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Friday, July 31, 2015

Book Roundup

I neglected these short book blurbs for close to a year -- July 3, 2014 to June 17, 2015 -- so I'm still catching up. In fact, I have so much written at this point I'll try to do another tomorrow. For today's selection, I've tried to focus on history books. (Last entry was focused on political books.)


Tariq Ali: The Extreme Centre: A Warning (paperback, 2015, Verso): British Marxist, novelist, filmmaker, part of the old New Left Review crowd, wrote a book in 2002 which excoriated extremists on both sides of the terrorism wars (which he dubbed the Oil Wars -- see The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity). Now he finds comparable trouble in the so-called center, focusing on the UK and Europe where the traditional parties of left and right compete to support corporations.

Edward E Baptist: The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (2014, Basic Books): Argues against the notion that slavery was pre-capitalist or even anti-capitalist by pointing out the how especially in the cotton industry technical innovations (hence capital) were developed to make slavery more productive and profitable. But showing that slavery was compatible with capitalism doesn't lighten its burden -- if anything, the opposite. Some of this was anticipated by Walter Johnson: River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom (2013, Belknap Press). Also related: Sven Beckert: Empire of Cotton: A Global Industry (2014, Knopf).

Max Blumenthal: The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza (2015, Nation Books): The title reminds you that while Israel only took six days to defeat the armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, seizing large slices from each's territory, they spent six-and-a-half times as long poking, probing, and pounding the tiny, defenseless Gaza Strip -- with no tangible gains, a repeat of three previous military operations that prooved equally fruitless. Blumenthal's recent Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel (2013, Nation Books) revealed a profound racism (loathing) growing in Israel's dominant right-wing, so I hope this book goes beyond accounting the casualties and recording testimony of the survivors to get at the viciousness that powers these recurrent eruptions of Israeli wrath. Blumenthal's book is the first out on this latest round, but the following aren't what you'd call dated: Gideon Levy: The Punishment of Gaza (paperback, 2010, Verso); Norman Finkelstein: This Time We Went Too Far: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion (paperback, 2010, OR Books); Noam Chomsky & Ilan Pappé: Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel's War Against the Palestinians (paperback, 2010, Haymarket Books); or for that matter, Amira Haas: Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege (paperback, 2000, Picador).

Daniel P Bolger: Why We Lost: A General's Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars (2014, Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): Three-star general, had commands both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Concludes: "at the root of our failure, we never really understood our enemy." True, but "we" also didn't understand much of anything else, least of all how ill fit the US military was for occupying foreign countries. It's refreshing that Bolger admits that the operations were failures, but he doesn't seem to understand that the relentless focus on killing/capturing "enemies" created its own failures, as did the very alien-ness of the US military.

Joel K Bourne Jr: The End of Plenty: The Race to Feed a Crowded World (2015, WW Norton): The Green Revolution in the 1960s seemed to background Robert Malthus' population theories, but they're coming back as population grows, land remains constant, technology fails to bridge the gap, and other threats (like global warming) are increasing.

Douglas Brinkley/Luke A Nichter: The Nixon Tapes: 1971-1972 (2014, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): Verbatim transcripts (784 pp of them), the precise history Nixon wanted you to hear, and some he didn't. Good to have this in book form, but I can't imagine wanting to read it. For some reason we have an avalanche of Nixon books, in addition to Rick Perlstein's The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan (2014, Simon & Schuster): Patrick J Buchanan: The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose from Defeat to Create the New Majority (2014, Crown Forum); John W Dean: The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It (2014, Viking); Elizabeth Drew: Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon's Downfall (paperback, 2015, Overlook Press); Don Fulsom: Treason: Nixon and the 1968 Election (2015, Pelican); Irwin F Gellman: The President and the Apprentice: Eisenhower and Nixon, 1951-1961 (2015, Yale University Press); Ken Hughes: Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate (2014, University of Virginia Press); Jeffrey P Kimball/William Burr: Nixon's Nuclear Specter: The Secret Alert of 1969, Madman Diplomacy, and the Vietnam War (2015, University Press of Kansas); Ray Locker: Nixon's Gamble: How a President's Own Secret Government Destroyed His Administration (2015, Lyons Press); Michael Nelson: Resilient America: Electing Nixon in 1968, Channeling Dissent, and Dividing Government (2014, University Press of Kansas); James Robenalt: January 1973: Watergate, Roe v. Wade, Vietnam, and the Month That Changed America Forever (2015, Chicago Review Press); Douglas E Schoen: The Nixon Effect: How His Presidency Has Changed American Politics (2015, Encounter Books); Geoff Shepard: The Real Watergate Scandal: Collusion, Conspiracy, and the Plot That Brought Nixon Down (2015, Regnery); Roger Stone: Nixon's Secrets: The Rise, Fall and Untold Truth About the President, Watergate, and the Pardon (2014, Skyhorse); Evan Thomas: Being Nixon: A Man Divided (2015, Random House); Tim Weiner: One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon (2015, Henry Holt). Gellman's book is the second part of a multi-volume effort. Treason, by the way, refers to Nixon's back-channel efforts to undermine LBJ's peace talks, elsewhere known as the Chennault Affair. Fulsom previously wrote Nixon's Darkest Secrets: The Inside Story of America's Most Troubled President (paperback, 2013, St. Martin's Griffin). Weiner has written good books about the CIA and FBI, so I suspect his is the most useful of the new books. I read Gary Wills: Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man back when it originally came out (1970) and that's as deep as I ever want to get into that man's mind.

Tom Burgis: The Looting Machine: Warlords, Oligarchs, Corporations, Smugglers, and the Theft of Africa's Wealth (2015, Public Affairs): While Africa has about 30% of the world's reserves of hydrocarbons and minerals, and 14% of the world's population, its economies have remained stagnant (e.g., only 1% of the world's manufacturing). The looting began under European colonialism, but continues today, enabled by the corruption of elites. Related: Celeste Hicks: Africa's New Oil: Power, Pipelines and Future Fortunes (paperback, 2015, Zed Books); Luke Paley: The New Kings of Crude: China, India, and the Global Struggle for Oil in Sudan and South Sudan (paperback, 2015, Hurst).

Bryan Burrough: Days of Rage: America's Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence (2015, Penguin): Investigates various fringe radical groups in the 1970s -- the Weathermen, the Symbionese Liberation Army, FALN, the Black Liberation Army -- who resorted to violence to advance their frustrated political ideals, and the federal agents who hunted them down (who themselves "broke many laws in its attempts to bring the revolutionaries to justice"). Also on the FBI's suppression of left radicals: Aaron J Leonard/Conor A Gallagher: Heavy Radicals: The FBI's Secret War on America's Maoists: The Revolutionary Union/Revolutionary Communist Party 1968-1980 (paperback, 2015, Zero Books).

Sarah Chayes: Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security (2015, WW Norton): Previously wrote The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban (2006), which indicted pretty much everyone for failing to secure a better future for the Afghan people after the US pushed the Taliban out in 2001. She supported that war, and wound up advising the US military, which puts her in an odd position: she identifies corruption as a major security problem for the US in Afghanistan and elsewhere, but misses the fact that the US has never been able to stand up non-corrupt governments anywhere, because American foreign policy is driven by the profit motive in the first place -- you didn't really buy into that altruistic humanitarian horseshit? But corruption delegitimizes government and leads to opposition, and often violence.

Meghnad Desai: Hubris: Why Economists Failed to Predict the Crisis and How to Avoid the Next One (2015, Yale University Press): Several variations on this book have appeared, and no doubt more will. Although economists are often asked for predictions, their models are more likely to seek an equilibrium that disallows crisis -- and in turn gives them little reason to research past crises. Still, one way to approach this would be to identify exceptions that did predict the crisis, then ask why no one paid much attention to them. One reviewer notes that lack of any mention of Hyman Minsky "leaves a gaping hole in an otherwise admirable book." I'll add that while failure to predict the crisis was a problem, a bigger one was inability to recognize what it all meant once it happened. Krugman, for instance, didn't predict the crash, but he knew exactly what was going on when it happened.

Don H Doyle: The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War (2014, Basic Books): A survey of how the war was viewed abroad, finding that monarchists hoped to see the Union (and democracy) fail, while radicals (like Karl Marx and Giuseppe Garibaldi) "called on the North to fight for liberty and equality." Both sides sent diplomats abroad to argue their cases. I don't see much about economic interests here. The best known is England, which leaned toward the Confederacy as a backward source of raw materials (mostly cotton), possibly fearing the Union as a potential competitor in manufacturing -- no doubt some English continued to oppose slavery, but that doesn't seem to have overridden economic interests. On the other hand, the Union tended to play down the issue of slavery in justifying the war effort, at least domestically. I wonder whether their case abroad differed.

Douglas R Egerton: The Wars of Reconstruction: The Brief, Violent History of America's Most Progressive Era (2014, Bloomsbury Press): A new history of the post-Civil War period, focusing on the striking advances of newly-emancipated black office holders and the systematic violence they were met with, and finally defeated by.

Barry Eichengreen: Hall of Mirrors: The Great Depression, the Great Recession, and the Uses -- and Misuses -- of History (2015, Oxford University Press): Similarities and differences between 1929 and 2008, how the memory of the former affected the response to the latter (and, I hope, how forgetting lessons from the former slowed down recovery from the latter). One thing I noticed at the time was that the initial output drop was almost exactly the same both times, but was soon limited by the much larger public sector in 2008 and much more responsive public policy (especially the frantic cycle of bank bailouts), but having averted a crash as bad as in 1929, the policy czars underestimated the damage, nor were they forced by public opinion to produce necessary reforms. Author has mostly written about currency issues; e.g., Golden Fetters: The Gold Standard and the Great Depression, 1918-1939 (1996), and Exorbitant Privilege: The Rise and Fall of the Dollar and the Future of the International Monetary System (2011).

Richard J Evans: The Third Reich in History and Memory (2015, Oxford University Press): Author of a sweeping three-volume history of the Nazi movement -- The Coming of the Third Reich (2003), The Third Reich in Power, 1933-1939 (2005), and The Third Reich at War: How the Nazis Led Germany From Conquest to Disaster (2008) -- returns for a review of how Hitler and company have been remembered. Seems to be an essay collection rather than a systematic treatment, but so much has been written about the subject that one can cover a lot of ground just reviewing whatever books come your way.

Eric Foner: Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad (2015, WW Norton): America's foremost historian not so much of the Civil War per se -- that would be James McPherson -- as the penumbra surrounding it (aboltionism, reconstruction) adds another piece of the story, detailing how slaves escaped to freedom in the North, and how free blacks were often seized by "slave catchers" and forced into bondage. I read Foner's first book, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War back when it was originally published (1970).

Howard W French: China's Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa (2014, Knopf): Not sure how important this is, but China (or Chinese businesses) have been looking to grab a larger slice of Africa's raw resources -- evidently this involves immigration as well as investment. This is reminiscent of western governments and companies, before and after "independence" but perhaps novel as well, given how inexpensively China can move their own people into place. French previously wrote A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa (2004).

David A Grimes/Linda G Brandon: Every Third Woman in America: How Legal Abortion Transformed Our Nation (2014, Daymark): Grimes is a doctor, so this focuses on health care matters. Clearly, availability of safe legal abortion procedures was a big advance over illegal and often dangerous procedures. Not clear how far this goes into how abortion rights changed political, economic, and social issues but a book could be written there, too.

Nisid Hajari: Midnight's Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India's Partition (2015, Houghton Mifflin): Another book on the bloody history of the British Empire's final "gift" to India: partition in 1947, which led a million deaths, many millions displaced, and set the stage for future wars, subterfuge, and terrorism between India and Pakistan. I've read Alex von Tunzelman's Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire (2007), which focuses more on the Mountbattens, and Yasmin Khan's The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan (2007), but there are many other books on this subject, including fictions like Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children. This is reportedly one of the best.

Yuval Noah Harari: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2015, Harper): From the emergence of modern humans c. 70,000 years ago, a mix of genetics and sociology used to construct a hypothetical prehistory, regardless of the title -- "packed with heretical thinking and surprising facts" one reviewer says.

Dilip Hiro: The Longest August: The Unflinching Rivalry Between India and Pakistan (2015, Nation Books): The partition of India in 1947 led immediately to one of the greatest carnages of the post-WWII era, remembered through a continuous conflict that errupted in two more major wars between India and Pakistan and numerous threats and crises. Hiro, b. in Pakistan, has written dozens of books on the Middle East and South and Central Asia -- his reference book The Essential Middle East: A Comrepehsive Guide (2003) is one I keep on an easy-reach shelf; his A Comprehensive Dictionary of the Middle East (2013) would be an update -- so he's well positioned to cover this story.

Bruce Hoffman: Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle for Israel, 1917-1947 (2015, Knopf): Author is some kind of "terrorism expert" -- wrote Inside Terrorism (rev ed, 2006, Columbia University Press), and, w/Fernando Reinares: The Evolution of the Global Terrorist Threat: From 9/11 to Osama bin Laden's Death (2014, Columbia University Press) -- so sees mandatory Palestine as a rare case study where Israeli terrorism "worked": as such, he rather narrowly focuses on the Irgun and LEHI (Stern Gang) from 1939-47, as opposed to the broader question of the militarization of the Yishuv from the death of Joseph Trumpeldor (1920) through the formation of Haganah and Palmach, the Arab Revolt (1937-39), WWII, and the final integration of Irgun and LEHI into the IDF in 1948. No doubt this has a lot of detail as far as it goes, but the broader book seems to have been an afterthought -- little more than jiggering the dates. Also note that it's easy to overrate the effectiveness of Irgun/LEHI terror, since the UK had basically decided to quit Palestine after suppressing the Arab Revolt. Also that the "soldiers" didn't remain "anonymous" for long: Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir parlayed their notoreity as terrorists into successful political careers (both became Prime Minister).

Gerald Horne: The Counterrevolution of 1776: Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America (2014, NYU Press): Argues that by 1776 Britain was increasingly likely to abolish slavery, so one major motivation for the American Revolution was the desire of slaveholders to preserve their peculiar institution. Conversely, slave revolts in the British Caribbean were increasing, and likely to spread to the American colonies. Author previously wrote Negro Comrades of the Crown: African Americans and the British Empire Fight the US Before Emancipation (paperback, 2013, NYU Press), and Race to Revolution: The US and Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow (paperback, 2014, Monthly Review Press). An earlier book with a similiar thesis is Alfred Blumrosen: Slave Nation: How Slavery United the Colonies and Sparked the American Revolution (paperback, 2006, Sourcebooks).

Ayesha Jalal: The Struggle for Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics (2014, Belknap Press): A history of Pakistan from 1947 to the present, its Muslim identity, cold war alliances, and ever troublesome relations with India, Afghanistan, and ultimately the United States. Other recent books on Pakistan: Hassan Abbas: The Taliban Revival: Violence and Extremism on the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier (2014, Yale University Press); Faisal Devji: Muslim Zion: Pakistan as a Political Idea (2013, Harvard University Press); C Christine Fair: Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army's Way of War (2014, Oxford University Press); Laurent Gayer: Karachi: Ordered Disorder and the Struggle for the City (2014, Oxford University Press); Husain Haqqani: Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding (paperback, 2015, Public Affairs); Feroz Khan: Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bomb (paperback, 2012, Stanford Security Studies); Aqil Shah: The Army and Democracy: Military Politics in Pakistan (2014, Harvard University Press); Rafia Zakaria: The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan (2015, Beacon Press).

Tony Judt: When the Facts Change: Essays, 1995-2010 (2015, Penguin): Selected essays from the late historian, including his famous essay recanting his early Zionism. The title refers to a famous quote that one's views should change in accordance with changing facts.

David Kaiser: No End Save Victory: How FDR Led the Nation into War (2014, Basic Books): Covers the period before the attack on Pearl Harbor at least back to 1939, showing how Roosevelt worked to better position the US to fight a war that he considered inevitable. I doubt that this goes into the question of to what extend Roosevelt provoked the Japanese attack (let alone the old conspiracy buff argument that he knew in advance of the attack and didn't tip the military off to maximize the outrage). One Amazon reader panned this, saying "spoiled by a slap at George Bush." A comparison of the two wartime presidents, how they managed their wars, and what the accomplished (or failed) might be worth a book of its own. Related: Nigel Hamilton: The Mantle of Command: FDR at War, 1941-42 (2014, Houghton Mifflin).

Fred Kaplan: John Quincy Adams: American Visionary (2014, Harper): A substantial (672 pp.) biography of the sixth US president, his term four years in the middle of a career that started as a teenage diplomat during the revolution and ended as one of the strongest voices against slavery in the House of Representatives.

David Madland: Hollowed Out: Why the Economy Doesn't Work Without a Strong Middle Class (paperback, 2015, University of California Press): It shouldn't be hard to make this point. The US economy grew at robust rates from 1945-70 when strong unions were able to capture a fair share of productivity gains, raising the working class to a middle class standard of living. Since then growth rates fell, unions were busted, virtually all productivity gains went to business, and a series of asset bubbles and busts combined with financialization led to a vast increase in inequality, hollowing out the middle class. I don't know whether Madland has a solution. Thomas Geoghegan does, in Only One Thing Can Save Us: Why America Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement (2014, New Press).

James McPherson: The War That Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters (2015, Oxford University Press): Far and away the bloodiest conflict in American history -- the last real war fought in American soil -- and not always remembered as the triumph for justice all American wars are meant to teach. The afterwar (what us northerners call Reconstruction) certainly divided political life for another century only to be if not re-fought at least re-litigated in the 1960s. Since then the legacy has become stranger, so it would be interesting to get McPherson's take. By the way, while he has wound up writing many books on military aspects of the war, the first book I remember him for was The Negro's Civil War: How American Negroes Felt and Acted During the War for the Union (1965).

Mark Perry: The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur (2014, Basic Books): This seems to focus on the relationship between MacArthur and Roosevelt (and Marshall) rather than the later period, with MacArthur's successful occupation of Japan and disastrous direction of the Korean War -- as I recall, the title comes from this latter period. Perry has written extensively about WWII-era generals.

Richard Rhodes: Hell and Good Company: The Spanish Civil War and the World It Made (2015, Simon & Schuster): Rhodes has written a fine trilogy on the history of nuclear weapons (The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, and Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race) and an important book on the Nazi invasions of Poland and Russia (Masters of Death: The SS Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust). The Spanish Civil War (1936-39) immediately preceded those stories, so directly that the US labelled Americans who volunteered to defend democratic Spain against Franco "premature anti-fascists." I don't see the point in blaming Neville Chamberlain for appeasing Hitler's demand for the Sudetenland while ignoring the western powers' failure to stand up to Hitler in Spain. I suppose at this point the best-known book on the Spanish Civil War is Antony Beevor's The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 (2006), but I'd rather read Rhodes.

Bruce Riedel: What We Won: America's Secret War in Afghanistan, 1979-89 (paperback, 2014, Brookings Institute Press): Longtime CIA analyst and Afghanistan hack dates the end of the Afghan War from the point when the Soviet Union withdrew, even though the country has experienced peace at no time since then. But in 1989 the CIA clearly concluded that "we won": one wonders how critical Riedel can be, but surely he recognizes some irony there -- not unlike, say, GW Bush's "Mission Accomplished" moment.

Eugene Rogan: The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East (2015, Basic Books): After a century of losses, especially in eastern Europe, and ten years after a coup that brought a triumvirate of Young Turks to power, the Ottomans allied themselves with Germany and Austria-Hungary in the Great War of 1914. Not clear how much decline this book covers, but the fall came quickly, with the Ottoman's Arab provinces partitioned between Britain and France, the Armenian population decimated, and Ataturk's nationalist movement defeating an invading Greek army and consolidating control of Turkey. This winds up being a very important piece of history, one previously covered by David Fromkin in one of the best-named books ever: A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922 (1989).

Simon Schama: The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words 1000 BC-1492 AD (2014, Ecco): With a second volume (When Words Fail: 1492-Present) scheduled for November 15, with a PBS tie-in (the first season DVD, covering five episodes, is out). Schama also did a 15-hour PBS A History of Britain, accompanied by three volumes.

Nancy Sherman: Afterwar: Healing the Moral Wounds of Our Soldiers (2015, Oxford University Press): Philosophy professor, held a post at the Naval Academy, seems to have had a lot of contact with damaged returning soldiers. I'm suspicious that her "philosophical engagement" is meant to enable more war, but one can certainly find reasons here that argue for less. Also interested in her proposed changes for military courts, which have traditionally treated "shell shock" harshly as some form of cowardice. We seem to have given up any thought of reforming criminals, but right now soldiers are held in such empathy that we may be open to trying to save them, and there may be some lessons there. The book, however, doesn't seem to address cases like Henry Kissinger, where moral lapses are caused not by trauma but by cunning.

Emma Sky: The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq (2015, Public Affairs): Author went to Iraq to work for the Occupation in 2003 and stayed at least through 2010 (she was political advisor to US General Odierno). Touted as "an intimate insider's portrait of how and why the Iraq adventure failed" -- which is to say highly biased, but even blaming others (like "the corrupt political elites who used sectarianism to mobilize support") reveals much about one's own culpability. (She's British, so has a little distance from the Americans, but prefers the Americans she worked with -- Petraeus, Odierno, Crocker -- to the ones she didn't, and ultimately puts a lot of blame on Iran for the resurgence of sectarian violence under Maliki, a relationship her insider status didn't provide her privvy to.)

Cass R Sunstein: Choosing Not to Choose: Understanding the Value of Choice (2015, Oxford University Press): Political theorist, closely associated with Obama (although that probably does both of them a disservice and makes it all a bit creepy; Robert Reich with Clinton is a similar case, although Reich at least is consistently on Clinton's left). Co-wrote a book with Richard H Thaler, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (2008) arguing for a "libertarian paternalism" which gives people a fig-leaf of options while encouraging them to take the defaults selected for them. He follows up here with examples of how having choices can be burdensome. No doubt, but in a political and economic system so rife with corruption as ours is, it matters who sets defaults, how, and why. Sunstein's recent books seem aware of this, especially Why Nudge? The Politics of Libertarian Paternalism (paperback, 2015, Yale University Press); also: Simpler: The Future of Government (2013; paperback, 2014, Simon & Schuster); Valuing Life: Humanizing the Regulatory State (2014, University of Chicago Press); and Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter (with Reid Hastie; 2014, Harvard Business Review Press).

Adam Tooze: The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931 (2014, Viking): Author of a huge WWII book, Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (2007), looks at the first world war or its aftermath with an eye toward the economy -- after all, economic capacity ultimately proved decisive in both wars.

Nick Turse: Tomorrow's Battlefield: US Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa (paperback, 2015, Haymarket Books): One of the few journalists covering nearly every facet of the US military in the world today, and the only one I've seen trying to keep track of the increasing wave of undeclared and unpublicized operations in Africa.

Gernot Wagner/Martin L Weitzman: Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet (2015, Princeton University Press): Tries to put a price tag on global warming, factoring in various risky scenarios, some quite severe. We generally know that denialism is rooted in specific economic interests (chiefly coal and oil). But how do those interests stack up against others that have little to gain by doing nothing and potentially much to lose?

Bernard Wasserstein: On the Eve: The Jews of Europe Before the Second World War (2012, Simon & Schuster): An encyclopedic survey of Jewish life all across Europe up to the start of World War and the Holocaust.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Rhapsody Streamnotes (July 2015)

Pick up text here.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25190 [25154] rated (+36), 453 [457] unrated (-4).

Bumper crop of A-list records this week: if I kept this up I'd have 400 for the year, which would blow my credibility all to bits. (Actually, I have 58 new and 7 old so far this year, so that's, if anything, below last year's pace.) First two records I graded last week were A- (both jazz but very different: Harry Allen and OZO), then nothing much happened until Saturday when I hit a streak of three (Ashley Monroe, Chico Freeman, Omar Souleyman). In between I went to check out the new Four Tet and found a couple I hadn't heard before, including Pink -- on Christgau's 2013 Dean's List but never reviewed in Expert Witness. Also surprised that I gave Satoko Fujii's Berlin big band the edge over the Tobira quartet -- I usually prefer the small groups, not least because her piano is more prominent. Veruca Salt was a tip from Michael Tatum (a solid A-, he said). I originally had it a notch lower, but a recheck (actually, a couple) convinced me. Among the high B+, Johannes Wallmann most tempted me -- terrific solos by Russ Johnson and Gilad Hekselman, and the piano never quits. I must admit that I ran out of patience with Wilco, but there could be more there.

One thing that changed the week around was that I got my crashed "media" computer back up and running. I put a new hard disk drive in ($50 buys one terrabyte these days) and did a fresh install of Xubuntu 14.04.2 (Desktop). I haven't mounted the old disk yet, so I haven't recovered the missing data (mostly downloads), but it was a treat to listen to Rhapsody through decent speakers. (I had been using the Chromebook's built-in speakers, since the Bose Mini-Link had proven unusable.) Veruca Salt especially benefitted.

For "old music" I'm still picking at the Spin 1985-2014 list, but losing interest as I'm going along. The unheard records are down to 31, so about 10%. That number will drop a bit in future weeks, but I don't know how much or how fast. I was more interested in finding those missing Four Tet albums. (Kieran Hebden, by the way, is producer on the Omar Souleyman album.)

Expect a Rhapsody Streamnotes before the end of the month. It's been more than a month, but I lost those three weeks on the road, so the draft is only average-sized at present (105 records). But that should be big enough for any month.


New records rated this week:

  • Harry Allen's All-Star Brazilian Band: Flying Over Rio (2015, Arbors): [r]: A-
  • Bilal: In Another Life (2015, E1): [r]: B+(**)
  • Brett Carson: Quattuor Elephantis (2014 [2015], Edgetone): [cd]: B
  • Steve Davis: Say When (2014 [2015], Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(*)
  • Four Tet: Pink (2011-12 [2012], Text): [r]: A-
  • Four Tet: Beautiful Rewind (2013, Text): [r]: B+(***)
  • Four Tet: Morning/Evening (2015, Text): [r]: B+(*)
  • Chico Freeman/Heiri Känzig: The Arrival (2014 [2015], Intakt): [cd]: A-
  • Satoko Fujii Orchestra Berlin: Ichigo Ichie (2014 [2015], Libra): [cd]: A-
  • Satoko Fujii Tobira: Yamiyo Ni Karasu (2014 [2015], Libra): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Giant Sand: Heartbreak Pass (2015, New West): [r]: B+(*)
  • Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress (2015, Constellation): [r]: B-
  • Marsa Fouty: Concerts (2015, Fou): [cd]: B
  • Ashley Monroe: The Blade (2015, Warner Music): [cd]: A-
  • Simon Nabatov/Mark Dresser: Projections (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(***)
  • OZO: A Kind of Zo (2015, Shhpuma/Clean Feed): [cd]: A-
  • Jack Perla: Enormous Changes (2013 [2015], Origin): [cd]: B
  • R5: Sometime Last Night (2015, Hollywood): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mason Razavi/Bennett Roth-Newell: After You (2015, First Orbit Sounds Music): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Terell Stafford: Brotherlee Love: Celebrating Lee Morgan (2014 [2015], Capri): [r]: B+(**)
  • Omar Souleyman: Bahdeni Nami (2015, Monkeytown): [r]: A-
  • Ben Stapp & the Zozimos: Myrrha's Red Book: Act 1 (2014 [2015], Evolver): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Veruca Salt: Ghost Notes (2015, El Camino): [r]: A-
  • Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet: Intercambio (2014-15 [2015], Patois): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Johannes Wallmann: The Town Musicians (2013 [2015], Fresh Sounds New Talent): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Wilco: Star Wars (2015, dBpm): [r]: B+(***)

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

  • Alex Chilton: Ocean Club '77 (1977 [2015], Norton): [r]: B+(**)
  • Percussions: 2011 Until 2014 (2011-14 [2015], Text): [r]: B+(**)

Old records rated this week:

  • C86 [Compact Digital Edition] (1986 [2014], Cherry Red): [r]: B+(*)
  • Godspeed You! Black Emperor: F# A# (Infinity) (1997 [1998], Kranky): [r]: B+(**)
  • Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven (2000, Kranky, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Janet Jackson: Control (1986, A&M): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mobb Deep: The Infamous (1995, Loud): [r]: B+(**)
  • Snoop Doggy Dogg: Doggystyle (1993, Death Row): [r]: B


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Baltazanis: End of Seas (self-released)
  • Blue Buddha (Tzadik): advance, August
  • Darts & Arrows: Altamira (Ears & Eyes): October 16
  • Mary Halvorson: Meltframe (Firehouse 12): September 4
  • Lafayette Harris, Jr. Trio: Bend to the Light (Airmen): August 7
  • Will Herrington: Solace (self-released)
  • Nick Mazzarella Trio: Ultraviolet (International Anthem): September 25
  • Mark Christian Miller: Crazy Moon (Sliding Jazz Door Productions): August 10
  • Mary Morris: The Jazz Palace: A Novel (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday): book
  • César Orozco & Kamarata Jazz: No Limits for Tumbao (Alfi): August 1

 

Miscellaneous notes:

  • C86 [Compact Digital Edition] (1986 [2014], Cherry Red): B+(*) [rhapsody]

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Weekend Roundup

I got an early start this week, writing some of this on Friday, then deciding that was close enough to save up for Sunday. This week's choice links:


  • David Atkins: The GOP Isn't Choosing a President. They're Choosing a Rebel Leader. Donald Trump dominated the news cycle last week, not only by dominating polls among Republican presidential contenders but by staying there after kneecapping John McCain, a veritable saint among the Beltway punditocracy. I've looked at a lot of pieces on why this is (or, mostly, why it's awful), but few of them are convincing (or even sensible). For one thing, the widespread assumption that Trump is a fringe candidate is probably untrue. There's very little difference ideological between the declared or likely Republican candidates, and only a handful of issues where there is any practical disagreement. Where exactly Trump stands on issues isn't something I know or care much about, but I doubt he's going to campaign on "phasing out Medicare" like supposedly moderate Jeb Bush, and while he's argued that he could negotiate a better deal with Iran than Obama did, I doubt he sides with the clique that rejects diplomacy in toto, or that thinks bombing first would help (e.g., Rand Paul). True, he has taken a rather brusque nativist stance on immigration reform, but that's not unique in the field, nor far removed from the preferences of the base. The fact is that with so little in the way of practical differences, the primaries will turn on style, projected character, and money. The main doubt about Trump is how quickly he folded (after briefly topping the polls) four years ago. But so far he seems prepared and organized, like he's stuied this contest and knows how to play it. He clearly knows how to dominate the media cycle, and it's not just a matter of saying crazy shit. He's campaigning as the guy who won't back down, and what better way to show that than to say crazy shit and stand by it? And it turns out that lots of regular Republicans see McCain as a loser, so maybe Trump's not so crazy after all. Atkins' take on this:

    As Donald Trump has surged to the top of the field, his competitors are resorting to saying ever more outlandish and reprehensible things just to get noticed.

    Witness the spectacle of Mike Huckabee this morning claiming that the negotiated deal with Iran would constitute President Obama marching "Israelis to the door of the oven." Even by modern Republican standards that sort of rhetoric is a bridge too far. But it's the sort of thing a Republican presidential aspirant has to say these days to get attention and support from the Republican base.

    Or consider Rick Perry today, whose brilliant solution to mass shootings is for us to all "take our guns to the movie theaters." As if the proper response to suicidal mass murderers using guns as the easiest, deadliest and most readily available tool to inflict mayhem is to arm every man, woman and child in the hope that the shooter dies slightly more quickly in the crossfire of a dark auditorium. Even as other moviegoers settle their disputes over cell phone texting with deadly gun violence.

    Under normal circumstances these sorts of statements would be a death knell for presidential candidates. But these are not normal times. The Republican Party is locked into an autocatalytic cycle of increasing and self-reinforcing extremism. [ . . . ]

    Unwilling and unable to moderate their positions, the Republican base has assumed a pose of irredentist defiance, an insurgent war against perceived liberal orthodoxy in which the loudest, most aggressive warrior becomes their favorite son. It is this insurgent stance that informs their hardline views on guns: many of them see a day coming when their nativist, secessionist political insurgency may become an active military insurgency, and they intend to be armed to the teeth in the event that they deem it necessary. The GOP electorate isn't choosing a potential president: they're choosing a rebel leader. The Republican base doesn't intend to go down compromising. They intend to go down fighting.

    Well, they intend to win, and hitching themselves to a guy they perceive as a winner is strategic. I'll also add that Trump has one more big advantage in this field: where everyone else is pimping for some billionaire, he's his own billionaire. Maybe he'll adopt Billie Holiday's song as his campaign theme: "God Bless the Child (Who's Got His Own)."

  • Zoë Carpenter: Bobby Jindal, Does Louisiana 'Love Us Some Guns' Now?: Last week's gun massacre headliner was in Chattanooga, where a guy with a history of mental problems and a recent DUI arrest killed five soldiers. He happened to have been a Muslim, and former Gen. Wesley Clark went on TV and called for WWII-style internment camps for Muslim Americans who get depressed and radicalized. This week it was Lafayette, LA, where a guy with a history of mental problems and spousal abuse killed two and wounded nine before killing himself. He wasn't a Muslim; just a white guy with a history of praising Hitler on the Internet (see So Why Don't We Stop and Frisk Guys Like This Every Time They Leave the House?). Wesley Clark has yet to comment. (I wrote about Clark's proposal a few days back. Needless to say, it wouldn't have saved the people in Louisiana.) One common denominator is that both shooters had non-pacifist beliefs. Another is that they were nuts. But a third is that they had guns, not least because both lived in states that seem determined to arm as many bigoted nut-cases as possible. For example, the Governor of Louisiana:

    "We love us some guns," Bobby Jindal once said of his fellow Louisianans. Two of them were killed, and nine others wounded, on Thursday night when a man walked into a movie theater in Lafayette, sat for a while, and then fired more than a dozen rounds from a .40 caliber handgun.

    "We never imagined it would happen in Louisiana," Jindal said afterward, though the state has the second-highest rate of gun deaths in the country, more than twice the national average. Louisiana also has some of the laxest firearm regulations, for which Jindal bears much responsibility. During his eight years as governor he's signed at least a dozen gun-related bills, most intended to weaken gun-safety regulation or expand access to firearms. One allowed people to take their guns to church; another, into restaurants that serve alcohol. He broadened Louisiana's Stand Your Ground law, and made it a crime to publish the names of people with concealed carry permits. At the same time Jindal has pushed for cuts to mental health services.

    Jindal treats guns not as weapons but political props. On the presidential campaign trail he's posed repeatedly for photos cradling a firearm in his arms. "My kind of campaign stop," he tweeted earlier this month from an armory in Iowa. After the Charleston massacre, he called President Obama's mild comments about gun violence "completely shameful." The correct response then, according to Jindal, was "hugging these families," and "praying for these families."

    For another reaction to Jindal's call to prayer, see David Atkins: For Gun Victims, the Prayers of Conservative Politicians Are Not Enough:

    Frankly, that reaction is getting more than a little tiresome no matter what one's religious beliefs might be. When terrorists used airplanes as missiles against the United States in 2001, we didn't just pray for the victims: we changed our entire airline security system, spent billions on a new homeland security bureaucracy, and invaded not one but two countries at gigantic cost to life and treasure. When the ebola virus threatened to break out in the United States we didn't pray for deliverance from the plague; we went into a collective public policy and media frenzy to stop it from spreading further. When earthquakes prove our building standards are inadequate to save lives, we don't beg the gods to avert catastrophe and pray for the victims; we spend inordinate amounts of money to retrofit so it doesn't happen again.

    On every major piece of public policy in which lives are taken needlessly, we don't limit ourselves to empty prayers for the victims. We actually do something to stop it from happening again.

    But not when it comes to gun proliferation. On that issue we are told that nothing can be done, and that all we can do is mourn and pray for the murdered and wounded, even as we watch the news every day for our next opportunity to grieve and mourn and pray again -- all while sitting back and watching helplessly.

  • Jason Diltz: Sen. Paul Bashes Iran Deal, Says US Must Prepare Military Force: Whoever the Republican presidential nominee in 2016 turns out to be, they should have to wear their opposition to the Iran nuclear deal like one of those gasoline-soaked tires cheerfully referred to as "necklaces." What they are saying is that the US should unilaterally renege on an agreement peaceably, voluntarily agreed to by Iran and all of the world's major powers that guarantees that Iran will never develop nuclear weapons (unlike said major powers); that they prefer the old system where sanctions, sabotage, and threats of war had, by their own fevered assertions, failed to deter Iran, and should escalate from that point and actually start bombing Iran, risking all-out war. Opponents of the deal would be rank fantasists if we had not already put their preferred solution to the test in an almost identical crisis: the fear the Bush Administration ginned up over Iraq's "WMD programs." As you all know, that didn't work out so well, and very clearly a deal like the Iran deal would have been much preferable (and very likely could have been negotiated -- indeed, Saddam Hussein had already given UN inspectors full access even while crippling sanctions were in place). Virtually every Republican presidential candidate now has retreated from the view that invading Iraq in 2003 was a good idea, yet they are all adamant about taking the same attitude against Iran now that Bush and Cheney insisted on viz. Iraq.

    One might have expected Sen. Rand Paul to be an exception -- indeed, his father, former Rep. and presidential candidate Ron Paul, has come out in favor of it -- but the only distance the son has put between himself and the worst hawks is to come off even more befuddled. Diltz writes:

    While Sen. Paul insisted in the comments to Kerry that he supports a nuclear deal in theory, he also declared that "diplomacy doesn't work without military force," and insisted he was ready to endorse a US military attack on Iran to "delay" them from getting nuclear arms.

    Sen. Paul acknowledged that attacking Iran would likely force them to try to get nuclear arms, and would also lead to the expulsion of UN inspectors from the country, but insisted he was still supportive of the idea of an attack even if it ended up with Iran getting a bomb faster because of it.

    I suppose the people who reject the deal, including the ones in Israel, do have one out: they may actually believe that Iran has never been aiming at building an arsenal of nuclear weapons -- as Ayatollah Khamenei has insisted in a fatwa (religious ruling) -- so they figure they've never been running any risk in stirring up this "manufactured crisis" (Gareth Porter's term, and title of his book). They just like touting Iran as an enemy. For Israel, enemies are necessary to justify the extent of their militarism, and Iran is particularly useful because the US never forgave Iran for the 1980 hostage crisis. (Americans, being categorically incapable of admitting past mistakes, have no shame when it comes to foreign policy.)

    I've always been rather sympathetic to libertarianism, mostly because most honest libertarians are opposed to war, the military, and every aspect of police states. On the other hand, they tend to hold extreme laissez-faire economic views that cannot possibly work, and they often reject the notion that collective democratic effort can do anything worthwhile. The latter views make someone like Ron Paul an unattractive presidential candidate, even though he's much more likely to make a much needed break with the foreign policy establishment than mere liberals like Obama or Kerry (let alone Clinton). On the other hand, Rand Paul has made it impossible to find any redeeming merit in his candidacy -- unless you consider occasionally wavering from the usual party talking points to show you don't really understand them some kind of plus.

    Also see No More Mister Nice Blog's review of Wednesday's "Stop Iran Rally Coalition" demo in New York (Let's Meet the Wackos Who Gathered in Times Square Yesterday to Protect the Iran Deal). Only one GOP presidential candidate made it to the rostrum (George Pataki), only one current member of Congress (Trent Franks, R-AZ), but there were several former Reps (like Pete Hoekstra and Allen West) -- in fact, about half the speakers list was identified as "former" (like James Woolsey, Robert Morgenthau, and a bunch of ex-military brass), with most of the rest being Israel flacks (Alan Dershowitz, Caroline Glick). Their message: Give War a Chance.

  • Jason Diltz: Defense Secretary: Kurdish Peshmerga a 'Model' for ISIS War Across Region: More of what passes for deep thinking at the Pentagon:

    Visiting Arbil today on his second day in Iraq, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter praised the Peshmerga, the paramilitary forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), as a model for the entire nation and indeed entire region in the war against ISIS.

    "We are trying to build a force throughout the territory of Iraq, and someday in Syria, that can do what the peshmerga does," Carter said following his meeting with Kurdish President Massoud Barzani. [ . . . ]

    How the US could even theoretically copy this model elsewhere isn't clear either. The Peshmerga of Iraqi Kurdistan dates back generations, and doesn't have analogous factions across the rest of Iraq and Syria. Creating myriad new military forces in the model of them across different cultures in multiple countries is no small ambition, and with the US efforts to create a new faction in Syria yielding no more than a few dozen fighters, it's unclear how they could manage it.

    Actually, there are other sectarian militias in Iraq and Syria -- they're just not fighting for the US. To describe the Kurds as a model for bringing order to two nations where they are small minorities (about 20% in Iraq, less than 10% in Syria) is evidence of how clueless the US military efforts against ISIS (and/or Syria) are.

    Also note that Turkey launches massive attack against ISIS's most effective opponent, the PPK, which is to say the Kurds, Carter's model ally against ISIS. Turkey has also allowed the US to use Turkish air bases for bombing strikes against ISIS, so "the US responds by confirming Turkey's right to defend itself while affirming the PKK's status as a terrorist organization." So Turkey appears to be almost as confused about who its allies and enemies and enemies-of-enemies are as the US is.

  • Tierney Sneed: Jeb Bush Wants to 'Figure Out a Way to Phase Out' Medicare: Here's another example of a Republican politician making his own campaign more difficult by insisting on a position that can't be sold to the voters and can't possibly work even if they bought it. The fact is you can't get rid of medicare without getting rid of health care for people over 65 -- which would mostly work by getting rid of people over 65, but then who would be left to vote for the Republicans?

    As MSNBC reported, the GOP 2016er was speaking at an Americans for Prosperity event in New Hampshire, where he brought up a TV ad in which a Paul Ryan-look-a-like "was pushing an elderly person off the cliff in a wheelchair." The ad was knocking Ryan's Medicare-related budget proposals.

    "I think we need to be vigilant about this and persuade people that our, when your volunteers go door to door, and they talk to people, people understand this. They know, and I think a lot of people recognize that we need to make sure we fulfill the commitment to people that have already received the benefits, that are receiving the benefits," Bush said. "But that we need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others and move to a new system that allows them to have something -- because they're not going to have anything."

    The key in all this is "Americans for Prosperity" -- nothing like telling the Kochs what they want to hear. Still, Bush obviously realizes that taking Medicare away from the elderly would be painful, so he's not doing that. On the other hand, why does he think the system cannot last? And what does he want to replace it with? The Republicans have thus far only come up with two ideas: one is tax-exempt savings accounts, so everyone can plan for their future health care expenses, except that hardly anyone can afford that, and fewer still can be sure that they've saved enough; the other is to buy insurance from the private sector -- something they've already tried as Medicare Advantage and which has proven to be more expensive and less beneficial than regular Medicare. They've also pushed ideas like raising the eligibility age, which would dump more high-risk people into less efficient private markets. Of course, some such scheme could be means-tested and subsidized, but then you're just replacing Medicare (which everyone likes) with Obamacare (which Republicans despise), so how does that solve anything?

    As with Social Security, there is no way to transition from a pay-as-you-go (where present workers pay for present retirees) to a save-and-hope-for-the-best system without effectively doubling the tax burden on the people you're screwing. So even if the demographics trend unfavorably -- fewer present workers having to support more present retirees -- you're stuck with that. At most you can trim back the benefit levels, but productivity gains also help (sure, they're presently all being captured by the rich, but only the Republicans think that makes them untaxable). So why do Republicans (at least when they're talking to the Kochs) keep insisting on doing something impossible to achieve something undesirable? The options seem to be malice and stupidity, not that those are mutually exclusive.

    Part of the problem here is the ever-growing fundamentalism (a specific form of extremism) of the Republican Party. Going way back, Republicans have generally believed that business pursuing private interests with relatively light government regulation build up the national wealth to the benefit of all, but lately this belief has become much more rigid. In the past, Republicans supported tariffs to limit free markets; they supported public investments; they enacted antitrust laws to limit excessive concentration and increase competition; and they've generally drawn a line against fraud and unscrupulous profiteering. But that's nearly all gone by the wayside now. Republicans (like the Kochs) now tend to believe that any and every pursuit of private advantage should be supported by public policy, and that whoever gets rich as a result should be able to keep the maximum possible portion of their gains. In the case of health care, they believe that hospitals, doctors, pharmaceutical and equipment companies, labs, and insurance companies should be able to extract as much profit as the market will bear -- which given that all economists agree markets don't function at all efficiently for health care has resulted in an immense increase in the cost of living for everyone. (Their pricing strategy boils down to "your money or your life," and few if any of us are in a position to argue.)

    The great irony of their attitude is that by defending the unlimited ability of the health care industry to pillage, they are objectively undermining every other business they purport to support, and nearly every person they expect to get a vote from. Conservative parties in nearly every other country in the world realize that health care is different from most business: that it is a necessary service that has to be financed and regulated by the government, and that the more it is organized along non-profit lines, the more efficient it runs. There's no debate about this, except in the US where private interests buy politicans and fill the media with FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) to maintain a system which takes two to three times the slice of GDP health care costs elsewhere. Of course, both parties are on the industry's payroll -- that is, after all, where Obamacare came from -- but only the Republicans have raised their greed-is-good mantra to the level of a religious totem. And that's what Bush is bowing to, even though he has no idea how to deliver on his promises.

    If the Republicans were smart, they'd be the ones pushing for a universal non-profit health care system, something that would go beyond the Democrats' dream of "Medicare for all." But they're not.

    Another comment on Bush's talk is Paul Krugman: Fire Phasers. I was thinking of something much better than present Medicare, but there should be no doubt that lesser reforms are possible and worthwhile -- and indeed have happened under the ACA. Krugman writes:

    What's interesting, in a way, is the persistence of conservative belief that one must destroy Medicare in order to save it. The original idea behind voucherization was that Medicare as we know it, a single-payer system of government insurance, simply could not act to control costs -- that giving people vouchers to buy private insurance was the only way to limit spending. There was much sneering and scoffing at the approach embodied in the Affordable Care Act, which sought to pursue cost-saving measures within a Medicare program that retained its guarantee of essential care.

    But we're now five years into the attempt to control costs that way -- and what we've seen is a spectacular slowdown in the growth of health costs, with the historical upward trend in Medicare costs, in particular, brought to a complete standstill. How much credit should go to the ACA? Nobody really knows. But the whole premise behind voucherization has never looked worse, and the case that universal health insurance is affordable has never looked better.

    It's amazing, isn't it? Who could have imagined that conservatives would keep proposing the exact same policy despite strong evidence that they were wrong about the facts? Oh, wait.

    Krugman has a chart which shows how Medicare spending plateaued since 2009 under ACA and how it had grown under the system that the Republicans wanted so much to continue. The spurt in 2005 is probably due to Medicare D, Bush's giant gift to Big Pharma:

    Also see Krugman's A Note on Medicare Costs, which shows (chart below) that costs for private insurance have consistently exceeded Medicare: hence, shifting people from Medicare to private insurance (as happened with Medicare Advantage, or would happen with raising the eligibility age) increases costs. (Conversely, moving people from private insurance to Medicare should manage costs better. The only exception to this data was 1993-97, when there was a big push for HMOs, and the insurance industry was on its best behavior, at least until Clinton's proposals were defeated).

  • Israel links:

    • Raphael Ahren: World Jewry ever more uneasy with Israel, major study finds:

      Diaspora Jews are not convinced that Israel is doing enough to prevent military conflicts and are troubled by the number of civilian casualties they often produce, though they generally blame Israel's enemies for the bloodshed. The accusation of the use of "disproportionate force" makes it difficult for these Jews to defend Israeli actions. Somewhat paradoxically, however, Jews in the Diaspora are disappointed that Israel doesn't manage to end its wars with decisive victories.

      "Many Jews doubt that Israel truly wishes to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians, and few believe it is making the necessary effort to achieve one," according to the study's author, Shmuel Rosner.

    • Daniella Cheslow: Israeli think tank with GOP ties at center of Iran deal opposition: The "think tank" is Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Its sugar daddy is Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire whose money comes from casinos -- a business that before he came around with his political connections was traditionally run by gangsters, making him a fine example of how business morals have eroded, and how they've bought a prime place in the Republican Party (he spent $465,000 on Republicans in the 2014 election cycle).

      One annoying thing about this piece is how a quote from "senior analyst" Michael Segall is featured: "This nuclear deal, which preserves all Iranian nuclear capability, will make them more resolute to export their revolution to the Middle East." That's pure opinion with neither fact nor logic behind it. Revolutions face competing desires to extend themselves and to establish a new stability, and those elements were present at the beginning in Iran. One of the first things Khomeini did was to challenge Saudi Arabia for leadership among Islamic nations. However, it soon became clear that Iran wouldn't overcome the Sunni/Shiite divide, so they wound up settling for building minor alliances among Shiite groups, primarily in Lebanon. The only significant inroads they eventually made was in Iraq, but that was almost entirely engineered by the Americans. Meanwhile, Iran became very isolated and defensive. (Indeed, a nuclear capability only makes sense as a defensive posture: an attempt to deter attacks from Iran's numerous enemies. Only the US has ever used nuclear weapons offensively, and then only against a foe that had no ability to counterattack.) What the deal shows is that Iran is now willing to exchange one defensive posture (the threat that it could develop nuclear weapons) for another (threat reduction that comes from ending sanctions and forced isolation). So why would Iran risk its hard-earned stability by trying to recreate the early zeal of a revolution now 35 years old? That doesn't make sense, and even if they did would only result in renewed sanctions and isolation -- exactly what they are attempting to avoid.


Also, a few links for further study:

  • Hugh Roberts: The Hijackers: Review of several books about Syria and ISIS, including Patrick Cockburn's The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution. Provides a great deal of background about Syria, especially from Sykes-Picot to the Arab Spring, continuing with the various groups and factions fighting in Syria and how they fit in with various foreign interests. Much to learn here, and much I could quote. For instance, about Geneva II, where Lakhdar Brahimi was unable to bring about any agreement:

    The point here is not that one side was slightly more or slightly less intransigent, but that by making the future of Assad the central question, and insisting on his departure, the Western powers, in conjunction with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan -- not one of which is a democracy -- as well as Turkey, which under Erdogan has slid a long way towards authoritarian rule, made it impossible for a political solution to be found that would at least end the violence. It is in ways like this that the Arab uprisings were really hijacked.

    The Tunisian revolution was a real revolution not because it toppled Ben Ali, but because it went on to establish a new form of government with real political representation and the rule of law. The hijacking of the Arab uprisings by the Western powers has been effected by their success in substituting for profound change a purely superficial "regime change" that merely means the ejection of a ruler they have never liked (Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad) or have no further use for (Mubarak), and his replacement by someone they approve of. In seeking this change in their own interests, they have repeatedly shown a reckless disregard for the consequences of their policies, from Iraq to Egypt to Libya to Syria.

    Also:

    Brahimi told Der Spiegel that he feared Syria would become "another Somalia" . . . a failed state with warlords all over the place." What is taking at least partial shape in Syria -- unless the country is partitioned, which is also on the cards -- is another Afghanistan.

    When the Afghan jihadis -- backed, like their Syrian successors today, by the Gulf states and Anglo-America -- finally overthrew the secular-modernist Najibullah regime, they immediately fell out among themselves and Afghanistan collapsed into violent warlordism. But, unlike Somalia, Afghanistan was rescued by a dynamic movement that suddenly appeared on its southern marches and swept all before it, crushing the warlords and finally establishing a new state. In the aftermath of the jihad our governments had sponsored and our media had enthusiastically reported, secular modernism was no longer on offer: militantly retrograde Islamism was the only political discourse around and it was inevitably the most fundamentalist brand that won.

    And:

    I don't pretend to know what the truth is. But there is no need to prove malign intent on the part of the Western powers. The most charitable theory available, "the eternally recurring colossal cock-up" theory of history, will do well enough. If a more sophisticated theory is required, I suggest we recall the assessment of C. Wright Mills when he spoke of US policy being made by "crackpot realists," people who were entirely realistic about how to promote their careers inside the Beltway, and incorrigible crackpots when it came to formulating foreign policy. [ . . . ]

    Western policy has been a disgrace and Britain's contribution to it should be a matter of national shame. Whatever has motivated it, it has been a disaster for Iraq, Libya and now Syria, and the fallout is killing Americans, French people and now British tourists, in addition to its uncounted victims in the Middle East. The case for changing this policy, at least where Syria is concerned, is overwhelming. Can Washington, London and Paris be persuaded of this? Cockburn quotes a former Syrian minister's pessimistic assessment that "they climbed too far up the tree claiming Assad has to be replaced to reverse their policy now."

  • Kathryn Schulz: The Really Big One: Despite the presence of a string of volcanos along the spine of the Cascades, from Mt. Baker down to Mt. Lassen, there has been little seismic activity in Oregon and Washington since Lewis & Clark explored the area two centuries ago. We now know that the volcanoes occur where the Juan de Fuca oceanic plate bends down under the North American plate far enough to melt and send magma upwards. We also know that the seismic quiescence is temporary and misleading: that a massive earthquake occurred along the whole plate front -- from northern California to Victoria Island in Canada -- in 1700, and we can date it precisely because it lines up with a tsunami that hit Japan a few hours later. We also know that there is evidence of such earthquakes occurring every 250 years for the last 10,000, so . . . if anything, we're overdue for a very big one. Schulz details the likely consequences here, and they will be more devastating than any disaster in American history. Interesting science, and one more reason to keep the Bushes away from FEMA.

    This problem is bidirectional. The Cascadia subduction zone remained hidden from us for so long because we could not see deep enough into the past. It poses a danger to us today because we have not thought deeply enough about the future. That is no longer a problem of information; we now understand very well what the Cascadia fault line will someday do. Nor is it a problem of imagination. If you are so inclined, you can watch an earthquake destroy much of the West Coast this summer in Brad Peyton's San Andreas, while, in neighboring theatres, the world threatens to succumb to Armageddon by other means: viruses, robots, resource scarcity, zombies, aliens, plague. As those movies attest, we excel at imagining future scenarios, including awful ones. But such apocalyptic visions are a form of escapism, not a moral summons, and still less a plan of action. Where we stumble is in conjuring up grim futures in a way that helps to avert them.

    That problem is not specific to earthquakes, of course. The Cascadia situation, a calamity in its own right, is also a parable for this age of ecological reckoning, and the questions it raises are ones that we all now face. How should a society respond to a looming crisis of uncertain timing but of catastrophic proportions? How can it begin to right itself when its entire infrastructure and culture developed in a way that leaves it profoundly vulnerable to natural disaster?

    That comment is equally applicable to climate change. (I was going to make some disclaimer that earthquakes at least are not anthropogenic, but the recent dramatic increase of them in Oklahoma and Kansas are quite clearly the results of human activity, specifically the oil and gas industry.) Worth noting this latest confirmation of the threat -- not the sudden sea rise of a tsunami but the slightly more gradual one of sea level rising due to melting ice sheets: Elizabeth Kolbert: A New Climate-Change Danger Zone? Again, if political solutions are inconceivable due to the ideological chokehold of vested interests (see "guns" above) and because we don't seem to be able to distinguish between those private interests and public ones (see "health care" above), the critical battleground will be over the remedial efforts of disaster control (e.g., FEMA).

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Usual Suspects

There is an old adage that goes: those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it. But what happens when someone knows a little bit about history, but gets it all wrong? Take Wesley Clark, for example. Katherine Krueger reports:

U.S. General Wesley Clark floated a plan Friday for dealing with so-called "lone wolf" terrorists on American soil: imprison them in internment camps before they get the chance to attack the U.S.

In an appearance on MSNBC to discuss the shootings at Chattanooga military sites, the retired general and former Democratic candidate for president said we should be dealing with "disloyal" American citizens who've been "radicalized" the same way the U.S. did during World War II -- and called on allies to do the same.

"In World War II, if someone supported Nazi Germany at the expense of the United States, we didn't say that was freedom of speech, we put them in a camp, they were prisoners of war," Clark said.

He also said: "If these people are radicalized and they don't support the United States and they are disloyal to the United States as a matter of principle, fine. It's their right and it's our right and obligation to segregate them from the normal community for the duration of the conflict."

Clark suggested that American Muslims could come to embrace radical Islam after losing a girlfriend or if "their family doesn't feel happy here."

Most likely Clark was thinking of the internment camps set up during WWII that held 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent. Those camps were set up during a racist panic on the West Coast after Pearl Harbor was bombed, and were soon regarded as a waste of resources and eventually as a national embarrassment. Nothing similar was done or even proposed for the millions of Americans of German descent: partly because a bout of anti-German hysteria had already occurred during the first world war and was properly remembered as pointless and stupid, partly because we were more likely to distinguish between Nazis and other Germans, and partly because German-Americans were white. Few of us today realize how deep and vicious American racism against Japanese and Chinese had been up through the 1940s. (See John W. Dower: War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War; there must be a more general book, but I haven't read one.)

As for Clark's assertion that during WWII "supporter[s] of Nazi Germany" were arrested and treated as "prisoners of war" there isn't much evidence. Jeffrey Rogers Hummel has written a thorough review of American prosecution of supposed enemies both before and after Pearl Harbor (see Not Just Japanese Americans: The Untold Story of U.S. Repression During 'The Good War') and he does cite cases where the US used the Alien Enemies Act (dating from 1798) to incarcerate Japanese, German, and Italian immigrants (3,846 of them within 72 hours of the Pearl Harbor attack). There were subsequent prosecutions for sedition, espionage, and even treason -- several Americans were charged in absentia with treason for making anti-American propaganda broadcasts (including poet Ezra Pound and one of the women known as "Tokyo Rose"). A few thousand conscientious objectors were rounded up and put into camps akin to jails, and the anti-sedition laws were used to repress various fringe groups, like Trotskyites and Jehovah's Witnesses. But aside from the Japanese-Americans, I don't see anything in Hummel's long list that suspended judicial processes or that treated American citizens as prisoners of war.

I should interject here that just because the US did something in WWII doesn't make it right or appropriate, either then or now. Every American war started with an effort to suppress dissent, ostensibly to form and demonstrate national unity but not incidentally to cover the warmongers' asses. In WWI dissenters as famous as Eugene V. Debs were chucked into jail for "crimes" that even Wesley Clark would now recognize as free speech. (Debs was jailed for giving an actualspeech.) If FDR's WWII government has a reputation as less repressive, it's most likely because the war was much less unpopular. Moreover, both wars were followed by notorious "red scare" periods: the latter, recalled as McCarthyism, peaked during the Korean War, and was most effective at cowering opposition to that war.

McCarthy himself flamed out shortly after the Korean War ended, but by then anti-communism had become deeply entrenched throughout the government, academia, and even labor unions, even while HUAC, the John Birchers, and Barry Goldwater seemed like fringe figures. The Vietnam War wasn't marketed (as the later Iraq Wars would be). It was just entered into reflexively, with as little thought as the "gunboat diplomacy" operations of the early 20th century, until it swelled to the point of becoming America's longest and least popular war. The FBI did what it could to suppress dissent, but opposition to the war grew too extensive to quell with prosecutions -- not that the government didn't try (e.g., the Chicago 7). If nothing else, opposition to the Vietnam War established that Americans have the right to assemble and speak out against the nation's wars.

Still, the war party doesn't like dissent, and they go to great lengths if not so much to suppress it then to crowd it out. The war drums so dominated the media after 9/11/2001 that it was impossible to raise even the most modest of doubts in public. I went to peace demonstrations in New York City in the following weeks, but how many of you even knew that they happened? None of New York's Congressfolk voted against the war authorization. Fourteen years later that war seems to be on autopilot, periodically refreshed by minor incidents like the shootings in Chattanooga Clark was responding to, because we cannot bring ourselves to reconsider how we got into this mess in the first place.

Returning to Clark's proposal, we have to ask: (1) what is it he's really asking for? (2) how does that reflect on us as a people and a nation? and (3) will it work anyway? Unfortunately, he hasn't made even the first question easy. Clarks speaks of "internment camps": the only real precedent for that is the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. Clark speaks of "prisoners of war" and "segregat[ing] them from the normal community for the duration of the conflict." In the context of WWII that can only mean captives who were wearing enemy uniforms, but that hardly applies to anything in "the global war on terror," which is not a war against an identifiable nation, nor is it a war that can be expected to terminate clearly in the near future. It is true that some of Bush's lawyers tried to apply parts of the law on "prisoners of war" to some aliens captured abroad, and argued that as the basis for keeping those prisoners at Guantanamo, but Clark is talking about "American muslims" -- a group estimated at anywhere from 5 to 12 million people. He isn't necessarily talking about rounding up all of them: he wants to grab those who are "radicalized," who may as a result of that try to "hurt us."

Even if you take the lower estimate, 5 million American muslims is twice as many people as are currently in jail in the US, so Clark is potentially talking about tripling the size of America's prison complex (already the largest in the world). Of course, most American muslims aren't radicalized (at least not yet), but how do you tell which is which? Clark's suggestion here is to look for young men recently jilted by girlfriends, or whose "family doesn't feel happy here." Criteria like that is rather hard to determine. At the very least, it would require the US to do a lot of spying on our own citizens -- something which is, uh, illegal. (But then any initial division of the population according to religion is also illegal -- a violation of civil rights law.) The points which violate specific laws could conceivably be fixed, but I can think of a bunch of places where such an internment program would bump up against the constitution. The idea that you should lock up people because they might be inclined to commit a future crime is totally alien to American jurisprudence (if not necessarily to American history). My second question above must be answered "no."

As to the third question ("will it work anyway?") it's hard to see any way to answer "yes." For starters, the scheme can fail in two ways: it can intern people who would never have committed crimes, and it can miss people who do. It may seem hard to "proove the negative" but you can get an idea of the former by counting the number of radicalized muslims who have actually committed crimes over the past few years -- the shooter in Chattanooga, the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston, the two guys who attacked Pamela Geller's Mohammad-bashing festival in Dallas, a few more here and there -- you can even add in the guys the FBI set up and "stung" and not drive the total up more than a few dozens. How many people would Clark sweep off the streets? If it's only a couple hundred or so the majority would have been jailed unnecessarily and falsely. If it's thousands or more the injustice is only magnified. On the other hand, if you hold the number of detainees down to, say, 5000, you're letting at least 999 of every 1000 muslims off the hook. That almost certainly means that some "terrorists" will blend into the pack and escape internment. Of course, the problem doesn't end there. The program itself, with its blatant discrimination and spying, will radicalize more muslims, while at the same time driving muslim radicals underground, making them harder to detect. Given the already low number of terror incidents due to radicalized muslims, it's quite possible that Clark's internment program would result in many more incidents than it was initially meant to stop. So worse than "not working," Clark's concentration camps are most likely to make the problem worse -- on top of all the other negatives.

It's safe to say that Clark's proposal won't be adopted, but it is interesting that he even bothered to blurt it out. I could come up with a long list of reasons why, but I'll just leave you with three: (1) he hugely overestimates the problem (the number of "terrorist incidents") and has no sense of proportionality versus the muslim population in America; some of this is simple innumeracy (John Allen Paulos' term for people who can't envision relationships between numbers), some is that fear of terrorism is promoted by certain interest groups that profit from it (e.g., the military and its suppliers), and some is common prejudice against islam; (2) he has insufficient respect for America's traditions regarding justice and democracy, favoring power instead; and (3) he refuses to consider the real alternative, which would have the United States withdrawing from its history of interfering with other countries by supporting and encouraging violence (either against those countries or in favor of elites against the people of those countries).

Monday, July 20, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25154 [25120] rated (+34), 457 [462] unrated (-5).

Came back from my trip exhausted, and if anything grew wearier over the course of the week. Unpacking has been slow, and while I managed to catalog all the waiting CDs last week I still have a pile of snail mail to read (or otherwise dispose of). I did at least start to get back into a music routine, at least until disaster struck. I've been using a recycled Linux machine for streaming music, downloading PR links, playing DVDs, and occasionally checking up on Facebook. I've kept this machine rigorously up to date, so when I got back there were a huge number of software updates ready. I started to install them while I was streaming something, and a few minutes later the machine crashed with a kernel panic. It seemed to reboot, but a few minutes later froze up, with I/O errors on the console. Repeated attempts merely shortened the time to freeze. At the very least the software installation has been left in an inconsistent state. Also possible that the disk drive is malfunctioning.

I had another (not-so-good) computer setup for streaming, so the main effect of losing the machine was that I lost all of the download music I had received over the last six months -- mostly from ECM and Cuneiform, since I don't bother with most other links that come my way. They're always a pain, and I had been slow at dealing with them anyway, so I was well behind reporting on them. Also, ECM's links are time-limited, and I think Cuneiform's are locked against multiple downloads. And going forward, my methodology for downloading them is broken, so that's something else to bother with. In the long run I'll probably be able to recover the lost data by mounting the disk on a working machine, but that's also in principle true of the previous "media machine" that crashed in 2014 and is still sitting on the sidelines. (It ran Windows Vista, and was similarly corrupted by a software update. My understanding is that I can fix the corruption if I can find the original installation discs, but thus far I haven't found them. If/when I give up on that search I can still try to mount the discs on a Linux system and scrounge around for useful data, but that hasn't been much of a priority.)

Meanwhile, the new streaming setup is the one I used on the road: a Toshiba Chromebook and Bose MiniLink Bluetooth speakers. The latter, even when they're working properly, are much inferior to the Klipsch computer speakers on the "media machine," which are in turn much inferior to the B&O speakers on my now aged stereo system. (The speakers and the Yamaha receiver are close to 30 years old.) But it turns out that the Bose speakers rarely work right: the bluetooth connection often fails, and the auxiliary connection -- a direct wire with stereo jacks from the computer to the speakers -- has a really weird effect that I'll explain below. (It's quite possible that both of these problems are the fault of the Toshiba, which among other things has very little in the way of diagnostic tools.) The upshot is that I've had to fall back on the Toshiba's built-in speaker, lame and tinny as you'd expect. That possibly puts the streamed records at a disadvantage, even more than usual. Factor that in if you like, but looking at the grade list below I suspect I've already done so.

The weird effect? When I streamed Frank Lacy's Mingus Sings I was surprised to find that the record had virtually no vocals -- maybe some vocal rumbling submerged in the background. I was mostly streaming jazz and hadn't noticed much amiss, but when I switched to Boz Scaggs' A Fool to Care again the vocals were buried, leaving a lushly attractive guitar groove album. OK, I thought. The Leonard Cohen showed evidence of background vocals but no Cohen, and that, too, had some appeal. I didn't pull the plug until I got to Kacey Musgraves and thought her doing an instrumental album was just too bizarre. And when I pulled the plug, her voice popped right up -- on the Toshiba's built-in speaker.

Evidently there is such a thing as a "vocal eliminator" filter, which is used to create karaoke versions from standard stereo. How such a thing got into the Bose and/or the Toshiba beats me. (The bluetooth path to the Bose speakers didn't filter out the vocals, so it was only the wired connection. The Toshiba manual describes the jack as "headphone/microphone" but when I plug the Bose in it is recognized as a headphone, and I can't find any more audio controls. Just spent an hour researching and testing this and I know nothing more than I did.)

After discovering this glitch, I went back and relistened to about ten albums. Oddly enough, I wound up grading the Lacy and Hollenbeck albums down. The others didn't move much, although the vocals are certainly a plus for Scaggs, Cohen, and Musgraves. The filter had also knocked Joshua Redman's sax out of the Bad Plus album, but that was neither much of a loss or gain. Could be that I've misheard more of the [r] albums below, so take them with more than the usual grain of salt. (I think the list that I didn't recheck was: Blanchard, Davis, Diehl, Garzone, Glasper, Hazeltine, Herring, Hunter, Jamal, Johnson, Skydive Trio; most were probably heard accurately enough. I didn't notice a problem with the old [r] records -- Bragg, Uncle Tupelo, Wilco -- so the problem must have occurred after I heard several of the above jazz records. I did recheck Silk Degrees, which improved a lot.)

I should probably add a note on the two A- records this week. I've given Rent Romus and Michael McNeill A- grades in the past, and gave these two records more than the usual fair chance -- McNeill probably wound up with eight or more plays. Both have corresponded with me -- McNeill even weirded me out when he said he'd check out Vijay Iyer on my recommendation. Could it be that I'm softening up and playing favorites? I'll stick with them: in fact, the clincher for McNeill was that I want to hear the album again.

By the way, Devin Gray, Max Johnson, and Skydive Trio were recommended by Chris Monsen on his Fave Jazz of 2015 mid-year list: 3 of the 9 records I hadn't heard, all good ones. Of the other B+(***) albums, the one I'd definitely spin again if I had the CD is Warren Vaché's. Scaggs and Cohen were hinted at in Christgau's parting missive (as well as the Nelson-Haggard album I like, and "giant sand/springsteen/bishop" -- I'd guess the latter is Elvin's Can't Even Do Wrong Right, which is as right as he's gotten in a long time, but I have no idea about the others).

I may get around to Rhapsody Streamnotes near the end of the week. Certainly by the end of the month.


New records rated this week:

  • Kevin Bachelder/Jason Lee Bruns: Cherry Avenue (2015, Panout Music Group): [cd]: B-
  • The Bad Plus/Joshua Redman: The Bad Plus Joshua Redman (2015, Nonesuch): [r]: B+(**)
  • John Basile: Penny Lane (2015, StringTime Jazz): [cd]: B
  • Terence Blanchard: Breathless (2015, Blue Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Leonard Cohen: Can't Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour (2012-13 [2015], Columbia): [r]: B+(***)
  • Kris Davis Infrasound: Save Your Breath (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • Charlie Dennard: 5 O'Clock Charlie (2015, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Jeff Denson/Lee Konitz: Jeff Denson Trio + Lee Konitz (2015, Ridgeway): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Andrew Diehl: Space Time Continuum (2015, Mack Avenue): [r]: B+(**)
  • George Garzone/Jerry Bergonzi/Carl Winther/Johnny Aman/Anders Mogensen: Quintonic (2013 [2014], Stunt): [r]: B+(***)
  • Robert Glasper: Covered: The Robert Glasper Trio Recorded Live at Capitol Studios (2014 [2015], Blue Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jerry Granelli Trio + 3: What I Hear Now (2014 [2015], Addo): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Devin Gray: RelativE ResonancE (2014 [2015], Skirl): [cd]: B+(***)
  • David Hazeltine: I Remember Cedar (2013 [2014], Sharp Nine): [r]: B+(***)
  • Vince Herring: Night and Day (2014 [2015], Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(*)
  • John Hollenbeck: Songs We Like a Lot (2015, Sunnyside): [r]: B
  • Charlie Hunter Trio: Let the Bells Ring On (2015, CHT Publishing): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ahmad Jamal: Live in Marciac: August 5th 2014 (2014 [2015], Jazz Village): [r]: B+(*)
  • Max Johnson Trio: Something Familiar (2014 [2015], Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: B+(***)
  • Joyfultalk: Muuixx (2015, Drip Audio): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Ku-Umba Frank Lacy & Mingus Big Band: Mingus Sings (2014 [2015], Sunnyside): [r]: B-
  • Michael McNeill Trio: Flight (2014 [2015], self-released): [cd]: A-
  • Kacey Musgraves: Pageant Material (2015, Mercury Nashville): [r]: B+(***)
  • Rent Romus' Life's Blood Ensemble: The Otherworld Cycle (2014 [2015], Edgetone): [cd]: A-
  • Boz Scaggs: A Fool to Care (2015, 429 Records): [r]: A-
  • Skydive Trio: Sun Moee (2014 [2015], Hubro): [r]: B+(***)
  • Warren Vaché: The Warren Vaché Quintet Remembers Benny Carter (2014 [2015], Arbors): [r]: B+(***)
  • Eyal Vilner Big Band: Almost Sunrise (2014 [2015], Gut String): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Tony Wilson 6Tet: A Day's Life (2012 [2015], Drip Audio): [cd]: B+(**)

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

  • Duke Ellington & His Orchestra: The Conny Plank Session (1970 [2015], Grönland, EP): [r]: B+(**)

Old records rated this week:

  • Billy Bragg & Wilco: Mermaid Avenue, Vol. III (1998-2000 [2012], Nonesuch): [r]: B+(**)
  • Billy Bragg & Wilco: Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions (1998-2000 [2012], Nonesuch, 3CD): [r]: A-
  • Boz Scaggs: Silk Degrees (1976 [2007], Columbia/Legacy): [r]: B+(***)
  • Uncle Tupelo: Anodyne (1993 [2003], Rhino/Sire): [r]: B+(*)
  • Wilco: A.M. (1995, Sire): [r]: A-
  • Wilco: Summer Teeth (1999, Warner Brothers): [r]: B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Michael Blum/Jim Stinnett: Commitment (self-released)
  • Amir ElSaffar: Crisis (Pi): July 24
  • The Montgomery Hermann Quinlan Sextet: Hear, Here (Summit)
  • Gunnar Mossblad & Cross Currents: R.S.V.P. (Summit)
  • Larry Newcomb Quartet: Live Intentionally! (Essential Messenger): September 4

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Weekend Roundup

Another week with the usual scattered links:


  • Robert Parry: US/Israeli/Saudi 'Behavior' Problems: Much of the opposition to the US+5/Iran deal is based on an assumption that Iran cannot be trusted -- a naive and rather ironic posture given how the US and its allies have repeatedly meddled in the region's affairs.

    In this American land of make-believe, Iran is assailed as the chief instigator of instability in the Middle East. Yet, any sane and informed person would dispute that assessment, noting the far greater contributions made by Israel, Saudi Arabia and, indeed, the United States.

    Israel's belligerence, including frequently attacking its Arab neighbors and brutally repressing the Palestinians, has roiled the region for almost 70 years. Not to mention that Israel is a rogue nuclear state that has been hiding a sophisticated atomic-bomb arsenal.

    An objective observer also would note that Saudi Arabia has been investing its oil wealth for generations to advance the fundamentalist Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam, which has inspired terrorist groups from Al Qaeda to the Islamic State. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were identified as Saudis and the U.S. government is still concealing those 28 pages of the congressional 9/11 inquiry regarding Saudi financing of Al Qaeda terrorists.

    The Saudis also have participated directly and indirectly in regional wars, including encouragement of Iraq's invasion of Iran in 1980, support for Al Qaeda-affiliate Nusra Front's subversion of Syria, and the current Saudi bombardment of Yemen, killing hundreds of civilians, touching off a humanitarian crisis and helping Al Qaeda's Yemeni affiliate expand its territory.

    The US list is even longer, with the CIA's 1953 coup against Iran, the US alliance with the hated Shah, and US support of Iraq in its 1980s war against Iran looming especially large, although most Americans remain remarkably blind to their nation's past errors and offenses, even when they plainly blow back. It's no surprise that the people most critical of the agreement with Iran are the ones most blind to the disasters US intervention has caused in the region.

    More pieces on the Iran agreement:

    • Gareth Porter: How a weaker Iran got the hegemon to lift sanctions: One journalist who has understood all along that Iran's "nuclear ambitions" had nothing to do with creating a nuclear arsenal, much less launching a colossal suicide bomb attack against Israel -- his book on the subject was titled Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. Rather, he argues that Iran's nuclear program was a chit for negotiating the end of US sanctions against Iran which have been in place since 1979. Israel, by the way, was instrumental in making this deal happen: had Netanyahu not whined so much about Iran the US would have had no compelling reason to reëxamine its reflexive prejudice against Iran. On the other hand, Israel's preferred solution would have plunged the US into a war even more hopeless than the Afghanistan and Iraq fiascos. That Obama chose to negotiate is a rare victory for sanity, suggesting that he at least has learned something from Iraq. The deal preserves order and responsibility in Iran, so the various restrictions and inspections will be honored. But more importantly, by dropping the sanctions, the US will stop poisoning the ground, forcing an antipathy that often needn't happen. (In fact, the US and Iran have often found themselves with similar interests but unable to work together.)

    • Fred Kaplan: Why Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Neocons Hate the Iran Deal: Well, you know the answer:

      The most diehard opponents -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi King Salman, and a boatload of neocons led by the perennial naysayer John Bolton -- issued their fusillades against the accord ("an historic mistake," "diplomatic Waterloo," to say nothing of the standard charges of "appeasement" from those with no understanding of history) long before they could possibly have browsed its 159 pages of legalese and technical annexes.

      What worries these critics most is not that Iran might enrich its uranium into an A-bomb. (If that were the case, why would they so virulently oppose a deal that put off this prospect by more than a decade?) No, what worries them much more deeply is that Iran might rejoin the community of nations, possibly even as a diplomatic (and eventually trading) partner of the United States and Europe.

      Which is to say that beyond the letter of the agreement, which ensures that Iran will make no advance toward nuclear weapons for at least ten years (recall that Israel started predicting an Iranian bomb in less than five years back in the mid-1990s), might reduce the desire of both nations for conflict. The assumption here is that Iran is more valuable as an enemy than it is risky.

  • Rick Perlstein: Down With the Confederate Flag, Up With Donald Trump!: Even though the purpose of the Republicans' big move into the south was to recruit all the racist Dixiecrats, and even though the Republicans have jettisoned virtually every tenet of the GOP's progressive legacy, one suspects they've never been all that enamored of the confederate flag. So when SC Gov. Nikki Haley took the lead, they didn't have much reason not to follow (they are, after all, the sort of people who blindly follow their so-called leaders). Besides, it deflected a repeat of the usual arguments for gun control. And it rather neatly distanced most of the Republican establishment from a nasty racist massacre: could the killer who wrapped himself in the confederate flag have foreseen that that the flag itself would be one of his victims? Perlstein:

    Suddenly, with a single flap of the Angel of History's wings, America has experienced a shuddering change: the American swastika has finally become toxic -- a liberation that last month seemed so impossible that we'd forgotten to bother to think about it.

    One doesn't waste energy worrying over the fact that America controls over 700 military bases in 63 countries and maintains a military presence in 156; or that Israel has staged a civilian-slaughtering war approximately every other year since 2006; or that in America there is no constitutionally guaranteed right to vote or that unregulated pyramid schemes fleece Middle Americans out of $10 to $20 billion a year or that a private organization runs our presidential debates, sponsored by the same corporations that underwrite Democratic conventions . . . on and on and on: permanent annoyances.

    Still, the flag is just an icon, now finally tarnished beyond any hope of mainstream redemption . . . like the swastika, which also had a (much briefer) fashion fling on the American right. Still, while some things change, conservatives don't really. At the same time the "American swastika" was bowing out, Donald Trump was rising to top Republican polls on the basis of blatantly racist blanket statements about Mexicans. Jefferson Davis may be a waning American hero, but James R. Polk is due for a revival. (If now Woodrow Wilson, who holds the record for two wars against Mexico, but nothing resembling Polk's victory.) Perlstein explains:

    This is important: conservatism is like bigotry whack-a-mole. The quantity of hatred, best I can tell from 17 years of close study of 60 years of right-wing history, remains the same. Removing the flag of the Confederacy, raising the flag of immigrant hating: the former doesn't spell some new Jerusalem of tolerance; the latter doesn't mean that conservatism's racism has finally been revealed for all to see. The push-me-pull-me of private sentiment and public profession will always remain in motion, and in tension.

    A few days later, Trump's star started to eclipse, when he suggested that John McCain's heroism in Vietnam was tainted ("a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured"). (See Donald Trump Can't Stop, Won't Stop.) We'll see how that plays out, in particular how well Trump holds up with McCain's fawning admirers gunning for him, but it isn't obvious to me that Trump's stance will lose him the base. After all, McCain is a loser: he lost to Obama in 2008, unleashing this whole national nightmare, and maybe that wasn't such an accident, considering how he lost his plane and spent years on the sidelines in America's loser war, a victimhood he parlayed into a political career that again failed when it mattered most. Thus far, Trump has held back on part of what he must be thinking: that the real American Vietnam War hero was Rambo. Maybe he's reluctant to commit to a fiction, but it's not like reality is holding him back. (Ronald Reagan would certainly go for it.) But maybe he's holding out for himself: Trump, after all, is a winner, and isn't that what America really wants? (Never mind the divorces and bankruptcies and all that, or the fact that he's never been elected anything, or whatever else journalists will dig up real soon: Trump missed out on Chris Lehmann's review of The Candidates (good grief), a roll call meant to document that "Of the dozen or so people who have declared or are thought likely to declare, every one can bedescribed as a full-blown adult failure." His only line on Trump came at the end: "He can make anyone in his general vicinity look good.")

  • Andrew O'Hehir: The Republican prison experiment: How the right-wing conquest of the GOP altered political reality: Bemoans the loss of sanity in the Republican party, seeing "the evil zombie sock-puppet condition of the GOP [as] the most gruesome single sympton of our failing democracy."

    I would contend that the Republican Party has been the subject, willing or otherwise, of a version of the Stanford prison experiment, conducted on a grand scale. I wrote about that famous 1971 simulation, now the subject of a new feature film, earlier this week: A group of normal, middle-class California college students eagerly embraced roles as sadistic guards and abused prisoners, submitting almost immediately to the social order of an entirely fictional institution they knew had no real power. Properly understood, the Stanford experiment is not about prisons or schools or other overtly coercive social institutions, although it certainly applies to them. It is about the power of ideology and the power of power, about the fact that if you change people's perception of reality, you have gone most of the way to changing reality itself.

    The Republican Party did not organically evolve into a xenophobic, all-white party of hate that seeks to roll back not just the Civil Rights movement and feminism, but the entire Enlightenment. It did not accidentally become untethered from reality and float off to the moons of Pluto. Those possibilities were already present, but they had to be activated. Partly as a result of its own ideological weakness and internal divisions, the GOP was taken over from within and from above: In the first instance, by a dedicated core of right-wing activists, and in the second by the ultra-rich, super-PAC oligarchy epitomized by the Koch brothers. The two forces sometimes worked separately, but ultimately the first was funded and sponsored by the second. [ . . . ]

    Among other things, the GOP's flight to Crazytown has permitted leaders of the Democratic Party to crawl ever more cozily into the pockets of Wall Street bankers and to become ever more intertwined with the national security state -- while still proclaiming themselves, in all innocence and with considerable plausibility, to be less noxious than the alternative. So we see millions of well-meaning people getting ginned up to vote for Hillary Clinton, despite the nagging sensation that the political universe in which she represents the best available option is a cruel hoax. Pay attention to that feeling! It's the reality we have discarded, banging on the door.

    People forget this, but when Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1980, his hot button issue wasn't his desire to slash taxes on the rich or open up every bureau of government to corporate lobbyists to loot and plunder. It was to "take back" the Panama Canal, which was "ours" until Jimmy Carter treacherously "gave it away." Speech after speech hammered away on the Canal, but after Reagan was elected he didn't lift a finger to undo Carter's treaty. Even after his VP became president and sent the army into Panama to apprehend a former CIA asset who had gone off the reservation, Bush left the treaty intact. The Canal was never anything but a talking point, recycled over and over because the Republicans thought it made Carter look weak, when in reality it only showed he was sane: losing one of the last vestiges of imperialism was good for the US and for Panama, for everyone. Rhetoric-wise, the Republicans were as removed from reality in 1980 as they are now. Their problem now is that their rhetoric has a track record that shows it only makes matters worse, and they've surrendered so completely to their rhetoric that they're trapped. If their snap judgments on the Iran deal are any indication, the Republican nominee in 2016 -- it doesn't matter who becuase they're all interchangeable clones -- will snort and fume against Iran like Reagan did Panama. Again, the idea is that making a deal with the devil just makes America look weak, and no Republican would do that.

    I wouldn't assume that if elected whoever the Republican is will backtrack, realizing that Obama's deal was the best they'd ever get, even though that would make sense. But I also think it's a losing argument, and the Republicans haven't realized that yet. Arguing against the deal is necessarily arguing for an undetermined, dangerous result, most likely another war in a region where we've repeatedly failed. But then very few of the platform issues the Republicans have locked themselves into are either popular or potentially workable.

  • More pieces on Greece:

    • Tariq Ali: Diary: Before Syriza was elected in Greece, the Euro masters focused on providing only what was needed to bail out their own banks. After, the focus became destroying Syriza, which turned out to be easy because Tsipras was more committed to the euro than to the political will of his supporters.

      The EU has now succeeded in crushing the political alternative that Syriza represented. The German attitude to Greece, long before the rise of Syriza, was shaped by the discovery that Athens (helped by Goldman Sachs) had cooked its books in order to get into the Eurozone. This is indisputable. But isn't it dangerous, as well as wrong, to punish the Greek people -- and to carry on doing so even after they have rejected the political parties responsible for the lies? According to Timothy Geithner, the former US treasury secretary, the attitude of the European finance ministers at the start of the crisis was: "We're going to teach the Greeks a lesson. They lied to us, they suck and they were profligate and took advantage of the whole thing and we're going to crush them." Geithner says that in reply he told them, "You can put your foot on the neck of those guys if that's what you want to do," but insisted that investors mustn't be punished, which meant that the Germans had to underwrite a large chunk of the Greek debt. As it happens, French and German banks had the most exposure to Greek debt and their governments acted to protect them. Bailing out the rich became EU policy. Debt restructuring is being discussed now, with the IMF's leaked report, but the Germans are leading the resistance to it. "No guarantees without control": Merkel's response in 2012 remains in force.

    • Barry Eichengreen: Saving Greece, Saving Europe

    • Ashoka Mody: Germany, Not Greece, Should Exit the Euro: After all, if Germany exited, the Euro would depreciate, which would help everyone else, while Germany merely became richer.

    • Jordan Weissmann: Europe's Economic Misery Has Worked Out Pretty Well for Germany: Some more background for the Mody piece above, based on a piece by Ben Bernanke. One chart shows that Germany's unemployment is below 5 percent, while the rest of the Eurozone is above 13%.

      If Germany still had to rely on its own currency, it would be far more expensive than the euro. That would hurt its ability to export Volkswagens, prescription drugs, and Becks around the world. But, instead, it shares a currency with the eurozone's many weaker members. That has two big effects. First, it lets German companies sell their products in countries like France, Italy, and Greece, where otherwise consumers might not be able to afford them. Second, it keeps German wares relatively cheap outside of Europe, most importantly in crucial markets like the United States and China.

      While Germany has reaped the benefits of euro membership, it hasn't returned the favor by buying more goods from, say Southern Europe. Instead, by keeping government spending in its neighbors tight, it has basically put a lid on imports. The end result is a massive trade surplus that has left its economy in decent shape while leaving its eurozone compatriots hanging out to dry. Worse yet, it has demanded harsh austerity measures in return for bailouts, which have murdered domestic demand in countries including Greece, making it difficult for them to recover.

      So Germany has managed to turn the euro into a mechanism for transferring wealth into its own coffers.

    • Cédric Durand: The End of Europe: When the EU and the Eurozone were founded, there was considerable optimism on the left that the new institutions would lead to equalized outcomes across the entire zone, but that didn't happen as the institutions came under the ever tighter control of neoliberal capital.

    • Mark Weisbrot: Why the European authorities refuse to let Greece recover: As Yanis Varoufakis put it, "The complete lack of any democratic scruples, on behalf of the supposed defenders of Europe's democracy."


Also, a few links for further study:

  • Max Blumenthal: The Next Gaza War: Since Israel unilaterally withdrew its settlements from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Israel has maintained a blockade on Gaza, bombed or shelled its prisoners numerous times, the intensity rising to the level of war at least once every other year. Blumenthal has a new book, The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza (Nation Books) about the July-August 2014 war, which like its 2012 and 2010 predecessors, settled nothing, leaving opportunities open for the next set of Israeli politicians to prove their mettle:

    Among the leaders of Israel's increasingly dominant religious nationalist movement is Naftali Bennett, the 43-year-old head of the pro-settler Jewish Home Party. Bennett spent much of last summer's war railing against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for refusing to order a full reoccupation of Gaza and the violent removal of Hamas -- a potentially catastrophic move that Netanyahu and the Israeli military brass vehemently opposed. While Bennett accused Palestinians of committing "self-genocide," his youthful deputy, Ayelet Shaked, declared that Palestinian civilians "are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads." According to Shaked, the "mothers of the martyrs" should be exterminated, "as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there."

    In the current Israeli governing coalition, Bennett serves as Minister of Education, overseeing the schooling of millions of Jewish Israeli youth. And Shaked has been promoted to Minister of Justice, giving her direct influence over the country's court system. Once one of the young Turks of the right-wing Likud Party, Netanyahu now finds himself at the hollow center of Israeli politics, mediating between factions of hardline ethno-nationalists and outright fascists.

    Where Gaza is concerned, Israel's loyal opposition differs little from the country's far-right rulers. In the days before the January national elections, Tzipi Livni, a leader of the left-of-center Zionist Union, proclaimed, "Hamas is a terrorist organization and there is no hope for peace with it . . . the only way to act against it is with force -- we must use military force against terror . . . and this is instead of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu's policy to come to an agreement with Hamas." Livni's ally, Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog, reinforced her militaristic position by declaring, "There is no compromising with terror." [ . . . ]

    Months after the cessation of hostilities, even as foreign correspondents marvel at the "quiet" that has prevailed along Gaza's borders, the Israeli leadership is ramping up its bloody imprecations. At a conference this May sponsored by Shurat HaDin, a legal organization dedicated to defending Israel from war crimes charges, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon warned that another crushing assault was inevitable, either in Gaza, southern Lebanon, or both. After threatening to drop a nuclear bomb on Iran, Yaalon pledged that "we are going to hurt Lebanese civilians to include kids of the family. We went through a very long deep discussion . . . we did it then, we did it in [the] Gaza Strip, we are going to do it in any round of hostilities in the future."

    Also see: Bill Berkowitz: Why Is the Mainstream Media Running Away From Max Blumenthal's New Book About Israel?.

  • Tim Weiner: The Nixon Legacy: Adapted from Weiner's new book, One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon (Henry Holt). Post focuses on Nixon's paranoia as Watergate moved toward resolution, but that madness was hard earned, intrinsic to a politician who made an art of escalating and withdrawing at the same time, of turning defeats into vindictive grudges -- a psyche that the US government has still never managed to free itself from, probably because those who run covert programs there have always had need to cover up what they do. They say power corrupts, but you rarely glimpse how addictive that corruption is until you uncover someone like Nixon.

Daily Log

Alex Wilson best so-far list (just the things I haven't heard; after 42 are B+ "honourable mentions," originally numbered separately):

  1. Lil Wayne: FWA
  2. Wilco: Star Wars
  3. Brian Wilson: No Pier Pressure
  4. Four Tet: Morning/Evening
  5. Bhi Bhiman: Rhythm & Reason
  6. Highlife on the Move: Selected Nigerian & Ghanaian Recordings
  7. Kat Dahlia: My Garden
  8. The Prodigy: The Day Is My Enemy [HM]
  9. Leather Corduroys: Season
  10. Death Grips: Fashion Week
  11. Lil Wayne: Sorry 4 the Wait 2
  12. Yelawolf: Love Story
  13. The Districts: A Flourish and a Spoil
  14. Antemasque
  15. Big Sean: Dark Sky Paradise
  16. Jib Kidder: Teaspoon to the Ocean
  17. Tinashe: Amethyst
  18. Guster: Evermotion
  19. Ghost Culture

Thursday, July 16, 2015

My Big Fat Greek Post

In America we tend to think of Europe, with its unions, high taxes, and (relatively) generous safety net, as well to our left, often noting that right-leaning politicians there are committed (or at least resolved) to more progressive policies than our nominal Democrats. For instance, take a look at Thomas Geoghegan's paean to the workers' paradise that is Germany: Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life -- and follow that up with Geoghegan's Only One Thing Can Save Us: Why America Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement, which argues that America's economy needs European-style labor unions to finally crawl out of the morass the Great Recession, on top of thirty years of union-busting, plunged us into. Given this, it's disconcerting that Europe as a whole has done an even poorer job than the US has in recovering from 2008, and it takes some careful analysis to understand why.

Economists like Paul Krugman were quick to blame the Euro, and there can be no doubt now that the idea of having a common currency without a common commitment to the economic vitality of the entire region is a recipe for disaster. Since its inception, the Euro has been tightly controlled by its (mostly German) central bankers, but it was the 2008 crash which made the problems clear. Before crash, the Euro built up both sides, encouraging the north to loan money to the south and fueling a real estate bubble in the latter. After, both sides were hit with depression, but the debt burden turned them against each other. As lenders, the north (mostly Germany) wanted to hold the value of the Euro firm, while the debt-hampered south needed debt relief and restructuring, things normally done by inflating the currency. What followed wasn't a compromise. The central bankers held firm, oblivious to the pain they caused in the south.

Similar problems afflicted Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland, but were worse in Greece, partly because Greece had played a rather loose game with EU debt rules in the past (Michael Lewis covers this in Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World). But what has made the situation in Greece much worse has been a brutal austerity program insisted on by the central bankers -- one suspects as much intended as punishment as reassurance that the debts would be paid. So far the results are a super-depressed economy with over 25% unemployment, the election of an anti-austerity leftist political party (Syriza), a banking crisis, an increasing polarization between Greece and Germany (to the extent that Greeks have started to bring up the issue of reparations for German WWII atrocities). Indeed, since Syriza was elected, the demands of the central bankers seem to have focused as much on undoing the election results as permanently burdening the Greek economy.

Unfortunately, it now appears that the Syriza government has capitulated to a "$94 billion bailout package" that the Greek voters decisely rejected just a week ago. (For some details, see the image below. It appears that the real beneficiaries of the "bailout" are the lending banks, that the Greek government will remain saddled with crippling debt indefinitely, and that the Greek government will be stripped of assets and prohibited from doing anything that might stimulate economic recovery.)

I say "unfortunately" because I see Greece as the first major breakpoint in what will become a worldwide struggle against debt. As you know, inequality of income and wealth has been increasing all around the world since the 1970s. There are lots of reasons for that, notably globalization which has allowed capital to seek greater profits while arbitraging wages, the practice of virtually all governments of managing their currencies through the banks, and the ever-increasing corruption of democratic institutions in favor of the oligarchy. By the 1990s, inequality had grown to the point where it was starting to suppress demand for products and services. But rather than increasing wages to stimulate demand, the problem was temporarily avoided by opening up access to debt. The idea behind debt, after all, was to preserve the power of the rich even while they let you (temporarily) sample a bit more wealth. The 2008 crash occurred when the debt overhang became insupportable, but rather than solving the problem by reducing the excess debt (by writing it down, or inflating it away, or otherwise making it easier to repay) the political system, including most of the nominal left, conspired to defend (both ideologically and through massive bailouts) the oligarchy. (See Philip Mirowski's Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown.)

As Steve Fraser documented (see The Age of Aquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power), it wasn't long after the abolition of slavery in the US that workers started referring to the "free labor" system as "wage slavery." The idea was that the conditions of wage work offered workers little real freedom. Similarly, debt constricts freedom. For individuals this may just be a matter of binding you to rat race with little hope of ever breaking free. But as Greece shows, whole nations can be reduced to debt slavery, their democratic will put aside, their people's hopes and prospects put on hold while their creditors pick their pockets. If this seems too harsh, consider this description from Alex Gourevitch:

The draft of the agreement between the Greeks and the Eurogroup is out and, as everyone has noticed, it is not just an act of revenge -- it is a piece of legislative torture. It contains old demands, like pension reductions and higher taxes to fund primary surpluses, as well as new demands, like a reduction in the power of unions and a massive privatization of state assets using a separate fund controlled by Greece but monitored by the European Union's institutions.

In fact the document asks for a massive legislative program touching on every aspect of Greek economic life -- tax policy, product regulation, labor markets, state-owned assets, the financial sector, shipping, budget surpluses, pensions, and so on. This legislation is demanded within the next few weeks. Such a package is the kind of thing one sees during or just after wartime, not as the product of democratically negotiated decisions.

Let's remember that the program on which Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and the Eurogroup agreed is something asked of a country that has already experienced a very severe depression, implemented a number of constraints requested by creditors, and has a 25 percent unemployment rate and a banking crisis. What is the point of torturing a victim whose will is already broken? To destroy all opposition. [ . . . ]

Note not just the scope of the Eurogroup's demands but the molecular level of detail with which they lay out demands. For instance, as part of their package of "ambitious product market reforms," they insist on changes in "Sunday trade, sales periods, pharmacy ownership, milk and bakeries, except over-the-counter pharmaceutical products, which will be implemented in a next step, as well as for the opening of macro-critical closed professions (e.g. ferry transportation)."

Then there are the new demands, like "rigorous reviews and modernization of collective bargaining [and] industrial action," which is Eurospeak for rubbing out labor rights. Other demands make it clear that these decisions are not only extensive and fine-grained, but designed as much as possible to remove responsibility and control from the Greek people and their government. [ . . . ]

Most telling of all, "The government needs to consult and agree with the Institutions on all draft legislation in relevant areas with adequate time before submitting it for public consultation or to Parliament." That is to say, on every above-named area of reform -- from tax policy to labor markets -- the government must consult first with its European managers. [ . . . ]

There is no guarantee the money is forthcoming. In other words, the Eurogroup retains maximum discretion to decide that Greece has failed to meet any of the impossible demands made upon it, while the Greeks possess no similar ability to hold the Europeans to account for their failures.

This kind of control through debt isn't new: it's reminiscent of similar "austerity" programs imposed on many third world countries. But those deals fell out of fashion after Argentine bucked the IMF in 2000, and the IMF has since appeared to be more sensitive to the underlying welfare of the countries it previously victimized. (The IMF has even been relatively sane regarding Greece: see Paul Krugman: An Unsustainable Position). Still, one might have expected Greece to catch a break: as a member of the EU, Greece might reasonably have expected special consideration to keep its economy functioning within European norms. It also might have expected other Eurozone members to help keep it in the zone rather than pushing it out. The decision to make an example out of Greece suggests that the powers that be fear that Greece may not be an isolated example: sooner or later others are going to revolt against the yoke of their debts.

In the meantime, of course, it could just be that the creditors are feeling invincible. In Europe, the chief evidence for this is the lacklustre ambivalence of the so-called left: why, for instance, is there so little evident solidarity between labor in the rich north and the depressed south? France has a "socialist" prime minister who seems more comfortable as the caretaker of neoliberalism than as its undertaker. The latest left-party governments in Germany and the UK have been major embarrassments, unable even to turn the right's austerity fads into meaningful political gains. I cited Fraser's book on the loss of class consciousness in America, but clearly a comparable book could be written about Europe, even if some of the particulars differ.


I've been hoping that Syriza will hold firm in rejecting the central bankers' demands, even to the point of resurrecting their own currency (and hopefully burying the dread term "Grexit" -- how sophomoric can you get?). Even if euro exit was intended as punishment (which appears to be the case in promulgating such onerous terms), and even if it hurt plenty, it would sever the bonds strangling the economy and paralyzing the party's efforts to rebuild a more just nation. It wouldn't be easy, but Greece could then rebound, and with it we might discover a viable left alternative. (Iceland was the country in worst shape after the 2008 crash, but having its own currency it devalued, stiffed its creditors, and rebounded remarkably fast.) More countries could join Greece, and/or a broader struggle -- and/or greater calamities -- might force the EU to reform. But at least there would be an alternative to the oligarchs' desperate struggle to control everything.

I have an unread book on a shelf somewhere whose title begins Another World Is Possible -- a concept that lots of people seem to have a lot of trouble grasping. (It's by Susan George, from 2004, and the title continues, rather ominously, If . . . , to remind us that activism, not just imagination, is required.)


Some more interesting links:

  • Chris Arnade: Blame the Banks:

    The launch of the common European currency, the euro, ushered in a period of European financial confidence, and we on Wall Street started to take advantage of another willing fool: European banks. More precisely northern European banks.

    From '02 until the financial crisis in '08, Wall Street shoved as much toxic waste down those banks' throats as they could handle. It wasn't hard. Like the Japanese customers before them, the European banks were hell bent on indiscriminately buying assets from all over the globe. [ . . . ]

    The European banks weren't lending recklessly to only the U.S. They were also aggressively lending within Europe, including to the governments of Spain, Portugal, and Greece.

    In 2008, when the U.S. housing market collapsed, the European banks lost big. They mostly absorbed those losses and focused their attention on Europe, where they kept lending to governments -- meaning buying those countries' debt -- even though that was looking like an increasingly foolish thing to do: Many of the southern countries were starting to show worrying signs.

    By 2010 one of those countries -- Greece -- could no longer pay its bills. Over the prior decade Greece had built up massive debt, a result of too many people buying too many things, too few Greeks paying too few taxes, and too many promises made by too many corrupt politicians, all wrapped in questionable accounting. Yet despite clear problems, bankers had been eagerly lending to Greece all along.

    That 2010 Greek crisis was temporarily muzzled by an international bailout, which imposed on Greece severe spending constraints. This bailout gave Greece no debt relief, instead lending them more money to help pay off their old loans, allowing the banks to walk away with few losses. It was a bailout of the banks in everything but name.

    Because the 2010 "relief" package only added to Greece's burdens, another "relief" package became necessary in 2012, and again in 2015. The only things that will Greece to dig out of its hole are some form of debt relief and the freedom to stimulate the economy: the latter, even without the austerity requirements, is precluded by the euro.

  • Josh Barro: The IMF Is Telling Europe the Euro Doesn't Work:

    The I.M.F. memo amounts to an admission that the eurozone cannot work in its current form. It lays out three options for achieving Greek debt sustainability, all of which are tantamount to a fiscal union, an arrangement through which wealthier countries would make payments to support the Greek economy. Not coincidentally, this is the solution many economists have been telling European officials is the only way to save the euro -- and which northern European countries have been resisting because it is so costly.

  • Anooja Debnath: Lose-Lose: Greece Leaving Euro Seen Costlier Than Write-Off: By about 100 billion Euros if you're counting, a stiff price to make a point.

  • Jonathan Hopkin: Greek Parliament passes debt agreement, but European democracy is on its knees: this loss of democratic to special interest powers over economic affairs is precisely what is so ominous about arrangements like TPP:

    If the reforms fail, who will be held accountable? Certainly not the people who designed them. Whatever happens, Greece can be accused of not going far enough, as indeed it has over fiscal policy, despite undergoing a much greater fiscal squeeze than any other member state.

    The destruction of democratic decision-making in Greece may indeed be the result of the country's own past mistakes, but even so, it takes the European Union to an entirely new scenario, in which economic policy is now the exclusive preserve of EU officials who have no direct interest in the success of the Greek economy.

  • Paul Krugman: Roach Motel Economics:

    So we have learned that the euro is a Roach Motel -- once you go in, you can never get out. And once inside you are at the mercy of those who can pull your financing and crash your banking system unless you toe the line.

    I and many others have had a lot to say about the politics of this reality. But let me say a word about the economic implications for the euro area as a whole -- which are basically that Europe has created a system that treats surplus and deficit countries asymmetrically, even more than the classical gold standard, and leads to a severe deflationary bias.

    This is true both for fiscal issues and for balance of payments issues. Debtors are forced into draconian austerity, while creditors face no pressure to reflate; economic crisis, which should be met with expansionary policy, instead leads to contraction because of this asymmetry. Meanwhile, countries that find themselves overvalued are forced to deflate in an effort to regain competitiveness, while undervalued counties face no pressure to help out with a higher inflation rate -- so at times of major misalignment, when moderate inflation can help, the overall effect is declining inflation and maybe even deflation.

  • Marina Prentoulis: After Greece's defeat, we need a new European movement against austerity: Well, of course, but the examples are still coming from the southern fringe, not from the wealthier nations which have acceded power to their financial elites.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Daily Log

Monday, July 13, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25120 [25116] rated (+4), 462 [439] unrated (+23).

Got back from my west coast drive just before midnight Saturday. In retrospect I should have packed a boombox. I did bring along 200 old CDs which we played in the car, but most of most days went music-less. I did make a token effort to stream the new Miguel on Rhapsody, but couldn't tell much (other than that I didn't get into it -- saw him do an amusing skit on Jimmy Kimmel). So the "newly rated" above and below was just what I picked up Saturday (and early today, relatively speaking). Surprised I found an A-list item in that short time.

I did manage to get the mail unpacked, below. Even after rechecking everything, there is a minor discrepancy in the numbers: rated count is only +4 but I listed 5 newly rated records below; unrated count is +23, which matches 28 newly catalogued items minus 5 newly rated. It's hard to keep all of my interlocking lists in sync.

One thing I wanted to do during the trip was to rethink what I should be doing. It helped to talk through my various book proposals, particularly with my sister, and they all seem to make sense. Harder to tell about my music website RFC: thus far, I've received no serious comments and very little interest, despite the usual boost such project ideas get when Robert Christgau's consumer guide loses its patron (see Expert Witness at Cuepoint/Medium.


Recommended music links:

  • Chris Monsen: Fave Jazz of 2015, Jan. through June: 30 items. My breakdown: 7 A- (Chris Lightcap, Henry Threadgill, Mikko Innanen, Gard Nilssen, Tomas Fujiwara, Rich Halley, Rempis Percussion Quartet); 9 *** (Kirk Knuffke, Gebhard Ulmann, Mario Pavone, Ben Goldberg, Myra Melford, Jon Lundbom, Makaya McCraven, Steve Coleman, Vijay Iyer); 2 ** (Billy Mintz, Wooley/Rempis/Niggenkemper/Corsano); 1 * (Mahanthappa); 1 B (Charles Evans); 1 U (Devin Gray); 9 not received (Max Johnson, Detail, Team Hegdal, Jack DeJohnette, ObLik, Jeremy Pelt, Ran Blake, James Brandon Lewis, Skydive Trio).

  • Alfred Soto: Best of 2015: first half report: a list of 21 pop albums. My breakdown: 5 A- (Kendrick Lamar, Mountain Goats, Heems, Courtney Barnett, Bassekou Koyuaté); 1 *** (Jazmine Sullivan); 2 ** (Young Thug, Mavericks); 3 * (Earl Sweatshirt, Jason Derulo, Dead Sara); 2 B (Dawn Richard, Dwight Yoakam); 8 unheard (Speedy Ortiz, Florence, ASAP Rocky, Brandon Flowers, Miguel, Vince Staples, Ashley Monroe, Donnie Trumpet).

    I also have a similar pop list from Dan Weiss (scraped from Facebook, don't know how to link to it), but longer (37): My breakdown: 7 A- (Kenrick Lamar, Heems, Mountain Goats, James McMurtry, Courtney Barnett, Shamir, Bassekou Kouyaté); 7 *** (Paranoid Style, Action Bronson, Rae Sremmurd, Jamie XX, Jack Ü, Young Guv, Ciara); 5 ** (Young Fathers, Waxahatchee, PC Music 1, Young Thug, I Love Makonnen); 4 * (Jason Derulo, Sleater-Kinney, Best Coast, Lupe Fiasco); 2 B (Dawn, Colleen Green); 11 unheard (Miguel, Desaparecidos, Vince Staples, DJ Rashad, Kacey Musgraves, Beach House, Titus Andronicus, Bully, Bilal, Fifth Harmony, Metz).

Normally, the unheard items on lists by these particular critics would be priorities for my own listening. Indeed, many of the unheard items on the Soto and Weiss lists are June-July releases. Unfortunately, the machine I use for streaming has been flaky today and just crashed (for the second time). Could be a major setback for me.

Mid-year best-of lists are becoming increasingly common. I checked out one from Rolling Stone, and found pretty much what I expected: more not-so-good records, and more stuff I didn't know about or hadn't bothered with. The breakdown: 4 A- (Kendrick Lamar, Courtney Barnett, D'Angelo [they're a bit slow], Mbongwana Star); 7 *** (Madonna, Jack Ü, Jamie XX, Rae Sremmurd, Sufjan Stevens, Joey Badass, Jazmine Sullivan); 4 ** (Pops Staples, Blur, Kamasi Washington, Rhiannon Giddens); 4 * (Sleater-Kinney, Alabama Shakes, Earl Sweatshirt, Death Grips); 2 B (Drake, Father John Misty); 1 C (Bob Dylan); 22 unheard (Björk, Mark Ronson, Mumford & Sons, Kacey Musgraves, Florence, Muse, Kid Rock, Marilyn Manson, Leonard Cohen, Faith No More, Zac Brown, Sonics, Chris Stapleton, Future Brown, Fifth Harmony, Refused, Metz, Leon Bridges, Steven Wilson, Bosse-de-Nege, Downtown Boys, Hop Along).


New records rated this week:

  • Vance Gilbert: Nearness of You (2015, Disismye Music): [cd]: B
  • Dre Hocevar Trio: Coding of Evidentiality (2015, Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity: Firehouse (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: A-
  • Florian Wittenburg: Aleatoric Inspiration (2009-14 [2015], NurNichtNur): [cd]: B+(*)
  • John Yao and His 17-Piece Instrument: Flip-Flop (2014 [2015], See Tao): [cd]: B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail when I got back:

  • John Basile: Penny Lane (StringTime Jazz): August 7
  • Karl Berger/Kirk Knuffke: Moon (NoBusiness, 2CD)
  • A Bu Trio: 88 Tones of Black and White (Blujazz, 2CD)
  • The Convergence Quartet: Owl Jacket (NoBusiness): cdr [lp only]
  • Nick Finzer: The Chase (Origin): July 17
  • Nick Fraser: Too Many Continents (Clean Feed)
  • Chico Freeman/Heiri Känzig: The Arrival (Intakt)
  • Bret Higgins: Atlas Revolt (Tzadik): advance, July 21
  • Hoodoo Blues & Roots Magic (Clean Feed)
  • Paul Hubweber/Frank Paul Schubert/Alexander von Schlippenbach/Clayton Thomas/Willi Kellers: Intricacies (NoBusiness)
  • Stefan Keune/Dominic Lash/Steve Noble: Fractions (NoBusiness): cdr [LP only]
  • Daniel Levin Quartet: Friction (Clean Feed)
  • Frantz Loriot/Manuel Perovic Notebook Large Ensemble: Urban Furrow (Clean Feed)
  • Simon Nabatov/Mark Dresser: Projections (Clean Feed)
  • OZO: A Kind of Zo (Clean Feed)
  • Evan Parker/Joe Morris/Nate Wooley: Ninth Square (Clean Feed)
  • Matt Panayides: Conduits (Pacific Coast Jazz)
  • Jack Perla: Enormous Changes (Origin): July 17
  • Mason Razavi/Bennett Roth-Newell: After You (First Orbit Sounds Music)
  • Howard Riley: 10.11.12 (NoBusiness): cdr [lp only]
  • Jason Roebke: Every Sunday (Clean Feed)
  • Robert Sabin: Humanity Part II (Ranula Music): July 14
  • Helen Tzatzimakis: Soulfully (Cobalt Music)
  • Eyal Vilner Big Band: Almost Sunrise (Gut String)
  • Bill Warfield and the Hell's Kitchen Funk Orchestra: Mercy Mercy Mercy (Blujazz)
  • Brad Allen Williams: Lamar (Sojourn): August 7
  • Mark Winkler: Jazz and Other Four Letter Words (Cafe Pacific)
  • Omri Ziegele Billiger Bauer: So Viel Schon Hin: 15 Herbstlieder (Intakt)

Purchases:

  • Burial: Untrue (2007, Hyperdub)
  • Catherine Russell: Bring It Back (2014, Jazz Village)
  • Tune-Yards: Bird-Brains (2009, 4AD)


Jun 2015 Aug 2015