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Monday, January 25, 2021


Weekend Roundup

Tuesday before Inauguration Day, we were watching television, and someone made a comment about what that evening felt like. I don't remember what he said, but the feeling I had reminded me of Christmas Eve when I was a child. I was anticipating a day of peace, tranquility, and bounteous presents. Not a feeling I've had often since, so I was surprised to find how vivid it felt. Still, unlike my childhood, I didn't get up early and excited the next day. I slept in, so by the time I came downstairs it had happened: Trump left the White House and flew off to Florida; Biden and Harris had been sworn in, and my wife reported that the ceremony had been peaceful, solemn, and a bit inspiring.

Then she complained about something stupid Jake Sullivan had written, but I wasn't in any mood to go there. Biden's domestic policy promises to offer a break from the recent past: not only from the increasingly extreme Republican service to the rich and the bigoted but from the supposedly moderate (but more like Reagan-lite) Clinton-Obama periods. On the other hand, Biden's initial take on foreign policy is to return to pre-Trump orthodoxy, which includes a lot of destructive baggage -- not least personnel heavily implicated in past mistakes. No doubt I'll write more about that in the future, but I'd rather not spoil the vibe. Besides, Biden's first two foreign policy moves -- rejoining WHO and the Paris Accords -- were exactly right, both as policy and priority.

By the way, this should be my last Weekend Roundup. I started doing something like this in June 2007, in a segment I originally called Weekly Links, then renamed Weekend Roundup a couple months later. I saw it as a method to keep track of what was happening, to keep a journal for future reference. I've collected those pieces in book files, one for 2000-08, then one more for each subsequent four-year term. Trump's ended this week, so I figure I'm done with it, but I don't feel like starting another one on Biden. Age factors into this, as does weariness, and a desire to focus on other projects. But also I don't want to spend the next four years regularly finding fault with Biden like I did with Obama. I wound up very bitter over Obama's failures. I don't expect much better from Biden, but also would like to enjoy what little good we get out of him.

Over the last year, I've been spending an average of 3 days a week putting Weekend Roundup together, and that's way too much. I imagine they went quicker further back, but lately we've seen both an explosion of scandalous stories worth covering and of thoughtful critiques -- the latter is one reason I'm finding my own contributions less and less necessary. I wonder, for instance, if it might be more useful for me to occasionally tweet links and notes as they occur to me, rather than saving them up for a weekly piece that few ever manage to read through. But freeing up time will also allow me to focus on other projects, not least other ways to present my thinking.

I've long thought of the world in terms of possible book projects, and I have several of those stored up, as well as a fairly vast trove of writing. (A quick wc of the notebook directory counts 7,169,740 words, not including 8,536 so far here.) While they are currently organized chronologically, one project would be to go back and pull select excerpts and sort them thematically. I have a publisher interested in publishing a short volume of extracts, so that should be the low fruit. Beyond that, we'll see. I also have a few other ideas to start sorting out. We'll go into them later.

I'll continue doing Music Week on Mondays, although this week will be late -- not just because this Weekend Roundup ate up my Monday but because we're approaching the end of January, and that's when I like to wrap up the previous year. That should include the last additions to the EOY aggregate files, the freeze of a copy of the 2020 file, and so forth. I'll add more 2020 records to my EOY lists as I find them, and move on to 2021, but I expect to cut back on my searching and tracking.


Table of contents:


Exit Trump

Trump pardoned a bunch of people -- mostly friends, fellow travelers, and people who committed crimes Trump is particularly fond (or maybe envious?) of, including a couple rappers busted for guns -- then flew off to Florida, with considerably less pomp than he had hoped for. This section also includes a few more pieces on the Capitol insurrection and its supporters. Seems like the right place, since Trump owns all that.


Alex Abad-Santos: Donald Trump's presidency was the worst thing that happened to the Trump brand. Includes comments from "five branding experts."

Zeeshan Aleem/Sean Collins: On his last full day in office, Trump sinks to his lowest low in major polls. There's a tweet here by Manu Raju showing "final presidential approval ratings before leaving office," with Trump at 34%, just a bit above Truman (1952) at 32%, but one name is conspicuously missing: GW Bush, in 2008-09 -- they mention that Bush's net approval rose 13 points between the 2008 election and Obama's inauguration, but don't say from what (if memory serves, well less than 34%) to what. (Obviously, one difference between Bush and Trump was that the former exited gracefully, whereas the latter went kicking and screaming.) Also missing was Herbert Hoover in 1933, for lack of polling data back then, but he would have ranked pretty low.

Bill Allison: Organizers of Trump rally had been on campaign's payroll.

Zack Beauchamp: Trump is gone. But the threat of right-wing violence that arose under his watch remains.

Tom Boggioni: Does Ivanka Trump really have a "political future" after this disaster? "Ivanka and Jared Kushner reportedly "in a bit of a panic" -- her plan to primary Marco Rubio in '22 may be on hold." I didn't think she had any political future even before Trump's post-election death spiral. Aside from the name, she doesn't have any of the charisma that gave Trump his limited following, nor does she have any substance to make up for her shortcomings. Same goes for the rest of the clan. I'd go further and speculate that the whole aristocracy thing has worn thin (and not just thanks to the Bushes and Clintons, although they do come to mind), but that's just an added handicap. Moreover, while I find Rubio thoroughly loathsome, I suspect he will be very hard to beat.

Christina Cauterucci: What Donald Trump did to DC.

Kyle Cheney: Trump authorizes DOJ to declassify Russia probe documents.

Kyle Cheney/Josh Gerstein: Feds: Evidence shows well-laid plan by some Capitol insurrectionists.

Adam Ciralsky: "The President threw us under the bus": Embedding with Pentagon leadership in Trump's chaotic last week.

Anthony Clark: Will there be a Trump presidential library? Don't count on it.

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Trump is out. Are we ready to talk about how he got in?

The chasm between professed ideal and actual practice is not surprising. No one wants to believe themselves to be the villain of history, and when you have enough power, you can hold reality at bay. Raw power transfigured an age of serfdom and warmongering into one of piety and courtly love.

This is not merely a problem of history. Twice now, Rudy Giuliani has incited a mob of authoritarians. In the interim, "America's Mayor" was lauded locally for crime drops that manifested nationally. No matter. The image of Giuliani as a pioneering crime fighter gave cover to his more lamentable habits -- arresting whistleblowers, defaming dead altar boys, and raiding homeless shelters in the dead of night. Giuliani was, by Jimmy Breslin's lights, "blind, mean, and duplicitous," a man prone to displays "of great nervousness if more than one black at a time entered City Hall." And yet much chin-stroking has been dedicated to understanding how Giuliani, once the standard-bearer for moderate Republicanism, a man who was literally knighted, was reduced to inciting a riot at the U.S. Capitol. The answer is that Giuliani wasn't reduced at all. The inability to see what was right before us -- that Giuliani was always, in Breslin's words, "a small man in search of a balcony" -- is less about Giuliani and more about what people would rather not see.

And what is true of Giuliani is particularly true of his master. It was popular, at the time of Donald Trump's ascension, to stand on the thinnest of reeds in order to avoid stating the obvious. It was said that the Trump presidency was the fruit of "economic anxiety," of trigger warnings and the push for trans rights. We were told that it was wrong to call Trump a white supremacist, because he had merely "drawn upon their themes."

George T Conway III: Donald Trump's new reality: "Former president, private citizen and, perhaps, criminal defendant."

Nick Corasaniti: Rudy Giuliani sued by Dominion Voting Systems over false election claims.

Michael Crowley: Trump's '1776 report' defends America's founding on the basis of slavery and blasts progressivism. That was quick, given that the "advisory committee" wasn't established until September 2020, but when all you're doing is writing up pseudohistory for preconceived political purposes, it wasn't that big of a reach. And how funny they released it on Martin Luther King Day? We often comment on how often Trump lies, but rarely on how today's lies depend on belief in a mythic past constructed of lies meant not just to misinform but to prevent us from understanding how we got to where we are. For more:

Josh Dawsey/Michael Scherer: Trump jumps into a divisive battle over the Republican Party -- with a threat to start a 'MAGA Party'. Won't happen, and not just because Trump is too old and lazy and ignorant to become the American Marine Le Pen. If he did, the rump Republicans would have to destroy him, and he wouldn't last a minute against Team Fox. Further comment:

Ryan Devereaux: Capitol attack was culmination of generations of far-right extremism.

Tom Dreisbach/Meg Anderson: Nearly 1 in 5 defendants in Capitol riot cases served in the military. That's three times the share of veterans in the adult population (7%).

Josh Gerstein/Kyle Cheney: Trump pardons dozens, including Steve Bannon, as he exits White House. As noted in the intro, the most interesting thing about the pardons is what they reveal about Trump's psyche, as he picked out people who were useful to him, and/or people who committed crimes he could identify with. What's less clear at this moment is how much graft was involved, and how close it came to him personally. After all, his Blagojevic pardon doesn't immunize him from being charged for committing virtually the same crime. Clearly, people around him were actively collecting money to influence pardons, but some of the better publicized cases (like Joe Exotic) didn't happen. A third question, which we still know less about, is where the "self-pardon" and all the "pre-emptive pardons" went (aside from Bannon, who has been charged but not yet convicted). Some pieces:

Karen Heller: Attorney Roberta Kaplan is about to make Trump's life extremely difficult: "On the other side of Donald Trump's turbulent presidency, the lawyers are waiting." She has three lawsuits pending against Trump, in what promises to be a booming business. She also co-founded the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund, which "offers financial assistance for plaintiffs filing harassment cases."

Kali Holloway: Are we witnessing the emergence of a new 'lost cause'? "Just as after the Civil War, desperate attempts to preserve white supremacy are being camouflaged as a valorous fight for a noble end."

Umair Irfan: A federal court just struck down Trump's attempt to make power plants even dirtier.

Peter Kafka: How will Trump handle life without Twitter and Facebook? Ask Alex Jones.

Glenn Kessler: Trump made 30,573 false or misleading claims as president. Nearly half came in his final year. Well, maybe they should have paid more attention earlier.

Ankush Khardori: The Trump administration let Boeing settle a killer case for almost nothing.

DOJ under Trump was unprecedentedly lax in its efforts to fight financial fraud and white-collar crime -- which have reached all-time highs while criminal prosecutions in the area have hit all-time lows, and which have also included high-level meddling by political appointees in major corporate investigations. Trump's Justice Department made a preelection push to persuade credulous observers that it was finally cracking down on corporate crime by hastily completing an antitrust case against Google, announcing a settlement with Purdue Pharma over its marketing of the drug OxyContin, and finalizing a deal with Goldman Sachs to resolve a lengthy foreign bribery investigation -- but even that effort was decidedly less impressive than it appeared, and it made the announcement of the Boeing deal, just days before the end of the Trump administration, even more conspicuous.

Carol D Leonnig/Nick Miroff: Trump extended Secret Service protection to his adult children and three top officials as he left office. The officials: Steven Mnuchin, Mark Meadows, and Robert C O'Brien. Pence is also entitled to protection for six months after leaving office. Clinton, Bush, and Obama made similar arrangements for daughters in college or high school, but not for staff.

Eric Levitz: We're lucky the Trump presidency wasn't worse: "Electing an authoritarian reality star brought us mass death and insurrection. But it's also left us with a fighting chance to fortify our democracy." It will take some time to assess how disastrous the Trump presidency turns out. The most obvious question is how easy it will be to reverse its many bad policies and acts -- obviously the lifetime court appointments loom large there, but executive orders take time, legislation even more (especially with such a thin majority), many repercussions only slowly emerge. One should recall that Taft-Hartley, passed over Truman's veto by Republican Congress elected in 1946, took until the 1980s to cripple the labor movement (although it had a more immediate effect in dissuading the AFL-CIO from organizing in the South). While Trump was the weak link in his administration, it is already clear that his underlings were very effective at imposing their will on the federal bureaucracy.

Eric Lipton: Trump administration quietly eased sanctions on Israeli billionaire.

Sara Luterman: The ignominious deceits of Congressman Cawthorn: "Representative Madison Cawthorn has misled the public about training for the Paralympics, just as he misrepresented his education and business history."

Steve M: Guy proposing a Donald Trump highway checks all the boxes: Gun nut, Covid denialist, QAnon fan: Florida state Rep. Anthony Sabatini.

Amanda Marcotte: Trump's coup didn't fail just from incompetence -- credit the progressive activists who stopped him. One thing I flashed on while the Capitol was being overrun was the Soviet coup attempt against Gorbachev. It was stopped by a massive outpouring of citizens in the street, which fairly quickly convinced the military not to go through with the coup. One thing notable throughout Trump's whole effort to steal the election was that his dead-enders were almost never met by anti-Trump voters -- about the only appearance of the latter was a brief celebration once the election was called. This was because demonstrations of support for Biden weren't necessary. The vote counts broke in Biden's favor -- very narrowly in Georgia, Wisconsin, and Arizona, but clear enough for the people who counted them -- and Trump's legal (and political) challenges were easily rebuffed. Biden voters learned to trust the system, so when the final insurrection took place, we could trust in the cops to restore order (not that a few didn't help order break down in the first place). Still, I wonder how well founded that faith was. I'm still bothered by how Republicans ran 4-5 points better, especially in battleground states and critical Senate contests, than polls suggested. While there are explanations that aren't completely implausible, it does seem like Republicans have some kind of hidden edge -- not enough to save Trump, but enough to set them up very nicely elsewhere. So I'm not convinced that the election wasn't stolen; just that it wasn't stolen from Trump. And I'll also note that had Trump's steal succeeded, he'd be facing much larger street protests than he was able to foment. We saw a bit of that in 2017 when the electoral college gave him a win with a three million vote deficit, and it would have been much worse this time (or, I suppose, more glorious, if you're into that sort of thing). Even though the right is far more violent than the left, I shudder to think about the turmoil and heavy-handed repression a Trump victory would have generated.

Nick Martin: Republicans rethink "law and order" once they become its target: One of the most common problems we have in America is people who can't imagine what it would feel like should the tables be turned. This despite the fact that we've all heard some version of the golden rule, such as "do not do to others that which you would not like done to yourselves." However, while one might imagine this problem to be widespread, it likely occurs much more often among right-wingers, who believe that people are intrinsically unequal and should be sorted into hierarchies where they are treated differently, than with the left, who believe that all people are fundamentally similar. It is far easier to imagine how others may feel if you recognize that we all feel much the same.

This is how you end up with Steve Stivers telling cops posted at the Capitol that he believes the metal detectors are unconstitutional while pledging his support to legislation that installs "metal detectors and armed resource officers" in American schools. And people are carrying weapons onto the floor: Madison Cawthorn openly admitted to The Smoky Mountain News last Thursday that he was carrying a loaded gun during the Capitol riot.

The Capitol riot -- in the eyes of the majority of House Republicans, as evidenced by their votes to decertify the election -- was not a crisis. The metal detectors, however, are another story.

Seth Maxon: Violence is mainstream Republican politics now: "The party spent these four years increasingly accepting, then celebrating, right-wing threats and attacks." Possibly the deepest article in a series called What We Learned.

Jane Mayer: Why Mitch McConnell dumped Donald Trump? "Was it a moral reckoning or yet another act of political self-interest?" Silly question.

Ian Millhiser:

Zach Montellaro: State Republicans push new voting restrictions after Trump's loss: "Georgia is at the center of the effort, with state Republicans discussing voter ID changes and other new policies after Biden won the state."

David Neiwert: Global radical right celebrated when extremists breached the Capitol -- and drew lessons from it.

Rick Perlstein: This is us: Why the Trump era ended in violence.

Daniel Politi: Arizona GOP censures Cindy McCain for failing to support Donald Trump. One of many examples as the far-right purges intensify. Nor was she the only one: The Arizona GOP censures 3 prominent members for not sufficiently supporting Trump. The others are Gov. Doug Ducey and former Sen. Jeff Flake.

Andrew Prokop: Why Trump couldn't steal the election -- and how a future demagogue could.

Francine Prose: The last four years of Trump were hell. What a relief it's finally over: "I don't cry easily, but this week I just burst into tears thinking about all we have lived through."

Aja Romano: Kicking people off social media isn't about free speech.

Aaron Rupar:

Theodore Schleifer: Trump issued a pardon for the man at the center of an epic fight between Google and Uber: "The full pardon of Anthony Levandowski came out of nowhere."

Alex Shephard: Why Donald Trump is already teasing a 2024 campaign. Because he wants Republican Senators to convict him? More likely because he wants another election slush fund. Or maybe he just figures he needs to spread a little shit around to attack the media flies? The changes of any of those things working out are slim and getting slimmer, and in each case the attention is likely to do him more harm than good. He never achieved his goal of getting tired of winning, but I bet he gets real tired of losing.

Tierney Sneed/Matt Shuham: The Capitol mob was only the finale of Trump's conspiracy to overturn the election.

Rebecca Solnit: The Trump era wasn't all bad. We saw progress -- thanks to social movements. The optimism fairy strikes again. Yes, it was all bad. Any time millions of Americans have to take to the streets to protest disasters, atrocities, and injustices reveals that the system has broken down in some fundamental way. Maybe those protests will amount to something, but more often than not they won't. Moreover, protest space is increasingly being taken over right-wingers who make a mockery of the progressive protests we grew up with. In any case, protests take a lot of effort and tsuris. It would be much preferable if you could just sit down with people in a position to do something, and resolve your differences in ways that are mutually beneficial. Although I agree with Solnit that independent single-issue movements are still useful, the most important change I see over the last four years has been a turn toward practical electoral politics. And while Trump inadvertently spurred that by being such an ass, by important development was how Bernie Sanders showed that progressive Democrats could run effective campaigns without having to pander to business interests, as the "New Democrats" had done.

Elizabeth Spiers: Farewell to Trump's baby sociopaths: "Good riddance to the fake redneck, the cancer-charity grifter, and the amoral Florida woman." Not bad, but it shouldn't be hard to come with better tags -- e.g., ones that build on "baby sociopaths."

But we also must bid farewell to the Trump children: the ambulatory evidence that narcissism, incompetence, and corruption are genetically inherited traits. Like their decency-challenged paterfamilias, they hardly bothered to veil their contempt for democratic norms, and used every available opportunity to exploit their positions -- and by extension, taxpayers -- to make money and accumulate unearned power. They deserve their own send-off, especially considering the persistent rumors that they have political ambitions of their own and that some form of recidivism seems inevitable. Each one is unique and memorable, much in the same way that every individual experience of food poisoning is similarly horrible and yet surprisingly varied in its repulsiveness.

Megan K Stack: The week the Trump supporters disappeared.

Joseph E Stiglitz: Republicans, not Biden, are about to raise your taxes: "President Trump built in tax increases beginning in 2021, for nearly everyone but those at the very top."

Zoe Tillman: Trump left a big legal mess for Biden: "There are numerous lawsuits pending over Trump-era policies Biden doesn't support, along with cases that ensnared the Justice Department with Trump's own legal troubles."

Francis Townsend: Cornered weasel Josh Hawley files ethic counter-suit against seven Democratic senators: I've skipped over at least a half-dozen Hawley pieces, figuring he's not worth the print, but this title managed to catch my fancy. Having broken the ice, more on Hawley:

Craig Unger: The rise and fall of the Trump-Epstein bromance: "The sex trafficker and future president shared tastes for private planes, shady money, and foreign-born models -- many of them "on the younger side."

Anya van Wagtendonk: Trump reportedly considered putting an ally willing to dispute election results in charge of the DOJ. The idea was to replace acting AG Jeffrey Rosen with Jeffrey Clark. "A rash of DOJ officials, briefed on the plan via conference call on January 3, threatened to resign if that occurred." The New York Times story:

Frank Vyan Walton: Trump fans file suit to block Biden's executive orders and rerun election: No chance, even now, but if the courts were as packed as they want they'd win even cases like this one:

We all know they have no standing, they have no right, they have no evidence and they have not many brain cells rubbing together. But the sheer fucking entitlement is just staggering.

Amy B Wang/Josh Dawsey/Amy Goldstein: Democrats press ahead with second impeachment trial, as GOP is divided on how to defend Trump.

Enter Biden

Biden was inaugurated on Wednesday, and quickly went to work signing several batches of executive orders, signifying a major changes by reversing many Trump orders. His efforts on Covid and foreign policy will appear in those sections. For an overview with links to more articles, Vox has Joe Biden's first 100 days.


Kainaz Amaria/Ella Nilsen: Joe Biden's unique Inauguration Day, in photos.

Katelyn Burns:

Charlotte Klein: What did Biden's day-one executive orders achieve?

Ezra Klein: Democrats, here's how to lose in 2022. And deserve it. "You don't get re-elected for things voters don't know about."

German Lopez: Biden's flurry of first-day executive actions, explained

Dylan Matthews: Will Biden's $15 minimum wage cost jobs? The evidence, explained. The evidence mostly says no, although people who studied Econ 101 but not the world are always tempted to argue otherwise, although rarely without ulterior motives. Still, this argument shouldn't be decisive. Two further points: if the minimum wage had kept pace with productivity increases, it would be over $22/hour today, so $15 isn't a real reach; more importantly, the core meaning of minimum wage is the minimal value we put on human dignity (time and work). A minimum wage that doesn't clear the poverty level, at least without other compensation, says we think poverty is fine.

Sara Morrison: How Biden's FCC could fix America's internet. At least, in replacing Trump's FCC chair Ajit Pai, it could restore "net neutrality" -- the rule that says internet providers can't solicit bribes from content producers for better throughput (or punish those who don't pay up with poorer service). I will add one cautionary note: Obama's FCC was largely captive to Silicon Valley business interests, who made big contributions to Obama (and Biden). Although consumers have a clear interest in "net neutrality," so do big businesses like Google and Facebook. Other things that should be done are less likely to find corporate sponsors, which makes it less likely that Biden will champion them.

Nicole Narea:

Ella Nilsen: Joe Biden's impossible mission: "The new president wants to unite a divided America. That's even harder than it sounds." Easy to make fun of Biden here, but an aspiration toward unity is part of the Democratic Party's identity -- a part not shared by the Republicans, which makes it a critical distinction -- because Democrats imagine that their policies will benefit everyone. Hence, both parties aim or claim to help business, the rich, whites, the rural, the religious, veterans, but only Democrats expand that circle to include everyone else. They see unity as both a source and a validation of policies which promote social cohesion and a shared sense of justice, and they recognize that Republicans have clawed their way to power by dividing people, both by promoting individualism and by directing people frustrations at supposed enemies -- the non-white, the poor, the non-religious, the insufficiencly patriotic cosmopolitans, the "deviant," the "free thinkers," the "socialists." Nixon hit on that strategy with his "silent majority," and Republicans have repeatedly doubled down even as their ranks became less silent and less than a majority. (It's worth noting that Nixon learned the politics of division as a world-class red-baiter in the 1940s. When Republicans shriek about "socialists" these days they're summoning up their most primal fears and hatred -- not that racism isn't even deeper-rooted, but racists were among the first to adopt red-baiting as a tactic.) By the way, some of us would even argue that socialist policies would be better for the 1%. True, they wouldn't like not being the 1% any more, but equality would save they from the economic worries that dominate their lives, not least the fear of being ripped off -- not just with guns but more commonly the pen -- because, as Willie Sutton liked to say, that's are where the money is. Related:

Timothy Noah: The end of the 40-year war on government: "Biden's election can be ore than a repudiation of Trumpian misrule. It can reject Ronald Reagan's cynicism, as well."

Anna North: Biden's planned actions on reproductive health care, explained.

Aldous J Pennyfarthing: Harriet Tubman $20 bill fast-tracked by Biden following Trump administration delay: I've never cared much one way or the other about this: not that I'd defend Jackson over Tubman as a human or a worthy political figure, but it is just money. Besides, I always suspected that the choice of Tubman was not just a way of ticking two boxes but a tease, given how obsessed Republicans are with putting their names on things. On the other hand, I saw this Ashley Stevens tweet just before noticing the article, and she may be onto something:

Unpopular opinion: I don't even want Harriet Tubman on the 20 dollar bill. Honestly I think there's some sort of perversion in doing so. A woman who was traded as capital becoming the face of capital doesn't sit right with my spirit.

On the other hand, Steve M has collected some of the racist reaction to the Tubman bill: Likely to be the most defaced bill, thanks to our conservative friends.

Andrew Perez/Julia Rock:

Seth Perlow: What made Amanda Gorman's poem so much better than other inaugural verse.

Lisa Rein/Anne Gearan: Biden is firing some top Trump holdovers, but in some cases, his hands may be tied.

Aaron Rupar: No meltdowns: Jen Psaki's first briefing as Biden press secretary was a breath of fresh air. Three video clips provided, including one Sean Spicer for comparison ("a flashback to the moment when it became clear that the Trump administration was going to be the stuff of dystopian novels").

Emily Stewart: Biden faces a historic unemployment crisis: "The week before Biden took office, 1.4 million Americans filed for unemployment."

Li Zhou: The 50-50 Senate is already running into trouble figuring out its rules. Depending on the VP to break ties isn't quite the same thing as having a majority. On the other hand, McConnell's scheme to keep the filibuster is a recipe for obstruction and inaction. One more thing that should be stressed is that there is no scenario where the filibuster helps Democrats now, or really in the future. If they don't get rid of it, they'll be signaling to the people that they're not really serious about passing legislation. Related:

Covid-19

Latest map and case count: 25.1 million+ cases (14 day change -31%, total up 1.2 million in last week), 419,077 deaths (-4%), 113,609 hospitalized (+5%). As Atlantic's Covid Tracking Project notes, Pandemic numbers are (finally) tiptoeing in the right direction. Still, Wednesday and Thursday were two of the three highest daily death totals ever.

According to New York Times, 18.5 million Americans have received at least one vaccine dose (5.6%), of which 3.2 million have received two. Kansas ranks 46th (ahead of Alabama, Nevada, Idaho, and Missouri). Kansas has used the 2nd lowest percentage of vaccines received (43%; only Virginia, with 42%, is lower).


German Lopez:

Donald G McNeil Jr: Fauci on what working for Trump was really like. Also:

Sarah Mervosh: How West Virginia became a US leader in vaccine rollout. They managed to deliver 83% of allotted vaccines, a higher percentage than any other state.

Rachael Rettner: US life expectancy drops dramatically due to COVID-19: "It's the largest drop in life expectancy in at least 40 years."

Aaron Rupar: Fauci threw a lot of shade at Trump in his first comments as a Biden adviser: "What a difference a new president can make."

Dylan Scott: America's Covid-19 death toll has surpassed 400,000.

Alex Ward: Biden will use the Defense Production Act in his anti-coronavirus effort.

The World

Trump's Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, continued to poison the earth under possible Biden diplomatic initiatives. Meanwhile, Biden's Secretary of State, Tony Blinken, tried to reassure Congress that he's as callous and dim-witted as his predecessors (with the possible exception of Pompeo). Goes to show that American foreign policy is still governed by fantasies, where jobs are only doled out to those who attest that "the emperor's new clothes" are magnificent indeed. (On the other hand, note that their critics like to call themselves "realists." See Jordan Henry: Just how good is Joe Biden's foreign policy team?)


Bernard Freamon: Gulf slave society: "The glittering city-states of the Persian Gulf fit the classicist Moses Finley's criteria of genuine slave societies."

Rebecca Gordon: The fall of the American empire: Inside title: "The rubble of empire: doctrines of disaster and dreams of security as the Biden years begin." When I started to compile my blogs from 2001-08, my working title was The last days of the American empire. This could be a foreword to the book I was imagining, with its litany of doctrines, invasions, "grotesque economic inequality," corruption, "ever-deepening conflict." Still, as the years piled on, the slow-motion crash never quite came to its expected end, but also I started to doubt the "empire" concept. Now I'm leaning toward The eclipse of the American Century, not least because the 1900-2000 time frame also defines a unique period of enormous, relentless technological change -- I imagine it as the steep slope of an S-curve, rising quickly around 1900 and starting to plateau around 2000. The US was positioned to take maximum advantage of tech growth, until we started taking riches as entitling us to run the world, and that conceit and hubris spelled the end. But oddly enough, Americans only thought of themselves as an empire at the beginning and end of the 20th century. In between, the operative word was hegemony, the soft glove of power.

Jen Kirby: President Biden's international restoration project has begun: "The US is rejoining the Paris climate accord and the World Health Organization on day one."

Andrea Mazzarino: Indirect deaths: "The massive and unseen costs of America's post-9/11 wars at home and abroad."

Lili Pike: The US is back in the international climate game.

Jennifer Scholtes/Connor O'Brien: Adios AUMF? Democrats press Biden for help in revoking old war powers.

Alex Ward/Jen Kirby/Nicole Narea: Biden's key national security picks had their confirmation hearings. Here's what to know. Avril Haynes (CIA), Alejandro Mayorkas (Homeland Security), Tony Blinken (State), Lloyd Austin (Defense). They spouted a fair amount of orthodox bullshit to help expedite confirmation. E.g.:

China, of course, loomed large. Blinken tried to assure lawmakers -- especially Republicans -- that the Biden administration was clear-eyed about the threat China poses. "As we look at China, there is no doubt that it poses the most significant challenge of any nation-state, to the United States, in terms of our interests, the interests of the American people," Blinken said.

Blinken said the US needed to approach China from a position of "strength, not weakness," which Blinken said required the US to work with allies, engage in international institutions, and for standing up for US values, such as condemning Beijing's policies toward the Uighurs and Hong Kong. (Blinken also said he supported the State Department's designation today that China was committing genocide against the Uighurs.)

The bit that got me first was the "strength" fetish, as if all we had to do to bend China to our will was get stronger -- that same approach having failed repeatedly against far less formidable foes. But there's much more to puzzle over, like why we confuse "US values" and "the interests of the American people," when the last four years suggests the US government cares for either. Perhaps in the future US policy (both foreign and domestic) could embrace common principles of human rights and international law, and from that vantage point we could join others in shaming China -- and other malefactors, a list which certainly includes our "allies" in Israel and Saudi Arabia) -- into behaving better. But an essential first step is to behave better ourselves. Blinken offered a slight hint when he talked about ending US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. However, he went on to weasel out of any commitment:

Blinken told lawmakers that he believes the US should continue to defend Saudi Arabia from aggression; however, he said the Biden administration would review the relationship to make sure it aligned with the US's interests and values.

Few things are clearer than that the aggressor in Yemen is Saudi Arabia. Also note that Austin waffled on Afghanistan, holding open the possibility of re-escalating the war. Evidently, that makes him more attractive to the Senate, which went on to confirm him 97-2. More on these picks:

Alex Ward:

  • Biden plans to continue many of Trump's foreign policies -- at least for now: "Biden team members have already signaled they intend to continue several of Trump's policies from Venezuela to Ukraine to Israel and even China." Despite his "America first" demagoguery, Trump never really had a foreign policy, just a torrent of conservatism's usual "irritable mental gestures," combined with a thirst for graft. It's unfortunate that Biden isn't breaking with many of them, but it's mostly Anthony Blinken doing the trash talking here. While his track record suggests he believes this nonsense, it's also reasonable that there is little to be gained by abandoning a stance unilaterally when it might prove useful as a bargaining chip. Where Biden has already moved, it's mostly been in the right direction.

  • Joe Biden ousts the man who tried to reshape US global media: "In his first foreign policy move, Biden fired Michael Pack, the head of the US Agency for Global Media."

  • The last US-Russia nuclear arms deal is about to expire. Biden wants to extend it. Given that Russia has already signaled a desire for a 5-year extension, this one should be easy.

  • Don't expect Biden to reenter the Iran nuclear deal right away. I thought Obama made a mistake in not trying to resolve more issues with Iran, going on to lift sanctions, exchange embassies, and open up trade, but the whole premise of the deal was based on a faulty assumption: that Iran is intractably opposed to US interests, and is dedicated to obtaining nuclear weapons as a way of increasing its leverage over the US and its so-called allies. The deal was the only way to achieve its ends. That Israel and Saudi Arabia continued to object only proved that their intent wasn't to limit Iran but to preserve a hostile relationship they benefited from. Of course, Trump was so completely under their thumb that he probably would have wrecked even a more robust Iran deal. Biden's slowness shows that Israel and Saudi Arabia still have clout, but suggests that he'll try to resolve the conflict with more broadly. Best news here is that Robert Malley seems to be the leading candidate for Iran envoy.

Edward Wong/Chris Buckley: US says China's repression of Uighurs is 'genocide': "The finding by the Trump administration is the strongest denunciation by any government of China's actions and follows a Biden campaign statement with the same declaration." I don't doubt that China's repression of ethnic minorities in Sinkiang (and, for that matter, Tibet) is heavy and oppressive, but doesn't genocide mean killing large numbers of people? And doesn't it also imply an obligation for other countries to intervene? Given that the latter is a practical impossibility, shouldn't one tone down the rhetoric? Alternatively, shouldn't the same criteria be applied elsewhere? I don't think that Israel's treatment of Palestinians amounts to genocide, but it is ethnically based and comparably oppressive. (Main difference is that China has "re-education camps" that attempt to integrate Uighurs into Chinese society, whereas Israel has no such desire -- which is worse is debatable.) Saudi Arabia's war against the Houthis of Yemen is if anything more lethal (latest: Saudi airstrikes kill 34 Houthis in central Yemen, although probably less systematic. There are other cases one might consider, but the US only seems to consider cases where it has an ulterior motive. The designation on Trump's last day was a typical poison pill move, meant to further the ridiculous meme that Biden is soft on China -- if Biden revokes the designation, that will be taken as proof of point; if not (and thus far Biden hasn't taken the bait), it will be taken as proof that Biden is so weak he's unwilling to stand up to genocide, while it hands over diplomatic efforts where cooperation with China is essential. More on China (also see Ward, above):

And Everything Else

Some other entries that didn't fall into the buckets above.


Gilbert Achcar: The Arab Spring, a decade later. [subscriber-only article]

Reed Berkowitz: A game designer's analysis of QAnon.

Chris Bertram: Branching points: Short post, tries to list "events that took place since the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) are the important moments when something different could have been done that might have saved us from being in the situation we are in." His list:

  • The decision of the US Supreme Court to award the Presidency to George W. Bush instead of Al Gore (2000)
  • The attacks on the Twin Towers (2001)
  • The decision by Bush, supported by Blair, to invade Iraq (2003)
  • The failure of policy-makers to anticipate and avert the financial crisis (2008)
  • The failure of European leaders to manage the Eurozone crisis so as to avert mass unemployment etc (2009- )
  • The Arab spring (2010- )
  • The "migrant crisis" in Europe (2015- )
  • The Brexit vote (2016)
  • The election of Donald Trump (2016)

Some other suggestions from the comments (sorted by year):

  • 1994: Tony Blair becomes leader of the Labour Party
  • 1990s: Democrats (Clinton wing) sell out: NAFTA, welfare "reform," China and the WTO, Glass-Stegall repeal
  • 1999: Putin elevated to Prime Minister of Russia; 2nd Chechen War
  • 2002: Gujarat, India.
  • 2010: the Citizens United ruling from the US Supreme Court

Fabiola Cineas:

Diana Falzone/Lachlan Cartwright: Fox News launches 'purge' to 'get rid of real journalists,' insiders say: "Fox laid off at least 16 staffers, including Chris Stirewalt, who defended the election-night call that pissed off Trump." Related:

Melissa Gira Grant: The beginning of the end of meaningless work. Checks in with Kathi Weeks, ten years after publication of her book, The Problem With Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries.

Robert Greene II: Hank Aaron was more than a man who hit home runs: Aaron died last week, at 86. I date my interest in baseball to 1957, not least because I can still recite the All-Star Teams from that year (at least the ones who played: that was the year Cincinnati stuffed the ballot boxes, but the NL overruled the fans, giving OF slots to Aaron and Willie Mays instead of Gus Bell and Wally Post, and the SS-3B spots to Ernie Banks and Eddie Matthews instead of Don Hoak and Roy McMillan). Thanks to my cousin, I was a Yankees fan, perhaps because I was drawn to winners, a trait that also worked in Aaron's favor. Milwaukee had a farm team in Wichita, and went on to win the pennant in 1957 and the World Series in 1958. They had a great team those years, but Aaron was clearly the star, which made him one of my favorite players, and kept me from entertaining any stupid ideas about race. More:

Rebecca Heilweil: Parler begins to come back online with the help of a Russian tech company.

Meryl Kornfield: Six shot dead, including pregnant woman, in 'mass murder,' Indianapolis officials say.

Branko Marcetic: The CIA's secret global war against the left. This focuses on Operation Condor (from the 1970s), although the CIA's "secret global war against the left" dates back to its inception in the late-1940s, with the CIA's efforts in Italy and France to keep Communists from winning elections, and more violently in Greece to defeat leftist partisans who had fought against the Nazi occupation. Everything the CIA did from the '50s through the '80s was justified as anti-Communist -- even the 1954 coup in Iran, which was mostly about undoing Iran's nationalization of British oil interests, was justified as preventing a Communist takeover. Condor was significant as it turned a series of Latin American countries into dictatorships, with several bloody purges (especially in Chile and Argentina), but it was neither the first nor the last time the US has sought to prop up right-wing terror in Latin America, nor was it as bloody as the coup and purge in Indonesia in the 1960s, or the much more protracted war in Vietnam (where the CIA's failure led to the military stepping in, and failing even worse).

Rani Molla: Why right-wing extremists' favorite new platform is so dangerous.

Bill Pearis: Here are your Bernie Sanders music memes.

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: New days, old ways: So, it took St Clair less than a week to attack the Biden administration with the same snark he used to critique Trump. But he does have a good story on Hank Aaron.

Scott W Stern: Remembering Margo St James, a pioneering sex worker organizer. She died recently, at 83.

Michael G Vann: The true story of Indonesia's US-backed anti-communist bloodbath: "The massacre of the Indonesian left in 1965-66, backed by Washington, was one of the great cries of the twentieth century." Review of John Roosa: Buried Histories: The Anticomunist Massacres of 1965-1966 in Indonesia.

Anya van Wagtendonk: Legendary broadcaster Larry King has died at age 87. I literally have nothing to say about him, and almost didn't bother with the link. The writer doesn't have much to say either: e.g., "And he was perhaps equally known for his bold sartorial choices -- he was rarely seen without his signature suspenders, often paired with a bright shirt and colorful necktie."

Tuesday, January 19, 2021


Music Week

January archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 34804 [34756] rated (+48), 221 [219] unrated (+2).

Not much to say right now, so probably best to go ahead and post this. I figure on making some changes after next week (or perhaps I should say the end of January), but I can wait until then to explain what and why. Still fiddling with EOY Aggregate, but that's one thing that I'll stop working on in the next week or so. I'll try to sum up what I've learned next week.

I meant to write a postscript to last week's Music Week, but moved on to other things and never got to it. My recollection is rusty now, but I had made some speculation about Robert Christgau's Wednesday Consumer Guide, and felt like I should follow up. Doesn't really matter now. The CG had three new and two old records I hadn't heard, so they loom large below. I also bumped Open Mike Eagle up after a relisten, but didn't bother going back to other B+ albums by Taylor Swift, Toots and the Maytals, or 75 Dollar Bill (the one I prefer is Live at Café Oto Dec. 19, 2019). I will say that my one-play reaction to Evermore was that it was every bit as good as Folklore.

I did a much needed update to the Robert Christgau website last week. The main thing was to add all of the CG reviews from his And It Don't Stop newsletter. As it's a paid subscription thingy, it was felt that there should be a delay before non-subscribers can see the reviews on the website, so the big thing was writing code to enforce that, although the bigger thing was keeping everything else working as various changes to the PHP programming language broke old code. I got a couple of letters about old things that were wrong, but the update seems to have worked reasonably well. We kicked around some ideas for a redesign (more under the hood than external), and I plan to start working on that within two weeks -- as recent things wind down and new projects get going.

I'm getting tired of trying to keep track of recent deaths, and was hoping to skip that part this week (after linking to a couple pieces on Phil Spector yesterday), but when I checked the list, I recognized Junior Mance (a fine pianist who had a long career after his early-1960s peak -- seek out Junior's Blues) and Duke Bootee (early hip-hop producer, co-wrote "The Message" for Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel, and had a good one-shot album in 1984, Bust Me Out). Oh, also Jimmie Rodgers (1933-2021) -- not the legendary country singer but a pop star with some big hits in the late-1950s -- "Honeycomb" and "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine" were among my first (and most played ever) 45s.


New records reviewed this week:

Adulkt Life: Book of Curses (2020, What's Your Rupture?): British post-punk group, from London, first album, short one (10 tracks, 25:21. B+(***)

Daniel Avery: Love + Light (2020, Phantasy Sound): British electronica producer, from Bournemouth, EPs from 2012, five albums. Fourteen tracks range from ambient (blah) to much sharper (and more compelling) machinery. B+(**)

BC Camplight: Shortly After Takeoff (2020, Bella Union): Singer-songwriter Brian Christinzio, from New Jersey, fifth album since 2005. Occasionally reaches for a Beach Boys harmony. B

Beach Bunny: Honeymoon (2020, Mom + Pop): Chicago indie pop band, Lili Trifilio singer, first album after a bunch of EPs and singles, short at 9 songs, 25:00. B+(*)

Belle and Sebastian: What to Look for in Summer (2019 [2020], Matador, 2CD): Live double (99:54) by the Scottish band, founded 1994 and led by Stuart Murdoch. Gets better and better, although that may be because the older songs are the ones I recognize. B+(**)

BlackPink: The Album (2020, YG Entertainment/Interscope): K-pop girl group, four singer/dancers recruited and orchestrated by the label, released a Japanese album in 2018, this their first in South Korea and the US. More English and more hip-hop than most K-pop, with guest features for Selena Gomez and Cardi B. Short: eight tracks, 24:26. B+(**)

Susie Blue and the Lonesome Fellas: Bye Bye Blues (2020, Seraphic): Western swing band, based in Chicago, led by singer Solitaire Miles, who snagged the credit for the band's eponymous debut (2015). Mostly repertoire, and not just Bob Wills, like whom they used fiddle and pedal steel, but also borrowed heavily from the jazz du jour. B+(**)

James Dean Bradfield: Even in Exile (2020, Montyray): Welsh singer-songwriter, Manic Street Preachers leader, second solo album. This album bears a relationship to his former band much like Bob Mould's solo work does to Hüsker Dü: same but slightly diluted. B+(*)

Brian Charette: Beyond Borderline (2019, SteepleChase): Organ player, one of the few who doesn't sound like a soul jazz throwback, more than a dozen albums since 2009, solo here. B+(*)

Brian Charette: Like the Sun (2020, Dim Mak): This one also looks to be solo, but the "live" organ is surrounded by "drum machines, samplers, and arpeggiators . . . programmed to react . . . in provocative ways." Not really. B

John Craigie: Asterisk the Universe (2020, Zabriskie Point): Singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, alt-country, albums since 2009. Video suggests this was recorded in a country commune, as he has a lot of musicians and backup singers without making it feel cluttered. More like richly detailed, which fits the songs. A-

Cut Worms: Nobody Lives Here Anymore (2020, Jagjaguwar): Singer-songwriter Max Clarke, from Ohio, based in Brooklyn, second album. Wikipedia advises: "for moth larvae that feed at night, see cutworms." Nice, melodic, even gets into some Beach Boys overtones. B+(*)

Nick Dunston: Atlantic Extraction: Live at Threes (2020, Out of Your Head Untamed): Bassist, live followup to group's 2019 album. Quintet, with Louna Dekker-Vargas (flutes), Ledah Finck (violin/viola), Tal Yahalom (guitar), and Stephen Boegehold (drums). B+(**) [dl]

Dvsn: A Muse in Her Feelings (2020, OVO Sound/Warner Bros.): Canadian r&b duo, singer Daniel Daley and producer Anthony Paul Jefferies (aka Nineteen85), pronounced "division," third album.

Empress Of: I'm Your Empress Of (2020, Terrible): Singer-songwriter Lorely Rodriguez, from Los Angeles, parents Honduran, third album. B+(**)

Fantastic Negrito: Have You Lose Your ind Yet? (2020, Cooking Vinyl/Blackball Universe): Xavier Dphrepaulezz, father Somali, he was born in Massachusetts, moved to Oakland when he was 12, heavily influenced by Prince. Recorded an album as Xavier in 1996. Adopted this name for his 2014 album. Stradles blues and funk, rocks some, asks the question, "is there justice in America." B+(***)

Ghetto Kumbé: Ghetto Kumbé (2020, ZZK): Colombian group, main focus on the drums spritzed up with a wash of electronica. B+(**)

The Grasso-Ravita Jazz Ensemble: Jagged Spaces (2020 [2021], Grassvita Music): Guitarist Skip Grasso and bassist Phil Ravita, with Benny Russell (tenor/soprano sax), Greg Small (piano), and Nuc Vega (drums). B+(*) [cd]

Guiss Guiss Bou Bess: Set Sela (2019, Helico): From Senegal, although increasingly I'm seeing music from all over the non-English-speaking world classified not as "world" but under genres -- in this case, deep dubstep, bass house, or more broadly electronica. Still, the beats sound like drums, and profusion such as rarely found outside of Senegal. A-

The Happy Fits: What Could Be Better (2020, The Happy Fits): Rock trio from New Jersey, second album, upbeat, hooky. B+(**)

Roderick Harper: Evolving (2020 [2021], R.H.M. Entertainment): Crooner, full name ends in Muhammad, originally from DC but found himself in New Orleans, couple previous albums, featured spots here for Ellis Marsalis and Donald Harrison. B+(*) [cd]

Stephanie Lambring: Autonomy (2020, self-released): Singer-songwriter, based in Nashville, second album, plays guitar and keyboards. Some songs touch on religion, not that it does much good. "Old Folks Home" seems appropriately sad. B+(**)

Pak Yan Lau & Darin Gray: Trudge Lightly (2016-18 [2020], By the Bluest of Seas): Piano-bass duo, but both are "prepared," and credits include synths, objects, electronics. Gray is American, discography goes back to 1999. Lau is based in Brussels, has appeared in groups like Dream & Drone Orchestra and The Crappy Mini Band. This is her fourth album. B+(**) [bc]

Lomelda: Hannah (2020, Double Double Whammy): Singer-songwriter Hannah Read, from Texas, handful of albums since 2012. Wrote one of those albums "over a few months while sleeping in her car." B+(*)

Sabir Mateen/Christopher Dell/Christian Ramond/Klaus Kugel: Creation (2012 [2020], 577): Tenor sax, vibes, bass, drums. Takes a while, but two-thirds through the "bonus track" Mateen really catches fire. B+(***)

McCarthy Trenching: Perfect Game (2020, self-released): Omaha singer-songwriter Dan McCarthy, albums since 2003 (demos) or 2007 (eponymous). As Christgau says, "clear, mild, droll, calculated, casual, and clever." I doubt I would have noticed without his review. B+(***)

Melenas: Dias Raros (2020, Trouble in Mind): Spanish indie rock quartet, all women, from Pamplona, second album, lyrics in Spanish. B+(**)

Buddy & Julie Miller: Lockdown Songs (2020, self-released): Country duo since 1995, both also have records on their own. Little info available, but obviously new songs for the glum occasion, with several public service announcements ("stay home," "put on your mask," "don't drink bleach no matter what the president said"), several about Black Lives Matter and John Lewis, a look back at "The Terrible Spanish Flu." Both sound considerably gruffer than I remember them. Time 26:22, but like the year, feels longer. B+(***)

MoE With Mette Rasmussen and Ikuro Takahasi: Painted (2019 [2020], Relative Pitch): Experimental rock duo from Norway -- bassist Guro Skumsnes Moe and guitarist Hĺvard Skaset -- plus saxophone and drums. Moe is also credited with voice, but not much of that. Noise meets free jazz, roughly. B [bc]

Munson-Hicks Party Supplies: Munson-Hicks Party Supplies (2020, Soft Launch): From Minneapolis, John Munson ("who does most of the singing") and Dylan Hicks ("who writes the songs") -- I filed it under Hicks because I've heard of him before. Erudite, measured, not much of a party. B+(**)

NZCA Lines: Pure Luxury (2020, Memphis Industries): British synthpop band, founded by Michael Lovett, third album. One foot in cheezy disco, the other less decisive. B+(*)

Okan: Espiral (2020, Lulaworld): Afro-Cuban group, led by Elizabeth Rodriguez and Magdelys Savigne, based in Toronto. B+(***)

J.S. Ondara: Folk N' Roll, Vol. 1: Tales of Isolation (2020, Verve Forecast): Born in Kenya, was so taken with Dylan he moved to Minneapolis to retrace his steps. Second album. Has the guitar and harmonica down, phrasing but not quite voice, impressive and sometimes annoying. Does have one thing right: "nobody wins in war." B

Chris Pitsiokos: Speak in Tongues and Hope for the Gift of Interpretation (2020, Relative Pitch): Alto saxophonist, solo, six exercises, each dedicated to master: Charlie Parker, Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, John Zorn. Not so easy listening. B+(*) [bc]

The Justin Rothberg Group: Hurricane Mouse (2020 [2021], self-released): Guitarist, based in New York, second or third album, Group includes Todd Groves (woodwinds), bass, drums, and percussion. Races along, guitar sometimes standing out. B+(*)

Sleaford Mods: Spare Ribs (2021, Rough Trade): British duo, Andrew Fearn generates the beats, bass lines, and whatever, while Jason Williamson sings/rap, embodying embittered working class consciousness, despite considerable success over the last decade. I won't say the new one suggests they're going soft, but it does nick off some rough edges. B+(***)

Sweeping Promises: Hunger for a Way Out (2020, Feel It): Boston post-punk group, Lira Mondai the singer, "angular guitars and sharp synth notes float atop a raw rhythm section." Sure, anyone can claim that, but not many start their influences/comparisons lists with Kleenex/LiLiPUT. A- [bc]

Aki Takase/Rudi Mahall: Fifty Fifty (2018 [2019], Trouble in the East): Piano-clarinet duo, opens with the whimsical percussion of toy piano. B+(**) [bc]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Man Jumping: Jumpcut (1984 [2020], Emotional Rescue): Early electronica, a sort of minimalism meets disco, first of two 1984-87 records, half-dozen names I don't recognize. B+(**) [bc]

Mirah: You Think It's Like This but Really It's Like This (2000 [2020], K): Singer-songwriter Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn, born in Philadelphia, went to Olympia for college and enjoyed the antifolk and riot grrrl scenes there -- she worked with Kimya Dawson there, and this debut album was co-produced by Phil Elvrum. Sometimes she sounds like a frailer Liz Phair, but she can also get tough and noisy, and even flashes a bit of swing on the closer. B+(***) [bc]

Lon Moshe & the Southern Freedom Arkestra: Love Is Where the Spirit Lies (1976-77 [2020], Strut): Vibraphone player Ron Martin, from Chicago, based in San Francisco, only album as leader but played with Juju (Oneness of Juju) in the 1970s. Vocals, spiritual airs. B+(**) [bc]

Sun Ra Arkestra: Egypt 1971 (1971 [2020], Strut/Art Yard, 4CD): First two discs slightly expand on previously released sets (e.g., Nidhamu/Dark Myth Equation Visitation, 2009). This box adds two more discs of unreleased recordings, "In Heliopolis" and "Egyptian Oasis." Lots of typical Sun Ra moments, but becomes a chore to sit through in one pass. (I had to take a break.) B+(*) [bc]

Riley: Grandma's Roadhouse (1970 [2010], Delmore Recording Society): This popped up in a 2020 reissues EOY list, but I can't find that recent a reissue date. Riley Watkins wrote or co-wrote 6 of 10 songs, credited with "lead & 12-string guitars & vocals" in what appears to be his only album, but another better known artist has similar credits, and co-wrote 4 songs (with rhythm guitarist Bill Eldredge): Gary Stewart, a few years before he started knocking out hits. The only song that's clearly Stewart's is "Drinkin' Them Squeezins." B [bc]

The Ibrahim Khalil Shihab Quintet: Spring (1968 [2020], Matsuli Music): South African pianist, originally Chris Schilder, first album (age 22), featuring tenor saxophonist Winston "Mankuku" Ngozi, with guitar, bass, and drums. Piano comparable to Abdullah Ibrahim, and some lovely saxophone. A- [bc]

Old music:

Group Doueh & Cheveu: Dakhla Sahara Session (2017, Born Bad): Group from Western Sahara, which has mostly been under disputed Moroccan control since 1970. Several previous albums, this one joined by a French trio, adding guitar and synth to the group's guitars and synths. A- [bc]

Solitaire Miles: The Solitaire Miles Jazztets With Willie Perkins (2008-10 [2018], Seraphic, EP): A four cut, 14:24 set of outtakes from three albums the singer did with the pianist and eight more musicians listed on the front cover -- Eric Schneider (clarinet), Art Davis (trumpet), and Jim Gailloreto (sax) got larger type. B+(*) [bc]

Solitaire Miles: Susie Blue and the Lonesome Fellas (2015, Seraphic): Several sources credit this to the singer, although her name doesn't appear on the front cover. B+(**)

Viktor Vaughn: Vaudeville Villain (2003, Sound-Ink): Rapper Daniel Dumile, born in London, parents from Trinidad and Zimbabwe, grew up on Long Island, first group (KMD) broke up after his brother (aka DJ Subroc) was hit and killed by a car. Released his first album as MF Doom in 1999, his second as King Geedorah, then two as Viktor Vaughn before returning to MF Doom (and other variants). Terrific flow here, much imagination. He's going places. A-


Grade (or other) changes:

Open Mike Eagle: Anime Trauma and Divorce (2020, Auto Reverse): Underground rapper, has a decade-plus of sly, clever, often inscrutable albums. First spin sounded like another one, second got a bit catchier, further plays revealed further depth, which I should have been clued to by the title. [was: B+(**)] A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Franco Ambrosetti Band: Lost Within You (Unit) [01-29]
  • Yelena Eckemoff: Adventures of the Wildflower (L&H Production, 2CD) [03-19]
  • Yoav Eshed/Lex Korten/Massimo Biolcati/Jongkuk Kim: A Way Out (Sounderscore) [02-19]
  • Futari: Beyond (Libra) [01-22]
  • Tivon Pennicott: Spirit Garden (New Phrase)
  • Turn Me Loose White Man (1900-60 [2020], Constant Sorrow, 30CD)

Monday, January 18, 2021


Weekend Roundup

Table of contents:

Again failed to wrap this up on Sunday. Even a day late, I'm faced with a choice between cutting it loose now or writing some introductory comments, which I actually had given some thought to. I think I'll cut it loose, if for no other reason than that Tuesday promises to reveal a hundred-plus pardons for the highest bidders -- yet another story one can't omit. Then on Wednesday, Trump will supposedly fly off for Florida, while Biden is inaugurated in a secure bunker in Washington, DC, to be witnessed by crowds even smaller than Trump's in 2016. I guess he gets the last laugh on that score.

Congress reconvenes on Tuesday, so conceivably the Senate could vote to convict and remove Trump, although no one expects that to actually happen. Of course, I sympathize with Charles Pierce: Donald Trump cannot be allowed to be the President* of the United States for a single second longer, but I'm used to disappointments in political life, and I'm patient enough to give Trump one last day in office, knowing that will be the end of it, and thinking rationally that even though he could do something truly horrific with that day, most likely he'll dedicate it to graft and ego-stroking.

Nothing below on Martin Luther King Day. I wasn't even aware of the holiday until I leafed through the paper this morning. By then, I had put two discs from Rhino's superlative The R&B Box into the changer. They were brilliant, and I was deeply touched by the occasion. It reminded me that a huge slice of what's great and glorious in America has been the work of African-Americans. While music has long stood out among those contributions, the one I'm even more thankful for today was providing the margin to defeat Donald Trump. Black lives not only matter; they're often our salvation.


Insurrection

I originally thought I'd combine insurrection and impeachment into a single section, but a quick glance at the first batch of articles suggested splitting them. Although insurrection led to impeachment, the latter was narrowly political, based on the House Democrats' slim majority and their felt compulsion to do what they could when they could to register how profoundly they were unsettled by the president's mob's violent uprising against democracy. If Democrats didn't have a House majority, they wouldn't have impeached Trump, no matter how much they wanted to. And, as usual, impeachment is little more than a hollow political gesture. On the other hand, the insurrection was rooted in a broader conception of politics, rooted in the "culture war" Trump has spent his entire political career stoking. Moreover, insurrection is still ongoing, as the planned "demonstrations" in DC and at 50 state capitols attests. Moreover, there is no reason to doubt that the hard core of pro-Trump militants will stop after January 20. Many of these same people were responsible for the uptick of right-wing violence after Obama was elected in 2008. They became Trump's people in 2016, and he has done nothing but encourage them over the last four years. They started forming militias by the 1980s and 1990s, so expect some of them to go underground and dedicate themselves to guerrilla war against the democratic state and its soft targets. Therefore, we need to look at last week's insurrection as a prelude not just to this week's but to months and years of "domestic terrorism" if not outright civil war.

Devlin Barrett/Matt Zapotosky: FBI report warned of 'war' at Capitol, contradicting claims there was no indication of looming violence.

Dalton Bennett, et al: 41 minutes of fear: A video timeline from inside the Capitol siege.

Miriam Berger: US pundits keep comparing Washington to a war zone. People who know war disagree.

Kyle Cheney/Sarah Ferris: Mikie Sherrill says unidentified lawmakers led 'reconnaissance' tours ahead of Capitol attack.

Sean Collins: Lawmakers are testing positive for Covid-19 after the Capitol lockdown: "At least five."

Jesselyn Cook/Nick Robins-Early: Online police communities are rife with conspiracies and support for the Capitol riot.

Matthew Cunningham-Cook: Arizone GOP chair urged violence at the Capitol. The Mercers spent $1.5 million supporting her.

Jerusalem Demsas: The online far right is angry, exultant, and ready for more.

Elizabeth Dias/Ruth Graham: How white evangelical Christians fused with Trump extremism: "A potent mix of grievance and religious fervor has turbocharged the support among Trump loyalists, many of whom describe themselves as participants in a kind of holy war."

Matt Fuller: House Democrats briefed on 3 terrifying plots to overthrow government.

Hilary George-Parkin: Insurrection merch shows just how mainstream extremism has become.

Fiona Hill: Yes, it was a coup attempt. Here's why. "What Trump tried is called a "self-coup," and he did it in slow motion and in plain sight."

Mara Hvistendahl: Capitol mob has roots in anti-lockdown protests: "Reopen and anti-mask groups were a crucial recruiting ground for the 'Stop the Steal' effort that culminated in last week's deadly siege."

Joshua Kaplan/Joaquin Sapien: "No one took us seriously": Black cops warned about racist Capitol police officers for years.

Kimberly Kindy/Kim Bellware/Mark Berman: Off-duty police were part of the Capitol mob. Now police are turning in their own.

Paul Krugman:

  • This putsch was decades in the making: "GOP cynics have been coddling crazies for a long time."

    This coddling of the crazies was, at first, almost entirely cynical. When the G.O.P. began moving right in the 1970s its true agenda was mainly economic -- what its leaders wanted, above all, were business deregulation and tax cuts for the rich. But the party needed more than plutocracy to win elections, so it began courting working-class whites with what amounted to thinly disguised racist appeals.

    Not incidentally, white supremacy has always been sustained in large part through voter suppression. So it shouldn't be surprising to see right-wingers howling about a rigged election -- after all, rigging elections is what their side is accustomed to doing. And it's not clear to what extent they actually believe that this election was rigged, as opposed to being enraged that this time the usual vote-rigging didn't work.

  • The economic consequences of the putsch: Why are markets optimistic?

Luis Feliz Leon: Chickens coming home to roost: Far right storms US Capitol: "The Capitol Riot recalls right-wing counterinsurgencies the US has sponsored in the Dominican Republic and around the world."

David A Lieb/Adam Geller: Pro-Trump protests fizzle out at Capitol buildings across the US.

Luke Mogelson: Among the insurrectionists: "The Capitol was breached by Trump supporters who had been declaring, at rally after rally, that they would go to violent lengths to keep the President in power. A chronicle of an attack foretold." Also: A reporter's footage from inside the Capitol siege.

Anna North:

Olivia Nuzzi: What Madison Cawthorn saw at the insurrection: "The youngest member of Congress is invigorated by the mob he helped incite."

Benjamin Parker: The alt-right is now the entire right: "The voices of reason, reality, and responsibility are a cowering minority in the Republican party."

Cameron Peters: A new report shows Capitol Police knew Congress might be targeted days before Capitol attack.

Justin Rohrlich:

Aja Romano: Baked Alaska's clout-chasing spiral into white supremacy is an internet morality tale.

Aaron Rupar:

Liz Scheltens: The warning signs before the Capitol riot. Video, cites sources:

Adam Serwer: The Capitol rioters weren't 'low class': "The business owners, real-estate brokers, and service members who rioted acted not out of economic desperation, but out of their belief in their inviolable right to rule."

By 1909, a decade after the massacre in Wilmington inspired a wave of new Jim Crow legislation across the South, Republican President William Howard Taft praised Democrats for having excluded "an ignorant, irresponsible element" -- that is, Black voters -- from the polity. The respectable people were in charge again.

Of course, it was their success in seizing power and disenfranchising their political rivals that allowed them to maintain their respectability. Had they failed, had the South's brief experiment in multiracial democracy succeeded, they would have been seen as the bandits, assassins, and terrorists that they were. Impunity is what makes murder and terrorism respectable. After all, if these deeds were actually crimes, they would have been punished.

Watching the mob ransack the Capitol last week, Trump is reported to have been initially enthusiastic about the riot, but later disgusted by "what he considered the 'low-class' spectacle of people in ragtag costumes rummaging through the Capitol."

Now we know the truth. They weren't "low class." They were respectable. They almost always are.

Matt Shuham: A common line keeps emerging from Capitol rioters: Trump asked us to be here.

Richard Silverstein: At MAGA rally, Israeli flag and neo-nazis co-exist, awkwardly.

It's no accident that Bibi Netanyahu's closest political allies in Europe are anti-Semites: Hungary's Viktor Orban and Poland's Andrzej Duda. It's also no accident that almost all the Jews in these two countries were exterminated by the Nazis with varying levels of collaboration from local officials. European anti-Semites hate the Jews among them, but love Jews who emigrate to Israel. Because they live in exactly the sort of state these national-supremacists want for themselves: a sovereign state for pure Hungarians or Poles. One that excludes non natives like Roma, Jews, Muslims or African refugees. It is, ironically, the same reason Adolf Eichmann said that if he were a Jew he too would be a Zionist.

Stuart A Thompson/Charlie Warzel: They used to post selfies. Now they're trying to reverse the election. "Right-wing influencers embraced extremist views, and Facebook rewarded them."

Alex Ward:

Benjamin Wallace-Wells: The long prologue to the Capitol Hill riot.

Impeachment

I spent much of last week's Weekend Roundup doubting that impeaching Donald Trump would be worth the trouble, but the House Democrats (plus 10 Republicans) went ahead and did it anyway. Bully for them. Now I doubt that it's worth the trouble for the Senate to try him, especially as the trial won't start until he's out of office. (There's some debate below on whether trying him after he's gone is even legal, but my point is that there's more urgent work for the new Democratic Senate to do.) One argument in favor of trial is that conviction will bar Trump from running again, but I don't see that a Trump 2024 campaign is much to worry about. (Indeed, precluding that could be a big reason for Republicans to step up.)

Even without a Senate conviction, Trump is likely to face consequences for his many offenses. Some are noted below.


Perry Bacon Jr: Trump has been rebuked like no other president -- but really only by Democrats. On the other hand, I'd argue that partisan opposition to Trump is not unprecedented, and possibly not as nasty and vituperative as the Republican attacks on Bill Clinton. One should also note that the precedent for using impeachment as a narrow partisan cudgel was set by Newt Gingrich against Clinton. Pelosi has wound up using it twice, but only in response to much more serious offenses than Clinton's petty lie. Indeed, if Pelosi had tried to impeach Trump every time he lied, she'd never have had time for anything else. Ultimately, Trump was "rebuked like no other president" because he behaved like no other president. The real shame is that only Democrats could see and act on that.

Zack Beauchamp: The case for consequences: "Why Republicans have to be held accountable for the attack on Capitol Hill."

Jerusalem Demsas: A fight over metal detectors reveals how broken Congress really is.

Ross Douthat: Could Mitch McConnell get to yes? "Why the Republican leader should be tempted by the Senate's opportunity to bar rump from running for president again." I can't imagine why anyone would take McConnell's suggestion that he might be open to convicting Trump at face value, but then few pundits are more credulous when it comes to Republican motivations than Douthat. A long Senate trial would be the perfect excuse for McConnell to avoid dealing with Biden's appointments and initial legislative proposals. The real question is whether McConnell decides to repeat his extreme obstructionism from 2009 (his vow to make Obama a one-term president). I can think of several reasons why that not play so well this time. But one thing you can be sure of is that no matter which way he plays it, it won't be because he's grown a conscience about the tattered state of American democracy, or that he's developed the slightest care about what's best for the country.

Melinda Fakuade: A running list of corporate responses to the Capitol riot.

Anita Kumar/Daniel Lippman: 'Supremely self-absorbed': Isolated Trump unlikely to mount an aggressive impeachment defense.

J Michael Luttig: Once Trump leaves office, the Senate can't hold an impeachment trial. This argument makes sense to me: there's no point removing from office someone who's already left office. But the wrinkle here is the possible banning of Trump from ever holding office again -- that would still seem to be a consideration even after Trump departs. Still, I'm surprised to hear so little about this position. Laurence H Tribe argues otherwise: The Senate can constitutionally hold an impeachment trial after Trump leaves office.

Harold Meyerson:

  • Impeachent: Second time around.

  • 1861 and 2021: A troubling resemblance: My thesis that 2020 is the overdue year for change of political eras is certainly holding up well on the leading edge. Trump, like Buchanan, Hoover, and Carter, is a repudiated one-term presidential disaster, and the transition this year evokes comparisons with 1861 and 1933 (even 1981 was marked by the Iran hostage crisis and the worst recession between 1933 and 2008). Less clear whether Biden can provide the uplift of Lincoln, Roosevelt, or Reagan (another caveat there, as Reagan's main trick was to turn his back on reality and invoke a fantasy world, but he did herald the dystopia that his fantasies only temporarily masked). Of course, I don't believe that a real civil war is coming: in 1861 the states had substantial militias, while the feds had but a hollow shell of an army; today the armed pseudo-patriots are few and far between, while the state security forces are immense. I don't mean to make light of the potential the former have for scattered acts of terrorism, but they have no chance of anything more (unless the state starts making many more enemies than it captures or kills).

Ian Millhiser: New poll shows Trump's support dropping sharply among Republicans. Cites polling from Pew showing Trump's approval rating dropping to 29% -- Biden begins presidency with positive ratings; Trump departs with lowest-ever job mark. I think "lowest-ever" means for Trump -- as I recall, GW Bush got down around 21% (and Cheney 9%). Although Trump has lost support among Republicans, his current approval number is still 60%, down from 77% before the election and 85% peak (he got a little bump early in the pandemic, when it wasn't yet clear how badly he blew it; at that point, Democratic approval also peaked at 12%, down to 4% now). More:

Alex Pareene: An impeachment trial will be good practice for actual oversight.

Andrew Prokop:

Michael S Rosenwald: There's an alternative to impeachment or 25th Amendment for Trump, historians say: Having recently read Eric Foner's book on the Reconstruction amendments (The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution), section 3 of the 14th Amendment was something I recognized, but while it was clear who it applied to then, I couldn't recall how new people could be declared insurrectionists and stripped of their political rights. I still don't quite get it. Moreover, I think we need broader and deeper democracy, so I don't see how that's advanced by excluding people we don't like (even if the reason we don't like them is that they're trying to take away our rights).

Philip Rucker/Josh Dawsey/Ashley Parker: Trump to flee Washington and seek rehabilitation in a MAGA oasis: Florida. Headline reads like he's looking for a comeback, perhaps as governor. But then the article veers to his children buying property in Florida, and speculates that Ivanka might run for Marco Rubio's Senate seat.

Emily Stewart: Corporate America takes away Trump's toys: "America's elites got what they wanted from Donald Trump. Now they're walking away."

Amy B Wang: Republicans call for unity but won't acknowledge Biden won fairly.

Li Zhou: Here are the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump. Notes that that's all it took to make this the most bipartisan impeachment ever. Still, that's less than 5% of the Republican caucus.

Jonathan Zimmerman: Impeach Trump but not for what he said on January 6th: Well, there are so many things Trump could (and should) be impeached for that the debate has always been more practical: what charges stand the best chance of widespread support and possible conviction? Polls have often shown a majority in favor of impeachment, but no issue has ever stood a chance of conviction. Given that's the case, I have to ask: why bother? Maybe you can use impeachment as a "teachable moment" to advance the political critique of Trump, and perhaps you'll score a point or two as Republicans are forced to defend unpopular positions (like insurrection) in order to protect political power. But the inevitable fruitlessness of impeachment makes me wonder whether the effort wouldn't be better spent elsewhere. That leaves me ambivalent: on the one hand, I wouldn't impeach Trump for anything, but I'd never miss a chance to vote against him. Zimmerman's point is somewhat different: he worries that impeaching Trump over a speech could be used to suppress further speech. I don't feel like going into that.

Exit Trump


Politico: 30 things Donald Trump did as president you might have missed: This gives you a pretty good idea of the range of things Trump's administration touched. I would edit this to make it significantly more critical (e.g., Trump's efforts to repeal Obamacare did make it more popular, but he still managed to undermine the law, especially by keeping more people uninsured); the obvious point on Defense spending isn't that he did an audit, which for sure showed gross mismanagement of funds, but that he wound up spending more than ever, while filling the Department with industry lobbyists.)

  • Obamacare: Trump didn't repeal Obamacare -- he accidentally bolstered it
  • Strategy: Trump refocused national security on great power competition
  • Coronavirus: Trump failed to provide workplace guidance, making safety harder for workers
  • Religion in schools: Trump boosted religious organizations in education
  • Oversight: Trump's Interior Department set a new standard for ignoring Congress
  • Cannabis: Legal marijuana spreads across most of the country
  • Loan forgiveness: Trump curbed relief for defrauded students
  • Shell companies: Trump made it easier to prosecure financial crimes like money laundering
  • Poverty: Trump shrank the food safety net -- a lot
  • Overtime pay: Millions of workers lost access to extra pay for long hours
  • Greenhouse gases: On gas emissions, Trump went the opposite direction from the rest of the world
  • Drones: Trump imposed a near-ban on government use of Chinese drones
  • Defense spending: Trump made it possible to follow the Pentagon's money
  • Taxes: Trump goosed the economy with tax cuts that didn't pay political dividends
  • Robocalls: Trump cracked down -- mostly successfully -- on unwanted calls and texts
  • Climate science: Trump exiled climate scientists from Washington -- literally
  • Medical records: Trump took a big swing at finally fixing health-care technology
  • Sexual harassment: Trump rescinded rules protecting workers at federal contractors
  • Auto emissions: Trump went all-in on ending curbs on auto emissions, dividing the industry
  • Antitrust: The anti-monopolists started winning -- despite Trump at first, then with his help
  • Immigration: A big crackdown on legal immigrants
  • Toxic chemicals: Trump impeded regulation -- even though Republicans wanted it
  • Internet upgrade: Trump rallied the world against China's 5G dominance
  • Farm aid: Trump doled out billions in aid to farmers
  • Banking: Trump rolled back rules on banks designed to prevent another financial crisis
  • Social media: Trump galvanized an anti-Silicon Valley movement in the GOP
  • Environmental impacts: Trump reduced environmental approvals for infrastructure projects
  • Artificial intelligence: Trump's White House took quiet steps to promote US development of AI
  • Housing segregation: Trump rolled back rules on racially segregated housing
  • Trade rules: Trump made trade a top priority, but had only mixed results

New York Times: The business rules the Trump administration is racing to finish: Bullet points:

  • Prohibiting Chinese apps and other products.
  • Defining gig workers as contractors.
  • Trimming social media's legal shield.
  • Taking the tech giants to court.
  • Adding new cryptocurrency disclosure requirements.
  • Limiting banks on social and environmental issues.
  • Overhauling rules on banks and underserved communities.
  • New "hot money" deposit rule.
  • Narrowing regulatory authority over airlines.
  • Rolling back a light bulb rule.

All these are in addition to the already staggering list of rules and rollbacks the Trump administration has issued. See: The Trump administration is reversing more than 100 environmental rules. Here's the full list.

Peter Baker/Maggie Haberman/Annie Karni: Pence reached his limit with Trump. It wasn't pretty. "After four years of tongue-biting silence that critics say enabled the president's worst instincts, the vice president would not yield to the pressure and name-calling from his boss."

Julian E Barnes/Michael S Schmidt: NSA installs Trump loyalist as top lawyer days before Biden takes office: "The acting defense secretary ordered the spy agency to appoint Michael Ellis, who has been accused of having a hand in one of the Trump administration's most contentious legal decisions."

Laura Bassett: All that's left of Trumpism is hilariously stupid, deadly serious social media stunts: "MAGA nation's thirst for viral clout is going to get more people killed."

Jonathan Chait:

  • Trump made the stupidest possible argument on Mike Pence: He gave Pence the choice between being a "patriot" and a "pussy." Or maybe he just confused Pence. After all, wouldn't the "patriot" be the guy who stands up for the Constitution, the rule of law, and democracy? And wouldn't the guy who puts those concerns aside to kowtow to the craven ravings of a despot be the "pussy"? (Dictionary definition: "slang: disparaging and offensive, a timid, passive person, especially a man.") Trump has rarely spoke with much precision, but rarely has his own delusions of grandeur been so obvious as here.

  • A history of the Trump era through stories about toilets.

  • Trump is on the verge of losing everything.

  • Trump wanted to erase Obama's legacy. He failed. Did he? Sure, Trump wasn't quite able to wipe our recollection of the notion that quiet competence and a modicum of care resulted in better government. But he did manage to wipe out a very long list of specifics, many of which will be hard to restore. Sure, one can point to Biden's election as a vindication of Obama over Trump, but Biden's actual promises have little to do with nostalgia, and much to do with the fact that America's severest problems have been made much worse by Republican rule, and little helped by Obama's interlude.

Chuck Collins/Omar Ocampo: Trump and his many billionaire enablers. Includes a list of billionaire doors to the Trump Victory Fund, where Sheldon Adelson ranked a mere 8th.

McKay Coppins: The coming Republican amnesia: "How will the GOP recover from the Trump era? Pretend it never happened."

Jerusalem Demsas: Deep cleaning, packing supplies, and a concession: The Trumps plan their White House exit.

Elizabeth Dwoskin/Craig Timberg: Misinformation dropped dramatically the week after Twitter banned Trump and some allies: "Zignal Labs charts 73 percent decline on Twitter and beyond following historic action against the president."

Richard Fausset/Danny Hakim: Atlanta prosecutor appears to move closer to Trump inquiry: "The Fulton County district attorney is weighing an inquiry into possible election interference and is said to be considering hiring an outside counsel."

Scott Galloway/James D Walsh: The most important takeaways from big tech's deplatforming of Trump. Starts with "Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey didn't kick Trump off Facebook and Twitter, respectively; Stacey Abrams did."

Peter Jamison/Carol D Leonnig/Paul Schwartzman: The $3,000-a-month toilet for the Ivanka Trump/Jared Kushner Secret Service detail. Jeffrey St Clair pointed me to this article, after noting that Ivanka had tweeted: "Disrespect for our law enforcement is unacceptable."

Carol D Leonnig/Josh Dawsey/Rosalind S Heiderman: Trump prepares to offer clemency to more than 100 people in his final hours in office. Looks like this will be his last act as president. Some more pardon pieces:

Lisa Lerer/Reid J Epstein: Abandon Trump? Deep in the GOP ranks, the MAGA mind-set prevails.

Nancy LeTourneau: To no one's surprise, Trump is still lying.

Eric Levitz:

Eric Lipton/Ben Protess/Steve Eder: An urgent reckoning for the Trump brand: "Companies and institutions are shunning President Trump and some associates after the attack on the US Capitol. The Trump family business, built on luxury hospitality, is contemplating a reinvention."

Martin Longman: When a lie gets too big.

Andrew Marantz: The importance, and incoherence, of Twitter's Trump ban. It's been about a week since Trump was booted off Twitter, and it already counts as possibly the best quality-of-life move in some while. Not only does it make it harder to Trump to impinge on your life, its absence means the media and late night comics have to dig a little deeper for stories (and jokes).

Nick Martin: Trump's four-year drilling binge has done irreparable damage. True enough, but nothing here on Obama's eight-year drilling binge, which had more dramatic effect, reversing the declining production since Hibbert's Peak in 1969, not only making the US the world's largest oil producer but wiping out the trade deficit in oil. Sure, Trump has been even more lax on the environmental front (but most of Obama's production gains were through fracking, which has its own environmental problems). The big difference was probably that Obama took over after record high prices under Bush, so the industry was more inclined to invest. Those prices dropped first with the recession (which both reduced demand and stopped the banks from speculating on futures), then with the glut, and lower prices (and more "green" competition) have depressed investment. Trump's own efforts to prop up prices have concentrated on banishing low-cost producers Iran and Venezuela.

Dylan Matthews: The F word: "The debate over whether to call Donald Trump a fascist, and why it matters." Cites a letter by Robert Paxton (author of The Anatomy of Fascism):

As you know I have been reluctant to use the F word for Trumpism, but yesterday's use of violence against democratic institutions crosses the red line.

There is a spookily close parallel with an event that occurred in the late French Third Republic - the attempt by right-wing militants to march on the Chambre des députés in the night of February 6, 1934. In the street fighting between police and marchers on the bridge that links the Place de la Concorde to the Chambre sixteen people were killed. That demonstration and the polarization that it reflected and deepened are often considered to mark the beginning of a process that led to the fall of the Republic and arrival of the Vichy regime. I couldn't help but think of that last evening as we watched the unbelievable images on TV.

For more on the 1934 crisis, see Wikipedia. Matthews also quotes from Paxton's book:

Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.

The problem with applying this definition to Trump has been the relative lack of organized violence, although I've long suspected that this is due less to beliefs and desires than to the constraints that have thus far limited Trump's power: the more power you give him, the more likely he is to rival Hitler. Even so, Trump is likely to be limited by his incompetence, his vanity, and the historical untenability of racism, imperialism, and war. Still, a fascist doesn't have to be as disastrous as Hitler to be a fascist. It would be wise to detect the impulses before they get out of hand -- as they did with the Capitol insurrection.

One more question is why does it matter whether people make the link between Trump and pre-WWII fascists? It all depends on who you are talking to. The US fought WWII specifically against fascism, and that resonates even today. To say Trump is a fascist emphasizes how he runs counter to American political traditions -- an appeal not just to liberals but to conservatives who value the freedom secured by American democracy. Such people have had a peculiar sense of when fascism needs to be opposed. They coined the term "premature anti-fascists" to describe leftists who recognized the danger of fascism long before the US government felt the need to fight fascism in WWII. For leftists, Trump's fascist affinities were recognized early -- long before the attack on the Capitol. But the charge of fascism has always been a heuristic (a pattern through which various perceptions come into focus). It may (or may not) make practical sense to use the term, as opposed to the many other ways one might talk about Trump's bad deeds. But Trump's fomenting of mob violence against Congress certainly expanded the circle of people willing to talk about Trump's fascism.

Nicole Narea: Trump's border visit was a desperate attempt to preserve his legacy on immigration. When I first heard of this, I thought maybe Trump was making some kind of grand tour of his accomplishments, but then I remembered he didn't have any -- at least not ones he'd like to draw attention to.

Cameron Peters: Alex Azar's resignation letter paints a misleading picture of Trump's coronavirus response.

Sabrina Rodriguez: Trump's partially built 'big, beautiful wall': In the end, President Donald rump built a mere fraction of what he promised."

Austin Sarat: Trump targeted the mentally ill with his lame duck execution spree. This ranks high on the list of disgusting things Trump has done (not that I have the stomach to try ranking them). I've long thought that the key question on capital punishment is not whether the covict has done something deserving of death but whether the state should have the power to kill securely incarcerated people in cold blood. I can think of lots of reasons to say no, including the fact that the other nations who still slaughter prisoners are the world's leading human rights abusers, which come to think of it is why the US is one of them. But another is that the punishment is applied so inconsistently and haphazardly, as is clear from this tendency to single out the most helpless prisoners available. Also note that while many of Trump's orders can (and will) be reversed, his killings are final -- the one part of his legacy he can always look back on and relish. Related:

Emily Stewart: Why the MyPillow guy was at the White House, explained as best as we can: Mike Lindell.

Enter Biden

See Building Biden's Cabinet for a survey of who's been selected for Biden's top administration positions, and who's being considered for still open slots. Another updated scorecard is Intelligencer's All of president-elect Joe Biden's cabinet nominees. Also: Who Joe Biden picked to fill his cabinet.


David Dayen: How Biden can move on from the Obama era: "The American Economic Liberties Project's 'Courage to Learn' report explains Obama's failures on competition policy, and a path forward for the new president." It's hard to think of anything the Obama administration did a poorer job of than antitrust ("if you block the last two companies in the economy from merging, that's not a successful antitrust policy" -- and that only happened toward the end of the second term).

Connor Echols: Biden's hidden hawks: This singles out several "particularly concerning" second-tier appointees, "both for their lack of repentance for past sins and their potential to do harm going forward."

  1. Victoria Nuland, Biden's nominee for under secretary of state for political affairs, the third-ranking post in the State Department.
  2. Samantha Power, Biden's pick to lead the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID.
  3. Kurt Campbell, Biden's pick for "Asia tsar."

Dino Grandoni/Juliet Eilperin: Biden swells the ranks of his White House climate team.

Anne Kim: Joe the centrist? Biden's Family Assistance Plan is really bold.

Nicholas Kristof: When Biden becomes . . . Rooseveltian! Seems premature, but the conditions are ripe, even if there's never been any reason to think the man might rise to the occasion. Starts with a famous story:

Soon after Franklin Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1933, a visitor assessed the stakes of his New Deal proposal.

"Mr. President, if your program succeeds, you'll be the greatest president in American history," the visitor told him. "If it fails, you will be the worst one."

"If it fails," Roosevelt responded, "I'll be the last one."

Paul Krugman: Four rules that should guide Bidenomics: Ugh! Can we start by banning the personalized term? Call it "Democratic economic politics" if you must, as it's a shared set of precepts and policies which can be meaningfully contrasted to "Republican economic politics" -- and that wouldn't surrender the concept of an economic science separate from partisan preference (not that academic economists don't have their partisan loyalties). Still, let's list the rules:

  1. Don't doubt the power of government to help.
  2. Don't obsess about debt.
  3. Don't worry about inflation.
  4. Don't count on Republicans to help govern.

Nancy LeTourneau: The attacks on Biden's Civil Rights Division nominee have already started. Kristen Clarke. You may recall that Republicans singled out Clinton's and Obama's nominees for this position (Lani Guinier, Debo Adegbile). They get nervous at the prospect of the Civil Rights Division being led by someone serious about civil rights.

German Lopez: Biden's plan to fix the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, explained. Bullet points:

  • More federal work to get shots to people.
  • Boost the supply of vaccines.
  • Expanded vaccine eligibility.
  • Mobilize a larger public health workforce.
  • Launch a national public education campaign.

Ian Millhiser: McConnell is already sabotaging Biden's presidency: "The Senate hasn't held a single confirmation hearing on Biden's nominees. That's not normal."

Nicole Narea: What we know about Biden's inauguration plans.

Cameron Peters:

Emily Stewart:

Bill Scher: It's time for a domestic terrorism law: Filed this under Biden because "Joe Biden's transition team was already working on a domestic terrorism law before the insurrection." I've been worried about right-wing violence at least since the 1990s (remember Oklahoma City?), and of course I know it wasn't newly minted then: the practice of violence is deeply embedded in the DNA of conservatism. I would even venture that aside from 9/11, I doubt there's ever been a year since the 1990s where Islamic terrorists (or "antifa" or "eco-terrorists") have killed more Americans in America than right-wingers have. Still, it's unclear to me that new anti-terrorism laws are either needed or useful. On the other hand, I can understand the fear, as I expect right-wing terror is going to get much worse before the "fire and fury" Trump (and Fox) stoked burns itself out. Some debate:

Jon Walker: Democrats must federalize Medicaid. Well, sure, but while the states bear a lot of responsibility for not expanding Medicaid per the ACA, a more fundamental problem is having a second-class Medicare-for-some in the first place.

Alex Ward: Biden taps Bill Burns, a career diplomat, to lead CIA. Note that Robert Wright/Connor Echols gave Burns a relatively decent mark on their Grading candidates for Biden's foreign policy team.

The Covid-19 Pandemic Surge

Latest map and case count: 23.9 million+ cases (14 day change +9%, total up 1.5 million in last week), 397,566 deaths (+27%), 126,139 hospitalized (+5%). While today's numbers are down a bit from the peak, the 14-day changes are still rising, giving us The worst week for deaths since the pandemic began. Monday will probably top the 400,000 deaths mark.

According to Bloomberg's Covid-19 vaccine tracker, the US has administered 14.7 million doses. The number of people who have received two doses is still very small.


Marc Fisher/Lori Rozsa/Mark Kreidler/Annie Gowen: 400,000: The invisible deaths of covid-19: "It took just over a month for the US coronavirus death toll to clib from 300,000 to nearly 400,000" (see chart).

Dhruv Khullar: Five countries, five experiences of the pandemic.

Ezra Klein: Biden's Covid-19 plan is maddeningly obvious: "It is infuriating that the Trump administration left so many of these things undone."

The person in charge of managing the hell out of the operation is Jeff Zients, who served as chief performance officer under President Barack Obama and led the rescue of HealthCare.gov. In a Saturday briefing with journalists, Zients broke the plan down into four buckets. Loosen the restrictions on who can get vaccinated (and when). Set up many more sites where vaccinations can take place. Mobilize more medical personnel to deliver the vaccinations. And use the might of the federal government to increase the vaccine supply by manufacturing whatever is needed, whenever it is needed, to accelerate the effort. "We're going to throw the full resources and weight of the federal government behind this emergency," Zients promised.

Concerning the World

William LeoGrande: Putting Cuba on the terrorism list is unjustified and unwise.

James North: Pompeo's lie of al-Qaeda link raises risk of conflict with Iran. More on Pompeo:

Yumna Patel: In 'watershed' moment, B'Tselem labels Israel 'apartheid regime'. More comments, and more on Israel:

Charles Pierson: A Yemeni famine made in Washington and Riyadh.

Gareth Porter: How CENTCOM Chief McKenzie manufactured an Iran crisis to increase his power.

Everything Else

William Astore: We're all prisoners of war now: "When will America free itself from war?"

Ask yourself this question: During a deadly pandemic, as the American death toll approaches 400,000 while still accelerating, what unites "our" representatives in Congress? What is the only act that draws wide and fervent bipartisan support, not to speak of a unique override of a Trump presidential veto in these last four years? It certainly isn't providing health care for all or giving struggling families checks for $2,000 to ensure that food will be on American tables or that millions of us won't be evicted from our homes in the middle of a pandemic. No, what unites "our" representatives is funding the military-industrial complex to the tune of $740.5 billion in fiscal year 2021 (though the real amount spent on what passes for "national security" each year regularly exceeds a trillion dollars). Still, that figure of $740.5 billion in itself is already higher than the combined military spending of the next 10 countries, including Russia and China as well as U.S. allies like France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

Bryan Bender: The military has a hate group problem. But it doesn't know how bad it's gotten.

Constance Grady:

  • Josh Hawley's book deal cancellation comes after a year of social debates in publishing.

  • The word "Orwellian" has lost all meaning: "How the right made the word 'Orwellian' an empty cliché." I'm not sure I ever knew what it meant, but maybe that's because I was always under the impression that 1984 was meant as a warning against a possible future, not as a prescription. Orwell was one of the "God That Failed" crowd of former turned anti-communists, so he was quickly turned into a useful idiot in the right-wing propaganda war. (I had to read Animal Farm as part of my high-school indoctrination.) But it isn't hard to find Orwell quotes that discredit this caricature -- e.g., "political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind." That quote here was immediately followed by a DJTJ tweet complaining that "Free-speech no longer exists in America. It died with big tech and what's left is only there for a chosen few." Like DJTJ, evidently, though that hardly explains the faux outrage. Also:

William Grimes: Phil Spector, famed music producer and convicted murderer, dies at 81: "Pop genius and NRA poster-boy" is the way I'd put it. On the former, see Jon Pareles: Phil Spector: Listening to 15 songs from a violent legacy. Those songs range 1958-80, with the string most associated with him ending in 1966 with "River Deep, Mountain High." The murder occurred in 2003. Spector had long been fascinated with guns, liked to bring them out and play around with them, and eventually killed an actress named Lana Clarkson. At the time, he claimed it was an accident, but it was the sort that seemed bound to happen, and he was convicted of 2nd degree murder. Hardly a loss to music at that point, but a cautionary tale about guns. Also see:

Robert D McFadden: Sheldon Adelson, billionaire donor to GOP and Israel, is dead at 87. New York Times obituary, so not the most critical, but a fair place to start. Adelson was an extreme example of how someone who was extremely rich ("$34.9 billion at the time of his death") could exert extraordinary political influence. He was Trump's top financial backer in 2016, and contributed much more in 2020: "about $250 million in checks to support Trump and GOP House and Senate candidates." He had so much influence over Republicans that in 2016 there was much talk of a "Sheldon Adelson primary," where hopefuls trekked to Las Vegas to beg for his support. Although he embraced most of the political causes of the very rich, his overriding issue was support for Israel and its racism and militarism, and he may have had even more influence there, both through his direct control of much Israeli media (see How US billionaire Sheldon Adelson is buying up Israel's media) and his political contributions, especially his sponsorship of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. For some more on Adelson:

Ian Millhiser:

  • Abolish the lame-duck period: "America's long lame-duck period gave Trump supporters months to plan a violent uprising. It needs to end." I doubt the insurrection had all that much planning, but the point about the 2.5 month lame-duck period is well taken. In most democracies, power changes hand within days of an election. (Millhiser gives examples like 5 days in the UK, 7 days in France, 10 days in India and Japan, 2 weeks in Canada.) The US used to have an even longer transition (March 4), which was changed after the 1932 election -- perhaps the most fractious and perilous transition before this year, as FDR had to wait and wait while Hoover watched banks collapse and the Depression worsen. After that experience, the Constitution was amended to move up the date.

  • The Supreme Court hands down its first anti-abortion decision of the Amy Coney Barrett era.

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: Do me two times, I'm goin' away. Makes fun of Biden for calling Trump "an embarrassment." Of course, there are worse things you can (and should) charge Trump with, but embarrassment is the common denominator, something we should (if not can) all be able to agree on.

Dorothy Wickenden: The pre-Civil War fight against white supremacy: "In a country riven by racial politics, three women strove for a just society." Frances Seward, Martha Coffin Wright, Harriet Tubman.

Sunday, January 12, 2020


Music Week

January archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 34756 [34687] rated (+69), 219 [214] unrated (+5).

Worked very fast and hard last week, trying to update the EOY Aggregate file, knocking out a long and troublesome Weekend Roundup, and doing some website maintenance. The extra day contributed to the rated total, but it was mostly a matter of sitting on my ass in front of the computer, rifling through often short albums where I didn't put a lot of thought into what to play next. For instance, I added Jason Gross's new albums list, 152 albums long, which suggested more than I could get at. Later on, I took a different tack, knocking off many of the highest-rated unheard albums from the aggregate. At this point I've heard all but one of the top 190 albums (Nick Cave, at 168, is the only album I haven't heard), although from 191-208 I'm only hitting 50%.

NPR Jazz Critics Poll is unlikely to come out before Friday, and could slip to early next week. I was given until Wednesday noon to turn in a short piece on my top-rated album, Mark Lomax's 400 Years Suite. By the way, NPR just published a statistics piece, Equal at Last? Women in Jazz, by the Numbers, by Lara Pellegrinelli and others, on the distribution of poll picks by sex, up through last year. I doubt I'm betraying any deep confidences in pointing out that the 2020 results (not considered here) are either down significantly from the 2019 peak or comfortably above the long-term trendline.

Here is a spreadsheet of results of the 2020 Pazz & Jop Rip-Off Poll, compiled from votes by 200 fairly serious fans. (It was originally conceived as a fans' version of the critics-only Village Voice's Pazz & Jop poll, but since the latter's demise has attracted a number of recognizable critics.) The most obvious difference I see, at least compared to The 2020 Uproxx Music Critics Poll, as well as aggregates at Album of the Year and Metacritic, is significantly more Christgau influence. For example, Christgau A- (or higher) picks ranked by PJRP (numbers in parens are rank in AOTY aggregate; including HMs down to 100):

  1. Fiona Apple: Fetch the Bolt Cutters (1)
  2. Run the Jewels: RTJ4 (3)
  3. Bob Dylan: Rough and Rowdy Ways (9)
  4. Waxahatchee: Saint Cloud (8)
  5. HAIM: Women in Music Pt. III (10)
  6. X: Alphabetland
  7. Fontaines D.C.: A Hero's Death (16)
  8. Billy Nomates: Billy Nomates
  9. Elizabeth Cook: Aftermath
  10. Drive-By Truckers: The Unraveling
  11. Lucinda Williams: Good Souls, Better Angels
  12. Low Cut Connie: Private Lives
  13. Public Enemy: What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down
  14. Dramarama: Color TV
  15. Brandy Clark: Your Life Is a Record
  16. Kalie Shorr: Open Book: Unabridged *
  17. Hanging Tree Guitars
  18. The Chicks: Gaslighter (64)

* This is an expanded reissue on a new label of a self-released 2019 album Christgau reviewed (grade: A) in February 2020. I expect it will replace the earlier release in his Dean's List. I don't have any inside knowledge of what will appear in his January CG (out tomorrow), but I wouldn't be surprised to see the list expand a bit. (If the skew is not just influence but shared taste, records which did much better in PJRP would be more likely to show up in Christgau's CG. Sault is the obvious test case.)

Sure, the top 8 (plus Fontaines D.C. at 11, but less so X at 10) are consensus picks, but they skew slightly higher here than on the other lists (mostly at the expense of Phoebe Bridgers, Taylor Swift, Perfume Genius, and Dua Lipa -- Christgau graded Swift at B+ and Lipa at ***; their drops from AOTY to PJRP were 4-9 and 5-15). Below 11, the Chicks have the most widespread support, followed by Lucinda Williams.

I should also note that the records in the list above skew white (3 exceptions). Some Christgau A-list albums that didn't make the list: Al Bilali Soudan: Tombouctou; Bktherula: Nirvana; Black Thought: Streams of Thought, Vol. 3: Cane and Abel; City Girls: City on Lock; Kehlani: It Was Good Until It Wasn't; Les Amazones d'Afrique: Amazones Power; Lil Wayne: Funeral; Princess Nokia: Everything Is Beautiful; Serengeti: With Greg From Deerhoof; Serengeti & Kenny Segal: Ajai; Westside Gunn: Pray for Paris.

Note several 2021 releases in today's list -- only one from my queue but not officially out yet. I figured that having listened to one of Ivo Perelman's 2020 releases I should compare with the forthcoming one. Only one previously unheard A- so far from the Jason Gross list cited above. In past years I've found a half-dozen or more, but 2020 has been a rather peculiar year.

Seems like a lot of musicians have died recently. Rapper MF Doom has gotten the most press, and deservedly so. I've lost track of the others, but do recall: Howard Johnson (the tuba player in Gravity), Ed Bruce (who wrote the Waylon-Willie Outlaws' greatest hit), Bobby Few (pianist), Gerry Marsden (of the Pacemakers), Claude Bolling, Frank Kimbrough, David Darling, Harold Budd.

Sheldon Adelson also died. Few rich people have spent more money to make the world a worse place. One can only hope that his most notorious beneficiaries (Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump) won't know what to do without him.

[PS: Christgau's Consumer Guide is here. ]


New records reviewed this week:

André Akinyele: Uniglo Boy (2020, Orange River): American r&b singer-songwriter, based in Toronto, third album, "a black gothic, futuristic, and universal odyssey of hardcore beats, electro love songs, and dance music." B+(**)

Roo Arcus: Tumbleweed (2020, Social Family): Country singer-songwriter from Australia, lots of pictures on his website with horses, some with barbed wire. Third album, voice the best faked twang since Kasey Chambers, a natural wonder. B+(*)

Baba Zula: Hayvan Gibi (2020, Night Dreamer/Gulbara): Turkish "psychedelic Istanbul rock 'n roll" group, led by electric saz player Osman Murat Ertel, also credited (along with baritone electric oud player Periklis Tsoukala) with vocals, although they sound less like singing than getting caught up in the rapture. The string grooves are indeed exhilarating, but I'm just as pleased with a relatively quiet drum (darbuka?) solo. A-

Bdrmm: Bedroom (2020, Sonic Cathedral): Shoegaze group from Hull, England; lot of releases on their Bandcamp page, but this seems to be the only full album. B+(**)

The Big Moon: Walking Like We Do (2020, Fiction): British indie band, from London, led by Juliette Jackson (vocals, guitars, keyboards). Second album. B

Nat Birchall Meets Al Breadwinner: Tradition Disc in Dub (2020, Tradition Disc): Tenor saxophonist, elsewhere deep into Coltrane, hooks up with Manchester reggae buff Alan Redfern, of the Breadwinners (plays drums, guitar, piano, organ, melodica here, and does the dub mix). Second of three such meetings to date (according to release date). No showcase for his impressive sax, but close to note-perfect dub groove. B+(***) [bc]

Brothers Osborne: Skeletons (2020, EMI Nashville): Country-rock duo, singer T.J. and guitarist John Osborne, from Maryland, not to be confused with the long-running (1953-2005) bluegrass Osborne Brothers. Upbeat, some pop hooks, probably a good show, wears thin over time. Good line: "Hating somebody ain't never got nobody nowhere." B+(*)

Playboi Carti: Whole Lotta Red (2020, AWGE/Interscope): Atlanta rapper Jordan Carter, started in his teens as Sir Cartier, adopted this moniker for his 2017 mixtape (when he was 20), second album since, a sprawling work which suggests his adolescent freak is maturing in Young Thug's footsteps. B+(**)

Collocutor: Continuation (2018-19 [2020], On the Corner): British modal jazz quintet, led by saxophonist Tamar Osborn, third album. B+(*)

Marco Colonna & Alexander Hawkins: Dolphy Underlined (2020, Fundacja Sluchaj): Clarinet and piano duo. Eight Dolphy pieces, one by Colonna. B+(***) [bc]

Coriky: Coriky (2020, Dischord): DC rock trio, has punk roots but is comfortably alt/indie. B+(*) [bc]

Elvis Costello: Hey Clockface (2020, Concord): Pub rock singer-songwriter from the late 1970s, 31st studio album, I haven't been impressed by anything he's done since 1986 (more for The Costello Show than for Blood and Chocolate), as he's mined ever deeper into songbook traditions. This one seems to have a fairly decent title song, a lot of spoken word, and not much else worth noting. B-

Crack Cloud: Pain Olympics (2020, Meat Machine): Canadian "art punk" band, originally an alias for Zach Choy, but grown to seven pieces so a little fancy for punk. Second album. B+(*)

Dan Ex Machina: Pity Party Animal (2020, self-released): Dan Weiss, from New Jersey, not the drummer or the rapper, but well known to me as a rock critic -- a major contributor to my Turkey Shoots, and a reliable pop/rock junkie. Heard about his band years ago, but this is the first evidence I've seen. Mostly alt/indie, but ranges a bit. He must have been working on it some while, given how quaint his GW Bush song sounds on the day of Trump's Capitol riot, followed by a Celtic jig named for a fossil. B+(***) [bc]

Dan Ex Machina: My Wife (2020, self-released): Nice instrumental opener, before the alt/indie signature sound takes over. As before, smart and/or clever, although not so much sunk in after two plays. B+(**) [bc]

Dan Ex Machina: Bail Shag EP (2017 [2021], self-released): Seven songs, 20:23, five written in one day in 2009, same sound, roll past me easy. B+(*) [bc]

Ward Davis: Black Cats and Crows (2020, Ward Davis Music): Country singer-songwriter from Arkansas, moved to Nashville in 2000, writing songs for others before recording his an EP in 2014. Second album. B+(*)

Dehd: Flower of Devotion (2020, Fire Talk): Chicago indie rock trio, founded by Emily Kempf (bass) and Jason Balla (guitar), adding drummer Eric McGrady, all credited with vocals first. B+(*)

Helena Deland: Someone New (2020, Luminelle): Singer-songwriter from Montreal, first album after five EPs. B+(*)

Diabla Diezco: Memento Mori (2020, Mord): Dutch electronica duo, Bas Mooy and Charlton Ravenberg, the former with the more substantial discography under his own name (starting in 2004). Chugging electronic beats, occasionally some noise wafting through the upper reaches. Something I enjoy, but can't credit much significance to. Vinyl is short (5 tracks, 24:55, but digital adds three tracks, another 15:34. B+(***)

Dogleg: Melee (2020, Triple Crown): Hardcore punk group from Detroit, led by singer Alex Stoitsiadis, first album after a couple EPs. Some people like them, and sometimes I think I can hear it, but before long I tire of the thrash. B

Dave Douglas: Overcome (2020, Greenleaf Music): Political statement, occasioned by the BLM protests, built around an arrangement of "We Shall Overcome" with voices of Fay Victor and Camila Meza, with brass, bass, drums, and Meza's guitar. Ends with a tribute, "Good Trouble, for John Lewis." B+(**) [dl]

Steve Earle: J.T. (2021, New West): Ten songs written by Earle's son, Justin Townes Earle, who died of a drug overdose last year. The younger Earle recorded nine albums 2007-19. I've heard the last six, thought he was a decent songwriter -- I warmed most to his last, The Saint of Lost Causes -- but not nearly as good as his father. This offers the best of both: cherry-picked songs, performed adroitly by a much better singer and a first-rate band. A-

Bill Fay: Countless Branches (2020, Dead Oceans): English singer-songwriter, recorded two albums 1970-71, one 1978-81 that wasn't released until 2005, and three since 2012. Simple songs, backed with piano. B+(**)

Future Islands: As Long as You Are (2020, 4AD): American synthpop band, from Baltimore, sixth album since 2008. Sam Herring is a striking singer, not unlike the band so pumped up with keyboards. B+(*)

Melody Gardot: Sunset in the Blue (2020, Decca): Singer, from New Jersey, 5th album since 2008. Mixed originals and standards, mostly Brazilian rhythms with stringy background. B

Selena Gomez: Rare (2020, Interscope): Pop star, from Texas, released three studio albums as Selena Gomez & the Scene (2009-11), three more solo albums, all hits but like everyone else, sales trajectory is downward. Appealing. B+(**)

Jerry Granelli: The Jerry Granelli Trio Plays Vince Guaraldi & Mose Allison (2020, RareNoise): Drummer-led piano trio, with Jamie Saft and Bradley Christopher Jones, playing two tracks by Guaraldi, five by Allison, two originals, one trad. B+(*)

Siul Hughes: Hueman (2020, Fake Four): Connecticut rapper, first name pronounced "see all," as in "SEEALLHUES." Seems deep but inscrutable. B+(***) [bc]

Siul Hughes: Stoopkid (2018 [2019], Fake Four): Previous album, officially his 5th release (probably not all LPs; this one runs 35:09). B+(**) [bc]

Sierra Hull: 25 Trips (2020, Rounder): Bluegrass singer-songwriter, plays mandolin and guitar, fifth album since 2002. Nice. B+(**)

Kelley Hurt/Chad Fowler/Christopher Parker/Bernard Santacruz/Anders Griffen: Nothing but Love: The Music of Frank Lowe (2019 [2020], Mahakala Music): Seven compositions by the late saxophonist (plus two alternate takes), each musician -- voice, sax, piano, bass, drums/trumpet -- somehow connected to the source. Hurt is only a plus on the one song with a lyric, but Fowler is a tower of strength throughout. B+(***) [bc]

Kang Tae Hwan/Hang Hae Jin: Circle Point (2019 [2020], Dancing Butterfly): South Koreans, alto sax and violin duo, live improv, "50 minutes without pause." B+(**) [bc]

Hwyl Nofio: Isolate (2020, Hwyl): Welsh group, name translates as "swimming fun," founded 1998 by Steve Parry, credited here with "guitarlin, toy piano, church organ, prepared guitar, harmonium, piano, noise," with sax, bass, and a guest spot for harp (Rhodri Davies). B+(*) [bc]

Ital Tek: Outland (2020, Planet Mu): British electronica producer Alan Myson, seventh album since 2008. I like the beats a lot, ambient washes somewhat less. B+(**)

Sarah Jarosz: World on the Ground (2020, Rounder): Singer-songwriter from Texas, leans bluegrass (main instrument is mandolin, but also plays guitar and banjo), fifth album since 2009. B+(***)

Hermione Johnson: Tremble (2019 [2020], Relative Pitch): Pianist, from New Zealand, second album, solo, no overdubs, the piano prepared by "inserting tiny sticks at diverse angles between the strings," producing an effect likened to gamelan. B+(**) [bc]

Last Dream of the Morning [John Butcher/John Edwards/Mark Sanders]: Crucial Anatomy (2018 [2020], Trost): Avant sax trio, Butcher playing tenor and soprano. B+(**)

Lithics: Tower of Age (2020, Trouble in Mind): Portland post-punk band, third album. Aubrey Hornor sings and plays guitar, backed by three guys who keep the rhythm on edge and the edges sharp and sparkly. A-

Luca T. Mai: Heavenly Guide (2018 [2020], Trost): Baritone saxophonist, first album under his name but he's been a major player in the punk/jazz/metal band Zu since 1999, joined here by drummer Tomas Jamyr and Zu bassist Massimo Pupillo. Short, grungy album: seven tracks, 25:14. B

Roc Marciano: Mt. Marci (2020, Marci): New York rapper Rahkeim Calief Meyer, eighth album, fourth to work "Marci" into the title. B+(*)

Roc Marciano: Marcielago (2019 [2020], Marci Enterprises): Previous album, looks like digital was available in December, 2019, but CD and LP didn't appear until January 24. B+(**) [yt]

Gia Margaret: Mia Gargaret (2020, Orindal): From Chicago, first album reportedly more singer-songwriter, this short (11 songs, 27:08) one more instrumental, mostly synthesizer, with some voice (including a sample from Alan Watts) and a couple guest spots. B+(*)

Branford Marsalis: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom [Original Soundtrack] (2020, Milan): Film by George C. Wolfe, based on a play by August Wilson, which explains why it was framed so narrowly, set almost completely in two rooms of a Chicago studio, with a lot more talk than music, staring Viola Davis in horror makeup and Chadwick Boseman in a final over-the-top performance as an arrogant, terrified, and tragic trumpeter. I didn't bother trying to follow Allen Lowe's critique, but found the movie so unenjoyable that I don't much care for matters of accuracy and authenticity. Not much to the soundtrack, but as I said, not much music to the movie either. B

Metz: Atlas Vending (2020, Sub Pop): Canadian noise rock band (or post punk or something like that), fourth album since 2012. B

Kevin Morby: Sundowner (2020, Dead Oceans): Singer-songwriter, born in Lubbock, grew up in Kansas City, sixth album since 2013. B+(*)

Jason Palmer: The Concert: 12 Musings for Isabella (2019 [2020], Giant Step Arts, 2CD): Trumpet player, albums since 2014. Isabella is the namesake of the Gardner Museum in Boston, which in 1990 was robbed of 13 famous paintings (including ones by Rembrandt, Degas, Vermeer, and Manet). Those paintings inspire 12 pieces, performed by a quintet with Mark Turner (especially strong on tenor sax), Joel Ross (vibes), Edward Perez (bass), and Kendrick Scott (drums). A-

Esmé Patterson: There Will Come Soft Rains (2020, BMG): Singer-songwriter from Denver, started in indie folk band Paper Bird, fourth album since 2012, veering toward pop with help from Tennis (Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore). B+(**)

Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Joe Morris: Shamanism (2020, Mahakala Music): Brazilian avant tenor saxophonist, his (of late) frequent piano partner -- the first two have produced so much exhilarating music in recent years that I've gotten acclimated -- so it's worth noting the extra jolt the guitar provides. A-

Ivo Perelman Trio: Garden of Jewels (2020 [2021], Tao Forms): Tenor saxophonist, with longtime collaborators Matthew Shipp (piano) and Whit Dickey (drums). One of their more impressive outings. A- [cd] [01-22]

Gonzalo Rubalcaba & Aymée Nuviola: Viento Y Tiempo: Live at the Blue Note Tokyo (2019 [2020], Top Stop Music): Cuban pianist, promoted by Dizzy Gillespie, based in Florida since 1996, 30+ albums since 1986. Nuviola is a Cuban singer/actress, handful of albums, makes this a pop album, though the horns and piano are jazzy enough, and the percussion is brilliant. A-

Samo Salamon & Friends: Almost Alone Vol. 1 (2020, Samo): Slovenian guitarist's quarantine project, eleven long-distance duos with as many guitarists. Still feel remarkably together. B+(***) [cd]

Jeannie Seely: An American Classic (2020, Curb): Country singer, from Pennsylvania, had her top charting single and album in 1966 ("Don't Touch Me," from The Seely Style), recorded annual albums through 1973, and has never gone more than eight years without a new album since, releasing this one shortly after turning 80. Eight (of 13) tracks feature guest vocalists, to various effects. B

James Solace: Mind Music (2020, Hot Creations, EP): British electronica producer James Burnham, aka Burnski (2005-20), Ladzinski (2009-11), Instinct (2017-20), James Infiltrate (2018), Daniel Akbar (2019), and now this (2018-20). Four strong beat pieces, 23:25. B+(**)

James Solace: Setting Sun/The Light (2020, Four Thirty Two, EP): Totals 31:52, but really just a two-sided single with three remixes tacked on for Ł4.95, so we'll honor the EP designation. B+(**)

Touché Amoré: Lament (2020, Epitaph): Post-hardcore band from Los Angeles, fifth studio album since 2009. Not something I gravitate towards, but listenable on their own terms, sometimes better than that. B+(**)

Two Weeks Notice: A Calm, Measured Response (2020, Fake Four, EP): Hip-hop crew from New Haven, rappers Tribal One and Mikal kHill, latter also plays fretless acoustic ukelele bass and keyboards. Six tracks, 16:44. How calm and measured? "Everything's going to be much better/ because it can't be worse than this." B+(**)

Ugly Beauty: Ugly Beauty (2019 [2020], self-released): Boston-based Monk tribute trio -- Andrew Stern (guitar), Jef Charland (bass), Jared Seabrook (drums) -- formed over a decade ago but this is their first album. Monk tunes, the signatures often hammered out of recognition. B+(*)

Rufus Wainwright: Unfollow the Rules (2020, BMG): Second-generation singer-songwriter, tenth album since 1998, some classified as baroque pop. Not sure what that means, but "This One's for the Ladies" is pretty awful. B-

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

BBQ With Fred Frith: Free Postmodernism/USA 1982 (1982 [2020], SĹJ): Initials stand for Bergische-Brandenburgisches Quartett, a mostly German free jazz group with Sven-Ĺke Johansson (drums), Rüdiger Carl (sax), Hans-Reichel (guitar), and Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky (alto sax/clarinet/flutes), with some accordoin and voice, on an American tour, joined by Frith (violin/guitar/electronics) for a set in Allentown (31:12 of 81:36). B+(**)

Erotique New Beat (1989 [2020], Mental Groove): Belgian dance music, from "the peak of the New Beat craze," a fake various artists compilation used as a low budget soundtrack. Most songs have lyrics but they are extremely rudimentary, few with any obvious erotic content, but dumb has its own appeal. B+(***) [bc]

Sun Ra: On Jupiter (1979 [2021], Enterplanetary Koncepts): Originally credited to Sun Ra and His Solar Arkestra, or more fully Sun Ra and His Intergalactic Myth Science Solar Arkestra. Hard-swinging big band, lots of organ/keyboards, vocals about UFO's. B+(***)

Buddy Rich: Just in Time: The Final Recording (1986 [2019], Gearbox): Drummer, introduced here as "the world's greatest," and while I don't concur, that wasn't an common view. Big band, from two nights at Ronnie Scott's, less than five months before he died (at 69). Band swings hard. Endes with Cathy Rich singing a blistering "Twisted." B+(*) [bc]

Schlippenbach & Johansson: Onkel Pös Carnegie Hall Hamburg 1978 (1978 [2021], SĹJ): Piano-drums duo, first names Alexander [von] and Sven-Ĺke. Spectacular piano, no doubt partly because the drummer never lets up. A- [bc]

Soul Love Now: The Black Fire Records Story 1975-1993 (1975-93 [2020], Strut): Jimmy Gray started Black Fire as a magazine, then expanded it into a label, releasing Africa-oriented spiritual jazz and soul. Wayne Davis' gospel-inflected "Look at the People!" is a choice cut. B+(***) [bc]

Jack Wright/Michael Taylor: Kryptischgasse (2001 [2020], Right Brain, EP): Wright's a saxophonist (mostly alto) from Pittsburgh, credited by Discogs with 62 albums since 1982 (not including this one), only one I've heard, while Taylor, a bassist from Philadelphia, is even more obscure (I've yet to find him among the 42 Michael Taylors listed by Discogs). Duo, five tracks, 22:42. B+(*) [bc]

Old music:

Jeannie Seely: The Seely Style (1966, Monument): First album, opens with her Hank Cochran-penned hit "Don't Touch Me. Cochran wrote (or co-wrote) five more songs, one with Seeley, who also shared one other credit. Countrypolitan production avoids ick, and she has a nice ballad voice, but the pop picks ("Yesterday," "Let It Be Me") aren't very inspired. B

Jeannie Seely: Thanks Hank! (1967, Monument): Subtitled: "Jeannie Seely Sings a 12 Song Salute to Hank Cochran." Cochran helped get her a contract, and wrote her hit single. A couple years later she did this album one better and married him (they divorced in 1971). More countrypolitan ballads, but has a nice consistency. B+(*)

Cristina Vane: Troubled Sleep (2017, self-released, EP): Deep blues sound, but more impressive when she picks on the old songs. Billed as an EP: six songs, 27:33. B+(**)


Further Sampling:

Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.

Mark Helias/Tim Berne: Blood From a Stone (2020, Radiolegs): Bass/alto sax duo. [bc:1/5, 9:07/51:04]: +

Evan Parker/Matthew Wright/Trance Map+ [Adam Linson/John Coxon/Ashley Wales]: Crepuscle in Nickelsdorf (2017 [2019], Intakt): Soprano sax, turntables, electronics. [bc: 2/7, 13:48/58:44]: +

Manuel Valera New Cuban Express Big Band: José Martí En Nueva York (2019 [2020], Greenleaf Music): Inspired by the Cuban writer/revolutionary's 1891 poems. [bc: 3/7, 24:19/61:24]: +


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Albare: Albare Plays Jobim Vol. 2 (Alfi)
  • Meridian Odyssey: Second Wave (Origin) [01-15]
  • Grete Skarpeid: Beyond Other Stories (Origin) [01-15]
  • Dave Stryker: Baker's Circle (Strikezone) [03-05]
  • Rodney Whitaker With the Christ Church Cranbrook Choir: Cranbrook Christmas Jazz (Origin) [01-15]
  • Greg Yasinitsky: Yazz Band: New Normal (Origin) [01-15]

Monday, January 11, 2021


Weekend Roundup

Table of contents:

Last week, I found myself flashing back to scenes in the 1980 movie Airplane!. It was a very funny spoof of late-1970s disaster movies (especially Airport 1975, but the series of gags I most recall featured the air traffic controller (played by Lloyd Bridges), admitting "this was the wrong week to quit" various vices (cigarettes, booze, cocaine, sniffing glue -- by which point it was smeared all over his face and hair). Well, this was the wrong week to quit Weekend Roundup. My plan was to keep doing it through the Biden inauguration, then free up my weekends. I've collected my posts in four long book files. While I feel obligated to wrap up the Trump term, I'm too old and tired to contemplate doing this for another four years.

Still, last week was one for the book. I grabbed a couple items as early as Friday, but unfortunately I wasn't able to knuckle down and focus on this until mid-afternoon Sunday. So this will probably be shorter (and glibber?) than is deserved. The key events were:

  • A Trump rally in Georgia on the eve of the state's Senate runoff elections.
  • Georgia's election of two new Democratic Senators, which doesn't really give Democrats control of the Senate but gives them a fighting chance of getting appointments confirmed and passing legislation.
  • The extremist politicization of the previously routine counting of the electoral votes by Congress.
  • Trump fomenting an insurrection where his followers attacked, invaded, and (briefly) occupied the Capitol Building, disrupting the counting of electoral votes.
  • The restoration of order, and completion of the counting, showing once again that Biden won the election.
  • The reaction to the violence and disorder, and the still unfolding fallout.
  • Meanwhile, the pandemic got worse than ever, with daily death counts topping 4,000 for the first time.

I'm somewhat ambivalent about what to call the storming of the Capitol. In most regards it resembles the general unruliness of a riot, but the fact that the mob was organized and directed not at a mere symbol of state power but at the literal seat of democracy, where representatives were engaged in a process meant to insure the orderly transfer of power, marks it as an insurrection. Its target also underscores that it was not a protest against state power but a direct attack on democracy, and as such on the fundamental belief that the power of the state is rooted in the will of the people.

Whether it was a coup attempt is a somewhat messier question. Coups (from a French word for a sudden strike) are normally conflicts within the power structure, where one faction (usually from the military and/or the state security groups) moves to seize control of the state. That didn't happen, and I have no reason to think that the US military would do such a thing -- not that they, nor especially the CIA, have scruples about organizing and/or supporting coups abroad.

On the other hand, Trump made no secret of his desire that someone intervene to deliver his re-election. In his methods, he most resembles a monarch (or mob boss) who obliquely wonders whether someone will relieve him of some problem person, then feigns surprise when some underling kills the offender. Trump didn't care who would save him, nor did he worry about the means. He would have been happy had state election officials "found" enough votes to overcome the shortfall. He wanted state legislators to approve alternate electors, regardless of state laws. He repeatedly appealed to the courts. He urged his allies in Congress to challenge the counting, and he ordered his VP to throw the election to him. So when his mob stormed the Capitol, he was briefly optimistic. There is no reason to think he wouldn't have been thrilled to have the mob forced Congress at gunpoint to throw the election to him. And when all his efforts failed, he still gets to walk away pretending he never did anything wrong -- and that he is still the aggrieved party.


Ainsley Earhardt, the blonde sandwiched between the two douchebags at Fox & Friends, offered this emotional plea:

There are 75 million people that voted for President Trump. And they are scared. They are worried about what the future of this country looks like. They are confused and heartbroken that their candidate didn't win and they don't want to be forgotten.

Tony Karon cited this quote, then added:

Whiny white privilege knows no limits, eh? Especially when you monetize it, like FOX News, which profits off disseminating the lies and hatred driving this nonsense.

Actually, I'm all for respecting people's hurt feelings, but where is there any acknowledgement that the 82 million Biden voters care at least as much, as intensely, as existentially as those Trump voters? (Actual totals are closer to 81-to-74 million, but the margin is more than 7 million votes.) I shudder to think what the reaction would be if Trump somehow managed to steal this election, especially after all the damage he's done since unfairly, undemocratically seizing the election in 2016. And, like, we're the side that believes in peace, in equality, in civility, in law, in order, in community, and in reality.

Twitter Chatter

I wound up collecting enough of these to merit their own section (although note that I only started collecting them on Friday (and didn't keep it up), and I only follow a tiny number of feeds -- although retweets expand what I see significantly):

Stephen Colbert:
It'll be a shame if history allows one horrific event on this president's watch to overshadow all the other horrific events on this president's watch.
Kathleen Geier:
I know that 2021 has barely started but this has got to be in the running for headline of the year. [Hawley blames 'woke mob' for cancellation of book day after actual mob stormed Capitol]
Mike Konczal:
That the occupation of the Capitol was far more violent, and had the capacity for far more violence, than I understood while it was happening is the most jarring thing I've learned about the putsch over the subsequent days. It's terrifying.
Yousef Munayyer:
We spend $750 billion annually on "defense" and the center of American government fell in two hours to the duck dynasty and the guy in the chewbacca bikini.
Olivia Nuzzi:
A person who currently advises Donald Trump tells me: "It's all hit him since yesterday: 'You may have legal exposure from yesterday. You definitely have legal exposure from other things. You have less than two weeks to remain ensconced in here with executive privilege.'"
Jeff Sharlet:
A funny-because-it's-awful, awful-because-it's funny thing is that on Parler so many fascists, having finally achieved the uprising they could never before pull off, are doing everything they can to give all the credit to antifa. "What, us?" No, we can't organize shit."
Oliver Willis:
Hope Hicks resigning at this point is like Eva Braun walking out of the bunker and saying "ultimately, he went a little too far at the end."


Georgia and the End of the 2020 Election

On Tuesday, Georgia elected two new US Senators, with Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff defeating incumbents Kelly Loefler and David Perdue. See: Senate live results. Perdue and Loeffler led in the November election (which Trump lost by 11,789 votes), so one can take an extra pleasure in seeing how the runoff system, designed during the Jim Crow era to preserve white supremacy, finally opened the door. From what I can tell, it looks like turnout was more than 90% of the presidential election, which is remarkably high for a runoff election.

As I recall, on the night of the election, the Democrats jumped to an early lead, lost that late in the evening, then came back overnight. Ossoff's win wound up at about 45,000 votes, and Warnock did better (or Loeffler did worse), with a margin of 83,000 votes. There was a lot of speculation that Trump's post-election antics could cost Republicans in this race. I never put much stock in that, but what is unquestionably true is that Democrats stepped up and took the runoff very seriously.

This results in a 50-50 tie in the Senate. As the Vice President can break ties, that should give Democrats the ability to organize and run the processes. Still, as "control" goes that's a pretty tenuous margin, and depends a lot on keeping the most conservative senator(s) happy -- Joe Manchin is the obvious bottleneck here. Not much recent talk about ending the filibuster. If that doesn't happen (and Manchin is on record against changing the filibuster rule), it will be very hard to get any very progressive bills through the Senate. While the tie makes it harder for Republicans to obstruct everything, it relieves them of some of the pressure to cooperate with Biden. Republicans should be in a very good position to regain control of Congress in 2022, if they can avoid blame for whatever goes wrong -- which given the state they've left the nation in is quite a lot.

On Wednesday, Congress met to count and certify the Electoral College votes, with a substantial faction of Republicans trying to steal a win for Trump. Before they got very far, Trump's mob stormed the Capitol, disrupting the proceedings. I cover that in two later sections, but here I'll include stories that relate to the session, both before and after the disruption.


Vox [Dylan Matthews, Ella Nilsen, Zack Beauchamp, Andrew Prokop, Li Zhou, Ian Millhiser]: 5 winner and 2 losers from the Georgia Senate elections. Winners: Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff; Joe Manchin (as the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, he can play hardest-to-please, making him the bottleneck for Democratic votes); Stacey Abrams and Georgia organizers; Ketanji Brown Jackson (or Leondra Kruger); more stimulus. Losers: Mitch McConnell; Trump's election discrediting strategy.

Chas Danner: Trump made earlier call to pressure Georgia election investigator.

Jerusalem Demsas: The 14 Republican senators objecting to the Electoral College's certification.

Ella Nilsen: Democrats win the Senate -- by the slimmest margin possible.

Andrew Prokop:

Bill Scher: Electoral College certification is dividing the GOP. Good.

Dylan Scott: "Phenomenal" Black turnout won the Senate for Democrats in Georgia.

Nate Silver: Georgia was a disaster for Republicans, and it's not clear where they can go next.

After last week, though, I'm not sure I'd want to place a lot of money on the GOP in 2022, either. If the Georgia runoffs served as a quasi-midterm, they might suggest that the GOP can't count on the sort of gains that a party typically wins in midterms. As in the primaries leading up to 2010, the GOP is likely to have some vicious intraparty fights, possibly leading it to nominate suboptimal candidates in some races. And with the violence last week and Republican efforts to contest the Electoral College outcome in Congress, Democrats may be very motivated again in 2022, feeling -- not unreasonably -- as though democracy itself may be on the line.

Emily Stewart: David Perdue may follow the Trump playbook on Senate election loss: He ultimately didn't, as the margin of his loss grew throughout Wednesday, eventually hitting 45,000, so he finally conceded. Perdue and Loeffler also backed off from their promise to support Trump's ersatz electors, although Perdue's term had expired before the vote, and Loeffler's ends as soon as Georgia certifies Warnock's win.

Li Zhou: 147 Republican lawmakers still objected to the election results after the Capitol attack.

Trump's Insurrection

One thing I wish I had time to do was to dig up some of the video that exposes the actual and potential violence of the mob's storming of the Capitol Building. It's worth noting that rioters came armed with everything from zip-ties and pepper spray to pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails. Another thing I didn't get to is the threat of further "protests" and more violence around the inauguration.


Devlin Barrett: Trump's remarks before Capitol riot may be investigated, says acting US attorney in DC.

Dan Barry/Mike McIntire/Matthew Rosenberg: 'Our president wants us here': The mob that stormed the capitol.

Zack Beauchamp:

Kim Bellware: Police departments across the US open probes into whether their own members took part in the Capitol riot. I'd venture to say that if they purged the ones who did participate, that would help with some of the other problems that plague police departemnts. Normally I'd oppose any sort of politically-defined job restriction, but the people who actually participated in the violence and insurrection (as opposed to people who merely attended the rally) aren't fit to be police.

Aaron Blake: What Trump said before his supporters stormed the Capitol, annotated.

Sidney Blumenthal: Trump's MAGA insurrectionists were perverse US civil war re-enactors.

Jonathan Chait:

Fabiola Cineas:

  • Whiteness is at the core of the insurrection.

  • Donald Trump is the accelerant: "A comprehensive timeline of Trump encouraging hate groups and political violence." Much of this is familiar, but the sheer length is staggering. Latest entry:

    At an outdoor rally in Washington, DC, Trump turned on Republicans who refused to support his efforts to overturn the election results, calling them weak, and urged Vice President Mike Pence to reject the Electoral College results.

    Trump told listeners, "You will never take back our country with weakness." (Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani also delivered a speech in which he encouraged "trial by combat.") He encouraged them to head to the Capitol to support objections to certification of the vote.

    Hours of violence followed the speech when supporters stormed the US Capitol, as well as state capitols across the country. Capitol Police fatally shot Ashli Babbitt, a Trump supporter, as she and others tried to breach the halls of the Senate. Four others died, including a police officer. Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser imposed a city-wide curfew beginning at 6 pm, and few people were arrested, though many rioters violated the restriction.

    That evening, Trump again equivocated in messages to supporters, making little attempt to try to stop the violence. He later denounced the violence, but refused to clearly state he lost the election. According to the New York Times, he soon expressed regret to White House aides about committing to a peaceful transfer of power and condemning the Capitol attack.

    I don't normally copy links from within quoted text, but the last story seemed especially significant, and turns out to have a lot of information beyond its headline ("Democrats ready impeachment charge against Trump for inciting Capitol mob"). For instance:

    Mr. Trump had told advisers in the days before the march that he wanted to join his supporters in going to the Capitol, but White House officials said no, according to people briefed on the discussions. The president had also expressed interest beforehand in calling in the National Guard to hold off anti-Trump counterprotesters who might show up, the people said, only to turn around and resist calls for bringing those troops in after the rioting by his loyalists broke out.

Aaron C Davis/Rebecca Tan/Beth Reinhard: Several Capitol police officers suspended, more than a dozen under investigation over actions related to rally, riot.

Josh Dawsey/Ashley Parker: Inside the remarkable rift between Donald Trump and Mike Pence.

Jason Del Rey: Shopify hits President Trump where it hurts: His wallet: "The software firm has taken down President Trump's online stores."

Jerusalem Demsas:

Anthony DiMaggio: Fascism by gaslighting: Trump's coup and the grassroots insurrection strategy. Includes a revealing study of Trump speeches, wherein he "spent radically more time fixating on his partisan political opponents than did Obama or Bush."

Attempts to criminalize the Democratic Party via claims that it embraces criminal immigrant-based gang violence. This includes Trump's references to the Democrats as the "party of crime," the party that is "okay with crime" and with "open borders, which means lots of crime." In contrast Republicans and Trump "want tough, strong, powerful borders, and we want no crime." Trump depicts Democratically-controlled "sanctuary cities" -- "which the Democratic Party supports totally -- they love them" -- as the primary focal point "where crime pours in" to the country.

Trump's use of animal metaphors, his depiction of LatinX immigrants as criminals, and his claim that immigrants bring in "tremendous infectious disease," are indistinguishable from eliminationist Nazi propaganda, which characterized Jews as "rats," as a "poison[ous]," "filthy" and "infected" people, as a "plague," and as a criminal "arsonist" and "serpent[ine]" threat to public order and safety. That this simple yet damning comparison between Trumpian and Nazi propaganda is routinely downplayed in American political life is a sign of just how far our politics has deteriorated under Trump in the era of mass fascism-denialism.

Joshua Frank: Fools rush in: Trump, pardons and the tyrant's cult.

Understanding Trump as a cult leader is the only way to truly appreciate the power he wields and the idiocy he manifests. Few others could call upon their legions to storm government buildings with the dashing hope their efforts would make a difference, overturning what they falsely believed was a rigged election. No longer did police lives matter to these twisted Patriots. No longer did America's legal system matter, which shot down one election lawsuit after another. No longer did common sense matter, if the Capitol stormers had any to begin with. Only their President mattered. Only fulfilling his delusional fantasies mattered, and this was worth risking imprisonment and even death for. While the refrain may have been "Make America Great Again," the real mantra echoing through Washington last Wednesday was "Keep Trump President." He had not, after all, lost, according to them. The multiple logics here were murky at best, but the essence of their rhetoric was not.

Shirin Ghaffary: Why Twitter finally banned Trump: "The company suggested that Trump's tweets risk further violence during a critical time for democracy."

Melissa Gira Grant: This isn't an insurrection. It's an alliance.

Miranda Green: Who dies for Donald Trump? Profile of Ashli Babbitt, the one rioter shot and killed by Capitol Police while trying to take over the Capitol building.

Benjamin Hart: Capitol police officer dies after sustaining injuries in riot.

Rebecca Heilweil/Shirin Ghaffary: How Trump's internet built and broadcast the Capitol insurrection: "Online extremists started planning the chaos of January 6 months ago."

Sean Illing: The fantasy-industrial complex gave us the Capitol Hill insurrection: "This is America's brain on misinformation."

Kellie Carter Jackson: The inaction of Capitol Police was by design.

According to the Associated Press, the Capitol Police knew about the potential threat of the riot days before it took place, but rejected offers of help from the National Guard and the FBI. Officials said that they wanted to avoid using federal force against Americans, as they had done this summer. The choice to turn down help amid warnings of an insurrection is as revealing as it is disturbing: Why did law enforcement assume that they'd encounter violence from protesters marching for Black lives in June, but think that a largely white crowd of pro-Trump extremists and conspiracy theorists would remain peaceful? The difference in the Capitol Police's response shocked many who bemoaned the double standard. But police brutality against Black Americans and police inaction toward white Americans is not some surprising anomaly; it is the status quo.

Sarah Jones: This is what Trumpism without Trump looks like.

Peter Kafka: Fox News wants its viewers angry enough to watch but not angry enough to riot. "Guess what happens when you tell people, over and over, that they're being robbed? They may believe you." I don't think that's quite right: they don't care how angry you get; they just don't want to be held culpable for what you do with that anger. Maybe they should change their motto from "we report/you decide" to "we incite/you do the time"?

Robert Klemko/Kimberly Kindy/Kim Bellware/Derek Hawkins: Kid glove treatment of pro-Trump mob contrasts with strong-arm police tactics against Black Lives Matter, activists say.

Paul Krugman: How the Republican Party went feral, and Appeasement got us where we are: "It's time to stand up to the fascists among us."

Akela Lacy: Rep. Cori Bush on Republicans who fueled attack on Capitol: "That blood is on all of their hands".

Nancy LeTourneau: Why the GOP will remain a threat to democracy, even after Trump is gone: Posted Jan. 5, avant le deluge, but even as Trump surged to the forefront of our fears, a point worth remembering. The only thing that the GOP split over certifying electors proved is that Republicans may differ on tactics, but remain united on their fundamental goal of subverting democracy.

Eric Levitz: Impeach and remove Trump now. "He must be frog-marched out of our civic life in disgrace." Agreed, but impeachment won't do that. What's needed is to teach people to recognize what indulging Trump's vanities and paranoia has cost them, so they learn not to let people like Trump back in the halls of power ever again.

Adam Liptak: Can Twitter legally bar Trump? The first amendment says yes: "There are reasons to question the wisdom of recent actions by Twitter in barring President Trump from its site and Simon & Schuster in canceling the publication of Senator Josh Hawley's book. But the First Amendment is on their side."

Mike Ludwig: The Trumps have fueled a far right media monster that is not going away.

Jane Lytvynenko/Molly Hensley-Clancy: The rioters who took over the Capitol have been planning online in the open for weeks.

Andrew G McCabe/David C Williams: Trump's new criminal problem: "The president could face charges for inciting the Capitol riot -- and maybe even for inciting the murder of a Capitol Police officer."

Stephanie McNeal: Here are some of the most horrifying and stunning videos from the assault on the Capitol.

Ian Millhiser: 13 federal criminal laws that the pro-Trump mob may have violated, explained.

Parker Molloy: Desperate not to take responsibility for what they've set in motion, pro-Trump media pivot to conspiracy theories.

Sara Morrison: The Capitol rioters put themselves all over social media. Now they're getting arrested.

Tina Nguyen: MAGA activists plot revenge on Republican 'traitors': "The swift move to vengeance offers a preview of how Trump and his MAGA community plan to reshape the GOP in the coming months."

Anna North: Police bias explains the Capitol riot.

Anna North/Ella Nilsen: The catastrophic police failure at the US Capitol, explained.

Olivia Nuzzi:

Molly Olmstead: What new details tell us about the Capitol rioters' plans.

Ashley Parker/Josh Dawsey/Philip Rucker: Six hours of paralysis: Inside Trump's failure to act after a mob stormed the Capitol.

Madeline Peltz: YouTube terminated Steve Bannon's account. He had blood on his hands after months of calling for revolution and violence.

Andrew Perez/David Sirota: We should know exactly who funded last week's right-wing riot: "Last week's right-wing riot at the Capitol was egged on by politicians and organizations that have received substantial dark-money funding from corporate interests. It's past time to enact reforms to end the era of dark money -- and find out who exactly is bankrolling the anti-democratic far right."

Cameron Peters:

James Poniewozik:

Andrew Prokop: Republican senator: White House aides say Trump was "delighted" as Capitol was stormed: "Sen. Ben Sasse said that, according to senior White House officials, Trump was 'confused' why others weren't as excited."

Frank Rich: The trashing of the republic: "The only response to the carnage in Washington is to banish Trump and his traitorous collaborators from civil society." And how do you do that, given that you don't have the power, and they feed on contempt?

Alexander Reid Ross: Inside the alt-right meltdown after failed Capitol putsch.

Aaron Rupar:

  • Trump turns once and for all against Republicans who won't help him steal the election: "Speaking to protesters from the White House, Trump said, 'We have to primary the hell out of the ones that don't fight.'"

  • How Trump's speech led to the Capitol riot.

    Just before a MAGA mob descended on the US Capitol on Wednesday and caused a riot that killed five people, including a Capitol police officer who was beaten to death, President Donald Trump delivered a speech to his supporters in which he used the words "fight" or "fighting" at least 20 times.

    "We're going to have to fight much harder and Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us," Trump said at one point, alluding to Pence's ultimate refusal to attempt to steal the election for him during that day's hearing where the Electoral College made his loss official.

    "You'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength. You have to be strong," he added during the speech in which he pushed long-debunked lies about Joe Biden's convincing victory over him being the product of fraud.

Andrea Salcedo: Republican AGs group sent robocalls urging protesters to the Capitol. GOP officials now insist they didn't know about it.

Neil Schoenherr: WashU Expert: Mob at US Capitol building amounts to insurrection: So says Greg Magarian.

Melody Schreiber: The actual death toll from the pro-Trump won't be known for weeks: "Many who stormed the Capitol in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic did not wear masks. Then they went back to D.C.'s hotels and shops." We've already seen two Democratic Representatives test positive after sheltering with Republicans who refused to wear masks -- Pramila Jayapal and Bonnie Watson.

Alex Shephard: The conservative media really wants you to think the Capitol riot is the left's fault.

Fran Shor: White chickens, coming home to roost. Her backfile includes the book, Weaponized Whiteness: The Constructions and Deconstructions of White Identity Politics, and The long life of institutional white supremacist terror.

Timothy Snyder: The American abyss: "A historian of fascism and political atrocity on Trump, the mob and what comes next."

Like historical fascist leaders, Trump has presented himself as the single source of truth. His use of the term "fake news" echoed the Nazi smear Lügenpresse ("lying press"); like the Nazis, he referred to reporters as "enemies of the people." . . .

Thanks to technological capacity and personal talent, Donald Trump lied at a pace perhaps unmatched by any other leader in history. For the most part these were small lies, and their main effect was cumulative. To believe in all of them was to accept the authority of a single man, because to believe in all of them was to disbelieve everything else. Once such personal authority was established, the president could treat everyone else as the liars; he even had the power to turn someone from a trusted adviser into a dishonest scoundrel with a single tweet.

Craig Timberg/Drew Harwell: Pro-Trump forums erupt with violent threats ahead of Wednesday's rally against the 2020 election.

Emily VanDerWerff: Is the country falling apart? Depends on where you get your news?

Alissa Wilkinson:

Jennifer Williams: Was the US Capitol attack "domestic terrorism"? Offers definitions by "analysts," "law enforcement," and "politicians/pundits," which vary somewhat. I have reservations, but one thing I'm sure of is that we'll be hearing a lot more about "domestic terrorism" in the near future, and the applicability of the term won't be debatable.

Jennifer Williams/Alex Ward: Trump has the authority to launch nuclear weapons -- whether Pelosi likes it or not: The authors are critical of Pelosi for talking to generals about limiting Trump's ability to launch nuclear weapons, arguing "there is no reason to think Trump plans to randomly nuke anybody." Given how fascinated Trump evidently is with nuclear weapons -- he's championed a budget of more than $1 trillion for new bombs, he threatened North Korea with them, he ended several treaties with Russia limiting them, he wondered whether we could use them on hurricanes -- and how deranged he currently is, I'd say Pelosi has something to worry about. Still, the problem is that no president should have this power -- not just an especially bad one. Unfortunately, that's not a problem Democrats have much power to fix right away. And one they may well forget exists when one of their own gets his itchy fingers on the trigger.

Impeachment and Aftermath

I think we should have learned two things from the impeachment of Clinton: that it's a cheap trick for a House majority to harass an president from the other party, and that it's not an effective way to deal with serious executive malfeasance. Part of the problem is that the constitutional bar is too low in the House and too high in the Senate, but the bigger problem is how both sides (but mostly, and most irrationally, the Republicans) have adopted blinders which allow them to see political opponents as criminals and traitors, and leave them blind to similar faults on their own side. Democrats have been itching to impeach and remove Trump ever since he slipped into office thanks only to the skewed Electoral College vote. And, frankly, he's done much to deserve such condemnation, while making zero effort to ingratiate himself with the majority of the country that voted against him (in 2016, and more emphatically in 2020). Still, I think we have to recognize that impeachment is a political matter, not a moral one. And it is unclear to me that impeaching Trump over the Ukraine scandal did the Democrats any good. So I'm skeptical that a rushed impeachment in the last two weeks of Trump's term is worth the trouble, even given his obvious culpability for the insurrection. Nonetheless, it looks like Democrats will seize on this gesture, as if doing so is the most necessary thing they can do to save democracy. I think they need to focus more on what it takes to win elections.


Erin Banco/Asawin Suebsaeng: Trump officials rush to keep him from sparking another conflict -- at home or abroad.

Charles M Blow: Trump's lackeys must also be punished.

Katelyn Burns: Top Democratic lawmaker says an impeachment vote will come this week: "House Majority Whip James Clyburn said Trump will likely face an impeachment vote by Wednesday."

Paul Campos: Pence should invoke 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office immediately. Pelosi has also argued this, and at this point this seems like the only alternative to her bringing an impeachment vote in the House. One question is whether Pence has the power to win a vote in the Cabinet to do this. I suspect he does, as he was the main person responsible for staffing decisions early on (but figure he lost two votes with the Chao and DeVos resignations). The bigger question is why should he bother. Why isn't it enough just to have his staff bottle Trump up? If Trump can't organize events, speak on camera, tweet, launch a war or a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the inauguration -- why turn him loose (where he can do all but the latter)? Democrats may argue that his behavior was so despicable he needs to be made an example of, but they don't really have the power to do that, and failure could be worse than doing nothing. (Still, how certain can you be that Trump is really bottled up?)

Marjorie Cohn: Trump can be indicted under federal, state and DC laws for his role in Jan. 6. She argues that "Trump must be impeached and removed from office," but I'm more intrigued by the title -- although the specific charges she mentions ("seditious conspiracy" and "inciting insurrection") strike me as a bit on the nebulous side. On the other hand, I don't see a problem with investigating such charges, even if indictment and conviction seem unlikely. Also, if Trump is immune from prosecution due to a self-pardon, wouldn't he lose his 5th Amendment protection to avoid having to answer questions? And wouldn't he still be liable should he perjure himself?

Sean Collins: Americans are divided on wether to remove Trump, according to the polls. The key number here is "69 percent of Republicans saying the president was either not at all or not very much to blame." Even more deranged: "52 percent of Republicans told YouGov that it was actually Biden's fault."

Nicholas Fandos: How to impeach a president in 12 days: Here's what it would take.

Bryan Garsten: Impeach and convict Trump. Congress must defend itself. The problem with this argument is that Congress hasn't defended its constitutional prerogatives for a long time. As they've ceded more and more power to the executive, and adopted the increasing political polarization of the public, members of Congress have reduced themselves to being political team players, subordinate to their party's president, or intractably opposed to an opposition party president. The Judiciary has done a somewhat better job of maintaining its independence, but that's unraveling as well.

John Judis: Democrats: Impeachment is a political trap.

What's the point? To make it impossible for Trump, then 78, to run for office again? Nothing would benefit the Democrats more than another Trump bid.

Politics is not a simple matter of right and wrong. It is a matter of priorities. Yes, Trump did wrong, he is a bad guy. But the country is in the grips of a pandemic -- over 4000 people died on Thursday -- and in December, the country lost 140,000 more jobs. The Democrats have to focus on that not on Trump. The country has spent four years focusing on Trump. It's what he loves. It's his briar patch. Enough is enough, as Lindsey Graham put it.

Fred Kaplan: Trup still has the power to blow up the world.

Annie Karni: On the way out, Melania Trump denounces attacks on her as 'shameful'.

Ed Kilgore:

Ian Millhiser: How Congress can permanently disqualify Trump from office after impeachment. OK, can be done, but odds against it are very steep, as it requires a second vote after a Senate conviction, which requires agreement by two-thirds (so at least 17 Republican Senators).

Ella Nilsen/Li Zhou: Why Democrats are moving toward impeachment -- 12 days before Trump leaves office.

Cameron Peters: Mitch McConnell outlines what a second Trump impeachment trial might look like. Basically, he sees it as a good, inconsequential way to kill time while avoiding dealing with appointments and legislation Biden wants to advance.

Andrew Prokop: Will Trump be impeached or face removal under the 25th Amendment?

Nathaniel Rakich: Slightly more Americans are ready to impeach Trump this time around.

Asha Rangappa: If Trump pardons himself now, he'll be walking into a trap: "Self-pardons threaten the rule of law. The Justice Department would have to charge him."

Katherine Stewart: The roots of Josh Hawley's rage: "Why do so many Republicans appear to be at war with both truth and democracy?" From her backfile, Stewart is author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism; also: Trump or no Trump, religious authoritarianism is here to stay, and Why Trump reigns as King Cyrus: "The Christian right doesn't like the president only for his judges. They like his style." More on Hawley:

Mimi Swartz: Never forget what Ted Cruz did: "The senator has been able to use his Ivy League pedigree as a cudgel. After last week, his credentials should condemn him."

JD Tuccille: Sedition charges are almost always a terrible idea.

Politics as Usual

Some pieces on resignations, regrets, and realignments wound up here, but not enough on the bad jobs report and the need for further economic relief legislation.


Katelyn Burns:

Jen Kirby: Here are the few Republicans who have called for Trump's removal.

Ian Millhiser: America's anti-democratic Senate, in one number: "Once Warnock and Ossoff take their seats, the Democratic half of the Senate will represent 41,549,808 more people than the Republican half."

Terry Nguyen: Millions of students and adult dependents won't receive a $600 stimulus payment.

Dylan Scott:

  • Trump officials are resigning over the US Capitol siege. Here's who's stepped down so far.

  • President Trump won't attend Joe Biden's inauguration. The last sitting US president to skip his successor's inauguration was Andrew Johnson in 1869, when Ulysses S Grant became president. Johnson and Trump have another thing in common: both were impeached, but escaped Senate conviction (Johnson very narrowly). Well, another thing they share is that they're both notorious for making their racism a big part of their public identity. My reaction on hearing this was "good riddance," but others (including the adjudicators at Twitter) took this as evidence that Trump was fomenting violence at the inaugural, and chickenshit that he is, didn't want to be in the line of fire.

Emily Stewart: "Buckle up": Democrats signal they're ready to go on stimulus.

Li Zhou: "I want him out": Lisa Murkowski calls for Trump's resignation. Further qualifications:

Biden's "Build Back"

See Building Biden's Cabinet for a survey of who's been selected for Biden's top administration positions, and who's being considered for still open slots. Another updated scorecard is Intelligencer's All of president-elect Joe Biden's cabinet nominees.


Quint Forgey/Natasha Bertrand: For CIA director, Biden taps veteran diplomat William Burns.

Umair Irfan: How Joe Biden plans to use executive powers to fight climate change.

Tyler Pager/Josh Gerstein/Kyle Cheney: Biden to tap Merrick Garland for attorney general.

The Covid-19 Pandemic Surge

Latest map and case count: 22.4 million+ cases (14 day change +34%, total up 1.9 million in last week), 374,389 deaths (+43%), 130,781 hospitalized (+11%). January 7 set records with over 4,100 deaths and more than 280,000 new cases. Vaccination first dose is up to 5.9 million. Vaccination is increasing at a slower rate than cases.


Ariel Gold: Is Israel practicing vaccine leadership or medical apartheid?

German Lopez: America's messy Covid-19 vaccine rollout, explained: "The US was supposed to vaccinate 20 million people in December. It didn't get to 5 million."

Josh Rogin: 1,100 State Department employees got vaccinated. At USAID, zero did.

Matt Stieb: US surpasses 4,000 Covid deaths in a day for the first time.

Around the World

Damelya Aitkhozhina: Russia is cracking down on political performance art. It should listen, not lash out.

Robert Herbst: Jonathan Kuttab's one state vision. Kuttab describes his vision in a short book, Beyond the Two-State Solution (ebook available from Nonviolence International).

John Hudson/Anthony Faiola/Karen DeYoung: On its way out the door, Trump administration names Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism.

The decision is a part of a blitz of 11th-hour moves by the Trump administration to push through hard-line policies championed by influential domestic political constituencies, despite the complications they will create for State Department lawyers, humanitarian interests abroad and the incoming Biden administration.

"This blatantly politicized designation makes a mockery of what had been a credible, objective measure of a foreign government's active support for terrorism," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.). "Nothing remotely like that exists here. In fact, domestic terrorism in the United States poses a far greater threat to Americans than Cuba does."

Nino Pagliccia: Venezuela: The United States is experiencing what it has generated in other countries with its policies of aggression. The view from another nation Trump has tried to destroy democracy in.

Michael D Swaine: Pompeo makes last hour push to set the US up for confrontation with China.

Other Matters of Interest

Ron Charles: Conservatives crying 'Orwell' are downright Orwellian.

Patrick Cockburn: What Assange's victory really means: A judge in the UK ruled not to extradite Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to the US, where he would face espionage charges and a possible sentence of up to 175 years. Assange remains in jail in the UK. More:

Jariel Arvin: 2020 ties for the hottest year on record. Only surprise here is "ties." Note the map of "US 2020 Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters" (a record-breaking 22 of them).

Matt Gertz: Fox throws in the towel on its "news" side: Fox is shifting its primetime slots from "news" to "opinion."

The message is clear. Fox executives hold the "news"-side figures responsible for the criticism from Trump, outcry from viewers, and the ratings dip that followed the network's decision desk accurately calling first Arizona and then the 2020 election for President-elect Joe Biden. Rather than being rewarded for telling their audience the truth, they are being punished.

Ishmael Reed: The tragedy of Stanley Crouch.

Ben Smith: Heather Cox Richardson offers a break from the media maelstrom. It's working. On the historian's Substack newsletter. Probably worth reading if not for the hassle of the sales pitch.

Jacob Soll: This is the conservative tradition: "A new history traces an anti-democratic politics of hate, repression, paranoia, and revenge to its origins." Review of Edmund Fawcett's book, Conservatism: The Fight for a Tradition.

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: White riot, they wanna riot, they wanna riot of their own.

Matt Taibbi: We need a new media system: "If you sell culture war all day, don't be surprised by the real-world consequences." Conclusion is right, but adding just one channel that meets his definition of balance doesn't seem like much of an answer. Moreover, what makes you think he'd be happy if such a thing existed? He condemns the New York Times ("Criticism of Republicans is as baked into New York Times coverage as the lambasting of Democrats is at Fox"), even though their opinion pages are meticulously balanced between center-right and center-center, and they can be counted on to spread establishmentarian takes on everything.

Jeff Wise: Two-mile nose dive by a Boeing 737 in Indonesia as yet unexplained.


PS: A right-wing relative posted a meme saying "63 million Trump voters will never leave him! I am one of them. Are you one of us?" I rarely respond to taunts like that, but this time I commented:

I expect that most will leave him, and sooner rather than later. He's a loser, a whiny self-centered baby, a national embarrassment. Even if you once thought you liked him, before long you'll be glad to be rid of him.

I might have added that even the meme already allowed that 11 million Trump voters had already left him. He replied with something snarky, and I didn't pursue it further, but one other commenter said he didn't understand why folks were so hung up on Trump personally.

Saturday, January 4, 2020


Music Week

January archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 34687 [34643] rated (+44), 214 [212] unrated (+2).

Too late to try to write anything significant here, and doubtful that delaying another day will change much. Still spending a lot of time adding lists to the EOY Aggregate, and still a long ways from catching up. My plan is to stop after folding in the Jazz Critics Poll results, although I'm already feeling like I'm getting diminishing returns. A week ago it seemed like Taylor Swift might be making a run for 4th place, but this week she loses ground to Bob Dylan, and is closer to losing her 5th slot to Waxahatchee (currently -1) and maybe even Dua Lipa (-7).

Fair number of records below, but fewer A-list than is usual at this time of year. Could be I'm getting diminishing returns from the EOY lists, or perhaps I'm the one running out of steam. Picked up my first 2021 rating, but release date was Jan. 1, and it's a follow-up to the week's top rated album. I had the 2020 promo queue cleaned out until Samo Salamon's latest arrived today (not counted in the unrated). I haven't dipped into the 2021 promo queue yet, which is 11 deep. I'll get to them in due course, but figured it would be confusing to consider them early.

Little progress on anything else. Still haven't done the December Streamnotes indexing, nor answered the pending queue of questions. Jazz Critics Poll should be unveiled at NPR later this week, but I haven't heard much detail yet, so wouldn't be surprised to find it slipping a week. Everything is counted, and this year I've forwarded the compiled ballots to the critics, so I expect the error count will be closer to zero than usual. I hope to get some cosmetic development done, but nothing actually depends on it.


New records reviewed this week:

3unshine: We Are 3unshine (2019 [2020], Real Show): Chinese "Mandopop" group, three girls -- Ji Xingyue ("Abby"), Fan Lina ("Cindy"), and Wang Xiaodie ("Dora") -- from Bozhou, Anhui, inland between Shanghai and Beijing. First such record I've heard, and only heard about it from a purloined email. No telling how many more records like this there are, but this one is fun, especially when it starts to click midway through. B+(**)

AC/DC: Power Up (2020, Columbia): Australian rock band, debut in 1975, massively successful, with over 200 million albums sold worldwide (Black in Black counting for a quarter of those, the second highest-selling album in history). Releases thinned out after 1990, with a new one every 5-8 years. I've seen a few people tout this as their best, which seems possible yet doesn't inspire me to backtrack. I did find it listenable, and found something respectable in how simple their basic formalism is. B

Alma: Have U Seen Her? (2020, PME): Finnish pop singer Alma-Sofia Miettinen, called her first EP Die My Hair (from what I've seen, her hair is significantly brighter and more unnatural than Billie Eilish's). First album, although Robyn-like she released most of it through EPs. Choice cut: "Loser." B+(**)

BbyMutha: Muthaland (2020, The Muthaboard): Rapper Brittnee Moore, from Chattanooga, first album after a dozen EPs (going back to 2014). At 31, has had a life, with physically abusive father, turbulent adolescence (depression, ADHD, expelled from school, drugs, pregnant with twins at 17), now a single mom with four children and her father living next door to help out. She was so stressed after finishing this she vowed it would be her last album. I feel much the same listening to it, but don't doubt there is some genius among the debris. A-

Brandy: B7 (2020, Brand Nu/Entertainment One): R&B singer Brandy Norwood, a star since her 1997 debut went 4xPlatinum. Seventh album, first since 2012. B+(*)

Dean & Britta: Quarantine Tapes (2020, Double Feature): Wareham and Phillips, married couple, best known for their band Luna (from 1992), but have also recorded several albums as a duo (from 2003). Recorded at home, old songs given minimal dressing. Most striking for me is the most familiar: "I'm So Bored With the USA." B+(**) [bc]

Drunken Kong: Where We Start (2020, Tronic): Japanese techno duo, D. Singh and DJ Kyoko, EPs since 2015, second album (plus remixes of each). Beats sharp and catchy, and while they repeat a lot -- 16 tracks run 107:47 -- they seem to know when to break up the flow with a subtle shift of focus. B+(***)

Dueling Experts: Dueling Experts (2020, Mello Music Group): Verbal Kent (from Chicago, yet another Dan Weiss) and Recognize Ali (from Ghana, Nii Ayitey Ajin Adamafio), both with long lists of separate credits (Kent's going back to 2004, Ali's to 2014). Enough distance to generate some tension, the edge reduced somewhat by the grungy din. B+(***)

Hazel English: Wake UP! (2020, Polyvinyl): Australian singer-songwriter, Eleisha Caripis, moved to Bay Area, first album after several EPs. B+(*)

Erasure: The Neon (2020, Mute): British electropop duo, Andy Bell and Vince Clark, eighteen studio album since 1986. Beats OK, vocals leave something to be desired. B

R.A.P. Ferreira: Purple Moonlight Pages (2020, Ruby Yacht): Rapper, initials for Rory Allen Philip, born in Chicago but grew up in Maine and Wisconsin, previously recorded a half-dozen albums as Milo (2011-18). Understated underground, produced by the Jefferson Park Boys (best known: Kenny Segal), the "poetry" basic but smart, with feat. spots for Mike Ladd and Open Mike Eagle, and a lightly sung "Creator Has a Masterplan" for the coda. A-

R.A.P. Ferreira: Bob's Son: R.A.P. Ferreira in the Garden Level Cafe of the Scallops Hotel (2021, Ruby Yacht): Refers back to another of Ferreira's aliases: Scallops Hotel. Drop off is slight. Twelve tracks, 35:06. B+(***) [bc]

The Full Salon: The Full Salon (2018 [2020], self-released): New York bassist Henry Fraser's "polycephalic seven piece ensemble," the vocals (Mel Stancato) but also the guitar, synth, drums moving it closer to art rock than jazz, though not without moments of surprise. B [bc]

A Girl Called Eddy: Been Around (2020, Elefant): Erin Moran, from New Jersey, based in England, second album, long time after her eponymous 2003 debut. B+(*)

Marquis Hill: Soul Sign (2020, Black Unlimited Music Group): Trumpet player, from Chicago, started as a mainstream player, moves into some kind of crossover zone here, with this grand tour of the zodiac in hip-hop beats and spoken word. Music is neither bad nor special. The astrology is nonsense. B

Rui Ho: Lov3 & L1ght (2020, Planet Mu): Born in China, based in Berlin, typographically challenged electropop artist, "non-binary," first album, synths are light and airy, chinoiserie bits filtered through manga, beats danceable, voices ubiquitous but hard to pin down. B+(**)

Hum: Inlet (2020, Earth Analog): Rock band from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, released four albums 1991-97, quit in 2000, regrouped 2011 but no new album until this one. Suggested genres include shoegaze and alt-metal. Melodies have some appeal, but also some sludge. B

Illuminati Hotties: Free I.H.: This Is Not the One You've Been Waiting For (2020, self-released): Los Angeles "tenderpunk" group led by Sarah Tudzin, second album, although barely -- 10 tracks, 23:16, dubbed a mixtape -- the subtitle as much as admitting this is a stopgap. B+(*)

Juice WRLD: Legends Never Die (2020, Grade A/Interscope): Chicago rapper Jarad Higgins, died at 21 of an overdose during a drug bust, so this third album was released posthumously. Album includes songs dedicated to XXXTentacion (shot dead at 20) and Lil Peep (OD at 21) -- still, hardly grimmer than his previous titles Goodbye & Good Riddance and Death Race for Love, or his mixtape Wrld on Drugs. Sample lyrics: "I'm a high guy/ kinda fly too"; "we don't live long"; "hell if I know." B

Maria Kannegaard Trio: Sand I En Vik (2020, Jazzland): Pianist, born in Denmark, lived in Norway since age 10, half-dozen albums since 2000, this a trio with Ole Morten Vĺgan (bass) and Thomas Strřnen (drums). Strong rhythmic backbone. B+(***)

The Killers: Imploding the Mirage (2020, Island): Rock band from Las Vegas, sixth studio album since 2004, Brandon Flowers sings and plays keyboards, a big part of their sound. Not terrible, but not very interesting either. B

Sonny Landreth: Blacktop Run (2020, Provogue): Singer-songwriter, born in Mississippi but long-based in southwest Louisiana, broke in with Clinton Chenier's cajun band, 18th album since 1981, mostly blues. B+(*)

Bob Mould: Blue Hearts (2020, Merge): Ex-Hüsker Dü singer-guitarist, 14th solo album since 1989. Reverberations and echoes of his early work. I've long since lost interest, but hear something I once admired every time. B+(*)

Keir Neuringer/Ensemble Klang: Elegies & Litanies (2019 [2020], Ensemble Klang): Alto saxophonist, American, wrote all of the pieces here, including spoken text. Group is Dutch, "playing only the newest of new music," with saxes, trombone, guitars, keys, and "stuff we like hitting" (sounds like Han Bennink fans). For one thing, the texts add to the music. Also, the 14:50 finale, "Litanies of Trees," is the best piece of ambient music I've heard in recent memory -- at least until the words 10-minutes in, which again are a plus. A- [bc]

Kyle Nix: Lightning on the Mountain & Other Short Stories (2020, self-released): Alt-country singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, first solo album after five fiddling with the Turnpike Troubadours. Some good songs, hot fiddle, annoying tics. B+(*)

Christopher Parker & Kelly Hurt: No Tears Suite (2020, Mahakala Music): Leaders (piano and voice) hail from Little Rock, where 63 years ago nine black students sought to attend classes in a previously all-white Little Rock Central High School. Gov. Orval Faubus led the white opposition, which was overcome only after Eisenhower sent the National Guard in to protect the students. This is their story, narrated by Hurt, performed by a sextet -- there is a second version performed by the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. B+(**)

Poppy: I Disagree (2020, Sumerian): Alias for Moriah Rose Pereira ("American singer, songwriter, musician, YouTuber, and religious leader"). Originally signed with hip-hop label Mad Decent, but went to heavy metal Sumerian for her third album -- most obvious impact has been to her cover art, but there's some kind of musical synthesis as well, as she garnered a Grammy nomination for "Best Metal Performance" ("the first female artist to ever be nominated in the 30 year history of the category"). No reason for metal fans to put any more store in the Grammys than I do. And not amusing or weird enough for camp. B+(*)

Soho Rezanejad: Honesty Without Compassion Is Brutality (Volume 1) (2019, Silicone): Born in New York, based in Copenhagen, does electronics but main focus is voice. I was attracted by the title, which is a dilemma for critics who are often celebrated for "brutal honesty," or scoffed at as suckers or sell-outs. It's not always clear, just as it's difficult to take these cerebral pursuits as "acted compassion." B+(*) [bc]

Soho Rezanejad: Honesty Without Compassion Is Brutality (Volume 2) (2020, Silicone): More is more: more variety, more depth, more opaque. But the drums are real. B+(*) [bc]

Jeff Rosenstock: No Dream (2020, Polyvinyl): From Long Island, early bands include the Arrogant Sons of Bitches and Bomb the Music Industry! Fourth solo album since his 2012 mixtape I Look Like Shit. Rocks hard, not sure there's much beyond the surface. B

Ana Roxanne: Because of a Flower (2020, Kranky): RA describes her as "an intersec Southeast Asian musician based in Los Angeles," and notes her "love for singing." Bandcamp puts her in New York, but includes a Philippines tag. First album, after an EP. Voice gives way to some nice ambient electronica. B+(*)

Royce Da 5'9": The Allegory (2020, EOne): Detroit rapper Ryan Montgomery, eighth studio album since 2002. I get most of this, especially the smart girl in the skits, but what's with the anti-vaccine shit? B+(**)

Sports Team: Deep Down Happy (2020, Island): English indie rock band, met at Cambridge but moved to London, first album after two EPs. Pretty upbeat, their happiness infectious, lead singer Alex Rice a voice that sticks with you. B+(***)

Cristina Vane: Old Played New (2020, Blue Tip): Born in Turin, Italy; studied classical voice before falling into classic country blues, picking up a resonator guitar, moving to Southern California to busk on the beach, winding up in Nashville. Voice strong and clear, guitar sharp, six songs (five I've tracked down to old masters), 27:57. B+(***)

Cristina Vane: The Magnolia Sessions (2020, Anti-Corp): Voice and guitar, mostly original songs, solo except for a chorus of cicadas. Left to her own devices, she leans folkie more than classic blues. Still impressive. B+(**)

Luke Vibert: Luke Vibert Presents Amen Andrews (2020, Hypercolour): British electronica producer, 30+ albums since 1993, some with aliases, like Wagon Christ, Plug, and Amen Andrews -- reviving the latter here, for a set of "raucous breakbeat bangers." B+(**)

Luke Vibert: Luke Vibert Presents Modern Rave (2020, Hypercolour): Main thing I'm struck by here is how little "modern rave" has changed from the hard-hitting dance rhythms rave pioneers like Vibert came up with in the early 1990s. But with so little new, retro just brings back memories of youth (relative, in my case). B+(***)

Luke Vibert: Luke Vibert Presents Rave Hop (2020, Hypercolour): I always have trouble making marginal distinctions in electronica, but generally approve of good dance beats. B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

London Is the Place for Me 7: Calypso, Palm-Wine, Mento, Joropo, Steel & Stringband ([2019], Honest Jon's): I loved this label's first volume of "Trinidadian Calypso in London" back in 2002, but didn't realize it had turned into a long series. Mostly calypso, some West African, mostly minor fare. B+(**) [bc]

London Is the Place for Me 8: Lord Kitchener in England, 1948-1962 (1948-62 [2019], Honest Jon's): Single-artist volume in a multi-artist series, Aldwyn Roberts toured Jamaica and New York before arriving in England, where "he was much in demand for live perforances," returning to Trinidad in 1962 as a major star. Some familiar songs here, probably better heard on Klassic Kitchener, Volume One. B+(***) [bc]

Uzelli Elektro Saz (1976-1984) (1976-84 [2020], Uzelli): Turkish compilation, based on electrifying a folk instrument (the saz), so it fits somewhere on the ancient-to-postmodern continuum. B+(**)

Old music:

Don & Dewey: Jungle Hop (1957-64 [1991], Specialty): Rock and blues duo, Don Harris (1938-99) and Dewey Terry (1937-2003), from Pasadena, recorded a bunch of singles for Specialty 1957-59, returned in 1964 -- enough (with some outtakes) to collect 25 songs here. No hits, missed them completely when I was snapping everything I could find in this "Legends of Specialty Series," but when I saw a cover scan I had to check them out. Tried a bit of everything, with filler covers like "Pink Champagne" and "Justine" faring best. B+(**)

Ensemble Klang: Tom Johnson: Cows, Chords & Combinations (2009 [2010], Ensemble Klang): Dutch new music group, instrumentation more like a jazz sextet (two reeds, trombone, piano, guitar, percussion). I was tempted to parse the cover with Johnson first (as with their more recent collaboration with Keir Neuringer), but he is only the composer here, with five short pieces from his Rational Melodies, plus three longer ones (13:16-17:28). The cows are a bit much, but "Vermont Rhythms" justifies its 17:28. B+(***) [bc]


Further Sampling:

Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.

Tim Berne/Matt Mitchell: Spiders (2020, Out of Your Head Untamed): Alto sax/piano duets. [bc: 1/5, 12:31/42.46]: +

Nick Dunston: Atlantic Extraction: Live at Threes (2020, Out of Your Head Untamed): Bassist, group from 2019 album. [bc: 1/3, 3:13/48:11]: +

Michael Formanek Quartet: Pre-Apocalyptic (2014 [2020], Out of Your Head Untamed): Bassist, with Tim Berne, Craig Taborn, Gerald Cleaver. [bc: 2/7, 22:06/66:08]: ++

Steve Lehman: Xenakis and the Valedictorian (2020, Pi, EP): Alto sax solo, a slim sample from a slim quarantine project. [bc: 1/10, 0:46/9:06]: -

Bob Vylan: We Live Here (2020, Venn, EP): Brit rapper, biracial I gather, dash of Sleaford Mods; title single a smash anti-anti-immigrant anthem. [bc: 2/8, 5:20/18:41]: ++

Anna Webber: Rectangles (2019 [2020], Out of Your Head Untamed): Tenor saxophonist, quartet with piano-bass-drums. [bc: 3:39/38:19]: ++

Dan Weiss Starebaby: Natural Selection (2020, Pi): Drummer-led quintet with two piano/keyb players (Matt Mitchell and Craig Taborn), guitar (Ben Monder), and electric bass (Trevor Dunn). [bc: 29:02/78:14]: -


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Hal Galper Quintet: Live at the Berlin Philharmonic 1977 (Origin, 2CD) [01-15]
  • Samo Salamon & Friends: Almost Alone Vol. 1 (Sazas)
  • Amber Weekes: My Romance: A Special Valentin (Amber Inn Productions, EP) [02-14]

Sunday, January 3, 2021


Weekend Roundup

Table of contents:

Woke up thinking about a possible introduction, but nine hours later my brain is fried. I not only can't remember what I was thinking, I no longer care. So this feels like a stub, a mere exercise, but I vaguely recall a few hours back thinking this is still a fairly efficient way to digest the week's news. I've learned a few things along the way, and I've written more than usual below.

One thing I will note is that I'm about 3/4 through Kurt Andersen's Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America: A Recent History. Much of the book covers a story I've contemplated writing for much of the subject period: he has a fundamental understanding of the mechanics of increasing inequality, and how those levers were plied by Republicans (and way too often Democrats) since the late 1970s. His characterization of the architects of this counterrevolution as "evil geniuses" is well put, although somewhere in that last quarter of the book I expect they will lose the "geniuses" part. (Not that the right-wing is incapable of clever sophistry any more, but as their rationalizations have worn thin, they'd rather just throw their weight around.)

One key idea that I hadn't thought much about is Andersen's theses about change and nostalgia. He describes the 1960s and early 1970s as the period of "peak new," followed by an extended period of reaction and nostalgia. He points out that even fashion, design, and art have ceased changing after 2000, whereas during the 20th century it was relatively easy to identify the decade any photo was taken in. What this means isn't always clear. For instance, he points out that the 2020 election came down to competing nostalgias.

It occurs to me that intense change -- change so substantial and accelerated we're conscious of it happening in real time -- is not only rare in human history, but can largely be consigned to the 20th century. I'm imagining an S-curve where the steep slope is limited to 1900-2000. Not sure what to label the Y-axis: maybe domination of and estrangement from nature? I must admit I am fond of the idea of balancing time/progress on the fulcrum of my birth in 1950. Long ago it occurred to me that there's never been a "generation gap" like the one between my generation and my parents'. As for how dramatic the changes were around 1900, my eyes were first opened up by John Berger's essay, "The Moment of Cubism." Technological change over the 19th century was substantial (and accelerating), but didn't come close to the impact after 1900. Similarly, we haven't stopped since 2000, but the pace seems slowed, and the scale reduced.


Lost track of all the deaths this week, but did want to mention Judy Loganbill, a former Democratic state legislator here in Wichita. The obituary doesn't do her justice. She was a teacher before she got into politics, and she was a lifelong peace activist, who served on the board of the Wichita Peace organization.

I also wanted to mention Dawn Wells, the actress who played Mary Ann Summers on Gilligan's Island, as sort of the archetype of Kansas womanhood. I watched that show religiously, but the role became even more memorable for me through Tom Carson's novel, Gilligan's Wake, where she represents archetypal America in her ability to regain her virginity after every lapse. Where I do have a bone to pick is Carson's genteel treatment of Bob Dole, whose rank in the pantheon of American political scoundrels was fixed in my mind by his scurrilous 1972 campaign against Bill Roy.


That Was the Year That Was

Michelle Cottle: The 2020 high school yearbook of Donald J Trump.

Chauncey DeVega: Top 10 reasons why making year-end lists won't save America. Article doesn't even begin to follow from the title. I think the annual EOY list exercise does two things: it encourages thinking comparatively over a period of time longer than the usual right now; and it usually reinforces the idea that years are much more alike than different. Could be that 2020 will prove the exception. Right now, I feel that movie lists are even phonier than whoever won whatever major league sports titles anyone bothered to hold. On the other hand, books and TV shows have more lead time, and are delivered straight to the home, so they're probably more or less normal. Music? Well, that's harder to say. Nobody toured, so music product meant to promote tours had to be recontextualized, if it made any sense at all. (Taylor Swift and Sturgill Simpson probably made the best use of that change.) At the other extreme, a lot of half-assed DIY product appeared, most soon forgotten. (Brad Mehldau's Suite: April 2000 and Hamell on Trial's The Pandemic Songs are two exceptions.)

Josh Kovensky: It's Rudy! The melting mayor beats Cunningham to become TPM's 2020 Duke of Dukes.

Paul Krugman: 2020 was the year Reaganism died: "The government promised to help -- and it did." Well, not so fast. Government in 2020 was divided, and while some parts of it tried to help (and indeed did), other parts didn't try, or didn't help, or in some cases actively worked to make a bad situation worse. If Reaganism died in 2020, expect a whole year of zombie columns in 2021 -- as you may recall, Krugman spent much of the last decade railing against zombie economics (assumptions proven wrong decades ago, yet still somehow directing politicians to further folly). On the other hand, we should try to remember the brief moment in March when the economy and the stock market collapsed and Republicans were so desperate for something they let Democrats largely craft a bill that actually helped people. Too bad Democrats didn't get (or claim) more credit for that. By the end of the year, Republicans had restored the people's cynicism about the corruption and/or ineffectiveness of government, which left them nicely positioned to obstruct Democratic efforts to solve or reduce problems, without getting blamed themselves.

Jeb Lund: Ron DeSantis is TNR's 2020 Scoundrel of the Year: "An heir to Trumpism, the Florida governor has concealed the severity of the coronavirus pandemic and fomented a depraved indifference to human life."

Derek Robertson: The eight pieces of pop culture that defined the Trump era. A pretty maudlin list, half of which totally escaped my attention -- perhaps the lesson is how little pop culture we actually share these days?

Spencer Sunshine: 2020 was a record year for far right violence in the US.

Several publications and writers looked back at what they wrote in 2020, and recommended a few articles:

Trump's Last Days

Felipe De La Hoz: Citing the pandemic, CBP has expelled newborn US citizens with their migrant mothers.

Richard Fausset: Trump calls Georgia Senate races 'illegal and invalid'. I doubt that means anything, but the implication is that he has inside knowledge that the Republicans are losing the elections. The two races are to be decided by the voters on Tuesday. Money and advance voting are off the charts. More:

  • Becca Andrews: Kelly Loeffler blows all the dog whistles at once.

  • Astead W Herndon/Richard Fausset: Georgia Republicans deliver persistent message: Fear the Democrats: "Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are resting their re-election hopes on a strategy that calls more attention to what they're against than what they support." That's pretty true for Republicans everywhere. Roger Marshall's Senate campaign here in Kansas was nothing but a long, primal scream about the dire consequences of a Democrat (any Democrat, even one who spent almost all of her political life as a Republican) ever getting elected from Kansas, and he won by a substantial margin. Still, you have to wonder how much longer they can cry wolf like that -- also, how long they can dodge their own crooked and malignant records.

  • Jonathan Lee Walton: Raphael Warnock's Georgia critics don't understand Black churches: "The prophetic tradition is about loving America -- and holding it to account." Ever notice how right-wingers, including racists, project their fears onto their opponents, expecting them to respond in kind to their hate and ignorance?

Christopher Flavelle: How Trump tried, but largely failed, to derail America's top climate report.

Ryan J Foley: Federal judge in Iowa ridicules Trump's pardons: US District Judge Robert Pratt: "It's not surprising that a criminal like Trump pardons other criminals. But apparently to get a pardon, one has to be either a Republican, a convicted child murderer or a turkey." I don't think Rod Blagojevich qualifies on any of those counts, but Trump recognized a kindred spirit in someone convicted of trying to sell an appointment. What happens when Trump gets tied into a similar influence-peddling scheme?

Amy Gardner: 'I just want to find 11,780 votes': In extraordinary hour-long call, Trump pressures Georgia secretary of state to recalculate the vote in his favor.

The rambling and at times incoherent conversation offered a remarkable glimpse of how consumed and desperate the president remains about his loss, unwilling or unable to let the matter go and still believing he can reverse the results in enough battleground states to remain in office.

"There's no way I lost Georgia," Trump said, a phrase he repeated again and again on the call. "There's no way. We won by hundreds of thousands of votes."

More comments:

Shayna Jacobs: NY prosecutor hires forensic accounting experts as Trump criminal probe escalates.

Julius Krein: Donald Trump's influence will evaporate once he leaves office. Here's why.

Andrew O'Hehir: Josh Hawley becomes first GOP senator to contest Biden's certification, likely forcing Jan. 6 fight. But not the last:

Ashley Parker: Trump to give ally Nunes the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Cameron Peters: Louie Gohmert's failed election lawsuit, briefly explained: It's slightly more technical, but the point of the lawsuit was to put aside the votes and let the Vice President decide who becomes President. A Trump-appointed judge dismissed, arguing that Gohmert "lacks standing" to bring such a lawsuit. That may be a technicality, but it's rarely been more obvious. Pence, by the way, seems to have leaned both ways:

Eve Peyser: The time Trump ranted about hair spray quality to coal miners.

Jamil Smith: Trump's lost cause: "The fight underway to keep Trumpism alive post-presidency has an ugly and worrisome precedent in American history." Key term is "lost cause." When I first saw this piece, I figured it might focus more narrowly on Trump's love for the monuments that helped perpetuate the Confederate slavery regime, but this suggests Trump aspires to a greater level of martyrdom.

Michael Stratford: Trump opens up federal dollars for private school vouchers amid pandemic.

Politics as Usual

The last days of the 116th Congress ended with an override of Trump's veto of the Defense Department funding act, and Mitch McConnell blocking Trump's proposal for $2,000 stimulus checks (embraced by Democrats, and passed in the House). Then, as of January 3, the newly elected 117th Congress took over (See: Cameron Peters: A historic new Congress has just been sworn in.) The new Congress has a reduced Democratic majority in the House (but not enough to keep Nancy Pelosi from being elected Speaker), and a reduced and tenuous Republican advantage in the Senate, subject to two runoff elections in Georgia (on Tuesday, January 6), which could result in a 50-50 tie, with Vice President Pence holding the tie-breaker vote until Kamala Harris becomes Vice President on January 20.


David Atkins: House Dems signal bolder action by weakening self-imposed austerity rules. You may (but probably don't) recall how the Democrats in the House celebrated their new majority status in 2019 by adopting unnecessary and counterproductive "PAYGO" rules. Rejecting them this time is less a victory of "progressives" over "centrists" than a win for people who want to be able to do things vs. those who don't.

Daniel Block: The new surprise billing law is an imperfect win.

Sarah K Burris: Nancy Pelosi's house vandalized with dead pig's head. By the way, Mitch McConnell's house was also vandalized, albeit less menacingly, allowing the mainstream media to achieve bipartisan nirvana; see: Meryl Kornfield: Homes of Pelosi, McConnell are vandalized after Senate fails to pass $2,000 stimulus checks.

Ben Ehrenreich: The year of magical thinking in American politics: "Trump campaigned on one kind of nostalgia, while Biden campaigned on another. The less regressive vision won out, but we're still hurtling toward the abyss."

Matt Ford:

Brittany Gibson: How Georgia got organized.

Eric Levitz:

Ian Millhiser: How Bernie Sanders plans to force a vote on $2,000 Covid-19 relief checks. The idea was to hold up the vote on overriding Trump's veto of the Defense Department funding bill, trying to force McConnell into agreeing to a vote on the $2,000 checks Trump wants and the House agreed to. It didn't work, in part because most Democrats were more anxious to override Trump's veto than to pass the checks. For one take on this, see Jake Johnson: Stimulus standoff ends in "Democratic surrender": After McConnell blocks $2,000 checks, Dems move on. Some more pieces on $2K (I also wrote about this under St Clair, below):

Emily Stewart:

Biden Prospects

It was a very quiet news week regarding Biden's staffing picks. See Building Biden's Cabinet for a survey of who's been selected for Biden's top administration positions, and who's being considered for still open slots. Another updated scorecard is Intelligencer's All of president-elect Joe Biden's cabinet nominees.


Shikha Dalmia: How Biden can future-proof America's immigration system.

Bruce Gyory: How Biden won: Six hard truths: "Digging into the exit poll data on gender, education, age, and more."

Alex Thompson/Theodoric Meyer: Janet Yellen made millions in Wall Street, corporate speeches.

The Covid-19 Pandemic Surge

Latest map and case count: 20.5 million+ cases (14 day change -5%, total up 1.4 million in last week), 351,068 deaths (flat), 123,614 hospitalized (+10%).


Matthew Chapman: GOP Gov. Kristi Noem called out by federal judge for having "done little" to stop Covid-19 spread.

Sumner Concepcion: WH Covid task force members push back at Trump's bogus claim of inflated death rates.

Dan Diamond: How Trump warped HHS long before Covid-19.

Quint Forgey: Fauci predicts normal life won't return in US before fall 2021: Sounds like another example of him toning down his messaging based on calculations about how much gloom the American people can take. I doubt the old normal will ever return, but sure, by Fall 2021, a new normal for acceptable risk in social and business interactions may be possible. Before that, less so. [PS: Here's a survey of "11 top experts" that predicts "a steady decline in cases by next fall, and back to normal in a few years": Here's how the pandemic finally ends.]

German Lopez: Everyone failed on Covid-19: "The US's coronavirus epidemic is an American failure, not solely a Trump or Republican one." That may be the most general truth, but Trump, Pence, Kushner, and a long list of other Republicans distinctively stamped the mass failure. Also, note that nearly everything that Congress did to lessen the impact of the shutdown and help masses of people through the crisis was driven by Democrats, and often obstructed by Republicans. And while deep biases, like promotion of business needs over everything else, also affected Democratic officials, Republicans were more single-mindedly devoted to that creed, partly because they their contempt for most Americans allowed them to ignore the health and security implications of their preferred policies. Another factor is Republicans' unique fear and ignorance of science. Scientists and public policy wonks have been studying and developing countermeasures for pandemics at least since the 1990s, so when this one hit, public health officials had a good idea what to do. Their success around the world correlates directly with political systems which followed their advice. America's federal system, its long subordination to business interests, and our deeper commitment to individualism, made fighting the pandemic harder here than in most other countries, but you can go back to any date and find political choices that made the situation worse or could have helped. And nearly always you will find Republicans doing the wrong things. Even if you look at the purple map here which purports to show that "Every state has too many Covid-19 cases per capita," the only two states that aren't maximum purple are Hawaii and Vermont.

Anna North: Elected Congress member Luke Letlow has died of Covid-19: "The Louisiana Republican is the first Congress member or member-elect to die from the disease." He was 41. Also note:

Brian Resnick: The worst idea of 2020: "Natural herd immunity" as a pandemic relief strategy.

Rachel Roubein: Trump misses 20 million Covid shot target.

Waler Shapiro: The importance of brutal honesty in this pandemic winter.

Michael D Shear/Maggie Haberman/Noah Weiland/Sharon LaFraniere/Mark Mazzetti: Trump's focus as the pandemic raged: What would it mean for him? Didn't Trump say that after the election Covid-19 would drop out of the news? Maybe he just meant nobody important would talk about it anymore? Indeed, he hasn't said a word. You might take that as further evidence of how extreme his narcissism is.

David Wallace-Wells: America's vaccine rollout is already a disaster. Big problem here is that only a small percentage of the vaccines allotted have actually been administered. A chart in the article works out to about 13.5%. The more current numbers at Bloomberg's vaccine tracker are better, at 32.8% shots used, but still run the risk of vaccine shots expiring unused. By the way, at the moment Kansas is by far the worst state in the nation, with 17.1% of shots used (compared to Mississippi at 25.3% and Alaska at 26.7%, or for that matter Guam at 22.0%). Kansas is also dead last with 0.67% of the population vaccinated (Mississippi has 0.71%, Alaska 2.52%). The Bloomberg stats also go international. The one nation that is far ahead of the pack on vaccination is Israel, with 10% vaccinated. However, see: Oliver Holmes/Hazem Balousha: Palestinians excluded from Israeli Covid vaccine rollout as jabs go to settlers.

Ed Yong: Where year two of the pandemic will take us: "As vaccines roll out, the US will face a choice about what to learn and what to forget."

Around the World

Mike Brand: Why US foreign policy should focus on the root causes of violence.

Michael Crowley/Charlie Savage/Eric Schmitt: Pompeo weighs plan to place Cuba on US terrorism sponsor list: "The move would complicate any effort by the incoming Biden administration to resume President Barack Obama's thaw in relations with Havana."

Jerusalem Demsas: Argentina becomes the first large Latin American country to legalize abortion.

Eric Schmitt: In abrupt reversal of Iran strategy, Pentagon orders aircraft carrier home: "After weeks of escalation and threatening language, the Defense Department is sending mixed messages as the anniversary of the death of an Iranian general nears." A couple days earlier, Schmitt wrote: Pentagon sends more B-52s to Middle East to deter Iranian attacks on US troops. As recently as December 2, Schmitt co-wrote: Trump sought options for attacking Iran to stop its growing nuclear program. More on Iran:

Alex Ward: How military superiority made America less safe: "America's dominance wasn't by happenstance. It was a choice." Interview with Stephen Wertheim, author of Tomorrow the World: The Birth of US Global Supremacy. One interesting thing here is that Wertheim dates the idea of supreme US global power to 1940, before US entry into WWII. Indeed, his short book ends in 1945, with "The Debate That Wasn't," so he doesn't really get into the fateful decision to repurpose the idea of global supremacy as a cudgel in the global class strugle, playing up the threat posed by the Soviet Union and the growth of Communist-led anti-colonial movements.

Other Matters of Interest

Tim Barker: Life Beyond Markets, with Mike Konczal: Interview with Konczal, about his forthcoming book, Freedom From the Market: America's Fight to Liberate Itself From the Grip of the Invisible Hand. [Pub date Jan. 12; I have a copy on order.]

Christopher Ingraham: World's richest men added billions to their fortunes last year as others struggled: "Billionaires have added about $1 trillion to their total net worth since the pandemic began."

Ethan Iverson: Modern Hollywood discovers its jazz 'Soul': Pixar's Christmas release is the best jazz film in a long time. But then, there isn't a lot of competition."

Ian Millhiser: The decline and fall of the American death penalty: "The number of death sentences and executions in the US has fallen off a cliff since the 1990s. 2020 continued that trend." Despite Trump and Barr.

Ellen Nakashima: Microsoft says Russians hacked its network, viewing source code.

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: It is what it is, but is that all there is? Lots of things, starting with tweets from Thomas Friedman and Paul Krugman opposing "untargeted" $2,000 relief checks. Any other day they'd be complaining that progressives are undermining pragmatic compromises by insisting on ideal solutions. But no one thinks the checks are an ideal solution. The only reason they're on the table is Trump demanded them, and of all the things Trump's willing to go along with, they're not so bad. My own take is that they're not relief (as we normally think of it) but a one-shot experiment with guaranteed income. Sure, some people who get the checks will simply bank them as a hedge against future expenses, but what's wrong with giving people a bit more liquidity? Guaranteed income doesn't stop working when people are able to balance their books; that's actually when it starts making a real difference. Of course, nobody's touting it in those terms. Some other items of note here:

  • "981: the number of people in the US shot and killed by police in 2020." Presumably that includes the one shot and killed by police last week less than two blocks from here, which gave 2020 the record homicide count for Wichita. I expect it will be found justified, and I see no reason to protest such a finding. By the way, two more homicides on Jan. 1 set us on a pace to smash the 2020 record, by a factor of 12.
  • Sketches for US Space Force uniforms and insignia: "They look like uniforms for Nazi school crossing guards."
  • "I was gutted to hear of the death of Barry Lopez, whose Of Wolves and Men and Arctic Dreams exerted a profound, and still lingering, influence on my thinking about the natural world."
  • "On the last day of one of the hottest years on record, featuring some of the most vicious wildfires, hurricanes and cyclones in history, Alaska is about to hit by its strongest storm in more than a century (if not ever)."
  • In lieu of his usual current reading and listening lists, offers lists of "25 best books" and "25 best recordings" (I've heard 24, have 4 A-, most of the rest mid/high B+; I haven't read any of the books, but most look interesting).

Monday, December 28, 2020


Music Week

December archive (finished).

Music: Current count 34643 [34609] rated (+34), 212 [213] unrated (-1).

Rated count was depressed last week because I spent most of three days cooking a large dinner for Christmas Eve. Note that this was not a large sit-down dinner. We packaged the dinner up for take-out, and guests either came by to pick it up, or I delivered it to their homes. I prepared eight dinners for two, and we scrounged a ninth out of the surplus. I mostly didn't scale quantities up from recipes, but made more dishes, in effect creating a tasting menu. I tried to pick out dishes that didn't have to be served immediately, that retained their flavor and texture, that could be heated up easily, or eaten at room temperature. I thought a combination of Mediterranean dishes might work nicely. Here's the menu I came up with:

  • Paella, with sausage (kielbasa), shrimp, and scallops.
  • Garlic chicken wings.
  • Tuscan spare ribs (a lot of fennel seeds in the rub, and glazed with balsamic vinegar).
  • Tunisian fish (cod), with preserved lemons and olives.
  • Green bean ragout, with potatoes.
  • Cauliflower gratin.
  • Herb pie: onion, kale, chard, arugula, and herbs mixed with cheeses, wrapped in filo, and baked.
  • Greek (horiatiki) salad (a chopped salad with anchovies, olives, and feta).
  • Cucumber-yogurt (mast va khiar), with scallions, sultanas, and black walnuts.

Most importantly, I provided a nice range of desserts:

  • Date pudding, topped with caramel sauce and whipped cream.
  • Tiramisu, made with sponge cake.
  • Oatmeal stout cake, with a toasted topping of oats and pecans in sweetened condensed milk.
  • A chocolate sheet cake topped with black walnut icing.
  • Macadamia nut-white chocolate cookies.
  • Moroccan mixed fruit, in orange juice, honey, and orange blossom water.

The main courses all came out close to perfect. The desserts had all sorts of aesthetic problems, but were still pretty tasty. I had various other social ideas that came to naught: I had a long list of people I wanted to call, but most of my attempts failed, and I soon gave up. I also imagined a virtual get-together, that we never attempted. I bought a new webcam, which is still in the box. After the deliveries, I was exhausted and pretty sore. I've been a hermit ever since, which allowed me to knock out a modest Weekend Roundup, and substantially catch up on my listening shortfall. I kept adding records to the list below up to about midnight Monday, which is what got me over 30. It also allowed me to reduce my queue of 2020-released promos to zero. I thought about extending the week to the end of the month, but after I hit 30, I decided it would be best to release what I have, and free up time going forward.

I figure I still have a month to fiddle with my Year 2020 List before freeze. Likewise, I'll continue adding 2020 albums to my EOY Jazz and Non-Jazz lists -- probably well past the end of January. I remain surprised not only that there are more jazz than non-jazz A-list albums, but that the margin is continuing to increase (currently 76-to-55). I'm less surprised that the imbalance persists among lower grades -- B+(***) is currently 140-to-85 -- because I've simply played a lot more jazz this year than I have before (with the possible exception of the last year or two of Jazz Consumer Guide). I suppose one theory is that I'm quicker and more sure of my jazz grades.

I'm continuing to add to my EOY Aggregate file, although there is not a lot of churn in the rankings. The one high-placed record with some momentum is Taylor Swift's Folklore, which has just passed Waxahatchee for 5th place, and may well bump Bob Dylan from 4th before I'm done. Swift's Evermore seems to have arrived too late, with too little fanfare, to make a dent -- it's currently tied at 117, and has actually dropped a few spots lately.

I've heard the top 97 albums on the list -- was over 100, but Touche Amore and Crack Cloud (two bands I have next to zero interest in) recently rose to 98 and 100. I'm still way behind in adding lists, but my interest is beginning to wane.

Jazz Critics Poll should run at NPR something the week of January 4. I'm hoping to make some minor changes to the layout by then.

Although the December Streamnotes file is closed, I have not yet done the usual indexing, or inserted the usual Music Week notes. I'll get to that later this week.


New records reviewed this week:

Annie: Dark Hearts (2020, Annie Melody): Norwegian electropop singer-songwriter Anne Lilia Berge Strand, called her debut single "Greatest Hit," first album Anniemal. Waited 5 years for her second, 11 more for this one. B+(**)

Christiane Bopp/Jean-Marc Foussat/Emmanuelle Parrenin: Nature Still (2018 [2020], Fou): Parrenin is a French folk singer, plays traditional instruments, vielle here, mixed uncomfortably with Bopp's trombone and Foussat's AKS synthesizer -- all three credited with voice, a rather medieval choral. B+(*) [cd]

Anthony Braxton/Jacqueline Kerrod: Duo (Bologna) 2018 (2018 [2020], I Dischi Di Angelica): Sax and harp duo, the former playing alto, soprano, and sopranino, on his "Composition 189." B+(***)

Peter Brötzmann/Maâlem Moukhtar Gania/Hamid Drake: The Catch of a Ghost (2019 [2020], I Dischi Di Angelica): Gania is a Moroccan guimbri player and singer, from a family of notable Gnawa musicians -- his brother, Maâlem Mahmoud Gania, recorded an album with Pharoah Sanders in 1994. He centers this album, the jazz greats working around him, but also providing him with edges that lift him way above the merely exotic. A-

The Bug: In Blue (2020, Hyperdub): Kevin Martin, British dubstep producer, first album 1998, with earlier groups going back to 1991 (Techno Animal, GOD, Ice, and later King Midas Sound). This one features singer Dis Fig (Felicia Chen). B+(*)

Carne Doce: Interior (2020, Tratore): Brazilian indie rock band, fourth album. B+(*)

Code Orange: Underneath (2020, Roadrunner): Metal (or hardcore punk) band from Pittsburgh, fourth album since 2012, highest unheard album (60) on my metacritic list after I suffered through the Deftones. This one is more listenable -- not because it's in any way softer, but more tuneful, at least in a riff-happy sense shared by all decent pop music. B

Deftones: Ohms (2020, Reprise): Alt-metal band from Sacramento, ninth album since 1995. Only reason I bothered with this was that it was by far the highest ranked album of the year that I hadn't listened to (33 at this moment, with only 4 records in the top 100 I haven't yet heard). Besides, I was nodding off, and figured I could move to the next room and still hear it well enough. C+

Bertrand Denzler/Antonin Gerbal: Sbatax (2019 [2020], Umlaut): Tenor sax and drums duo, one 38:40 piece, all fire and fury. B+(***) [bc]

Jean-Marc Foussat/Thomas Lehn: Spie(l)gehungen (2017 [2020], Fou): AKS synthesizer duo, French-Algerian and German, similar careers going back to the 1980s with 2-3 dozen albums each, not aware of them playing together before. Plays with noise, the building block of their peculiar topography. B+(***) [cd]

Muriel Grossmann: Quiet Earth (2020, RR Gems): Saxophonist (alto/tenor/soprano), born in Paris, grew up in Vienna, based in Ibiza since 2004, more than a dozen albums since 2007, current group a quintet with guitar, organ, bass, and drums. Starts with a Coltraneish spiritual jazz vibe, and builds on that. A-

The Heliocentrics: Telemetric Sounds (2020, Madlib Invazion): London-based jazz-funk collective, principally Malcolm Catto (drums) and Jake Ferguson (bass, guitar), named for Sun Ra, ten-plus records since 2007, four featuring obscure masters, the last two co-produced by Madlib, tipping their jazz a bit more to funk. B+(**)

K. Michelle: All Monsters Are Human (2020, EOne Music): Kimberly Michelle Pate, r&b singer from Memphis, fifth album. B+(**)

The Koreatown Oddity: Little Dominiques Nosebleed (2020, Stones Throw): Los Angeles rapper Dominique Purdy. Half-dozen albums and more mixtapes since 2012. Text on cover larger than title: "When I was a little kid, I was in two serious car accidents that would change the rest of my life." Some autobiography, several captivating riff pieces, much oddity. B+(***)

KRS-One: Between Da Protests (2020, R.A.M.P. Ent Agency): New York rapper Kris Parker, started gangsta in 1987 but after partner Scott La Rock was shot dead he went political and has been old school as long as the term has been used. Nicknamed Teacha, rhymes with Preacha, can wear on you but not for lack of wisdom. No lack of ego either: "I don't battle young rappers/that's child abuse." B+(**) [bc]

Liv.e: Couldn't Wait to Tell You . . . (2020, In Real Life): Soul singer, far removed from the gospel belter tradition, soft beats with slippery vocals, hard to grasp but eventually you realize you've been simply absorbing them. B+(*)

Masma Dream World: Play at Night (2020, Northern Spy): Devi Mambouka, from Gabon, father was an ambassador, mother Singaporean, moved to New York at 12. Uses sometimes messy field recordings, conceived as "spirit-led performance art" in a sacred space, "a prime opportunity to awaken one's power source from within." B

The Microphones: Microphones in 2020 (2020, PW Elverum & Sun): A revival of Phil Elverum's (Mount Eerie) early (1997-2003) low-fi alias, presented as a single 44:44 track. Gentle guitar strum, vocal enters after 7:45, and eventually gets louder with some keyboard. Promises the song never ends, but it does. B+(**) [bc]

Ela Minus: Acts of Rebellion (2020, Domino): Gabriela Jimeno, born in Colombia, based in New York, first album, sings, plays drums, probably electronics. Considerably darker than electropop, but less languid than trip hop. B+(***)

Rico Nasty: Nightmare Vacation (2020, Sugar Trap/Atlantic): Rapper Maria-Cecilia Simone Kelly, first studio album after a half-dozen mixtapes (first in 2014, when she was 17). Can't say much about lyrics, but titles run like "STFU," "OHFR?," and "Pussy Poppin," so I figure attitude and beats. Ends with her "breakout" 2018 single "Smack a Bitch," preceded by a remix of same, driving the whole thing home. A-

Waylon Payne: Blue Eyes, the Harlot, the Queer, the Pusher & Me (2020, Carnival): Born into country music -- father played in Willie Nelson's band, mother (Sammi Smith) sang with his godfather, Waylon Jennings. Tried to become a preacher, failed, did some acting (played Jerry Lee Lewis in Walk the Line and Hank Garland in Crazy), and a lot of drugs. He released an album in 2004. As far as I can tell, this is his second. Good songs, but the music slacks off a bit toward the end. B+(***)

RaeLynn: Baytown (2020, Round Here, EP): Country singer-songwriter Racheal Lynn Woodward, started as a teen contestant on The Voice, recorded an EP (2015), an album (2017), and now a second EP (6 songs, 17:39, named for her hometown in Texas), all for different labels. Voice has a twinkle in her twang, best on big, upbeat songs. Sample lyrics: "breaking up with you is like taking my bra off"; "don't worry, honey, around here we leave he judging to Jesus." B+(**)

Hans-Joachim Roedelius: Selbstportrait: Wahre Liebe (2020, Bureau B): Krautrock pioneer, in Kluster (later Cluster) from 1970, often uses surname only in solo work, as in his original Selbstportrait (1979), up to nine volumes now. B+(**)

Michael Rother: Dreaming (2020, Groenland): German guitarist, also plays keyboards, a founder of Krautrock bands Neu! and Harmonia, tenth solo album since 1977. Sophie Joiner sings, over rather lush ambient textures. B+(**)

Sevdaliza: Shabrang (2020, Twisted Elegaqnce): Sevda Alizadeh, born in Tehran, of Azerbaijani-Russian-Persian descent, moved to Rotterdam at age 5, played for the Dutch national basketball team, speaks five languages, has recorded in Persian and Portuguese but most of this second album is in English. Music closest to trip hop, loses a bit when the beat slacks off. B+(**)

Sorry: 925 (2020, Domino): Indie rock/pop band from London, first album, principally Asha Lorenz and Louis O'Bryen, both sing, which obscures the voice and persona, so you look more into the background, and find I'm not sure what. B+(**)

Steve Swell Quintet Soul Travelers With Leena Conquest: Astonishments (2018 [2020], RogueArt): Trombonist, the most accomplished of his generation, leads an all-star group: Jemeel Moondoc (alto sax), Dave Burrell (piano), William Parker (bass), and Gerald Cleaver (drums). The vocalist, who's most often worked with Parker, has a couple of spots, skittering expertly around the tricky music. The title cut features a list of astonishing but lately departed musicians. Great to hear those names. A [cd]

Thelonious Monster: Oh That Monster (2020, Outliner): Los Angeles punk-to-indie band led by Bob Forrest, released four albums 1986-92, regrouped for a not-quite-covers album in 2004, then nothing until this new one. I never got into them, but "Teenage Wasteland" sounds like a breakthrough (if not a breakthrough title). B+(***)

Lennie Tristano Centennial Quartet: Live @ Berklee (2020, Altered Music Productions): Tribute band, organized by former Tristano students Dave Frank (piano) and Jimmy Halperin (tenor sax), with Rick McLaughlin (bass) and Bob Tamagni (drums). Tristano school faves, including a couple of standards, boppish yet lighter than air. A-

Why?: Ten Voices (2020, Synesthesia Media, EP): Group with, or alias or, Yoni Wolf, from Cincinnati, who's been dodging the boundaries between hip-hop and indie rock at least since 2002. Four tracks, 16:21, "inspired by The Outlaw's Ocean, a book by Ian Urbina." B [bc]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Available Jelly: Missolonghi: More From 2004 (2004 [2020], Ramboy): Eponymous debut album 1984, group -- originally Michael Moore (alto sax/clarinet/bass clarinet), Michael Vatcher (drums), and others; here Toby Delius (tenor sax/clarinet), Eric Boeren (cornet), Wolter Wierbos (trombone), Ernst Glerum (bass) -- reconvened for 8 albums through 2011. These are outtakes from Bilbao Song. B+(**) [bc]

The George Coleman Quintet: In Baltimore (1971 [2020], Reel to Real): Tenor saxophonist from Memphis, started with Booker Little (a schoolmate) and Slide Hampton, joined the Miles Davis Quintet 1963-64 (replaced by Wayne Shorter), didn't record albums under his own name until 1977, but still strong in his mid-80s. Quintet with little known group -- Danny Moore (trumpet), Albert Dailey (piano), bass, drums -- on five standards, most 9-11 minutes. Strong performances all around. A-

Michael Moore/Simon Nabatov: Ancient Sorrow (1998 [2020], Ramboy): Duo (alto sax/clarinet and piano), not as young nor as far removed as their cover photos: Moore was born in California but moved to Amsterdam, while Nabatov moved from Moscow to Cologne. B+(***) [bc]

Old music:

Thelonious Monster: California Clam Chowder (2004, Lakeshore): One-shot reunion album 12 years after their run ended with Beautiful Mess, 16 years before Oh That Monster. Fifteen songs with titles like "The Gun Club Song," "The Bob Dylan Song," "The Germs Song," "The Big Star Song," "The Oasis Song." The models I know best are sly and clever and not as close as you'd expect, which makes the rest even harder to peg. Could be SFFR. A-


Grade (or other) changes:

Run the Jewels: RTJ4 (2020, Jewel Runners/RBC/BMG): Rap duo, El-P and Killer Mike, fourth album, released a few days early, because "fuck it, why wait." Hard thrash, which seems just right for well-considered complaints about police violence. The signature album of 2020. [was: A-]: A [cd]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Baker's Brew: New Works (Psychosomatic, 2CD) [02-12]
  • Steve Swell/Robert Boston/Michael Vatcher: Brain in a Dish (NoBusiness)
  • Steve Swell Quintet Soul Travelers With Leena Conquest: Astonishments (RogueArt)

Sunday, December 27, 2020


Weekend Roundup

Table of contents:

Spent three days this past week working on Christmas Eve dinner. Barely looked at the computer for email, but pretty much enjoyed a total news blackout. Also only played old music I didn't have to write about. Still got occasional reports from my wife about various stupid and/or evil things Trump did. Wound up feeling even more disgust and contempt for him than ever before. I'm surprised that's still possible, but one still learns something every day.


Trump's Last Days

It's beginning to look like Trump's reconciling himself, not to the obvious fact that he lost the election but at least to the realization that nobody's going to save him from the loss and hand him a second term. Thus, he's started to move on to his final, most criminal stage: using his remaining powers to inflict as much damage as possible on the government, the economy, our sense of justice, and his own legacy. It's an appalling thing to witness, and likely to become even more so before Biden takes over on January 20.


Sasha Abramsky: Trump is guilty of sedition and must be brought to justice: "He's violating his oath to protect the Constitution, and every day that he's allowed to remain in power, the threat to our democracy grows." First, sedition (like treason) is a bullshit charge. You might argue that because he is president (still), there should be some limits on what he can say, but there's no practical way to enforce it -- about all you can do is counter that he's being stupid, evil, and/or a gross nincompoop who should be deeply ashamed of himself. Second, it's a little late to say that anyone must be brought to justice, given all those guilty of far worse crimes than throwing a tantrum over losing an election, even if you limit the time frame to this past year.

Isaac Arnsdorf: Inside Trump and Barr's last-minute killing spree: "Private executioners paid in cash. Middle-of-the-night killings. False or incomplete justifications. ProPublic obtained court records showing how the outgoing administration is using its final days to execute the most federal prisoners since World War II."

Shawn Boburg/Dalton Bennett/Neena Satija/Ken Hoffman: Ex-cop hits truck thinking it held 750,000 fraudulent ballots, police say. It held air conditioning parts.

The episode illustrates the extreme and sometimes dangerous tactics that a set of conservative groups have employed in an effort to substantiate President Trump's unproven allegations of widespread voting fraud in the election. Theories about truckloads of missing mail-in ballots, manipulated voting machines and illegal mail-in ballot collections have abounded in far-right circles, despite a lack of credible evidence, leading to threats of violence against election workers and officials.

Kyle Cheney/Josh Gerstein: Trump's latest batch of pardons favors the well-connected.

Kaitlan Collins: Giuliani told to preserve all records as lawyers for Dominion warn legal action is 'imminent': Moves toward a defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems over the conspiracy treaties floated by Giuliani and Sidney Powell.

Sumner Concepcion: Dominion CEO weighs potential lawsuit against Trump for pushing bogus fraud claims.

Paul Dickinson: I sued Blackwater for the massacre of Iraqi civilians. Trump just pardoned those convicted killers. "Trump's pardon of the Blackwater mercenaries who murdered 14 Iraqi civilians at Nisour Square shows the world what justice means in the United States." But the entire war was an unindicted, unprosecuted crime, the culpability increasing all the way to GW Bush at the top. That says all you need to know about the state of justice in the United States. The tiny number of soldiers and mercenaries who did get prosecuted were selected not because they killed and/or tortured Iraqis -- thousands did that, as directed by US policy -- but because they violated orders, so grossly the military felt the need to make an example of them, in order to maintain command order. What the pardons do is to show that the military cannot maintain discipline within its own ranks, let alone act as a viable occupying force. That's something to consider before inserting military forces in foreign countries where they cannot help but self-destruct. Of course, also consider the fact that no occupying military force, no matter how disciplined, can possibly be viewed and respected as just.

Franklin Foer: The triumph of Trump's kleptocracy.

Matt Gertz: Trump's Fox News pardon pipeline: A comprehensive review: "Fox's programming and personalities influenced at least 21 of Trump's acts of clemency -- so far." Update of an article from 2019. Expect another update around January 20.

Michelle Goldberg: Trump's most disgusting pardons.

Spencer S Hsu/Kareem Fahim: Trump administration weighing legal immunity for Saudi crown prince in alleged assassination plot. Mohammed bin Salman is being sued in US courts for his role in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Trump could intercede on the Prince's behalf.

Alex Isenstadt: Senior Trump advisers prepare to launch policy group. Brooke Rollins, Larry Kudlow. Other names are more speculative. Kudlow says, "The president is very enthusiastic about this."

Ankush Khardori:

Michael Kranish: Trump vowed to drain the swamp. Then he granted clemency to three former congressmen convicted of federal crimes.

Anita Kumar/Gabby Orr: Inside Trump's pressure campaign to overturn the election.

Anita Kumar/Melanie Zanona/Marianne Levine: 'Complete clusterf---': Trump leaves Washington in limbo: "No one in the White House or on Capitol Hill appears to know what Trump's plan is -- or even if there is one."

The repercussions of inaction could be dramatic. If lawmakers and White House aides can't persuade the president to sign a funding and Covid relief package by Monday, the government will enter the fourth shutdown of Trump's presidency. And millions of Americans had been told to expect another round of direct payments from the government shortly, while businesses across the country were expecting more financial assistance.

Yet Trump left town Wednesday afternoon without saying a word about the bill, departing for Mar-a-Lago, his South Florida resort, where he plans to stay through the new year. And no one seems to know what will happen next.

German Lopez: Trump pardons corrupt members of Congress and allies caught in Russia investigation.

Eric Lipton: In last rush, Trump grants mining and energy firms access to public lands.

Amanda Marcotte: Remember that stupid thing Donald Trump did? Hard as it is to pick, here are the top 10.

Tim Naftali: Trump's pardons make the unimaginable real. Much about Watergate here, how Nixon was tempted to pardon his way out of the jam, but held back, so Trump has already broken new ground in pardoning his accomplices -- and one only wonders how much further he's willing to go. One thing that's clear already is that neither public opinion nor respect for democratic norms will inhibit him.

Erica Newland: I'm haunted by what I did as a lawyer in the Trump Justice Department. Newland worked in the Office of Legal Counsel from 2016-18.

Tina Nguyen: Trump leans on QAnon figures in flailing effort to overturn election.

Paul R Pillar: The big finale: is Trump dangerous enough to start a war? Tricky territory here: calling Trump "dangerous" just strokes his ego. A better word choice is "deranged." Trump seems to be angling for a parting salvo on Iran. He's moving forces into position -- not that there weren't plenty already. But he doesn't have enough time for a full-blown war, and I rather doubt that the Joint Chiefs would go all in for a lame duck president. But there's little reason, other than his innate slothfulness, to think he's not deranged enough to try.

Nikki McCann Ramirez: A far-right architecture obsession just became a Trump executive order -- and Tucker Carlson was the middleman:

On December 21, President Donald Trump signed an executive order designating "classical" architecture the preferred style for federal buildings in Washington, D.C. The order represents the transformation of an far-right obsession into federal law, and the long-gestating effort was aided by Fox host Tucker Carlson earlier this year.

James Risen: Snowden and Assange deserve pardons. So do the whistleblowers Trump imprisoned. Reality Winner is also pictured. Evidently there's been some discussion of pardoning the first two. Indeed, one can argue that Assange was a major asset for Trump in 2016, and that Trump might have fared better in 2020 with Assange free to dig up dirt on Democrats -- something he couldn't do while in jail. (I'd put more emphasis on Trump's job performance as a reason he lost.) Still, I'd be pleased to see any/all pardoned. But if Trump pardons any of them, expect a lot of security-fetish Democrats to throw a conniption fit.

Aaron Rupar: Fox News's post-Trump identity crisis, explained by an expert: Interview with Matt Gertz, of Media Matters.

Maggie Severns: A Trump executive order set the stage for Falwell's political activities.

Ben Smith: The 'red slime' lawsuit that could sink right-wing media: "Voting machine companies threaten 'highly dangerous' cases against Fox, Newsmax and OAN, says Floyd Abrams."

Kimberly Wehle: No, Flynn's martial law plot isn't sedition. But it's not necessarily legal either. "If it incites violence, the former general's proposal to redo the election is not covered by free speech protections."

Matt Zapotosky: Undercutting Trump, Barr says there's no basis for seizing voting machines, using special counsels for election fraud, Hunter Biden.

Matt Zapotosky/Josh Dawsey/Colby Itkowitz/Jonathan O'Connell: Trump pardons Charles Kushner, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone in latest wave of clemency grants.

Politics as Usual

Congress passed a $900 billion Covid-19 relief bill, combined with a $1.4 trillion bill to keep the government from shutting down by allowing all sorts of spending through September. See Ella Nilsen/Li Zhou: Congress has officially passed a $900 billion Covid-19 relief package. Trump whined and pouted without signing the bill (at least as of late Saturday). See: Alexandra Olson/Jill Colvin: Trump fiddles as unemployment benefits are about to expire for millions. Sunday evening, Trump finally signed -- see Seung Min Kim/Jeff Stein/Mike DeBonis/Josh Dawsey: Trump signs stimulus and government spending bill into law, averting shutdown. Or, as the New York Times put it, Trump signs pandemic relief bill after unemployment aid lapses.


FiveThirtyEight: Latest polls of the Georgia Senate runoffs: Basically dead even. I'm not sure why anyone would split their vote, but the numbers show a 0.5% edge for Perdue over Ossoff and a 0.6% edge for Warnock over Loeffler.

Dean Baker:

  • Quick note on the Federal Reserve Board: So Republican Sen. Pat Toomey "insisted on adding language to the pandemic rescue package, stripping the Fed of emergency powers." Granted, the Fed mostly uses its powers to rescue banks and ensure them profits (remember "the Greenspan put"?), the clear intent here is to make the recession longer and deeper under Biden.

    Just for background, we know that the Republicans are perfectly fine with sabotaging the economy in order to hurt the political prospects of a Democrat in the White House. This is exactly what they did under President Obama, as they demanded recovery killing austerity as they feigned concern about deficits. Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell openly said that his job was to make Obama a one-term president.

  • Bloomberg is concerned that Janet Yellen's dollar policy may lessen wealth inequality. Of course, Toomey's concern is not just a cynical political ploy. He's also concerned that the rich might suffer.

Eric Levitz: 7 surprisingly good policies buried in the stimulus-omnibus bill.

  1. The most significant climate-change legislation in at least a decade (and arguably ever).
  2. An end to most forms of surprise medical billing.
  3. The most significant anti-money laundering reform in decades.
  4. A simultaneous breakthrough in higher-education and criminal-justice-reform policy.
  5. Two cool new museums.
  6. An expansion of rural broadband.
  7. Medicaid for Marshall Islanders.

German Lopez: Trump vetoes military spending bill, potentially setting up first veto override of his presidency.

Natalie Shure: Congress doesn't care about your surprise ambulance bill.

Emily Stewart: The stimulus bill includes a "historic" provision to expand broadband internet access.

Li Zhou:

Biden Prospects

See Building Biden's Cabinet for a survey of who's been selected for Biden's top administration positions, and who's being considered for still open slots. Another updated scorecard is Intelligencer's All of president-elect Joe Biden's cabinet nominees. For an evaluation, see Robert Kuttner: Biden's cabinet: The scorecard so far.

I also want to point out an extensive series of articles, collectively titled Day One Agenda, at The American Prospect. I've linked to some below, and others in previous weeks. Most focus on things that Biden can do with existing executive powers, without having to go hat-in-hand to get support from a hostile Congress. A lot of these are unlikely to happen -- one article,, Joe Biden is unhappy about the Day One Agenda, is conscious enough to argue over it, as does The Day One Agenda polls pretty well -- but the vast scope of these pieces shows that the left is bursting with good ideas for better government. For further debate, see Ryan D Doerfler: Executive orders and smart lawyers won't save us, and the reply by David Dayen: Make progress on all fronts: A response to Jacobin.


Glenn Greenwald: With Biden's new threats, the Russia discourse is more reckless and dangerous than ever: "The US media demands inflammatory claims be accepted with no evidence, while hacking behavior routinely engaged in by the US is depicted as aberrational." My main complaint here is that I don't recall US hacking as ever having been depicted as anything -- aside from rare whistleblower complaints, it's simply not something American media tries to report on.

Jeff Hauser/Erich Pica: The most important Biden appointee no one has heard of: "The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs can determine the scope of the Biden presidency."

Mike Pearl: The green fantasy and messy reality of nuclear power.

Robert Wright: Five things about Gen. Lloyd Austin.

The Covid-19 Pandemic Surge

Latest map and case count: 19.1 million+ cases (14 day change -9%, total up 1.4 million in last week), 333,197 deaths (-71%), 117,344 hospitalized (+11%). Dec. 18 had a peak of 251,447 new cases, with Dec. 26 just barely down to 225,930 -- the drop to 91,922 cases on Christmas day is what's dragging the average down, but that may have more to do with reporting than with testing.

I saw a report last week that 4 of the top 5 counties nationwide for per capita death rates were in Kansas, topped by Edwards County. I had an aunt who used to live in Kinsley there, and I've spent a lot of time there, especially before 1970. The town has declined considerably, with the county population dropping under 3,000, so a small number of deaths makes a big blip. The map above shows an average of 10 cases per 100,000 in Edwards, but 147 in neighboring Pawnee County, and 0 in Hodgeman and Kiowa Counties. (Hodgeman, by the way, was where my great-great-grandfather homesteaded in 1867. My father was born there in 1923, although his birth certificate says Spearville, just over the Ford County line (and just a couple miles from Edwards County).


Dean Baker: Helping the NYT understand its reporting: China's coverup was not the cause of the worldwide spread of the Coronavirus.

Donald G McNeil Jr: How much herd immunity is enough? Without doing any math, my initial guess was that it would take about 80% immunity to significantly reduce the number of cases, and a good deal more to "banish it." Evidently people who should have done the math were throwing out 60-70% estimates, but when pressed recently Fauci is talking 75-85% (publicly, and 90% privately).

Brian Resnick/Umair Irfan: The new UK coronavirus mutations, explained.

Around the World

Andrew J Bacevich: Reflections on Vietnam and Iraq: The lessons of two failed wars. [Reprinted from TomDispatch, minus Tom Engelhardt's introduction.] While I'm pleased to see these two debacles linked in print, the only lesson of Vietnam is that Americans are incapable of learning lessons, even (or perhaps especially) from failures. Perhaps chances are better for Iraq: the memory is less distant, and less clouded by overarching mission -- the "global war on terror" was always more nebulous than the anti-communist crusade, and didn't even fit the situation in Iraq. But the similarities are critical, hence one should draw the same basic lessons: both are wars where the US attempted to impose its capitalist economic system on nations accustomed to resisting colonialism, and did so ultimately with military force, with little (if any) respect for the lives and welfare of the people. Sure, there were moments when the US talked its game of democracy, but it was always conditional on voting for the right politicians. The only things that made Iraq less of a disaster than Vietnam was that the US was able to disunite resistance by inciting civil war (between Kurds and Arabs, and between Shiite and Sunni Arabs), playing each side against the other. I'd draw two basic lessons from these wars: one is that the US has to be more respectful of the people and their welfare, even if that means letting them run their own affairs and organize their society and economy along lines we don't consider ideal; the other is that armed force is not a real option -- it is counterproductive, both in that it destroys the nation one hoped to save, and in that it is corrosive of the moral values of the occupying force. Also at TomDispatch:

  • Tom Engelhardt: Partyland 2020. Subtitle asks "what if, after 9/11, George W Bush had thrown parties?" But if memory serves, Bush did shill for Disneyland immediately after 9/11, while plotting to make his grudge war against Afghanistan even more unwinnable by extending it to Iraq and beyond, promoting an "Axis of Evil" that extended as far as North Korea. As Trump showed with Covid-19, America believes in partying through its wars.

  • Rebecca Gordon: All-War-All-the-Time?

Katrin Bennhold: She called police over a neo-Nazi threat. But the neo-Nazis were inside the police. In Germany.

Chas Freeman: The growing peril of war with China over Taiwan.

Fred Kaplan: Should the US retaliate for Russia's big hack? Any time I read about the need to deter attacks my bullshit detector goes off. Kaplan tries to make a case for nuclear deterrence, and that's not totally wrong, as there is a clear line separating use of nuclear weapons from other weapons, and nuclear weapons represent a clear escalation beyond any other weapons. Still, the main reason nuclear deterrence works is that nobody actually wants nuclear war, so deterrence reinforces preferred behavior. But how is it even possible to deter hacking?

Any assessment must also recognize the following: We do this sort of thing too, and have been doing it for a long time. Our cyberattacks tend to be more focused on specific targets, for specific aims. But the National Security Agency, Cyber Command, and certain units of the CIA have long been carving "backdoors" into foreign networks, roaming around in the critical infrastructure of adversaries, and planting malware that can damage this infrastructure on command.

In 2014, after realizing there was no way for America's vital networks to defend themselves from a sophisticated cyberattack, Cyber Command adopted a policy of "active defense." Defining the concept, Adm. Michael Rogers, the commander at the time, said the "biggest focus" would be "to attempt to interdict the attack before it ever got to us" -- in other words, to get inside the adversary's network, in order to detect him preparing an attack, then deflect or preempt it.

So, before U.S. leaders set about responding to the SolarWinds hack, they should articulate how it differs from the things that we sometimes do -- why the Russians deserve punishment and we don't.

Jessica J Lee: It's time to end the Korean War: "Seventy years into the conflict, Biden can resolve the original forever war."

Ted Snider: Israel-linked assassinations: How much is the US really involved?

Other Matters of Interest

Dave Barry: Dave Barry's year in review 2020: "And we thought past years were awful."

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw: The unacceptable costs of appeasing MAGA Nation: "Why we can't afford to make peace with white supremacists."

Thomas Geoghegan: Labor power is the key to racial equity: "The next big American conversation about race should take place in a union hall." Part of a series called Unbreaking America: "How to fix a country that was already cracking up before Trump came along." Some other pieces:

Parker Molloy: A war on Christmas story: How Fox News built the dumbest part of America's culture war.

New York Times: Remembering some of the artists, innovators and thinkers we lost in the past year. A somewhat idiosyncratic but interesting list, topped by Shere Hite.

Alex Pareene: The return of corporate tax incentives is a bad omen for blue states.

Kirkpatrick Sale: Is society collapsing? Author of the first major history of SDS (1973), recalls a bet he made 25 years ago "that global society led by the United States would collapse in the year 2020 from a confluence of causes created by modern technology out of control." Earlier this year (February 11), before the pandemic really hit, he wrote a short book to make his case for winning the bet (The Collapse of 2020). This is a précis. Not sure that he won the bet, but I'd say he's closer than his "won't even be close" opponent.

Zachary Siegel: The deadliest year in the history of US drug use.

Micah L Sifry: Why did Obama forget who brought him to the dance? "His memoir is strangely silent about the people who organized for him." This reminds me of the adage that while both parties despise their bases, Republicans at least fear theirs, which keeps them aligned. Most Democrats, on the other hand, feel free to turn their backs as soon as the votes are counted.

And as Election Day approaches, Obama writes of his awe at the size of the crowds coming to his rallies and worries about having aroused too much hope, knowing that he might not be able to meet the expectations that some of his followers were pressing on him.

But after his election as president, the grassroots disappears from Obama's story. The amnesia starts the night of his inauguration, when he attended ten formal balls with first lady Michelle Obama, but only the first one, where he was serenaded by Beyoncé, and later one for members of the armed forces, make it into his memoir. The Obama for America staff ball, which was attended by 10,000 staff and where Obama reportedly spoke for 17 minutes, is gone from his memory. White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, who managed the White House's relationships with Democratic advocacy organizations, gets barely a mention for his role in the health care reform fight. The organizers who took him to victory in the Iowa caucus, who he says he "would still do anything for," are nowhere in the rest of the book, even as one of them, Mitch Stewart, would come to run Organizing for America at the DNC. . . .

It's no wonder that once Obama entered the White House, he and his team obsessed about how much power the media had to shape the narrative of his presidency. He never understood that when enough people are successfully organized to move en masse, they can actually write history themselves. Instead, he thought he was the author of his story. And apparently, he still does.

Richard Silverstein: Conflating Judaism and Zionism: Bad for the Jews.

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: Welcome to the malarky factory. A scattershot of useful tidbits. For example, "a handful of giant corporations have spent $8 trillion in unproductive stock buybacks since 2009." I was recently reminded that stock buybacks were illegal before Reagan. It has since helped inflate the stock market, becoming one of the main ways wealth is transferred to the top 1%.

Paul Waldman: What a miserable 2020 revealed about America: "It exposed an impotent political system, a deadly mythology of rugged individualism, and a Republican Party without shame."

Alex Walker: Rush Limbaugh's deranged 2020: From denying the pandemic to supporting a coup. Has anyone ever been more consistently wrong?

Monday, December 21, 2020


Music Week

December archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 34609 [34569] rated (+40), 213 [215] unrated (-2).

No real time to work on this, so I need to rush through. Continuing to update various tracking files (although I've fallen way behind with the EOY aggregate):

I've finished compiling the Jazz Critics Poll, toting up 148 ballots. NPR will publish the results, but I don't know what their schedule is. Full rankings and all the ballots will be available on my website, once NPR has done their thing.

Two fairly major musicians died last week: Jazz pianist Stanley Cowell, and country singer-songwriter K.T. Oslin. Oslin's Love in a Small Town is a personal favorite. Cowell's 1969 album Blues for the Viet Cong was an early breakthrough, seems more radical today than it was then. Here are a couple links:

Here's a link for a new Iris DeMent song: Going Down to Sing in Texas. I haven't seen any reports of a new album coming out, but the song is clearly recent and topical.

I'm going to do a fair amount of cooking this week. We won't be hosting our usual Christmas Eve dinner, and we won't be attending the big Christmas Day bash at my cousin's farm, but I'm planning on delivering "meals on wheels" for 15-20 friends. I'll be listening to music while I cook, but nothing I'll write about, so next week's report should be relatively thin. It will also be the last of the month and year, so I might be tempted to push it out a bit.


New records reviewed this week:

75 Dollar Bill: Little Big Band Live at Tubby's (2020, self-released): Instrumental rock duo -- Che Chen (guitar) and Rick Brown (drums) -- with Saharan influences (Chen studied in Mauritania with Jheich Ould Chighaly). They picked up five more musicians for this gig -- a big band only given their bearings -- including a sax, viola, and more guitars and drums. Last show before Covid lockdown in March. They describe it as "bittersweet." B+(***)

75 Dollar Bill: Live at Cafe Oto Dec. 19, 2019 (2019 [2020], self-relased): As the lockdown progressed, the duo rumaged through their old tapes for product, and picked out this trio date in London, where they were reunited with their former bassist Andrew Lafkas. Digital only, very long, collecting three hour-long sets (12 tracks, 183:09), but the basic patterns never wear out -- in fact, the opener runs 30:26 without ever going anywhere, and the only time you really notice it is when it stops, like an old friend hanging up. A- [bc]

75 Dollar Bill: Power Failures (2018 [2020], self-released): Unclear when these six tracks (77:49) were recorded, but it's basically an "odds and sods" collection, with extra people showing up on several tracks. B+(**) [bc]

75 Dollar Bill Little Big Band: Roulette, March 27, 2017 (2017 [2020], self-released): Nine names on the cover, although the opener is just the two principals (Rick Brown and Che Chen). B+(**) [bc]

Bab L' Bluz: Nayda! (2020, Real World): Moroccan-French "power quartet," first album, lead singer Yousra Mansour. B+(*)

William Basinski: Lamentations (2020, Temporary Residence): Experimental composer, trained in clarinet, several dozen albums since 1998, his early albums self-descriptive: Shortwavemusic, Watermusic, The Disintegration Loops, the latter followed by II, III, IV. Ambient drone with occasional choir. B+(*)

Nat Birchall: Mysticism of Sound (2020, Ancient Archive of Sound): English saxophonist, records since 1999, plays what they're calling spiritual jazz, in his case heavily indebted to John Coltrane. Plays everything here: keyboard (korg minilogue), bass, drums, percussion, tenor/soprano sax, bass clarinet. Loses some urgency, but nicely at one with the cosmos. B+(**) [bc]

Nat Birchall Meets Al Breadwinner: Upright Living (2020, Tradition Disc): Second album with Alan Redfern, Manchester-based reggae musician (drums, guitar, organ, piano, percussion), who leads a group called the Breadwinners. Lots of dub echo, the leader's tenor and soprano sax (also keyboards and percussion) joined by more horns (trumpet, trombone, baritone sax). B+(***) [bc]

Nat Birchall Sextet: Exaltation: Live in Athens Vol 1 (2018 [2020], Parafono): Quartet plus a couple picked up for the spot: Harris Lambrakis (ney) and Nikos Sidirokastritis (drums). Three pieces, seems short (39:55). B+(*) [bc]

Blu & Exile: Miles (2020, Fat Beats): Rapper Johnson Barnes III, from Los Angeles, with producer Alex Manfredi, third album together (previous in 2007 and 2012). Title refers to Miles Davis. Subtitle: From an Interlude Called Life. Assembled by mail, runs long (20 tracks, 95:29), covers a lot of ground. A-

Jorun Bombay & Phill Most Chill: Jorun-PMC (2020, AE Productions): Actual name, DJ/producer from Halifax, Nova Scotia, led a 1990s coalition there that included Buck 65, working here with rapper Phill Stroman. Big, old school beats and scratches. B+(***) [bc]

Phoebe Bridgers: Copycat Killer (2020, Dead Oceans, EP): Her big albums this year, Punisher, ranks third in my EOY aggregate. I'm not a big fan, but can't deny that it has something going for it. This follow-up is a microcosm: four songs, 12:51, too many strings, but we're used to them in movies, where they set up drama. Same here. B+(*)

Phoebe Bridgers: If We Make It Through December (2020, Dead Oceans, EP): Another 4-song EP (11:39), covers which touch on Christmas without getting too comfortable: the title is a Merle Haggard song about how cold and poverty undermines the usual seasonal joy, and even "Silent Night" plays background to a bitter news reel (which would have been even more horrifying had she waited to sample this December's news). "You don't have to be alone to be lonesome," and "it's Christmas, so no one can fix it." B+(***)

Brad Brooks: God Save the City (2020, Brad Brooks): Singer-songwriter based in Oakland, couple previous albums, hard to pin this one down. B+(*)

Disclosure: Energy (2020, Island): English electropop duo, brothers Howard and Guy Lawrence, third album, guest vocals on most tracks. B+(**)

Elzhi: Seven Times Down Eight Times Up (2020, Fat Beats): Detroit rapper Jason Powers, first EP 1998. Underground, with some rough edges and awkward moments. B+(**)

Felt: Felt 4 U (2020, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Hip-hop duo, Slug (of Atmosphere) and Murs, fourth album after a decade-long hiatus, the first three (2002-09) framed as tributes to actresses (Christina Ricci, Lisa Bonet, Rosie Perez). Ant produced, so beatwise figure Atmosphere, but Murs delivers the sharper, more political rhymes. A-

Matthew Halsall: Salute to the Sun (2020, Gondwana): British trumpet player, from Manchester, albums since 2008. Spiritual jazz, which for all practical purposes means he's happy to inhabit grooves drawn from Coltrane, with the economy of Miles Davis. Nice trick. B+(***)

Headie One x Fred Again: Gang (2020, Relentless, EP): Short mixtape (8 tracks, 22:13), rapper Irving Adjei and producer Fred Gibson. B+(*)

Jihee Heo: Are You Ready? (2020, OA2): Korean pianist, based in New York, second album, a trio with Marty Kenney (bass) and Rodney Green (drums), with spoken voice on two songs: the leader asking "Are you ready?" on the opener, and Saidu Ezike rapping on "Trust." B+(**) [cd]

Nicholas Jaar: Cenizas (2020, Other People): Chilean-American electronica composer, does more dance-oriented work as Against All Logic, uses his own name for more ponderous ambient records, like this one. B+(*)

Nicholas Jaar: Telas (2020, Other People): Four LP-sidelong pieces, starts off like he's thinking about free jazz, but doesn't sustain that mood. B+(**)

Aubrey Johnson: Unraveled (2017 [2020], Outside In Music): Jazz singer, studied at Western Michigan and New England Conservatory, teaches at Queens College and Berklee (based in New York), seems to be her first album. More than a bit much. B-

Jimmy Johnson: Every Day of Your Life (2019, Delmark): Chicago bluesman, born in Mississippi, brother of Syl Johnson, has recorded albums since 1977, this the first after turning 80. Not a great blues voice, even with age, but still a pretty fair guitarist. B+(**)

Simone Kopmajer: Christmas (2020, Lucky Mojo): Jazz singer from Austria, 17 albums since 2004, opens with a delectable "Santa Baby." Aside from "Baby, It's Cold Outside," not enough songs like that, and she runs out of jazz shots well before lapsing into German for a rather lovely "Stille Nacht." B [cd]

Marlowe: Marlowe 2 (2020, Mello Music Group): Hip-hop duo -- producer L'Orange and rapper Solemn Brigham -- second album. Vast cinematic motifs, reminiscent of Dr. Doom. B+(***)

Moodymann: Taken Away (2020, Mahogani Music): Detroit techno producer, Kenny Dixon Jr., active since 1992. This one is kind of retro, riding on bass lines reminiscent of Larry Graham. B+(***)

New Orleans High Society: New Orleans High Society (2020, 1718/Slammin Media): Trad jazz outfit, first album, somewhat sly and off-handed approach to standards from "Down by the Riverside" to "Lil Liza Jane." Trumpeter Cleveland Donald and Angie Z. sing. B+(***)

Tivon Pennicott w/Strings: Spirit Garden (2020, New Phrase): Tenor saxophonist, grew up in Georgia, parents from Jamaica, second album, has impressed me as a sidean (don't recall where, probably not with Gregory Porter). With Philip Dizack on trumpet and, well, too many strings. B

Zach Phillips: The Wine of Youth (2020, self-released): Singer-songwriter from San Diego, third album, seems nice enough, grows on me though I'm not sure why. B+(*) [cd]

Polo G: The Goat (2020, Columbia): Rapper Taurus Bartlett, from Chicago, second album. I initially assumed that the caps were meant to signify "Greatest Of All Time" -- quite a boast for a 21-year-old -- but I'm not finding much evidence for such an interpretation, and that's probably for the best. B+(**)

ROPE [Frank Paul Schubert/Uwe Oberg/Paul Rogers/Mark Saunders]: Open Ends (2017 [2020], Trouble in the East): Soprano sax (sounds more like alto to me, at least early on), piano, bass, drums. B+(**)

J. Peter Schwalm/Arve Henriksen: Neuzeit (2020, RareNoise): Duo, piano and trumpet, although Schwalm also gets credits for drums, electronics, and programming. My usual rule is to solely credit the first-named artist if the name appears above the title, and others come below, but will make an exception here. Nice and a bit atmospheric. B+(**) [cdr]

Sturgill Simpson: Cuttin' Grass Vol. 2 (The Cowboy Arms Sessions) (2020, High Top Mountain): Vol. 1 was a lockdown-necessitated break from his arena ambitions, taking old songs and framing them in bluegrass. I haven't figured out whether this is just more easy pickings, or he's evolving this way, but I sure like the sound, and for that matter, the songs. A-

Alan Sondheim & Azure Carter: Plaguesong (2020, ESP-Disk): Recorded at home, both in a single room with "little resonance" and "minor background sound on occasion." Carter wrote the lyrics and sings. Both are credited with "instruments." Opens with harmonica, but wanders all over the place. B+(**) [cd]

Tell No Lies: Anasyrma (2019 [2020], Aut): Italian quintet, second album, pianist Nicola Guazzaloca the composer, with two saxophonists (Edoardo Marraffa and Filippo Orefice), bass, and drums, plus a couple guest spots. B+(**)

Papo Vázquez Mighty Pirates Troubadours: Chapter 10: Breaking Cover (2020, Picaro): Trombonist, born in Philadelphia, lived off and on in Puerto Rico, records start in 1992, many of his groups involving Pirates and/or Troubadours. B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Ambiance: Into a New Journey (1982 [2020], BBE): Bandcamp page for this "impossibly rare and sought-after private label spiritual jazz masterpiece" talks about producer Daoud Abubaker Balewa ("Nigeria-born, LA-tutored"), but Discogs shows him as the group leader through six 1979-86 albums, playing sax, flute, and keyboards. The Afro-tinged jazz-funk is enticing until the hit-and-miss vocals intrude. B+(**) [bc]

Misha Mengelberg: Rituals of Transition (2002-10 [2020], I Dischi Di Angelica): Somehow I missed that the great Dutch avant-pianist had passed (1935-2017), although I was aware that he was unable to play and ICP Orchestra had carried on with Guus Janssen. Solo piano from four dates, the longest 3 tracks 30:01 from Kiev in 2005. Marked by his good humor, probably even more so when he sings/talks along. B+(**)

Neil Swainson Quintet: 49th Parallel (1987 [2020], Reel to Real): Bassist, from Canada, quite a few side credits, not much under his own name, but wrote 5 (of 6) pieces here, evidently enough to overcome the relative fame of his front-line horn players: Joe Henderson (tenor sax) and Woody Shaw (trumpet), in typically fine form. B+(***)

Cecil Taylor: At Angelica 2000 Bologna (2000 [2002], I Dischi Di Angelica, 2CD): First disc is solo piano, a typically flamboyant and puzzling set. Second disc is "Rap" -- the artist talking, fielding questions, flaunting his genius. No idea how to assign a grade to that, but while you may (or may not) enjoy that, his piano remains inscrutable. B+(**)


Further Sampling:

Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.

Lisa Mezzacappa Six: Cosmicomics (2020, Queen Bee): Bassist, title from Italo Calvino, only horn is tenor sax, so focus on rhythm. [bc: 1/11, 6:25/66:11]: ++


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Christiane Bopp/Jean-Marc Foussat/Emmanuelle Parrenin: Nature Still (Fou)
  • Jean-Marc Foussat/Thomas Lehn: Spie(l)gehungen (Fou)

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