May 2018 Notebook
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Monday, May 28, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 29759 [29733] rated (+26), 344 [351] unrated (-7).

Rated count down a bit. I spent most of Monday and Tuesday cooking a fairly large Indian dinner to mark my late sister's birthday, so I took the time to enjoy old favorites. After that, I made a small dent in my CD queue, which had partly been impoverished by my picking out the most promising titles earlier this month. Still, I expected good things from François Carrier's latest -- largely delivered, although I detected a bit of unsteadiness compared to recent efforts -- and a 3-CD William Parker collection. The latter samples Parker's 1991-93 Song Cycle (with Ellen Christie and Lisa Sokolov), adds some later vocal pieces, and throws in two discs of new recordings. I find most of them hard to take -- an aversion to opera, art song, and avant warble I've long held.

I also sought out some recent Clean Feed releases -- long my favorite label but less so since they stopped servicing me. I also found a few recent HighNote/Savant releases on Napster -- back catalog isn't there yet, but one hopes -- and took a look at Chicago pianist Matt Piet's Bandcamp pages (but didn't bite on the 3-hour Live in Chicago). Also checked out Robert Christgau's latest picks (Frankie Cosmos and Speed Ortiz; I had already played his HMs), and Prefuse 73 (a friend was curious). Still, none of those struck me as A- records: Carrier came closest, and Piet impressed me as someone worth keeping an ear open for.

Expect a Streamnotes compilation by the end of the month. I currently have 19 new A/A- releases (plus one new compilation), which is actually well above average for a month. The 2018 A-list only totals 40 so far, so nearly half of them have come in May. Ignoring January (usually just previous year catch-up) that comes to 10/month, or 120/year. That's actually a bit down from 2017, which totals 144 new A-list records (including 5 added since the Jan. 31, 2018 freeze date).

I have 320 new records rated so far this year, so an average of 80/month, projected to 960 for the year. For 2017 the current total is 1177 (42 added since freeze date), so I'm down a bit this year. No real surprise given how the year has gone. The May Streamnotes draft file currently has 128 new records (including compilations), well above my average this (or practically any) year.

Not much unpacking this week, but after reports that Cuneiform had closed down back in January, I was very pleasantly surprised to see two new Thumbscrew (Mary Halvorson) records show up in my mail box.


New records rated this week:

  • Bill Anschell: Shifting Standards (2017 [2018], Origin): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Tiffany Austin: Unbroken (2018, Con Alma): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Andrea Brachfeld: If Not Now, When? (2017 [2018], Jazzheads): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Jonas Cambin Trio: We Must Mustn't We (2018, Clean Feed): [r]: B+(***)
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Rafal Mazur: Beyond Dimensions (2016 [2018], FMR): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Dan Cavanaugh/Dave Hagedorn: 20 Years (2017 [2018], UT Arlington): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Freddy Cole: My Mood Is You (2018, HighNote): [r]: B+(***)
  • Frankie Cosmos: Vessel (2018, Sub Pop): [r]: B+(***)
  • Dead Composers Club [Noah Preminger/Rob Garcia]: Chopin Project (2017 [2018], Connection Works): [cd]: B
  • Kat Edmonson: Old Fashioned Gal (2018, MRI): [r]: B+(*)
  • Danny Green Trio Plus Strings: One Day It Will (2017 [2018], OA2): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Tyler Higgins: Blue Mood (2016 [2018], Shhpuma): [r]: B+(*)
  • Amos Hoffman/Noam Lemish: Pardes (2017 [2018], self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Azar Lawrence: Elementals (2018, HighNote): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mike LeDonne and the Groover Quartet: From the Heart (2018, Savant): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ben Markley Quartet: Basic Economy (2017 [2018], OA2): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Deanne Matley: Because I Loved (2018, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Jeremy Pelt: Noir En Rouge: Live in Paris (2018, HighNote): [r]: B+(**)
  • Matt Piet: The Bitter Angles of Our Nurture (2017, self-released): [bc]: B(**)
  • Matt Piet/Paul Giallorenzo: Wood, Wire, and Steel (self-released): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Matt Piet & Tim Daisy: Stroke One; Strike Two (self-released): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Matt Piet/Raoul van der Welde/Frank Rosaly: Out of Step: Live in Amsterdam (2017, self-released): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Prefuse 73: Sacrifices (2018, Lex): [r]: B
  • Speedy Ortiz: Twerp Verse (2018, Carpark): [r]: B+(*)
  • WoodWired: In the Loop (2017 [2018], UT Arlington): [cd]: B+(**)

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

  • William Parker: Voices Fall From the Sky (1993-2018, AUM Fidelity, 3CD): [cd]: B


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Gene Jackson Trio NuYorx: Power of Love (Whirlwind)
  • Jure Pukl: Doubtless (Whirlwind)
  • Ratatet: Heroes, Saints and Clowns (Ridgeway): June 22
  • Thumbscrew: Ours (Cuneiform): June 8
  • Thumbscrew: Theirs (Cuneiform): June 8

Daily Log

Miscellaneous Album Notes:

  • Otis Redding: Dock of the Bay Sessions (1967 [2018], Rhino): B+(***)

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Weekend Roundup

I started assembling and writing some of this as early as Thursday this week, shortly after Trump canceled his much hyped Singapore summit with Kim Jong-un, and I haven't been able to catch up with such later news as Kim Jong-un Meets With South Korean Leader in Surprise Visit and US Officials Meet With North Koreans to Discuss Summit. It was a pretty good initial guess that John Bolton was at the root of the cancellation, first by poisoning the well with his insistence that North Korea surrender its nuclear weapons like Libya did in 2004, and finally by whispering into the gullible president's ear that if he didn't cancel, Kim would beat him to the punch. As I note below, if the two Koreas can proceed to their own deal, it really won't matter much what Trump and Bolton think. And by the way, I think it's safe to say that Trump's 3rd National Security Adviser won't be his last. While Bolton hasn't flamed out as fast as Anthony Scaramucci -- indeed, he may even outlast Michael Flynn (who resigned after a little more than three weeks) -- he's embarrassed Trump is a way that won't soon be forgotten.

Also on death watch is Rudy Giuliani, who's managed to make Trump look even guiltier while trying to polarize political reaction to the Mueller investigation, figuring that as long as he can keep his base from believing their lying eyes he'll survive impeachment, and as long as that happens he can pardon the rest.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: No "4 most important stories this week," or maybe just no clue how to explain them? My nominations for the top four stories: President Trump canceled his planned summit with Kim Jong-un; Neither North Korea nor Iran are taking Trump's rejection and threats as provocations to belligerence; Trump hatched "spygate" to further politicize the Mueller investigation; Ireland voted to legalize abortion. Still, a busy week's worth of posts for Matthew Yglesias:

    • NFL owners are stifling speech, but it's not called "no-platforming" when you're rich and own the platform: "Real power over the flow of ideas rests with the wealthy." Argues that the rich -- and when we're talking NFL franchise owners, we're talking very rich -- don't always use their wealth to promote their political interests (clearly he hasn't worked for the Kochs) they can and do when it makes sense to their bottom line.

      The good news for free speech is that rich people generally like money, and this operates as a practical constraint on the extent to which they use their control of platforms for political purposes. NFL owners are a conservative-leaning bunch, for example, but they aren't going to subject fans to pregame lectures about the merits of tax cuts because they don't want to annoy the audience.

      But one luxury of being rich is you can sacrifice some financial upside for political purposes if you want to. A recent paper by Emory University political scientists Gregory Martin and Josh McCrain found that when Sinclair Broadcast Group, a legendarily right-wing network of local TV stations, buys a station, its local news programs begin to cover more national and less local politics, the coverage becomes more conservative, and viewership actually falls -- suggesting that the rightward tilt isn't enacted as a strategy to win more viewers but as part of a persuasion effort.[*]

      Martin and Ali Yurukoglu, meanwhile, found in a separate study that without Fox News's slanted coverage, the Republican presidential candidate's share of the two-party vote would have been 3.59 points lower in 2004 and 6.34 points lower in 2008. The Koch brothers have started using their financial clout to buy influence on college campuses, making generous contributions in exchange for a role in hiring faculty members. Google spends millions of dollars a year sponsoring academic research that it hopes will influence both mass and elite opinion in favor of Google-friendly policy conclusions, and it's obviously not the only wealthy business that does this.

      Most cases are, of course, going to be less extreme but still significant. An old quip by Anatole France notes that "the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." By the same token, the rich and the poor alike have the right to buy a chain of local television news stations or NFL franchises, but in practice, only the rich actually can control the flow of information.

      One should note [*] that Sinclair's substitution of national for local news is also a cost-cutting (profit-enhancing) feature, as local news is generally of interest only to its local market, whereas national stories can be sourced anywhere and reused everywhere. The Kochs, by the way, have been buying academic favors at least since the 1980s, when they founded Cato Institute and bankrolled James McGill Buchanan (see Nancy McLean's Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America; by the way, I saw a line just this week insisting that the Nobel Prize for Economics isn't given out to marginal cranks, but Buchanan disproves that).

      For more on the NFL, see: Benjamin Sachs: The NFL's "take a knee" ban is flatly illegal.

    • Donald Trump's posthumous pardon of boxing champion Jack Johnson, explained: "A case where breaking norms helps get the right thing done." By all means, read if you don't know who Johnson was (or think he's a white folksinger). I learned about the first black boxing champ back in the 1960s -- not just his boxing career and taste for white women but that he was also into fast cars -- especially through Howard Sackler's 1967 play The Greate White Hope (a stage and screen breakthrough for James Early Jones), soon followed by one of Miles Davis' greatest albums (A Tribute to Jack Johnson). Johnson's Mann Act conviction was unjust, but not unique (the same law was used to jail Chuck Berry in the 1950s), and indeed the period was so full of racial injustice that it would be mind-boggling even to try to recognize it all. On the other hand, if Trump's pardon of Johnson is anything more than a cheap publicity stunt, all it signals is Trump's identity with famous people, and his sense that pardoning a black man who died 70 years ago won't ruffle his base (especially after his much more consequential pardon of racist sheriff Joe Arpaio).

    • Why did anyone ever take Trump's North Korea diplomacy seriously? Sure, there's never been any reason to take Trump's understanding of either war or diplomacy with North Korea seriously. However, most US military experts really want to avoid war with North Korea, and that group clearly includes Secretary of Defense Mattis. On the other hand, Trump has glibly promised "to take care of" the pseudo-problem of North Korea's nuclear arsenal. I say "pseudo-problem" because it's pretty clearly only meant as a deterrent and/or bargaining chip, not as the offensive threat that Trump seems to think. As long as the US and its allies don't attack North Korea, there's no reason to think that North Korea will attack us -- it would, after all, be a purely psychotic thing to do. So the simplest solution would be to just ignore the supposed provocation, but Trump and the neocon hawks won't tolerate anything that might make the US look weak, or sensible. However, it has always seemed possible that North and South Korea could work out their own deal, which Trump would be hard-pressed not to go along with. One always hopes that sanity will prevail over war, so it was tempting to humor Trump as long as he raised that possibility. Unfortunately, a lot of so-called experts in America have been taking pot-shots at the prospect, some (like John Bolton and Mike Pence) because they want to keep any agreement from happening), and some (like Yglesias) because they regard Trump as a dangerous and/or delirious buffoon.

    • DOJ is giving a special partisan briefing on the Trump-Russia investigation to GOP Congress members.

    • Most Americans don't realize Robert Mueller's investigation has uncovered crimes: "17 indictments and five guilty pleas so far." Yet the chart shows that 59% of Americans don't think the investigation has uncovered any crimes. For more details, see Andrew Prokop: All of Robert Mueller's indictments and plea deals in the Russia investigation so far.

    • 3 winners and 3 losers from primaries in Georgia, Texas, Kentucky, and Arkansas: Winners: the DCCC (defeated Laura Moser in TX-7); Medicaid expansion; black Democrats. Losers: the GOP mobilization strategy; Our Revolution; Georgia Republicans.

    • Stacey Abrams just won a shot to be the first black woman governor in America.

    • Bank profits hit a new all-time record as Congress is poised to roll back post-crisis regulations

    • The media ignored the policy stakes in 2016 -- don't make the same mistake again in the midterms: This starts out sounding like a critique of the media problem, as even the less partisan media, through a combination of sloth and greed, favors cheap clickbait over wonkish policy matters:

      The policy stakes in the 2016 elections were high -- because the stakes are high in all elections -- and yet television news coverage of the election utterly failed to convey the stakes, with more attention paid to the Clinton email issue than to all policy issues combined.

      Trump as an actual president has received more critical scrutiny than he did as a long-shot candidate, but even so, the coverage thus far of the 2018 midterms has focused very heavily on Trump drama rather than the concrete stakes. But if the GOP holds its majorities -- not currently considered the most likely scenario, but one for which the odds are decent -- there are a range of policies very likely to move forward that will have enormous consequences for the everyday life of millions of people.

      Yglesias also notes that a Democratic Congress would present Trump with a very different set of opportunities: instead of relying on Ryan and McConnell to force straight party-line votes, he'd have to make some reasonable concessions to gain at least a few Democratic votes, which would make his administration less extremist and polarizing. The problem here is that the so-called moderation or unorthodoxy of Trump's campaign really seems to have been nothing but an act, and he may have revealed his true colors in tossing it aside. (Or it may just be that his understanding of real issues is so shallow that his instinct for pomposity and cruelty is all he really has to fall back on.)

    • Trump backs away from China trade war, while a Trump development gets a $500 million Chinese loan:

      Many Republicans in Congress are clearly aware that something fishy is happening with ZTE. And journalists are clearly noting that Trump is contradicting some very clear campaign promises on Chinese trade in general.

      But while the GOP-led Congress has extensive oversight powers that could be used to check Trump's conflicts of interest, they uniformly decline to use any of them, leaving America to depend on nothing more than Trump's say-so and goodwill for as long as the GOP retains the majority.

      And journalists who cover the Trump administration's infighting and intrigue seem inordinately reluctant to so much as mention the conflict of interest when covering these issues.

  • Noah Berlatsky: The Trump effect: New study connects white American intolerance and support for authoritarianism

  • Chas Danner: Ireland Votes Overwhelmingly to Legalize Abortion; also Barbara Wesel: A triumph for women and for Ireland.

  • Tara Golshan: John McCain's shocking concession on the Iraq War: it was a "mistake": Not that he ever harbored doubts, let alone opposed, the war at any time when his opposition could have made a difference. But on his death bed, he explains his change of heart: "I sacrificed everything, including my presidential ambitions, that it would succeed." Makes you wonder whether he has any other second thoughts about the many wars he championed. For instance, is he still upset that the US didn't go to war against Russia to support Georgia's claim to South Osetia? McCain's concession is reportedly in a new book he's had ghost-written for him. There's also a hagiographic documentary film, For Whom the Bell Tolls, which Matt Taibbi reviews in John McCain's Revisionist History Is a Team Effort. Taibbi writes a lot about McCain and Iraq, but doesn't seem to have gotten the memo on what a mistake McCain thinks it was. He does, however, note other mistakes McCain has admitted, like picking Sarah Palin as his running mate, but only to show how the movie glosses them over.

  • Eric Levitz: America's Version of Capitalism Is Incompatible With Democracy: This follows up on

  • Jedediah Purdy: Normcore, which I cited previously.

  • Josh Marshall: Stop Talking about 'Norms':

    But we need to stop talking so much about norms. Because it doesn't capture what is happening or the situation we're in. In every kind of communication, clarity is the most important thing. By talking so much about "norms" and the violation of "norms" we're confusing the situation and even confusing ourselves. . . .

    I've noted something similar about the language of "conflicts of interest." I have heard many people claim that that $500 million Chinese state loan to a Trump Organization partnership development in Indonesia is a "conflict of interest." Whether or not you think that is the best example there are many others to choose from: Jared Kushner hitting up the Qataris for loans for his family business empire while supporting a blockade of their country or pressuring foreign governments and political groups to use the President's DC hotel or a million other examples.

    These are not "conflicts of interest." A "conflict of interest" is a case in which the nature of a situation makes it impossible for a person to separate their personal interests from their public responsibilities (or to appear to do so). All recent Presidents put their private wealth into blind trusts. We assume they weren't going to try to make money off the presidency in any case. But they wanted to remove any question of it and avoid situations where their own financial interests would bump up against their public responsibilities. What we're seeing now are not conflicts of interest. They're straight-up corruption. It's like "norms." Defining "conflicts of interest" is meant to keep relatively honest people on the straight and narrow or create tripwires that allow others to see when people in power are crossing the line. Nothing like that is happening here. We have an increasingly open effort to make vast sums of money with the presidency.

  • Tom McCarthy: Rudy Giuliani admits 'Spygate' is Trump PR tactic against Robert Mueller. The first I heard of "spygate" (not yet so-named) was when Trump demanded that the DOJ investigate the FBI for infiltrating his 2016 campaign "for political purposes." My first reaction was, well, yeah, everyone who suspected the FBI of infiltrating their political organizations should also demand an investigation. Like most of Trump's charges against the FBI, this resonates because this is the sort of thing the FBI is famous for doing (although usually not targeting the likes of Donald Trump -- although there is little doubt but that J. Edgar Hoover kept files on politicians, including three who routinely renominated Hoover to head the FBI: Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon). After all, when Tim Weiner wrote his history of the FBI, his chosen title was Enemies. Then I was reminded of the definition of a gaffe: when a politician inadvertently admits a truth that he isn't supposed to say. Since he joined Trump's lawyer team Giuliani has been an extraordinary fount of gaffes -- this being just one more example.

  • Jonah Shepp: Trump's Credibility Problem Is Now America's: At the end of WWII, the United States commanded fully half of the world's wealth. In a moment of extreme arrogance, George Kennan said that preserving that degree of dominance should be the goal of American foreign policy. It was inevitable that the ratio would fall, but Kennan's "containment policy" defined the Cold War and helped lead to the strangulation and collapse of the Soviet Union and its allies. By the time that happened, the US was scrambling to form NAFTA to achieve economic parity with the European Union, but the cloistered Cold War ideologues let their triumph go to their heads, proclaiming the US the World's Sole Superpower -- some dubbed it the Hyperpower -- and went on advocate strangling any would-be rivals in the crib (not that it wasn't already too late to head off China or Russia, or as we now see, North Korea). But the fact is, American power has been in decline ever since 1945 (or at least 1950, as the Korean War ground to a stalemate). Sure, the US was able to keep up a semblance of an alliance even to the present day, but that's mostly because the US pays most of the "defense" costs and runs trade deficits which help allied economies (and global corporations). Meanwhile, America's credibility suffered, first with its pro- and post-colonial wars, with its embrace of brutal and corrupt dictatorships, with trade arrangements to collect monopoly rents, and with its control of debt and imposition of austerity measures. Even America's vaunted military has turned out to be somewhere between useless and down right embarrassing. Remember when "shock and awe" was supposed to cower Iraq into submission? Those who survived discovered they could fight on, as they did, and in Afghanistan and elsewhere continue to do. Had Trump merely followed his "America First" campaign promises -- shaking "allies" down for more "defense" spending while reversing their trading fortunes -- the long-term decline already in place would have increased, but Trump's foreign policy has been astonishingly erratic and incoherent. Indeed, the only reason the world hasn't yet rejected and isolated the US as the rogue state it's become is that most "allies" are unable to grasp just what living in a post-American world might mean.

    For decades, the free world has operated under the assumption that the United States will act as its leader, using its might to advance not only its own interests but also those of its kindred nations and the international community writ large. Under Trump, the world is finding that we can no longer be trusted to engage in consultation, deliberation, or dialogue of any kind. Instead, we do whatever we want (or whatever he wants) with no real concern for the impact our decisions have on other countries, be they allies or adversaries. When other countries behave this way, we have a word for it: We call them rogue states. How long will our allies put up with this behavior before they simply stop believing a word we say? And how long will it take to repair that damage after the Trump era is over?

    Actually, the "free world" has been a myth almost from the start, and America's "leadership" has never been more than consensual ego stroking. Neither of those things are recoverable, nor really are they desirable. The problem with Trump isn't that he's shrinking America's role in the world, but that he's trying to present his retreat as arrogant self-indignation. It's sort of like the story in Atlas Shrugged, where the entrepreneurs go on strike expecting the world to collapse without them. But the rest of the world hasn't needed America for some time now. As Bush's Iraq War alliance crumbled, he coined the term "Coalition of the Willing" to describe its remaining token members. All Trump has done has been to remove America from the "Willing." Hopefully, the rest of the world will step up -- as, in fact, we see happening after US withdrawals from Paris, Iran, and Korea. Maybe, post-Trump, a chastened US will join them.

    Related to this, see Mark Karlin: "Making America Great Again" Assumes That It Once Was, an interview with David Swanson, author of Curing Exceptionalism: What's Wrong With How We Think About the United States; also by Karlin: The United States Is a Force for Chaos Across the Planet, an interview with Tom Engelhardt, author of A Nation Unmade by War. Engelhardt edits TomDispatch, where he's published more relevant articles:

    • Alfred McCoy: The Hidden Meaning of American Decline: McCoy recently published In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of American Global Power:

      As Trump has abrogated one international accord after another, observers worldwide have struggled to find some rationale for decisions that seem questionable on their merits and have frayed relations with long-standing allies. Given his inordinate obsession with the "legacy" of Barack Obama, epitomized in a report, whether true or not, of his ritual "defiling" of his predecessor's Moscow hotel bed via the "golden showers" of Russian prostitutes, there's a curious yet coherent logic to his foreign policy. You might even think of it as Golden Shower diplomacy. Whatever Obama did, Trump seems determined to undo with a visceral vehemence: the Trans-Pacific trade pact (torn up), the Paris climate accord (withdrawn), the Iran nuclear freeze (voided), close relations with NATO allies (damaged), diplomatic relations with Cuba (frozen), Middle Eastern military withdrawal (reversed), ending the Afghan war (cancelled), the diplomatic pivot to Asia (forgotten), and so on into what already seems like an eternity.

    • John Feffer: Korea's Two "Impossibles".

    • Karen Greenberg: Dismantling Democracy, One Word at a Time.

  • Richard Silverstein: Dead in the Water: Trump Middle East Peace Plan and Pompeo's Iran Plan B: I can't say that I was ever aware that Trump's minions even had plans for Israel-Palestine peace or post-JCPOA Iran. Wishes, maybe, but since Bolton (in particular) clearly involves any negotiations involving any degree of give-and-take as unacceptable signs of weakness, the question is whether they can force the solutions they prefer over the resistance of the forces they want to vanquish. In the case of Israel-Palestine, that's a moot point, because Israel doesn't want any kind of "peace process" -- in the past they've had to give lip service to American aspirations, but they've got Trump so wrapped up I doubt any pretense is necessary. As for Iran, all they have is vague hopes for sanctions and prayers for some kind of popular revolt -- as if they've forgotten that the last time that happened didn't bode well for American hopes. More links on Israel-Palestine and/or Iran:

  • Emily Stewart: Congress finally found something it can agree on: helping banks: A significant rollback of Dodd-Frank, considered "bipartisan" because 33 Democrats in the House and 16 in the Senate (plus Angus King) voted for it. Stewart also wrote:

  • Matthew Stewart: The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy: Long piece (plus some video), something I've barely skimmed and need to look at in more depth, but argues that there is an aristocracy in America ("toxic, and is fast becoming unbridgeable"), but that it's bigger than the 1% made famous by Occupy Wall Street, let alone the 0.1% Paul Krugman likes to cite. The 9.9% slice simply comes from the top decile not in the 0.1%. Also from The Atlantic, not yet read but possibly interesting: Ta-Nehisi Coates: I'm Not Black, I'm Kanye.

  • Alex Ward: The Trump-Kim summit is canceled: Includes Trump's letter. Ward also wrote South Korea is scrambling to figure out WTF just happened with the Trump-Kim summit. More links viz. Korea:

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Daily Log

Made dosa(s?) tonight. While Indian shopping, I had bought a container of pre-made dosa batter. I had never made them before, but Laura raved about the ones she ordered at Zaytun, so I fugred that would be an easy experiment. I consulted a Classic Masala Dosa recipe for the potato filling and instructions on how to cook and fold the dosa. I added some black pepper and garam masala to the recipe (but no asafetida, dried hot peppers, curry leaves, or green chiles), and cooked the potatoes longer (but didn't mash any). Recipe called for 1/4 cup of batter to make 7-inch dosa, but I found 1/3 cup worked better. I used a non-stick griddle, which (of course) never accepted an even coat of oil. I also suspect that the batter should have been thinner so it would spread more easily. Restaurants usually serve much larger dosa, which would be easier to spread and fold. Most came out looking pretty ugly, but tasted pretty good. Next time I should make my own batter. Recipe offers two options: one from short-grain rice and urad dal with much soaking and grinding, the other from flours. Both involve fermenting overnight.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Daily Log

Finely did something with the head of cauliflower I had left over from Birthday Dinner shopping: separated into florets, mixed with garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and black pepper, roasted at 400F for 30 minutes, then topped with parmesan. Would make a nice side dish -- Laura's always clamoring for cauliflower but I not much of a fan. Thought about using them for a dosa filling, but most of the recipes I've seen call for potatoes. From the Indian shopping, I bought a tub of dosa batter, so I need to make that sometime soon.

Just noticed the new Freddy Cole record, My Mood Is You, on Napster. His label, HighNote/Savant, has been a serious holdout. They stopped sending me records when I fake-retired, so I've missed quite a few of their well-regarded records. Hopefully I'll find more, and start catching up.

Started watching NBA playoffs, and have some catching up to do. Quickie roster notes:

  • Houston Rockets (65-17): James Harden: 6-5 SG, 8 yrs., 30.4 pts, 5.4 rb, 8.8 a; Chris Paul: 6-0 PG, 12, 18.6, 5.4, 7.9; Eric Gordon: 6-4 SG, 9, 18.0, 2.5, 2.2; Clint Capela: 6-10 C, 3, 13.9, 10.8, 0.9; Gerald Green: 6-7 SG, 10, 12.1, 3.2, 0.9; Trevor Ariza: 6-8 SF, 13, 11.7, 4.4, 1.6; Ryan Anderson: 6-10 PF, 9, 9.3, 5.0, 0.9; Aaron Jackson: 6-4 PG, R, 8.0, 3.0, 1.0.
  • Golden State Warriots (58-24): Kevin Durant: 6-9 PF, 10, 26.4 pts, 6.8 rb, 5.4 a; Stephen Curry: 6-3 PG, 8, 26.4 pts, 5.1, 6.1; Klay Thompson: 6-7 SG, 6, 20.0, 3.8, 2.5; Drummond Green: 6-7 PF, 5, 11.0, 7.6, 7.3; Quinn Cook: 6-2 PG, 1, 9.5, 2.5, 2.7; Nick Young: 6-7 SG, 10, 7.3, 1.6, 0.5; David West: 6-9 C, 14, 6.8, 3.3, 1.9; Andre Iguodala: 6-6 SF, 13, 6.0, 3.8, 3.3 [injured]; Shaun Livingston: 6-7 PF, 12, 5.5, 1.8, 2.0.
  • Boston Celtics (55-27): Kyrie Irving: 6-3 PG, 6, 24.4 pts, 3.8 rb, 5.1 a [injured]; Jaylen Brown: 6-7 SG, 1, 14.5, 4.9, 1.6; Jayson Tatum: 6-8 SF, R, 13.9, 5.0, 1.6; Marcus Morris: 6-9 PF, 6, 13.6, 5.4, 1.3; Al Horford: 6-10 C, 10, 12.9, 7.4, 4.7; Marcus Smart: 6-4 SG, 3, 10.2, 3.5, 4.8; Greg Monroe: 6-11 C, 7, 10.2, 6.3, 2.3; Jonathan Gibson: , , 8.5, 0.8, 1.0.
  • Cleveland Cavailiers (50-32): LeBron James: 6-8 PF, 14, 27.5 pts, 8.6 rb, 9.1 a; Kevin Love: 6-10 C, 9, 17.6, 9.3, 1.7; Jordan Clarkson: 6-5 SG, 3, 12.6, 2.1, 0.7; Rodney Hood: 6-8 SG, 3, 10.8, 2.6, 1.4; Jeff Green: 6-9 PF, 9, 10.8, 3.2, 1.3; George Hill: 6-3 PG, 9, 9.4, 2.7, 2.8; Kyle Korver: 6-7 SG, 14, 9.2, 2.3, 1.2; Larry Nance: 6-9 C, 2, 8.9, 7.0, 1.0; J.R. Smith: 6-6 SG, 13, 8.3, 2.9, 1.8; Tristan Thompson: 6-9 C, 6, 5.8, 6.6, 0.6.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Daily Log

Cooked a "birthday dinner" yesterday in honor of my sister Kathy Hull. It was similar to the one I cooked for her 60th birthday in 2017. The menu, almost all from Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking:

  • Ground meat in cashew nut sauce with chick peas (162)
  • Fish in velvet yogurt sauce (253): scaled to 1.5 lbs fish, using halibut instead of haddock, and coconut cream instead of yogurt (although I used some yogurt too).
  • Smooth buttered caggabe (298)
  • Smoked eggplant with fresh herbs (305)
  • Green beans with coconut and black mustard seeds (307)
  • Fragrant buttered greens (319): spinach, collard greens, lacinato kale.
  • Cucumber and yogurt salad (343)
  • Patiala pilaf (366): minus the fried onion garnish.
  • Fresh coconut cake: my Mother's classic recipe.

Figured I'd get a head start on Monday and finish several dishes that I could warm up on Tuesday, but didn't get back from shopping (4 stores: Sprouts, Dillons, Whole Foods, Asia Bazaar) until 9 pm, and barely managed to get some preliminaries done by 3 am: roasted eggplant, snapped beans, skinned canned chick peas, baked cake layers. Got up a little after noon and got to work: boiled green beans, started eggplant and cabbage, made raita (cucumber/yogurt), then the keema (ground lamb) and saag (greens).

Finally got around to icing cake: whip egg whites, then cook up a sugar syrup (1.33 c sugar, 0.33 c water, heated it to 240F, then added some corn syrup), let it cool a bit, then beat it into the egg whites. It's a tricky icing, the main danger that you overcook it and it recrystallizes into crunchy sugar. (I've thrown a few batched out; also tried rescuing a batch by adding a little water and a lot of powdered sugar.) Came out close to perfect this time. I sprinkled on some fresh coconut (bought large chunks at Whole Foods and grated them in food processor). I was very pleased with the cake.

People showed up early, promptly at 5:30: Ram, TJ, Linda, Lindy, Paula, Alice; Matt & Carrie cancelled. I still had the fish, rice, and green beans to do, although all three dishes were pretty well prepped: the fish had been floured and fried, the rice soaked, the green beans boiled, and I had various bowls of chopped onion, garlic, ginger, serrano chiles, cilantro, and coconut ready to go, so it made sense to finish the dishes. I was aiming at 6:30, and got everything on the table by 6:40. I filled up some bowls with store-bought condiments ("in case anything doesn't have enough taste"). I had planned on heating up some frozen paratha, but didn't get that done.

I thought the fish curry was pretty spectacular, but nothing else (other than the cake) quite lived up to my hopes. On the other hand, nothing missed by much. And for an eight-dish dinner, it actually went pretty smoothly.

Still, seems like there was remarkably little mention of Kathy during the meal. Not that she wasn't missed terribly.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 29733 [29697] rated (+36), 351 [349] unrated (+2).

Got a rude shock from Twitter this afternoon when I went to announce that I had finally posted my Sunday Weekend Roundup column. After the initial shock wore off, I figured out that they didn't like my browser so decided to force me to use their "mobile" interface. It is, necessarily, more compact, dispensing with stats like how many followers I have, how many notifications I haven't looked at, and other features -- not least the form to enter a new tweet. When I found the icon, it threw away the rest of the screen. I imagine a lot of you interact with Twitter through your phones, so you're used to this, but after an experiment I stripped their ap from my phone. I'm no Luddite, but did find that the value added was far less than the nuisance received.

Turns out that my secondary computer still gets the regular user interface, so I can go there (as I've had to do for Facebook for several years now). I have 298 followers. Been stuck there for a few weeks, and thought of making a pitch here to push me over the 300 number. (Would be nice to break 300 followers before I break through 30,000 records rated, no?) Link is under Networking to the left, or here.

One other thing I noticed on Twitter today is that the proportion of advertisements in the feed has exploded -- as it did in Facebook maybe a year ago. It looks like they've taken a big step on the curve from enticing people with a free service to turning it into a major public nuisance. Of course, that's happening all over the Internet these days -- as if everyday life wasn't troubling enough. I reckon I'll have to stop being so offended if/when I start pulling shit like that myself, but for now I entitled to complain.


I've been reading Michael Ruhlman's Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America, which follows a brief history of how grocery stores developed with a much longer investigation into the current business of one local chain Ruhlman is particularly fond of: Heinen's, in and around Cleveland (and Chicago). I've read a number of Ruhlman's books, going back to The Soul of a Chef (2000), most recently The Elements of Cooking (from 2007, but I read it, along with Judith Jones' The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food, to take a break from something in 2016).

The thing that Ruhlman reminded me of is how much the technology and business of good has changed during my lifetime, and that it's mostly been for the better -- despite many other metrics that have been in more or less constant decline since I was born in 1950. Ruhlman attributes this to customer demand, and paints a picture of a vibrantly functioning capitalism constantly adapting to meet demands for broader and more exotic selection, fresher and less contaminated produce and meats, and (most of all) more convenient ways of obtaining tastier meals. Sure, his favored grocery chain seems to be working harder than most to satisfy those desires, but I can see faint echoes of that in the two chains that dominate my home town (Kroger and WalMart, so probably yours too). And it is true that when capital, competitive markets, innovation, and real personal demand come together capitalism can be a wondrous thing. I'm often haunted by the question of why, if business (especially finance) is so rotten and government so corrupt, so many people think their lives are better than ever. Good food helps explain that.

But Ruhlman also notes that profit margins in groceries are exceptionally thin -- something which has probably spared chains like Heinen's from the devastation of private equity firms. But I'd like to single out one more factor: taste. As Adam Smith knew, markets only work when they are transparent, which is to say when the buyer knows exactly what she is buying. As MBA students soon learn, the trick to increasing profits is to make products opaque, so people can never really understand just what they are buying. (This is why medicine has been such a long-term profit engine.) But everyone has a taste for good food, and that's what keeps the industry at least relatively honest. (Not that big processed food companies haven't exploited our weak spots for salt, sugar, and fat, but even that is relatively easy to see around.) Moreover, most of the workers and businessfolk throughout the food chain take pride in their products and services, in marked distinction to the widget-counters who dominate other industries.


Speaking of food, my late sister's birthday is tomorrow, so I'll be cooking for her son and some friends tomorrow. Last year she requested Indian for her birthday, so I figured I'd reprise that menu (with a couple of minor changes) this year: lamb and fish curries, several vegetable dishes (cabbage, greens, eggplant, green beans), cucumber raita, a simple rice pilaf, some warmed-up frozen paratha (I've made scratch, but hardly seems worth the trouble). Thought I'd go with Mom's legendary coconut cake for dessert this time. (Last year was a flourless chocolate cake with ice cream.) Need to wrap this up and go shopping -- such dinners usually take 3-5 grocery store stops, but this one should actually be relatively easy. And I'll miss a couple days of searching out new music. However, this past week offers a pretty broad selection, so enjoy.

[PS: Back from shopping, which proved not so easy. Took me four hours, four stores: Sprouts (most of the vegetables), Dillons (lamb, halibut, yogurt), Whole Foods (bulk rice, cabbage), and Asia Bazaar (ghee, bread, urad dal, a coconut). I expected to get by with just the first two, as I have almost all of the more esoteric Indian ingredients already in stock (maybe not urad dal, but I could have skipped it). However, Dillons disappointed me, among other things getting rid of their bulk goods section, and I didn't feel like buying a 5 lb. package of rice there. Also, no coconut, and when I got to Whole Foods I remembered I forgot the cabbage. I had enough ghee and bread, but by then I thought I might as well stop at Asia Bazaar to make sure I don't run out. Also found some nice okra there, which I hadn't planned on. Not sure how much cooking I'll get done tonight, so I may wind up having to cut dishes tomorrow.]


A couple of very brief notes on the music. I went into some Otis Redding back catalogue after noticing the new compilations. All of the B+(***) albums could have come in higher had I not recalled the other records I've heard so well. I had a couple of Redding's early LPs, but really fell for him again with the 3-CD The Otis Redding Story, which came out in 1989 and still remains definitive. Needless to say, it's pretty remarkable for a guy who only recorded six years to have amassed that much great music. I also have three of the four 1968-70 posthumous albums at A- (The Dock of the Bay and Love Man are the ones omitted below).

LaVette, of course, is relatively minor, but the new record made me want to dig deeper. Her best previous record remains A Woman Like Me (2003). Christgau gave a full A to the new record here, as well as reviewing two Wussy albums (one EP, one LP) that he likes much more than I do. I previously gave the EP, Getting Better, a B+(*) a while back. I like the album a bit more, but I'm more suspicious I've overrated it than under.


New records rated this week:

  • 3hattrio: Lord of the Desert (2018, Okehdokee): [r]: B+(**)
  • Idris Ackamoor & the Pyramids: An Angel Fell (2018, Strut): [r]: B+(**)
  • MC Paul Barman: (((Echo Chamber))) (2018, Mello Music Group): [r]: B+(***)
  • Playboi Carti: Die Lit (2018, AWGE/Interscope): [r]: B+(*)
  • Benoît Delbecq 4: Spots on Stripes (2017 [2018], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • Adrean Farrugia/Joel Frahm: Blues Dharma (2017 [2018], GB): [cd]: A-
  • Flatbush Zombies: Vacation in Hell (2018, Glorious Dead): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bill Hart Band: Live at Red Clay Theatre (2017 [2018], Blujazz): [cd]: B
  • Hieroglyphic Being: The Red Notes (2018, Soul Jazz): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed (2018, Verve): [r]: A
  • Igor Lumpert & Innertextures: Eleven (2017 [2018], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(***)
  • Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks: Sparkle Hard (2018, Matador): [r]: B+(*)
  • Solon McDade: Murals (2017 [2018], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • MJO Brothers Present: Hip Devotions (2017, Blujazz): [cd]: B
  • Mount Eerie: Now Only (2018, PW Elverum & Sun): [r]: B+(*)
  • Meshell Ndegeocello: Ventriloquism (2018, Naïve): [r]: B+(*)
  • Nuance Crusaders: Reflections (2017, Blujazz): [cd]: B-
  • Parquet Courts: Wide Awake! (2018, Rough Trade): [r]: A-
  • Matt Piet & His Disorganization: Rummage Out (2017 [2018], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(***)
  • Charlie Puth: Voicenotes (2018, Atlantic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Rival Consoles: Persona (2018, Erased Tapes): [r]: B+(*)
  • Rolo Tomassi: Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It (2017 [2018], Holy Roar): [r]: B+(***)
  • Matthew Shipp: Zero (2018, ESP-Disk): [r]: B+(*)
  • Matthew Shipp Quartet: Sonic Fiction (2018, ESP-Disk): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jon Rune Strøm Quintet: Fragments (2017 [2018], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • Vin Venezia: Fifth and Adams (2015-16 [2018], Blujazz): [cd]: B
  • Wussy: What Heaven Is Like (2018, Shake It): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Xcerts: Hold on to Your Heart (2018, Raygun): [r]: B

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

  • Otis Redding: Dock of the Bay Sessions (1967 [2018], Rhino): [r]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Bettye LaVette: Child of the Seventies (1962-73 [2006], Rhino Handmade): [r]: B+(*)
  • Bettye LaVette: Tell Me a Lie (1982, Motown): [r]: B+(**)
  • Bettye LaVette: I've Got My Own Hell to Raise (2005, Anti-): [r]: B+(**)
  • Bettye Lavette: Worthy (2015, Cherry Red): [r]: B+(**)
  • Otis Redding: The Immortal Otis Redding (1967 [1968], Atco): [r]: A-
  • Otis Redding: Tell the Truth (1967 [1970], Atco): [r]: B+(***)
  • Otis Redding: Remember Me: 22 Previously Unissued Tracks (1962-67 [1992], Stax): [r]: B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Bill Anschell: Shifting Standards (Origin)
  • Phil Haynes & Free Country: 60/69: My Favorite Things (Corner Store Jazz, 2CD): June 1
  • Ernie Krivda and Swing City: A Bright and Shining Moment (Capri): June 15
  • Bongwool Lee: My Singing Fingers (Origin)
  • Ben Markley Quartet: Basic Economy (OA2)
  • No Fast Food: Settings for Three (Corner Store Jazz): June 1
  • J. Peter Schwalm: How We Fall (RareNoise): advance, June 8

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Once again, a week with too damn much to report, and too little time to collect it all. Nothing on elections in Iraq (last week) or Venezuela (coming soon; US media already bitching like crazy over Maduro stealing the election and driving the "once prosperous" country ever deeper into ruin). Nothing on primaries in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, nor on prospects for November. A little bit on Korea, written before the US backed down and called off the war games that threatened to derail the talks. Fred Kaplan notes: One Month Before His Summit With Trump, Kim Jong-un Is the One Calling the Shots. (Considering John Bolton and Donald Trump as alternatives, that's really not such bad news.) Just a wee bit on the Mueller "witch hunt." Didn't even get around to the book I'm reading.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that you shouldn't miss this week, explained: Gina Haspel is America's new director of the CIA (six Democrats supported Haspel, who ran Bush-era torture programs, while two Republicans opposed, with McCain absent); Net neutrality won a vote in the Senate (52-47 to overrule the FCC, although the House is unlikely to concur); The North Korea summit is suddenly in trouble (Yglesias doesn't mention continuing US war games that North Korea objects to, but does note that John Bolton keeps insisting on things that North Korea is unlikely to ever agree to); There's an Ebola outbreak in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo):

    But if things get bad, the United States, traditionally a world leader in epidemic response, has greatly diminished capacity in this regard. . . . Inconveniently, the head of the National Security Council's global health security efforts abruptly left earlier this month as part of a Bolton-inspired shake-up. His whole team has been dismantled, and budget cuts have already forced US public health agencies to scale back their international work.

    Other Yglesias links:

    • It might take a black candidate to beat Trump's toxic racial politics: "Cory Booker's path out of the identity vs. economic politics quagmire. . . . Booker's solution is essentially the one Obama offered -- reassure voters of color by putting one of their own in charge, and then let the politician spend his time making his case to the white voters." I've long regarded Booker as a crony of Wall Street, so even if he does make the case while campaigning I have little hope that he won't revert to form in office. As with Obama, that doesn't strike me as a long-term winning formula, which is what the Democrats really need. For what it's worth, I think the class vs. identity debate within the Democratic Party is muddled and confused.

    • 4 winners and 3 losers from the primaries in Pennsylvania and Nebraska: Winners: Pittsburgh-area socialism, Democratic women, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, tattoos. Losers: Rick Saccone, Oregon, DCCC (although I don't get the slam against Oregon).

    • Trump helps sanctioned Chinese phone maker after China delivers a big loan to a Trump project: I'm not a fan of US sanctions against Iran and North Korea -- they're meant to buttress a harsh and vindictive foreign policy, and they depend on imperious overreach by the US government into foreign commerce. Still, it's viciously amusing to see Trump all wound up about lost jobs in China, especially since the obvious explanation is old fashioned graft.

    • Cruelty is the defining characteristic of Donald Trump's politics and policy: "John Kelly says separating kids from their parents is fine because of 'foster care or whatever'." But that's just one example.

      From new Medicaid rules that hurt people with disabilities to rewriting bank regulations to favor predatory lenders to siding with Dow Chemical's lobbyists over pediatricians to keep allowing the manufacture of a pesticide that poisons children's brains, the circle of people who are subject to harm by a regime that practices the law of the jungle is ever widening.

      Very few of us are as rich or powerful as Trump, his Cabinet, his circle of friends and family, or his major campaign contributors. All of us will lose out from an ethic that licenses the strong to oppress the weak. Foreign-born children are uniquely disempowered in the political system, so they bear the brunt for now. But almost all of us will need help or protection at some point.

      Also see Masha Gessen: Taking Children From Their Parents Is a Form of State Terror.

    • Why are we taking Donald Trump's Korea diplomacy seriously? "All he does is lie and break promises. This will be no different." Sure, but why be so pessimistic about it? Yglesias sounds like he buys the whole argument that it's all North Korea's fault that we don't get along swimmingly with them -- even going so far as to buy the argument that acknowledging their existence by merely meeting is some kind of huge concession. The fact is that whatever deal emerges will almost completely be shaped by the two Koreas, and the planets seem better aligned than usual for such an agreement. In this context, Trump may have an advantage over past US presidents: ignorance, inattention to detail, a weak understanding of America's imperial posture, and an eagerness to claim credit for things he did nothing to make happen. He also has some advisers who realize that the US has no good options with North Korea -- not least because the US has painted itself into a corner by insisting on denuclearizing North Korea without having any way to force the issue. (Ever escalating cycles of sanctions are a nuisance for North Korea, but they don't threaten the survival of the regime; moreover, they underscore how hostile the US is, and how important it is that North Korea have a nuclear deterrent against US aggression.) Admittedly, Trump has some aides like John Bolton who are prefer the use of military force, but the people who actually run the DOD harbor no delusions that such an attack could be launched at a tolerable cost. So if the Koreas present him with a fait accompli, would he really screw it just to humor Bolton? I wouldn't put it past him: hiring Bolton and withdrawing from the Iran deal certainly seem to be a secret desire for failure. But even as the smart money bets on Trump doing something stupid, I don't see any reason to cheer him on.

  • Zeeshan Aleem: Trump missed Congress's deadline for getting a NAFTA deal done. Now what? Not much, unless Trump decides to blow the whole existing deal up, which would, well, nobody knows what that would do. One thing it wouldn't do is restore pre-NAFTA jobs and demographics. This is partly because businesses that have been taking advantage of the arrangement for 25 years now aren't likely to roll over (or lose influence in all three countries), but also the pact's many losers (in all three countries) have moved on (or been trampled under). Any new deal will generate new winners and losers, so everyone advising the process have their own angles. As for Ryan's "deadline," that assumes Trump will come up with a Republican-favored deal, but the GOP is likely to be as divided as Democrats on any such change.

  • Zack Beauchamp: Santa Fe High: Texas lieutenant governor blames shooting on "too many entrances": "too many exits" too: "There aren't enough people to put a guard at every entry and exit." It's not clear to me that shootings have anything to do with entries/exits, but one real threat that you'd like to have more exits for is fire. Maybe fires are rarer these days than shootings, but they do happen, and they are things that school administrators properly worry about.

    There are a number of practical problems with this idea. If you have a mass shooter in the building, you don't want to trap people in the building. It's not obvious that security guards would be able to spot someone concealing a weapon even if they were at every door; in fact, there were two armed guards at Santa Fe on Friday. And closing most of the entryways to a school would create a serious fire hazard.

    More fundamentally, this all feels like an absurd kind of deflection.

  • Caleb Crain: Is Capitalism a Threat to Democracy? Basically, a review of Robert Kuttner's new book, Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? -- although he starts off with a long disquisition on Karl Polanyi and his 1944 book The Great Transformation ("as the world was coming to terms with the destruction that fascism had wrought"). For another review, see Justin Fox: How Rampant Globalization Brought Us Trump. One thing I've noticed is how reviewers tend to drop the key word "Global" from the title. Kuttner doesn't have a problem with the well-regulated mixed economies of Western Europe and America from the 1940s through the 1960s: they combined strong growth rates with broad distribution of wealth. Rather, he blames the political rise of global finance since the 1970s, by the 1990s capturing center-left parties (e.g., Bill Clinton in the US and Tony Blair in the UK), ultimately discrediting the left such that populist resentment often wound up falling for the far right.

  • Sean Illing: How TV trivialized our culture and politics: Interview with Lance Strate, author of Amazing Ourselves to Death: Neil Postman's Brave New World, as a surrogate for late media critic Neil Postman, most famous for his book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985). Seems like I bought but never read that book -- or maybe I'm thinking of his 1992 book, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, by which time Postman was turning into something of a neo-luddite. The context for Amusing, of course, was Ronald Reagan, an actor who played the role of president, but unlike Trump today, Reagan at least tried to act presidential, since that's what the role expected. Trump lacks Reagan's craft and discipline as an actor, or even as a human being. Rather, taking Postman's title to its absurd conclusion, Trump channels Reagan less through "reality TV" than through the "zombie apocalypse" genre: with Trump we not only get the death of democracy, we get to watch it mindlessly devouring itself, as reality itself has become more horrific than the dystopias Postman could imagine in his lifetime (he died in 2003). Strate does note that "I think Postman held out great hope for education as a way of addressing these problems." Postman wrote several books about education, but the one I read and treasured as a high school dropout was Teaching as a Subversive Activity, written with Charles Weingartner in 1969. The authors there posited that the highest goal of teaching was to get students to develop acute "bullshit detectors." Needless to say, that was not on the curriculum of the high school I dropped out of, nor has it gained much currency since then. Indeed, the recent focus on nothing but test scores teaches "crap-detection" only by burying students in it. It's not like critical thinking has disappeared, but those in power have done their best to banish it to the isolated corners of society, and are reaping the fruits of their astonishing incompetence. In some sense it would be comforting to blame all this on the obliteration of words by images. Still, I'm somewhat more suspicious of the triumph of money over morals.

    For another take on Trump/Reagan see:

  • Susan B Glasser: Is Trump the Second Coming of Reagan? "[Brett Baier] knows that our current president is louder, cruder, and ruder than Ronald Reagan, 'a counterpuncher' from New York far different from the genial Republican predecessor."

  • Sarah Kliff: The new Trump plan to defund Planned Parenthood, explained: "Women's health clinics that provide abortions or refer patients for the procedure will be cut off from a key source of federal funding under new Trump administration rules expected to be released Friday."

  • Matthew Lee: Pompeo: 'Swagger' of State Department Is 'America's Essential Rightness': In his recent closed door pep talk, Pompeo reportedly said: "Swagger is not arrogance; it is not boastfulness, it is not ego. No, swagger is confidence, in one's self, in one's ideas. In our case, it is America's essential rightness. And it is aggressiveness born of the righteous knowledge that our cause is just, special, and built upon America's core principles." Maybe the words he understands even less than "swagger" are: "arrogance," "boastfulness," and "ego." He went on to underscore his confusion by adding: "we should carry that diplomatic swagger to the ends of the earth; humbly, nobly and with the skill and courage I know you all possess." OK, add "humbly" to the list of words he doesn't begin to understand.

  • Dara Lind: Trump on deported immigrants: "They're not people. They're animals."

    If Trump understands his own administration's policy, he's never acknowledged it in public. He sticks to the same rhetorical move every time: refer to some specific criminals, call them horrible people and animals, say that their evil justifies his immigration policy, and allow the conflation of all immigrants and all Latinos with criminals and animals to remain subtext.

    This is who Donald Trump has been for his entire political career. The worst-case scenarios about his dehumanizing rhetoric -- that they would foment large-scale mob violence or vigilantism against Latinos in the United States -- have not been realized. But neither have any hopes that Trump, as president, might ever weigh his words with any care at all, especially when encouraging Americans to see human beings as less than human.

    Also see: Juan Escalante: It's not just rhetoric: Trump's policies treat immigrants like me as "animals".

  • Charles P Pierce: Can the Republic Recover from Donald Trump?: Good question, but the post is all question, no answer. I don't think this quite rises to the level of an assumption, but the default sentiment is that before Trump we had norms, and now clearly we don't. But wouldn't it be, uh, normal to revert to norms once the disruption is removed? I don't think that's how it works. To pick an obvious example, GW Bush did a lot of shit -- tax cuts, defense buildup, the War on Terror, "no child left behind," "tort reform," the pivot away from "Peace Process" to Sharon on Israel, packing the courts with right-wingers -- that Barack Obama never came close to reversing. In fact, he rarely tried, because even though there was voluminous evidence that nearly everything Bush touch made the world worse, he tacitly accepted that changed world order. To reverse what Bush did, Obama would have had to work much harder than Bush did to break it all. We can debate whether Trump is even worse than Bush, but one thing that is clear is that Trump's world is even more fragile than Bush's, because so much of what Bush (and Clinton and Bush and Reagan and, sad to say, Carter, Ford, Nixon, and LBJ) broke was never fixed. On the other hand, Trump's efforts to wipe out everything worthwhile Obama did have already been almost complete, achieved with remarkable ease. On the other hand, they haven't fixed anything. They've simply made everything worse. It's like we're struggling against the second law of thermodynamics, where it take enormous energy to order anything, but no effort at all to let it turn to shit.

    I don't normally read Pierce, but he seems to have been on quite a roll lately, at least title-deep:

  • Frank Rich: Trump's Jerusalem Horror Show: Structured as an interview, so it quickly wanders onto other topics, like Kelly Sadler's "joke" about John McCain dying and the Trump legacy of never apologizing for anything bigoted (or merely stupid), and praise for the late journalist Tom Wolfe. For what little it's worth, I don't think I ever read anything by Wolfe, but I was aware of him and always suspected that his "Radical Chic" was the opening salvo in the long term assault on liberal sympathies for the poor and downtrodden, dismissing them as elitist conceits, conveniently dismissing the problems themselves.

    For more on the Jerusalem embassy event, see: Michelle Goldberg: A Grotesque Spectacle in Jerusalem:

    The event was grotesque. It was a consummation of the cynical alliance between hawkish Jews and Zionist evangelicals who believe that the return of Jews to Israel will usher in the apocalypse and the return of Christ, after which Jews who don't convert will burn forever. . . .

    This spectacle, geared toward Donald Trump's Christian American base, coincided with a massacre about 40 miles away. Since March 30, there have been mass protests at the fence separating Gaza and Israel. Gazans, facing an escalating humanitarian crisis due in large part to an Israeli blockade, are demanding the right to return to homes in Israel that their families were forced from at Israel's founding. . . . The Israeli military has responded with live gunfire as well as rubber bullets and tear gas. In clashes on Monday, at least 58 Palestinians were killed and thousands wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

    The juxtaposition of images of dead and wounded Palestinians and Ivanka Trump smiling in Jerusalem like a Zionist Marie Antoinette tell us a lot about America's relationship to Israel right now.

    Somewhere in all of this people have forgotten why moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem matters in the first place. The British held a League of Nations mandate for Palestine since 1920, after the colony was carved out of the former Ottoman Empire. That was renewed by the UN on its founding in 1945, but the British tired of trying to rule Palestine, so threw the problem back to the UN to sort out by 1948. The UN convened a commission to "study" the issue, and they came up with a partition plan that would divide Palestine into three sections: a mostly Jewish segment across the Jezreel Valley, down the coast, and extended through the Negev to Eilat; an almost exclusively Muslim-Christian territory broken into three segments (Gaza, West Bank, West Galilee) plus the isolated city of Jaffa; and, finally, an "international" area centered on Jerusalem. Ben Gurion and the Zionists lobbied hard to secure UN approval of the partition plan, then took that mandate and launched offensives to capture Jerusalem, West Galilee, and Jaffa, and to reduce and concentrate Gaza. Meanwhile, Transjordan grabbed up the West Bank and East Jerusalem, dividing the city while leaving the Palestinians nothing. Subsequent UN resolutions, following international law, insisted that Palestinian refugees should be able to return in peace to their homes, and that the expansion of Israel following the 1967 war, especially the annexation of greater Jerusalem, was "inadmissible." The US has always supported (in word, anyway) the sanctity and applicability of international law, and in the 1980s the PLO reoriented itself to embrace a solution based on law.

    One might argue that the US has never been really serious about international law, especially as Americans have claimed the right to ignore any parts they find inconvenient (e.g., the refusal to join the International Criminal Court, and the decision to ignore POW status/rights in the Global War on Terror). But Eisenhower was willing and able to pressure Israel to return land seized in 1956 (although Johnson made no similar effort in 1967), and Carter got Israel to reverse its 1977 intervention in Lebanon (which Reagan fatefully allowed to resume in 1982). At least, GWH Bush and Clinton made something of an effort to get "two state" peace talks going, but since 2001 (when GW Bush and Sharon came to power) the US has steadily retreated, often just rubber-stamping Israeli decisions on war and foreign policy. (Obama did negotiate the Iran nuke deal over Israeli objections, but he did nothing effective to advance peace and justice in the area Israel controls.) With Trump, what we are seeing is a total surrender of American interests to Netanyahu's political agenda. The embassy move is hardly the worst submission, but given its long centrality has great symbolic portent. This is well understood in Israel and among Palestinians, but given how long and how thoroughly Americans have deceived themselves about Israel, it is scarcely commented on here. The fact that Israel can bomb Iranians in Syria and shoot marchers in Gaza with absolutely no concern for how bad such acts look is testimony to how completely Trump has surrendered to Israel (or maybe just to Sheldon Adelson, who speaks fluent Trump, sealing the deal with a $30 million check).

    More links on Israel-Palestine:

  • Zachary Roth: Is the System Rigged Against Democrats? Sure it is, right down to the New York Times substituting a Reagan campaign poster for the book cover or any other relevant graphic in this review of Davis Faris' slim book It's Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics. Unfortunately, Faris focuses on re-rigging the system:

    To end gerrymandering, Faris says, they should scrap the winner-take-all method we use to elect members of the House and replace it with a system known as "ranked choice voting" that better reflects voter preferences. To fix the problem of Democratic underrepresentation in the Senate, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico should get statehood, and California should be split into seven separate states. Democrats should add seats to the Supreme Court and fill them with progressives. And they should reform voting laws to ban onerous voter ID requirements, re-enfranchise ex-felons and automatically register everyone to vote.

    I'm not unaware of structural factors which make the system less representative and less responsive to voter wishes, but the real problem Democrats face is getting voters to trust and support them, which is pretty much the same thing as getting Democrats to trust and support a clear majority of the voting public -- enough to overcome whatever structural deficits the party endures. Thanks to the Republicans' ideology, platform, and track record, that shouldn't be hard -- but, of course, given the pervasive influence of money, media, and mythology, it is. I wouldn't call this dirty, but one thing Democrats have to learn -- something that Republicans have definitely figured out -- is that it matters whether they win or not.

  • Dylan Scott: Who is the freeloader: the working poor on food stamps -- or corporations that don't pay them enough? Sen. Sherrod Brown starts with the insight that food stamps, medicare, etc., effectively subsize companies who underpay their workers by allowing people to work for less than they really need to live on, then tries to turn the tables on those companies. But he doesn't come up with a very good way of doing so, and his rhetoric about "corporate freeloaders" plays into the conceit that getting something for nothing is morally wrong. If you want to reduce welfare benefits, a more straightforward way to do that would be to legislate higher minimum wages. Even so, that leaves some problem cases, like earners trying to support larger families (more children or other dependents). In many cases, it would be preferable to provide more welfare benefits, and pay for them out of taxes on excessive profits and wages. Unfortunately, many liberals buy into the notion that welfare is a bad thing, and think they're scoring points with phrases like "corporate welfare." Doesn't the Constitution talk about "promoting the general welfare" as being one of the tasks of good government? Isn't the right's generic attack on government effectively an effort to reduce the general welfare?

    I think this confusion about welfare partly explains why the farm bill has become such a political football. See Tara Golshan: A House revolt over immigration just killed the farm bill -- for now. I don't really understand what immigration has to do with this, and indeed the reports are contradictory: evidently some Republicans want to force action on DACA, and others want to vote on a more restrictive anti-immigrant bill. For some time now, there has been a right-wing faction which opposed government efforts to stabilize agricultural markets -- rhetorically their complaints about "corporate welfare" have some resonance with liberals -- but this year they've managed to insert some poisonous "work requirements" into the food stamp program, moving Democrats into opposition. By taking advantage of mainstream Republicans' embrace of Trump cruelty, a few dozen Koch-funded fanatics are threatening American agribusiness. It's an interesting example of dysfunction within the GOP.

  • Emily Stewart: Donald Trump is raging over the Mueller investigation on Twitter; also by Stewart: Roger Stone acknowledges he might be indicted, and Donald Trump Jr. and Trump aides were reportedly open to foreign help in 2016 election beyond Russia (especially UAE and Saudi Arabia). I am of the camp that regards Mueller's investigation as largely a distraction, although it does tangentially touch on two more serious stories: the profound corruption of the US electoral process, and the deeply ingrained corruption of the Trump family and their cronies and enablers. Still, one thing remains amusing: how guilty Trump continues to look. As I recall, the thing that finally got to Nixon about Watergate wasn't the specific crime, but all the other things he was doing that could have been exposed in the investigation (of course, many "dirty tricks" did in fact come to light).

    There's been a big media push from Republican flacks complaining about how the Mueller investigation has now dragged on for an entire year, so that got me to wondering how long the Starr investigation into Clinton lasted? There's a chart of all past Special Counsel investigations in Amelia Thomson DeVeaux: Mueller Is Moving Quickly Compared to Past Special Counsel Investigations, and it shows that Starr's "Whitewater" investigation lasted a little more than six years. The upshot there was that Starr eventually caught Clinton in a lie that had nothing whatsoever to do with the original subject, but which provided House Republicans with an excuse to impeach Clinton (even knowing there was no chance the Senate would convict him). The Clinton/Starr experience convinced many of us that the Special Counsel law was an invitation to political abuse, and it has rarely been used since then. (The only time before Russia was the Valerie Plame leak, which was one of the shortest ever.) When Trump wails about the "greatest witch hunt ever," he's being very forgetful (as well as whiny).

  • Matt Taibbi: The Battle of Woodstock: "First in a series of diaries from the oddest House primary race in America" -- NY-19, where Taibbi is following Jeff Beals. Enter the DCCC. Hard to tell whether their ignorance or interest will turn out more self-defeating. Speaking of the DCCC and the Democratic Party old guard, see: Joe Biden Clarifies He's No Bernie Sanders: "I Don't Think 500 Billionaires Are Reason We're in Trouble, adding "The folks at the top aren't bad guys." Maybe not all of them, but ones like Sheldon Adelson, Charles Koch, Robert Mercer, Art Pope, and Betsy DeVos kind of skew the sample. Oh, also Donald Trump -- he may or may not be a billionaire, but he plays one on TV. Billionaires who donate to Democrats aren't exempt, either. Bill Gates was in the news last week making fun of Trump, but one shouldn't forget his effort to corner the Internet back in the 1990s, resulting in a conviction for antitrust violations.


Daily Log

Laura Tillem wrote the following letter to the Wichita Eagle:

There are two reasons for the Gaza March of Return: the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians in 1947-1949 when Israel was founded, and the siege Israel imposes on Gaza. Approximately 2/3 of Gaza families are originally from Sderot, Ashdod, and other towns now part of Israel. In violation of international law, they were never allowed to return to their homes and villages after the war ended, because the Zionist goal was a totally Jewish state. This is ethnic cleansing, replacing the people already there with a new population. Out of guilt for not allowing the European Jews asylum during the Holocaust, and out of total disregard for the rights of non-Europeans, the world refused to admit the inescapable truth that Palestinians have been made to pay for the West's failure to rescue the European Jews. Naturally Israel does as much as possible to keep this truth from being told, including shooting of non-violent demonstrators demanding their right to return.

In Gaza the Palestinians are under military siege, in what is essentially an open-air prison: farmers are not allowed to export their produce. Fishing off the coast is the centuries-old traditional base for the economy in Gaza, but Israel forbids fishing beyond six nautical miles. Note this forbidding takes the form of shooting the fishermen dead if they happen to drift outside the allowed limits. The people are locked in: Israel prevents students from leaving Gaza to study, keeps spouses from leaving to legally join their husbands or wives in the West Bank. Grandchildren may not leave to attend their grandparents' funerals. Israel also prevents importing the spare parts needed to rebuild the infrastructure, which Israel destroys every couple of years with bombing. Thus Gaza is always in economic, medical, and educational crisis. Our government accepts this and sends our taxes to subsidize it, but the Palestinians will not.

This came to a little over 300 words, well above the Eagle's usual letters limit. I tried tightening this up a bit:

There are two reasons for the Gaza March of Return: the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians in 1947-1949 when Israel was founded, and the brutal siege Israel imposes on Gaza. Most families in Gaza are refugees driven from their lands and towns by Israeli forces and, contrary to international law, their right to return to their homes in peace has never been permitted. This was ethnic cleansing.

Israeli forces attacked and occupied Gaza in 1956, and again from 1967 on, reducing the people in Gaza from refugees to subjects under martial rule.

In 2006, Israel dismantled its settlements and withdrew its forces while sealing Gaza's borders, turning the area into an open-air prison, cowered under threats (and frequent examples) of shelling and bombing. The sealed borders and repeated infrastructure damage shut the economy down, precipitating an ever-deepening humanitarian crisis.

Israel's response to the March of Return differs little from Israel's reaction to Palestinian refugees attempting to return home after the 1947-49 war: where once they shot infiltrators, now they fire randomly into marching crowds. Zionists have long sought to build an ethnically pure Jewish State. The marches remind us that Israel was and is built on the blood and suffering of others.

Laura later came back with this shorter (188 words) version:

There are two reasons for the Gaza March of Return: the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians in 1947-1949 when Israel was founded, and the siege Israel imposes on Gaza. Most Gaza families are from towns now part of Israel. In violation of international law, they were never allowed to return home after the war ended, because the Zionist goal was a totally Jewish state. This is ethnic cleansing, replacing the people already there with a new population. Out of guilt for not allowing the Jews asylum during the Holocaust, and out of disregard for the rights of non-Europeans, the world refused to admit the inescapable truth that Palestinians have been made to pay for the West's failure to rescue the European Jews.

In Gaza the Palestinians are under siege, it is an open-air prison: Israel restricts exporting most produce, fishing off the coast, and travel. It prevents importing parts needed to rebuild the infrastructure, which Israel destroys every couple of years with bombing. Thus Gaza is always in economic, medical, and educational crisis. Our government accepts this and sends our taxes to subsidize it, but the Palestinians will not.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 29697 [29660] rated (+37), 349 [356] unrated (-7).

Once again, counted the list below and found my rated count short, so checked everything, adding four grades. Also noticed one item missing from the list. Still two short, but harder to check that direction, and will soon be forgotten anyway. Presumably the Year 2018 list is accurate. I've been adding quite a few records to the Music Tracking list, mostly based on various AOTY lists -- up to 772 records at the moment (OK, vs. 3690 for 2017, but 1742 for 2016; by the way, rated counts are: 279, 1179, 1167; if you figure we're 25% into 2018 -- counting January in the previous year as we're always playing catch up -- the track this year is for 1116 albums, down a bit but not much).

Confidence Man and Kali Uchis are currently ranked 1st and 5th on AOTY, and I might not have noticed them otherwise. (Not that their picks are a lock, as shown by 3rd-ranked Black Foxxes and number ten Hot Snakes -- I was also pointed toward the latter by Phil Overeem, and I've followed most of his tips.) I also noticed Kate Nash on AOTY's lists, but nowhere near the top. Top record I haven't heard yet is Saba's Care for Me (2), followed by the Xcerts' Hold on to Your Heart (6), and many more from 13th down.

The Ry Cooder record was reviewed by Robert Christgau here -- also Mount Eerie's Now Only, 14th on AOTY's list, which I'll get to in due course. As of this writing, Christgau's website is still down. This has been reported to the hosting company, who are reportedly working on it. We had another outage a few months ago, but they've generally been rare.

One thing that I should note is the confusing product choices surrounding the 25th anniversary of Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville. I gave the preferred grade to the 3-CD box, but actually only listened to the MP3-only The Girly-Sound Tapes -- effectively solo demos for the album and the leading edge of Phair's career. The box combines a remaster of the classic album with the Tapes, and as best I can tell, the 3CD set (although not the 7LP box) is actually cheaper than the MP3 Tapes alone. I can say that I was seriously considering an A- for Tapes, but consumer guidance (and the desire just to picture one cover) steered me the other way.

A couple of links to recommend:

I was particularly pleased to see the mention of Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports ("a Carla Bley album in all but name").

I should also note that avant-guitarist Glenn Branca has died (1948-2018), but can't really say much about him. Legendary, but I never got around to listening to his records -- possibly because too many had "Symphony" in the title.


New records rated this week:

  • Anteloper: Kudu (2017 [2018], International Anthem): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Black Foxxes: Reiði (2018, Spinefarm): [r]: B
  • Greg Burk: The Detroit Songbook (2017 [2018], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(**)
  • David Byrne: American Utopia (2018, Nonesuch): [r]: B
  • J. Cole: KOD (2018, Roc Nation): [r]: B+(**)
  • Confidence Man: Confident Music for Confident People (2018, Heavenly): [r]: A-
  • Ry Cooder: The Prodigal Son (2018, Fantasy): [r]: A-
  • Robert Diack: Lost Villages (2018, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • DJ Koze: Knock Knock (2018, Pampa): [r]: B
  • Yelena Eckemoff: Desert (2015 [2018], L&H Production): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Fickle Friends: You Are Someone Else (2018, Polydor): [r]: B+(**)
  • Benito Gonzalez/Gerry Gibbs/Essiet Okon Essiet: Passion Reverence Transcendence: The Music of McCoy Tyner (2016 [2018], Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Eddie Henderson: Be Cool (2018, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(***)
  • Fred Hersch Trio: Live in Europe (2017 [2018], Palmetto): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Hop Along: Bark Your Head Off, Dog (2018, Saddle Creek): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jon Hopkins: Singularity (2018, Domino): [r]: B+(***)
  • Hot Snakes: Jericho Sirens (2018, Sub Pop): [r]: B
  • Hayley Kiyoko: Expectations (2018, Empire/Atlantic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Matt Lavelle's 12 Houses: End Times (2014 [2017], Unseen Rain): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Matt Lavelle/Lewis Porter/Hilliard Greene/Tom Cabrera: Matt Lavelle Quartet (2016 [2017], Unseen Rain): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Kate Nash: Yesterday Was Forever (2018, Girl Gang): [r]: A-
  • Juan Andrés Ospina Big Band: Tramontana (2017 [2018], self-released): [cd]: B
  • Reggie Quinerly: Words to Love (2017 [2018], Redefinition Music): [cd]: B
  • Kristo Rodzevski: The Rabbit and the Fallen Sycamore (2017 [2018], Much Prefer): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Saba: Bucket List Project (2016, Saba Pivot): [r]: B+(**)
  • Edward Simon: Sorrows & Triumphs (2017 [2018], Sunnyside): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Gary Smulyan: Alternative Contrafacts (2017 [2018], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(***)
  • Hans Teuber & Jeff Johnson: Deuce (2017 [2018], Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Kali Uchis: Isolation (2018, Virgin EMI): [r]: A-
  • Marije Van Dijk: The Stereography Project Feat. Jeff Taylor and Katell Keinig (2018, Hert/Membran): [cd]: B
  • Darryl Yokley's Sound Reformation: Pictures at an African Exhibition (2018, Truth Revolution): [bc]: B

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

  • Liz Phair: The Girly-Sound Tapes (1991, Matador): [r]: B+(***)
  • Liz Phair: Girly-Sound to Guyville (1991-93, Matador, 3CD): [r]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • Gary Smulyan Quartet: Homage (1991 [1993], Criss Cross): [r]: B+(***)
  • Gary Smulyan: The Real Deal (2002 [2003], Reservoir): [r]: B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Justin Brown: Nyeus! (Biophilia): June 29, packaging, no CD
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Rafal Mazur: Beyond Dimensions (FMR)
  • Amos Hoffman/Noam Lemish: Pardes (self-released): June 1
  • Adam O'Farrill: El Maquech (Biophilia): June 1, packaging, no CD
  • William Parker: Voices Fall From the Sky (AUM Fidelity, 3CD): June 15

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Weekend Roundup

I finally finished reading Katy Tur's Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History. That would be the Trump campaign, which she covered from May 2015 to election night, choosing the most value-neutral terms she can stomach ("craziest"?). Pretty short on analysis and critical insight, but she found herself the target of Trump's ire and bullying often enough to develop a real distaste for the man -- especially during rallies where Trump whipped up the frenzied masses and threatened to unleash them on the press section. Still, she witnessed enough of Trump's effect on his adoring crowds to take them seriously -- just not enough to tell us much about them. That's partly because a large slice of the book is about her art and craft; i.e., how trivial TV "news" reporting really is. The book is organized with chapters on the road intercut with as many bits on election day and night, as it dawns on everyone that the unthinkable has happened. One memorable line: "To actually watch Trump's miracle come in is a shock like missing the last stair or sugaring your coffee with what proves to be salt. It's not just an intellectual experience. The whole body responds." The following page (p. 279) includes a bit on Michael Cohen (no longer "best known for an appearance on CNN back in August") celebrating at the victory party.

This is the third (or fourth or fifth) book on the election season I've read, after Matt Taibbi: Insane Clown President: Dispatches From the 2016 Circus and Jonathan Allen/Amie Parnes: Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign, and one might also add Bernie Sanders: Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In (first part a memoir of the campaign, followed by a platform statement) and/or David Frum: Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic (more on the campaign, especially the DNC hacks, but carries into a critique of the Trump administration). None of these are likely to stand as history -- Taibbi has the best instincts, but threw his book too fast from already dated pieces without sorting out or understanding the whiplash. Nor have I seen much that looks promising.

I suspect that when historians finally develop the stomach to relive the 2016 campaign, they'll recognize in Trump's campaign rallies some variant on the common theme of religious revivalism mixed in with a surprisingly adroit scam of both mass and highly-targeted media, with the Kochs, Mercers, and (yes) Russians lurking in the background. On the other hand, most Democrats couldn't see how brittle and lacklustre Clinton's path to the nomination was, and therefore how vulnerable she was to a shameless demagogue like Trump. Much of this is hinted at in various chronicles and broadsides, but thus far most observers have been so committed to their particular views that they've overshot the mark.

On the other hand, each new week offers more insights into the strange worldview of Donald Trump and the increasingly strange world he is plunging us into. The two major stories this past week are Trump's repudiation of the Iran nuclear deal (oddly juxtaposed with official optimism for a similar deal with North Korea) and much more information about Trump attorney Michael Cohen's efforts to cash in on his client's election.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: The week's 4 biggest political stories, explained: President Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal; Trump set a date to negotiate a nuclear deal with Korea (June 12 in Singapore); Michael Cohen got caught with his hand in the cookie jar; Trump admitted he's not doing some stuff ("the White House admitted that despite those promises, there will be no 2018 infrastructure bill . . . Trump dropped promises to have Medicare negotiate cheaper rates"). Other Yglesias posts:

    • Drug company stocks really liked today's Trump speech on drug prices: Chart shows the SPDR S&P Pharmaceuticals index spiking after the speech (although note the momentary dip, as if it took a few minutes for the early tough talk to be discounted. "The president is very selective about which promises he keeps, with the "economic populist" ones seemingly always the ones to end up on the cutting room floor."

    • There's an easier way for California to build greener housing: just build more homes. Hard to read the chart here, but the states with 40+ tons or carbon dioxide per person are Wyoming, North Dakota, Alaska, and (I think) Louisiana. On the low end, with less than 10 tons, are District of Columbia, New York, California, Oregon, and (I think) Massachusetts.

    • Sheldon Adelson cuts $30 million check to help House Republicans win the midterms. "The $30 million the octogenarian casino billionaire is spending on the midterms may sound like a lot, but it's actually a drop in the bucket compared to what Adelson's heirs will gain thanks to the estate tax cut provisions of Trump tax bill alone. . . . The same goes for even richer people like the Koch brothers, who are planning to spend even larger sums in the midterms."

    • Michael Cohen's LLC got secret corporate payments. What about Trump's shell companies? More significant than the revelation that a crony like Cohen would seek to profit from his association with Trump is the revelation that a number of big name companies were eager to buy his "services."

      In a normal presidency, it would be very difficult to make large, secret cash payments to the president of the United States as a means of currying favor with him. You could donate to his reelection campaign, but that would have to be disclosed. And you could hire people who you believe to have a relationship with him in hopes that they can peddle influence on your behalf (as AT&T and Novartis apparently did with Cohen), but it might not work.

      But there would be basically no way to directly pay the president in secret. Trump has changed that. It's completely unclear how Avenatti came to be in possession of the documents that reveal the payments to Essential Consultants, but it came about due to some kind of leak. Had they not leaked, we would still be in the dark. And since no financial documents related to any of the many LLCs that Trump controls personally have leaked, we have no idea who is paying him or why. . . .

      If Trump disclosed his tax returns, as is customary for presidential candidates, then those returns would contain fairly detailed statements regarding the incomes of these various entities. It would, of course, still be possible to conceal the true source of income through the use of further shell companies. A firm that wanted to pay Trump could, for example, create an indirectly controlled intermediary shell company, give money to that shell entity, and then have the shell entity hire DT Aerospace (Bermuda) LLC or whichever other Trump-owned firm it likes. But if we saw Trump's books, we would at least see clear evidence of him getting paid by mystery entities that could then be investigated by Congress or by journalists on their own terms.

      Without the tax returns, however, we know nothing.

      The tax return issue has long since fallen off the front burner of the political debate. It has come to be viewed in some circles as an esoteric or pathetic hang-up of Trump's opponents. But it's quite clear that the Trump Organization continues to be aggressively profit-seeking, quite clear that companies and individuals with interests in American politics openly seek to court Trump's favor by patronizing his hotel and clubs, and now clear that at least some companies with significant regulatory interests have also sought to advance their policy agenda via secret cash payments to an LLC controlled by a Trump associate.

      More Cohen links:

    • Republicans are deploying troll feminism to try to get Gina Haspel confirmed: "Bad-faith arguments about gender representation from people who don't believe in it."

    • Stormy Daniels is crowding out Democrats' 2018 message.

  • Barbara Ehrenreich: Patriarchy Deflated.

  • Henry Farrell: The "Intellectual Dark Web," explained: what Jordan Peterson has in common with the alt-right: In response to Bari Weiss: Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web, a group of "thinkers" whose common thread seems to be an eagerness to rationalize various forms of bigotry. IDW, evidently taken from a website which follows and certifies them, strikes me as a silly name. Such people don't seem to be especially obscure -- the best known to me is Sam Harris, who promotes atheism by slandering Islam. (Chris Hedges featured him prominently in I Don't Believe in Atheists.) As Farrell points out, there is nothing new in their fancy for theories of racial and sexual superiority -- indeed, we're not far removed from a time when such pseudo-science was commonplace. For another reaction, see Michelle Goldberg: How the Online Left Fuels the Right, which doesn't really argue what the title suggests -- more like how hard it is for the left to be understood through the jaundiced views of the right.

    One suspects the same title writer had a hand in Gerard Alexander: Liberals, You're Not as Smart as You Think You Are. I'm not as touchy about petty slander of liberals as I am of the left, probably because as a teen, even though I had absorbed most of the liberal/progressive view of American history, I associated liberals with the Cold War and even more so the hot war in Vietnam, and I wound up devouring books like Robert Paul Wolff's The Poverty of Liberalism. I mellowed later, partly as most of the liberal hawks turned into neocons, and partly because middle class society I grew up in no longer looked so oppressive. Still, I've always maintained a basic distinction between liberals and leftists: the former focus on individuals and their freedom, emphasizing equal opportunities over results; the latter think more of classes and aggregates, of social relations, and aim for equal results (within some practicable limits). Conservatives rarely bother with such distinctions: their cardinal principle is to preserve inequality from birth onward, so they view liberals and leftists as interchangeable, and this has led to an uneasy alliance between defined by a common enemy. Still, my disquisition is beside the point here. Alexander is one of those who group anyone resisting the conservative onslaught as liberal. And his point is that liberals aren't as effective as they should be, because they're kind of annoying:

    Liberals dominate the entertainment industry, many of the most influential news sources and America's universities. This means that people with progressive leanings are everywhere in the public eye -- and are also on the college campuses attended by many people's children or grandkids. These platforms come with a lot of power to express values, confer credibility and celebrity and start national conversations that others really can't ignore.

    But this makes liberals feel more powerful than they are. Or, more accurately, this kind of power is double-edged. Liberals often don't realize how provocative or inflammatory they can be. In exercising their power, they regularly not only persuade and attract but also annoy and repel.

    In fact, liberals may be more effective at causing resentment than in getting people to come their way. I'm not talking about the possibility that jokes at the 2011 correspondents' association dinner may have pushed Mr. Trump to run for president to begin with. I mean that the "army of comedy" that Michael Moore thought would bring Mr. Trump down will instead be what builds him up in the minds of millions of voters.

    I rather doubt that even the premise is true here. There are a lot of conservatives in academia, and behind the scenes right-wing donors (like the Kochs) have inordinate influence. Media and entertainment companies (increasingly the same thing) are owned by rich megacorps, backed by even richer bankers. The media isn't divided between left and right. It is either blatantly right-partisan or equivocally mainstream, attempting to balance "legitimate" politician viewpoints while covering news only to the extent it fits within the conventional wisdom and is entertaining. Needless to say, this dynamic has been very helpful for the right -- not just by bottling much of their base up in a propaganda bubble, where they can dismiss inconvenient news as the work of liberal elites, but by demanding their "enemies" grant them a degree of legitimacy that never need be reciprocated.

    As for the "army of comedy," it's pretty certain that no Trump fans are tuning in, so whatever umbrage they take comes secondhand, usually with context removed (see, e.g., the right-wing reaction to the Michelle Wolf event). I've watched Stephen Colbert and Seth Myers -- thanks to DVR, just the opening parts -- ever since the election, and I must say that they have helped to make this stretch of time more tolerable. They offer a useful but not-very-reliable daily news recap -- mostly stories I've already read about -- but more important for me is the solidarity with the audience: I'm reminded every weekday night that I'm not alone, that there are a lot of people out there as appalled by Trump as I am. (Indeed, proof of audience numbers is that fact that staid corporations allow those shows to air.)

    Alexander goes on to fault liberals for attacking racism with "a wide brush," to harping on "microaggressions," to their "tremendous intellectual and moral self-confidence that smacks of superiority." Still, there's nothing pecularly liberal about these complaints. Conservatives hold almost identically opposite views -- what else can you make of their constant harping about "political correctness" and "liberal elites"? On the other hand, conservative umbrage is often about changing the subject -- e.g., try squaring the complaint that "liberal politicians portrayed conservative positions on immigration reform as presumptively racist" with Trump's "shithole countries" remark. Maybe it is possible to construct an anti-immigration platform that isn't racist, but it's damn hard to sell it to the American people on any other basis, and we have good evidence that many of the people who are pushing such a program are doing so for staunchly racist reasons. And consider this paragraph:

    Liberals are trapped in a self-reinforcing cycle. When they use their positions in American culture to lecture, judge and disdain, they push more people into an opposing coalition that liberals are increasingly prone to think of as deplorable. That only validates their own worst prejudices about the other America.

    Not only can you substitute "conservatives" for "liberals" there, doing so would make it even more true. Maybe the title should have been, "Conservatives, You're Not as Smart as You Think You Are"?

  • Conor Friedersdorf: It's Time for Trump Voters to Face the Bitter Truth: "Republicans elected a president who promised to take on D.C. -- instead, Trump has presided over an extraordinary auction of access and influence." It seems like it's only a matter of time before even Trump voters realize how extraordinarily corrupt Trump and his circle are, with Michael Cohen's influence peddling a prime example:

    Back in 2016, "established K Street firms were grabbing any Trump people they could find," Nick Confessore reported in "How to Get Rich in Trump's Washington," a feature for The New York Times Magazine. "Jim Murphy, Trump's former political director, joined the lobbying giant BakerHostetler, while another firm, Fidelis Government Relations, struck up a partnership with Bill Smith, Mike Pence's former chief of staff. All told, close to 20 ex-aides of Trump, friends, and hangers-on had made their way into Washington's influence business."

    Brian Ballard, a longtime Trump acquaintance, seems to have leveraged his relationship to the president most profitably. The Turkish government is among his firm's many clients. Politico says Turkey pays $125,000 per month. Why does it find that price worthwhile?

    George David Banks was a top energy aide to Donald Trump who came from the world of lobbying. But he quit his job in the White House when he couldn't get a security clearance. Here's what he told E&E News, an energy trade publication: "Going back to be a full-time swamp creature is certainly an attractive option." Then he rejoined his former post at the American Council for Capital Formation, a think tank and lobbying group. I guess he wasn't joking.

    Remember when Trump told you that he would release his tax returns and then never did? Remember when he said that if he won the election he would put his business interests aside? "Ever since Trump and his family arrived in Washington they have essentially hung a for-sale sign on the White House by refusing to meaningfully separate themselves from their own business interests," Bloomberg's Tim O'Brien notes. "That's certainly not lost on the companies that do business in or with Washington. They know that in Trump's swamp, you pay to play."

  • Tara Golshan: Trump may just blow up the farm bill over demanding food stamp work requirements. I've long seen the Agriculture bill as a compromise deal between rural politicians who want market supports for farmers and agribusiness and urban politicians who want to fund SNAP (the "food stamp" program). Both sides have been uneasy about such a deal -- stupidly, I think, especially when they resort to anti-welfare arguments. Some wish to cut back or kill off what they see as subsidies to corporate agribusiness, and I don't doubt that there are aspects of the bill that could be tightened up. But much of the business side of the bill is necessary to stabilize notoriously volatile markets, and that stability and solvency helps make food relatively affordable for everyone. Some libertarians oppose such efforts, but most conservatives are fine with business-as-usual, so the far-right has focused on blowing up SNAP, and their chosen vector is "work requirements" for recipients. In one sense that seems innocuous: most SNAP recipients do in fact work -- albeit for wages too low to feed their families. Actually, there are four key beneficiaries to SNAP: the recipients; their employers, as this helps to keep low-wage jobs viable; retailers, who cash food stamps at retail prices; and agribusiness (farmers but especially processed food companies), who benefit from the larger market. But while most Republicans approve of at least the last three, the "moral critique" of welfare has become such a reflex among the far-right -- not least because Democrats from Daniel Moynahan to Bill Clinton have lent credence to the chorus -- that all they can see is an opportunity to harass and hurt poor people. Not a big surprise that Trump should get caught up in their rhetoric. Among other things, there is probably no area of government that he understands less about than agricultural policy. (Not that there aren't other areas where zero applies, but given that rural areas voted so heavily for him, his lack of understanding and interest is especially glaring.)

    By the way, one of the most outspoken saboteurs of agriculture bills past was Tim Huelskamp, who represented the massive 1st District in west Kansas. He wound up upsetting farmers and businesses in the district so badly that they challenged him in the Republican primary and beat him -- the only case I know of where a right-winger has been purged by regular Republicans.

    For another comment on the agriculture bill and SNAP, see Paul Krugman: Let Them Eat Trump Steaks, where he notes:

    And yes, this means that some of the biggest victims of Trump's obsession with cutting "welfare" will be the very people who put him in office.

    Consider Owsley County, Ky., at the epicenter of Appalachia's regional crisis. More than half the county's population receives food stamps; 84 percent of its voters supported Trump in 2016. Did they know what they were voting for?

    In the end, I don't believe there's any policy justification for the attack on food stamps: It's not about the incentives, and it's not about the money. And even the racial animus that traditionally underlies attacks on U.S. social programs has receded partially into the background.

    No, this is about petty cruelty turned into a principle of government. It's about privileged people who look at the less fortunate and don't think, "There but for the grace of God go I"; they just see a bunch of losers. They don't want to help the less fortunate; in fact, they get angry at the very idea of public aid that makes those losers a bit less miserable.

  • Jen Kirby/Emily Stewart: The very long list of high-profile White House departures: Cheat sheet, in case you need a reminder. Actually, not nearly as long as it should be.

  • Ezra Klein: American democracy as faced worse threats than Donald Trump. "We had a Civil War, after all." Point taken, but I have little confidence that, should Trump be deposed (even routinely in the 2020 election) that some/many of his supporters won't also elect "to exercise their Second Amendment rights." And after that, Klein's list starts to peter out. "We interned families of Japanese descent." Yeah, bad, but how is that really different from what INS is doing now? Or that we're currently running the largest and most intensive mass incarceration system in the world? "We pitched into the Iraq War based on lies." And Trump has recommitted us to the domain of truth? How can anyone write this the same week Trump tried to destroy the Iran nuclear deal? Or a year after Trump withdrew from the Paris Accords? I suppose Klein does us a service reminding us that "the era that we often hold up as the golden age of American democracy was far less democratic, far less liberal, far less decent, than [we think it was] today." Where he gets into trouble is in omitting those bracketed words, implying that today's political/economic/cultural order is more democratic, more liberal, and more decent than any time in America's past. One might credit some people with striving to make that true, but damn few of them hold any degree of power or even influence, and those people who do are pretty damn explicit about their campaign against democracy, liberalism, and decency (although they may prefer other words). The fact is nobody knows how bad it actually is, let alone how bad it's likely to get. The fact is that Trump has maintained the same 40% approval rate he was elected with, despite near-daily embarrassments. The Republicans hold structural advantages in Congress and the courts and all across the nation that they exploit ruthlessly and without shame. And the rich people who bankrolled them are only getting richer, with segment of the media in their pockets -- making sure that no serious changes are possible, regardless of how bad they screw things up.

    I don't mind that Klein is trying to put forth "the case for optimism about America." Nor do I doubt that he brings up things that could help to change the current course. And he's young enough to enjoy some hope that he'll live to see a change. But that's far from a lock, or even a good bet. Much of today's bad policy will only have incremental effect, slowly adding up until something serious breaks -- a causality that many won't notice even when it's too late. It was, after all, decisions early in the 1980s under Reagan that led to stagnant wages, inflated profits, and poisonous inequality. Al Qaeda and ISIS are direct descendants of the US decision in 1979 to back Islamic Jihad in Afghanistan, although that too can be traced back to American decisions from 1945 on to take a dominant role in Middle Eastern oil and, only slightly later, to turn against the Soviet Union and progressive movements everywhere. Alongside the Cold War, the late 1940s passage of Taft-Hartley started to turn the tide against labor unions, over time reducing them from a third to a twelfth of the private sector workforce. The failure to take climate change seriously is similarly rooted in the politics of oil, and in the corruption that the Reagan-era mantra "greed is good" promoted. Trump and virtually all Republicans have embraced this ideology and continue to promote it -- indeed, will so until it fails them, most probably catastrophically.

    I'm pretty suspicious of people like Yascha Mounk, interviewed by Klein in the audio accompanying this piece (and no, I didn't listen to the interview), but I do think Trump is "breaking norms" in ways that are simply treacherous. For instance, see Jen Kirby: Poll: most Republicans now think Trump is being framed by the FBI. Now personally, I'm pretty suspicious of the FBI, and I realize that they have a long history of abusing their power to hunt and hurt those they regard as enemies. Still, Trump is not the sort of guy who easily finds himself on the FBI enemies list. But more importantly, the source of this suspicion is clearly the Trump camp, in a cynical attempt to condition his followers to reject any actual evidence of wrong-doing. This is actually an old trick -- one Trump plied before the election when he argued that the system is rigged against him and vowed not to accept "fake news" reports of his loss.

  • Mark Landler: Clashing Views on Iran Reflect a New Balance of Power in the Cabinet: Article credits John Bolton as the decisive force behind Trump's abandonment of the agreement Obama and Kerry negotiated to resolve the supposed crisis of Iran's nuclear program (really just separating uranium isotopes), with Mike Pompeo the swing vote, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis opposed ("but did not push the case as vocally toward the end"). More Iran links:

    • Peter Beinart: Abandoning Iran Deal, U.S. Joins Israel in Axis of Escalation, who sums up in a tweet: "There are now two Wests. One, led by the leaders of Germany, France + UK, which believes in liberal democracy and international law. And a second, headquartered in Washington + Jerusalem, which holds those values in contempt." By the way, Beinart previously wrote: Trump May Already Be Violating the Iran Deal.

    • Phyllis Bennis: Is Trump's Abandonment of the Iran Nuke Deal a Prelude to War? Given that Israel attacked alleged Iranian targets in Syria within hours of Trump's announcement, I'd have to say yes. Israel had spent the previous week warning about Iran's desire to attack Israel, so it seems likely that Netanyahu was hoping to provoke an attack. Had it come from Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel could respond like they did in 2006. On the other hand, had it come from Iran itself, Israel would no doubt have appealed to Trump to do the honors -- given that US forces in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf were much closer to Iranian targets. I doubt that Trump actually wants to start a war with Iran, but subcontracting US foreign policy to Israel and the Saudis runs that risk. It was, after all, those countries which put all the pressure on Trump to break the Iran deal. Indeed, they put all the pressure on the US to address the so-called crisis of Iran's "nuclear program" in the first place, only to reject the only possible solution to their anxieties. For more on Israel, see Richard Silverman below. For more on the Saudis, see Ben Freeman/William D Hartung: How the Saudis Wooed Donald Trump.

    • Michael Klare: The Road to Hell in the Middle East.

    • Trita Parsi: Who Ordered Black Cube's Dirty Tricks? Hired by the White House, the Israeli company was tasked to "find or fabricate incriminating information about former Obama administration officials, as well as people and organizations that had a part in securing the Iran nuclear deal."

    • Paul R Pillar: Hold the Deal-Killers Accountable.

    • Matt Shuham: Promising Chinese Jobs, Trump Commits to Backing Off Iran Sanctions Violator ZTE: At least Trump cares about someone's jobs.

    • Richard Silverman: Bibi Gins Up Another War to Save His Political Ass: Within hours of Trump's deal breaking, Israeli planes bombed Iranian targets within Syria. And, well, "Bibi's polling numbers have shot through the roof since the last attack on Syria."

    • Jon Swaine: US threatens European companies with sanctions after Iran deal pullout.

    • Stephen M Walt: The Art of the Regime Change: The assumption of the deal breakers is that when the Iranian people realize that they can no longer enjoy the fruits of friendship with the US, they'll revolt and overthrow their clerical masters and replace them with a new regime that will show sufficient deference to the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. Either that, or they'll do so after the US blows up a sufficient swath of the country. Neither, well, seems very realistic, not that the US lacks the capability to show them what real nuclear powers can do.

      Otto von Bismarck once quipped that it was good to learn from one's mistakes but better to learn from someone else's. This latest episode shows that the United States is not really capable of learning from either. And it suggests that Winston Churchill's apocryphal comment about the United States always doing the right thing should now be revised. Under Trump, it appears, the United States will always do the wrong thing but only after first considering -- and rejecting -- all the obviously superior alternatives.

    • Philip Weiss: By wrecking Iran deal, Trump politicized Israel: Not that that hurts Trump, but virtually every Democrat in Washington supported the Iran nuke deal, and now it's going to be hard for them to deny that Israel was the driving force behind wrecking it.

      If there was one bright spot in the day, it was the almost universal anger and anguish that followed Trump's speech, and the determination to try and undo his action by any means the rest of us can. Even the neoconservatives who have pushed this action seemed afraid of what it meant. Even Chuck Schumer, who had opposed his own president on the Iran deal three years ago because of the "threat to Israel," was against Trump.

      On the other hand, just this week Sheldon Adelson wrote the Republicans a $30 million check. Sure suggests "pay to play" is still live and well in the new Trump swamp. Also that the US can be steered into war pretty damn cheap.

  • Dara Lind: Donald Trump is reportedly furious that the US can't shut down the border:

    Nielsen, as well as Attorney General Jeff Sessions, apparently tried to explain to the president that the federal government is constrained in what it can do by the law, but Trump reportedly wasn't having it. "We need to shut it down," he yelled at Nielsen at one point, per the Post report. "We're closed."

    Yelling at people is a management tactic for President Trump; sometimes his anger inspires long-held grudges, but sometimes it dissipates once he's gotten it off his chest. But he's spent the past month in an apparent panic about the border, and his outburst at Nielsen shows it isn't going away.

    The president's tantrum is totally divorced from policy reality: The government can't "shut it down," and Nielsen and Sessions appear to be working aggressively to do what they can to crack down at the border. But Trump's panic is the inevitable consequence of treating the current situation at the border as an unprecedented crisis -- which Nielsen's DHS, as well as the White House, has made a concerted effort to do.

  • Aja Romano: The fight to save net neutrality, explained: "Congress or the courts could still save net neutrality -- but don't get your hopes up." Important piece, originally written in December 2017 and newly updated.

  • Dylan Scott: The 6 most interesting parts of Trump's mostly disappointing drug price plan. I don't see anything here that fundamentally changes the pharmaceutical industry, with a couple things that could conceivably make their predation worse (e.g., "Allow certain Part D drugs to be priced differently based on different uses "). Most ominous is: "Undertake some vaguely defined changes to US trade policy to try to address the disparity between what the US pays for drugs and what other countries pay" -- i.e., get other countries to pay more for American drugs than current negotiated prices. This has actually been a long running trade agreement strategy, as US has always been willing to trade manufacturing jobs to coax other countries into paying more "intellectual property" rents. That's why the deals have often turned out to be lose-lose propositions for American workers.

    More on drug prices/profits:

    • Sarah Kliff: The true story of America's sky-high prescription drug prices. Well, mostly true. Kliff assumes that private pharmaceutical companies have to make profits in order to attract investments to develop new drugs. That's only sort of the way it works now: drug companies spend a lot more money on things like marketing than they do on r&d. Moreover, their r&d expenses are targeted on things with the highest return, not necessarily on the greatest need. For instance, an expensive continuing term treatment for a widespread problem like cholesterol or inflammation is better for business than a cure for a rare condition. On the other hand, a lot of medical research is already funded by government, and more would be even more effective -- not least because information can be shared, instead of hiding it in closed, competitive corporate labs. One can even negotiate a treaty whereby (virtually) all nations agree to invest a minimum amount to produce treatments that everyone can use. (That would answer Kliff's argument that US companies, motivated by undoubted greed, produce a disproportionate amount of the world's cures -- not that I'm sure that's even true.)

    • Paul Krugman: What's Good for Pharma Isn't Good for America (Wonkish).

    • Dylan Scott: The blockbuster fight over this obscure federal program explains America's drug prices: All about 340B.

  • Emily Stewart: Trump taps private equity billionaire for intelligence advisory role: Stephen Feinberg, co-CEO of Cerberus Capital, which owns shadowy defense contractor DynCorp -- one of their big cash cows was training the Afghan police force. Stephen Witt wrote a profile back last July: Stephen Feinberg, the private military contractor who has Trump's ear.

  • Todd VanDerWerff: The rise of the American news desert: "Predominantly white rural areas supported Trump. They also often lack robust local media." Sees local media as "a necessary counterbalance to national narratives," and notes that:

    The slow death of local media has contributed to the epistemic closure in conservative circles, especially in rural areas. That's led to the proliferation of so-called "fake news" stories, widely spread on Facebook, which are sometimes outright untrue and sometimes just a hugely misleading presentation of a true news story.

    No one has been sure how to puncture that conservative media bubble, to combat the narratives that lots of rural white voters have come to believe are true. It's impossible to contradict fake news with "real news" when the sources offering that real news aren't trusted.

    But local media outlets, which used to carry that sort of clout within their communities, are being economically strangled by an environment that increasingly requires turning to nationally syndicated programs and stories, rather than the sort of local focus that used to mark these outlets. . . .

    Conservatives have spent decades effectively discrediting the national media among their partisans. But that effort wouldn't have been as effective if there weren't space for it to flourish, in places where local news organizations have been strangled or cut to the bone.

    My first thought was that there is a national media desert as well, but then I thought of cable news and it started looking more like a jungle, where constant fear of snakes and spiders and the inability to see more than a few feet makes it impossible to grasp what's really going on.

  • Alex Ward: Pompeo: US and North Korea "in complete agreement" on goals of Trump-Kim summit: Of course, nobody know what he thinks he's talking about. The article posits a series of steps by North Korea (along with "robust verification," etc.), each to be followed by some sort of "reward" (mostly in the form of reduced sanctions) for their good behavior. That doesn't sound like a very fair deal to me, which matters because stable deals need to be based on mutual respect and fairness, not on who can apply the most pressure. Moreover, Ward buys into the company line that:

    North Korea has also historically been a very tough country to negotiate with, in large part because it routinely breaks the deals it agrees to. The US and other countries have been trying to come to a diplomatic, negotiated agreement with North Korea over its nuclear program since 1985. It's broken its commitments multiple times with the US, including walking out on a denuclearization deal in 2009.

    My impression is that the US is the one who has repeatedly sabotaged the various talks with North Korea (see, e.g., Six-party talks, which started in 2003 and ended without agreement in 2009). What's always been lacking has been American willingness to normalize relations with North Korea. Maybe Trump and Kim realize that's the only possible deal, and maybe they understand that neither country can afford to continue the impasse. Still, Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal should be proof that the US cannot be trusted to keep its promises.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 29660 [29628] rated (+32), 356 [372] unrated (-16).

When I unpack an album, I record it in five separate files: my Year 2018 file, my Music Tracking 2018 file, a scratch file which gets folded into my next Music Week post, another scratch file which has review stubs for all of the unrated jazz records in my queue, and what I call my database: actually a set of 20-some text files that get run through a program I wrote to generate a big big table, my Music Database intro file, and the bunch of genre/period-specific files linked to from there. It's not that I don't understand the principle of normalization, but this system evolved over time from something much simpler, and it still works (for the most part). In fact, I usually do a pretty good job of logging those new records in all of those places.

Where I often fall down is when I grade an album. Not only to I usually have to update all of those files (as well as doing nearly all of the unpacking work for streamed albums), I also write a review in working Streamnotes draft file. And, of course, it gets more complicated around EOY time, when I'm compiling my aggregate file and sorting out my jazz and non-jazz EOY lists. It turns out that I sometimes (on average 2-3 times per week) skip one or more of those, most commonly the database files, resulting in short rated counts. When I ran my program this week, I came up with 23 albums rated. I wasn't real real surprised. I didn't have any major disruptions last week, but came up with way more than a normal week's worth of A-list records, and they tend to take more time -- often 3-4 plays; in fact, the only one I see this week that only got two plays was Tommy Flanagan's Giant Steps.

But I was a little surprised, so I counted the records listed below, and came up with 24. Clearly I had missed something, so I went back and rechecked my U-rated albums, and caught a couple from last week, a couple from the previous week, and a few more from further back. In fact, the list below is probably missing something, but that's harder to check and will soon be forgotten.

Three of the A-list records were among the pile I pulled out as strong prospects when trying to wrap up April Streamnotes: Kira Kira, the two Henry Threadgill; the others in that pile scored high B+: Angelika Niescier and Samo Salamon B+. Cardi B and Janelle Monáe are perhaps the most anticipated pop/rap albums of the season. Cardi B won Pazz & Jop's singles category last year, and that single is on the album, where it doesn't even stand out like hit singles usually do. Monáe's album temporarily topped Album of the Year. (It's since slipped to 4th, but with 28 reviews, vs. an average of 10 for the three records above it. I haven't heard those three yet, but will look for them next week.) Good chance both records will place top ten in this year's EOY aggregates -- not that my grades have any sway or much correlation there. For whatever it's worth, I got to Cardi B (and to Princess Nokia) before Christgau published last week (both records were on Phil Overeem's list, as was Ceramic Dog's YRU Still Here? and a few other things I listened to but didn't like as much).

Christgau reviewed Willie Nelson the week before, but the record didn't show up on Napster until some time last week. The old Tommy Flanagan record popped up as a "new featured" release, as did Van Morrison and the also-ran Blue Note jazz. I was reminded of Tune-Yards by Michael Tatum, who also has a new "Hall of Records" post on The Rolling Stones, Out of Our Heads (US edition). Playing this now on Napster, just because it was easier to dig out. I know I have the CD somewhere, graded A, but no note on whether it's US or UK edition, so my copy probably predates the reissue that made the distinction. I vividly remember buying "Satisfaction" as a single, thinking it was the greatest thing I had ever heard (and also loving the back side, "The Under Assistant West Coast Promo Man"), but I didn't buy a Stones LP until High Tide and Green Grass. Hard in those days to scrape together enough money to buy a record. Guess I made up for that later.

I can't recall when the last time I had no new mail to unpack was. Nothing today either. Still getting links for downloads but most of them go into the trash immediately. (Exceptions today: a William Parker 3-CD box, Voices Fall From the Sky, and new work from Matt Lavelle. I also kept Posi-Tone's latest link, but can't say I've been very diligent about following them since I stopped getting CDs.) I suppose the good news is less filing, and less clutter. But I've already lost that battle.

Looking forward to a week where there's virtually nothing I have to do.


New records rated this week:

  • Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy (2018, Atlantic): [r]: A-
  • Kenny Barron Quintet: Concentric Circles (2018, Blue Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Terence Blanchard: Live (2018, Blue Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ceramic Dog: YRU Still Here? (2018, Northern Spy): [r]: A-
  • Chamber 3: Transatlantic (2016 [2018], OA2): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Nels Cline 4: Currents Constellations (2017 [2018], Blue Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • Elysia Crampton: Elysia Crampton (2018, Break World, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Czarface/MF Doom: Czarface Meets Metal Face (2018, Silver Age): [r]: A-
  • Dave Gisler Trio: Rabbits on the Run (2017 [2018], Intakt): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Kira Kira: Bright Force (2017 [2018], Libra): [cd]: A-
  • Janelle Monáe: Dirty Computer (2018, Bad Boy): [r]: A-
  • Van Morrison and Joey DeFrancesco: You're Driving Me Crazy (2018, Legacy): [r]: B+(**)
  • Willie Nelson: Last Man Standing (2018, Legacy): [r]: A-
  • Angelika Niescier Trio: The Berlin Concert (2017 [2018], Intakt): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Princess Nokia: A Girl Cried Red (2018, Rough Trade, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Samo Salamon/Tony Malaby/Roberto Dani: Traveling Moving Breathing (2017 [2018], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Rob Schwimmer: Heart of Hearing (2018, Sunken Heights Music): [cd]: B-
  • Susana Santos Silva: All the Rivers: Live at Panteão Nacional (2016 [2018], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • Sonar With David Torn: Vortex (2017 [2018], RareNoise): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Henry Threadgill: Double Up, Plays Double Up Plus (2017 [2018], Pi): [cd]: A-
  • Henry Threadgill 14 or 15 Kestra: Agg: Dirt . . . and More Dirt (2017 [2018], Pi): [cd]: A-
  • Tune-Yards: I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life (2018, 4AD): [r]: B

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

  • Eliane Elias: Music From Man of La Mancha (1995 [2018], Concord): [r]: B+(*)

Old music rated this week:

  • Tommy Flanagan: Giant Steps: In Memory of John Coltrane (1982, Enja): [r]: A-


Unpacking: Nothing in the mail last week.

 

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Another week, more links:

  • Matthew Yglesias: The week's 4 big political stories, explained: Donald Trump reimbursed Michael Cohen for the Stormy payoff (according to new Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani; funny typo here referring to Trump layer "Cohn"); Scott Pruitt scandals are metastasizing; Trump finally got a top-notch lawyer (after Ty Cobb quit, and no, not Giuliani -- someone named Emmet T Flood, whose past employers included Antonin Scalia, Bill Clinton, GW Bush, Dick Cheney, and Hillary Clinton, none of whom wound up in jail, despite, well, you know); The economy added 164,000 jobs in April (another typo here, "1640,000"). Other Yglesias posts:

    • The simplest, most important question the White House can't answer: "Why did the president fire James Comey?"

      All that said, Sanders's statement from the podium today was a reminder that Trump really is on some level an abnormally rotten, abnormally dangerous figure to hold such high office.

      He fundamentally rejects the notion that the American state exists to serve the public interest and that he, in his role as president, is likewise a servant of the public. He instead wants to "run the government like a business" (as the cliché goes) in the most literal and retrograde way imaginable -- for his own personal benefit, constrained if at all by the letter of the law or, more properly, by what he can manage to get away with under the law.

    • 4 political science lessons from Kanye West's embrace of Donald Trump: "Normal people are instinct-driven rationalizers motivated by group loyalty dynamics, not ideologies." Cites a book by Milton Lodge and Charles S. Taber, The Rationalizing Voter, to argue that West's fondness for Trump is intuitive rather than rational, and that this isn't uncommon:

      When Bill Clinton was president, for example, highly attentive Republicans were more likely than less attentive Republicans to say the budget deficit was rising. They knew the falling deficit was a key Clinton talking point and they knew they didn't like Clinton, so they "knew" he was lying about the deficit.

      West, somewhat similarly, seems to be "learning" a lot of pseudo-facts about the history of race in America in response to his decision to affiliate himself with Trump, rather than deciding to affiliate with Trump after undertaking a revisionist study of race in America.

    • Trump's Stormy Daniels tweets show how easy he is to blackmail: "A man who dispenses cash for secrets this easily is a risky man to have in office."

      This is exactly why Sally Yates warned Trump long ago that Michael Flynn was a security risk, but rather than address the risk, Trump tried to hush it up.

      That's been the story of Trump's whole life -- breaking the rules and using money he inherited from his father to make problems go away. It's been a remarkably successful strategy for him, despite considerable collateral damage to the long list of people he's screwed over -- from unpaid contractors to defrauded Trump University students -- and now that he's president, we all get to pay the price for his various cover-ups.

    • Cities hoping to win Amazon's HQ2 should watch what they wish for. Yglesias is concerned that "an influx of good-paying jobs" would cause an increase in rents that would gobble up gains and hurt more people than the new business would help -- unless, that is, the new site built enough additional housing to compensate. Many candidate cities are already burdened by high rents, so don't have that flexibility. Left unsaid is that landlords, who seem to have more political clout than renters, would benefit from driving up rents (although they're likely to get stuck with paying the taxes that Amazon gets to duck).

    • Ukraine cut off cooperation with Mueller to curry favor with Trump:

      And even more troublingly, it's not just Trump and not just Ukraine.

      The administration is currently nearing an important decision on Iran policy, a topic that many Middle Eastern countries have strong feelings about and interests that do not align perfectly with those of the United States. Trump has known business dealings with many of these Gulf monarchies, and we have no idea what secret deals he's making or what cash payments are being funneled through his clubs.

      No previous president would have dared to wallow in such a morass of conflicts of interest. Then again, no previous president would have led foreign countries to believe that their receipt of security assistance was dependent on them seeking to actively obstruct an ongoing criminal investigation.

    • Mike Pence hails Joe Arpaio as a "tireless champion . . . of the rule of law: "The vice president is all in on Trump's shocking attacks on basic institutions."

    • Study: overhyped media narratives about America's fading white majority fuel anxiety

    • T-Mobile's proposed takeover of Sprint, explained: A fascinating piece. Among other things, I learned that T-Mobile and Sprint are both owned by foreign conglomerates (one German, the other Japanese) that have been reluctant to inject new capital. Meanwhile, the top two wireless companies, Verizon and AT&T, both descend from Bell operating companies and have many interlocking investors (the top three of both are Vanguard, Blackrock, and State Street), so they tend to be competitors in name only.

    • Democrats' 2018 impeachment dilemma, explained: "Impeaching Trump polls poorly, but Democratic candidates can't ignore the elephant in the room." One point worth making is that Republicans tried pushing a narrowly partisan impeachment process against Bill Clinton in 1998, one that never had a prayer of passing the Senate, and it more or less backfired on them. Without significant Republican support, impeaching Trump won't succeed either (and replacing him with Mike Pence wouldn't do anyone any favors either). So at this point, and realistically even if Democrats win narrow margins in both House and Senate in 2018, the sensible position would be to wait and see. One thing a Democratic Congress can do is to investigate Trump and to limit his power, and there's no reason not to promise to do just that. It's even possible that Trump might blossom as a constructive dealmaker given Democratic control of Congress. It's also possible that he could turn even more paranoid and self-destruct, but you can't predict either before the conditions change.

  • Charlotte Alter: The Walls That Hillary Clinton Created: Review of Amy Chozick's Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling, a book I suppose could be interesting if/when it compares/contrasts Clinton's two presidential campaigns, both starting out as slam/dunk favorites and winding up in the trash can of history: what did she learn? and why didn't that work? One problem seems to be that she never cultivated a working relationship with the press:

    People who know Clinton often complain that the press, and therefore the public, never gets to see how warm and funny she is in person. Chasing Hillary is the best explanation so far of why that is. Chozick describes Clinton's press shop (which she calls "The Guys") as an anonymous gang of manipulative, unresponsive and vaguely menacing apparatchiks who alternate between denying her interview requests (47 in total, by her count), bullying her in retaliation for perceived negative coverage ("You've got a target on your back," one of them tells her) and exploiting her insecurities about keeping up with her (often male) colleagues. The campaign quarantined the press on a separate bus and, later, a separate plane, often without even an accompanying flack to answer basic questions.

    As for the petty stuff, there seems to be quite a lot in Chozick's book, as there is in the one I'm reading now, Katy Tur: Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History, where Tur gets bullied as much as Chozick, only more often by the candidate directly (she covered Trump, in case that wasn't obvious). Also in The New York Times Book Review, let me mention John McCain: By the Book, which is actually pretty reasonable, not least because he sticks with well-known books (The Great Gatsby, Huckleberry Finn, For Whom the Bell Tolls; asked about Vietnam, he offers two Bernard Fall books and Neil Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie; and he promises to read Ron Chernow's Grant next). Good chance his ghostwriter Mark Salter helped him out.

  • Jason Ditz: Giuliani: Trump Will Kill Iran Nuclear Deal:

    Speaking this weekend at an anti-Iran conference, President Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani declared that the president would withdraw the US from the Iran nuclear deal. He went on to insist this would lead to regime change in Iran.

    Giuliani held up a piece of paper meant to represent the Iran deal, yelling at the crowd "what do you think is going to happen to that agreement?" He ripped up the paper and then spat on it. President Trump has previously set an ultimatum of May 12 for withdrawing from the deal.

    Given how loudly Trump administration flaks have been announcing the intent to withdraw from the "worst deal ever," it seems unlikely not to happen. Peter Van Buren predicts: US Is Playing With Fire if It Walks Away From the Iran Nuclear Deal on May 12. My personal opinion is that if the other five signatories stick with the deal Iran will too, so the only effect that Trump will have is to keep US businesses from trading with Iran (e.g., halting a large order for Boeing airliners), and generally make the US look like a rogue nation with no regard for world peace (something which may contribute to scuttling prospects for a denuclearizing agreement with North Korea -- possibly part of the reason the usual suspects are pressing this issue now). Of course, withdrawing from the deal could just be a first step toward war with Iran, something Israel and Saudi Arabia would be keen to cheer on but lack the wherewithal to undertake themselves (unless Israel wants to be the one starting a nuclear war). But rather than pushing war as their reason, the deal's opponents are rekindling fantasies that the Iranian people will revolt and overthrow the regime. Certainly, if the stated US goals for the deal were serious, there is no reason to withdrawal. For instance, see Fred Kaplan: Bibi's Iran Speech Was a Bust. Trita Parsi had the same thought: Did Israel Inadvertently Make Case for Staying in Nuke Agreement? Also note: Mark Townsend/Julian Borger: Trump team hired spy firm for 'dirty ops' on Iran arms deal, and Borger's solo Trump's dirty ops attack on Obama legacy shows pure hatred for Iran deal. For another prediction, see: Saeed Kamali Dehglan: If Trump destroys the nuclear deal, Iran will fall to its hardliners.

  • Thomas Frank: Are Democrats finally read to unfriend Facebook and Silicon Valley? "Not so long ago, Barack Obama was drinking in Mark Zuckerberg's psychobabble about bringing the world together." Of course, the real bond between Silicon Valley and Clinton/Obama Democrats was money. Clinton's late-1990s boom was largely based on Internet promotion, and Obama tried to do the same thing with non-fossil energy businesses, and Sillcon Valley's donations kept the Democrats (Obama and the Clintons, anyway) competitive. If that's changing, it's because as tech businesses grow, they become more focused on bottom line, and more predatory, so they seem less and less like unequivocal innovations. But also, while there's no denying that Clinton and Obama made them money, there's also a growing suspicion that average Democratic voters got very little from electing them -- indeed, an increasing number of voters became so cynical that they figured they had little to lose by taking a chance on Trump. Also, it turns out that Trump was able to use "social media" more effectively. Still, I doubt any Democrats soliciting big money are going to unfriend anyone who pays up. I'm not even sure they should. But if we've learned anything in the last year it's that high tech isn't an unambiguous blessing.

  • Dhar Jamail: Explosions and Crashes: Military Aircraft Are a Threat to US Civilians: "On April 3, a third military aircraft crashed in just one 24-hour period." Jamail has too many recent crashes to mention one of the biggest ones, which happened here in Wichita in 1965, when a KC-135 tanker with 31,000 gallons of jet fuel dropped out of the sky to raze an entire city block (killing 30, 23 on the ground).

  • Mike Konczal: How low can unemployment go? Economists keep getting the answer wrong. It's down to 3.9% now, according to one measure anyhow. Back in the 1970s economists came up with something they called "the natural rate of unemployment," below which inflation ensues. We're way below what economists thought the number was then, and we're still not seeing significant inflation. For a prescient critique of the theory from the late-1990s see the writings of George P. Brockway. (By the way, Brockway's The End of Economic Man: Principles of Any Future Economics is the book you should start with if you want to read one book about economics.) One thing I'd like to add is that the assumption that increasing wages are the main cause of inflation is baked into the theory, which is why it's always been a cudgel against tightening of labor markets. That's not to deny that increasing unemployment, which is what the theory prescribes to counter inflation, doesn't reduce inflation, but it does so not by decreasing the costs of products and services but by reducing the demand for them. Conversely, most of the price increases we've seen since the theory was developed have come from monopoly rents and capital demands (and in some cases, like OPEC or Enron, artificially induced supply shortages). Meanwhile, the enormous inrease of asset prices we've seen since 1980 isn't counted as inflation at all -- it's merely considered to be the dividends of wealth.

  • Don Lefler/Tim Potter: County Commissioner Michael O'Donnell indicted on bank, wire fraud and money laundering: Local Wichita story, but file it under "when bad things happen to bad people." The article describes O'Donnell as "a rising star" in the Republican Party in Kansas. Indeed, he's won three elections by age 33: Wichita City Council, Kansas State Senate, and Sedgwick County Commissioner. His ran for the Senate as part of the right-wing purge of Republican moderates, defeating popular incumbent Jean Schodorf in the primary and hanging on for a narrow win. In the legislature, he sponsored a bill to place draconian limits on welfare recipients, including prohibition from withdrawing more than $25 at a time from a bank ATM, as well as a long list of other "luxuries." (At the time, I wrote that O'Donnell "is a textbook example of how ignorant and unrealistic a sheltered and pampered young person can be." See my notebook, under "Cathy O'Neil: Kansas redistributes money from the poor to the banks.") The article doesn't mention a scandal that O'Donnell was involved in involving underage drinking. Lynn Rogers, a popular member of the Wichita School Board (and a former Republican) decided to run as a Democrat against O'Donnell, a race that O'Donnell dodged by running for County Commissioner instead. (Rogers won.) The article does include critical comments from Richard Ranzau, who has been feuding with O'Donnell recently. Ranzau is an arch-conservative, but compared with O'Donnell comes of as principled. I saw another article where Jim Ward noted that O'Donnell has always "played fast and loose." Looks like he finally got caught. He's charged with federal crimes, so maybe Trump will pardon him.

  • Dara Lind: Trump tells 57,000 Hondurans who've lived in the US for 20 years to get out: "It's yet another move that will turn people who are in the US legally into unauthorized immigrants." The program is TPS (Temporary Protected Status), originally a temporary program but for Honduras was set up in 1998 and only covers people in the US by then. Each nation is reviewed separately. If the Trump administration continues to end TPS programs, by 2020 some 400,000 who currently have legal status in the US will lose their protection and be subject to deportation.

  • Jedediah Purdy: Normcore: A review of "crisis-of-democracy" books, a booming genre since Trump got elected, specifically: Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt: How Democracies Die; Yascha Mounk: The People Versus Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It; David Frum: Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic; William A. Galston: Antipluralism: The Populist Threat to Liberal Democracy; and E.J. Dionne Jr, Norman J. Ornstein, and Thomas E. Mann: One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet-Deported. More books in this vein are available, and beyond that there are numerous efforts to reëxamine historical fascists in light of Trump, and there is another stack of books hoping to impeach Trump -- an impossible cry for a broken system to fix itself.

    What is missing from these works, and the commentariat that they represent, is a genuine reckoning with twenty-first-century questions: whether we have ever been democratic, and whether the versions of capitalism that have emerged in the last forty years are compatible with democracy. The crisis-of-democracy literature largely presumes that these debates have been settled, so that any doubts about that settlement must be symptoms of confusion or bad faith. That is why these books do not rise to the crisis that occasions them. Answering basic questions about the relationship between democracy and capitalism is the only credible response to the present crisis.

    Purdy locates this bewilderment about capitalism and democracy to what he calls "the long 1990s" -- the triumphalist conclusion that once the Soviet Union fell everybody understood that the only viable system was politically democratic and robustly capitalist. (Of course, nobody takes China seriously as a counter-example.) Since the early 1990s, both US political parties have vied with each other to increase inequality -- the main difference that while Republicans focus on zero-sum transfers, the Democrats favor the sleight-of-hand game they call growth. While this rivalry has been lucrative for the wealthy, it has left pretty much everyone else not only poorer but with a diminished sense of power over their lives and future. The result was that in 2016, politics took a disturbing detour from the agreed-upon virtues:

    The energy in 2016 was entirely elsewhere. Everyone sensed this -- except, perhaps, the Clinton campaign. Sanders and Trump stood for opposite principles and visions of the country, but the two candidates shared an indifference to the standard formula of American politics: constitution + heroic history = America. This was the equation that made Barack Obama, John McCain, and Ted Cruz divergent participants in a single political culture. Sanders talked like what he is, a person of the democratic left, to whom America is a place to be worked on, not in itself a source of meaning or identity. Trump departed from Cold-War rhetoric in the opposite direction. To hear him speak, he might never have heard of the Constitution (other than the Second Amendment, a euphemistic hook for his favored themes of violence and racialized fear), the Revolution, or the Civil War -- or for that matter the civil rights movement, a redemptive touchstone for Cold-War liberalism. For him, America is not a philosophical problem or a historical challenge, but a chance to beat down whoever falls on the wrong side of the border or the loyalty test. "America, fuck yeah!" as Team America would have it.

    The thing that really defined Trump's political language was its nihilism about politics itself, the appetite it stoked for political bullshit that doesn't even pretend to hold together, but just staggers from one emotional trigger to another. Trump essentially short-sold the high-minded political style of the late Cold War, betting that it would prove weaker than it looked under pressure -- that people neither expected much from government nor thought it important enough to be well run; that a lot of voters despised their political class and the cultural and financial elites around it; and that recreational cruelty and you-can't-bullshit-a-bullshitter snark would feel more authentic than any respectably sanctioned appeal to better angels. We are, he intimated, the barbarians we've been waiting for.

    Also see Daniel Denver/Thea Riofrancos: Zombie Liberalism, a review of Mounk's book. As they point out, Mounk argues that "to fight the far right, liberals should reclaim a more inclusive nationalism." Problem is, that sounds more like a plan to fight the left (often the fight centrists prefer to pick).

    Despite the appeal to pragmatism, Mounk's political vision is utopian, his ideal polity a kind of liberal sublime. In a distant place far outside of history, virtuous trustees of public reason skillfully mobilize the best of nationalism while fending off its "dangerous excesses." Entranced, Mounk sees in nationalism a muscular tool for legitimizing the political-economic order: "Nationalism is like a half-wild beast. As long as it remains under our control, it can be of tremendous use." Who is the "beast," and who is the "us" into which Mounk places the reader?

    From long ago, the left has held a critique of nationalism: that it is (mostly) an artificial division of people into groups for the purpose of furthering conservative hierarchies. This hasn't kept leftists from invoking nationalism for their own purposes -- especially to organize resistance against colonial powers. Still, it's never really set well, as it runs counter to the fundamental that all people should be equal and free. When Mounk argues for his more enlightened nationalism, he's sacrificing this very fundamental for political expediency. Of course, as a self-conscious anti-populist, his pitch is aimed at elites (admittedly, liberal ones) -- necessarily so, as who else would agree to continuing rule by elites?

    Also see: Corey Robin: Democracy Is Norm Erosion:

    Two or three weeks ago, I had an intuition, a glimpse of a thought that has kept coming back to me since: the discourse of norm erosion isn't really about Trump. Nor is it about authoritarianism. What it's really about is "extremism," that old stalking horse of Cold War liberalism. And while that discourse of norm erosion won't do much to limit Trump and the GOP, its real contribution will be to mark the outer limits of left politics, just at a moment when we're seeing the rise of a left that seems willing to push those limits.

    I get what Robin is saying here, but I'm not happy with the term "extremism" here, mostly because a lot of the things the "norms defenders" dislike, especially on the left, don't strike me as extreme at all. In particular, peace and equality aren't extreme all-or-nothing propositions. They are ideals which should orient us for everyday decisions. But until recently what passed for serious, legitimate political discourse excluded left ideals, and therefore even practical proposals, as "extremist."

    Robin concludes:

    For now, I'll merely leave us with this thought: democracy is a permanent project of norm erosion, forever shattering the norms of hierarchy and domination and the political forms that aid and abet them.

  • Aziz Rana: The Left's Missing Foreign Policy: Well, not my left, but you know who he's talking about:

    At the outset of the 2003 Iraq War, I caught up after some years with a friend and professor of mine, who had close links with the Democratic Party's foreign policy establishment. He was dismayed by the turn of events, and not only because of the collective insanity that seemed to grip the Bush White House. Despite the massive global protests, a surprisingly large number of people within Washington and the Democratic Party's think tanks and policy circles backed the invasion, sometimes tacitly, often explicitly. He described the run-up to the war as being like finding yourself in an Ionesco play, watching your friends turn into rhinoceroses. . . .

    In 2008 Obama distinguished himself from Hillary Clinton as an antiwar candidate, but once in office his administration and foreign policy team were staffed by pro-war faces and their protégés, from Clinton herself to Joe Biden and Samantha Power, along with many of the exact people my professor lamented all the way back in 2003. And, as has been noted, Obama's staffing decisions led to policies shaped by the same faulty logic that produced Iraq -- the most obvious example being the American-led regime change in Libya, on supposedly humanitarian grounds, that left tens of thousands dead, with lingering devastation that continues to drive an enormous exodus of refugees. . . . After eight years of Obama's wars, the only policy positions in the Democratic Party continue to be those presented by the same national security establishment that acquiesced to the Iraq invasion.

    I would have said Afghanistan instead of Iraq, as the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan was the original sin of the Global War on Terror. Indeed, if Obama had understood that, he wouldn't have wound up hiring so many Iraq War accomplices. But Rana is right that the mindset which made the decision to attack Afghanistan dates back much further, at least to the 1940s. He goes on to sketch out the rudiments of a new foreign policy, starting:

    The first is a global commitment to social democracy rather than free market capitalism (as embodied in austerity, neoliberal privatization, and trade agreements built on entrenching corporate property rights). . . .

    "Do no harm" would be another key principle.

    If you look back to Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" and the founding documents of the United Nations, you'll find the germ of a policy promoting social democracy worldwide as the basis for world peace. The first corruption of that occurred when the US reverted to its pre-Roosevelt foreign policies of promoting US business interests abroad, more aggressively than ever before, leading to the CIA overthrowing democratic government that had offended United Fruit (Guatemala) and Anglo-Iranian Oil (Iran) and widespread support for crony dictators from Rhee Syngman (South Korea) to Ngo Dinh Diem (South Vietnam) to Augusto Pinochet (Chile) to a long list (continuing) of Saudi kings -- a practice which has demolished any hope for world good will.

    Rana also wrote Goodbye, Cold War, which (perhaps too) optimistically started:

    The 2016 election was the last election of the cold war. The conflict that molded generations of American elites has ceased to function as the framing paradigm of American politics. Even decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, an account of the cold war -- and of cold war victory -- contained disagreement in Washington and formed a consensus that linked the center-left to the center-right. This consensus, based on a set of judgments that coalesced in the aftermath of World War II, concerned everything from the genius of America's domestic institutions to the indispensability of its global role. These judgments gave coherence to the country's national identity -- allowing both Barack Obama and Bill Kristol to wax poetic about America's special destiny as a global hegemon -- and legitimacy to its economic policy. But with the 2016 election, the cold-war paradigm finally shattered.

    Of course, pockets of Cold War romantics remain in both parties, most ominously Democrats around Hillary Clinton who see Russia as the invidious force behind their fall from power. I remain convinced that the main reason Clinton lost was that people associated her with foreign wars, a point underscored by her obsession with "the commander-in-chief test." While Trump was/is scarcely less bellicose, his "America first" stance puts an end to the "leader of the free world" conceit. Allies, at best, view him warily, while the empire seems to be running on autopilot, tugged about by leaders (like Israel and Saudi Arabia) with their own agendas. This is a situation where the people are well ahead of their leaders. Hence I expect the latter to struggle to catch up.

  • Emily Stewart: Michael Cohen freed up $700,000 in potential loans ahead of the election. Then he paid Stormy Daniels. New Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani went on TV last week to push the line that paying blackmail is something routine that lawyers like Cohen and himself do for their clients, so there's nothing unusual (or even very interesting) about Cohen paying $130,000 to Stormy Daniels. Still, the date of the transaction -- October 15, three weeks before the November 8 election -- is suspicious. That's very close to the date when James Comey announced that the FBI reopened its investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails (dragging Anthony Wiener's name into the mix), which is to say the date Clinton started to tank in the polls. Maybe Trump's hardcore supporters wouldn't have been phased about the porn star story, but at the very least you have to admit that the media would have gone apeshit over the story, and that would have significantly blunted the impact of Comey's leak. I've long thought that one reason voters turned against Clinton was that they knew that had she been elected, she would be dogged from day one with an endless series of pseudo-scandals, enough to keep her from ever really getting down to the job of being president. Fairly or not, voters wanted to spare themselves the embarrassment. (Of course, they failed. Trump has similarly been dogged by scandal, the only difference being that his scandals are more substantial, and he looks even guiltier.)

    The damning fact is that Cohen's payment denied Americans the right to know before voting something they know now -- this is as significant as any of the other efforts to tilt the election, just harder to grasp because it's something that, thanks to Cohen's anticipation, didn't become public in time to be taken account. In this, it rather resembles Watergate, which happened before the 1972 election but wasn't investigated adequately until after Nixon won a second term.

    More on Cohen: William K Rashbaum et al: How Michael Cohen, Trump's Fixer, Built a Shadowy Business Empire.

Daily Log

Discarded from last week's Weekend Roundup:

  • Gloria Origgi: Say goodbye to the information age: it's all about reputation now. Italian philosopher, has a recent book, Reputation: What It Is and Why It Matters. Thesis:

    There is an underappreciated paradox of knowledge that plays a pivotal role in our advanced hyper-connected liberal democracies: the greater the amount of information that circulates, the more we rely on so-called reputational devices to evaluate it. What makes this paradoxical is that the vastly increased access to information and knowledge we have today does not empower us or make us more cognitively autonomous. Rather, it renders us more dependent on other people's judgments and evaluations of the information with which we are faced.

    We are experiencing a fundamental paradigm shift in our relationship to knowledge. From the 'information age', we are moving towards the 'reputation age', in which information will have value only if it is already filtered, evaluated and commented upon by others. Seen in this light, reputation has become a central pillar of collective intelligence today. It is the gatekeeper to knowledge, and the keys to the gate are held by others. The way in which the authority of knowledge is now constructed makes us reliant on what are the inevitably biased judgments of other people, most of whom we do not know.

    This is true as far as it goes, but in my experience reputation is earned by consistently providing information which makes sense given one's experience and accumulated understanding of how the world works. Predictably, anthropogenic climate change is Origgi's next paragraph example, although she doesn't offer it in value-neutral terms. Sure, most people are satisfied with whatever political media they prefer, which may affirm or deny science that is beyond your reach or grasp. Still, to believe a position it really needs to make sense beyond your personal preferences. For instance, I might notice that pretty much all of the deniers have some compromising relationship to the fossil fuel industries, whereas virtually all independent scientists conclude that such change is happening, in accordance with principles which can be articulated separately. Moreover, I can point to my own experience for examples which correlate with the science.


Apr 2018