June 2017 Notebook
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Friday, June 30, 2017

Streamnotes (June 2017)

Pick up text from archive.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28324 [28293] rated (+31), 368 [373] unrated (-5).

I have six computers in my office, but mostly I use two. One I do my writing, website development, email, and most of my browsing on. I built it several years ago, and installed Ubuntu 12.04 on it. Somehow I never updated it as Ubuntu moved through several more releases. That's only been a problem in one respect: the Firefox web browser has always been vulnerable to bad JavaScript and Flash code, and for quite some time it would slow down and eventually crash. I've tried to combat this by running NoScript, an extension which lets me decide whether to run JavaScript and Flash on a per-website basis. I also wound up banning several websites altogether, only viewing Amazon and Facebook on other computers. This worked fairly well for a long time, but as a great many websites became mired ever deeper in JavaScript, I wound up having to allow more and more, and that tended to browser's reduce the between-crash time.

This situation got markedly worse a week or two ago -- possibly coinciding with a redesign of Twitter, although banishing Twitter didn't fix the problem, nor did radically reducing the number of tabs I keep open (normally 40-50, down to 5-10). Firefox crashed 3-5 times a day, or sometimes just hung until I would kill it. The obvious solution was to upgrade the Ubuntu release, but getting from 12 to 16 probably couldn't be done incrementally. Rather, I would have to do a fresh install, which meant backing everything up, cleaning the system out, loading the new release, reconfiguring, and restoring my data. No real reason why I can't do that, but it would be a major disruption in my work and life, so I've been putting it off.

I did find an interim fix, which is to switch from Firefox to Chromium. The good news there is that Chromium actually runs much faster than Firefox ever did -- probably because the program is multithreaded, so it's making much more efficient use of my 8-core CPU. Downsides were that I had to reconfigure lots of things, and I haven't found a satisfactory ad blocker yet -- AdBlockPlus doesn't work, so I tried Ad Remove (which seems to require me to identify all of the offending ads) then Fair Adblocker (which blocks pop-ups but otherwise doesn't seem to block anything at all). Trying one called Ads Killer now, but too soon to tell. Meanwhile, I've been shocked (and disgusted) at the extent to which advertising has taken over the web. Reminds me that I need to write that essay on why advertising is the root of all our problems. Also, Chromium crashed twice while I was writing this, but both times involved the same path, so it's an easily characterized bug.

With these browser problems, I skipped Weekend Roundup this past week, but I may not bother restarting even when I get the browser problems fixed. But that's another story. Meanwhile I had a fair week listening to music. The second main computer I have is running Ubuntu 16.04, so it's reasonably up to date. I run AdBlockPlus on it, but not NoScript, but I rarely have two windows or more than a dozen tabs, so it's not getting a heavy workout. I stream music from Napster and Bandcamp there, occasionally download things to play through VLC, and keep a tab open for Facebook. So I had plenty of music available, even though the CD queue seems to be drying up with the summer heat. (The Pending list is currently down to 9 records. Only one of this week's A- records came to me as a CD, and that thanks to the musician, not the label.)

Two A- records this week from Christgau's Expert Witness -- the Chuck Berry a late arrival on Napster. (Could be I didn't give Kano enough time, but I could also say that for Young Thug; neither got the three plays it took to nudge Starlito & Don Trip over the line.) Most of the alt-country albums came from Saving Country Music's mid-year list -- Jason Eady and Colter Wall were the finds there. I went after the Joshua Abrams backlog giving an A- to this year's Simultonality, which I can now assure you is his best-to-date. I decided to try the Rolling Stones' live shots when I was most depressed last week, and they did help to cheer me up, even if ultimately they didn't seem essential. Both were audio derivatives from DVD products.

Sylvan Esso was one of those records I picked out from my Music Tracking list -- one of those things someone likes somewhere, but I'm rarely this impressed by what I find there. I looked up Steve Pistorius while working on the Jazz Guides (currently 696 + 647 pages, still in Jazz '80s-'90s, up to Norbert Stein). Still working on it, not least because it's a fair low energy project -- much easier than trying to write something new. Still got a long ways to go, and it's not going to look very pretty once this pass is done. Most obvious problem is that I repeat myself a lot from record to record, useful in separate columns but redundant when all of an artist's records are stacked up.

I had a crisis with the website a week ago, when I couldn't update files due to no free disk space. I resolved at that point to move my website, which is probably still the right idea, but the hosting company opened a bit of space up so I can hold off a bit. I have made some progress on a few other problems, most importantly getting a lot of CD filing done. Also managed (last night) to copy a bunch of downloaded music from an old machine to the one with speakers, so I should start to check that out fairly soon.

Expect a Streamnotes by the end of the month. Currently 131 records in the draft file, so I'm already up a bit from recent months (111, 115, 114; February had 153, January 156).


New records rated this week:

  • Chuck Berry: Chuck (1991-2014 [2017], Dualtone): [r]: A-
  • Scott H. Biram: The Bad Testament (2017, Bloodshot): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Brother Brothers: Tugboats E.P. (2017, self-released, EP): [r]: B-
  • Burning Ghosts: Reclamation (2017, Tzadik): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • The Deslondes: Hurry Home (2017, New West): [r]: B
  • Dalton Domino: Corners (2017, Lightning Rod): [r]: B+(**)
  • Justin Townes Earle: Kids in the Street (2017, New West): [r]: B+(**)
  • Eliane Elias: Dance of Time (2017, Concord): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Four Bags: Waltz (2017, NCM East): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Kate Gentile: Mannequins (2016 [2017], Skirl): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Joseph Huber: The Suffering Stage (2017, self-released): [r]: B+(***)
  • Kano: Made in the Manor (2016, Parlophone): [r]: B+(***)
  • Alex Maguire/Nikolas Skordas Duo: Ships and Shepherds (2016 [2017], Slam, 2CD): [cd]: B
  • Molly Miller Trio: The Shabby Road Recordings (2017, self-released): [cd]: B
  • Jeff Parker: Slight Freedom (2013-14 [2016], Eremite): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Jeremy Rose: Within & Without (2016 [2017], Earshift Music): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Samo Salamon Sextet: The Colours Suite (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [cd]: A-
  • Shinyribs: I Got Your Medicine (2016 [2017], Mustard Lid): [r]: B+(*)
  • Starlito & Don Trip: Step Brothers Three (2017, Grind Hard): [r]: A-
  • Sylvan Esso: What Now (2017, Loma Vista): [r]: A-
  • Trombone Shorty: Parking Lot Symphony (2017, Blue Note): [r]: B-
  • The Vampires: The Vampires Meet Lionel Loueke (2016 [2017], Earshift Music): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Colter Wall: Colter Wall (2017, Young Mary's): [r]: A-
  • Young Thug: Beautiful Thugger Girls (2017, 300/Atlantic): [r]: B+(***)

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

  • The Rolling Stones: Some Girls: Live in Texas '78 (1978 [2017], Eagle Rock): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Rolling Stones: Totally Stripped: Paris (1995 [2017], Eagle Rock): [r]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Joshua Abrams: Natural Information (2010-12 [2014], Eremite): [bc]: A-
  • Joshua Abrams: Represencing (2011 [2014], Eremite): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Joshua Abrams: Magnetoception (2013 [2015], Eremite): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Steve Pistorius & the Mahogany Hall Stompers: 'Taint No Sin (1989 [1991], GHB): [r]: A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Sheryl Bailey & Harvie S: Plucky Strum Departure (Whaling City Sound)
  • Silke Eberhard Trio: The Being Inn (Intakt)
  • Aruán Ortiz: Cubanism: Piano Solo (Intakt)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

No Weekend Roundup

I'm going to suspend Weekend Roundup. Part of the reason is technical, which I may (or may not) explain in Music Week tomorrow. Suffice it to say that it's nearly impossible for me to search out the various links that the posts are based on. But also I find myself wanting to give in to depression, which has both personal and political dimensions. Maybe I'll write about the personal sometime -- I've been toying with a plan to write an autobiography, and it looms large there -- but my political despair got a huge boost on Tuesday when Georgia voters turned against Jon Ossoff in the GA-6 congressional election to replace Tom Price. At the time, I wrote the following in my notebook:

Democrat Jon Ossoff lost the GA-6 race (48.1% to 51.9%), possibly losing ground from his primary showing (where he got 48.12%). Both candidates spent a lot of money -- not sure much, but Ossoff spent $8 million in primary, and I've seen this described as the most expensive House election ever.

[Hillary] Clinton famously trailed Trump by only 2% in the district, so DNC thought they had a real chance with a Clinton-esque candidate. FiveThirtyEight, however, considers the district R+9.5, and Tom Price ran better than that in 2016. Given that district is upscale and suburban, it is credible that a pro-Sanders Democrats might not have done as well in this particular district, but pro-Sanders Democrats did much better than district expectations in recent contests in Kansas and Montana, with embarrassingly slim support from DNC/DCCC.

I also tweeted:

Ossoff loss tells me that Democrats failed to make case that it's not just Trump but all Republicans out to hurt the majority of Americans.

Also, a second tweet I thought then but only posted today:

It would be easier to resist Trump if Republicans are getting beat at the polls; otherwise all R's have to fear is their own right flank.

I'm not an ideological purist, so I'm not much bothered when a Democrat (or, more rarely, a Republican) tries to tailor his/her message to the prejudices of his/her district. Still, one worries that Democrats too readily give up not just principles but any sort of vision that life could be made better for their voters, and in doing that they lose credibility -- both that they know what to do and that they even care.

Still, one suspects that the problem with Ossoff's campaign wasn't that he tailored his message to voters so much as to the constituency he clearly cared most about: donors. He wound up raising and spending (and, given the results, wasting) some $26 million -- about 70 times as much money as James Thompson had to work with here in Kansas. Obviously, there are limits to what money can buy in an election, but there is also a lesson: when Democrats focus more on donors than on voters, they lose -- even if they're fabulously successful with donors (as Ossoff and Hillary Clinton undeniably were). And while their campaign compromises undermine voter trust, their de facto losses are destroying a second credibility front: the notion that those of us who lean further left have to support cowardly Democrats because they're the only ones who can win and protect us from the ever more vile Republicans.

Still, no matter how much those centrist, donor-supplicant Democrats demand allegiance from left-leaning voters, somehow they can't bring themselves to critique Republicans with even a tiny fraction of the vitriol Republicans heap on them. For example, Republicans have run attack ads in every House race trying to link the Democrat to Nancy Pelosi and her "radical agenda." I can't even imagine what they mean by that -- as far as I've been able to tell, she's an utterly conventional hack, her "leftist" more due to her representing San Francisco, a district which could certainly to better. But they've worked for years turning her into a bait word. So why don't Democrats turn the tables on Paul Ryan, who really does have an agenda? (By the way, I'd say that from a purely tactical view, Pelosi is done. Sure, they did the same thing to Tom Daschle and Harry Reid, but why not make them work a little?)

Or to pick another current example, Hillary Clinton tweeted: "If Republicans pass this bill, they're the death party." Why wasn't writing the bill reason enough for that tag? Does she still think that by leaving the door open enough Republicans will come to their senses to make a difference? Wasn't it true that thousands of people died needlessly in the years before they gained insurance through the ACA? Weren't the Republicans "the death party" when every single one (ok, except for the guy who won a freak election in New Orleans) voted against it? I do have quibbles about "death party" -- "pro-life" Republicans use that against Democrats who defend abortion rights, and both parties are tainted by their kneejerk support of war and arms sales.

I'm not advocating a coarsening of political discourse, but one needs to recognize that it's already happened, and that it's been remarkably successful for Republicans, getting many (if not most) Americans to turn their backs on everything that's worked to make this a decent country, as well as to ignore (or worsen) the many bad things we've done. I doubt there's a single solution to this, but Democrats need to develop some backbone, and start breaking through the shells that right-wing media have constructed to shelter the Republicans from the effects of their actions.


Somehow I didn't even notice the House election in South Carolina to fill Nick Mulvaney's seat. It was expectedly won by a Republican, but it turns out the race there was as close as in Georgia, with Democrat Archie Parnell losing 47.9-51.1%. In 2016, Trump won this district by 18.5%, and Mulvaney won by 20%. One might argue that the four House elections so far show the Democrats running better than in 2016, but it still hurts that all four elected Republicans. (Actually, the Democrats did win one: Jimmy Gomez in CA-34, but it was a solidly Democratic seat and the "top two" primary led to a runoff between two Democrats.)

Since Tuesday's election debacle, following several weeks of Russia nonsense (which despite the media obsession doesn't seem to bother voters much), political news took a remarkable turn toward reality with the publication of Mitch McConnell's health care bill. Crafted behind closed doors, given a new name (the "Better Care Reconciliation Act" to avoid the stink of the House AHCA bill -- although it shares an acronym with the "breast cancer gene"), with McConnell promising a vote before Congress goes into recess for July 4. The secrecy did manage to keep it out of the news, but now that we can see what's in it's still time to panic.

Some details vary, but the overall outline is the same as the House bill, which Trump initially applauded then admitted was "mean, mean, mean." It starts with a massive tax cut for the rich, which is balanced out by cutting subsidies and Medicaid, and it's stacked so that the tax breaks are retroactive while the service cuts are phased in over several years -- maybe you'll forget who caused them? While the CBO hasn't had time to score it yet, the advertised hope was that the number of people losing their insurance could be reduced from 23 to 20 million. Trump's campaign promises of cheaper policies, lower deductibles, and better coverage are still jokes.

Not surprisingly, the far right attacked the bill first, wanting to make it even meaner. I read one piece that said AFP (the Koch network campaign operation) was angling for two amendments: one is to free insurance companies from minimum coverage regulation -- the effect will be to let them sell fraudulent policies which don't cover many costs so will lead to many more bankruptcies; the other is for more "health savings accounts" -- a tax dodge only of interest to the rich. As you may recall, Ryan's House bill originally failed to get a majority, but while you heard some grumbling from "moderates" that the bill went too far, the winning margin actually came from the far right after Ryan agreed to make the bill more draconian. The Kochs are looking for the same dynamic in the Senate.

This should be a field day for the Democrats, but as Matthew Yglesias points out, The health bill might pass because Trump has launched the era of Nothing Matters politics. I've found two things especially disturbing in the last week: one is how shamelessly Republicans are lying about their bill; the other is how the media has been falling for the line that this bill is a test of whether Trump and the Republicans are able to deliver on their campaign promises. The obvious counter to the latter is that there are a lot of very dumb things Trump campaigned for that he cheerfully forgot once elected.


When I started this I didn't plan on writing this much, least of all about McConnell-Miscare, though I thought I might mention something about Russia -- not the hacking scandal (which regardless of how bad it was pales in comparison to what the Republicans have been doing in state legislatures to suppress votes) but about the dangerous games of chicken our respective air forces have been playing (for some on this, and more on health care, see Yglesias' The most important stories of the week, explained). I should also point you to Seymour M Hersh: Trump's Red Line, on Trump's escalation of the Syria War, which directly led to the later conflicts with Russia.

I have little doubt that had technology permitted I could have built a list of links to major Trump scandals and other misdemeanors this week, as I have every week since inauguration. If you need a reminder of the price Americans are paying for having hated Hillary Clinton and the Democrats so much that they figured they had nothing to lose by turning the federal government over to a bunch of con men and crooks, you're free to look at my posts (most of which portend the future more than they examine the past):

I don't know whether the Roundup will continue (although I'll probably file some links in the notebook for possible future reference). Feels like I'm shouting into the void. I often think back to an essay I read as a teenager, by R.D. Laing, called "The Obvious": his point was that everyone has their own idea of what's obvious, a condition which in no way undermines our conviction of its obviousness. My writing starts with a number of principles which I think I can justify but really just seem obvious to me. If you share them, you will like what I have to say, and if not, you won't. Clearly, a lot of people don't, and I have no idea how to get to them. And while I'm not necessarily writing for those who don't understand (or care), it's not very gratifying when they don't.

Weekly Log


Some links I noticed during the past week:

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Daily Log

Democrat Jon Ossoff lost the GA-6 race (48.1% to 51.9%), possibly losing ground from his primary showing (where he got 48.12%). Both candidates spent a lot of money -- not sure much, but Ossoff spent $8 million in primary, and I've seen this described as the most expensive House election ever. I tweeted:

Ossoff loss tells me that Democrats failed to make case that it's not just Trump but all Republicans out to hurt the majority of Americans.

Clinton famously trailed Trump by only 2% in the district, so DNC thought they had a real chance with a Clinton-esque candidate. FiveThirtyEight, however, considers the district R+9.5, and Tom Price ran better than that in 2016. Given that district is upscale and suburban, it is credible that a pro-Sanders Democrats might not have done as well in this particular district, but pro-Sanders Democrats did much better than district expectations in recent contests in Kansas and Montana, with embarrassingly slim support from DNC/DCCC.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Music Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


New records rated this week:

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

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

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

Old music rated this week:

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


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Weekend Roundup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


And finally some other items that caught my eye:

Six Days and Fifty Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blander's letter continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 12, 2017

Music Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


More 2017 best of (so far) lists:

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


New records rated this week:

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

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

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


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Weekend Roundup

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

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


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

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

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

Some scattered UK election links:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Woodward comments:

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

    What other kind of language is in any sense appropriate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Plus a few other things that caught my eye:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 05, 2017

Music Week

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

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

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

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

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


New records rated this week:

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

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

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

Old music rated this week:

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


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

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

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Weekend Roundup

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


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

Here are some pertinent links:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    By the way, this piece also includes this gem:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


May 2017 Jul 2017