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Tuesday, October 20, 2020


Music Week

October archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 34222 [34179] rated (+43), 215 [213] unrated (+2).

Nominally a day late, given the late finish of Weekend Roundup. The delay pushed the rated count over 40, and contributed most of the unpacking below. Before that I had felt little urgency to break into the promo queue. I've been scrounging for things to listen to, and making short work of most of what I've found. I've heard the top 83 records in my metacritic file. Top one I haven't bothered with is Deftones: Ohms, followed by albums by Flaming Lips, Killers, Lemon Twigs, and Sorry -- a high B+ from any of those would be a big surprise. Caught up with eight Sunnyside jazz releases instead, four at B+(**), four lower.

Robert Christgau published his October 2020: Consumer Guide last week. I previously had albums by Public Enemy, Cornershop, and Dua Lipa at A-. He only concurred on PE. He rated Dramamrama, Ashley McBryde, and Dawn Oberg higher than I did. A recheck of the former suggests I wasn't paying much attention when I discarded it. His choice oldie was a compilation of early Skip James that I have at B (but Robert Santelli ranked as the 10th best blues album of all time). As I recall, the sound was atrocious. I should do some more research on him; e.g., Devil Got My Woman (1967), an A- for Christgau, number 45 for Santelli. I have a later compilation of James' 1966-68 Vanguard sides, Blues From the Delta, at A-. Meanwhile, the one I couldn't find was Hanging Tree Guitars. Well, also the Island rocksteady compilation. It's probably competitive with Trojan's Let's Do Rocksteady: The Story of Rocksteady 1966-68, an A- in my book.

One more week left in October. I'm going to cook a scaled down, socially distanced version of my annual birthday dinner this week. Did the shopping today, so I'm set to start cooking tomorrow, to serve on Wednesday. Moved it up a few days due to weather, so I'll wind up turning 70 in isolation, probably with leftovers. Nothing new this year. Turkish main dish (yogurtlu kebap), with Moroccan mezze -- struck me as a better fit than the Turkish ones -- and the traditional family birthday cake. Rated count should be down next week, as I'll spend a couple days playing golden oldies. Then it'll be time to knuckle down on Weekend Roundup. At this point, I'd just as soon cooked on the weekend and skipped the post, but weather broke the other way.

Seems like a lot of deaths last week. Among musicians: Spencer Davis, Toshinori Kondo, Jose Padilla. More HOF baseball players: Joe Morgan, after Whitey Ford (previous week).

I don't follow her, but I was pleased to see a tweet by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) detailing specs on a homebuilt composer (I added prices from Newegg, just for my curiosity):

  • Intel Core i7-10700K [CPU, $385]
  • Zotac GeForce RTX 2060 Super [6GB video card, $340]
  • G.Skill TridentZ RGB 32GB [RAM, $180]
  • Samsung 970 EVO Plus 1TB M.2 NVMe main [SSD storage, $170]
  • 6TB SSD storage [not sure, don't know of any 6TB SSD storage, but you could use Samsung 860 EVO 4TB + 2TB, $910, or you could get a 8TB deal for $908; another possibility is a 6TB SATA hard drive, $280]
  • Corsair iCU H100i AIO [water cooled radiator, $190]
  • NZXT H510i case [$100]

Not specified here is a power supply, probably 850W or higher [$150+], and most importantly a motherboard ($200 or less). My latest build had considerably more RAM (128 GB), but I spent less on CPU and video card. I only bought the M.2 SSD storage device (1TB), and I've never spent on water cooling. Still, I'm impressed: you get at least twice as much bang for the buck by building your own, but most people find the task daunting. Better still if you put Linux on it, instead of wasting more $$$ on Microsoft, and more still on commercial applications software.


New records reviewed this week:

Courtney Marie Andrews: Old Flowers (2020, Fat Possum): Folkie singer-songwriter from Arizona, fifth album since 2010. B+(*)

John Beasley: MONK'estra Plays John Beasley (2020, Mack Avenue): Pianist, put this big band together to play Thelonious Monk arrangements, turns it loose on his own compositions (plus Ellington and Parker). B+(**)

Black Thought: Streams of Thought, Vol. 3: Cane and Abel (2020, Republic): Roots MC Tariq Luqmaan Trotter, nothing from his group since 2014, but he released two EPs in 2018, and this follow up edges into album territory, with 13 tracks, 34:19. Conscious and hard, the sample beats not as supple as the live band's, but more to the point. Not sure why it's "Cane" instead of "Cain" -- I'm often eluded by fine lyrical points (assuming there is an explanation, like slavery was built on sugar). A-

Geof Bradfield/Ben Goldberg/Dana Hall Trio: General Semantics (2020, Delmark): Tenor/soprano sax & bass clarinet, soprano & contralto clarinet, drums. Nice combination, free, loose, never grating. B+(***)

Sylvie Courvoisier Trio: Free Hoops (2019 [2020], Intakt): Swiss pianist, trio with Drew Gress (bass) and Kenny Wollesen (drums). B+(**)

Brian Cullman: Winter Clothes (2020, Sunnyside): Singer-songwriter from New York, third album, recorded this with members of Ollabelle, about a mutual friend named Jimi Zhivago. B+(**)

John Daversa Quintet: Cuarentena: With Family at Home (2020, Tiger Turn): Trumpet player, from California, eighth album since 2009. Quintet with Gonzalo Rubalcaba (piano), Dafnis Prieto (drums), Sammy Figueroa (percussion), and Carlo De Rosa (bass). B+(**)

Josephine Davies: Satori: How Can We Wake? (2020, Whirlwind): British tenor saxophonist, first album 2006, named group for 2017 album, but looks here like group name slid back into title. Trio, with bass (Dave Whitford) and drums (James Madden), and a bit of soprano sax. B+(***)

Sam Decker: Shrove (2020, Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, second album, postbop quintet with Michael Sachs (clarinet, bass clarinet), Dov Manski (piano), bass, and drums, drawing on "folk-inflected sounds of composers like Igor Stravinsky, Bela Bartok and Dmitri Shostakovich." B+(*)

Doves: The Universal Want (2020, Heavenly): English alt rock band, from Manchester, released four albums 2000-09, split, regrouped for this one. Melodic sense, but strikes me as heavy. B

Andy Fusco: Remembrance (2019 [2020], SteepleChase): Alto saxophonist, started in Buddy Rich's big band, continued with Steve Smith's alumni band, Buddy's Buddies; fifth album on this label since 2016, a quintet with trumpet (Joe Magnarelli), piano (Peter Zak), bass, and drums. B+(*)

Joel Futterman: Intervals (2018 [2020], Fundacja Sluchaj): Avant pianist, originally from Chicago, Wikipedia credits him with 80+ albums since 1982. This one is solo, three improv pieces. B+(*) [bc]

Osvaldo Golijov/The Silkroad Ensemble: Falling Out of Time (2020, In a Circle): Argentine composer of classical music, moved to Israel in 1983, wound up in Massachusetts; first album (1997) a collaboration with Kronos Quartet. Has roots in Jewish liturgical music, also Piazzolla tango; won a MacArthur Fellowship. Probably an interesting character, but when he turns toward opera I have a hard time hanging on. Calls this "a tone poem for voices based on the novel by David Grossman." Sounds like opera to me, but if you can set aside the voices, the music has some interesting twists. B [cd]

Benny Green: Benny's Crib (2020, Sunnyside): Pianist, 20+ albums since 1988, 70+ side credits, mostly plays electric piano here: 5 solo, 6 with bass and percussion, 2 of those with flute (Anne Drummond), 1 vocal (Veronica Swift). B

Clay Harper: Dirt Yard Street (2020, Casino Music): Singer-songwriter, started out in a band called the Coolies, has a few albums since 1997 but doesn't seem intent on making a career out of it. This one's a bit of a downer. B+(*) [bc]

Conrad Herwig: The Latin Side of Horace Silver (2020, Savant): Trombonist, born in Oklahoma, studied at UNT, worked in big bands, moving into Latin jazz in the 1990s. Has several Latin Side albums: John Coltrane (1996), Miles Davis (2004), Wayne Shorter (2008), Herbie Hancock (2010), Joe Henderson (2014). Silver came closer than any of the others at showing his own Latin side, so Herwig doesn't have to add much. B+(*)

Keleketla: Keleketla! (2020, Ahead of Our Time): Side project for British rock band Coldplay, with Jon Moore and Matt Black co-writers on all songs, joined by Nigerian drummer Tony Allen on most, with others from UK (Joe Armon-Jones, Shabaka Hutchings), South Africa (Yugen Blakrok, Gally Ngoveni, Thabang Tabane), many more. B+(**) [bc]

Juliet Kurtzman/Pete Malinverni: Candlelight: Love in the Time of Cholera (2020, Saranac): Violin and piano duets, classical and jazz, two pieces by the pianist, no less than five by Beiderbecke. Pretty enough. B [cd] [11-13]

Ron Miles: Rainbow Sign (2020, Blue Note): Trumpet player, leads an all-star quintet with Bill Frisell (guitar), Jason Moran (piano), Thomas Morgan (bass), and Brian Blade (drums). Solid support, which sometimes leaves you wondering about the leader. B+(**)

OM [Urs Leimgruber/Christy Doran/Bobby Burri/Fredy Studer]: It's About Time (2020, Intakt): Group -- soprano sax, guitar, bass, and drums -- produced six albums 1975-80, returned for a live one in 2010, now this. Impressive when everyone connects and the sax fights its way to the top. B+(***)

Ivo Perelman & Arcado String Trio: Deep Resonance (2018 [2020], Fundacja Sluchaj): Brazilian tenor saxophonist, avant, very prolific. String musicians are jazz stars in their own right -- Mark Feldman (violin), Hank Roberts (cello), and Mark Dresser (bass), resurrecting a group name they used 1989-96 -- and they control the flow here. B+(**) [bc]

Pinegrove: Marigold (2020, Rough Trade): Alt/indie band from New Jersey, singer-songwriter Evan Stephens Hall and drummer Zack Levine. Voice promises Americana. B+(*)

Dafnis Prieto Sextet: Transparency (2020, Dafnison Music): Cuban drummer, moved to US in 1999, eighth album since 2003. With trumpet (Alex Norris), two saxes (Roman Fiiu and Peter Apfelbaum), piano, and bass, playing originals and "Con Alma." Drummer can dazzle. B+(**)

Terje Rypdal: Conspiracy (2019 [2020], ECM): Norwegian guitarist, long list of records since 1968 (on ECM since 1971). With keyboards (Ståle Storløkken), fretless/electric bass (Endre Hareide Hallre), drums (Pål Thowsen). He always had a hint of fusion, but it's pretty deeply buried in ambient here. B+(*)

Angelica Sanchez & Marilyn Crispell: How to Turn the Moon (2019 [2020], Pyroclastic): Piano duets. Crispell is one of the few pianists who are really good at this, and the much younger Sanchez is an apt pupil. A- [cd]

The Bobby Spellman Nonet: Revenge of the Cool (2020, Sunnyside): Trumpet player, from Boston, based in Brooklyn, several albums (including a group called Big Mean Sound Machine). Models this group on the Miles Davis Birth of the Cool band. Coolest bit is when they move beyond their models to briefly play free. B+(**)

Tricky: Fall to Pieces (2020, False Idols): Trip-hop inventor Adrian Thaws, 14th album since 1995, a short one (11 tracks, 28:30), most featuring singer Marta. B+(*)

Diego Urcola Quartet Featuring Paquito D'Rivera: El Duelo (2019 [2020], Sunnyside): Trumpet player, from Argentina, and clarinet player, from Cuba, backed by Hamish Smith (bass) and Eric Doob (drums). Both leaders share their differences, and both love Dizzy Gillespie. B+(**)

Alexander von Schlippenbach: Slow Pieces for Aki (2019 [2020], Intakt): German pianist, a founder of the avant-garde from 1966 on, married to another very accomplished pianist, Aki Takase. Solo piano, slow as advertised, striving to make each note count. B+(***)

Doug Webb: Apples & Oranges (2020, Posi-Tone): Tenor/soprano saxophonist, mainstream, nice tone, backed by Brian Carrette (organ) and Andy Sanesi (drums). Helps here that Charrette stays clear of organ clichés, not that he's quite able to push Webb out of his comfort zone. B+(***)

Michael Wolff: Bounce (2020, Sunnyside): Pianist, close to 20 albums since 1993, this one a trio with Ben Allison (bass) and Allan Mednard (drums). Includes one vocal ("Cool Kids"). B+(*)

Glenn Zaleski: The Question (2020, Sunnyside): Pianist, from Massachusetts, studied with Dave Brubeck, several records since 2010, this mostly a quintet with trumpet (Adam O'Farrill), tenor sax (Lucas Pino), bass, and drums. B+(*)

Denny Zeitlin: Live at Mezzrow (2019 [2020], Sunnyside): Pianist, many albums since 1963, trio with Buster Williams (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums), a group he's worked with off-and-on since 2001. B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

On the Road: A Tribute to John Hartford (2020, LoHi): Various artists resurrect 15 songs by the folksinger, best known for writing "Gentle on My Mind" but he was just as likely to toss off something like "Granny Woncha Smoke Some Marijuana" or "Tear Down the Grand Ole Opry." B+(***)

Evan Parker/Agustí Fernandez: Tempranillo (1995 [2020], Fundacja Sluchaj): Sax (tenor and soprano) and piano duets, recorded in Barcelona, first meeting. B+(**) [bc]

Ebo Taylor: Palaver (1980 [2019], BBE): From Ghana, sings, plays guitar, was a minor star in the 1970s, staged something of a comeback from 2008, with Strut compiling a CD of his early work in 2011. B+(***)

TEST/Roy Campbell: TEST and Roy Campbell (1999 [2020], 577): TEST was a collective that made some noise in the late 1990s, with two saxophonists (Daniel Carter and Sabir Mateen, Carter also playing flute and trumpet, Mateen flute and clarinet), plus bass (Matthew Heyner) and drums (Tom Bruno). Campbell, a trumpet player who died in 2014, played with everyone (including with Carter in Other Dimensions in Music). One 47:08 free-for-all. B+(**) [bc]

Old music:

John Hartford: RCA Country Legends (1967-70 [2001], Buddha): Banjo-playing folksinger, I remember him on Flying Fish in the 1970s, but he started out with RCA in Nashville. This reduces seven albums to convenient form, including a song he wrote that Glen Campbell made famous: "Gentle on My Mind." B+(***)

OM [Urs Leimgruber/Christy Doran/Bobby Burri/Fredy Studer]: A Retrospective (1976-80 [2006], ECM): Group -- saxes/flute, guitar, bass, drums -- recorded four albums for Japo, Manfred Scheffner's "Jazz by Post" mail-order label, eventually picked up by ECM. First two went on to have substantial careers as leaders, and I've run across Studer numerous times, with all four reuniting recently (see above). Given the dates, it's hard not to look at how this fits into fusion, but no matter how easily it flows, it doesn't even hint at the sickly aftertaste of the era's juggernauts. A-

Toots and the Maytals: True Love (2004, V2): Greatest hits, recut with a long list of guest stars, the sort of project Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker did late in their careers. Opens with a Willie Nelson duet -- the only cut that reduces Toots to background singer. Most, like Eric Clapton on "Pressure Drop" and Jeff Beck on "54-46 Was My Number" are just happy to play along. B+(***)


Grade (or other) changes:

Dramarama: Color TV (2020, Pasadena): New wave band from New Jersey in the 1980s, recorded two good 1985-87 albums, a couple more before hanging it up in 1994. Regrouped for another in 2005, and now this one. Singer-songwriter John Easdale is constant, but happier than ever. [was: B+(*)] A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Rebecca Angel: For What It's Worth (Timeless Grooves)
  • Julian Gerstin: Littoral Zone (self-released)
  • Junk Magic: Compass Confusion (Pyroclastic) [10-30]
  • Andrew Renfroe: Dark Grey EP (self-released)
  • Scott Routenberg: Inside (Summit) [11-06]
  • Dayna Stephens: Right Now! Live at the Village Vanguard (Contagious Music, 2CD)

Monday, October 19, 2020


Weekend Roundup

Posted this on Monday. It got too late to wrap it up on Sunday, and I hadn't finished looking for links in the usual places, let alone writing any sort of introduction. Got a late start on Saturday, after spending much of last week on two book posts: More Trump Books, and Book Roundup. Also upgraded my machine to Xubuntu 20.4, which has resulted in some breakage and emergency repairs (update removed some optional packages I rely on, and installed PHP 7.4, which broke some of my web pages -- if you notice more, please let me know). Music Week will also be delayed a day.

Table of contents:

Before we get too deep in the weeds, here are a few links that are essentially endorsements. I could collect hundreds of mainstream Biden endorsements, but these are specifically addressed to the left:

Laura and I filled out our ballots and mailed them in today. We both voted for Biden and Harris, for Barbara Bollier for Senate, Laura Lombard for the House (KS-4), Mary Ware (KS Senate), John Carmichael (KS House), and James Thompson (District 18 Judge), and other Democrats (in the races any ran for).

Of course, I urge all of you to vote, for Democrats as much as possible. It has never been more obvious that the American people need to rise up and repudiate the Republican Party and all that it stands for. I won't try to sum that up succinctly here. The reasons should be obvious from the rest of this post, and from the four years of weekly posts I've compiled as Trump Days [.odt format -- see note below]. OK, I will try one sentence: Republicans are committed to maintaining and extending the power of business elites, where some people are privileged and protected while others are consigned to relative poverty and injustice, stripped of rights and subject to violence. Donald Trump is merely the most careless and shameless Republican leader, but the conceit and ethic permeates the party, driving it to snatch power and try to lock it in perpetually, which is why democracy itself -- as Lincoln put it, "government of the people, by the people, for the people" -- is at risk this election. I really hate anything that smacks of melodrama, but this time those stakes are real. If you want to preserve the option that people might someday redirect government to establish justice and serve the people, you must vote Trump and as many Republicans as possible out of office now. Whatever faults and inadequacies Democratic Party candidates may have can be dealt with later.

Let me add that I think lots of people who vote Republican are decent and respectable people, and that I have a lot of respect for people who live their lives according to the conservative virtues of hard work and responsibility for their families and communities. I do think they've been cynically manipulated by the Party's vast propaganda network, especially to think that they're fundamentally distinct from and endangered by Democrats, liberals, and/or leftists, who differ mostly in their commitment to extending equal rights and privileges to everyone.

Note: ODT is the file format used by OpenOffice Writer, which is free software you can download and run on almost any computer you might have. The file format is public, so other non-free software like Microsoft Word (since 2007) can also read, display, and edit the files.


Supreme Court Hearings and Other Injustices

The Senate Judiciary Committee held its rubber-stamp hearings on Trump's nomination of Amy Coney Barrett this week, exposing Republican Senators as the hypocrites and opportunists you surely by now recognized them to be.

Kate Aronoff: This Supreme Court was designed to kill climate policies: "Polluters helped build the court's conservative majority. Would Democratic laws stand a chance against it?"

Donald B Ayer/Alan Charles Raul: Naked Republican hypocrisy is destroying trust in Supreme Court: Reagan, Bush lawyers. Not just the Court. Pretty much every institution they touch.

Jamelle Bouie: Which Constitution is Amy Coney Barrett talking about? "Her originalism ignores the significance of the second American Revolution." I've long thought that the charm of "originalism" for judges like Scalia is that it could mean whatever you wanted it to mean.

John Cassidy: The Amy Coney Barrett Supreme Court hearings are an enlightening sham.

Fabiola Cineas: The Breonna Taylor case proves that prosecutors have too much power: "Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron didn't pursue murder charges for the cops who killed Breonna Taylor. Here's how that happened." Interview with Kami Chavis.

Ryan D Doerfler/Samuel Moyn: Making the Supreme Court safe for democracy: "Beyond packing schemes, we need to diminish the high court's power."

Jeannie Suk Gersen: How would Amy Coney Barrett rule as a Supreme Court justice?

Melissa Gira Grant: Amy Coney Barrett's gentle deceptions: "The Supreme Court nominee would have us believe she's just a vessel for the law, but her rise to conservative power tells the real story."

Rebecca Kirszner Katz: Dianne Feinstein made a mess of the Barrett hearings. There is a better way.

Simon Lazarus: The dishonesty of Amy Coney Barrett's "textualist" pose.

Christopher Leonard: Charles Koch's big bet on Barrett: "For almost 50 years, the multibillionaire has been pushing for a court unfriendly to regulation of the market. He may be on the brink of victory."

Nancy LeTourneau: Dark money interests are buying the Supreme Court. People tend to think that the political struggle over the Supreme Court is bound up with culture war, but most law suits are about money, and if you look into the dark money being pumped into promoting nominees like Barrett, you'll wind up seeing a healthy return on investment for right-wing judges.

Whitehouse ended his presentation by addressing what these dark money donors want from the court in return for their investment. While it's true that someone like Barrett was nominated to overturn the Affordable Care Act, Roe v Wade, and Obergefell v Hodges, that is hardly the only agenda. Whitehouse reviewed 80 Supreme Court cases since John Roberts became the Chief Justice that had these things in common:

  1. They were decided 5-4
  2. The 5-4 decision was partisan, with Roberts and the four justices nominated by Republicans in the majority
  3. There was an identifiable Republican donor interest in the case

In every case, the Republican donor interest prevailed. All of those cases were about power, Whitehouse explained, noting that they generally fit into four categories.

  1. Allowed unlimited and dark money in politics
  2. Knocked the civil jury system down
  3. Weakened regulatory agencies
  4. Suppressed the vote

Susannah Luthi: Not just Obamacare: How Supreme Court's conservative majority could remake American health care. Or unmake, or maybe demolish is the better word. Still, there is a reason to be doubtful (or is it hopeful?): ACA was the last-ditch conservative attempt to salvage an industry which had priced itself out of reach from the vast majority of Americans. Shrinking it, ripping off bandaids like Medicaid, hurts the industry's revenues, and further reveals the system to be horribly unfair and unjust. Republicans opposed ACA not because they had a better idea, but because they realized that its inherently flawed design could be exploited for political gain. At present, Biden and the "moderate" wing of the Democratic Party are still committed to making ACA work. If the court kills it, or wrecks it to the point of ineffectiveness, Democrats will have no choice but to adopt a more viable strategy, like Medicare-for-all. And if the Court kills that too, it'll be time to get a better Supreme Court.

Ruth Marcus: Republicans have no standing to complain about court-packing.

Josh Marshall: It's not 'court packing.' Don't be a moron and call it that.

Nick Martin: Mitch McConnell's election dreams are voters' waking nightmares.

Ian Millhiser:

Anna North: Why Republicans keep talking about Amy Coney Barrett's 7 kids. "Republicans are talking about Barrett's kids to make her sound empathetic." "They're also trying to paint liberals as anti-feminist."

Alex Pareene: Supreme Court justices are politicians, too: "And just like Republican politicians, the conservative justices are dedicated to preserving the right's minority rule."

Kate Riga: The long con that culminated with the Amy Coney Barrett nomination.

Aaron Rupar: Amy Coney Barrett refused to say if Trump can delay the election. The correct answer is he can't.

David Sirota/Andrew Perez/Walker Bragman: Amy Coney Barrett is the Supreme Court justice big oil needs. Well, certainly wants. Her father was a long-time attorney for Shell Oil, which has litigation pending before the Court.

Amy Davidson Sorkin: Amy Coney Barrett's silence is an expression of extremism.

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: pray, grin and Barrett. "What I learned watching the Amy Coney Barrett hearings: Any Supreme Court precedent ACB won't discuss is one she's willing, if not eager, to overturn." Lots more here, including an item noting that insulin costs 10 times as much in the US as the OECD average, and that almost 5,000 people have died in prisons over the last 10 years while they were still awaiting trial. Also, this item I wasn't aware of:

In 1989, Reds' great Joe Morgan, who died this week, was racially profiled and falsely arrested at LAX. Then the cops lied about him becoming "violent." Morgan sued and won a $500K judgement against LAPD and $800K from City of LA. Morgan's case, along with Rodney King's beating, which happened shortly afterwards, helped rip the veil off of what was really going on inside the LAPD.

Li Zhou:

  • 5 key moments from day 3 of Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court hearing.

    • Barrett says she hasn't spoken out in support of the Affordable Care Act, though she's criticized past decisions upholding it
    • Barrett wouldn't say whether Griswold v. Connecticut was rightly decided, which other nominees have commented on in the past
    • Barrett wouldn't take a position on climate change
    • Barrett declined to comment on whether Trump could pardon himself
    • Lindsey Graham tried to appeal to Republican women
  • Amy Coney Barrett describes climate change as a "very contentious matter of public debate". For whatever it's worth, I don't think it matters what Barrett thinks about climate change, except inasmuch as it reflects on her intelligence and public morals. What does matter is whether she would use the Court to block legal efforts to address the problem. And that is just one example of many where she seems likely to put political interests above majority opinion. Of course, as long as Congress and the President are unwilling to take action against climate change, the Court has no bearing on the matter.

Campaigns and Elections

Trump pulled out of the second presidential debate, not because he was infected with coronavirus but because he refused to participate in a virtual town hall set up to prevent further infections. In place of the debate, both candidates held separate town halls, on different channels. The effect was widely commented on below. Trump has since been sinking in the polls, while scurrying around to "superspreader" events, his pace feverish, his dementia increasingly obvious. And as Trump has struggled, more Republicans down ballot have also slipped in the polls. Some of those races are touched on below, but I'm not all that interested into turning this column into a handicapping report.

Vox [Ella Nilsen, Zack Beauchamp, Emily Stewart, German Lopez, Dylan Scott, Jane Coaston]: 5 winners and 3 losers from the dueling Trump-Biden town halls: Winners: Joe Biden; Substance; FOMO [fear of missing out]; Savannah Guthrie; QAnon. Losers: Donald Trump; The individual mandate; Trump's purported toughness. A very rare win for a moderator.

Washington Monthly: Live blog: The Biden-Trump town halls.

Jake Bittle: The media's obsession with the mythical Republican swing voter.

Aaron Blake: Democrats' stunning fundraising.

Aaron Calvin: A desperate Trump rallies in Iowa as he cancels ads, loses ground. I don't see the quote here, but remember reading somewhere that Trump said that if he lost in November, he's never coming back to Iowa. I have trouble seeing that threat as reason to vote for him.

If he loses Iowa, it will be seen as a referendum on his national response to the coronavirus. Few states have embodied Trump's mandate to "not be afraid" of Covid-19 like Iowa has. Since the early days of the pandemic's spread through the United States, Iowa's unified Republican state government and particularly its governor have been lockstep with Trump, refusing to institute a statewide mask mandate and keeping masks optional for in-person learning. Iowa surpassed California in cases-per-million in early September and hasn't looked back.

Chas Danner: Trump is still targeting Governor Gretchen Whitmer after foiled kidnapping plot. Also:

David Edwards: Trump Jr says dad's 'next move' is to 'break up' the FBI: 'He has to get rid of these things'. Promises, promises.

Dan Froomkin: A dueling town halls upside: Media finally focuses on the wide gulf between Biden and Trump.

Amy Gardner: 'My people fought for the right to vote': With a surge of emotion, Black Americans rush to the polls.

Stanley B Greenberg: How Trump is losing his base: "Focus groups with working-class and rural voters show the deep health care crisis in America, and trouble for Trump's re-election." In general, Trump has been really awful for those parts of his base, but it's pretty arbitrary how that damage has hit individuals, and even those who have suffered have to be able to imagine an alternative, amid all the Trump lies and scapegoating. Another piece:

Jeff Greenfield: Dueling town halls revealed there's no substitute for tough questions.

Makena Kelly: Oracle founder donated $250,000 to Graham PAC in final days of TikTok deal.

Ezra Klein: Biden always understood what this election is about.

Biden was right about the level of our politics right now. He was right about what Americans were looking to hear. The message of Biden's town hall was simple: Politics can feel like this -- gentle, decent, concerned, I hope I've answered your question -- or it could continue to feel like the circus you found if you flipped over to Trump's town hall on NBC.

Natasha Korecki/Anita Kumar: 'He's getting a bit desperate': Trump tramples government boundaries as election nears.

Andy Kroll: NBC's Trump town hall was pointless and shameful.

Paul Krugman:

  • Mitch McConnell's mission of misery: "Why Senate Republicans won't help Americans in need."

    But even if Trump had any idea what he was doing, he would be paralyzed by the opposition of many, probably most Senate Republicans to any serious deal. They're willing to cover for Trump's unprecedented corruption; they're apparently unbothered by his fondness for foreign dictators. But spending money to help Americans in distress? That's where they draw the line.

  • How the GOP can still wreck America: "Even if Trump loses, his party can do immense damage." Gives several examples, but the most obvious and pressing way Republicans can extend their minority power beyond Trump's term is by packing the Supreme Court.

    In the hearings for Amy Coney Barrett, Democrats have, rightly and understandably, hammered on the possibility that such a court would use transparently spurious arguments to overturn the Affordable Care Act, causing tens of millions of Americans to lose health insurance coverage. Roe v. Wade is also in obvious danger.

    But I'd argue that the biggest threat this court will pose is to environmental policy.

    Put it this way: Charles Koch is reportedly investing millions trying to get Barrett confirmed. That's not because he's passionately opposed to abortion rights, or, probably, even because he wants the A.C.A. overturned. What he's looking for, surely, is a court that will block government regulation of business -- and above all a court that will hamstring a Biden administration's efforts to take action against climate change.

Lisa Lerer: 'Please like me,' Trump begged. For many women, it's way too late. And no, none of them said they wouldn't vote for a woman. More like:

Samantha Kacmarik, a Latina college student in Las Vegas, said that four years ago, she had viewed Hillary Clinton as part of a corrupt political establishment.

Flowers Forever, a Black transgender music producer in Milwaukee, said she had thought Mrs. Clinton wouldn't change anything for the better.

And Thomas Moline, a white retired garbageman in Minneapolis, said he simply hadn't trusted her.

Not clear to me that those are reasons for voting for Biden either, but they are reasons for not voting for Trump ever again.

Lisa Lerer/Reid J Epstein: Why these voters rejected Hillary Clinton but are backing Joe Biden.

Martin Longman: That Ukraine, New York Post story? It's a big nothingburger. More:

Dylan Matthews: Why the Trump campaign is complaining so much about NBC's Savannah Guthrie: "The Trump campaign and allies are now 'working the refs' after the president's brutal town hall."

Rani Molla: The many ways we know 2020 will be a banner year for voting.

Anna North: In 2017, women marched against Trump. Now they're marching to get rid of him. "This time the Women's March is about voting Trump out."

Andrew Prokop: Trump team makes a suspicious effort to swing the election with purported Hunter Biden emails.

Frank Rich: America is tired of the Trump show. I think that will prove to be the bottom line for a critical segment of the electorate, some of whom sat out 2016 and others who figured they had nothing to lose in taking a chance on Trump. EJ Dionne once wrote a book called Why Americans Hate Politics. It wasn't as enlightening as I had hoped, but does clearly describe an impulse that many people feel -- one, quite frankly, I wish I could share. Getting rid of Trump won't make politics boring again, but it will significantly reduce the agita.

Aaron Rupar:

Greg Sargent: How Republicans will try to destroy a Biden presidency. This really just comes down to extortion: elect us or face the consequences, as we'd rather cripple America than let a Democrat succeed.

Dylan Scott:

  • The next presidential debate is the last one. Trump needs to make up a lot of ground.

  • Trump refuses to say the QAnon conspiracy theory is false. I admit to a bit of sympathy with Trump on this question. He starts out saying, "I don't know anything about QAnon." I could have said that. Sure, I've read a bit about it, but nothing sticks because nothing much makes sense. On the other hand, for many people left-of-center, condemning QAnon is a bit of virtue signaling. Granted, it seems like everyone who's into QAnon is also supporting Trump, but isn't the more tangible problem there supporting Trump? In recent venues, Trump has been repeated taunted with invitations to condemn white supremacists. I'd answer that, "Look, I don't want to condemn anyone." Then I'd go on to explain that white supremacy is bad and hurtful, and should be opposed anywhere and everywhere it pops up. But condemning people? No, I'd rather not. Unless you're talking about individuals who not only spout bad and hurtful ideas but have the power to act on them. For such individuals, like, you know, Donald Trump, sure, condemn away. Moreover, it's not like Trump refuses to condemn people on principle. He condemns people all the time, both individually and in sweeping groups.

  • How Joni Ernst went from future Republian star to an incumbent on the ropes in 2020. Not sure what's so surprising here. She played on experience castrating pigs for a genius campaign slogan in 2014: "Make 'em squeal!" On the other hand, do we really want "Keep 'em squealing"? Republicans have often sold their campaigns as some kind of revenge fantasy, but it rarely turns out that the people who get hurt are the ones you were hoping for. Ernst, like Trump, has built up a huge chasm between hopes and returns.

Walter Shapiro: The whiplash of watching two town halls from different planets: "I watched both Joe Biden and Donald Trump on Thursday night. It was like channel surfing between sanity and chaos."

Alex Shephard: NBC did Joe Biden a big favor: "By scheduling a dueling town hall, the former vice president got the perfect contrast with a raving Donald Trump."

Emily Stewart: Savannah Guthrie delivered the Trump interview we've been wanting for years.

Matt Stieb: Trump's latest Biden insult: 'He'll listen to the scientists'.

Matthew Yglesias: The delightful boringness of Joe Biden.

The dirty secret of Donald Trump's often contentious relationship with the American press is that he's been great for business.

Any time you point a camera at Trump, something crazy might happen. He goes on television and insists that his attorney general prosecute his political opponents. Biden, asked about legal accountability for Trump-era misdeeds, said it would be inappropriate for the president to be making that kind of decision. He tries to take contentious flashpoint issues and smother them in reasonableness and a broad sense of public decency. As a journalist whose job involves trying to write articles people want to read, I was, frankly, sad to have been assigned to watch the Biden town hall, which was just not that interesting.

This section picks up stories that don't exactly dovetail into the campaign, but deal with Trump and/or his administration over time.

Jonathan Chait:

Michelle Cottle: The self-dealing administration. Probably the most corrupt administration in American history. Certainly the most shameless about it.

With so much grift and graft and self-enrichment swirling about, it's amusing -- and yet horrifying -- to recall that Mr. Trump ran in 2016 as a tough, independent outsider who would bring in the "best people" to help him clean up political corruption. Today, as election night looms, the president's campaign has reportedly booked the Trump International Hotel in D.C. for a victory party. Rooms sold out months ago.

Forget draining the swamp; the president slapped his name on it and began charging admission.

Igor Derysh:

Spencer S Hsu: Federal judge strikes down Trump plan to slash food stamps for 700,000 unemployed Americans. For background, see:

Mara Hvistendahl/Lee Fang: China's man in Washington: "Move over, Hunter Biden. Meet Eric Branstad, the China Ambassador's son who got rich in Trump's swamp."

Sonali Kolhatkar: In Trump's America, there is death before due process.

Robert Mackey: Trump boasts about federal task force killing anti-fascist wanted for murder in Portland.

Nicole Narea: Trump's obstruction of the 2020 census, explained.

Cameron Peters: Why Trump flip-flopped on California disaster relief.

Robert J Shapiro: Trump's tax wizardry is even more sophisticated than you thought. This is a fascinating explanation of how Trump does business.

Millions of Americans believe that Donald Trump is a business failure who cheats on his taxes. But to borrow one of his favorite insults, the president may not be "the stone-cold loser," many imagine. In some ways, he's a success even considering his businesses generate vast losses, and he personally liable for the hundreds of millions of dollars in bank loans and junk bonds borrowed by those businesses. Instead, think of Trump as practicing an extreme alchemy of the shameless rich: He uses loans from other people to generate millions in annual tax losses as a tax shelter from millions in annual income.

How he does it is the fascinating and, perhaps, illegal part.

Alex Shephard: What did Carlos Lozada learn from reading 150 Trump books? "Not much!" Review of Lozada's book, What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era. I've been looking for, but haven't found, a list of those 150 books. I'm curious how they stack up against my Trump Books and More Trump Books surveys. More on Lozada:

Sheryl Gay Stolberg: White House embraces a declaration from scientists that opposes lockdowns and relies on 'herd immunity.' Document came from a libertarian think tank (American Institute for Economic Research). Article doesn't mention Sweden, where something like this was tried, and failed badly.

Philip Weiss: Trump stumps for Nobel Prize, saying US troops can come home if Israel has peace.

Philip Weiss/James North: Adelsons got a lot from Trump for $75 million -- but media won't tell you what.

The news late yesterday was that Sheldon and Miriam Adelson poured $75 million in September into a new super PAC that supports Donald Trump. Way more money than other donors, on either side.

Around the World

Enough world news pieces this week to merit their own section.

Julia Belluz: The 4 simple reasons Germany is managing Covid-19 better than its neighbors.

Glenn Greenwald: Bolivians return Evo Morales's party to power one year after a US-applauded coup. Election was held on Sunday. Some other links from earlier in the week:

William Hartung: How to stuff the Middle East with weaponry.

Steve Hendrix/Ruth Eglash: Israel ordered a second lockdown in response to coronavirus resurgence. It is not going so well.

Jen Kirby: The EU and the UK still haven't reached a post-Brexit agreement. What's next?

Michael Klare: A game of nuclear chicken with Russia and China.

Anna North: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wins historic reelection.

Cameron Peters: Thailand's protest movement gains momentum amid a government crackdown.

Lili Pike: How the world's biggest emitter could be carbon neutral by 2050: "Xi Jinping wants China to get to net-zero emissions. These researchers have a plan for that."

Alex Ward:

  • North Korea has unveiled new weapons, showing Trump failed to tame its nuclear program.

  • What Trump got right -- and wrong -- with North Korea, explained by a former intel official: Interview with Markus Garlauskas, who comes off as very dumb, especially in his conclusion: "We have to be willing to go back to a 2017 level of confrontation. If Kim senses that the US is more afraid of war than he is, he has the advantage." What difference does "advantage" mean in a nuclear confrontation? Where both sides have the ability to inflict grievous damage upon the other, there can be no such thing as winning. The failure to negotiate an end to the 1950-53 War is the result of several asymmetries. The balance of terror favors the US, but even when it was much greater than it is now, it was never enough to force North Korea into capitulation. Indeed, it's only with the leveling of the balance of vulnerability that the US has shown any interest in any sort of agreement. (Granted, the destruction of North Korea would be more complete, but the US has much more to lose than does one of the poorest and most isolated countries in the world.) But the really dangerous asymmetry is of stakes. Normalizing relations would make all the difference in the world to North Korea, yet until North Korea developed a credible nuclear threat, the Americans were happy to bottle up and ignore North Korea. Trump failed to negotiate a deal because he was unwilling to compromise on sanctions, even after North Korea had backed down from the threats implied by its nuclear and missile testing programs. The net result was that North Korea got nothing tangible for its concessions, so has no reason to continue with them.

  • Russia and China will join the UN Human Rights Council. The US should too. Seems to me like it's a rather moot point until such time as the US actually develops an even-handed concern for human rights, as opposed to the current practice of charging countries it doesn't like while excusing those it considers allies. Should that happen -- at the least it involves defeating Trump, but electing Biden is no guarantee, especially viz Israel -- then I can see plusses trying to work with Russia and China within UNHCR, even though neither has close to a sterling record. The US record leaves much to be desired, too.

And then there's everything else.

Patrick Blanchfield: The town that went feral: "When a group of libertarians set about scrapping their local government, chaos descended. And then the bears moved in." Town and bears are in New Hampshire. Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling wrote a book about it: A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (and Some Bears).

John Cassidy: The great coronavirus divide: Wall Street profits surge as poverty rises.

David Daley: Inside the Republican plot for permanent minority rule: "How the GOP keeps cheating its way into power -- and may get away with it again in 2020." Daley is the author of the book on GOP gerrymandering: Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy, and more recently, Unrigged: How Americans Are Battling Back to Save Democracy.

Steve Fraser: Was American history a conspiracy? Somehow I missed Fraser's book, Mongrel Firebugs and Men of Property: Capitalism and Class Conflict in American History (paperback, 2019, Verso), although I did read Every Man a Speculator: A History of Wall Street in American Life (2006), The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power (2015), and Class Matters: The Strange Career of an American Delusion (2018).

We live in conspiratorial times. The decline of the United States as an uncontestable super-power and its descent into plutocratic indifference to the wellbeing of the commonwealth is the seedbed of such conspiracy-mindedness. Soldiers are sent off to fight interminable wars of vague purpose against elusive "enemies" with no realistic prospect of resolution, much less American-style "victory" whatever that might mean these days. "Dark money" undermines what's left of democratic protocols and ideals. Gross and still growing inequalities in the distribution of wealth and income are accepted year after year as business as usual.

All of this breeds entirely justified resentment and suspicion.

Gabrielle Gurley: Like Southwest Louisiana, FEMA is worn down.

Bob Henson: Iowa derecho in August was ost costly thunderstorm disaster in US history.

Zolan Kanno-Youngs: Refugees who assisted the US military find the door to America slammed shut: "President Trump has reduced the flow of refugees into the country to a trickle, and even Iraqis and Afghans who risked their lives for American service members have been cut off." As someone who opposed those wars from the git-go, this doesn't bother me much, nor am I surprised: I never thought America's commitment to liberating people abroad was sincere or even serious. On the other hand, the historical rule of thumb was that colonizers and imperialists would honor commitments made to people who helped them despite widespread resistance. That is, after all, why the UK and France have substantial minorities who emigrated from their former colonies. Even the US has substantial minorities of Cubans and Vietnamese. (Anti-communist refugees proved to be an advantage for the far right. Even now, see: Will flag-waving Latinos win Florida for Trump?) But the War on Terror was never anything more than a cynical effort to demonstrate America's supposedly awesome power and use it to cower the Muslim World.

German Lopez: 2020's marijuana legalization ballot measures, explained. Full legalization is on ballots in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota. South Dakota also has a medical marijuana referendum, as does Mississippi.

Timothy Noah: The media's both-sides brigade is wrong about a Covid-19 stimulus deal.

Zoë Richards: Man arrested in threat to kidnap and kill Wichita Mayor over mask mandate. Mayor Whipple has done a good job of listening to folks bitch about masks while guiding a series of mask mandates through the City Council (always in conflict with the Sedgwick County Commission, which has a 4-1 asshole majority). Evidently Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) has also received threats. Richards also wrote: Northam says white supremacists are taking 'marching orders' from Trump.

Nathan J Robinson/Rob Larson: Big business and its bottomless bootlickers: Review of Tyler Cowen's new book, Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero.

Dylan Scott: America's newest wave of Covid-19 cases, explained. "Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations are up across the country." Trend line is up since mid-September. Kansas as set records 3-4 weeks in a row. We have friends in Massachusetts who just tested positive. There are more famous names in the news.

Brittany Shammas/Lena H Sun: How the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally may have spread coronavirus across the Upper Midwest.

Jennifer Szalai: A undercover trip into the rageful worlds of incels and white supremacists: Review of Talia Lavin: Culture Warlords: My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy.

But she doesn't leave it at that, and one of the marvels of this furious book is how insolent and funny Lavin is; she refuses to soft-pedal the monstrous views she encounters, and she clearly takes pleasure in cutting them down to size. She is aided in her mission by the fact that the language of extremists tends to occupy the space between risible and profoundly dumb. Contemporary white supremacy is a mishmash of old anti-Semitic tropes, racist pseudoscience and bizarre fantasia -- what Lavin calls a "bigot's pastiche." The people who promulgate it often toggle between cruel, inane jokes and a fastidious humorlessness. "Anything," Lavin writes, "an errant wind, a dumb tweet, a conspiracy theory invented from whole cloth -- can drum up the forces of white grievance."

Libby Watson:

  • The Democrats aren't serious about campaign finance reform: They obviously weren't serious after the 2008 elections, which gave them the Presidency and huge majorities in Congress, probably because the one thing most of those winners had in common was a knack for raising money. This year Democrats are doing even better at fundraising (see Aaron Blake above). On the other hand, aren't you really sick and tired of this system?

  • Ben Sasse is a fraud: "The hard-line Republican senator wants us to believe he's a Never Trumper again, after making peace with the president last year." Nevertheless, he hit a nerve: see Trump fires back as Sasse after town hall criticism.

Matthew Yglesias: The quest to build the most diverse Cabinet in US history, explained. This is all very depressing to think about now, not least because making bad picks -- and let's face it, most of the touted candidates are pretty deeply wedged into the old status quo -- diminishes the idea of an open future. But also because Clinton tried the whole "Cabinet that looks like America" shtick, and while he met his quotas on race and sex (and whatever), he wound up with a lot of rich folk working to make the rich richer, with the "trickle down" mostly shunted off to his foundation and political machine. But even with all due skepticism, one shouldn't get too bent out of shape by these prospects. Even his most compromised picks are as much better than Trump's picks as Biden himself is better than Trump.

Friday, October 16, 2020


Book Roundup

Having pushed all the Trump books out earlier this week, here's a batch of 40 more book blurbs, plus another 110 books briefly noted -- 48 in the following section, plus 62 tacked onto main section notes. [PS: Added some books after this count. Also note that I added more Trump-related books to the previous post.]

I find this exercise useful to keep track of what the world knows -- at least, what knowledgeable people in America are saying about what concerns them. But there's also an element of nostalgia at work here. For most of my life, I visited book stores two or more times a week, spending innumerable hours poking through the shelves. I slacked off when Borders was driven out of business. Hasn't helped that Barnes & Noble has mostly turned into a toy store. Blame it on Amazon if you want, but they're my main source for these notes.

Still, I keep feeling that I'm not getting as systematic a survey as I'd like. Amazon has replaced their related suggestions with "books you may like," which are so redundant from page to page that they smell like ads. Their browsing system is even lamer, leading me at times to search for other sources -- to little avail. I keep thinking this list is rather arbitrary. In fact, I have as many book titles jotted down in my draft file, but didn't feel like writing up at the moment of discovery, and haven't taken the time to backtrack. Meanwhile, I'm including Ted Cruz, because the moment I saw the book I knew what to say.

I was figuring four times a year would be a reasonable pace, but then came up with the idea of briefly noting titles I didn't feel like writing about. That probably reduces the need to 2-3 times per year. This is the second this year (not counting the two Trump sets). Could do a third, but may not get to it.

Books from the main section I've read so far: Danielle S Allen: Our Declaration; Thomas Frank: The People, No; Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: Let Them Eat Tweets. Just started Sheri Berman: Democracy and Dicatorship in Europe, and have Kurt Andersen: Evil Geniuses on deck. I haven't updated the archive yet. It's too big to be useful for readers, but I use it to check whether I've written on a book before. As such, I need to get it updated before working on a new installment. I've jotted down enough book titles for another post, but don't plan on writing them up until after the election.


Danielle S Allen: Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality (2014; paperback, 2015, Liveright): A deep reading of all 1,337 words, often taking several chapters to work through a single sentence, disentangling multiple authors and printers who added their own distinct touches, the historical context, and the debates that were ultimately obscured in compromise. I've long been convinced that the only way to gain agreement is through equality, and Allen shows how this works in very specific ways.

Kurt Andersen: Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America (2020, Random House): More of a novelist and humor writer (3 and 5 books respectively -- a 1980 humor title is Tools of Power: The Elitist's Guide to the Ruthless Exploitation of Everybody and Everything) until recently, when he tried to sum up the whole of American history as Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire (2017), offers a brief recap of the 1970s and before, then surveys the many things that have gone wrong since -- I assume properly assigning blame to right-wingers who fit the title, not that there haven't been plenty more who came up a bit short in the "genius" department.

Anne Applebaum: Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism (2020, Doubleday): Like Timothy Snyder, an historian who thinks her research on Eastern Europe -- e.g., Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine (2018) -- gives her the authority to comment on the rise of illiberalism and the eclipse of democracy under Republicans in America. While it can be occasionally amusing to compare Republican Party discipline to Soviet apparatchiki, it misses much, like the fundamental Communist commitment to serve the working class -- nothing like that among America's anti-democrats. Isn't it much more likely to find anti-democratic roots in American history, with its legacy of colonial rule, slavery, capitalism, and empire?

Sheri Berman: Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe: From the Ancien Régime to the Present Day (2019, Oxford University Press): A broad comparative history of political systems in Western Europe -- the table of contents doesn't offer anything east of Germany and Italy, or earlier than the late 18th century, but the introduction starts earlier and looks further. Lots of recent books on current threats to democracy from would-be dictators, but few go back further than the 1930s, obscuring two essential points: the promise of democracy was to expand and equalize power, in most cases achieved only through revolution against autocracy; would-be dictators almost always sought to defend or restore autocratic power. Of course, the earlier term was aristocracy, but conservatives have proven flexible enough to stand up for any class that enjoys the privileges of wealth.

David Brooks: The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life (2019, Random House): Right-wing pundit/hack, likes to exult the moral superiority of conservatives, a profession of whitewashing that's been hard to sustain since Trump became his followers' leader. This seems to have nudged him into resistance, but here he mainly tunnels into his own personal conviction of moral superiority, thinking that will protect him from the evils of his former comrades, as well as from the masses he's always dedicated himself to keeping in their place.

Lee Camp: Bullet Points and Punch Lines: The Most Important Commentary Ever Written on the Epic American Tragicomedy (paperback, 2020, PM Press). Left political commentator, has a rep as a comedian, but his chapter titles aren't very funny -- "The Pentagon Can't Account for 21 Trillion Dollars (That's Not a Typo)," "Nearly 100 Thousand Pentagon Whistleblower Complaints Have Been Silenced," "Everyone Has Fallen for Lies about Venezuela," "Trump's Miliary Drops a Bomb Every 12 Minutes, and No One Is Talking about It," etc.), and each piece comes with footnotes. Jimmy Dore (another "comedian") wrote the introduction, and Chris Hedges (a moralist with no discernible sense of humor) the foreword. They, too, have books:

  • Jimmy Dore: Your Country Is Just Not That Into You: How the Media, Wall Street, and Both Political Parties Keep on Screwing You -- Even After You've Moved On (paperback, 2014, Running Press).
  • Chris Hedges: America: The Farewell Tour (2018; paperback, 2019, Simon & Schuster).

Sarah Chayes: On Corruption in America: And What Is at Stake (2020, Knopf): Journalist, covered the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, made herself at home there, wrote a book about how corruption undermined whatever best intentions some of the American occupiers might have had -- The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban (2006) -- winding up on the US payroll as "special advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff" on corruption. She moved on to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and wrote another big book on corruption: Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security. Here she finally reaches the major leagues, looking at corruption in America. Table of contents suggests her interests fade out past the 1990s, which is a shame considering that Trump's worth a long book all by himself. I guess it's hard to write history while it's still happening. Much as it's hard to rebuild a country while you're still blowing it to shit.

Ellis Cose: The Short Life & Curious Death of Free Speech in America (2020, Amistad). Journalist, twelfth book though I hadn't noticed any of the earlier ones, many dealing with racism. Blurb here describes this as "about the stranglehold the rich and powerful have on free speech." This fits in with my definition of advertising as not free but very expensive speech, priced to form a barrier to entry against those who cannot afford it. I'm not sure this even gets around to advertising, as he starts with hate speech and incitement to violence, and moves on to consider how the right's "defense" of "free speech" on campus attempts to stifle it. Some other books by Cose:

  • Ellis Cose: A Nation of Strangers: Prejudice, Politics, and the Populating of America (1992, William Morrow).
  • Ellis Cose: The Rage of a Privileged Class: Why Are Middle-Class Blacks Angry? Why Should America Care? (paperback, 1994, Harper Perennial).
  • Ellis Cose: Man's World: How Real Is Male Privilege -- and How High Is Its Price? (paperback, 1995, Harper Collins).
  • Ellis Cose: Color-Blind: Seeing Beyond Race in a Race-Obsessed World (1996; paperback, 1998, Harper Perennial).
  • Ellis Cose: The Envy of the World: On Being a Black Man in America (2002, Atria; paperback, 2003, Washington Square Press).
  • Ellis Cose: Bone to Pick: Of Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Repearation, and Revenge (2004, Atria; paperback, 2005, Washington Square Press).
  • Ellis Cose: The End of Anger: A New Generation's Take on Race and Rage (2011; paperback, 2012, Ecco).
  • Ellis Cose: Democracy, if We Can Keep It: The ACLU's 100-Year Fight for Rights in America (2020, New Press).

Ted Cruz: One Vote Away: How a Single Supreme Court Seat Can Change History (2020, Regnery): Seems like uncanny timing, but what he's really arguing is that losing a seat from the 5-4 right-wing majority would give "the left the power to curtail or even abolish the freedoms that have made our country a beacon to the world." I'd ask "what the fuck?" but he kindly enumerates the threat: "One vote preserves your right to speak freely, to bear arms, and to exercise your faith." Given that two of those are much more carefully protected by liberals, it really just comes down to the guns, doesn't it? Well, and things Cruz doesn't publicize, because they protect and further empower privileged elites, like Cruz.

David Dayen: Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power (2020, New Press): "Today, practically everything we buy, everywhere we shop, and every service we secure comes from a heavily concentrated market." This concentration generates most of the profits businesses enjoy, sucking money up to feed the ever-growing wealth of the very richest people on the planet. Focuses more on case studies than on statistical scale, but works even more inexorably there. Along with money, monopoly sucks up power, giving corporations and their masters ever more control over our lives. Dayen previously wrote Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street's Great Foreclosure Fraud (paperback, 2017, New Press). Other recent books on monopoly:

  • Samir Amin: Modern Imperialism, Monopoly Finance Capital, and Marx's Law of Value (paperback, 2018, Monthly Review Press). Amin was born in Egypt with a French mother, lived most of his life (1932-2018) in France, wrote many books on colonialism, imperialism, globalization, and capitalism's effect around the world.
  • Michele Boldrin/David K Levine: Against Intellectual Monopoly (paperback, 2010, Cambridge University Press).
  • Michael Mark Cohen: The Conspiracy of Capital: Law, Violence, and American Popular Radicalism in the Age of Monopoly (paperback, 2019, University of Massachusetts Press).
  • Thom Hartmann: The Hiden History of Monopolies: How Big Business Destroyed the American Dream (paperback, 2020, Berrett-Koehler).
  • Sally Hubbard: Monopolies Suck: 7 Ways Big Corporations Rule Your Life and How to Take Back Control (2020, Simon & Schuster). [October 27]
  • N Stephen Kinsella: Against Intellectual Proprty (paperback, 2015, Ludwig von Mises Institute): 72 pp.
  • Jack Lawrence Luzkow: Monopoly Restored: How the Super-Rich Robbed Main Street (2018, Palgrave Macmillan).
  • Barry C Lynn: Liberty From All Masters: The New American Autocracy vs the Will of the People (St Martin's Press).
  • Jonathan Tepper/Denise Hearn: The Myth of Capitalism: Monopolies and the Death of Competition (2018, Wiley).
  • Zephyr Teachout: Break 'Em Up: Recovering Our Freedom From Big Ag, Big Tech, and Big Money (2020, All Points Books). Introduction by Bernie Sanders.

By the way, searching for "monopoly" also brought up some older books (one might even say classics):

  • Paul A Baran/Paul M Sweezy: Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order (1966, Monthly Review Press). Baran also wrote The Political Economy of Growth (1957), and The Longer View: Essays Toward a Critique of Political Economy (1970). Sweezy's first book was Monopoly and Competition in the English Coal Trade, 1550-1850 (1938), but he is better known for The Theory of Capitalist Development (1946) and this book. He also co-authored, with Harry Magdoff, The End of Prosperity (1977), which shows uncanny timing.
  • Harry Braverman: Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century (paperback, 1974, Monthly Review Press). A "25th Anniversary" edition was published in 1999.
  • Michael Burawoy: Manufacturing Consent: Changes in the Labor Process Under Monopoly Capitalism (paperback, 1982, University of Chicago Press).
  • John Bellamy Foster, ed: The Age of Monopoly Capital: Selected Correspondence of Paul M Sweezy and Paul A Baran, 1949-1964 (paperback, 2018, Aakar Books).

Robert Draper: To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq (2020, Penguin Press): Seems like this whole saga has been recounted many times before, but I doubt it hurts to be reminded of how arrogant and mendacious the Bush administration was to sell their plot to invade and occupy Iraq. It's all but universally agreed now that doing so was a very foolish thing -- many of us could have told you so at the time, yet the self-conception of the neocons demanded that the war be pursued and insisted that its success was inevitable (their only debates were if, or more likely when, they'd push on through Syria and Iran). Draper's previous books include Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W Bush (2007).

Thomas Frank: The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism (2020, Metropolitan Books): Like myself, a Kansas-bred author with a long interest in and sympathy for the Peoples Party, which swept into power in Kansas around 1890, and fizzled as a political party after aligning with William Jennings Bryan's Democrats in 1896. Frank covers the opposition to Bryan in 1896, and the less successful opposition to Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, in some detail, finding common threads of "anti-populism." He then jumps to the present day, finding anti-populism once more on the rise, but anomalously among the coastal liberal elites who have taken over the Democratic Party -- a group he skewered in his 2016 book Listen, Liberal: Or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?. I'm less impressed by that part of the book. I don't doubt that liberal elites have their blind spots, but the right still embodies the anti-populism of 1896 and 1936 in near pristine form, and they're still the biggest problem.

Beth Gardiner: Choked: Life and Breath in the Age of Air Pollution (2019, University of Chicago Press): Air quality decreased steadily in the US until laws were passed to regulate it in the 1970s -- laws which worked, although it's hard to say for how long given the Trump administration's resolve to limit enforcement of the regulations it isn't able to overturn directly. Elsewhere the situation is often worse -- in London, where the author lives, and even worse in places she visits like Poland and India. All told, "air pollution prematurely kills seven million people every year." Related:

  • Gary Fuller: The Invisible Killer: The Rising Global Threat of Air Pollution -- and How We Can Fight Back (2019, Melville House).
  • Tim Smedley: Clearing the Air: The Beginning and the End of Air Pollution (2019, Bloomsbury Sigma).
  • Dean Spence: Air: Pollution, Climate Change and India's Choice Between Policy and Pretence (paperback, 2019, Harper Collins India).

Mary Grabar: Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation Against America (2019, Regnery). The book Grabar attacks is Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, which revisits American history with eyes open to the experiences and views of those people treated most harshly by American power -- people who have often been forgotten when respectable histories were written. Whether Zinn actually "turned a generation against America" is questionable. He certainly opened some eyes to past (and present) injustices, giving us a clearer idea of what needs to be changed in moving forward. He's also upset a lot of conservatives, who are happy with their myths.

Steven Greenhouse: Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor (2019, Knopf): Journalist, covered labor for New York Times 1983-2014, previously writing The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker (2008, Knopf), so he has a long, detailed view of the dismantling of labor power in America, but he should also be able to point out cases of increased worker militancy over the last few years, as well as the revived interest of left Democrats in unions. I'd expect there to be more books on this, but I'm having trouble finding them.

  • Mark A Bradley: Blood Runs Coal: The Yablonski Murders and the Battle for the United Mine Workers of America (2020, WW Norton).
  • Phil Cohen: Fighting Union Busters in a Carolina Carpet Mill: An Organizer's Memoir (paperback, 2020, McFarland).
  • Erik Loomis: A History of America in Ten Strikes (2018, New Press).
  • Jane McAlevey: A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy (2020, Ecco).
  • Lane Windham: Knocking on Labor's Door: Union Organizing in the 1970s and the Roots of a New Economic Divide (paperback, 2019, University of North Carolina Press).

Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality (2020, Liveright): Authors have a long line of important books on the rise of the right since 2000 -- their The Great Risk Shift: The Assault on American Jobs, Families, Health Care, and Retirement and How You Can Fight Back (2007) -- is one of the most insightful. This adds a few Trump ruffles, but is most important for reminding us that Trump's worst policies are long-term Republican projects, the purpose of which is to make the rich not just richer but more powerful, aiming to lock their advantages in well into the future.

Yuval Noah Harari: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2018, Spiegel & Grau): Israeli historian, wrote big picture books like Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2014) and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2017), takes a swing at a scattering of topics, like "Civilization" ("there is just one civilization in the world"), "Nationalism" ("global problems need global answers"), "War" ("never underestimate human stupidity"), "Ignorance" ("you know less than you think"), "Meaning" ("life is not a story").

Sarah Stewart Holland/Beth A Silvers: I Think You're Wrong (but I'm Listening): A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations 2019, Thomas Nelson): "Sarah from the left and Beth from the right," share a podcast called Pantsuit Politics, fill a small niche for folks who don't live in any of our self-defined, self-affirmed ideological ghettoes, who run into people from warring political camps and don't want to shy away from the subject. I think that's a different concern from the so-called centrists, who are often as narrow-minded as the extremists but are sneakier, pretending to be reasonable while trying to covertly push self-serving agendas. Related:

  • Justin Lee: Talking Across the Divide: How to Communicate With People You Disagree With and Maybe Even Change the World (paperback, 2018, Tarcher Perigee).

Seth Masket: Learning From Loss: The Democrats 2016-2020 (2020, Cambridge University Press): Democratic Party strategist, sees Joe Biden's nomination as "a strategic choice by a party that had elevated electability above all other concerns." That's far from the only possible lesson that could be discerned from Hillary Clinton's loss in 2016, but it's certainly true that the Democratic left is much more united behind Biden than the right/center would have been behind Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. Whether Democrats can sell Biden to marginal voters (both ones tempted to vote for Trump or some other candidate and ones who prone to skipping the vote) remains to be seen. I'm no Biden fan, but I'm not unhappy with this resolution. But it's clear to me that another lesson from 2016 is that the Democrats have to learn to deliver results, and have to make a case and a stink when Republicans block them -- the sudden backtracking of Clinton in 1993 and Obama in 2009 led to catastrophic losses in Congress, and while both remained personally popular enough to win second terms, neither delivered on more than a tiny fraction of their campaign promises. Their loss of faith was a major factor in Hillary Clinton's loss in 2016.

Stephanie Kelton: The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People's Economy (2020, Public Affairs): All about MMT, which would seem to rationalize much more extensive government deficit spending than is commonly regarded as prudent. If valid, it would provide an answer to the naysayers who always reject left proposals by declaring them too expensive. I can't say as I understand it, and will note that many Keynesian economists remain skeptical or worse (and these are people who generally believe that more deficit spending is a good thing). Related:

  • Jacob Goldstein: Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing (2020, Hachette Books).
  • Edward Fullbrook/Jamie Morgan, eds: Modern Monetary Theory and Its Critics (paperback, 2020, WEA).
  • Robert Hockett/Aaron James: Money From Nothing: Or, Why We Should Stop Worrying About Debt and Learn to Love the Federal Reserve (2020, Melville House). This book may deserve its own review: Hockett is a Green New Deal adviser to Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez; James is the philosopher who wrote: Assholes: A Theory of Donald Trump.
  • WF Mitchell/LR Wray/MJ Watts: Modern Monetary Theory and Practice: An Introductory Text (paperback, 2016, CreateSpace).
  • Warren Mosler: Soft Currency Economics II: What Everyone Thinks That They Know About Monetary Policy Is Wrong (paperback, 2013, CreateSpace).
  • L Randall Wray: Modern Money Theory: A Primer on Macroeconomics for Sovereign Monetary Systems (2012; 2nd edition, paperback, 2015, Palgrave Macmillan).
  • Randall Wray: A Great Leap Forward: Heterodox Economic Policy for the 21st Century (paperback, 2020, Academic Press).

Ibram X Kendi: How to Be an Antiracist (2019, One World): Historian, wrote a major book Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (2016), which explored five Amerian figures in depth: Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, WEB DuBois, and Angela Davis. This book recounts his family life, events which revealed racism in various guises, leading to a taxonomy he contrasts with "antiracism"; some examples: "assimilationist"/"segregationist," "biological," "ethnic"; also "internalized racism." This book became a belated bestseller after the George Floyd killing.

Matthew C Klein/Michael Pettis: Trade Wars Are Class Wars: How Rising Inequality Distorts the Global Economy and Threatens International Peace (2020, Yale University Press): "A provocative look at how today's trade conflicts are caused by governments promoting the interests of elites at the expense of workers." That's certainly what happens when the US negotiates trade deals: businesses lobby for advantages (especially for the collection of rents on patents and copyrights), while opposition from unions concerned about jobs and wages is casually ignored. The US has run trade deficits ever since 1970, and that turns out to be an efficient way to transfer wealth from workers/consumers to the rich, as those deficits are recycled through the banks to help prop up the assets of the rich.

Richard Kreitner: Break It Up: Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America's Imperfect Union (2020, Little Brown): A history going back to the colonial period of movements to unite and divide the American colonies/states. While the history is interesting, its utility to thinking about the recent Red/Blue State split is less clear. Every state has a substantial purple minority, at least partly protected by the federal government and economic and cultural union. Division would increase polarization, both within and between nascent states. One could instead have looked at secession and division around the world, where the results have most often been ominous. Aside from numerous border clashes and internal purges, the most common result is an increase in government plunder and oligarchy. One critique I've seen of this book [actually, of the David French book below] is that it's way too optimistic. This is precisely the sort of subject which inspires high hopes and bitter disappointment.

  • David French: Divided We Fall: America's Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation (2020, St Martin's Press). [October 6]

David Paul Kuhn: The Hardhat Riot: Nixon, New York City, and the Dawn of the White Working-Class Revolution (2020, Oxford University Press): About the New York City mob -- supposedly unionized construction workers -- that went berserk attacking anti-war protesters in the days after the Kent State massacre in 1970. Nixon had escalated the war in Vietnam, and was rationalizing his act by claiming support of a "silent majority" of Americans, so he was delighted to see some such group emerge from silence. Nowadays, this is seen as a pivotal event in the turn of the white working class toward Republican reaction. It did seem to have a class aspect to it, given that at this point the antiwar movement was mostly associated with middle-class (and wealthier) students at universities (although veterans were becoming increasingly prominent).

Jill Lepore: If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future (2020, Liveright): Historian, major early work was on King Philip's War in the colonial period, but she's jumped around a lot, landing here post-WWII when computers were first used for Cold War propaganda and plotting political campaigns. I read a precis of this in The New Yorker and figured it to be a stand-alone essay, so I have no idea how she expanded that to 452 pages. Except, I guess, that "the future" is one of those expansive subjects.

Evan Osnos: Joe Biden: The Life, the Run, and What Matters Now (2020, Scribner): New Yorker writer, looks like a quickie (192 pp) but not available until a week before the election (which is to say a week before the most important fact becomes known). Even so, there is very little serious competition, despite the fact that Biden has been a shoe-in for the nomination since mid-March, after having been the front-runner for most of 2015, and was well known long before. If anything, this pathetic list suggests that who he is or what he stands for hardly matters next to the horrors of his opponent. [October 27] Other Biden books (including previous mentions*):

  • David Hagan: No Ordinary Joe: The Life & Career of Joe Biden (paperback, 2020, Opplan): 134 pp.
  • *Steven Levingston: Barack and Joe: The Making of an Extraordinary Partnership (2019, Hachette Books)
  • *Branko Marcetic: Yesterday's Man: The Case Against Joe Biden (paperback, 2020, Verso): left-wing critique.
  • *Mike McCormick: Joe Biden Unauthorized: And the 2020 Crackup of the Democratic Party (paperback, 2020, 15 Years a Deplorable): right-wing attack.
  • Jules Witcover: Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption (2010; revised, paperback, 2019, William Morrow).

Dave Rubin: Don't Burn This Book: Thinking for Yourself in an Age of Unreason (2020, Sentinel): Author, who describes himself as "a former progressive turned classical liberal," claims to have "the most-watched show about free speech and big ideas on YouTube." But his "free thinking" is mostly borrowed from Jordan Peterson, and his received nonsense is anything but free. Rather, it supports a factless rant against an imaginary left, which is based on his failure to understand the first thing about the real left, which is that all people deserve respect and support, in a way that fairly balances individual desires with collective needs. Classical liberalism started to understand that, before falling into a hedonism that celebrated the greediest individuals as they trampled over everyone else. They flatter themselves as "free thinkers" when all they really are is self-indulgent. It's all very sad.

Michael J Sandel: The Tyranny of Merit: What's Become of the Common Good? (2020, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Another look at the false promise and sordid reality of meritocracy -- the notion that people rise to their level of ability, which easily gets twisted around to rationalizing that inequality as it exists is a reflection of merit. Chris Hayes wrote a good book on this subject -- Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy (2012), and there have been others, like Daniel Markovits: The Meritocracy Trap: How America's Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite (2019). Sandel is more of a philosopher, with previous books like Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? (2009), and What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (2012).

Jared Yates Sexton: American Rule: How a Nation Conquered the World but Failed Its People (2020, Dutton): I suppose you could say that the genius of the American political system is its ability to satisfy all special interests, as long as they aren't seen as impinging on one another (and by design they are rarely seen otherwise). This, rather than deep ideological beliefs, explains a lot of American foreign policy. Thus, the US happily does the bidding of companies in foreign countries. Conversely, interests that aren't strongly represented among Washington lobbyists have no clout, and their number includes almost everyone in the world. But sometimes, the indifference and casual cruelty of US foreign policy comes back to bite us, so maybe the system doesn't balance interests off so well after all? I think that's what the author is getting at here, but with Trump on the one hand and his neoliberal/neoconservative critics on the other, there's a lot of extra muck to wade through. But one has to conclude that the persistent practice of injustice abroad eventually leads to injustice at home.

David Shimer: Rigged: America, Russia, and One Hundred Years of Covert Electoral Interference (2020, Knopf): Tries to put Russia's "interference" with the 2016 US election into historical context, finding that both the US and Russia have mucked each other about, and much of the rest of the world, for a long time. He gets to 100 years by citing Russia's attempt to lead Communist Parties around the world through Comintern. Not sure whether he mentions that the US (like Great Britain and a few others) sent troops to Russia in 1918 to fight against the Revolution. (He does allow that "Foreign democracies assumed the Comintern had powers it did not.") Of more concern here is the recent cyberwarfare, not least because it seems like a low-risk way to do under-handed things. Sensible leaders would negotiate agreements to reduce or end the problem. Trump and Putin aren't sensible.

Bryant Simon: The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Sory of Cheap Food, Cheap Government, and Cheap Lives (2017, New Press): The story of a fire in a chicken processing plant in Hamlet, NC (1991), killing 25 workers -- an omen that the days of the famous Triangle Shirtwaist Fire are returning.

Neal Simon: Contract to Unite America: Ten Reforms to Reclaim Our Republic (2020, Real Clear Publishing): Author ran as an independent for Senate from Maryland, and lost, of course. He suffers from the typical myopia of centrists: thinking the two parties are mirror opposites, and insisting there is more common ground (and no crippling differences) between them than there is. Accordingly, his ten reforms are almost purely procedural: Open Primaries Act, Educated Electorate Act ("A nonpartisan Federal Debate Commission will be created to ensure the fairness and caliber of presidential and congressional election debates"), Term Limits Constitutional Amendment, Elections Transparency Act, Campaign Finance Constitutional Amendment ("Government may distinguish between corporations and people, and Congress and the states can apply reasonable limits on campaign spending"), Ballot Access Act, Fair Districts Act, Fair Representation Act, Congressional Rules, and Creating a Culture of Unity ("We call on our next president to form a bipartisan administration, for Congress to sign a civility pledge, for Americans to participate in national service, and for our schools to revive civics education"). The reality is that American politics has become polarized around the deepest divide of the modern era: between the rich and the masses. As self-appointed agents of the rich, the Republicans have come to view democracy as a trap, which is why they feel no qualms about lying, cheating, and stealing. And as they have become successful at exploiting loopholes and inequities in law and even in the Constitution, some Democrats are realizing that they, too, have to fight dirty, even if they can justify to themselves the need to restore and preserve democracy. Related:

  • Lee Drutman: Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop: The Case for Multiparty Democracy in America (2020, Oxford University Press).
  • Charles Wheelan: The Centrist Manifesto (paperback, 2019, WW Norton).

Roberto Sirvent/Danny Haiphong: American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People's History of Fake News -- From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror (2019, Skyhorse): By "fake news" they mean propaganda, more specifically stories that were spun by apologists of power, hoping to convince people that Americans are more exceptional and more innocent than is plainly the case. I've long thought that "American exceptionalism" was a self-flattering myth wrapped around a set of trivial truths, such that you could never really pick it apart, even as it was used to justify unconscionable deeds. "American innocence" is harder to explain, no matter how far you go back or afield, so that angle poses a fat target for these authors.

Timothy Snyder: Our Malady: Lessons in Liberty From a Hospital Diary (paperback, 2020, Crown): The historian and author of On Liberty: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century got sick, and (barely) lived to write about it. Doesn't reflect well on the American health care system . . . or on American democracy, which are not unrelated.

Jim Tankersley: The Riches of This Land (2020, Public Affairs): The post-WWII economic boom built the most expansive middle class in American history, a novelty at the time, and today an increasingly distant memory. What happened? Good question, but I'm not so sure about his answer: "He begins by unraveling the real mystery of the American economy since the 1970s -- not where did the jobs go, but why haven't new and better ones been created to replace them." The secret of the middle class was never that everyone had all of the education and opportunity to get the best jobs they could. The secret was that all jobs, even menial ones, paid enough to live on. That didn't last because wages failed to keep up with inflation and productivity gains -- because workers got screwed coming and going. Of course, it's true that America was never as middle class as white folks thought, and that weakness started the slide.

Alex S Vitale: The End of Policing (paperback, 2018, Verso): This book and author got a fair amount of attention after the "defund the police" meme spread following the George Floyd murder. Matthew Yglesias wrote a review, finding Vitale's arguments not quite convincing. That's probably right in some final analysis, but unless you start to question the principles behind policing, prosecution, incarceration, etc., it's impossible to straighten out the mess we're in. For instance, I think we need more policing of spam and hacking on the Internet, but don't necessarily see jail as the solution. I looked through my books file and found just 12 references to "police" and 10 to "policing," including: Paul Butler: Chokehold: Policing Black Men (2017); Angela Davis, ed: Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment (2017); Virginia Eubanks: Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor (2018); Jordan T Camp/Christina Heatherton, eds: Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter (2016); James Forman Jr: Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America (2017). A quick search uncovered some more (and no doubt still more will appear soon):

  • Radley Balko: Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces (paperback, 2014, Public Affairs).
  • Simon Balto: Occupied Territory: Policing Black Chicago From Red Summer to Black Power (paperback, 2020, University of North Carolina Press).
  • David Correia/Tyler Wall: Police: A Field Guide (paperback, 2018, Verso).
  • Max Felker-Kantor: Policing Los Angeles: Race, Resistance, and the Rise of the LAPD (paperback, 2020, University of North Carolina Press).
  • Barry Friedman: Unwarranted: Policing Without Permission (paperback, 2018, Farrar Straus and Giroux).
  • Sidney L Harring: Policing a Class Society (2nd ed, paperback, 2017, Haymarket Books).
  • Charles D Hayes: Blue Bias: An Ex-Cop Turned Philosopher Examines the Learning and Resolve Necessary to End Hidden Prejudice in Policing (paperback, 2020, Autodidactic Press).
  • Matthew Horace: The Black and the Blue: A Cop Reveals the Crimes, Racism, and Injustice in America's Law Enforcement (paperback, 2019, Hachette Books).
  • Marisol LeBrón: Policing Life and Death: Race, Violence, and Resistance in Puerto Rico (paperback, 2019, University of California Press).
  • Andrea J Ritchie: Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color (paperback, 2017, Beacon Press).
  • Maya Schenwar/Victoria Law: Prison by Any Other Name: The Harmful Consequences of Popular Reforms (2020, New Press).
  • Maya Schenwar/Joe Macaré/Alana Yu-lan Price, eds: Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? Police Violence and Resistance in the United States (paperback, 2016, Haymarket Books).
  • Danielle Sered: Until We Reckon: Violence, Mass Incarceration, and a Road to Repair (2019, New Press).
  • Kristian Williams: Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America (revised, paperback, 2015, AK Press).
  • Franklin E Zimring: When Police Kill (paperback, 2018, Harvard Universitiy Press).

Isabel Wilkerson: Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (2020, Random House): A book on how inequality gets preserved and locked in inherited systems passed on from generation to generation. Compares several such systems, starting with the now-banned caste system in India. Wilkerson's specialty is Afro-American history -- her major book was The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration (2010) -- so it's easy enough to see how one might try to view racial inequality through the lens caste provides. The third system Wilkerson considers is the race hierarchy instituted by Nazi Germany, but the latter was short-lived and frankly genocidal, whereas the American system lasted for hundreds of years, and the Indian one for thousands. No doubt this is informative, not least when she gets personal, but doesn't it obscure at least one key point? Inequality persists even after formal caste systems are ended, at which point isn't class the more relevant concept?

Meaghan Winter: All Politics Is Local: Why Progressives Must Fight for the States (2019, Bold Type Books): Title comes from former House Speaker Tip O'Neill's slogan, which in itself doesn't make it convincing or appealing. Still, the argument that the left needs to campaign everywhere is important. It's certainly something that the right understands, not least because in a multi-tiered political system any jurisdiction they can seize can be used to throttle opposition, to prohibit change, and to consolidate power. The right is always seeking to increase its power, thereby increasing inequality and injustice. Any success they have generates resistance, which makes for fertile ground for the left to organize. Or you could look at it from the wrong end of the telescope: we've actually had Democratic presidents with no interest or success at building local parties, and they've proven ineffective and sometimes downright dangerous.

Matthew Yglesias: One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger (2020, Portfolio): Possibly the most successful pundit of the blog era, parlayed that into co-founder of Vox, which is where I get a high percentage of my Weekend Roundup articles from. Won a poll as "neoliberal shill of the year" recently, which doesn't mean all the horrors we often associate with that label, but does still indicate a strong focus on market pricing mechanisms and unbounded growth. This book expands on his posts extolling the benefits of immigration, which is how he hopes to triple the population of the United States. Why that may even be a good thing is hard to say, but evidently he gins up old clichés about keeping or making American number one, faced as it is with competitors like China and India which already have their billion people. That's a really bad reason. By the way:

  • Doug Saunders: Maximum Canada: Toward a Country of 100 Million (paperback, 2019, Vintage Canada).

Daniel Ziblatt: Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy (paperback, 2017, Cambridge University Press): Co-author, with Steven Levitsky, of How Democracies Die (2018), a book much in vogue recently as Trump has eroded and further bespoiled the system of graft and manipulation that has long passed for democracy in America. In his comparative study of the growth of democracy in Europe from 1830 to 1933, Ziblatt argues that expansion of the vote has depended more on what conservative parties decided to allow than on collective action by the middle and/or working classes. Still, don't discount fear of revolution as motivation for conservatives -- Russia is the exception that proves the rule. Another formula for disaster: when conservative parties tried to claw back aristocratic privileges, as the fascists did in the 1920s and 1930s, and the Republicans have tried to do since 1980.


Other recent books, briefly noted.

Peter Baker/Susan Glasser: The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A Baker III (2020, Doubleday): 720 pp.

Susan Berfeld: The Hour of Fate: Theodore Roosevelt, JP Morgan, and the Battle to Transform American Capitalism (2020, Bloomsbury).

John O Brennan: Undaunted: My Fight Against America's Enemies, at Home and Abroad (2020, Caledon Books): Obama's CIA director.

Pete Buttigieg: Trust: America's Best Chance (2020, Liveright).

Irin Carmon/Shana Knizhnik: Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (2015, Dey Street Books).

Alexis Cole: You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington (2020, Viking).

Andrew Cuomo: American Crisis: Leadership Lessons From the Covid-19 Pandemic (2020, Crown): New York governor.

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett: The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class (2017; paperback, 2018, Princeton University Press).

Jeremy Dauber: Jewish Comedy: A Serious History (paperback, 2018, WW Norton).

Alan Dershowitz: The Case for Liberalism in an Age of Extremism: Or, Why I Left the Left but Can't Join the Right (2020, Hot Books).

Robin DiAngelo: White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (paperback, 2018, Beacon Press).

Leonard Downie Jr: All About the Story: News, Power, Politics, and the Washington Post (2020, Public Affairs).

Rod Dreher: Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents (2020, Sentinel): "Crunchy Con."

Wolfram Ellenberger: Time of the Magicians: Wittgenstein, Benjamin, Cassirer, Heidegger, and the Decade That Reinvented Philosophy (2020, Penguin Press).

Abdul El-Sayed: Healing Politics: A Doctor's Journey Into the Heart of Our Political Epidemic (2020, Abrams Press).

Federico Finchelstein: A Brief History of Fascist Lies (2020, University of California Press).

Stanley Fish: The First: How to Think About Hate Speech, Campus Speeh, Religious Speech, Fake News, Post-Truth, and Donald Trump (2019, Atria/One Signal).

Raúl Gallegos: Crude Nation: How Oil Riches Ruined Venezuela (2016, Potomac Books).

Barton Gellman: Dark Mirror: Edward Snowden and the American Surveillance State (2020, Penguin Press).

Daniel Q Gillion: The Loud Minority: Why Protests Matter in American Democracy (2020, Princeton University Press).

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: My Own Words (paperback, 2018, Simon & Schuster).

Philip H Gordon: Losing the Long Game: The False Promise of Regime Change in the Middle East (2020, St Martin's Press).

Trey Gowdy: Doesn't Hurt to Ask: Using the Power of Questions to Communicate, Connect, and Persuade (2020, Crown Forum).

Ryan Grim: We've Got People: From Jesse Jackson to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the End of Big Money and the Rise of a Movement (paperback, 2019, Strong Arm Press): Looks like several years of reporting, perhaps going back to the 1980s, but such early stories are constructed (or selected) with an eye to the present.

Richard Haass: The World: A Brief Introduction (2020, Penguin Press). Bush administrations diplomat, Council on Foreign Relations.

Malcolm Harris: Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials (2017, Little Brown; paperback, 2018, Back Bay Books).

John Higgs: Stranger Than We Can Imagine: An Alternative History of the 20th Century (paperback, 2015, Soft Skull Press).

Katie Hill: She Will Rise: Becoming a Warrior in the Battle for True Equality (2020, Grand Central): Elected to Congress, resigned at first hint of scandal, wrote a book.

Harvey J Kaye: Take Hold of Our History: Make America Radical Again (paperback, 2019, Zero Books).

James Kirchick: The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age (2017, Yale University Press).

Jane Kleeb: Harvest the Vote: How Democrats Can Win Again in Rural America (2020, Ecco).

Anthony T Kronman: The Assault on American Excellence (2019, Free Press).

Lawrence Lessig: They Don't Represent Us: Reclaiming Our Democracy (2019, Dey Street Books).

Verlan Lewis: Ideas of Power: The Politics of American Party Ideology Development (paperback, 2019, Cambridge University Press).

Robert Jay Lifton: Losing Reality: On Cults, Cultism, and the Mindset of Political and Religious Zealotry (2019, New Press).

Fredrik Logevall: JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century, 1917-1956 (2020, Random House): 816 pp.

Eric Lonergan/Mark Blyth: Angrynomics (paperback, 2020, Agenda).

HR McMaster: Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World (2020, Harper).

Jon Meacham: His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope (2020, Random House). Major biographer, with books on Jefferson, Jackson, Franklin and Winston.

Russell Muirhead/Nancy L Rosenblum: A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy (2019, Princeton University Press).

Thomas E Patterson: How America Lost Its Mind: The Assault on Reason That's Crippling Our Democracy (2019, University of Oklahoma Press).

Thomas E Patterson: Is the Republican Party Destroying Itself? And Why It Needs to Reclaim Its Conservative Ideals (paperback, 2020, independent).

Joshua L Powell: Inside the NRA: A Tell-All Acount of Corruption, Greed, and Paranoia Within the Most Powerful Political Group in America (2020, Twelve): Author was a NRA senior strategist and chief of staff to NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre.

Markus Prior: Hooked: How Politics Captures People's Interest (paperback, 2019, Cambridge University Press).

Alex Ross: Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music (2020, Farrar Straus and Giroux). 784 pp.

Douglas Rushkoff: Team Human: Our Technologies, Markets, and Cultural Institutions -- Once Forces for Human Connection and Expression -- Now Isolate and Repress Us. It's Time to Remake Society Together, Not as Individual Players but as the Team We Actually Are (2019, WW Norton).

Jeffrey D Sachs: The Ages of Globalization: Geography, Technology, and Institutions (2020, Columbia University Press).

Mark Salter: The Luckiest Man: Life With John McCain (2020, Simon & Schuster): The late Senator's long-time ghostwriter.

Antonin Scalia: The Essential Scalia: On the Constitution, the Courts, and the Rule of Law (2020, Crown Forum).

Nathan Schneider: Everything for Everyone: The Radical Tradition That Is Shaping the Next Economy (2018, Bold Type Books).

Al Sharpton: Rise Up: Confronting a Country at the Crossroads (2020, Hanover Square Press).

Vandana Shiva: Who Really Feeds the World? The Failures of Agribusiness and the Promise of Agroecology (paperback, 2016, North Atlantic Books).

Margaret Sullivan: Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy (paperback, 2020, Columbia Global Reports): Washington Post media columnist, 105 pp.

Jennifer Taub: Big Dirty Money: The Shocking Injustice and Unseen Cost of White Collar Crime (2020, Viking).

George F Will: The Conservative Sensibility (2018; paperback, 2020, Hachette Books).

Leandra Ruth Zarnow: Battling Bella: The Protest Politics of Bella Abzug (2019, Harvard University Press).

Wednesday, October 14, 2020


More Trump Books

Back in May, I was working on a book roundup, my first since October 2019. I found I had so many books on Trump, his administration, and the 2020 presidential campaign that I thought it best to break them out into a separate post (see: Trump Books), before proceeding to a non-Trump Book Roundup a few days later. In an effort to be comprehensive, I did two things I don't normally do: I included a list of books I had previously noted (some with new or trimmed-down blurbs), and I looked ahead to identify forthcoming books up through the election. I thought I did a pretty thorough job, but it turns out I missed a bunch of books -- especially several bestsellers. I wrote a bit about them in the blog, including a general roundup note on September 7. I promised then to catch up with my next book roundup. Turns out that once again there's enough Trump material -- including a few forthcoming books -- to warrant a separate post.

Again, this will be followed shortly with a regular book roundup. This next post will cover several significant critiques of the Trump era, albeit ones that don't obsess over Trump himself -- prime examples are: Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality, and Thomas Frank: The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism. I may look at the Democratic Party side of the election, but there doesn't seem to be much new there -- I wrote up a fairly long list in the Trump Books post, under Dan Pfeiffer: Un-Trumping America: A Plan to Make America a Democracy Again -- but I do have something written for Seth Masket: Learning From Loss: The Democrats 2016-2020. I'm thinking I might hang a list of Joe Biden books under Evan Osnos' still-forthcoming biography, but it won't be very long.

* Book added since initial posting.


Michael Anton: The Stakes: America at the Point of No Return (2020, Regnery): Publisher is all the signal you need, but here's some background: Anton wrote a famous essay calling 2016 "The Flight 93 Election," because he figured it was better to storm the cockpit and crash the plane than to let Hillary Clinton win. He explains "the stakes" here: "The Democratic Party has become the party of 'identity politics' -- and every one of those identities is defined against a unifying national heritage of patriotism, pride in America's past, and hope for a shared future. . . . Against them is a divided Republican Party. Gravely misunderstanding the opposition, old-style Republicans still seek bipartisanship and accommodation, wrongly assuming that Democrats care about playing by the tiresome old rules laid down in the Constitution and other fundamental charters of American liberty." Previous and related:

  • Michael Anton: After the Flight 93 Election: The Vote That Saved America and What We Still Have to Lose (paperback, 2019, Encounter Books).
  • Mike Gonzalez: The Plot to Change America: How Identity Politics Is Dividing the Land of the Free (2020, Encounter Books).
  • James S Robbins: Erasing America: Losing Our Future by Destroying Our Past (2018, Regnery): "reveals that the radical Left controls education, the media, and the Democratic party. . . . and they seek to demean, demolish, and relentlessly attack America's past in order to control America's present."
  • Ben Shapiro: How to Destroy America in Three Easy Steps (2020, Broadside Books). Less of a tie-in, but let's also note (and dispose) of:
  • Ben Shapiro: Facts (Still) Don't Care About Your Feelings: The Brutally Honest Sequel to the National Smash Hit (paperback, 2020, Creators Publishing).

Devlin Barrett: October Surprise: How the FBI Tried to Save Itself and Crashed an Election (2020, Public Affairs): How FBI head James Comey threw the 2016 election to Donald Trump -- "a pulsating narrative of an agency seized with righteous certainty that waded into the most important political moment in the life of the nation, and has no idea how to back out with dignity."

Maria Bartiromo/James Freeman: The Cost: Trump, China, and American Revival (2020, Threshold Editions). Fox Business face, name much larger on the cover of this propaganda tract, lashing out at Trump's enemies both within government and beyond, but especially "the Chinese communist government." Conclusion: "The destruction caused by the coronavirus is the latest and greatest test for the Trump prosperity agenda." [October 27]

Bob Bauer/Jack Goldsmith: After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency (paperback, 2020, Lawfare Institute): Fifty recommendations for reforming the Presidency, most likely sensible ones especially given the fears that electing a deranged sociopath like Trump elicits. Authors have worked in the White House under Bush II and Obama.

Paul Begala: You're Fired: The Perfect Guide to Beating Donald Trump (2020, Simon & Schuster): Chief strategist for the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign, ran a pro-Obama Super PAC in 2012, has co-authored two books with James Carville. Starts with a "Mea Culpa" for 2016, then a chapter on "Coronavirus," before he starts recycling his greatest hits (e.g., "It's Still the Economy, Stupid."

Tom Burgis: Kleptopia: How Dirty Money Is Conquering the World (2020, Harper): "He follows the dirty money that is flooding the global economy, emboldening dictators, and poisoning democracies. From the Kremlin to Beijing, Harare to Riyadh, Paris to the White House," warning that "the thieves are uniting," and "the human cost will be great." Previously wrote The Looting Machine: Warlords, Oligarchs, Corporations, Smugglers, and the Theft of Africa's Wealth (2015).

Michael Cohen: Disloyal: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J Trump (2020, Skyhorse): Given how many sensible policy reasons one can enumerate for opposing Trump, no one needs to read (much less pay for) this book. But if you want dirt, the premise here is that nobody knows more about a scumbag than another one.

Jerome R Corsi: Coup d'État: Exposing Deep State Treason and the Plan to Re-Elect President Trump (2020, Post Hill Press): Best-selling right-wing author and unindicted Roger Stone co-conspirator. Not sure how I missed this -- perhaps it seemed like a reprint of his 2018 book, Killing the Deep State: The Fight to Save President Trump. His conspiracy theories have the advantage of targeting unseen forces that are every bit as troubling to the left, if not to the sort of Democrats who get security clearances. On the other hand, I've missed Corsi books in the past. Here are some:

  • John E O'Neill/Jerome R Corsi: Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry (2004, Regnery).
  • Jerome R Corsi/Craig R Smith: Black Gold Stranglehold: The Myth of Scarcity and the Politics of Oil (2005, WND Books).
  • Jerome R Corsi: The Late Great USA: The Coming Merger With Mexico and Canada (2007, WND Books).
  • Jerome R Corsi: America for Sale: Fighting the New World Order, Surviving a Global Depression, and Preserving USA Sovereignty (2009, Threshold Editions).
  • Jerome R Corsi: The Shroud Codex (2010, Threshold Editions).
  • Jerome R Corsi: Where's the Birth Certificate? The Case That Barack Obama is Not Eligible to Be President (2011, WND Books).
  • Jerome R Corsi: The Great Oil Conspiracy: How the US Government Hid the Nazi Discovery of Abiotic Oil From the American People (2012, Skyhorse).
  • Jerome R Corsi: Who Really Killed Kennedy? 50 Years Later: Stunning New Revelations About the JFK Assassination (2013, WND Books).
  • Jerome R Corsi: Bad Samaritans: The ACLU's Relentless Campaign to Erase Faith From the Public Square (2013, Thomas Nelson).
  • Jerome R Corsi: Hunting Hitler: New Scientific Evidence That Hitler Escaped Nazi Germany (2014, Skyhorse).
  • Jerome R Corsi: Partners in Crime: The Clintons' Scheme to Monetize the White House for Personal Profit (2016, WND Books).
  • Jerome R Corsi: How I Became a Political Prisoner of Mueller's "Witch Hunt" (2019, Post Hill Press).
  • Jerome R Corsi: Framing Flynn: The Scandalous Takedown of an American General (2021, Post Hill Press). [January 26]

John W Dean/Bob Altemeyer: Authoritarian Nightmare: Trump and His Followers (2020, Melville House): The conservative conscience of Nixon's Watergate scandal, became an outspoken critic of GW Bush -- cf. Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W Bush (2004), Conservatives Without Conscience (2006), and Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches (2007) -- was overdue for a broadside on Trump. Probably overwhelmed.

Norman Eisen: A Case for the American People: The United States V. Donald J Trump (2020, Crown): Democrats' special impeachment counsel on the House Judiciary Committee.

Greg Geisler: The Top 300 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Vote for Donald Trump (Even if You Are a Lifelong Republican) (paperback, 2020, independent). First one reads: "Trump is an existential threat to our republic. Trump derogates our long-standing, shared beliefs that have represented who we are as a nation:" -- then enumerates 20 such beliefs, and refers to "Appendix A" for quotes. Amazon's sample doesn't stops before number 3 ("Trump commits treason . . .") is done enumerating the many ways Trump appeases "our enemy, Russia." That's not even a point I would make.

Masha Gessen: Surviving Autocracy (2020, Riverhead Books): Russian, fled to New York as her vitriol against Vladimir Putin increased, has written extensively on him and the stifling of reform politics in Russia. Attempts to draw lessons from there for dealing with Trump here, although a key early chapter is "Waiting for the Reichstag Fire" -- reminding us that autocracy (and for that matter evil) takes various forms which reinforce common assumptions. I don't think it's necessary to view Trump as a malignancy comparable to Hitler or even Putin, but it's also no accident (and really no shame) that some people do.

Jeffrey Goldberg, ed: The American Crisis: What Went Wrong. How We Recover. (paperback, 2020, Simon & Schuster). Fairly substantial (576 pp) collection of essays from The Atlantic, including a 165 page section called "The Age of Trump." There's a lot here, like a 2018 article by Ed Yong called "When the Next Plague Hits" which predicts that Trump won't handle it well.

John R Hibbing: The Securitarian Personality: What Really Motivates Trump's Base and Why It Matters for the Post-Trump Era (2020, Oxford University Press). Posits a slight but key difference between Trump supporters and the supporters of 1930s fascist parties Theodor Adorno characterized in The Authoritarian Personality. These Trumpists crave "protection for themselves, their families, and their dominant cultural group from these embodied outsider threats," while other threats "such as climate change, Covid-19, and economic inequality" hardly phase them at all. That doesn't sound so different to me. Both feel aggrieved, blame others, and seek to crush them and gain privileges thereby, with few qualms about violence -- indeed, many relish the prospect.

Harold Holzer: The Presidents vs the Press: The Endless Battle Between the White House and the Media -- From the Founding Fathers to Fake News. By now there must be a whole shelf of books which pick a topic where Donald Trump is an extreme, unprecedented outlier, and show how the other 44 presidents had their own slightly checkered records. George Washington didn't like how the press treated him, but kept it to himself. John Adams had a much thinner skin. Theodor Roosevelt and John Kennedy were particularly adept at currying favor with reporters. Trump hasn't gone as far as Adams in banning unfavorable press, but he has weaponized the media in ways no one before imagined.

Stephen F Knott: The Lost Soul of the American Presidency: The Decline Into Demagoguery and the Prospects for Renewal (paperback, 2020, University of Kansas Press). Cover pictures George Washington, Andrew Jackson, and Donald Trump. Jackson and Trump count among the demagogues, with Knott blaming Jefferson for "paving the way" toward Jackson. Knott, a professor at the US Naval War College, cites several presidents who "resisted pandering": Washington, John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, William Howard Taft -- note that two of those were unpopular single-term rejects.

Carlos Lozada: What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era (2020, Simon & Schuster): A Washington Post book critic surveys "some 150 volumes claiming to diagnose why Trump was elected and what his presidency reveals about our nation," and finds them "more defensive than incisive, more righteous than right." I'd like to see the reading list. (Publisher website mentions, without giving authors: Hillbilly Elegy [JD Vance]; On Tyranny [Timothy Snyder]; No Is Not Enough [Naomi Klein]; How to Be an Antiracist [Ibram X Kendi]; The Corrosion of Conservatism [Max Boot].)

Suzanne Mettler/Robert C Lieberman: Four Threats: The Recurring Crises of American Democracy (2020, St Martin's Press): History, explores four threats ("political polarization, racism and nativism, economic inequality, and excessive executive power") through "five moments in history when democracy in the US was under siege: the 1790s, the Civil War [1850s], the Gilded Age [the 1890s], the Depression [1930s], and Watergate [1970s]." As they point out, the present is no less grave.

James A Morone: Republic of Wrath: How American Politics Turned Tribal From George Washington to Donald Trump (2020, Basic Books): Historian, focuses on key elections including most of the ones in Suzanne Mettler/Robert C Lieberman: Four Threats: The Recurring Crises in American History. Polarization is symptomatic of those crises, although the causes are rooted more in injustices that cannot be easily resolved. Last chapter gloms 1968-2020 together as "We Win, They Lose" -- politics as a zero-sum game. Shouldn't be like that.

Michael S Schmidt: Donald Trump V. the United States: Inside the Struggle to Stop a President (2020, Random House): A detailed history more of the steps leading up to the special counsel appointment of Robert S Mueller than of the subsequent investigation, or the later impeachment case.

Allison Stanger: Whistleblowers: Honesty in America From Washington to Trump (2019, Yale University Press): Short book, the historical period ("From the Revolution to 9/11") a mere 106 pages but helps establish that the need to expose the secretive machinations of government isn't new with "The Internet Age" (the second, shorter part, with Edward Snowden getting his own chapter). Trump is mentioned in the title but slighted in the text: it was, after all, a "whistleblower complaint" that led to his impeachment charges, and that was just one of many, beyond the even more common leaks and efforts to halt them.

Peter Strzok: Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J Trump (2020, Houghton Mifflin): FBI Deputy Assistant Director of Counterintelligence, 22 years with the FBI focusing on Russian espionage threats, purged for his supposed hostility to Trump.

Kevin Sullivan/Mary Jordan: Trump on Trial: The Investigation, Impeachment, Acquittal, and Aftermath (2020, Scribner): Front cover also lists Washington Post, and a "previous books" page leads with four of the newspaper's books, followed by books by Sullivan and/or Jordan. Title page adds "Steve Luxenberg, Editor." They say journalism is the first draft of history, and that's what you get here: yesterday's yellowed papers.

Kristin B Tate: The Liberal Invasion of Red State America (2020, Regnery). Curiously, she tries to have it both ways: claiming there's an exodus from blue states because Democrats have made it too expensive to live there, but also blaming those same "refugees" for making red states purplish or even blue (Colorado and New Hampshire are examples of the latter). A serious scholar could try to refine this further, but wouldn't get her book published by Regnery.

Mary L Trump: Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man (2020, Simon & Schuster): The President's niece, daughter of his older brother Fred Jr, also flaunts her PhD in psychology, which gives her a unique angle, and an insider advantage over the other shrinks who have merely imagined Trump on their couches. It's one thing to check off the boxes on mental maladies like narcissistic personality disorder, another to locate their causes in this peculiar family dynamic.

Madeleine Westerhout: Off the Record: My Dream Job at the White House, How I Lost It, and What I Learned (2020, Center Street). Former executive assistant to Trump. Not clear what her faux pas was, but even after being fired she's still sucking up to Trump.

Tim Weiner: The Folly and the Glory: America, Russia, and Political Warfare 1945-2020 (2020, Henry Holt): Author of major books on the CIA (Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA) and the FBI (Enemies: A History of the FBI). The Cold War chapters are probably old hat, succinctly told, but I have to wonder how deep he gets into the post-Soviet era, especially US efforts to rig elections in the Ukraine, and even in Russia itself (Yeltsin was not a US puppet, but various Clinton aides worked for his election).

Andrew Weissmann: Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation (2020, Random House): Lead prosecutor under Mueller, whose unredacted report still hasn't been made public.

Stephanie Winston Wolkoff: Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship With the First Lady (2020, Gallery Books): Former aide to Mrs. Trump, "trusted adviser," and event planner, burns a friendship going back to 2003, revealing both author and subject to be as vain and tedious as you'd expect.

Bob Woodward: Rage (2020, Simon & Schuster): The exalted court reporter's second Trump book, after 2018's Fear, burned some bridges this time, especially with his February recording of a semi-coherent understanding of the coronavirus pandemic threat even before he started minimizing the threat in public, paving the way for his incompetent management -- the only sense in which he can claim to have made America "number one."


More Trump books are briefly noted below. I'm roughly dividing this into two lists: the first is by Trump/Republican partisans, which should give you an idea of how deceitful and/or deranged they can be; the other not just by opponents, but includes academics and other writers who strive to be fair, balanced, and objective. Of course, those who succeed, and retain a shred of concern for their fellows, wind up being opponents. The top section includes some of both, but they should be easy enough to sort out from the blurbs. (If you need help, I would have filed the following under propaganda: Anton, et al.; Bartiromo; Corsi; Tate; Westerhout. Several others started out in the Trump camp, or at least counted themselves as conservatives, before developing doubts.)


Trump propaganda, briefly noted:

TM Ballantyne Jr: Trump: The First 100 Days: The Assault Intensifies (paperback, 2017, Ballantyne Books).

Allum Bokhari: #Deleted: Big Tech's Battle to Erase the Trump Movement and Steal the Election (2020, Center Street).

Dan Bongino: Follow the Money: The Shocking Deep State Connections of the Anti-Trump Cabal (2020, Post Hill Press). [October 6]

Brian Burch: A New Catholic Moment: Donald Trump and the Politics of the Common Good (paperback, 2020, independent).

*Michael R Caputo: The Ukraine Hoax: How Decades of Corruption in the Former Soviet Republic Led to Trump's Phony Impeachment (2020, Bombardier Books).

Steve Cioccolanti: President Trump's Pro-Christian Accomplishments (paperback, 2020, Discover Media).

Dan Crenshaw: Fortitude: American Resilience in the Era of Outrage (2020, Twelve): A "rising star in Republican politics."

Dinesh D'Souza: United States of Socialism: Who's Behind It. Why It's Evil. How to Stop It. (2020, All Points Books).

*Tom Fitton: A Republic Under Assault: The Left's Ongoing Attack on American Freedom (2020, Threshold Editions). [October 20]

Matt Gaetz: Firebrand: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the MAGA Revolution (2020, Bombardier Books).

*Rick Gates: Wicked Game: An Insider's Story on How Trump Won, Mueller Failed, and America Lost (2020, Post Hill Press).

Sean Hannity: Live Free or Die: American (and the World) on the Brink (2020, Threshold Editions).

Mike Huckabee/Steve Feazel: The Three Cs That Made America Great: Christianity, Capitalism and the Constitution (2020, Trilogy Christian Publishing).

Jerome Hudson: 50 Things They Don't Want You to Know About Trump (paperback, 2020, Harper Collins): Entertainment editor at Breitbart.com. [October 27]

Michael Knight: President Trump and the New World Order: The Ramtha Trump Prophecy (paperback, 2017, North Star).

*Fred V Lucas: Abuse of Power: Inside the Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump (2020, Bombardier).

*Theodore Roosevelt Malloch/Felipe J Cuello: Trump's World: Geo Deus (2020, Humanix Books).

Matt Margolis: Airborne: How the Liberal Media Weaponized the Coronavirus Against Donald Trump (paperback, 2020, Bombardier Books).

Florance McKoy: What Donald Trump Means to America: A Black Woman Shares What God Shows Her About This 45th President of the United States (paperback, 2020, Impact Communications).

Devin Nunes: Countdown to Socialism (paperback, 2020, Encounter Books).

Candace Owens: Blackout: How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape From the Democrat Plantation (2020, Threshold Editions).

Carter Page: Abuse and Power: How an Innocent American Was Framed in an Attempted Coup Against the President (2020, Regnery).

TJ Paine: Qanon Phenomenon: A Detailed Report on the "Storm" That Is About to Destroy the Deep State That Conspires Against the United States and on the "Great Awakening" That Will Make America Great Again! (paperback, 2020, independent).

Rand Paul: The Case Against Socialism (2019, Broadside Books).

Jeanine Pirro: Don't Lie to Me: And Stop Trying to Steal Our Freedom (2020, Center Street).

Joel B Pollak: Red November: Will the Country Vote Red for Trump or Red for Socialism? (2020, Center Street).

Phil Robertson: Jesus Politics: How to Win Back the Soul of America (2020, Thomas Nelson): Duck Dynasty dude.

Darrell Scott: Nothing to Lose: Unlikely Allies in the Struggle for a Better Black America (2020, Post Hill Press).

Robert Isaac Skidmore: Edge of the Abyss: The Usefulness of Antichrist Terminology in the Era of Donald Trump (2020, Chiron Publications).

Lee Smith: The Permanent Coup: How Enemies Foreign and Domestic Targeted the American President (2020, Center Street).

Franko Solar: The Sky Is Falling! Blame Trump: Why Democrats Want to Impeach Donald J Trump (paperback, 2020, La Maison).

Neville Teller: Trump and the Holy Land 2016-2020: The Deal of the Century (paperback, 2020, Troubador).

Cal Thomas: America's Expiration Date: The Fall of Empires and Superpowers . . . and the Future of the United States (paperback, 2020, Zondervan).

Donald Trump Jr: Liberal Privilege: Joe Biden and the Democrats' Defense of the Indefensible (2020, Donald J Trump Jr).

Harry Turtledove/James Morrow/Cat Rambo: And the Last Trump Shall Shound: A Future History of America (paperback, 2020, Caezik).

Kendall L Walker: A Biblical Evaluation of the Morals and Ethics of Donald Trump (paperback, 2020, independent).


Other Trump-related books, briefly noted. These are not necessarily useful or interesting, but aren't obviously right-wing propaganda. My earlier post included a whole section of humor/parody books, but I didn't find more of those worth noting. (Humor has been invaluable during the last 3.75 years, but I'm not feeling it at the moment.)

Daniel Allott: On the Road in Trump's America: A Journey Into the Heart of a Divided Nation (2020, Republic). [October 20]

*Christopher F Arndt: The Right's Road to Serfdom: The Danger of Conservatism Unbound: From Hayek to Trump (paperback, 2016, Bulkington Press).

*Anthony Atamanuik/Neil Casey: American Tantrum: The Donald J Trump Presidential Archives (paperback, 2019, Harper Collins): Satire.

Isaac J Bailey: Why Didn't We Riot? A Black Man in Trumpland (2020, Other Press). [October 6]

Amanuel Biedemariam: The History of the USA in Eritrea: From Franklin D Roosevelt to Barack Obama and How Donald Trump Changed the Course of History (paperback, 2020, Lulu.com).

Nina Burleigh: The Trump Women: Part of the Deal (paperback, 2020, Gallery Books).

*Geraldo Cadava: The Hispanic Republican: The Shaping of an American Political Identity, From Nixon to Trump (2020, Ecco).

Zachary Callen/Philip Rocco, eds: American Political Development and the Trump Presidency (2020, University of Pennsylvania Press).

SV Dáte: The Useful Idiot: How Donald Trump Killed the Republican Party With Racism and the Rest of Us With Coronavirus (paperback, 2020, independent).

*Bill Eddy: Why We Elect Narcissists and Sociopaths: And How We Can Stop! (2019, Berrett-Koehler).

*Randolph M Feezell: The ABCs of Trump: Asshole, Bullshitter, Chauvinist, Essays on Life in Trumpworld (2020, Randolph M Feezell).

Sally Frazer: Fire & Blood, Fire & Fury: Daenerys Targaryen, Donald Trump, and the American Public's Enduring Susceptibility to Authoritarian Figures (paperback, 2020, independent).

*John Gartner: All I Ever Wanted to Know About Donald Trump I Learned From His Tweets: A Psychological Exploration of the President Via Twitter (paperback, 2017, Skyhorse).

Mark Green/Ralph Nader: Wrecking America: How Trump's Lawbreaking and Lies Betray All (paperback, 2020, Skyhorse).

*Lawrence Grossberg: Under the Cover of Chaos: Trump and the Battle for the American Right (paperback, 2018, Pluto Press).

Michael B Harrington: The Forty Year Con Game: Everything You Need to Know About Donald Trump's Threat to Democracy (paperback, 2019, Author Solutions).

Kelly Hyman: Top Ten Reasons to Dump Trump in 2020 (paperback, 2019, Strauss Consultants).

*Charlie Laderman/Brendan Simms: Donald Trump: The Making of a World View (paperback, 2017, Bloomsbury Academic).

*Yuval Levin: A Time to build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream (2020, Basic Books): AEI.

*Matt K Lewis: Too Dumb to Fail: How the GOP Went From the Party of Reagan to the Party of Trump (paperback, 2016, Hachette).

Janet McIntosh/Norma Mendoza-Denton, eds: Language in the Trump Era: Scandals and Emergencies (paperback, 2020, Cambridge University Press).

Shannon Bow O'Brien: Donald Trump and the Kayfabe Presidency: Professional Wrestling Rhetoric in the White House

PJ O'Rourke: A Cry From the Far Middle: Dispatches From a Divided Land (2020, Atlantic Monthly Press).

Brian L Ott/Greg Dickinson: The Twitter Presidency: Donald J Trump and the Politics of White Rage (2020, Routledge).

Rodney S Patterson: Trumping the Race Card: A National Agenda, Moving Beyond Race and Racism (paperback, 2019, Learner's Group).

*Douglas E Schoen/Jessica Tarlov: America in the Age of Trump: A Bipartisan Guide (paperback, 2018, Encounter Books).

*Jennifer M Silva: We're Still Here: Pain and Politics in the Heart of America (2019, Oxford University Press).

Theda Skocpol/Caroline Tervo, eds: Upending American Politics: Polarizing Parties, Ideological Elites, and Citizen Activists From the Tea Party to the Anti-Trump Resistance (paperback, 2020, Oxford University Press).

Terry Silverman: 1000 Dumbest Things Donald Trump Has Said and Done (paperback, 2020, independent).

*Scott Stedman: Real News: An Investigative Reporter Uncovers the Foundations of the Trump-Russia Conspiracy (2019, Skyhorse).

Strobe Talbott: Our Founders' Warning: The Age of Reason Meets the Age of Trump (2020, Brookings Institution Press).

Tom Telcholz: The Worst President Ever: Prominent Republican and Former Trump Administration Officials Speak Out Against Trump (paperback, 2020, independent).

Barney Warf, ed: Political Landscapes of Donald Trump (paperback, 2020, Routledge). [October 29]

Tahmina Watson: Legal Heroes in the Trump Era (2020, Tahmina Watson).

*Darrell M West: Divided Politics, Divided Nation: Hyperconflict in the Trump Era (2020, Brookings Institution Press).

*Alexander Zaitchik: The Gilded Rage: A Wild Ride Through Donald Trump's America (2016, Hot Books).


I might as well mention my own not-yet-book, tentatively titled The Last Days of American Empire IV: Extracts From a Notebook (.odt format, and large), which covers 2017 up to last week (more forthcoming). The title seemed more obvious as I was compiling Volume I, which covers the GW Bush years, 2001-08. It was clear from his initial overreach after 9/11/2001 that Bush was going to push the American Empire past its breaking point. Indeed, that was the one point Osama Bin Laden got right in provoking America into its Global War on Terror. Nothing since then has changed my mind, so I kept the title through Obama's presidency, covered in Volume II and Volume III, although by then the rot seemed more reflected at home, in ever increasing inequality and an increasing sense of injustice. But where Obama at least seemed to recognize problems and was intent on patching them up with as little inconvenience to the rich as possible, Trump has repeatedly blown things up, stripping away any semblance of normalcy or even rational planning. Indeed, the driving motivation in chronicling the last four years as been dumbfounded wonder at how destructive a politician could be.

Monday, October 12, 2020


Music Week

October archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 34182 [34142] rated (+40), 212 [217] unrated (-5).

Let's get this over with quick. Seems like it's been a slow, annoying, frustrating week. I wanted to get a book piece done, but didn't. At the moment, I have about 20 tabs opened to possible books, and I want to get through them before I upgrade my computer software (Xubuntu 18 to 20), so I need to move on to that. I did manage to publish a batch of answers to reader questions last week. One of those questions was really just encouragement to follow through on a previous week's threat to mock up a 50-album all-time best ballot, which I sort of did.

Phil Overeem did his own ballot exercise, which is the source for the "old music" listed below. A lot of Memphis psychobilly on his list, which I'm naturally inclined to like but not revere, so my (usually one-play) grades are muted. I didn't jot down a proper checklist, so I missed some things -- mostly old albums by groups I know well from compilations (e.g., The "5" Royales). Double checking, I found two more albums I once owned but hadn't listed in my database (Drifters, George Jones), but remember well enough I feel I can assign them grades (A and A-; a better Jones comp is the earlier Cup of Loneliness, although my first pick is the career-spanning 2-CD box, The Spirit of Country: The Essential George Jones; as for the Drifters, Rhino's 1993 The Very Best of the Drifters is perfect for the 1959-64 group; the 2-CD All-Time Greatest Hits and More: 1959-1965 doesn't fall off much; and while all of the above ignore the early Drifters, Let the Boogie Roll: The Greatest Hits 1953-1958 is also solid A-, as is Clyde McPhatter's post-Drifters Deep Sea Ball: The Best of Clyde McPhatter).

I had more trouble with the various artist picks. It Came From Memphis, Volume 1 is probably the 1995 blues comp on Upstart -- Napster has a Volume 2 but not this one. I'm far less certain about Sweet Soul Music: as best I can tell, the choices are: a 1980 Atlantic (16 songs, with Arthur Conley's title hit); a 1987 J&B (17 songs, Conley again, Atlantics leaning heavy on Franklin-Redding-Pikett); a 1988 Stax (subtitle: The Stax Groups, 13 songs, most obscure); a 1992 Sire (subtitle: Voices From the Shadows, a tie-in with Peter Guralnick's book; and a 1995 K-Tel (26 songs, leads with Sam & Dave's cover, mostly great songs but scattered as far as "One Fine Day" and "Midnight at the Oasis"). My guess is that Overeem probably means the Sire, with its relatively obscure Memphis focus -- he seems to have a thing for Memphis (also for New Orleans).

Could be that some of the B+ records might kick in after a few plays. I listened to Fairport Chronicles on YouTube, which is never ideal, but I've never been that big of a fan. I've never liked the Ramones as much as many friends do, so while It's Alive was pretty good, it didn't strike me as special. If memory serves, I saw them once live, as the opening act for Iggy Pop (or was it the Clash?); either way, they were good but not that great. I'll also note that I was in a particularly bad mood when I played Ella: The Lost Berlin Tapes, which didn't start to clear up until "Mack the Knife." For the record, I also have her 1960 Ella in Berlin at B+, which puts it behind a lot of superior records.

Will get back to the book post after this. Should finish catching up the Trump book draft this week. Not sure what else, other than some cooking -- red cooked ham tonight, with stir-fried bok choy; will do twice-cooked pork sooner or later this week, and have a few more things in the refrigerator that need attending -- and some yard work, while it's still nice out.

Applied for mail-in Kansas ballots, but haven't received them yet. Looks like they're being sent out later this week. It's important that all Americans vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and for all Kansans to vote for Barbara Bollier for Senate. I'm also looking forward to voting for Democrats down ballot, especially James Thompson for one of the judgeships. If you don't understand why, download the book link above start picking out random pages (there's 2,346 to choose from).


New records reviewed this week:

Ammar 808: Global Control/Invisible Invasion (2019 [2020], Glitterbeat): Sofyann Ben Youssef, electronica producer from Tunisia based in Brussels, alias comes from South India, and this was recorded in Chennai, with Indian vocalists and percussion. B+(**)

Angel-Ho: Alla Prima (2020, Hyperdub, EP): South African singer-songwriter, "gypsy of the world," released Death Becomes Her in 2019, returns with a five track, 14:55 EP. Credits are her (vocals) and Bon (production), but most vocals sound male and hip-hop: "you can either be an angel or a ho/ the choice is yours." B [bc]

Valentin Ceccaldi: Ossos (2017 [2020], Cipsela): French cellist, younger brother of violinist Théo Ceccaldi, solo album, occasionally harsh and/or abstract. B+(*)

Jay Clayton/Jerry Granelli: Alone Together (2020, Sunnyside): Jazz vocalist, very skilled even if sometimes she just seems to be talking, accompanied by a drummer. Pretty spare, but not as limited as you'd expect. B+(*)

Brent Cobb: Keep 'Em on They Toes (2020, Ol' Buddy): Country singer-songwriter from Georgia, released a couple albums on Elektra, self-released here. B+(**)

Marie Davidson & L'OEil Nu: Renegade Breakdown (2020, Ninja Tune): Canadian electronica producer, formed a band (trio) here, and sings (or talks) throughout. Title cut notes: "there are no money makers on this record/ this time I'm exploring the losers' point of view." Most interesting songs, wander a bit. B+(***) [bc]

Nir Felder: II (2020, Ropeadope): Guitarist, based in New York, debut album 2014, this is his second, with a dozen or more side credits. All originals, also plays banjo, mandolin, electric sitar, and keyboards, backed by Matt Penman (bass) and Jimmy Macbride (drums). B+(*)

Noah Haidu: Doctone (2019 [2020], Sunnyside): Pianist, born in Virginia, based in New York, fourth album since 2011, tribute to Kenny Kirkland (1955-98), half trio with Todd Coolman and Billy Hart, half with added sax (Steve Wilson, Gary Thomas, and/or Jon Irabagon), one track with extra percussion. B+(**) [cd]

Mary Halvorson's Code Girl: Artlessly Falling (2019 [2020], Firehouse 12): Guitarist, often brilliant, follows up her widely praised 2018 2-CD album with a sequel, the group slightly rejiggered -- Adam O'Farrill takes over trumpet, and Maria Grand is added on tenor sax; bass, drums and voice return (Michael Formanek, Tomas Fujiwara, Amirtha Kidambi), with Robert Wyatt on three tracks. As with Code Girl, I hate the way the vocals are tortured to wrap around unsingable lines. Without vocals the music is slippery and devious, which works for the trumpet. B [cd] [10-30]

Loraine James: Nothing (2020, Hyperdub): Electronica artist, based in London, 2019 album (For You and I) was a breakthrough, follows that up with 4-track, 18:12 EP. Kind of murky. B

Alicia Keys: Alicia (2020, RCA): Soul singer-songwriter, debut was a big hit in 2001; 2016 album Here was one of her best. B+(**)

Adam Kolker: Lost (2019 [2020], Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist (also soprano), sixth album since 1999, quartet with names on the cover: Bruce Barth (piano), Ugonna Okegwo (bass), and Billy Hart (drums). B+(**)

Christian McBride Big Band: For Jimmy, Wes and Oliver (2020, Mack Avenue): Bassist, third Big Band album since 2011, a tribute to Smith and Montgomery, who dominated their instrumental niches in the 1960s and played together as "the dynamic duo," and Nelson, a saxophonist better known as a big band arranger (Blues and the Abstract Truth is his masterpiece). In addition to the usual suspects, Joey DeFrancesco plays organ and Mark Whitfield guitar. They certainly hit all the right notes, but we're barely removed from a world where practically everyone tried to sound like Smith and Montgomery. McBride's choice of Nelson as his arranger idol isn't any more far-fetched. B+(**)

Johnny Nicholas: Mistaken Identity (2020, Valcour): Bluesman, from Rhode Island, recorded an album called Too Many Bad Habits in 1978, played in Asleep at the Wheel (1978-81), took a long hiatus (albums in 1988, 1994, 2001, 2005) before picking up the pace recently. B+(**)

Michael Olatuja: Lagos Pepper Soup (2020, Whirlwind): Bassist, born in London, raised in Lagos, based in New York. Second album. Core band: Terreon Gully (drums), Aaron Parks (piano), Etienne Sladwijk (keyboards), plus numerous guest spots, including five singers, also spots for Lionel Loueke, Regina Carter, Brandee Younger, Gregoire Maret, and Joe Lovano (by far the best). B+(*)

Potsa Lotsa XL: Silk Songs for Space Dogs (2019 [2020], Leo): German alto saxophonist Silke Eberhard's project, originally a wind quartet, augmented here to tentet, with two brass, three reeds, piano, cello, bass, vibes, and drums. All originals by Eberhard. A-

Rempis/Rosaly Duo: Codes/Myths (2018 [2020], Aerophonic, 2CD): Sax-drums duo, Rempis playing his usual alto/tenor/baritone, Rosaly a frequent collaborator, especially as one of the two drummers in Rempis Percussion Quartet. Each disc is manageable, with one long and one shorter piece (totaling 40:05, 41:19). B+(***) [bc]

The Ridiculous Trio: The Ridiculous Trio Plays the Stooges (2020, Modern Harmonic): Trombone-tuba-drums trio, no vocals -- not so ridiculous, given that the concept could be applied to all sorts of music. Bandcamp tags are: punk, jazz, stooges, Chicago. Not sure they've crossed into jazz -- most songs are done up pretty straight, although the tonality is novel. B+(**)

Sault: Untitled (Rise) (2020, Forever Living Originals): British electronica group, little known about them, fourth album in two years, first two reminded me of Chic. Choice cut: "You Know It Ain't." B+(***)

Ray Suhy & Lewis Porter Quartet: Transcendent (2020, Sunnyside): Guitar and piano, second album together, Porter is a well-known educator with a bunch of records since 2007. Backed by Brad Jones (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums). B+(**)

Luís Vicente: Maré (2017 [2020], Cipsela): Portuguese trumpet player, quite a few projects since 2013. This one is solo, holds your interest longer than most. B+(**) [cd]

Amber Weekes: The Gathering (2020, Amber Inn Productions): Jazz singer, has a couple of albums, this one planned for Christmas. Played it by accident, and found it tolerable enough, fairly secular aside from "Silent Night," which oddly enough I found most appealing. B

What Happens in a Year: Cérémonie/Musique (2018 [2020], FiP): Josh Sinton (baritone sax/bass clarinet), Todd Neufeld (electric guitar), and Giacomo Merega (electric bass), group debut, ambles gently, leaning more toward chamber jazz than fusion. B+(*) [cd] [10-09]

Walter White: BB XL (2020, Walter White Music): Trumpet player, has one of those names that make searching difficult, but has one previous record in my database, maybe more in the real world. Very splashy big band, some originals, also jazz standards like "Cantaloupe Island," "Blue Rondo a la Turk," "Nica's Dream," and a Latin bash ("Yo Conecto"). B [cd]

Nate Wooley: Seven Storey Mountain VI (2019 [2020], Pyroclastic): Trumpet player, prolific since his 2005 debut, released his first piece based on Thomas Merton's famous meditation in 2011, a trio with C Spencer Yeh (violin) and Chris Corsano (drums). This is done with a much larger group,with guitars, keyboards, pedal steel (Susan Alcorn), and voices. Starts in a dense murk, clarifies as the voices rise. B+(*) [cd] [10-16]

Yo La Tengo: We Have Amnesia Sometimes (2020, Matador): Short album (37:16), pandemic filler, with (per Pitchfork) "five formless, comforting drones, recorded with a single microphone placed in the middle of their Hoboken practice space." The exception is the rather likable "Thursday" piece. B

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Ella Fitzgerald: Ella: The Lost Berlin Tapes (1962 [2002], Verve, 2CD): Recorded two years after Ella in Berlin. She turns in a superior "Mack the Knife" here, and I like her blues closer, but seemed pretty typical before those. B+(**)

Old music:

The Cramps: Songs the Lord Taught Us (1980, IRS): Garage punk/psychobilly band, seems like I must have seen them 5-6 times in the late 1970s, mostly an opening act at CBGB, never the one I looked to see. Christgau loathed them, and I never heard anything that convinced me he was wrong. First proper album, after an EP called Gravest Hits (1979), and they lasted a long time, finally breaking up in 2009 (last studio album 2003). Seems fairly tight to me. Closes with not-bad covers of "Tear It Up" and "Fever." B+(*)

The Cramps: Bad Music for Bad People (1977-81 [1984], IRS): Compilation was a mop-up operation for the label once the band went elsewhere, combining their best-known songs ("TV Set," "Garbageman") with leftovers -- not really sure if anything here was recorded after their second/last IRS album in 1981. More covers, mostly rockabilly. B+(*) [yt]

The Dirtbombs: Horndog Fest (1998, In the Red): Detroit garage punk band, first album, Mick Collins rushes through 12 originals in 29:31. The opener skitters on the edge of pure noise, but the second song ("I Can't Stop Thinking About It") has too good a bass line to ruin. Goes back and forth like that, a bit attenuated over time, or maybe just sloppier. B+(**)

The Dirtbombs: Ultraglide in Black (2001, In the Red): Second album, soul and funk covers, from the 1960s and early 1970s. Good chance I'd like a compilation of the originals better, but some kind of thing in its own right. B+(***)

The Dirtbombs: Dangerous Magical Noise (2003, In the Red): Less noise than their debut, no less loud, they've given themselves permission to write songs with melodies and hooks even, but not too nice. B+(**)

Fairport Convention: Fairport Chronicles (1968-72 [1976], A&M, 2LP): Genre-defining English folk-rock group, originally Simon Nicol (guitar/vocal), Richard Thompson (guitar/vocal), Ashley Hutchings (bass guitar), and a drummer (first in a long series), with fiddler Dave Swarbrick and Sandy Dennis becoming the voice of the group in 1969). B+(**) [yt]

Tav Falco/Panther Burns: 10th Anniversary Live LP: Midnight in Memphis (1989 [1990], New Rose): Rockabilly revivalist, or psychobilly pioneer, formed his band in 1979 and returned to the obvious spot for this anniversary. Gets sloppy toward the end, then wins me back with "Bourgeois Blues." B+(**)

Lee Perry "The Upsetter" Presents: Roast Fish Collie Weed & Corn Bread (1978 [1992], VP): Reggae star, started with the Upsetters in 1969, found his niche in dub, remains active after 50 years. One of his first records to use his name, and one of the last not to feature the nickname "Scratch." Island had released his Super Ape, but rejected this one. Hard to hear why now, given how popular dub was to come. A-

Ramones: It's Alive (1977 [1979], Sire): London show, three good albums in, bashing through 28 songs in 53:49. Approximately the same as the albums, which may make it redundant, or a reasonable substitute, or nothing much at all. [Pretty sure I had this as a 2-LP import, but didn't register a grade in my database. Christgau didn't review it until a 1995 reissue. In 2019 it was reissued in a 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition: 4-CD comprising all 4 concerts, plus 2-LP reprising the original release, plus a hardcover book.] B+(***)

Shaver: Unshaven: Live at Smith's Olde Bar (1995, Zoo Entertainment): Country singer-songwriter Billy Joe Shaver, debuted in 1973, was mostly distinguished by his wit until 1993, when he teamed up with his guitarist son Eddy Shaver and went with the common denominator band name. Band recorded six hard rocking albums up to Eddy's death in 2000. This is the live one, with many of his old songs revved up -- not as high and hard as this band could get, but this is fast becoming my favorite setting for his best-of. A-

Link Wray: Rumble: The Best of Link Wray (1958-79 [1993], Rhino): Guitarist, cut instrumental rock singles after Duane Eddy and before surf guitar, but only the first two ("Rumble" and "Raw-Hide") were minor hits, with "Jack the Ripper" grazing the charts (64 in 1963). He got a second brush with fame in 1977 when Robert Gordon recruited him for a rockabilly revival project that didn't go very far, but got him a new record with the best track here ("Switchblade"). Five tracks have vocals. B+(**) [yt]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Fred Hersch: Songs From Home (Palmetto) [11-06]
  • The JCA Orchestra: Live at the BPC (JCA) [11-06]
  • Angelica Sanchez & Marilyn Crispell: How to Turn the Moon (Pyroclastic)

Sunday, October 11, 2020


Weekend Roundup

Got a late start, by which time I was so annoyed and frustrated that I merely went through the motions. Hoped to get three things done during the week: a new batch of questions and answers, including a ballot exercise for a list of all-time greatest records; a books post (not yet done); and an update to my collection of Trump-era (2017 et seq) blog posts (thought I had it done, then decided to append some earlier Trump references, which I didn't get done (for the .odt file; link will still work when I catch up; beware that it is currently 874,147 words, 2,346 pages; there is a fair amount of redundancy there, but also a lot to be outraged about). I thought the latter might be useful for trying to write an endorsement letter like I did for Kerry vs Bush in 2004. But while I thought it important to try to construct a strong logical case back then, I'm not sure that's worth the effort this year. One could enumerate hundreds or thousands of reasons why Trump should be denied a second term, but the most fundamental one is: aren't you simply embarrassed that this guy has been given any measure of constitutional power in the United States of America? And if you aren't, why? I usually make a serious effort to understand how other people think, but I can't imagine any defense of Trump. If that isn't obvious enough, download the book, and read this week's addition (not yet in the book, but coming soon).

Another possible project would be to edit those 2,346 pages down to something humanly readable. But right now, I'm not sure how much practical benefit that would offer. Or how much work I can possibly put into such a project. Election day is less than a month ago. If Biden wins, Trump will be history, and probably forgotten as quickly as GW Bush was after 2008. And if Trump wins, the future will be bleak indeed, not least because the stabilizing force of democracy will be so thoroughly discredited. Indeed, one of the most bizarre things about this election is how hard Trump is working to make sure that even if he wins, he won't have any legitimacy left to govern, because he's gone so far out of his way to discredit the entire electoral process. If you are a person with a stake in the system, you cannot afford to give him another term.

And two more obvious points: the only real way to vote Trump out is to vote for Biden-Harris -- regardless of what you think of Biden-Harris (and frankly I don't think much of either); and while Trump is loathsome and obnoxious on a personal level far and beyond his party (including his VP Pence), the real harm he has done to this country has been his promotion of mainstream Republicans -- to the judiciary, to run the bureaucracy, to let lobbyists pollute the environment and get away with predatory business practices, to make the world a much more dangerous and hateful place. Hence, you should not only vote Trump out, but take his whole Party down with him. Our future depends on it.

This week's topics are much like last week's topics:


The Covid-19 Pandemic and the White House

Alex Abad-Santos: Even while sick with Covid-19, Trump sees masks as a symbol of weakness.

Eliza Barclay: Trump and his staff's refusal to wear a face mask is a catastrophe.

Julia Belluz: No, the Regeneron drug Trump received is not a Covid-19 "cure". One thing that's disturbing about Trump is how readily he likes to offer himself as a pitchman.

Troy Closson: 80-year-old is killed after asking bar patron to wear a mask.

Jahnavi Curlin: I'm a contact tracer. Trump's advice not to fear Covid-19 is dangerous. "I talk to people with Covid-19 almost every day. Trump's experience of the disease couldn't be more different from theirs."

Chas Danner:

Sheila Kaplan: White House blocked CDC from requiring masks on public transportation.

Eric Lach: Donald Trump's campaign rallies are now confirmed public-health hazards.

German Lopez:

Olivia Nuzzi: The entire presidency is a superspreading event.

Kelsey Piper: Photos of Trump's reckless activities, ranked by their Covid-19 risk.

Kaleigh Rogers: What are the possible side effects of Trump's Covid-19 treatment?

Aaron Rupar: The White house won't say when Trump's last negative coronavirus test was. Here's why it matters.

Melody Schreiber:

Dylan Scott: Trump has been the biggest source of Covid-19 misinformation, study finds.

Joanne Silberner: Why Covid-19 cases are surging in the UK.

Emily Stewart: The Trump-related coronavirus cases we'll never hear about.

Libby Watson:

Jeff Wise: For Trump, the most dangerous Covid phase lies ahead.

The VP Debate

I don't watch debates any more. At their best, you get one (or two) candidates skillfully navigating the conventional wisdom while trying to land a couple of memorable zingers. I remember Reagan-Mondale in 1984, which Mondale totally dominated on points and logic (not that I in any way enjoyed how belligerently anti-Communist he came off), but all the history books remember was Reagan's zinger ("I won't hold my opponent's inexperience against him"), plus Reagan's landslide that November. At worst, you get someone as boorish and ignorant as Donald Trump, and I've seen more than enough of him. Evidently, Pence avoided the worst by not being Trump, yet he had to tread carefully lest he offend his master, so he just tried to spin what he could, and duck the rest. He may not be as flagrantly loathsome as Trump, but his greater deliberation and cunning strike me as even worse traits. One thing the debate has done is to give us pause to reflect on his reign as VP. He has been every bit as consequential as Dick Cheney, for much the same reason: a weak, shallow, needy leader, and the opportunity to stock the upper reaches of government with his extended crony network. If he's underrated, it's because he's done all this with less fanfare than Cheney, and he's repeatedly had to prostrate and humiliate himself before Trump's overweening ego.

Vox [Emily Stewart/German Lopez/Ella Nilsen/Li Zhou/Anna North/Dylan Matthews]: 5 winners and 3 losers from the vice presidential debate: Winners: Kamala Harris; Covid-19, Boringness ("Mike Pence is boring"; "But on Wednesday night, Pence's boringness was a strength"); #KHive; The fly. Losers: Infrastructure week; Ordinary Americans impacted by Covid-19; Susan Page. Possible research subject: Has there ever been a debate where the moderator wasn't a loser?

538/Ipsos (Laura Bronner/Aaron Bycoffe/Elena Mejia/Julia Wolfe): Who won the vice presidential debate? "Harris got higher marks for her performance -- and her policies." Harris led in "popularity contest" metrics, and improved more over the debate (+6 favorability compared to +2 for Pence). Harris led favorable 51-39; unfavorable was Harris 41, Pence 53.

Matthew Cooper: Pence was pretty good. Harris was better.

Susan B Glasser: Mike Pence's Trumpian makeover.

Trump, though, is immune to embarrassment -- his lack of shame has long been one of his political superpowers -- and so it must be for those around him. Among the many questions that Pence refused to answer was one of the week's more obvious, given the large cluster of coronavirus cases in the White House and the President's own illness after months of refusing to wear a mask or observe social distancing: Why should the American people listen when you tell them to abide by public-health guidelines that you yourself refuse to follow? Pence's response was a model of misdirection, which had something to do with the Green New Deal and the coming government takeover of health care under the radical-left Democrats. Harris could only look on in amazement, shaking her head at the brazenness.

Sarah Jones: Trump won't debate unless there's a risk of infecting Biden. "At least the CPD has blocked him from accomplishing the 21st-century equivalent of pitching a plague corpse at an enemy."

Jen Kirby: About that fly in the vice presidential debate. Needless to say, a dozen or more people I know responded by linking to videos of Wire's videos I Am the Fly -- not just because it's the most famous song about flies, but because you could imagine it as Pence's soundtrack: "I shake you down to say please/ As you accept the next dose of disease."

Eric Levitz: No one won the Pence-Harris debate. But Trump lost. "The jarringly normal debate drove home how much worse Trump is at politics than his 'generic Republican' running mate."

Jason Linkins: Kamala Harris and Mike Pence tried to have a normal debate. It didn't quite work.

Martin Longman: Is Trump chickening out of more debates?

Josh Marshall: Not even close.

I wouldn't say Harris wowed. There weren't a lot of zingers. But she hit every last point the campaign could have asked for. Just methodically. Killing the ACA, Charlottesville, the horrific failure of the COVID response. She didn't really care about Mike Pence. She was there to make a case against Donald Trump. And she did.

Nicole Narea: A post-debate focus group of undecided voters suggests that Kamala Harris faces an uphill battle.

Terry Nguyen: Why Mike Pence's pink-looking eye caused so much speculation.

Anna North: What a Pence presidency would look like: "We've already seen a lot of what he might do."

Ella Nilsen: The second debate between Trump and Biden is canceled.

Dylan Scott: Mike Pence tried to blame Kamala Harris for undermining a Covid-19 vaccine. But the public blames Trump.

Amy Davidson Sorkin: Covid-19 at the vice-presidential debate.

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: A fly in the ointment. Weekly column, starts with the debate (almost live-blogging), noting among other things that "in medieval art, a fly was often paintedon a liar and moral hypocrite." More substantively:

Pence put himself in the difficult position of making Harris look like she was weak on crime while, at the same time, being an over-zealous prosecutor. Of course, the kind of crimes Harris was weak on are the very financial crimes committed by the current Secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin. It was a point Pence couldn't press and Harris couldn't defend.

St Clair eventually moves on to other topics. He offers a table of "new Covid-19 cases in the last 7 days: Vietnam - 5, Taiwan - 9, Yemen - 10, New Zealand - 25, White House - 34." He adds, "The Trump administration hasn't delivered this many positive results since, well, ever."

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: Out-of-touch, incoherent foreign poicy on display in Harris-Pence showdown.

Benjamin Wallace-Wells: A straightforward vice-presidential debate about a catastrophic presidency.

Matthew Yglesias: Mike Pence played a weak hand well.

Other Aspects of the Campaign and Elections

Katelyn Burns:

John Cassidy: Donald Trump's loopy self-pity tour of conservative media outlets.

Isaac Chotiner: How to make sense of the polls. Interview with Sean Trende, of Real Clear Politics.

Summer Concepcion: Here's how Trumpworld is rallying behind Covid-infected POTUS return to campaign trail. Spots on Larry Kudlow, Eric Trump, Lara Trump, and Ronna McDaniel.

John F Harris/Melanie Zanoma: Republicans are finally ready to diss Don: I think they're grasping at straws here. Trump will be fair game if he loses, especially dragging lots of Republicans down with him, but until then few have the mettle to disrespect him, especially given that his fans are bred to be even more vindictive than the average Republican. That there's any equivocation at all signifies a much broader fear over the election. Conversely, the only reason GOP mandarins flocked to him was when he proved himself as a miracle winner in 2016.

Jen Kirby: The battle over a Texas order limiting ballot drop-off locations, explained.

Nancy LeTourneau: The media is spreading Trump's lies about mail-in voting.

Julia Lurie: Private prisons have spent more on this election than any other in history.

Nick Martin: North Carolina's labyrinthine voting nightmare: "A mix of Trumpian meddling, legal holdups, and a bureaucratic mess is putting Black voters at risk this election.

Aaron Rupar: "They want to take care of certain little tiny fish": Trump's Hannity interview was off the rails.

Paige Williams: Inside the Lincoln Project's war against Trump.

Li Zhou: "Mr Vice President, I'm speaking": Kamala Harris repeatedly shut down Mike Pence's interruptions at the debate.

Still More on Donald Trump

David Atkins: Trump is the most crooked president in American history. That should matter.

Andrea Bernstein: Pattern of deception: From Trump family business to grifter in chief.

Jonathan Chait: Trump's lifelong obsession with his superior DNA is being put to the test.

Fabiola Cineas: Donald Trump is the accelerant: "A comprehensive timeline of Trump encouraging hate groups and political violence." Timeline starts in June, 2015, with details on 42 separate instances.

Steve Coll: Donald Trump's consistent unreliability on Covid, and everything else. "It is painful to reflect on the tens of thousands of lives that might have been saved if a less reality-challenged President had occupied the White House."

Tyler Cullis: The undeniable cruelty of Trump's 'maximum pressure' on Iran.

John F Harris/Daniel Lippman: Amateur hour at the Trump White House: "The coronavirus outbreak at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave is just one facet of a much deeper presidential malaise."

Fred Kaplan:

Kevin Liptak: Trump calls in for rambling and ugly post-hospital interview.

Josh Marshall: Folks, the Executive Branch needs an audit.

Nicole Narea:

Doug Palmer: Why Trump lost his battle against the trade deficit: "The monthly deficit in US goods trade with all other countries set a record high in August at more than $83 billion." Shouldn't this have been the key metric to determine whether Trump's promises on jobs and trade, and his flirtation with tariffs, been judged on? As noted here, Turmp's trade adviser Peter Navarro "predicted in 2016 [the trade gap] could be erased in one or two years." One might counter that today's results are the simple extension of longer-term trends, but you have to admit that Trump did nothing to budge them.

JC Pan:

  • Melania Trump's charmed pandemic life: "The first lady once again gets off light -- thanks to a gullible media and an incredibly low bar set by her husband." Just a thought, but I haven't seen a single report on her illness beyond the initial positive test. Does she really have the disease? Certainly plausible, given how many people in and around the White House have contracted it. On the other hand, how would it look if the president got it and she didn't?

  • A thrilling week inside Trump's flailing masculinity death cult: "The president was sick -- but strong! Actively infections -- but still man enough to debate!"

Alex Shephard:

Supreme Court, and Other Injustices

David Atkins: Republicans have already packed the courts. It's up to Democrats how to rebalance them. Amen.

Dahlia Lithwick: We know exactly how Amy Coney Barrett will unravel Roe.

Ian Millhiser: The bizarre abortion order just handed down by the Supreme Court, briefly explained.

Tom Scocca: Amy Coney Barrett is as cynical as Trump.

Adam Wren: How Amy Coney Barrett's religious group helped shape a city: "The People of Praise isn't well-understood by outsiders, but its influence -- and social conservatism -- run deeply through this Indiana city.".

The Economy With No Stimulus Deal

Josh Barro: Wall Street got what it wanted from Trump and is ready for Biden.

Katelyn Burns: Stimulus talks are at an impasse as Senate Republicans object to White House package.

Jane Coaston: Trump's stimulus obstruction excites fiscal conservatives -- and no one else. I was going to ask why are these fiscal conservatives. The article names Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore, who've never considered the possibility that tax cuts for the rich might increase the deficit.

Ed Kilgore: Erratic Trump is all over the place on stimulus deal.

Paul Krugman:

  • The very strong case for Bidenomics: "The former vice president's tax and spending claims are credible; Trump's aren't."

  • Bidencare would be a big deal: "Don't dismiss it because it isn't Medicare for All. Krugman has long been the most effective proponent of ACA, possibly because he concedes the point that Medicare for All would be better. His pet tactic is to argue that ACA could be made as effective at the key goal of universal coverage -- sure, a bit more expensively, but at a more realistic political cost. But here all he seems to be offering is to throw more money at the problems, without any real hope of limiting the drain. I don't doubt that Biden could reform ACA for the better, but it still looks like a lost cause.

  • Trump is killing the economy out of spite. It's really not just Trump, although he does a remarkably poor job of hiding his intent. But Republicans have been soliciting votes for fear of the sabotage they'd inflict on Democrats if Republicans lost. Deficit spending is OK as long as the Republicans are in power. The government won't be shut down (at least until Trump). Republicans aren't going to brow eat one of their own into starting a war (unless he really wants to). I've long thought that one of the reasons Hillary lost was that the people decided they wanted to spare her the endless string of phony scandals Republicans have long been able to nag her about. I've never understood why people (or the media) would put up with extortion, but somehow Republicans never got blamed for being bastards. Somehow, it was their brand, their charm. So why shouldn't Trump wreck everything on his way out? Who's going to blame him?

    I don't know whether Trump expects to lose the election. But he's already acting like a deeply embittered man, lashing out at people he feels have treated him unfairly, which is basically everyone. And as usual he reserves special rage for smart, tough women; on Thursday he called Kamala Harris a "monster."

    Yet getting a relief deal would have required accepting a compromise with that "nasty" woman Nancy Pelosi. And it seems that he would rather let the economy burn.

    The thing is, if he's behaving like this now, when he still has some chance of winning, how will he act if he loses?

Eric Levitz: The GOP is sabotaging Trump's economy a month before election day. Here's why. "McConnell can afford to walk away from Covid relief because the Senate's partisan skew tightly limits how many seats his party can lose."

Matthew Yglesias:

Gretchen Whitmer's Close Call

Anna North: "The woman in Michigan": How Gretchen Whitmer became a target of right-wing hate.

Cristina Cabrera: Trump attacks Whitmer after Feds foil plot to kidnap her, complains she hasn't thanked him.

Amy Cooter: Lessons from embedding with the Michigan militia -- 5 questions answered about the group allegedly plotting to kidnap a governor.

Fred Kaplan: The face of American insurgency: "The Michigan plot wasn't about Donald Trump. It goes deeper than that." I advise taking the Trump disclaimer with a bit of salt. Two of the six indicted took part in the anti-lockdown armed occupation of the Michigan State House, which may not have been directed by the White House, but was hinted at in statements both before and after the event.

Andrew Prokop: Charges announced in plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan.

Robert Snell/Melissa Nann Burke: Plans to kidnap Whitmer, overthrow government spoiled, officials say.

Miscellaneous

Fabiola Cineas: Tropical depression Delta brings heavy rain and wind to the Gulf Coast. More fair to refer to it as Hurricane Delta. It was a Category 4 in the Caribbean before crossing over the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and grew back to Category 3 in the Gulf of Mexico, before making landing in Louisiana as a Category 2.

Edward-Isaac Dovere: Hillary Clinton says she was right all along: "The biggest factors she blames for her loss -- disinformation, Vladimir Putin, and America's deep political divide -- will still be problems even if Trump loses, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee warns." I'm occasionally tempted to subscribe to The Atlantic, only to find it a bit rich for my taste. Articles like this make me glad I didn't nibble. At this point, who the fuck even cares what she thinks? Let alone thinks about herself!

Dan Friedman: Elliott Broidy, former top Trump fundraiser, will plead guilty to violating foreign lobbying law.

Umair Irfan: California's largest wildfire on record is now a million-acre "gigafire": "The August Complex Fire in North California has now burned an area larger than Rhode Island."

Eric Levitz: Mike Lee opposes democracy -- but supports rule by 'the people'. I don't want to go too deep here, but one should point out that the objectives Lee touts as more important than democracy -- "liberty, peace, and prosperity" -- haven't actually been secured by the Republican antiversion (or perversion) of democracy. The US jails more of its citizens than any other nation, with right-wing Christians especially aggressive at denying and impeding popular rights (except, of course, gun ownership). The US has been constantly at war since 2001, and spent most of the time after 1945 cycling between hot and cold wars. Widespread prosperity has declined considerably since Reagan won in 1980, and the last two Republican presidents ended their terms with major recessions. It's easy enough to understand why Republicans like Lee don't want to let the people decide their own fates, but a superior grasp of liberty, peace, and prosperity isn't a valid reason.

Ilan Pappe: Israel's Peace Process was always a road to nowhere.

Alex Pareene: Would the GOP use Trump's Covid diagnosis to start a war? "Why hawks are determined to blame a foreign enemy for the president's health woes." I rather doubt the thesis, but since Trump not only recovered but decided getting Covid-19 was a blessing, I think we can put these worries aside. Still, it is often the case that when a crisis strikes, the hawks are first to roost -- recall Alexander ("I'm in charge here") Haig when Reagan was shot.

Vijay Prashad/John Ross: Why America's economic war on China is failing.

Zoë Richards: Graham says black people and immigrants can be successful with a caveat: They "just need to be conservative, not liberal." In other words, they need to toil obediently for the rich, eschewing any feelings of solidarity with people like themselves, or the vast majority of Americans. He cited examples, like Sen. Tim Scott and former Gov. Nikki Haley "as people of color who rose to success at least in part due to sharing that state's 'values.'"

Charlie Savage: Nicholson Baker's maddening search for the truth.

Mattathias Schwartz: The FBI team sent to 'exploit' protesters' phones in Portland.

Alex Ward:

Matthew Yglesias:

Tuesday, October 6, 2020


Music Week

October archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 34142 [34098] rated (+44), 217 [214] unrated (+3).

Late start, after Weekend Roundup chewed up Monday. The delay there was due to the Trump White House's own pandemic-in-a-microcosm. Opened the Eagle today to find a Kathleen Parker column speculating on how his brush with Covid-19 might make Trump a bit humbler, but he had already scotched that idea with his fan club drive-by, then went on to tweet that Americans have nothing to fear from Covid-19, declaring that after three days in the hospital he feels better than he has in 20 years. It just goes to show that the worst case scenario wasn't that he would die. It's that he would recover and turn into an even bigger asshole.

Indeed, his first piece of "work" since leaving the hospital was to pull the plug on a new stimulus deal: see Trump cuts off stimulus relief talks until after election, upending prospects for aid; and Trump abruptly ends stimulus talks after Fed Chair urges economic support. Jonathan Chait's view: Trump stimulus fail: Worst blunder in presidential history. Historians may debate that, but Wall Street's verdict was instantaneous: Dow drops 370, airlines hit hard.

Meanwhile, add Stephen Miller to the list of White House aides who have tested positive for Covid-19. The toll of Kayleigh McEnany aides has risen to four. There is also an unnamed White House military aide, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are all in quarantine. Dhruv Kullar, who wrote one of the most informative pieces I linked to in Weekend Roundup, wrote another piece on The recklessness of Trump's return to the White House. My impression is that doctors treated Trump so aggressively with anti-viral, steroid, and immunological treatments that they felt the need to monitor him in the hospital. If that unusual experimental treatment works, Trump may luck out and recover quickly with few of the side-effects that have plagued many survivors. On the other hand, if the disease can survive, Trump may be in for a much rougher ride. One thing that is clear is Most patients' Covid-19 care bears little resemblance to Trump's.

In other news, Hurricane Delta is heading for Louisiana. It is currently a 145 mph Category 4 storm. It may weaken a bit when it crosses over Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, then strengthen over the Gulf of Mexico. before landing in Louisiana Friday night/Saturday morning.

Among recent musician deaths, Eddie Van Halen (65) has gotten the most publicity, but Johnny Nash (80) is remembered for the better song ("I Can See Clearly Now"). Others I recognize but haven't noted: Waldemar Bastos, Wayne Fontana, Trini Lopez, Helen Reddy. It's been a rough couple weeks for baseball players too, with Hall of Famers Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, and Tom Seaver; also Horace Clarke and Ron Perranoski. More I didn't recognize, like pitcher Charlie Haeger (37, played 2006-10, lifetime W-L record 2-7, ERA 6.40), of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, after being named as a suspect in the shooting death of his ex-girlfriend. That would have been a tragic story some other week.

Record count includes most of Monday, so an extra day. I've been hard pressed to find things -- Phil Overeem's latest list was my most frequent guide.

Still hope to do a book post and a batch of questions and answers later this week. Lots of things wearing me down, including some yardwork that's left me sore. I did finally finish Zachary D Carter's magnificent The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Lift of John Maynard Keynes. Moving on to something much lighter: Ruth Reichl Gourmet memoir. Most days all I can manage is to read a few pages early, and a few more late.


New records reviewed this week:

21 Savage & Metro Boomin: Savage Mode II (2020, Slaughter Gang/Epic): Atlanta rapper Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph and producer Leland Tyler Wayne, sequel to their 2016 EP. B+(**)

Harry Allen: The Bloody Happy Song (2020, GAC): Tenor saxophonist, retro-swing guy, recorded this at home under lockdown, only credit his sax and midi keyboards. He somehow managed to sample a whole big band for the opener, but eventually drops down as far as solo, then overdubs a duet. His playing is exemplary throughout, but the non-existent others aren't so inspired. B+(**)

JD Allen: Toys/Die Dreaming (2020, Savant): Tenor saxophonist, albums since 1999, trio with Ian Kenselaar (bass) and Nic Cacioppo (drums). Five originals, two standards ("You're My Thrill," "I Should Care"). Always a strong performer, this one impresses in the usual ways, then grows on you. A-

Florian Arbenz/Greg Osby: Reflections of the Eternal Line (2020, Hammer): Swiss drummer, couple albums c. 2001, two more this year. This is a sax/drums duo, Osby playing soprano and alto. Stephan Spicher also get his name on the cover for "visuals." B+(***) [bc]

Steve Arrington: Down to the Lowest Terms: The Soul Sessions (2019-20 [2020], Stones Throw): Joined the funk group Slave in 1975, left in 1981 to record as Steve Arrington's Hall of Fame, then solo through 1987. Recorded albums in 2009 and 2014, and now this new one, with "a new generation of talented producers." B+(*)

Babe, Terror: Horizogon (2020, Glue Moon): Brazilian electronica producer Claudio Szynkier, at least nine albums since 2009. Ambient snooze with choral vocals. B- [bc]

Victoria Bailey: Jesus, Red Wine & Patsy Cline (2020, Rock Ridge Music): Country singer-songwriter from California -- probably the source of her wine taste (aside from the title, there's another song called "Spent My Dime on White Wine"), but everything else is standard honky tonk, including a lot of pedal steel. B+(***)

Biffy Clyro: A Celebration of Endings (2020, 14th Floor/Warner): Scottish rock band, eighth album since 2002, a big deal in Scotland since their debut, scaled the UK charts with 2007's Puzzle, sell well in Europe but not US. Mix it up toward the end, ranging from punk to prog, still makes me want to hear more. B

Elvin Bishop & Charlie Musselwhite: 100 Years of Blues (2020, Alligator): Two geezers happy to play "front-porch, down-home music," "12 rootsy, spirited, humorous songs, mixing nine originals with three reimagined classics." Gets topical on "What the Hell?" with its big question, "I want to know how can four years seem so long." Charlie brings plenty of harmonica. B+(**)

Bright Eyes: Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was (2020, Dead Oceans): Conor Oberst band since 1995, 10th studio album, not that it's kept him from pursuing a solo career and other projects. Still, this feels like a lot of work: 14 songs, 54:45, band members Mike Mogis and Nathaniel Walcott play 20 instruments (from Mellotron to Marxophone), and 50+ additional musicians are credited (most on strings or choir, but he's got half a big band's worth of horns, and two guys on bagpipes). I'm sure it's all very important, but not so sure I want to sort it out further. B+(**)

Alan Broadbent Trio: Trio in Motion (2020, Savant): Pianist, from New Zealand, several dozen records since 1979. Trio with Harvie S (bass) and Billy Mintz (drums). B+(**)

Apollo Brown & Che' Noir: As God Intended (2020, Mello Music Group): Detroit hip-hop producer Erik Stephens, two dozen albums since 2007, mostly collaborations with featured rappers -- this one a young woman from Buffalo. B+(**)

Ceramic Dog: What I Did on My Long Vacation (2020, Northern Spy): Trio led by guitarist Marc Ribot, with Shahzad Ismaily (bass/keyboards) and Ches Smith (drums/electronics), everyone also credited with vocals. These are actually the leftovers from an album due in 2021, recorded over two weeks with the trio working in separate rooms, able to hear but not see each other. Six tracks, 31:04. B+(***) [bc]

Convergence: Convergence (2020, Hammer): Swiss drummer Florian Arbenz, in an international group with two Cubans -- Jorge Vistel (trumpet) and Maikel Vistel (tenor sax) -- and others from UK, Australia, and Brazil. B+(**) [bc]

Creeper: Sex, Death & the Infinite Void (2020, Roadrunner): British "goth-punk" group, second album, currently Metacritic's 4th highest rated album of 2020 (91/8) so seemed like something I should check out. May appeal to Nick Cave fans, but who am I to say that? B

Drive-By Truckers: The New OK (2020, ATO): Second album this year, after The Unraveling in January -- currently my first-listed A- record in 2020, more because it got there early than anything else, as I don't recall it clear enough to compare it to later A- records. Even more uncertain here. I don't doubt their motives or their craft, but if three plays didn't do it, maybe it's not happening? Only half-impressed with their Ramones cover -- maybe their accent isn't distant enough from "The KKK Took My Baby Away"? B+(***)

Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters: Rise Up (2020, Stony Plain): Guitarist Ronald Horvath, from Queens, played with Roomful of Blues 1980-88, has a couple dozen albums leading this group. Diana Blue sings, band adds keyboards, bass, drums. Includes a "Blues for George Floyd." B+(*)

Lafayette Gilchrist: Now (Lafayette Gilchrist Music, 2CD): Pianist, leads a trio with Herman Burnie (bass) and Eric Kennedy (drums). First disc impresses with non-stop rhythm (75:41). Second (73:36) has a bit less drive. B+(***) [cd]

Luke Haines & Peter Buck: Beat Poetry for Survivalists (2020, Cherry Red): Postmodern bohemians: Haines sings and writes, best known for the Auteurs and Black Box Recorder; Buck plays guitar, mainly for R.E.M. but he's also dabbled elsewhere (e.g., Baseball Project, Filthy Friends). Both make their mark here, one might even say complementarily. B+(**)

Hazar: Reincarnated (2020, IAN Productions): Acoustic guitarist Ulas Hazar, also plays saz, grew up in Germany, has at least one previous album. Al DiMeola joins here on guitar and cajon, with Piotr Torunski (bass clarinet), piano, and percussion. Package includes a DVD. B+(*) [cd]

Idles: Ultra Mono (2020, Partisan): British band, from Bristol, third album, got a lot of early hype as the second coming of the Clash, which (of course) was ridiculous -- they lack both the early punk fury and the later pop knack, but somehow find a middle line, which supports today's fire and fury. B+(***)

I.P.A.: Bashing Mushrooms (2018 [2020], Cuneiform): Norwegian-Swedish free jazz quintet, mostly well-known names -- Atle Nymo (tenor sax/bass clarinet), Magnus Broo (trumpet), Mattias Ståhl (vibes), Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass), Håkon Mjåset Johansen (drums) -- fifth album since 2009. B+(**) [dl]

Jealous of the Birds: Peninsula (2020, Atlantic): Naomi Hamilton, from Northern Ireland, second album plus a couple EPs. B+(*)

Fenne Lily: Breach (2020, Dead Oceans): British singer-songwriter, from Dorset, second album. Landed gigs opening for Lucy Dacus and Marika Hackman. Appealing in that vein. B+(**)

Zara McFarlane: Songs of an Unknown Tongue (2020, Brownswood): British jazz/soul singer-songwriter, parents Jamaican, fourth album. B+(*)

Thurston Moore: By the Fire (2020, Daydream Library): Sonic Youth honcho, sounds much like his old band but less commanding, still misses his better half. Express panned this as a "pale imitation," which isn't really true. B+(**)

Tobin Mueller: What Survives: Radio Edits (2020, Artsforge): Pianist, discography (dating from 1980s) is split between jazz/funk and prog rock, with sections for solo piano, piano plus voice, and spoken word; biography includes a claim to have been one of the inventors of new age music. This is based on a 1995 Broadway show he wrote, played by nonet plus guests, the CD edited down from a much longer download-only release. Vocals are a weak spot. B+(*) [cd]

Róisin Murphy: Róisin Machine (2020, Skint): Irish singer-songwriter, fifth album since 2005, electropop. B+(**)

Douglas Olsen: 2 Cents (2018 [2020], self-released): Trumpet player, cites a 25-year history with a number of big bands, Latin jazz outfits, and r&b sidework, but I'm not finding any previous albums under his own name. Mostly a hard bop lineup, some tracks with extra congas. Six originals, a rumba, old bebop tunes from Dizzy Gillespie and Howard McGee/Fats Navarro. B+(**) [cd] [11-01]

Kelly Lee Owens: Inner Song (2020, Smalltown Supersound): Electronica producer, from Wales, based in London, second album. Was prepared to dis the vocals, but sometimes they work. Beats discreet, but they work too. John Cale contributes a song, neither here nor there. B+(**)

Bette Smith: The Good, the Bad and the Bette (2020, Ruf): R&B singer-songwriter, from Brooklyn, parents from Trinidad, second album, on a German blues label. Rocks. B+(**)

Sufjan Stevens: The Ascension (2020, Asthmatic Kitty): "Singer-songwriter" seems too self-limiting. He is a pop composer of grand sweep and delicate bearing, an heir to Brian Wilson working on if anything a broader canvas. His is not a style I'm fond of, but half of these songs click for me, and the others seem to be lurking in the depths, awaiting their moment. A-

Sylvan Esso: Free Love (2020, Loma Vista): Electropop duo from North Carolina, singer Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn. Third studio album, a short one (10 songs, 29:14). Slight inside the grooves as well, but that's part of the charm. B+(*)

Throwing Muses: Sun Racket (2020, Fire): Lo-fi indie pop band from Rhode Island, debut 1985 with step-sisters Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donnelly, latter left in 1991 (to found the Breeders), band broke up in 1997, reformed in 2003, third album since their return. Whispery vocals over off-kilter guitar/electronics. B+(*)

Tessy Lou Williams: Tessy Lou Williams (2020, Tessy Lou Williams): Country singer-songwriter, from Montana, parents moved there from Nashville, where they were session musicians. First album, nice voice, impeccable neotrad sound. B+(**)

Yelle: L'Ère Du Verseau (2020, Recreation Center): French electropop band, principally singer Julie Budet (Yelle) and Jean-François Perrier (GrandMarnier), recorded this fourth album (since 2007) in Montreal. B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Daora: Underground Sounds of Urban Brasil ([2020], Mais Um Discos, 2CD): "Hip-hop, leftfield beats, afrobeat and dub-influenced sounds from Brasil," 32 tracks, compiled by Rodrigo Brandao, vintage unknown but probably recent, only one artist I recognize (Baiana System), title slang "for something that's dope." Edges a little soft, as tends to be the case in Brazil, but that introduces a loopy, oblique humor that you rarely hear elsewhere. A- [bc]

Dennis González: Forever the Falling of Stars (1995 [2020], Daagnim): Trumpet player from Texas, started recording in 1979 and has ever since released a steady stream of albums, except for a dry spell in the 1990s, when this "rare gem" was commissioned but only circulated within a "small circle." No credits, but mostly electronics, with voices ranging from rap to tone color, and some trumpet. B+(**) [bc]

Old music:

J.D. Allen: In Search of J.D. Allen (1998 [1999]. Red): Tenor saxophonist, from Detroit, first album, recorded in New York with Fabio Morgera (trumpet), Eric Revis (bass), Rodney Green (drums), and piano on three tracks (Shedrick Mitchell). Nine originals, closing with a cover of "Lonely Woman." B+(***)

J.D. Allen: Pharoah's Children (2001 [2002], Criss Cross): Second album, quintet, with Jeremy Pelt (trumpet), Orrin Evans (piano), Eric Revis (bass), and Gene Jackson (drums). B+(**)

JD Allen: Radio Flyer (2017, Savant): Expands on his usual trio -- Gregg August (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums) -- adding Liberty Ellman on guitar. B+(***)

Tony Allen Plays With Afrika 70: No Accomodation for Lagos (1979, Polydor): Nigerian drummer, third album, leading what was essentially Fela Kuti's band. Two side-long tracks, 29:16; was squeezed with a second album into a 2002 CD, then split again for a 2011 vinyl reissue (by Kindred Spirits). B+(**)

Tony Allen Plays With Afrika 70: No Accomodation for Lagos/No Discrimination (1979 [2002], Evolver): Combines two albums, although Napster omits one track ("Ariya"). B+(**)

Dennis Gonzalez: Stars/Air/Stripes (1981 [1982], Daagnim): Trumpet player, from Dallas, early album (first was 1979), organized sixteen musicians for this, recorded in various combos in various locations, to scattered effect. B+(*) [bc]

Dennis Gonzalez's Ataraxia: Ts'iibil Chaaltum (2017, Daagnim): "Eastern jazz trio," the leader playing trumpet/cornet, with Drew Phelps (bass) and Jagath Lakpriya (tabla), everyone adding to the percussion, but not breaking the calm. B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Benjamin Boone: The Poets Are Gathering (Origin) [10-16]
  • Valentin Ceccaldi: Ossos (Cipsela)
  • Noah Haidu: Doctone (Sunnyside)
  • Juliet Kurtzman/Pete Malinverni: Candlelight: Love in the Time of Cholera (Saranac) [11-13]
  • Raphaël Pannier Quartet: Faune (French Paradox)
  • The United States Air Force Band: Jazz Heritage Series: 2019 Highlights (self-released)
  • Luís Vicente: Maré (Cipsela)
  • What Happens in a Year: Cérémonie/Musique (F/P) [10-09]

Monday, October 5, 2020


Weekend Roundup

Two things first: unlike recent weeks, I didn't start collecting links until Sunday afternoon, so this will (or at least should be) shorter than the last six or so record-breaking weeks; also, because I expect several major clusters, I'm going to try something new, and sort nearly everything by subject area (with a miscellaneous at the end, which will mostly hold topics until I decide they've reached critical mass). As a Table of Contents is handy for me, the topics this week are:

I basically stopped collecting links late Sunday night, but held up posting until well into Monday so I could write some introductory remarks. Music Week will also be postposed a day this week. While I wasn't working on Weekend Roundup last week, I made some progress toward a books post. I should finish that mid-week, and may also have a music poll list, and perhaps some answers to reader questions (could use more).


The Covid-19 Pandemic Crashes the White House

Late Thursday evening I was watching Borgen. Laura had gone upstairs, but came down and told me that Trump and Melania had tested positive for Covid-19. My first reaction was to feel sorry for them -- evidently there's still some merit to the old adage about not wishing some misfortunes on your worst enemy. That was followed by considerable unease about the fate of the world. Might his illness elicit a wave of sympathy? Or maybe just forgetting of the awful things he's done, let alone the hideous person he has shown himself to be? Or maybe he dies, and Pence reaps the sympathy vote, either as a blank slate or Trump's "better angel"? (Someone believed capable of delivering on the many promises Trump bungled?) Whatever else happens, it is more imperative than ever to vote for Joe Biden and Democrats down the ticket.

I decided then not to bother collecting this week's links until the dust settled down a bit. It soon turned out that Trump is still Trump, and Republicans are still Republicans. Laura spent the next few days watching Fox News, relishing how desperate they were wrap their brains around the news, looking to spin it into their usual propaganda, and coming up with very little. (I tried googling a phrase they used to suggest that people were laughing at Trump's misfortune, but couldn't find it -- perhaps remembering it wrong.)

My own sense of perspective was helped by watching Jimmy Kimmel on Friday night, who did a nice job of expressing concern for the Trumps' health while pointing out the context in which their illness was contracted and spread. When I finally started collecting the links below, I found many pieces highly critical of Trump's attitude as well as his handling of the pandemic, including ones which assigned a fair share of blame directly on Trump. I didn't find evidence of gloating or schadenfreude (although the latter was reportedly the most looked-up word at Merriam-Webster Dictionary over the weekend).

Moments ago I heard Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) insisting that Covid-19 just isn't that dangerous, much as Trump himself has done. Today's Covid in the US death count is 209,690, with 7.4 million cases. Intelligencer has a pretty extensive news roll on Trump's Covid-19 case. The plan is to return him to the White House Monday evening, which may sound like he's out of the woods, but is not anything like you or me getting sent home from hospital.

Lest you think Trump might have learned something from the illness, here's his tweet:

I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 P.M. Feeling really good! Don't be afraid of Covid. Don't let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!

Assuming he doesn't relapse, he's promising to return even more dangerous than he's been so far.

Eliza Barclay: Trump's refusal to wear a face mask is a catastrophe.

Julia Belluz: Is Trump sicker than his doctors are saying? His treatment regimen raises questions. Isn't there an old joke about doctors examining your wallet before your body? The one clear thing is that the doctors are sparing no expense in treating Trump. What's less clear is whether all that attention, especially with the experimental treatments, will help him. But even if it does, don't expect to get the same care or attention. Health care is as inequal and unfair as any other aspect of America.

Philip Bump:

Isaac Chotiner: Maggie Haberman on the fallout from Trump's hospitalization. As you probably know, Haberman covers the White House for the New York Times.

Atul Gawande: Controlling the pandemic is the first step toward rescuing a failed system.

Susan B Glasser: "There is zero reason to panic": On Trump's coronavirus case and the shredded credibility of his White House: "A report from Day One after the President's diagnosis."

Fred Hiatt: Only the Trump team could spin this into even riskier messaging about the virus.

Umair Irfan: Trump was tested regularly for Covid-19. He wanted less testing for everyone else.

Jennifer Jacobs/Josh Wingrove: Trump kept regular schedule after learning close aide Hope Hicks had Covid.

Peter Kafka: Who will tell us the truth about Trump's health? "We know it won't be Trump."

Dhruv Khullar: How to understand Trump's evolving condition: "Day to day, the news can be confusing. But the treatment of COVID-19 has steps, phases, and milestones that can tells us a lot about how the President is doing." There's a lot here, but this paragraph caught my eye:

Because of the scary mortality statistics, the discussion of the President's illness has often had mortal stakes. The truth, though, is that there's a vast middle ground of survival, in which patients can beat the virus only to experience residual symptoms and, in some cases, ongoing physical or cognitive deficits. For many COVID-19 patients -- even those who never move beyond the first phase of the disease -- problems such as fatigue and shortness of breath can linger for weeks or months. The risks are much higher for those with severe illness, especially those who end up in the I.C.U. Some patients who recover from COVID-19 report fatigue, headaches, memory issues, and breathing and gastrointestinal problems for months after their initial symptoms. Surviving illness and returning to good health are not one and the same.

Jen Kirby: 3 of the world's most powerful Covid-19 deniers have gotten the virus: "Like Trump, at points in their tenure, the UK's Boris Johnson and Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro both downplayed the virus."

German Lopez:

Amanda Marcotte: Trump has COVID-19: More evidence that he's always put his ego ahead of public health: "Relax -- Donny SuperSpreader can't benefit from catching a virus he has claimed affects 'virtually nobody.'"

Tina Nguyen: 'God-tier genetics': A stunned MAGA world offers blame, adulation after Trump's diagnosis.

Anna North: 10 facts about school reopenings in the Covid-19 pandemic.

Olivia Nuzzi/Ben Jacobs: The White House is spreading virus and lies.

Charles P Pierce: The chaos has to stop with the President's doctors: Reason I linked this is the photo. Evidently it takes 10 doctors (well, people in white lab coats) to give a confusing and probably misleading press conference on Trump's medical status.

Andrew Prokop: What happens if the president is too sick to do the job? "The 25th Amendment, explained."

Brian Resnick: Was the White House reception for Amy Coney Barrett a superspreading event?: "The event is at least a stark example of what not to do during a pandemic."

Brian Resnick/Julia Belluz: How the White House became a coronavirus breeding ground.

Benjamin Rosenberg: Everyone in the White House cluster who has said they tested positive for the coronavirus:

  • President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump
  • Hope Hicks, senior counselor to President Trump
  • Kayleigh McEnany, White House press secretary
  • Chad Gilmartin, McEnany's aide; at least one other McEnany aide
  • US Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah
  • US Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina
  • Kellyanne Conway, former senior White House counselor
  • Bill Stepien, Trump's campaign manager
  • Chris Christie, former New Jersey governor
  • Nicholas Luna, an assistant to President Trump
  • John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame
  • Three journalists from the White House press corps, according to the White House Correspondents Association
  • A White House press staffer, according to the correspondents' association

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel have also recently tested positive, although they did not appear to have close contact with White House officials last week.

Dylan Scott: While Trump gets the best health care in the world, he wants to eliminate coverage for millions: "Trump's positive coronavirus test underscores the stakes of his fight against Obamacare." I'm not so sure about "the best" but he's certainly getting the most expensive health care in the world.

Dylan Scott/Christina Animashaun: Covid-19's stunningly unequal death toll in America, in one chart. "Black Americans are dying at twice the rate of white Americans."

Dan Spinelli: Trump's doctor just admitted he lied to stay "upbeat." He's still leaving big questions unanswered.

Matt Stieb: The White House is failing to contact trace its own outbreak.

Peter Weber: The October Surprise nobody wanted.

Richard Wolfe: We should wish Trump well. But he's been astoundingly irresponsible at every turn. But isn't blaming people for the consequences of poor lifestyle choices something conservatives do?

Patricia Kelly Yeo: COVID-positive Trump ignores CDC advise to take joyride, with grim Secret Service agents in tow: "The president left Walter Reed's presidential suite in a motorcade to wave to supporters, potentially exposing several Secret Service agents to the coronavirus." And yes, there are pictures. Wasn't that the whole point? By the way, this is another instance of how Trump is getting special treatment. Who else sick enough to be in hospital would be allowed a temporary pass for a publicity appearance? More:

Matthew Yglesias: Trump has consistently mocked adherence to public health guidelines.

As recently as Tuesday's presidential debate, for example, Trump mocked Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for his heavy mask usage, saying, "I don't wear masks like him. Every time you see him, he's got a mask," and that Biden "could be speaking 200 feet away" and then "shows up with the biggest mask I've ever seen." . . .

The president from May to June to September has not only ignored public health guidelines by holding large campaign events, at which few people wear masks or socially distance; and he's gone out of his way to mock Biden for spending too much time "in his basement" adhering to the rules. Even the death of Herman Cain from Covid-19, which he contracted after attending a Trump rally in Tulsa, did not alter the president's attitude.

The Trump-Biden Debate

The first debate between Trump and Biden was held on Tuesday, moderated by Chris Wallace. It was by all accounts a pretty ugly affair.

Vox (Matthew Yglesias, German Lopez, Alex Ward, Li Zhou, Zack Beauchamp): 3 winners and 4 losers from the 2020 presidential debate. Format rules evidently prevent them from scoring it 7-0 Biden, so they sorted it by issue: Winners: Cross-talk and malarkey; China; Speaking directly to the American people. Losers: The "Biden has dementia" theory; Racial justice; Chris Wallace; America's safety. Yglesias followed up with Exclusive poll: Biden won the debate convincingly.

Zack Beauchamp:

Fabiola Cineas: Trump was asked to denounce white supremacy. He wouldn't.

Jane Coaston: The Trump campaign spent months portraying Biden as senile. That might be a mistake.

Megan Day: Donald Trump endorsed right-wing violence during the debate.

Matt Ford: Trump never answered the debate's most important question: "Let there be no 'both-sidesing' of the primary cause of American anxiety."

Ben Jacobs: 'Just putrid': GOP insiders texted me their honest feelings about the debate.

Ed Kilgore: So how do the polls look after that hellscape of a debate?

Jen Kirby: Vote-by-mail is not full of fraud, despite Trump's debate claims.

Ezra Klein: Joe Biden's most surprising, and possibly important, answer of the debate: "Biden disavowed a lot of ambitious progressive policies on Tuesday. But there were two he refused to reject." He refused to commit on ending the Senate filibuster or "packing the Court," saying "Whatever position I take on that, that will become the issue."

Robert Kuttner: Biden: Notes for next time.

Eric Levitz:

  • 5 reasons Joe Biden (probably) won the first debate. These don't sound to me like very reassuring reasons:

    1. Biden did not appear to be suffering from literal dementia.
    2. The president's strategy for winning over suburban moderates was, apparently, to align himself with the Proud Boys, threaten to disregard election results, and make obscure references to minor events from the Fox News Cinematic Universe.
    3. Trump lost the "law and order" argument.
    4. Trump delivered Biden's populist, class resentment message for him.
    5. A tie goes to the guy who's winning by 7 points.
  • Even Trump's base found his debate performance off-putting.

  • 3 reasons catching coronavirus could be bad for Trump politically:

    1. The president's ailment is likely to heighten the salience of an issue Biden owns.
    2. Making Joe Biden's gaffes, or son, or "socialism" into a top news story before Election Day just got a lot harder
    3. There is little reason to believe Trump will enjoy a "sympathy surge."

German Lopez: The reviews are in: The first presidential debate was a disaster.

Steve M: After the debate, right-wingers are clapping louder.

Harold Meyerson: Four more years of this jerk? "Trump does his re-election campaign no favors."

John Nichols: Joe Biden should propose a $75 tax credit tonight -- then drop the mic: This is the week's dumbest piece of debate advice. Why $750? Just so Trump can reduce his tax burden to $0? While a lot of people could use a tax credit, pegging it to a number that Trump somehow hit on twice is meaningless outside of a few twitter circles. And drop the mic? Who even knows what that means? QED is more recognizable. Plus having a 77-year-old drop a microphone may suggest something other than a definitive dis.

Ella Nilsen: Joe Biden smashed his single-hour fundraising record after the first presidential debate.

Frank Rich: Should the first presidential debate also be the last?

Aaron Rupar: 3 debate moments that showed how unsuited Trump is for the presidency: "Don't let Trump's debate bullying distract you from his ignorance and malevolence."

Dylan Scott: If Trump wins, 20 million people could lose health insurance. If Biden wins, 25 million could gain it. "The enormous stakes for Americans' health insurance in the 2020 election, explained."

Alex Shephard: The right is blaming Chris Wallace for Trump's terrible debate performance.

Kristin Urquiza: I saw in the front row at the debate. Did Trump infect me with the coronavirus?

Steven Waldman: Actually, it was a good debate. Seriously.

Debates should help voters make their decisions. This one provided a deluge of useful information.

Journalists are sometimes criticized for not 'nailing' the subjects that they interview. That misunderstands the journalist's role. The job is often to reveal not rebut. If I'm really honest, I have to admit that when I do interviews, especially for print publications, I will intentionally let subjects continue to say stupid or offensive things, without challenge -- because that is far more revealing than if I pointed out their stupidity and thereby prompted them to clarify.

I feel the same way about debates. The point is not to catch the candidates; it's to reveal them. In that sense, this was the best debate in modern American history.

Other Aspects of the Campaign and Elections

Most of this week's campaign stories were tied to topics above, but a few slipped into this section, as did the dystopian speculation about election shenanigans and what happens as and after the ballots are counted. I've generally been avoiding stories on polling, also on down-ballot races (even the very important battle over the Senate). I did flag one piece on the Kansas senatorial race, because it's rare a local race from my home state gets national attention. It also looks like the Senate races in Georgia and South Carolina are tightening up. Also included the bizarre Brad Parscale story here. I'm surprised there's not much more on it, as it suggests unplumbed depths of dementia and violence in the campaign. Also note that Parscale's replacement as head of the Trump campaign, Bill Stepien, is on the list of White House Covid-19 victims. Trump will have no shortage of people to blame for losing this year.

Jane Coaston: The Proud Boys, explained: "The far-right street fighting group has embraced violence -- and Donald Trump." More on Proud Boys:

Eric Cortellessa: Republicans are slowing down mailed-in vote counts in key swing states.

David Dayen: The winter of our discontent: "Projecting the 78 harrowing days after the election: "This is a horror story."

Shirin Ghaffary: Democratic Party leaders are "banging their head against the wall" after private meetings with Facebook on election misinformation.

Constance Grady: The bizarrely aggressive rhetoric of Trump's fundraising emails, explained: "Rhetoric scholars explain why Trump's campaign emails feel like someone is yelling at you."

But Trump emails are unusual in just how aggressive and bullying they are to their recipients, to the point that they've been called out as such by both the left and the right. There's an entire Twitter account devoted to documenting their extravagancies, and scrolling through them is roughly analogous to the experience of having someone scream, "Why haven't you paid the money yet, you jerk?" in your face at top volume for 10 minutes at a time.

"I want to know who stood with me when it mattered most, so I've asked my team to send me a list of EVERY AMERICAN PATRIOT who donates to this email," warns one email signed by Trump that went out after the first presidential debate Tuesday night. "I need you right now. You stood by my side throughout the 2016 Election, and I need to know you'll be by my side once again in November."

Charlotte Klein: Texas Governor orders ballot drop-off locations closed across state.

Nancy LeTourneau: This woman could be the first Democratic Senator from Kansas since 1932. She means 1938: Democrat George McGill was elected to finish a term in 1930, then re-elected to a full term in 1932. Barbara Bollier is running for an open seat being vacated by Pat Roberts, who nearly lost to an independent six years ago. She's an ex-Republican, which plays well in Kansas, a woman (Nancy Kassebaum won three Senate terms), has quite a bit of money, and is running against Roger Marshall (like Roberts, an agribusiness shill from Western Kansas).

Aaron Rupar:

Walter Shapiro: Biden should be worried: "Trump's Covid-19 diagnosis has scrambled the presidential race irrevocably." Everyone's worried, but the spread between Trump's best-ever and worst-ever days is about four points, so the main thing Biden has to be worried about is doing something stupid, and even then we're talking about doing something stupider than Trump has already done.

Gabriel Sherman: "The family is worried Brad will start talking": Trumpworld panics over debate fiasco as campaign turmoil mounts: Any other week this story would have been huge, as Trump's digital guru and recently deposed campaign manager staged a public meltdown, threatening to kill himself, before he was subdued and carted off by police.

As the Times story lit up cable news and Twitter, news broke that Trump's former campaign manager Brad Parscale had been taken into custody outside his Ft. Lauderdale home and hospitalized after threatening to commit suicide and allegedly beating his wife days prior. Police body camera footage showing an officer brutally tackling a shirtless, 6'8" Parscale to the pavement instantly became a visual metaphor for the chaos engulfing the Trump campaign. One campaign adviser I spoke with was shocked by the amount of force the police used to subdue and cuff Parscale. "If Brad had been Black, there would be riots all over the country," the source said. (In fact, police have killed unarmed Black men in far less hostile situations.)

Parscale's public meltdown happened while he is reportedly under investigation for stealing from the Trump campaign and the RNC. According to the source close to the campaign, the Trump family is worried that Parscale could turn on them and cooperate with law enforcement about possible campaign finance violations. "The family is worried Brad will start talking," the source said.

More on Parscale:

Nate Silver: Trump's chances are dwindling. That could make him dangerous.

Kelly Well: Trump's crew of far-right vigilante poll watchers is coming.

Still More on Donald Trump and Family

Last week's big New York Times exposé on The President's taxes continued to produce revelations and reaction. "Lock him up" may not yet be a campaign chant, but is on the minds of more than a few prosecutors.

Helena Bottemiller Evich: Trump requires food aid boxes to come with a letter from him: "'In my 30 years of doing this work, I've never seen something this egregious,' one food bank director said."

Molly Jong-Fast: Donald Junior's Hunter Biden obsession is creepy, and telling.

Dylan Matthews: Here's how much you had to make in 2017 to pay more income tax than Donald Trump.

Casey Michel: Ivanka Trump's starring role in her father's financial troubles: "If the president's tax shenanigans land him afoul of the law, the first daughter could go down with him."

Anna North: The Melania tapes bust the "Free Melania" myth: "Turns out the first lady is a lot like her husband."

Andrew Prokop:

Luke Savage: Attacking Trump as a "fake billionaire" is a dead end: "The real scandal isn't that Donald Trump is secretly poor -- it's that our system let such an obvious fraud get so rich."

Matthew Yglesias: Trump could be in a lot of legal hot water if he loses the election: "The presidency shields him from charges of tax fraud, campaign finance violations, obstruction, and more." Details a long list of just the most obvious potential charges and liabilities, concluding:

This is all relevant context to the president's various musings about how a "ballot scam" may give him reason to refuse to concede defeat in November. Nobody likes to lose. But Trump has reasons that go far beyond pride, bad manners, or even lust for power.

Supreme Court, and Other Injustices

Trump's nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court is still up in the air, as Republicans in the Senate plot to confirm her before the election. Although the biggest twist this week was that a promotional meet and greet for her looms large in the White House Covid-19 cluster outbreak. Also a few other stories relating to justice and not.

Erwin Chemerinsky: The Court: How did we get here and what will it mean?

Fabiola Cineas: Kentucky AG releases Breonna Taylor grand jury audio recordings. More on Breonna Taylor:

Eleanor Clift: Donald Trump might lose, but his judges will keep wrecking America for years to come.

Adam Cole: The Supreme Court is about to hit an undemocratic milestone. The US Senate accords two votes per state, regardless of population, so it is possible to form a majority of Senators who represent only a minority of the population. Indeed, four Supreme Court justices have been confirmed by minority-vote Senators (Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh). If Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed, she will probably be the fifth.

Patrick Radden Keefe: The Sackler family's plan to keep its billions: "The Trump administration is poised to make a settlement with Purdue Pharma that it can claim as a victory for opioid victims. But the proposed outcome would heave the company's owners enormously wealthy -- and off the hook for good."

Dahlia Lithwick: The deranged, dangerous push to still seat Amy Coney Barrett: "For the GOP, entrenching minority rule is more important than human life."

Ian Millhiser:

Ella Nilsen: Amy Coney Barrett's Judiciary Committee hearing is still on, despite the Senate recess.

David Sirota: The US Supreme Court may soon become plutocracy's greatest defender. Isn't it already? Not that it's needed as long as Trump is president and McConnell runs the Senate.

Paul Starr: How to rebalance the Supreme Court.

The Economy

Meanwhile, the economy churns, as some people return to work, but others are getting laid off -- especially as the earlier stimulus program job protections have expired. There appears to have been a little progress toward a compromise on a new relief bill, but now that the stock market has recovered, that's not much of a priority for Senate Republicans.

Josh Barro: What the disappointing final jobs report before the election tells us about the economy.

Timothy Noah: Trump's "greatest recovery in history" is wheezing out.

Emily Stewart:

  • The K-shaped economic recovery, explained.

    Basically, wealthier people and those with white-collar jobs are doing fairly well during this -- their jobs are sticking around, they're cutting some spending, and life is generally fine. Stockholders' wealth is even going up.

    But for less well-off Americans and people who have lost their jobs, it's different. The stock market isn't helping them, and for those who are unemployed, expanded unemployment benefits dried up at the end of July. With Congress not in a particular hurry to provide fiscal support, that means a drag on the economy.

  • The false hope of reopening is killing small businesses. Restaurants have been especially hard hit. For example, in the news today: Brookville Hotel to close its doors for good. The Martin family has owned the famous fried chicken restaurant for 125 years. It was already a big deal when I first went there as a child. The one year I didn't cook birthday dinner we drove 100 miles each way to eat there. We didn't go often, and haven't considered it in several years, but it was always a treat, and always full up.

Miscellaneous

Umair Irfan: Why we're more confident than ever that climate change is driving disasters.

German Lopez:

Jane Mayer: The secret history of Kimberly Guilfoyle's departure from fox.

JC Pan: Our plutocratic tax system was built for rich cheaters: "The Times exposé was a blunt articulation of how things work for people like Trump -- and against everyone else."

Kaila Philo: Noam Chomsky does not think the planet is doomed (yet). Interview, on a new book Chomsky co-wrote with Robert Pollin: Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal.

Kelsey Piper: Extreme poverty is getting worse across the globe for the first time in decades.

Monday, September 28, 2020


Music Week

September archive.

Music: Current count 34098 [34056] rated (+42), 214 [216] unrated (-2).

Well, that's another month, not exactly wasted but not put to very good use either. I'm still reeling from recent deaths -- among friends, in my family, of semi-famous people I care about, and others I knew nothing of. I've never forgotten one of the late Diane Wahto's letters to the Wichita Eagle, probably right after the stolen 2000 election, where she bravely declared, "we survived one Bush; we can survive another." She did, but lots of people didn't, and she herself didn't survive Bush's partisan successor. Trump's death toll far exceeds the 204,888 Covid death count (as of today), and he's hurt millions more. Hurts my head just to think about it.

Rolling Stone published a third iteration (after 2003 and 2012) of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. I started to transcribe it with my grades, but didn't get very far. Robert Christgau and Carola Dibbell published their ballots (unranked top-50 lists) here. Greil Marcus published a top 40 ballot. Other ballots I've found: Stephen Thomas Erlewine; well, that's it (RS did publish a list of voters, but not their ballots; only 28% were identified as journalists). Wikiwand has some statistics. I wasn't invited. Thought I might edit down a list from my 1,000 Albums for a Long and Happy Life, but haven't found the time. If I do pursue this further, I'll probably listen to some of the ranked records I had missed/passed up (as far as I've checked, 24 of the top 240, so 10%).

Only anomaly in the list below worth mentioning is my dive into old Charles McPherson albums. Phil Overeem likes his newest album, Jazz Dance Suites. I wasn't able to find it, but did find a live album he released back in January, and that got me started. His 1975 album Beautiful! is a long-time favorite, and I also am a fan of his 2015 album The Journey, so I was primed to look for more.

Two grade changes this time, nudging up albums I thought were pretty good to start with. Better to recheck them before the month ends than to complicate my paperwork later.

Four week month, bumped the rated count up by 184 (so average 46/week, way above my long-term historic average) -- a bonus for not otherwise having much of a life, I guess. I haven't run the numbers yet, but I'm probably ahead on the year, even with more old music recently.


New records reviewed this week:

Artemis: Artemis (2020, Blue Note): Jazz supergroup founded 2017, seven women from six countries, first album, music director Renee Rosnes (piano), with Ingrid Jensen (trumpet), Melissa Aldana (alto sax), Anat Cohen (clarinet/bass clarinet), Noriko Ueda (bass), Allison Miller (drums), and Cécile McLorin Salvant (vocals on 2 tracks, the 2nd a highlight). B+(**)

Daniel Carter/Brad Farberman/Billy Martin: Just Don't Die (2018 [2019], Ropeadope): Carter plays flute, trumpet, and tenor sax; the others guitar and drums. Credited as joint improv, but I imagine this as the guitarist's album, mostly because the others seem relucant to step on his toes, let alone show off. B+(*) [bc]

Regina Carter Freedom Band: Swing States: Harmony in the Battleground (2020, Tiger Turn): Violinist, from Detroit, eleventh album since 1995. Cover notes as featuring: Jon Batiste (piano), John Daversa (trumpet), Alexis Cuadrado (bass), Kabir Sehgal (bass/percussion), Harvey Mason (drums). Mostly trad pieces, which the violin lends an old-timey feel to, with messages in the interludes: vote! B+(*)

Tyler Childers: Long Violent History (2020, Hickman Holler/RCA): One of the best country singer-songwriters to emerge in recent years throws you a curve with no vocals (until the title song closer), just a batch of old-fashioned fiddle tunes. B+(***)

Cliff Trio [Pandelis Karayorgis/Damon Smith/Eric Rosenthal]: Precipice (2019 [2020], Fundacja Sluchaj): Piano-bass-drums trio. Impressive pianist. B+(**) [bc]

Conference Call: Prism (2020, Not Two): Free jazz quartet, seven albums 2002-13 with George Schuller on drums, replaced here by Dieter Ulrich, joining original members Gebhard Ullmann (tenor sax/bass clarinet), Michael Jefry Stevens (piano), and Joe Fonda (bass). Nice balance here. B+(***)

Chick Corea: Plays (2018 [2020], Concord, 2CD): Solo piano, live, cover throws out some composer names, from 9 o'clock: Corea, Mozart, Gershwin, Monk, Scarlatti, Evans, Jobim, Chopin, Scriabin, Wonder. Play indeed he does. B+(*)

The Croaks: One of the Best Bears! (2018 [2020], Fundacja Sluchaj): Avant-jazz trio: Martin Küchen (sopranino/soprano sax, metal objects), Martin Klapper (amplified objects, toys and small electronics), and Roger Turner (drums, metal and plastic). B+(*) [bc]

Joe Farnsworth: Time to Swing (2020, Smoke Sessions): Mainstream drummer, not much under his own name but lots of side credits since 1991. Big-name quartet here, with Kenny Barron (piano), Peter Washington (bass), and Wynton Marsalis (trumpet, who checks out midway). B+(**)

Chad Fowler/WC Anderson: Lacrimosa (2020, Mahakala Music): Saxophone and drums duo, seems to be the first album for either. Fowler mostly plays alto, but ranges up and down from there. Looks like he also has a big job at Microsoft, having started out with open source start ups before cashing in, and running this label on the side. This is rough, can get on my nerves. B+(**) [cd]

Frode Gjerstad/Fred Lonberg-Holm/William Parker/Steve Swell: Tales From (2019 [2020], Fundacja Sluchaj): No credits, but typically sax (alto, I think), cello/electronics, bass, trombone -- the latter two fill ins for a plan that originally called for Matthew Shipp. Lonberg-Holm came best prepared, while the others do what they usually do. B+(**) [bc]

Guillermo Gregorio/Joe Fonda/Ramón López: Intersecting Lives (2018 [2020], Fundacja Sluchaj): Clarinet player, from Argentina, lived in Europe for a while, but long based in Chicago. Backed by bass and drums. B+(**) [bc]

Diana Krall: This Dream of You (2016-17 [2020], Verve): She pieced this together from older sessions that produced Turn Up the Quiet. I haven't figured out who plays what where, but whether playing in a duo, trio, quartet, or larger ensemble, she's steady, her voice nailing each thoughtful song. B+(***)

The Mark Lomax Trio: The Last Concert: Ankh & the Tree of Life (2020, CFG Multimedia): Drummer, with the magnificent Edwin Bayard ever reliable on tenor sax and Dean Hullett on bass. Two long pieces, develop a bit slowly, peak out where they always do: strain, struggle, redemption. A-

Charles McPherson Quartet: Live at San Sebastián Jazz Festival (2019 [2020], Quadrant): Alto saxophonist, broke in with Mingus in 1961, very influenced by Charlie Parker -- his first albums were Bebop Revisted! and Con Alma! -- developed into a unique voice. Hasn't recorded much since 2000, but his 2015 album The Journey was special. With Bruce Barth (piano), Mark Hodgson (drums), and Steven Keogh (drums), playing five extended pieces. Blues-based jams, form terrific. A-

Joachim Mencel: Brooklyn Eye (2019 [2020], Origin): Pianist, from Poland, also plays hurdy-gurdy, recorded this in Brooklyn with guitar (Steve Cardenas), bass (Scott Colley), and drums (Rudy Royston). B+(*) [cd]

Vic Mensa: V Tape (2020, Roc Nation, EP): Chicago rapper, father from Ghana, original name Mensah, fifth EP (7 tracks, 26:28), has a longer mixtape and a studio album. B+(**)

Merzbow/Mats Gustafsson/Balász Pándi: Cuts Open (2018 [2020], RareNoise): Japanese noise artist Masami Akita, who if anything has a moderating effect on the Norwegian avant-saxophonist, plus a drummer. Not their first record together, but their longest one. Has its moments, but they can wear thin. B+(*) [cdr]

Helen Money: Atomic (2020, Thrill Jockey): Cellist Alison Chesley, originally from Los Angeles, moved to Chicago for college and stayed there, had an acoustic duo called Verbow, did film work and other side projects, plus a half dozen albums as Helen Money. Also plays piano here, accompanied by harp, electronics, and drums. Tight, uncomplicated but rather prog instrumental rock. B+(***)

Moor Mother: Circuit City (2020, Don Giovanni): Camae Ayewa, poet/musician/activist from Philadelphia. I originally filed her under hip-hop, but at this point hell if I know. Styled as a theatrial work in four acts, with spoken word over trumpet, sax, electronics, bass, and drums, with most contributing to perussion. Music veers into free jazz, or maybe just noise. B+(*)

Public Enemy: what You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down? (2020, Def Jam): Time for a "Fight the Power" remix? That's the centerpiece here, and nothing else quite matches it. Still, this is hard and angry like few others can muster, which makes it timely, even if the time frame spans decades. A-

Ben Rosenblum Nebula Project: Kites and Strings (2020, One Trick Dog): Pianist, also plays accordion, has a previous album. Originals, three covers ("Somewhere," Neil Young, a trad Bulgarian song). Postbop, with trumpet and tenor sax/bass clarinet, guitar, bass, drums, a few guests. B+(*) [cd] [10-16]

Markus Rutz: Blueprints: Figure Two: New Designs (2018-19 [2020], OA2): Trumpet player, based in Chicago, has a previous Figure One. Six original compositions, covers of McCoy Tyner, Frank Foster, and Sam Rivers; postbop, with sax, piano, guitar, bass, drums, extra percussion. B+(*) [cd]

Cecil Taylor and Tony Oxley: Birdland, Neuburg 2011 (2011 [2020], Fundacja Sluchaj): Piano and drums duo. Taylor died in 2018, but until this his most recent records were recorded in 2008, also duos with Oxley. Two (or three) improvs, 57:23, quieter than in their heyday, but can still startle you, remind you how damn near anything is possible. After all, that's what they do. A- [bc]

Chip Wickham: Blue to Red (2020, Lovemonk): Flute player, sometimes goes as Roger Wickham (or Kid Costa), third album, with harp (Amanda Whiting), keyboards, bass/cello, drums, and percussion. B-

Immanuel Wilkins: Omega (2020, Blue Note): Alto saxophonist, grew up near Philadelphia, based in New York, first album, produced by Jason Moran, backed by piano (Micah Thomas), bass, and drums. B+(**)

WorldService Project: Hiding in Plain Sight (2020, RareNoise): British "punk-jazz" quartet -- Dave Morecroft (keyboards), Ben Powling (saxes), Arthur O'Hara (bass), Luke Reddin-Williams (drums), plus trombone on 4 (of 9) tracks, some vocals -- fifth album. I've found them to be very annoying in the past, so I reckon this one's marginal listenability an improvement. C+ [cdr]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Rich Krueger: The Troth Sessions (2002 [2020], Rockin'K Music): PhD in biochemistry, postdoc in neuroscience, day job as a clinical associate in pediatrics at the University of Chicago. Released two albums in 2018 that Christgau liked much more than I did -- second suggested that he had been writing songs for much longer. Turns out he had a folk-rock band in the 1980s, and cut these acoustic guitar and voice demos, enough for a short album (9 tracks, 29:07). B

London Jazz Composers Orchestra: That Time (1972-80 [2020], Not Two): Avant big band, I think of it as being bassist Barry Guy's vehicle, but four composers are named on the cover: Kenny Wheeler, Guy, Paul Rutherford, and Howard Riley, each with a 14-18 minute piece, the first two from 1972, the latter 1980. B+(*)

Thelonious Monk: Palo Alto (1968 [2020], Impulse!): Archival album, previously unreleased, so a big deal, recorded on a stage at Palo Alto High School, a side trip from a stand at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco. Quartet, with Charlie Rouse (tenor sax), Larry Gales (bass), and Ben Riley (drums). This was near the tail end of one of Monk's best quartets, with seasoned experts reworking his old songs. A-

Nublu Orchestra Conducted by Butch Morris: Live in Paris (2010 [2020], Nublu): "Conduction No. 190." At some point I should make a chart of who played on each of their live albums -- coming out now at a fairly rapid clip -- but aside from some regulars like Graham Haynes (cornet) and Doug Wieselman (guitar) the lineups seem pretty variable. B+(**)

Old music:

Charles McPherson: Con Alma! (1965 [1995], Prestige/OJC): Alto saxophonist, second album, quintet with Clifford Jordan (tenor sax), Barry Harris (piano), George Tucker (bass), and Alan Dawson (drums). Runs through six songs, mostly bebop standards like the title track, "Dexter Rides Again," and "Chasing the Bird." B+(*)

Charles McPherson: Live at the Five Spot (1966 [1994], Prestige): Quintet with Lonnie Hillyer (trumpet), Barry Harris (piano), Ray McKinney (bass), and Billy Higgins (drums), originally released as The Quintet/Live! in 1967, reissue tacks on three extra tracks, bringing the CD to 74:26. Mostly bop repertoire. B+(*)

Charles McPherson: From This Moment On (1968 [1997], Prestige/OJC): Quartet, with Cedar Walton on piano, Pat Martino on guitar, plus bass and drums. Walton and Martino tend to take over, but some find alto sax here and there. B+(**)

Charles McPherson: Horizons (1968 [1998], Prestige/OJC): Sextet, Walton and Martino again, different bass and drums, with Nasir Hafiz's vibes prominent from the start. Four McPherson originals, two covers ("Lush Life" and "I Should Care"). Sax more prominent here, and he's clearly developing his tone and poise. B+(**)

Charles McPherson: Siku Ya Bibi (Day of the Lady) (1972, Mainstream): He left Prestige after McPherson's Mood (1969), and recorded three 1971-73 albums for Mainstream. This is the second, dedicated to Billie Holiday. Good material for alto sax and quintet, but strings spoil half the tracks. B

Charles McPherson: Live in Tokyo (1976, Xanadu): After Mainstream, the alto saxophonist recorded 5 records for Xanadu (1975-81). The first, Beautiful! (1975) is a special favorite. This one retains the bass-drums combo (Sam Jones and Leroy Williams), reverts to the leader's usual pianist (Barry Harris), and adds some guitar (Jimmy Raney). A- [yt]

Charles McPherson: Come Play With Me (1995, Arabesque): Not much to show for the 1980s, but McPherson recorded three albums for Arabesque 1994-98. This middle one is a quartet with Mulgrew Miller (piano), Sati Debriano (bass), and Lewis Nash (drums) -- lovely effort all around. A-

Charles McPherson: Manhattan Nocturne (1997 [1998], Arabesque): Another quartet, with Ray Drummond taking over on bass. [Glitch on first song.] B+(***)

Charles McPherson: Live at the Cellar (2002, Cellar Live): Live shot from the Vancouver club, quartet with local piano trio (Ross Taggart, Jodi Proznick, Blaine Wikjord). Six songs, each topping 10:12 (up to 14:56). Closes strong. B+(***)

Charles McPherson: What Is Love (2010, Arabesque): Released a decade after his 1994-98 records for the label, having trouble with dates and such, but could be new. Quartet with Randy Porter, Rufus Reid, and Carl Allen, plus strings: The Lark Quartet. I'm not a fan of the latter, but even they cannot ruin something as luscious as "My One and Only Love." B+(*)

Charles McPherson Quartet: Love Walked In (2015, Quadrant): Quartet, with Bruce Barth (piano), Jeremy Brown (bass), and Stephen Keogh (drums). Scant discography, but mostly standards, leisurely but only two (of nine) reach 7 minutes. B+(***)


Grade (or other) changes:

Elizabeth Cook: Aftermath (2020, Agent Love): Country singer-songwriter, seventh album since 2000, had a breakthrough with 2007's Balls and the even better 2010 Welder. Rocking harder here, which is appealing enough but makes it harder to follow her songs. The exception is the closer, a reworking of John Prine's "Jesus: The Missing Years" to focus on Mary. [was: B+(***)] A-

Billy Nomates: Billy Nomates (2020, Invada): British singer-songwriter Tor Maries, first album, some sources say "No Mates," produced by Geoff Barrow (Portishead), draws comparisons to Sleaford Mods for her talkie style and class consciousness (well, also Jason Williams' guest verse on "Supermarket Sweep," his voice barbed where hers fades away, too subtle for her material). Grows on you. [was: B+(***)] A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Mary Halvorson's Code Girl: Artlessly Falling (Firehouse 12) [10-30]
  • Douglas Olsen: 2 Cents (self-released) [11-01]
  • Edward Simon: 25 Years (1995-2018, Ridgeway, 2CD) [10-09]
  • Amber Weekes: The Gathering (Amber Inn Productions) [10-01]

Sunday, September 27, 2020


Weekend Roundup

Well, it's official now: as of September 22, 200,000 Americans are now confirmed dead from Covid-19. For more:

Let's start with overflow from the Supreme Court crisis, opened up by the death last week of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Some articles came out in anticipation, but it's now official: Trump selects Amy Coney Barrett to Fill Ginsburg's seat on the Supreme Court:

  • Zack Beauchamp: RBG, the 2020 election, and the rolling crisis of American democracy.

  • Daniel Block: Packing the court might work. Threatening to pack it did. Reviews Franklin Roosevelt's 1937 court packing proposal, which was ill-fated in the sense that it didn't get passed. But under pressure, the Supreme Court stopped invalidating major New Deal legislation, and gradually Roosevelt's appointees took over the Court. Block emphasizes similarities between now and 1937, but I'm more struck by two key differences: FDR and his Democrats had a huge electoral mandate after the 1936 election, whereas the most Biden can hope for is a slim majority; and while the majority on the 1930s Supreme Court was casually selected from upper class conservatives, the Trump Court is stocked with card-carrying Federalist Society cult members -- not just predisposed to right-wing sentiments but selected and cultivated for them.

  • Ryan Bort: GOP scores huge victory over democracy, integrity as Trump announces pick to replace RBG.

  • Katelyn Burns: How Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court could affect LGBTQ rights.

  • John Cassidy: Trump's selection of Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court is part of a larger antidemocratic project.

  • Igor Derysh: Mitch McConnell rams through six Trump judges in 30 hours after blocking coronavirus aid for months.

  • Garrett Epps: Amy Coney Barrett's stare decisis problem -- and ours.

  • Burgess Everett: Republicans prep lightning-quick Supreme Court confirmation.

  • Noah Feldman: Amy Coney Barrett deserves to be on the Supreme Court: "I disagree with Trump's judicial nominee on almost everything. But I still think she's brilliant." I doubt Feldman, a Harvard law professor and former clerk for Supreme Court Justice David Souter, wrote that headline. He does say that she's brilliant, and can be expected to produce carefully reasoned opinions -- "even if I disagree with her all the way." I find that degree of legalistic wiggle room disturbing. Note that this post bleeds into another unrelated one of interest: Timothy L O'Brien: Elections aren't the only things Trump thinks are rigged: "It's always somebody else's fault when things turn against him." By the way, another friend of Barrett's has chipped in: O Carter Snead: I've known Amy Coney Barrett for 15 years. Liberals have nothing to fear. I recall similar pieces popping up as soon as Cavanaugh got nominated. All nominees come with PR machines paving the way. Sooner or later we'll discover that millions of dollars have been raised to promote this and other nominations. And thanks to recent Supreme Court rulings, it will be impossible to establish criminal culpability when the new Justice rewards her benefactors.

  • Matt Ford: Amy Coney Barrett wants felons to have guns, but not votes.

  • Constance Grady: The false link between Amy Coney Barrett and The Handmaid's Tale, explained.

  • Sarah Jones:

    • American women need a revolution. It has to be bigger than RBG. Most memorable line here, about Ginsburg's "improbable" friendship with Antonin Scalia: "There's no ethical disagreement so profound that a shared class position can't bridge it." How much harder is it to form an ethical bridge over a class difference?

    • Amy Coney Barrett and the triumph of Phyllis Schlafly.

      As embraced by jurists like Barrett and her old boss, Antonin Scalia, originalism is its own dogma; the extension of a political theology committed to an older and more exclusionary version of America.

      Barrett understands all that. She's exactly as intelligent as her advocates say, and she's made all her choices with a sound mind. Her reward is power. If she's confirmed by the Senate, she'll be able to finish what Schlafly once started. She could help lock in Trump for another four years. She'll be able to deal democracy and yes, the feminist movement the blows the Christian right has dreamed of landing for years.

  • Noah Lanard: Amy Coney Barrett will strip millions of health insurance.

  • Nancy LeTourneau: Meet the man who vets Trump's Supreme Court picks: Leonard Leo, of the Federalist Society. I've long found it peculiar how Republicans invariably wind up appointing conservative Catholics to the Court -- are Protestants, who long held sway but lately have become virtually extinct, too inclined to respect people as individuals?

    You might call it a coincidence that Leo is Catholic and all of the Supreme Court justices he has been involved with since the 1990s have been Catholic -- with the exception of Gorsuch, who was raised Catholic but attended an Episcopal church after he married an Anglican. At this point, the two women who appear to be in contention for nomination by Trump (and put forward by Leo and the Federalist Society) are also Catholic. What is of concern, however, is not their religion, but how it influences their view of the role of the courts. For example, while a professor at Notre Dame, Barrett said that a "legal career is but a means to an end . . . and that end is building the Kingdom of God."

    For more on Leo, see: Robert O Harrow Jr/Shawn Boburg: A conservative activist's behind-the-scenes campaign to remake the nation's courts.
  • Eric Levitz:

    • Dems should turn Barrett hearings into an anti-GOP informercial. We've seen at least some of this starting, especially with the ACA case:

      This said, Democrats may be well-advised to make the ACA their number-one issue in the confirmation fight. The conservative legal challenges to Obamacare don't just constitute an attempt to strip millions of potentially life-saving insurance subsidies, or change health-care policy in a toxically unpopular manner; it also represents an assault on democracy itself. The American people's democratically elected representatives entertained the question of whether this law should exist twice, first in 2009 and then in 2017. The verdict is clear. The unpopularity of the conservative alternative is unmistakable. Nevertheless, the right has refused to take the electorate's "no" for an answer, and is now seeking to use its influence over the judiciary to override the will of the people. In this way, the Obamacare case conveniently weds the threat that Trump poses to the material interests of working people with the threat he poses to democracy itself.

      Democrats may have no real chance of blocking Barrett's confirmation. But the Senate's hearings will provide the party an opportunity to clarify the stakes of the impending vote that they can still win.

    • Would court packing be too slippery a slope? I think it's premature to talk about it. People need to understand two things: it's not such a radical idea; and it's necessitated by the Supreme Court's obstruction of popular and necessary policies. A good start would be to refer to Trump's appointments as "packing the Court" -- that is clearly the intention, and it's been happening for some time (a deliberate effort to install partisan ideologues, especially relatively young ones, to build up a long-lasting right-wing majority, and use that to radically change laws, subverting the normal processes of democracy). You can also start pointing out how this "packed" right-wing court has already broken with established norms to further their partisan schemes (e.g., campaign bribery = free speech, unlimited gun rights, allowing voting discrimination).

  • Dahlia Lithwick: Trump kept the quiet part quiet about Amy Coney Barrett: In his announcement, Trump "stayed mum about the real reason he needs her."

    As has been noted many times over this past week, the GOP has lost the popular vote in six of the last seven elections and yet appointed 15 out of the last 19 justices. Barrett would make that 16 out of 20 seats. And that is why the people most assuredly cannot be allowed to decide the future of reproductive freedom, the future of health care, or even whether and how their own ballots will be counted in just over a month. Trump cannot talk about those things because they will further harm his own polling and will also reflect badly on GOP senators who pledged to vote for the nominee before they even knew whom she would be. They cannot talk about those things because minority rule doesn't poll as well in the U.S. as it does in, say, Hungary or medieval France. But minority rule is on the ballot. It may well be the only thing on the ballot. Because if, as the president promises, his independent justice needs to be seated to decide whose ballots count, this isn't merely a commitment to entrench unpopular, dangerous, and partisan policies into constitutional law. It's also a commitment to commandeering the high court itself into deciding whether and how to count votes, in an election in which a sitting president has already pledged that only some voters will be allowed to pick the winner.

  • Dylan Matthews:

  • Barbara McQuade: Amy Coney Barrett is even more extreme than Antonin Scalia.

  • Ian Millhiser:

  • Nicole Narea: Amy Coney Barrett has a years-long record of ruling against immigrants.

  • Ella Nilsen: How the coming fight over Ginsburg's SCOTUS replacement could shape the Senate elections.

  • Anna North: What Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court would mean for abortion rights.

  • Molly Olmstead: Conservatives are already playing up hypothetical anti-Catholic bias against Amy Coney Barrett: Because we all know how concerned conservatives are when it comes to prejudice against minorities? I'm old enough to remember the old protestant prejudice against Catholics -- my grandmother was a prime example -- but Catholics back then (like John Kennedy) disarmed the prejudice by emphasizing tolerance and the separation of church and state, not by forcing their most arcane beliefs on their subjects, as Barrett seems to want to do.

  • Alex Pareene: McConnell will sacrifice anything to fill Ginsburg's seat -- even his Senate majority.

  • Kim Phillips-Fein: Is Amy Coney Barrett joining a Supreme Court built for the wealthy? "Future decisions by a very conservative majority could give corporations even more weight and workers less."

  • Joe Pinsker: RBG's fingerprints are all over your everyday life.

  • David Rohde: A dangerous moment for the Supreme Court. Can we start referring to the Federalist Society as a cult?

    Trump and McConnell now stand poised to create a conservative majority on the Court that could last decades. The moment marks a triumph for the Federalist Society, a conservative and libertarian legal group that has worked since the nineteen-eighties to recruit ultra-conservative lawyers to serve as judges. Republicans face a potential backlash in November, but a dramatic and historic change in American democracy and jurisprudence is under way that could vastly increase the power of the Presidency, corporations, and the wealthy, and curtail, or bring to an end, abortion rights, Obamacare, and expansive voting rights.

  • Shaskar Sunkara: 'Scranton v Park Avenue' is Biden's best campaign issue -- not the Supreme Court. He has a point, but as Yglesias points out below, the two are not unrelated. The Supreme Court in itself is unlikely to persuade anyone who isn't already committed, but it doesn't hurt to point to the Republicans' hypocrisy viz. 2016, to the naked power grab, to the packing of the court with Federalist Society cultists. Also, the most immediately tangible case before the Supreme Court is a suit to throw out all of Obamacare on the thinest of technicalities, and Barrett could be the vote that decides to strip health insurance from millions of people. Still, the overriding issue of the election is the conflict between one party which blindly serves an unaccountable, unelected oligarchy and another party which at least recognizes and is accountable to the vast majority of Americans. Since winning elections depends on building a majority coalition, that seems like the obvious point to make.

  • Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: The case for ending the Supreme Court as we know it.

  • Jeffrey Toobin: There should be no doubt why Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett.

    Still, it's worth remembering the real priorities of Trump and Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, in this nomination. They're happy to accommodate the anti-abortion base of the Republican Party, but an animating passion of McConnell's career has been the deregulation of political campaigns. The Supreme Court's Citizens United decision brought the issue to wide public attention, but McConnell has been crusading about it for decades. He wants the money spigot kept open, so that he can protect his Senate majority and the causes for which it stands. This, too, is why the Federalist Society has been so lavishly funded over the years, and why it has expanded from a mere campus organization into a national behemoth for lawyers and students. Under Republican Presidents, Federalist Society events have come to operate as auditions for judicial appointments. The corporate interests funding the growth of the Federalist Society probably weren't especially interested in abortion, but they were almost certainly committed to crippling the regulatory state.

    Barrett is a product of this movement, and not just because she clerked for Scalia. Her writings and early rulings reflect it. Her financial-disclosure form shows that, in recent years, she has received about seven thousand dollars in honoraria from the Federalist Society and went on ten trips funded by it. But it's not as if Barrett was bought; she was already sold. The judge has described herself as a "textualist" and an "originalist" -- the same words of legal jargon that were associated with Scalia. (She believes in relying on the specific meaning of the words in statutes, not on legislators' intent. She interprets the Constitution according to her belief in what the words meant when the document was ratified, not what the words mean now.) But these words are abstractions. In the real world, they operate as an agenda to crush labor unions, curtail environmental regulation, constrain the voting rights of minorities, limit government support for health care, and free the wealthy to buy political influence.

  • Matthew Yglesias: The Supreme Court's role in economic policy, explained. Reminds us that the point of having a conservative majority on the Supreme Court is less to legislate from the bench than to veto efforts by Congress and the Executive to implement changes that regulate business, regardless of how popular those changes may be.

    It's a nice vision, in my opinion, and also a vision of a world in which the courts play a smaller role in the political process. It is not the way American politics works. When Alfred Stepan and Juan Linz surveyed the United States and 22 other peer nations to see how many electorally generated veto points each country had, they found the US to be a huge outlier. More than half their sample had just one elected body that could block policy change -- a parliamentary majority. Seven had two veto players. France often had one, sometimes two, but since then has tweaked its rules to ensure that it's always one. Switzerland and Australia had three. And the United States had four.

    Which is just to say it's really, really hard to change the law in America. In their magisterial work Lobbying and Policy Change: Who Wins, Who Loses, and Why, Frank Baumgartner and his co-authors find something superficially encouraging -- it's not the case that the side with more money backing it normally wins in Congress. The reason, however, is less encouraging. It simply turns out that there are so many veto points in the US political system that the status quo almost always wins. What the increasingly active conservative courts do, under the guise of aw-shucks balls and strikes refereeing, is essentially introduce yet another veto player into the system.

  • Li Zhou: Senate Republicans were always going to do whatever they wanted with the Supreme Court vacancy: "Their actions are deeply hypocritical -- but unsurprising."


Some scattered links on other topics this week:

Bethany Albertson: Trump's appeals to white anxiety are not "dog whistles" -- they're racism. That's because Trump's no whistler. He's the dog. He isn't the leader of the Republican Party. He's just a guy who watches too much Fox News, but because he has money and has spent his whole adult life seeking fame, he's come to represent all the little people whose prejudices and fears and psychoses he embodies.

Zeeshan Aleem: Half of Americans who lost their job during the pandemic still don't have one.

Anne Applebaum: The complicity of Republican leaders in support of an immoral and dangerous president.

Associated Press: Trump and Nixon were pen pals in the '80s. Here are their letters. Just to creep you out, from the original CREEP.

Zack Beauchamp: The Republican Party is an authoritarian outlier: "Compared to center-right parties in developed democracies, the GOP is dangerously far from normal."

Hannah Beech: 'I feel sorry for Americans': A baffled world watches the US: "From Myanmar to Canada, people are asking: How did a superpower allow itself to be felled by a virus? And why won't the president commit to a peaceful transition of power?" The answer to both questions is hubris: the latter specifically by Donald Trump, the former much more generally. Even the Soviet Bloc, with nothing we recognize as democracy, generally allowed a peaceful transfer of power. (As Jeffrey St Clair mentions, in the piece below, the exception was in Romania, where Ceaucescu's generals took the leader out into a field and shot him, then outlawed capital punishment.) The US used to be better regarded, even more generously than was really deserved, but in the late 1940s Truman decided to kick the Soviet Union out of the coalition that had won WWII, and to direct US foreign policy against communists, socialists, labor unions, and anti-colonial resistance everywhere. When the Soviet Bloc collapsed, Washington doubled down on its economic program to impose capitalist austerity everywhere. Where Republicans differed from Democrats was in their insistence on treating their own folk as shabbily as the rest of the world. Trump's only innovation to this Washington Consensus was to stop pretending that the "medicine" was good for others. His vision is a world of oligarchs who can buy and sell whole countries. His "America First" is really just Trump First. Otherwise, if he really represented a system or a party, he wouldn't cling to power so desperately.

Julia Belluz: 156 countries are teaming up for a Covid-19 vaccine. But not the US or China. Interview with Seth Berkley, of "Vaccine Alliance, one of the partners behind Covax."

Russ Buettner/Susanne Craig/Mike McIntire: The President's taxes: Long-concealed records show Trump's chronic losses and years of tax avoidance: "The Times obtained Donald Trump's tax information extending over more than two decades, revealing struggling properties, vast write-offs, an audit battle and hundreds of millions in debt coming due." Major article, although it's still far short of what a full public release of Trump's tax records might show. Side articles: Charting an empire: A timeline of Trump's finances; 18 revelations from a trove of Trump tax records; An editor's note on the Trump tax investigation. For more:

Laura Bult: How the US keeps poor people from accessing abortion.

Katelyn Burns: Trump says he won't commit to leaving office if he loses the election because of a "ballot scam". I'm growing weary of repeatedly asking Trump about whether he'd agree to "a peaceful transition of power" if he loses the election. It should be obvious by now that his repeated refusals signify two things: he doesn't believe that elections in the US are fair, not least because he's spending a lot of effort and money in scamming them for his own benefit; and underlying that, he clearly doesn't believe that fair and open democratic processes are valuable in their own right. When Al Gore in 2000 and Hillary Clinton in 2016 conceded, despite receiving more votes than Bush or Trump, they were showing their respect for a flawed but established democratic system. Trump has no such respect. He probably regards Gore and Clinton as suckers and losers for rolling over so easily. In contrast, he wants to appear tough, as someone who will fight for his beliefs down to the last technicality -- his dedication is something his supporters love about him, whereas the willingness of Democrats to back away from power fights has made them look weak and indecisive. Nor is this just Trump being his authoritarian bad self. Republicans have signalled their contempt for democracy for decades ago, as they've exploited every imbalance and loophole available to them to secure power far beyond their numbers. Indeed, their agenda is so tailored to narrow (and unpopular) special interests that it's hard to see how they could prevail in fair and open elections. (Indeed, it's easy to find instances where Republicans admit as much.) Still, I think a large part of Trump's refusal to say something as obvious as "of course, if I lose I'll respect the law" is that he feels obligated to project confidence in his electability -- especially given that polling has consistently shown him to be way behind. Muddying the waters, casting suspicion on the integrity of voting, is one of the few ways he can gain credibility for his campaign, even if it's as likely as not to backfire on him. Given all the horrors of the last four years, given his manifest ineptness for the job, given the malevolence of his administration, he should have no chance to win a second term. Yet your uncertainty just goes to show that his ploy is working. But it also adds to the sense of how ominously he looms over the future of the country, and how much of a toll even recognizing him as a legitimate political figure is taking from our psyches. [BTW: I previously wrote more on this, see Rupar below, which includes additional links on post-election worries.]

Jonathan Chait:

John Cassidy: Trump is attacking American democracy at its core.

Fabiola Cineas:

Adam Clark Estes/Rebecca Heilweil: The most dangerous conspiracy theory in 2020 isn't about blood-sucking pedophiles: "QAnon is scary, but misinformation about voter fraud poses a bigger and more immediate threat to democracy."

Susan B Glasser: Here are twenty other disturbing, awful things that Trump has said this month, and it's not over yet.

Eric Goldwyn: Costly lessons from the Second Avenue Subway.

Thom Hartmann: Trump's destruction of America started with Ronald Reagan: "Why Reaganism needs to be ripped out by the root."

Umair Irfan: Scientists fear the Western wildfires could lead to long-term lung damage.

Malaika Jabali: Joe Biden is repeating the same mistakes that cost Hillary Clinton the election: "Biden is trying to woo unhappy Republicans, when he should be mobilizing hundreds of thousands of Democrats." Well, that's one way to get your attention -- Hillary Clinton is, after all, the only Democrats who's ever managed to lose an election to Trump -- but why should those options be either/or? No doubt the Biden campaign needs to put a lot of effort into getting out the base vote -- that's how Obama won two elections for Biden, and that's one place Clinton dropped the ball. On the other hand, I don't see any harm from touting a few Republican endorsements -- former Michigan governor Rick Snyder (of Flint water notoriety) is mentioned here. I would worry if Biden started tailoring his program to make vague cross-party appeals, but considering his opponent, he has a readymade case -- e.g., sanity.

Peter Kafka: Apple won't take a cut -- for now -- when Facebook sells online classes: The underlying story is that Apple currently claims 30% of all charges for digital services that occur using apps from their app store (thus exploiting their control over iPhone users). I wasn't aware of that -- I've studiously avoided doing business with Apple ever since my Apple II days, when I got disgusted over their pricing of hardware components -- but evidently Google does the same thing with Android apps (I have an Android phone, but don't think I've ever downloaded any apps from their store, and certainly haven't paid them any money for them).

Roge Karma: To achieve racial justice, America's broken democracy must be fixed.

Jen Kirby: Yes, Russia is interfering in the 2020 election. "It wants to cause chaos, again. But it's also learned some lessons from 2016." It's no secret that Russian hackers favor Trump, and reasonable to infer that's because Putin favors Trump. But why seems to be nothing but speculation: maybe it's to sow chaos, maybe it's because Putin thinks Trump will be easier to deal with, maybe it's because Russia just wants to be viewed as a serious player, maybe the Republicans are subcontracting (an angle Mueller doesn't seem to have considered, distracted as he was by high level contacts between people who don't really work).

Ezra Klein:

Michael Kranish: Donald Trump, facing financial ruin, sought control of his elderly father's estate. The family fight was epic.

Eric Levitz:

Jane Mayer: A young Kennedy, in Kushnerland, turned whistle-blower.

Bill McKibben: A post-Ginsburg Court could be one more climate obstacle: Give him any arbitrary headline, and he'll write you a piece about how it threatens the planet, adding "any chance we still have will require abnormal action." Presumably, not abnormal as in McConnell's rush to approve Trump's pick. More like abnormal in attending demonstrations led by McKibben. I don't recall Ginsburg ever taking a stand on anthropogenic climate change, but I do recall the Supreme Court overturning EPA limits on greenhouse gases because they didn't consider the economic impacts. She may have dissented from that. Trump's next pick certainly won't, so I guess McKibben has a point. But it's always the same one.

Ian Millhiser: How the Supreme Court revived Jim Crow voter suppression tactics: Interview with Carol Anderson, author of One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy.

Sara Morrison: Section 230, the internet free speech law Trump wants to change, explained.

Nicole Narea:

Anna North: The Trump administration's war on birth control: "The Affordable Care Act made birth control more accessible than ever. Then came Trump."

Jeff Orlowski: We need to rethink social media before it's too late. We've accepted a Faustian bargain: "A business model that alters the way we think, act, and live our lives has us heading toward dystopia." Well, we never thought it through in the first place. Social media was created by private companies, and designed in ways to allow those companies to profit by taking advantage of their users, and delivering them to advertisers. There are as lot of problems with that, but giving the government more control over them, even if it's just regulating them as monopolies, isn't much better, and could be worse. I'd like to see non-profit entities set up to chip away at their market, with some kind of public funding replacing their need to sell things. One great thing about the Internet is that the marginal cost of data is nil, so there's no reason anyone has to excluded from anything. Working back from that point, it should be possible to subsidize content creation in ways that don't make it subject to political control. And all sorts of ancillary processes could be generated on the basis of what people actually want, as opposed to what a few entrepreneurs calculate can be turned into profit.

Evan Osnos: The TikTok fiasco reflects the bankruptcy of Trump's foreign policy.

JC Pan: Some rich people are hilariously freaked out about a Biden presidency: "The mere prospect of a Democratic president nominally meddling with their plunder has generated anxiety among the wealthy." The photo is of Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, worth $1.3 billion, and among the seriously worried:

A bombshell report released last week by the RAND Corporation revealed an astonishing upward redistribution of $47 trillion from the bottom 90 percent to the top 1 percent between 1975 and 2018. In their paper, authors Carter Price and Kathryn Edwards argued that if the country's economic gains over that time period had been distributed as they were in the postwar era -- that is, prior to the explosion of a bipartisan free market mania that slashed taxes, hobbled unions, and eviscerated public programs -- median worker pay today would be about twice what it is. "This really is the entire country versus a very small number of people," the Center for American Progress's Ben Olinsky said of the report. After nearly half a century of raking it in at the expense of everyone else, with the enthusiastic blessings of right-wing think tanks and policymakers from both major parties, it's no wonder that the one percent is now scandalized by whispers of even the mildest reforms.

Heather Digby Parton: Trump's eugenics obsession: He thinks he has "good German genes," because he's a fascist: "Trump's 'racehorse theory' of genetics is profoundly racist -- it's also why he thinks he's a natural-born genius."

Matt Phillips: China is on a building binge, and metal prices are surging.

Lili Pike: China's commitment to become carbon neutral by 2060, explained.

Andrew Prokop:

David Roberts:

Aaron Rupar:

Jerry Saltz: I don't know where this ends. But I cannot stop panicking about November. Sounds like he's my age, or a bit more -- talks about being at Chicago in 1968, whereas I only watched it on TV. Still, I can relate to this:

Call it liberal bedwetting; being afraid, unable to maintain our emotional hull-structures and psychological balance. Of course, it is all of that. Our internal shields collapsed. Not just waking up in the middle of the night thinking about how bad Trump and the Republicans are and have been. (That's been a norm for four years, never being able to "normalize" the actions of this ruling class.) But feeling like we were staring in the face of something bigger. And personal. Something like . . . our faith in America -- our mealy-mouthed, privileged, naïve liberal conviction that the country would get better, erratically and only through fighting, but in some way that felt nevertheless reliable. I have always assumed that while the arc of history is long and hard and fraught, that in the end it really will arc toward justice. This was probably always foolish, but I felt it. The most pressing questions about progress always seemed to be when? and how fast? and over what obstacles? Not if.

I was pretty quickly disabused of the notion that America always does right -- the Vietnam War did that, but it was easy to find much more -- but it seemed like we always lucked out from the worst consequences of our deeds. After all, Americans are fundamentally practical people, so sooner or later you have to adjust to reality and go with something that works. Clearly, lots of things in America aren't working right now, and fixing them is going to be hard, in no small part because the solutions often run against myths right-wingers have propagated over the last 40 (to 75) years. Some such problems are subtle, intricate, difficult to see, and those will be the hardest. But some are as fucking obvious and transparent as Donald Trump, and can be solved as simply as voting him out (or if you're as angry as you should be, try this one). When I grew up, it was literally impossible to watch a movie or TV show that didn't inexorably lead to a happy ending, so you can see where my instincts came from. That started to change with the advent of "anti-heroes" (coincidentally with the Vietnam War), and has progressed to the point where villains are our heroes, and vice versa. And in this world, it's hard to believe that we'll catch a break, and see Trump and the Republicans caught up short.

Theodore Schleifer: This billionaire built a big-money machine to oust Trump. Why do some Democrats hate him? Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn and investor in other ventures. Nicholas Lemann wrote about him in Transaction Man: The Rise of the Deal and the Decline of the American Dream, where he was profiled along with Adolf Berle and Michael Jensen to illustrate the business thinking aligned with FDR's New Deal (Berle), Reagan's right-wing reaction (Jensen), and the business-friendly New Democrats like Clinton and Obama (Hoffman).

Nancy Scola: "Holy s---" is what we're thinking': Inside Facebook's reckoning with 2020.

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: Simple twists of fate: Weekly column, one I long avoided but these days he's starting to feel refreshing. Starts with a series of bullet items on Breonna Taylor, ranging from "There were 146 arrests in Louisville on Wednesday, none for the murder of Breonna Taylor" to this:

It's tempting to think: so, this is what we've come to. Police can break into your house in the middle of the night on specious warrant, shoot you in your bed, smear you after you're dead, entice witnesses to lie about you, fabricate stories about their own actions and then, after it's all been exposed, just walk. Free of charges. Free of discipline. Free to do it all over again. Because they will and they have. Yes, it's tempting to think this is what we've come to in the age of Trump. But what if this is what we've always been? Since the first slave patrols busted into houses late at night, to drag human beings back into a state of enshackled property.

Also this on the Supreme Court, which could have added more old cases (hundreds, maybe thousands) but stuck with the most notorious ones:

I keep hearing about the "legitimacy crisis" that will engulf the Supreme Court if the Senate moves forward with Trump's expected nomination. Yet when did the institution that rendered Dred Scott (1857), Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), Korematsu (1944), Bowers v. Hardwick, upholding Georgia's sodomy statute (1986), Bush v. Gore (2000), Exxon Shipping v. Baker, revoking punitive damages for Exxon Valdez wreck (2008) and Citizens United (2010) acquire this glittering aura of legitimacy?

The answer is that the 1940s-1970s court did a few things (but not everything) right, which led people of my age to look to the Court for protection against unjust political power. That Court has been systematically undermined over decades, but three Trump appointments pushes it over the edge into the abyss of despotism. And, by the way, stopping Barrett won't save us. The Court is already packed. On a different subject:

COVID-19 mortality rates were 30% lower in unionized nursing homes in New York. When there was a union, workers had significantly greater access to N95 masks and eye shields, and infection rates were lower.

Emily Stewart: We can end America's unemployment nightmare: "The problem with our social safety net is clear. The solution is, too." This is part of a series of articles Vox calls The Great Rebuild. Others:

Matt Stieb:

Margaret Sullivan: Four years ago, Trump survived 'Access Hollywood' -- and a media myth of indestructibility was born. This fails to mention that the Wikileaks dump of DNC emails came out right after the 'Access Hollywood' tape, a feint the media readily fell for. Then came Comey's announcement that the FBI was reopening its investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails, which resonated with all the earlier email stories. On the other hand, Trump managed to suppress the Stormy Daniels story until well after the election, so we have no idea how it might have played out, especially coming after the "Access Hollywood" tape. It certainly was true that major mainstream media outlets thought playing Trump up was good for business, and the polls suggested there wasn't much risk in doing so. They're liable to think the same thing for the same reasons this time. But repeatedly letting Trump off the hook isn't the same thing as deeming him indestructible. They could just as well take that as a challenge, and demolish him completely by election time. Lord knows, they owe the public a break.

Katrina Vanden Heuvel: Stephen F Cohen, 1938-2020. Obituary of the late Russia scholar and noted critic of neo-Cold War jingoism, especially popular among Clintonist Democrats since Hillary got shafted, by his wife, aka editor of The Nation. Also on Cohen:

AJ Vicens: Republicans decry slow ballot counts while hampering efforts to speed them up. This is typical of everything Republicans have done on elections this round: they never offer anything to increase voting, to make sure voting is representative of the public, and/or to make sure the results are credible and trusted. They only work to scam the system, which makes sense given that their agenda is contrary to the interests of most people, and that most people recognize it as such.

Alex Ward:

Jason Wilson/Robert Evans: Revealed: pro-Trump activists plotted violence ahead of Portland rallies.

Matthew Yglesias:

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