travel journalist and imperialist pundit/apologist (or in his own mind strategist), started out writing propagandistic books on Ethiopia (Surrender or Starve: The Wars Behind the Famine) and Afghanistan (Soldiers of God: With the Mujahidin in Afghanistan, followed by his more substantial Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History (1993), remembered today for its background on Yugoslavia just before it was dismembered, but actually the longest section of the book his caustic portrait of Romania. Here he returns in 2013-14 and evidently finds the same hellhole he knew before.

Kevin M Kruse: One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (2015, Basic Books): Argues that the idea that the United States "is, was, and always has been a Christian nation" originated in the 1930s when opponents of FDR, including corporations like General Motors and Hilton Hotels, recruited conservative clergymen to attack the "pagan statism" of the New Deal. That line of attack gained more traction after WWII when "godless communism" became a more plausible enemy, and Dwight Eisenhower proved a particularly useful idiot for the meme. This complements the similarly themed Steve K Green: Inventing a Christian America: The Myth of the Religious Founding (2015).

Charles R Lister: The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency (2016, Oxford University Press); Middle East/terrorism wonk, has been involved with "a two-year process of face-to-face engagement with the leaderships of over 100 Syrian armed opposition groups," a background which has resulted in a substantial (540 pp) book with a reputable publisher. That certainly doesn't give him equal access to all sides, nor the sort of distance academics will eventually require to chart the history of this tragic war. But he is likely to shed light on the granularity of the opposition groups, and the extent to which they have gravitated towards Jihadism as the war evolved and the situation on the ground deteriorated.

Erik Loomis: Out of Sight: The Long and Disturbing Story of Corporations Outsourcing Catastrophe (2015, New Press): With the ability to move workplaces to anywhere in the world, you get a "race to the bottom" where economic incentives tend to favor the lowest standards of regulation, including pollution controls and health and safety standards for workers. The result, predictably, is a rash of disasters (the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory outside Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2013 is one example cited). Of course, this only gets worse as unions and their political allies are weakened.

Robert W McChesney/John Nichols: People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy (2016, Nation Books): A major thrust of business in recent years has been to eliminate the cost of jobs by employing new technology, which (along with shipping jobs overseas) has allowed profits to soar while weakening workers. The authors have separately and together written many books on media control and workers' political struggles, and every year gives them more fodder to write about.

Joy Newton-Small: Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way America Works (2016, Time: 1): Don't know whether this book is serious or not, but either way I couldn't resist noting the title. Blurb says the author is "one of the nation's most deeply respected and sourced journalists" and adds that she gathered "deep, exclusive and behind-closed-doors" interviews with dozens of notable women in politics, including Sarah Palin and Valerie Jarrett. Broad, indeed.

Henry Petroski: The Road Taken: The History and Future of America's Infrastructure (2016, Bloomsbury USA): Author of numerous books on engineering looks primarily at America's highway system, how it was built, how it is falling apart, and how (when and if) we try to repair it. I doubt he gets very deep into the politics and economics of it all, which is the main reason infrastructure is deteriorating so, but the technical understanding is bound to be interesting. Related: Earl Swift: The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways (2011; paperback, 2012, Mariner Books)

Wendell Potter/Nick Penniman: Nation on the Take: How Big Money Corrupts Our Democracy and What We Can Do About It (2016, Bloomsbury): Few things are more obvious than the insidious effect money has on American politics: even when it doesn't decide who wins, it determines who runs, on what issues, and after election day it becomes even more influential. No doubt the vast majority of Americans would love to see something done about this corruption, but the issue is promptly forgotten after each election, perhaps because the winners are by definition those most skilled at playing the game. Every books post I do has something on this, and no reason to think this book is exceptional, but it's as good as any to hang the issue on this time. Some others I haven't mentioned yet: Robert E Mutch: Buying the Vote: A History of Campaign Finance Reform (2014, Oxford University Press); Derek Cressman: When Money Talks: The High Price of "Free" Speech and the Selling of Democracy (paperback, 2016, Berrett-Koehler).

Stephen Prothero: Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections): The Battles That Define America From Jefferson's Heresies to Gay Marriage (2016, Harper One): Seems intuitively right, although the extreme vitriol of anti-abortion activists and their hegemonic sway over a party that is only really seriously dedicated to making the rich ever richer seems like some kind of counter-example. Prothero's 19th century examples are bound to seem quaint, but I've long been struck by how much Mormons and Muslims have in common, and today's anti-Muslim backlash is actually rather tame compared to 19th-century anti-Mormonism. More narrowly cultural issues are probably even clearer: I can, for instance, remember how nuts certain Christian clergy went over rock and roll, but odds are you can't.

Jedediah Purdy: After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene (2015, Simon & Schuster): A philosophical digression on life in the era of humans, moving as we have ever further from the systems of nature which preceded us. Author was regarded as some kind of prodigy when he first appeared in 1999; has since become a professor of law and moved from cultural issues to more weighty, which doesn't necessarily mean better, thoughts.

Steven Radelet: The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World (2015, Simon & Schuster): The 2000s, in particular, saw the US ruled by the most slovenly pro-business regime in history, yet they only achieved anemic growth by inflating a bubble of fraud and debt (all wiped out when the bubble burst). On the other hand, during the same decade much of the "developing world" accelerated its development (especially China, India, and Brazil), and virtually everywhere saw remarkable progress against poverty, disease, and so forth. This is their story. I wonder whether the book notes that peace and relatively progressive governments were critical factors.

Lisa Randall: Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe (2015, Ecco): Physicist, teaches particle physics and cosmology at Harvard, writes popular science books on the side, previously: Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions (2005), Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World (2011), and Higgs Discovery: The Power of Empty Space (2013). This one develops a theory that dark matter had something to do with a comet which hit earth 65 million years ago wiping out the dinosaurs, but that's just one of many fascinating interconnections.

Simon Reid-Henry: The Political Origins of Inequality: Why a More Equal World Is Better for Us All (2015, University of Chicago Press): Considers inequality "the defining issue of our time," but takes a longer view historically, going back to the 18th century, and a broader one geographically, spanning the former colonial world. The common denominator is evidently politics: above all else, inequality is the result of rigging the game. Somehow manages to cover this with remarkable brevity (all in 208 pp).

Dani Rodrik: Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science (2015, WW Norton): Economist, specialty is globalization and development -- most important insight I've gained from him is that any nation that adopts more liberal trade policies also needs to expand its safety net to compensate for the victims (something the US did the opposite of). This seems to be a general purpose economics primer, going back to Adam Smith and working up basic models and their math.

Kenneth Scheve/David Stasavage: Taxing the Rich: A History of Fiscal Fairness in the United States and Europe (2016, Princeton University Press): After studying the ebb and flow of progressive income taxation in twenty countries over two centuries, the authors conclude that "governments don't tax the rich just because inequality is high or rising -- they do it when people believe that such taxes compensate for the state unfairly privileging the wealthy," mostly citing wars requiring mass mobilization as the prime example. No doubt marginal tax rates in the US rose during WWII and further in the early years of the Cold War, but they had previously risen when the Great Depression highlighted the unfairness of a system that had greatly favored the rich and caused great harm to everyone else when it failed.

David Sehat: The Jefferson Rule: How the Founding Fathers Became Infallible and Our Politics Inflexible (2015, Simon & Schuster): Sure, politicians of every conceivable stripe have looked to the nation's Founders when they could find (or plausibly invent) a congruence of interests -- a stance where infallibility begats inflexibility. Of course, those Founders were hardly of one mind. Sehal focuses on Thomas Jefferson, who strikes me as the one least likely to regard his own position as eternal, but evidently provides a focal point for a history of constitutional politicizing. Sehat previously wrote The Myth of American Religious Freedom (2011).

Rick Shenkman: Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics (2016, Basic Books): More of a journalist than anything else, has long been interested in the murky margins of dis-knowledge -- an early book was Legends, Lies & Cherished Myths of American History, but more to the point is Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth About the American Voter (2008). Not sure about the stone age, but one mistake many of us make today is to flock behind the loudest, most self-confident alpha male we can find (the GOP does its best to breed them). Another is that many of us readily buy into easily manipulated identities. I imagine that most of this you could easily figure out on your own, much as it pains us to think about it.

Wen Stephenson: What We're Fighting for Now Is Each Other: Dispatches From the Front Lines of Climate Justice (2015, Beacon Press): A survey of the "new American radicals" who focus on climate and environmental issues, their focus having more to do with their understanding of human rights -- how environmental degradation hurts people -- than conservative (and hubristic) notions of "saving the earth."

David Talbot: The Devil's Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America's Secret Government (2015, Harper): Big (715 pp) biography of Eisenhower's CIA Director, the brother of Eisenhower's Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, a pair responsible for some of the most egregious acts of Cold War America, ones that continue to reverberate down to the present day. A more succinct version of this story is Stephen Kinzer: The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War (2013). Oddly enough, Talbot previously wrote a book with pretty much the same title: Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years (2007; paperback, 2008, Free Press).

L Randall Wray: Why Minsky Matters: An Introduction to the Work of a Maverick Economist (2015, Princeton University Press): Hyman P Minsky (1919-96) matters because of his unique insights into the instability of modern finance, a point he made well before it became obvious in the 2008 financial meltdown. Until that happened, you might recall, much of the economic profession was dedicated to assuring us that such a breakdown couldn't possibly happen -- that we had entered an "age of moderation" where Milton Friedman's minor corrections to the money supply was all the world needed. Keynes, who had much to say about how to fix depressions, has made a similar comeback, but Minsky was always an outlier.

Other recent books also noted:

  • Fergus M Bordewich: The First Congress: How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government (2016, Simon & Schuster)

  • Mohamed A El-Erian: The Only Game in Town: Central Banks, Instability, and Avoiding the Next Collapse (2016, Random House)

  • Michael V Hayden: Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror (2016, Penguin Press)

  • Bob Ivry: The Seven Sins of Wall Street: Big Banks, Their Washington Lackeys, and the Next Financial Crisis (2014, Public Affairs)

  • David Kilcullen: Blood Year: The Unraveling of Western Counterterrorism (2016, Oxford University Press)

  • Michael Morell: The Great War of Our Time: The CIA's Fight Against Terrorism -- From Al Qa'ida to ISIS (2015, Twelve)

  • John Perkins: The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (paperback, 2016, Berrett-Koehler)

  • Bruce Schneier: Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control the World (2015, WW Norton)

  • Elaine Showalter: The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe: A Biography (2016, Simon & Schuster)

  • James Traub: John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit (2016, Basic Books)

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Daily Log

Just noticed Zac Harmon's Mid-Year Music Update:

  1. Vektor - Terminal Redux [Earache]
  2. Anna Högberg Attack - Anna Högberg Attack [Omlott]
  3. JD Allen Trio - Americana: Musings on Blues and Jazz [Savant]
  4. Kepler Quartet - Ben Johnston: String Quartets 6, 7, 8, Quietness [New World]
  5. Mudcrutch - 2 [Reprise]
  6. Craig Taborn (John Zorn) - Flaga: The Book of Angels, Vol 27 [Tzadik]
  7. Kvelertak - Nattesferd [Roadrunner]
  8. Field Music - Commontime [Memphis Industries]
  9. Nails - You Will Never Be One of Us [Nuclear Blast]
  10. Michael Formanek's Ensemble Kolossus - The Distance [ECM]
  11. Leon Vynehall - Rojus [Running Back]
  12. Quaturo Bozzini - Jurg Frey: String Quartet No. 3/Unhorbare Zeit [Another Timbre]
  13. Bonnie Raitt - Dig in Deep [Redwing Music]
  14. Henry Threadgill - Old Locks and Irregular Verbs [Pi]
  15. Brandy Clark - Big Day in a Small Town [Warner Bros]
  16. Marek Poliks - hull not continent [Another Timbre]
  17. Ches Smith, Matt Maneri & Craig Taborn - The Bell [ECM]
  18. Dr Lonnie Smith - Evolution [Blue Note]
  19. Cobalt - Slow Forever [Profound Lore]
  20. Jemeel Moondoc & Hilliard Greene - Cosmic Nickelodeon [Relative Pitch]
  21. Aruán Ortiz Trio - Hidden Voices [Intakt]
  22. Bombino - Azel [Partisan]
  23. Kyle Hall - From Joy [Wild Oats]
  24. Jeremy Pelt - #JIVECULTURE [HighNote]
  25. Steven Osborne - Feldman/Crumb [Hyperion]
  26. David Bowie - Blackstar [Columbia]
  27. Omar S - The Best [FXHE]
  28. Marylin Crispell, Gary Peacock, Richard Poole - In Motion [Intakt]
  29. Kevin Gates - Islah [Atlantic]
  30. Pet Shop Boys - Super [x2]

Monday, July 04, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 26750 [26732] rated (+18), 449 [438] unrated (+11).

Recovery from whatever struck me the previous week was slow, partly because I never seem to feel like doing much of anything anyways these days. I did manage to post a Rhapsody Streamnotes for June, and filed a tweet to that effect, but promoting the event on Facebook seemed like too much effort -- or maybe just not worth the trouble, as travel and illness had made the column much shorter and sparser than usual. This week's count is way short as well, but I came up with more than a few A-list adds.

One thing that helped there was seeing more than a few mid-year best-of lists. Dan Weiss suggested Eric Prydz (3), The Goon Sax (5), Brandy Clark (18), and a few others I haven't gotten to yet (Konono No. 1, Tweet, The Paranoid Style, Sheer Mag, Wire, Mitski, The Julie Ruin, Fruit Bats, Angry Angles). I haven't been cataloguing these lists, but have started to add some records to my Music Tracking list. Last year's list was pretty deep (3077 records) whereas this year's is still sketchy (488) -- mostly records I've heard (373) plus a few that I may want to check out eventually (actually, up to 635 after I added the records from the "so far" lists below).

For whatever it may be worth, here are some lists I've consulted: Brooklyn Magazine, Complex, Consequence of Sound, Digital Spy, EW, Fact, Fuse, Gigwise, Gorilla vs. Bear, Guardian, Mashable, Metacritic, Mojo, Newsday, NME, NPR, Observer: Hip-Hop, Observer: Jazz, Okayplayer, Pigeons & Planes, Rolling Stone, Spin, Stereogum, The Telegraph, USA Today, Vulture, XXL. I didn't tally them, but offhand the top slot seems to be between Beyoncé and Chance the Rapper, trailed by (in unranked order, my grades in brackets): Anderson .Paak [A-], Radiohead [B], Rihanna [A-], Kanye West [***]; maybe also: Anohni [*], James Blake, David Bowie [***], Tim Hecker, Kaytranada [A-], Kendrick Lamar [***], Mitski [*], Parquet Courts [A-], Sturgill Simpson [***].

Other names that have popped up (probably incomplete, omitting EPs and compilations, * indicates a few mentions [as best I recall], titles only where I'm aware of multiples): *The 1975 [*], Aesop Rock [A-], Africans With Mainframes, Afro Celt Sound System, All Saints, The Anchoress, Applewood Road, ASAP Ferg, Aurora, Autechre, A-WA, Katy B [**], Baauer, Juliana Barwick, Bas, Be, Bendik, Big Thief, BJ the Chicago Kid [A-], Bjarki, Blood Orange [A-], The Body, Boosie BadAzz, Borderland [Juan Atkins/Moritz von Oswald], Brockhampton, Brothers Osborne, *Car Seat Headrest [***], Jazz Cartier, Cavern of Anti-Matter, Helena Celle, *Chairlift, A.Chal, Christine and the Queens, Brandy Clark [A-], Cobalt, Kweku Collins, The Coral, Frankie Cosmos [***], Theo Croker, The Cult, Denzel Curry, Lucy Dacus [***], Daughter, Death Grips, Deftones, Jack DeJohnette [A-], DIIV, J Dilla, DJ Marfox, DJ Shadow [*], John Doe, *Drake, DVSN, Bob Dylan, Open Mike Eagle + Paul White [***], Robert Ellis, Elzhi, Brian Eno [*], Explosions in the Sky, Brian Fallon, The Field, Field Music [B], Flatbush Zombies [**], Floorplan, Flume, Anat Fort, Foxes, Freeway, Eleanor Friedberger, Frightened Rabbit, Robbie Fulks [A-], Future (EVOL), Gallant, Jack Garratt, *Kevin Gates [*], *Domo Genesis, Vince Gill, Robert Glasper, GLOSS, Gojira, Ariana Grande [*], The Greys, Steve Gunn, Bret Harris, PJ Harvey [**], Fay Hield and the Hurricane Party, Marquis Hill, Heron Oblivion, *Hinds, The Hotelier, Into It Over It, Ital Tek, Vijay Iyer/Wadada Leo Smith [**], Elton John, Johnhyun, Majid Jordan, Kamaiyah [**], Kano, Elon Katz, Charles Kelley, KING [**], Kvelertak, Julian Lage [*], Ray LaMontagne, *Jessy Lanza [***], *Lapsley [*], The Last Shadow Puppets, Klara Lewis, Mr. Lif [***], Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty, Kedr Livanskiy, Night Lovell, Lucius, Luh, Loretta Lynn [**], Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Post Malone, Megadeth, Michete, Modern Baseball, Mogwai, Money, The Monkees, Moodymann [**], Kevin Morby, *Maren Morris, Mothers, *Bob Mould, Mozzy, Mudcrutch, Mystery Jets, Nada Surf, Marissa Nadler, Oddisee [*], Panic! at the Disco, Oranssi Pazuzu, Jeff Parker [B], Pet Shop Boys [A-], Pinegrove [*], Rachel Platten, Polica, *Iggy Pop [*], A Pregnant Light, *Margo Price [A-], Pup [C+], Joey Purp, Corinne Bailey Rae, Bonnie Raitt [A-], The Range, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Logan Richardson [*], Alfredo Rodriguez [**], Carrie Rodriguez, Royce da 5'9", Xenia Rubinos, Huerco S, Samlyam, Santigold, *Savages, SBTRKT, School of Seven Bells, Ty Segall, Shearwater, Sia, *Paul Simon [*], Sioux Falls, *Skepta, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Snarky Puppy (Kulcha Vulcha) [C+], Soulwax, Vic Spencer/Chris Crack, *Esperanza Spalding [B], Mavis Staples [**], Gwen Stefani [A-], Sunflower Bean, Swans, Teho Teardo and Blixa Bargeld, Teen Suicide, *Tegan and Sara, Tindersticks, Rokia Traore, Twenty88, William Tyler, Underworld [**], Maria Usbeck, Vektor, Villagers, Violent Soho, Leon Vynehall [A-], Weezer, Westside Gunn, Wet [B], White Denim, *White Lung [**], Whitney, Lucinda Williams, YG, Yo Gotti, Young Dolph, *Young Thug (Slime Season 3) [**], Yung Lean, Zayn, ZelooperZ, Yumi Zouma.

As of midyear (well, today) I have 40 records on my A-list (vs. 161 on my 2015 A-list, or about one-quarter as many in one-half the time). My list includes 20 jazz records (1 listed above), and 21 non-jazz (12 listed above, plus: The Coathangers, Elizabeth Cook, Dori Freeman, Gambari Band, Del McCoury, Eric Prydz, Tacocat, Wussy, Young Thug: I'm Up). Christgau, by the way, has 9 A-list albums (not counting compilations) not listed above: four of mine plus Homeboy Sandman, Konono No. 1, Buddy Miller, Thao & the Get Down Set Down, Waco Brothers.

New records rated this week:

  • Brandy Clark: Big Day in a Small Town (2016, Warner Brothers): [r]: A-
  • Jack DeJohnette: In Movement (2015 [2016], ECM): [dl]: A-
  • DJ Shadow: The Mountain Will Fall (2016, Mass Appeal): [r]: B+(*)
  • Dori Freeman: Dori Freeman (2016, Free Dirt): [r]: A-
  • Fred Frith Trio: Another Day in Fucking Paradise (2015 [2016], Intakt): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • The Goon Sax: Up to Anything (2016, Chapter Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • Ariana Grande: Dangerous Woman (2016, Republic): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Hot Sardines: French Fries + Champagne (2016, Decca): [r]: B+(*)
  • Plus Sized Dan: Plus Sized Dan With Marshall Ruffin (2015, Plus Sized Dan, EP): [r]: B+(***)
  • Eric Prydz: Opus (2016, Astralwerks, 2CD): [r]: A-
  • Marc Ribot/The Young Philadelphians: Live in Tokyo (2014 [2016], Yellowbird): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Paul Simon: Stranger to Stranger (2016, Concord): [r]: B+(*)
  • Two Fresh: Torch (2015, self-released, EP):[r]: B+(*)
  • Wet: Don't You (2016, Columbia): [r]: B
  • Young Thug: I'm Up (2016, 300 Entertainment/Atlantic): [r]: A-
  • Young Thug: Slime Season 3 (2016, 300 Entertainment/Atlantic, EP): [r]: B+(**)

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

  • Hailu Mergia: Wede Harer Guzo (1978 [2016], Awesome Tapes From Africa): [r]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • Clay Harper: Old Airport Road (2013, Terminus): [r]: A-

Grade changes:

  • Chance the Rapper: Coloring Book (2016, self-released): [r]: [was B+(***)] A-
  • Robbie Fulks: Upland Stories (2016, Bloodshot): [r]: [was B+(***)] A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Aaron Bennett/Darren Johnston/Lisa Mezzacappa/Tim Rosaly: Shipwreck 4 (NoBusiness)
  • Bobby Bradford/Hafez Modirzadeh: Live at the Open Gate (NoBusiness): CDR (vinyl release only)
  • Suzanne Dean: Come to Paradise (Ship's Bell Music)
  • Fail Better!: Owt (NoBusiness)
  • Gaudi: EP (RareNoise, EP): advance, July 22
  • Peter Kuhn: No Coming, No Going: The Music of Peter Kuhn, 1978-1979 (NoBusiness, 2CD)
  • Peter Kuhn Trio: The Other Shore (NoBusiness)
  • Elektra Kurtis & Ensemble Elektra: Bridges From the East (Elektra Sound Works/Milo)
  • Tina Marx: Shades of Love (self-released)
  • Merzbow/Keiji Haino/Balasz Pandi: An Untroublesome Defencelessness (RareNoise): advance, July 22
  • Os Clavelitos: Arriving (self-released)
  • Tommy Smith: Modern Jacobite (Spartacus)
  • Arthur Williams: Forgiveness Suite (1979, NoBusiness): CDR (vinyl release only)
  • Nate Wooley/Hugo Antunes/Jorge Queijo/Mario Costa/Chris Corsano: Purple Patio (NoBusiness): CDR (vinyl release only)

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Weekend Roundup

Started this more than a week ago, but things dragged out, making me late, or perhaps now I should say early?

After last week's referendum when 52% of the UK's voters decided to chuck it all and take Britain out of the European Union, David Eversall sent me this clipping from the Financial Times, adding "Probably has relevance for the Presidential election especially the last point."

A quick note on the first three tragedies. Firstly, it was the working classes who voted for us to leave because they were economically disregarded and it is they who will suffer the most in the short term from the dearth of jobs and investment. They have merely swapped one distant and unreachable elite for another one. Secondly, the younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles, and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors. Thirdly and perhaps most significantly, we now live in a post-factual democracy. When the facts met the myths they were as useless as bullets bouncing off the bodies of aliens in a HG Wells novel. When Micahel Gove said 'the British are sick of experts' he was right. But can anybody tell me the last time a prevailing culture of anti-intellectualism has lead to anything other than bigotry?

Aside from the quibble that I suspect it's bigotry that leads to anti-intellectualism rather than the other way around, my reaction to the third point was "welcome to my world." Politics in America went counterfactual in the 1980s when Reagan came up with his "Morning in America" con (more on that at the end).

I'm afraid I didn't know much about Brexit before plodding through the links below. Let me try to summarize what I've learned:

  1. Many in England never liked Europe, or thought of themselves as being part of Europe. They grew up on stories of how Britain won the great European wars of the last two centuries and built the largest empire the world has seen, and they never got over the loss of that empire or of their exceptional status in the world. They never lost their righteousness or their racism. They skew right -- always have -- and they formed the core of the Leave block, as they always would be.

  2. The EU was originally a center-left concept, intent on erasing borders, on entangling the many separate nations of a rather small continent into a cohesive entity that would render impossible the myriad wars of recent centuries. This entity would be built on basic human rights and would advance political and economic equality. But this idea was repeatedly corrupted by business interests, knee-jerk appeals to nationalism, and the parallel cloak of war known as NATO -- which since 2001 has mostly served to exacerbate the divides between north and south, west and east, Crusader (for lack of a better term) and Muslim. One result was that the core for Remain was tepid and in many cases disillusioned.

  3. In the 1980s Thatcher laid waste to industrial Britain while opening Europe to British capital, and later Blair delivered Labour to the financiers while committing the UK to Bush's disastrous "terror" wars. Britain hasn't had a credible leftist government since Wilson's in the 1970s (if not Attlee's in the 1940s), so Britain's experience of the EU has skewed horribly right.

  4. The EU's bravest policy was the insistence on labor mobility. This didn't have a huge impact as long as the national economies were rich and relatively equal, but the EU was easily pressured to expand into less developed countries, and transfers to rebalance the economies have never been adequate. When this happened capital flowed out while cheaper labor flowed in -- the latter easily scapegoated by the right for depressed areas actually caused by capital flight. One result has been the growth of racist right-wing parties throughout Europe (like the anti-EU UKIP in Britain).

  5. The rise of the right, both in Europe and in the US, has pushed immigrants and minorities into the hands of the left-center parties, often becoming significant stakeholders in those parties. This has tended to defocus the traditional class-schism between left and right -- perhaps more so in the US, where Democrats have few qualms about shafting labor in favor of liberal businesses, knowing that minorities have no choice but to vote for them. As this happens, older/whiter workers can lash back against the left-center. Conversely, liberals tend to focus on opposing racism and xenophobia rather than actually working for more equitable prosperity.

  6. After the global finance bubble burst in 2008, the bankers and their politicians conspired to save themselves at the expense of everyone else. They controlled the EU, which ceased to be a reform movement and became an instrument for denying democracy and imposing austerity across the entire continent. This was perhaps worse in the Eurozone, but the UK, which had the flexibility of its own currency, followed suit with a crippling austerity program benefitting no one but the London banks. The right, which had caused most of this pain, found it easy to blame Europe, and many (even some on the left) readily bought that line.

  7. Then there was sheer political opportunism. Tory leader Cameron promised to hold a referendum on leaving the EU during the last elections in a crass move to prevent conservative voters from defecting to UKIP. He assumed a referendum would be harmless, as all three major parties were committed to staying in the EU. Still, the Conservatives had long had a sizable anti-EU core, and Labour had recently revolted against the Blairites and elected leftist Jeremy Corbyn as party leader (who post-facto was charged as ineffective, possibly even uncommitted to the Remain cause). One result was that the campaign for Remain spanned the entire ideological spectrum without having any coherent vision or much commitment. (As I note below, "remain" itself is a remarkably passive and for that matter nonchalant verb.) Another was that it was practically defenseless against misleading and often ridiculous charges, the stock-in-trade of the right-wing tabloid press.

  8. After the vote, the markets panicked, as markets tend to do. Still, nothing has happened yet, and separation will by all accounts take at least two years from whenever it starts, which isn't now because Cameron resigned and Parliament isn't actually required to pull the suicide trigger. Most likely there will be new elections and prolonged negotiations while nothing much actually happens -- other than continuation of the current rot -- and the folks who pull strings behind curtains get their ducks lined up.

  9. One thing that's little commented on is the pernicious effect of NATO on Europe. Through NATO, the US sucked Europe into its Global War on Terror (most specifically its parochial war against Islam in Afghanistan), and also into its rekindled Cold War against Russia. The EU expanded aggressively into Eastern Europe, thereby unbalancing the equality of member states, mostly because NATO led the way. NATO aggression in North Africa and the Middle East then triggered a refuge crisis on top of Europe's previous immigration problem. One terrible result is that Europe has become targeted by ISIS-affiliated (a very loose definition) terrorists, which mostly serves to provoke hatred and backlash. The right builds on this, even though you'd think that anyone who frets over sovereignty worry more about the US/NATO.

  10. I suspect that eventually we'll find that the EU has spun such a thick institutional web that it will prove impossible to disentangle it all. That is to say, the core nations are stuck with it, regardless of whether their people understand why. Still, movements to exit and hoist up renewed national borders will continue until the EU reforms into something that actually benefits most of the people pretty much everywhere, and their failure will continue to embarrass leaders of all parties but the most fringe. To do this, the EU needs to move left, if anything out ahead of the national parties. And it needs to do this not just to deliver on its original concept but to give people all across the continent reason to support it, and through it each other. These are things your center-right neo-liberals, dedicated as they are to making the rich richer and otherwise letting the chips land where they might, just can't do. Unfortunately, the center-left isn't able to either, especially when faced with the sort of "scorched earth" opposition the Republicans excel at in the US.

  11. One last point: I cite several anti-EU leftists below, who are right to blame the US/NATO and who are not wrong to see the referendum as a broad rejection of neoliberal consensus. It's not clear that they also believe that the UK is more likely to move left without the EU than within, but I imagine they can make a fair case to that effect -- just now sure if that's because recession will make voters more desperate, because a nation not in the EU has more options, or both. Still, I can't share their enthusiasm for Brexit. I just can't see how a retreat into narrow-minded prejudice advances a more equitable society and a more humane economy.

In what follows, it may be tempting, sobering, even chilling to think of Leave as Trump and Remain as Clinton. I think that's probably why we often take away the notion that Leave was primarily racist/xenophobic and Remain as liberal/integrationist, even though there were many more nuances to each. But working that angle out should really be another exercise. I suspect we'll find many more angles there too (with Trump it's hard to think of anything as a nuance).

Some Brexit links:

  • Post-Brexit global equity loss of over $2 trillion -- worst ever.

  • Anne Applebaum: What the media gets wrong about Brexit: "The leave campaign does not have a common vision and does not have a common plan because its members wouldn't be able to agree on one."

  • Torsten Bell: The referendum, living standards and inequality: Several charts show that recent changes to income have little bearing on the vote. Rather, look at 1980s Thatcherism: "The legacy of increased national inequality in the 1980s, the heavy concentration of those costs in certain areas, and our collective failure to address it has more to say about what happened last night than shorter term considerations from the financial crisis or changed migration flows."

  • Mike Carter: I walked from Liverpool to London. Brexit was no surprise: "Thatcherism devastated communities throughout industrial England that have never recovered. Their pain explains why people voted to leave in the EU referendum."

  • John Cassidy: Why the Remain Campaign Lost the Brexit Vote: Cites, and agrees with, Torsten Bell (above). Then notes how uninspiring the Remain campaign, backed lamely by leaders of all three major political parties, was: "The Remain side argued, in effect, that while the E.U. isn't great, Britain would be even worse off without it. That turned out to be a losing story." It occurs to me that "remain" is probably the most passive word in the English language. Why would anyone pick it as a slogan? In 2004, when the Iraq War had gone sour, Bush (or Rove or whoever) didn't campaign to Remain in Iraq. They opted for Stay, or more often Stay the Course, suggesting that there is a plan that will eventually pan out if only we don't lose our will. European Union, frankly, was a lot more promising idea than the Iraq War ever was, yet its so-called defenders seem to have lost faith in it or understanding of it and are left with nothing more to offer than the threat that if we fail to accept the status quo, things will only get worse.

    Cassidy also wrote Why Brexit Might Not Happen at All and Sunderland and the Brexit Tragedy. I don't find the former very convincing, although I wouldn't be surprised if somehow the Leave win gets circumvented. There are a number of ways Britain's elites might go about ignoring the referendum results, with Cameron's resignation a first step, and Boris Johnson's reluctance to replace him a second. The former shipbuilding city Sunderland is another example: industry was shut down there during the Thatcher years, depressing the region to the point where the EU actually helps out, they still voted Leave. "Unless the Brexit vote is somehow reversed, the residents of places like Sunderland will most likely be left to fly the Union Jack and fester."

  • Amy Davidson: Brexit Should Be a Warning About Donald Trump: In particular, it reminds us that there are people who will vote for Trump not because of who Trump is but because of their own jaundiced worldview. I know a Trump supporter whose only explanation is "chaos" -- I suspect he'd vote for Charles Manson if given the chance. After all, what is Brexit other than a vote for chaos? Davidson quotes Hillary's response: "This time of uncertainty only underscores the need for calm, steady, experienced leadership in the White House." And she thinks that's a winning argument against a clown who promises unpredictable entertainment?

  • Tom Ewing: Obsolete Units Surrounded by Hail: "An A to Z of Brexit. Cathartic fragments, pessimistic conjectures." Encyclopedic, but let's single out: "David Cameron is the worst post-war Prime Minister, a gambler without even the spine to bet his reputation (and the country's economy) on something he believed in."

  • Tony Karon: It's the end of the world as we know it -- again: "The Brexit result -- a vote of no-confidence in the elites of London and Brussels by an English working class that has been steadily marginalised over three decades -- underscores the peril that the system that has aggrandised those elites now faces through its failure to deliver economic security and dignity to millions of citizens." He mentions that economists have largely turned against austerity, and notes some opportunities for fruitful spending like the $3.6 trillion needed "to restore and modernise crumbling infrastructure [in the US] by 2020," adding that "Hillary Clinton proposes an infrastructure spend less than 10 per cent of what the Civil Engineers recommend; Mr Trump has offered no plan."

  • Paul Krugman: Brexit: The Morning After: "It seems clear that the European project -- the whole effort to promote peace and growing political union through economic integration -- is in deep, deep trouble." Also: The Macroeconomics of Brexit: Motivated Reasoning? "Economists have very good reasons to believe that Brexit will do bad things in the long run, but are strongly tempted to sex up their arguments by making very dubious claims about the short run." Still, Dean Baker has some quibbles about Krugman's claims (see Paul Krugman, Brexit, and Bubbles): namely, he suspects London is enjoying a real estate bubble that Brexit is likely to pop . . . and, well, you know how that goes.

  • Alex Massie: Is Brexit the beginning of the End of Britain?: Focuses mostly on Scotland, which voted against independence when threatened with exile from the UE, and voted heavily to remain in the EU. There are also similar feelings in Northern Ireland (where unification with Ireland would keep them in the EU) and even in Wales. But breaking up the UK may not be the only way out for Scotland; see Nicola Sturgeon: Scottish parliament could block Brexit.

  • Chris Patten: A British Tragedy in One Act: Quotes Churchill: "The trouble with committing political suicide is that you live to regret it."

  • John Pilger: A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe: "The majority vote by Britons to leave the European Union was an act of raw democracy. Millions of ordinary people refused to be bullied, intimidated and dismissed with open contempt by their presumed betters in the major parties, the leaders of the business and banking oligarchy and the media." Depends on your point of view, but when you say no to the entire establishment, you're not necessarily just voting for a narrow flag-waving anti-immigrant platform (although Pilger ignores those who did just that).

  • Norman Pollack: Fissures in World Capitalism: The British Vote: "The elephant in the room is NATO. Obviously, the EU is its economic counterpart, and was never conceived in isolation as a mere trading bloc. With Britain out, hopefully others will follow, the EU will tighten its ship as an economic union and NATO, now presently at Russia's borders, will be forced to rethink its dangerous course." A referendum on British membership in NATO would have been more interesting, and indeed might have started a dissolution of an organization that these days serves mostly to entangle Europe in America's post-imperial wars. But my initial reaction was opposite of Pollack's: Brexit will push Britain even more into the US orbit, increasing its stake in subduing the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. One might hope that "old Europe" would respond by ditching NATO, but the EU has already followed NATO deep into "new Europe" and the latter are keen on poking the Russian Bear.

  • Randeep Ramesh: Racism is spreading like arsenic in the water supply: "The far right preys on the weakest members of society and by letting anti-immigrant rhetoric bed in we are eroding civil rights not strengthening them." I.e., a spike in such incidents led to Cameron condemns xenophobic and racist abuse after Brexit vote.

  • Jeffrey D Sachs: The Meaning of Brexit: "In Europe, the call to punish Britain pour encourager les autres -- to warn those contemplating the same -- is already rising. This is European politics at its stupidest (also very much on display vis-à-vis Greece)." Also, he points out that US foreign policy viz. Syria and Ukraine are much to blame for the crisis, and just falls short of pointing out that NATO is what Europe should be exiting. For more on "stupidest" politics, see European leaders rule out informal Brexit talks before article 50 is triggered.

  • George Soros: Brexit and the Future of Europe: "Now the catastrophic scenario that many feared has materialized, making the disintegration of the EU practically irreversible."

  • Andre Vltchek: Brexit -- Let the UK Screw Itself!: "Almost no commentator bothered to notice what was truly shocking about the entire referendum process: an absolute lack of progressive ideology, of internationalism and concern for the world as a whole. Both sides (and were there really two sides there) presented a fireworks of shallow selfishness and of pettiness. The profound moral corruption of the West was clearly exposed."

  • Paul Woodward: Who gets democracy?: A number of interesting points here. One that especially struck me: "Last Thursday, 2.7 million people who have made Britain their home were not allowed to vote because although they are EU citizens resident in an EU country, they are not British citizens." Don't you think people who are so affected by a vote should get to vote? Good chance that bloc would have swung the election. (FWIW, I also think that immigrants, at least the ones with legal jobs, should be able to vote in US elections: if you live and work somewhere, you are part of the public, and therefore a stake holder.)

  • Simon Wren-Lewis: The triumph of the tabloids: "Of course we should blame Johnson and Farage and the rest: the UK has paid a very high price to facilitate political ambition. Of course we should blame Cameron and Osborne for taking the referendum gamble and stoking anger with austerity. But a few politicians alone are not capable of fooling the electorate so consistently. To do that they need to control the means of communicating information."

Meanwhile, some short links on other subjects:

  • Patrick Cockburn: An Endless Cycle of Indecisive Wars: Tom Engelhardt's introduction cites a statistic that should help you understand Brexit: "If you want a single figure that catches the grim spirit of our moment, it's 65 million. That's the record-setting number of people that the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates were displaced in 2015 by 'conflict and persecution,' one of every 113 inhabitants of the planet." Most of them result from the US/NATO wars against Islam, and I include Syria in that list, and as Cockburn shows, they keep getting worse because the US/NATO can't manage to bring them to any sort of conclusion, diplomatic or otherwise. And yes, here's another Brexit quote, restating what should by now be obvious:

    The reasons why a narrow majority of Britons voted for Brexit have parallels with the Middle East: the free-market economic policies pursued by governments since Margaret Thatcher was prime minister have widened the gap between rich and poor and between wealthy cities and much of the rest of the country. Britain might be doing well, but millions of Britons did not share in the prosperity. The referendum about continued membership in the European Union, the option almost universally advocated by the British establishment, became the catalyst for protest against the status quo. The anger of the "Leave" voters has much in common with that of Donald Trump supporters in the United States.

  • Donald Cohen: The History of Privatization: Part 1 (of 4).

  • Thomas Frank: Worshipping Money in DC: Author of the best political book of 2016, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People, although you might consider holding off until after you vote for Hillary in November -- it offers few inducements to support her now, but will help you understand what went wrong after she's inaugurated. This piece is more on lobbying -- the principal subject of Frank's equally worthy 2008 book, The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule, and of the newsletter Influence, extensively cited here. Conclusion: "This is not an industry, Influence's upbeat and name-dropping style suggests. It is a community -- a community of corruption, perhaps, but a community nevertheless: happy, prosperous, and joyously oblivious to the plight of the country once known as the land of the middle class." I'll add that American politicians have always been easy to bribe, because they've never been very skeptical of hustlers out to make money -- that's just part of America's boom ethic. The only thing that's changed is the scale of the graft and how systematic it's become, plus how our campaign system selects for the best moneygrubbers.

  • Henry Grabar: Kansas' Insane Right-Wing Experiment Is About to Destroy Its Roads: Well, it is true that Kansas has been raiding the highway fund ever since Brownback blew a hole in the budget with his massive tax giveaways, and consequently new roads aren't being built and old roads aren't being maintained -- at least not at prudent levels. This is the sort of short-sighted policy that doesn't fully impact you right away: it takes time for weather and wear to break down those roads, but the toll accumulates until it does become catastrophic, at which point debt will make it even harder to address.

  • John Feffer: Donald Trump and America B: Actually, starts with recent elections in Poland which brought the reactionary PiS to power, arguing that shows a backlash by those left behind ("Poland B") by the urban neoliberals who have dominated Polish politics ("Poland A") -- a dynamic that is sweeping across Europe and finds an analog in the Trump bandwagon here. I don't know about Poland, but in the US I doubt Trump's supporters are that poor -- I've seen surveys that show them averaging about $20K above average US family income (whereas Sanders and Clinton run about even). This also ignores the growth of leftist parties in non-ex-communist states, especially ones crushed by austerity measures like Greece and Spain (but also within left-center parties, like Corbyn in the UK and Sanders in the US).

  • Elizabeth Kolbert: Drawing the Line: On gerrymandering old and new, especially the REDMAP project which was so successful for Republicans in 2010, as detailed in David Daley's Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy. "In House races in 2012, 1.7 million more votes were cast for Democrats than for Republicans. And still, thanks to the way those votes were packed and cracked, Republicans came away with thirty-three more congressional seats."

  • Elizabeth Kolbert: Fort McMurray and the Fires of Climate Change: Piece from May 5 -- a lot more burnt since then. More generally: "In Canada, and also in the United States and much of the rest of the world, higher temperatures have been extending the wildfire season. Last year, wildfires consumed ten million acres in the U.S., which was the largest area of any year on record."

  • Evan Osnos: Making a Killing: Useful brief history of (as the sub puts it) the business and politics of selling guns.

    More American civilians have died by gunfire in the past decade than all the Americans who were killed in combat in the Second World War. When an off-duty security guard named Omar Mateen, armed with a Sig Sauer semiautomatic rifle and a Glock 17 pistol, killed forty-nine people at a gay club in Orlando, on June 12th, it was historic in some respects and commonplace in others -- the largest mass shooting in American history and, by one count, the hundred-and-thirtieth mass shooting so far this year. High-profile massacres can summon our attention, and galvanize demands for change, but in 2015 fatalities from mass shootings amounted to just two per cent of all gun deaths. Most of the time, when Americans shoot one another, it is impulsive, up close, and apolitical.

    None of that has hurt the gun business. In recent years, in response to three kinds of events -- mass shootings, terrorist attacks, and talk of additional gun control -- gun sales have broken records. "You know that every time a bomb goes off somewhere, every time there's a shooting somewhere, sales spike like crazy," Paul Jannuzzo, a former chief of American operations for Glock, the Austrian gun company, told me.

  • Jeffrey Toobin: Clarence Thomas Has His Own Constitution: "The abortion dissent explains why Thomas is so cut off on the Court, even from his fellow-conservatives. He doesn't respect the Court's precedents. He is so convinced of the wisdom of his approach to the law that he rejects practically the whole canon of constitutional law." Toobin also quotes Scalia on how his judicial philosophy differed from Thomas's: "I'm an originalist," Scalia said, "but I'm not a nut."

  • Paul Waldman: Trump's response to terrorism is both weak and barbaric: "It seems that nothing is more horrifying to Donald Trump than the idea that somebody might be laughing at us, or more specifically, at him." Too much after that trying to cast GW Bush as an enlightened alternative ("a fatherly reassurance that their president would keep them safe"), but it's a measure of Trump's instability that makes such comparisons possible.

  • Julia Carrie Wong/Danny Yadron: Hillary Clinton proposes student debt deferral for startup founders: Worst faux pas (of its type) since Paul Ryan took Labor Day as an occasion to tout "America's job creators" deprecating the people who actually do the work to keep everything running. What was she thinking? That the people most able to repay their debts should be spared? That tomorrow's business leader should get a head start on sucking the public tit? That the people should subsidize MBA programs that teach young people to become sociopaths? Or just that, to agree with Ryan and Ayn Rand, entrepreneurs are so much better than everyone else? Surely she can't imagine that this will be a universal benefit, that it will lead to a world where everyone is an entrepreneur and no one actually has to do any work? Or maybe she just sees it as a cheap sop, as a way of shaming all those poor sods who went to college just to learn a trade, or worse still to learn liberal arts, to become more knowledgeable citizens, to contribute a little something to what we used to call civilization?

    The authors quote Hillary: "I disagree with free college for everybody. I don't think taxpayers should be paying to send Donald Trump's kids to college." Well, maybe Trump's kids should go to college -- especially if college meant something other than rubberstamping credentials (like, you know, learning how to get along and now just how to get ahead). And maybe if the public paid for it, Trump wouldn't be so motivated to grab money for his own personal aggrandizement (or if he still was, we'd be less relucatant to tax it back). A world where everyone, regardless of how rich or poor they start out, has the same opportunity to learn as much as they can would likely be much better than the one we live in now.

    For more, see Rana Foroohar: Why Hillary Clinton's Student Debt Idea Is Smart, one of those pieces that exposes how ridiculous Clinton's program is by assuming it's brilliant. In particular:

    Start-ups are a key driver of productivity. But the birthrate of startups has been in decline since the 1970s. Since then, it has dovetailed with a shift in how the financial sector business model works -- it no longer invests primarily in new business, but rather buys up and trades existing assets, and funding for small and mid-sized start ups is still scarce (while increasing monopoly power on the part of large firms squashes new ones, as Robert Reich and others have recently written.)

    And how exactly is a modest tax incentive (debt deferral) going to fix these problems? If monopoly power is the problem (and it's certainly a big one), the classic remedy is antitrust enforcement, and I'd add that it's also important to open up ways to provide financing and build capital that bypass the exclusive control of predatory financiers. You also need to look hard at what finance does, and undercut the rewards of bad short-term behavior even if you can't figure out how to reward long-term productive investment -- as it is the financial sector is sucking up far too much money, so you need to both that less likely and tax it away when it happens. Also, another thing that has been driving productivity down "since the 1970s" has been the decline of worker control, so that, too, is something to direct policy at promoting. Clinton's proposal hardly even amounts to a gesture against these problems. Rather, it hints that she's still in thrall to the high-tech is going to save the world from endemic corruption. This is actually a common myth in New Democratic circles -- a major theme in Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal.

    Meanwhile, the evidence on using tax incentives to influence business behavior is pretty damning. This came as no surprise to me. From the beginning I thought that every "incentive" was a distortion leading to warped thought. In 1984 I was looking for a job. I recall driving up I-93 from Boston with a headhunter who pointed out Compugraphic's various buildings along the route and explained the tax advantages of each. When I arrived at corporate headquarters I found that most of the managers actually lived in "tax-free New Hampshire," and several explained that matters most isn't income, it's after-tax profits. I knew then the company was doomed, and indeed it was. But they were spouting "truths" that were clichés at the time, spread hither and yon by the business press, so my judgment wasn't just limited to this one company: I figured the whole economy was doomed, if not to the tragedy of the Great Depression then at least to the farce we've lived through ever since the 1980s, occasionally propped up then blown apart by increasingly desperate bubbles.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Daily Log

Dan Weiss posted his mid-year list on Facebook. Adding my grades where known (some added after the list came out):

  1. Kevin Gates, Islah [*]
  2. Parquet Courts, Human Performance [A-]
  3. Eric Prydz, Opus [A-]
  4. Rihanna, ANTI [A-]
  5. The Goon Sax, Up to Anything [***]
  6. Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book [A-]
  7. Konono N°1/Batida, Konono N°1 Meets Batida
  8. Tweet, Charlene
  9. The Paranoid Style, Rolling Disclosure
  10. Sheer Mag, III
  11. Homeboy Sandman, Kindness for Weakness [***]
  12. Wire, Nocturnal Koreans
  13. Kanye West, The Life of Pablo [***]
  14. Mitski, Puberty 2
  15. Death Grips, Bottomless Pit
  16. The Coathangers, Nosebleed Weekend [A-]
  17. Kendrick Lamar, untitled unmastered. [***]
  18. Brandy Clark, Big Day in a Small Town [A-]
  19. Wussy, Forever Sounds [A-]
  20. The Julie Ruin, Hit Reset
  21. Esperanza Spalding, Emily's D+Evolution [B]
  22. Weezer, Weezer
  23. PJ Harvey, The Hope Six Demolition Project [**]
  24. ORANSSI PAZUZU, Värähtelijä
  25. Anna Wise, The Feminine: Act I [EP]
  26. Saul Williams, Martyr Loser King [***]
  27. Kvelertak, Nattesferd
  28. Colleen Green, Colleen Green [EP]
  29. G.L.O.S.S., Trans Day of Revenge
  30. Open Mike Eagle & Paul White, Hella Personal Film Festival [***]
  31. Fruit Bats, Absolute Loser
  32. Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, A Man Alive [*]
  33. Ukandanz, Awo [*]
  34. Beyoncé, Lemonade
  35. Angry Angles, Angry Angles
  36. Pylon, Live
  37. Ty Segall, Emotional Mugger
  38. White Lung, Paradise [**]
  39. Margo Price, Midwest Farmer's Daughter [A-]
  40. Bombino, Azel [***]
  41. KING, We Are KING
  42. Michete, Cool Tricks 2
  43. Dawn Richard, Infrared [EP]
  44. ANOHNI, Hopelessness
  45. Vic Spencer & Chris Crack, Who the Fuck Is Chris Spencer

Also three alphabetical lists by Phil Overeem: the first noted as bold (better), second with a "heavy leaning on ya" asterisk (also on all the bold records), then the rest. Note quite a few older records:

  • J.D. Allen: Americana
  • Beyonce: Lemonade
  • Bombino: Azel [***]
  • James Booker: Bayou Maharajah (film)
  • Chance the Rapper: Coloring Book [A-]
  • Anna Hogberg: Anna Hogberg Attack
  • Kool and Kass [Peaceful Solutions]: Barter 7 (2015) [A-]
  • *Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith: A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke [**]
  • Joe McPhee and Paal Nilssen-Love: Candy (2015)
  • Mexrissey: No Manchester [*]
  • Van Morrison: It's Too Late to Stop Now . . . Volumes II, III, IV [A-]
  • Music of Morocco: Recorded by Paul Bowles, 1959
  • Original Cast Recording of Hamilton (2015) [**]

Second tier:

  • Angry Angles: Angry Angles
  • Aram Bajakian: Music Inspired by the film "The Color of Pomegranates" (2015) [**]
  • Bob Dylan: Fallen Angels
  • Jemeel Moondoc and Hilliard Greene: Cosmic Nickolodeon
  • Open Mike Eagle: Hella Personal Film Festival [***]
  • Parquet Courts: Human Performance [A-]
  • Allen Toussaint: American Tunes [**]
  • Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil: Dois Amigos, Um Século de Música: Multishow Live
  • Saul Williams: Martyr Loser King [***]
  • Soul Sok Sega: Sega Sounds from Mauritius [***]

Third tier:

  • David Bowie: Blackstar [***]
  • Charles Bradley: Changes [*]
  • Anthony Braxton: 3 Compositions [EEMHM] 2011 [**]
  • Childbirth: Women's Rights (2015) [***]
  • Elizabeth Cook: Exodus of Venus [A-]
  • Dalek: Asphalt for Eden [*]
  • Jack DeJohnette: In Movement [A-]
  • Del McCoury Band: Del and Woody [A-]
  • Robbie Fulks: Upland Stories [A-]
  • Garbage: Strange Little Birds
  • Konono N°1 and Batida: Konono N°1 meets Batida
  • Kendrick Lamar: Untitled Unmastered [***]
  • Linda Gail Lewis: Heartache Highway [***]
  • Loretta Lynn: Full Circle [**]
  • Oddissee: Alwasta
  • Professor Longhair: Live in Chicago [**]
  • Pusha T: Darkness Before Dawn (2015) [***]
  • Blind Alfred Reed: Appalachian Visionary [A-]
  • Rihanna: Anti [A-]
  • Sonny Rollins: Holding Down the Stage: Road Shows, Volume Four [A-]
  • Colin Stetson: Sorrow: A Reimagining of Gorecki's Third Symphony
  • Tacocat: Lost Time [A-]
  • Henry Threadgill: Old Locks and Irregular Verbs [A-]
  • White Lung: Paradise [**]
  • Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys: Let's Play, Boys: Rediscovered Songs from Bob Wills' Personal Transcriptions
  • Wussy: Forever Sounds [A-]
  • Yoni & Geti: Testarossa
  • Tom Ze: Vira Lata na Via Lactea (2014) [A-]

Jun 2016