Thursday, June 28, 2018

No New Supreme Court Justice While There Remains A Cancer On The Presidency


There are plenty of compelling reasons why the Senate should refuse to act on whoever Trump nominates to replace Justice Kennedy on the Supreme Court.  Of course, there is the fact that the Republicans stole outright the last Supreme Court seat by refusing to even hold hearings for President Obama's nominee.  There is the need to confront their hypocrisy in using as a pretense for such obstruction that the confirmation process should not be held in an election year.   And there is the grave concern that anyone Trump  nominates will, based on the list he has already provided, cement a far right wing majority for a generation or more and send us hurtling back to the dark ages.

These issues have predominated the discourse since Kennedy announced his decision to pack it in.  What has mostly been missing from the various talking points, particularly those of the Democratic leadership, is how inappropriate it would be for a president to nominate a Supreme Court justice while under investigation for cooperating with a foreign power that helped get him elected. 

At the end of January 1973, a month into Richard Nixon's second term in office, two officials of his re-election committee (CREEP) were found guilty of conspiracy, burglary and bugging the Democratic Party’s headquarters at the Watergate office complex.  Others had already pleaded guilty.  A week later, in early February, the Senate established a Select Committee to investigate what had become a full-blown scandal. Nixon's top aides, H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman resigned in April, and the Senate's televised hearings began in May.  The rest is history. 

There would not be a Supreme Court vacancy during Nixon's truncated second term and so the issue of confirming a Supreme Court justice during this constitutional crisis never came up.  But imagine if it had.  Do you think there is even the remotest possibility that the Senate would have simply gone ahead and held confirmation hearings as if there weren't "a cancer on the presidency," as Nixon's former counsel John Dean put it? 

Well the cancer has returned and under this presidency it has metastasized.  There have been Saturday night massacre-type firings, recusals, indictments, guilty pleas and Congressional hearings.  There is already enough evidence in the public sphere to establish Trump campaign officials' connections to Russian efforts to throw the election to Trump as well as Trump's own attempts to obstruct the investigation into those connections.

If it is true that Trump cooperated with Russia's election meddling or that Russia succeeded in obtaining some form of kompramat giving them some power over Trump, then everything he does as president is devoid of legitimacy.  And that certainly includes selecting a justice to serve a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. Shouldn't we at least wait to see the results of Special Counsel Mueller's investigation before moving forward on what may be a nominee from an illegitimate president?

But even more than this, the Supreme Court will likely soon have on its docket cases brought by Trump and members of his Administration that directly relate to the Mueller investigation.  Issues likely to appear before the Court include whether a sitting president can be indicted, whether a president can be forced to testify, whether a president can pardon himself.  Since whoever he picks to sit on the Court would play such a critical role in deciding these and other potential issues directly impacting his liability, Trump has a debilitating conflict of interest in choosing a nominee.

Democrats need to focus less on trying to shame Majority Leader McConnell for his hypocritical power plays because he can't be shamed.  And, in any event, this isn't merely about Senatorial gamesmanship but about fundamental democratic principles.

The sad reality, however, regardless of whether we are talking about the nomination in terms of abuse of power or Republican hypocrisy and obstruction, is that elections matter -- even those tainted by Russian interference and Trump collusion.  Republicans hold a 51-49 majority (with Pence as a tie-breaker), which means the Democrats need to not only keep their members unified but convince two Republicans to cross over and oppose a Trump nominee.  This means making sure those conservative Democrats running for re-election in red states understand that they will need the support of their base, and particularly Democratic women who support Roe v. Wade, and they will lose it if they play along with the Republicans on this nomination.  And it means pressuring Senators Collins and Murkowski, two women who purportedly support a woman's right to choose, to put their votes where their principles are.

We also must demand that Democrats throw sand in the gears of the Senate to hamper the Republican's rush to confirm a nomination before the mid-terms.  They must use whatever procedural and technical tools at their disposal to shut down or at least slow down Senate business, including refusing unanimous consent that typically expedites hearings and exploiting rules that encourage free and open debate.  It is far past time for the Democrats to abandon their crazy-making deference to civility and norms.  They need to emulate Maxine Waters, not shun her.

This Supreme Court vacancy presents a key opportunity to mobilize voters and frame the issues in advance of the midterms.  (You know Republicans will be doing the same with their anti-choice base.)  I can think of no better way to deflate the passion and energy of liberals and progressives than to witness another tepid response by establishment Democrats to the incessant and dire threats to our democracy.  Even if this is ultimately a losing battle, it is one badly worth fighting for.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

This Is Not Normal: Democrats Must #Shut It Down

The Democrats in Congress continue to go about the business of governing as a respectful minority party.  They express concern about the degradation of our politics, ask pointed questions at confirmation hearings of horrific nominees who are ultimately confirmed, mostly vote "no" when votes come up on awful legislative proposals that ultimately pass, and otherwise comport themselves with dignity.  In other words, business as usual.

But nothing about the current state of affairs is usual.  We have a president who has installed a veritable kleptocracy at the White House.  He is running the executive branch as if he were the head of a crime family -- which he is.  Failing to untangle himself from his many business entanglements, every policy decision is rife with conflicts or potential conflicts of interest.  Was his sudden decision to ease sanctions on Chinese telecommunications company ZTE payback for the Chinese government's $500 million investment in a Trump Organization venture in Indonesia or just another coincidence?  There are so many coincidences because, from Qatar to the Philippines, there are so many business deals or attempted deals between the Trump family and foreign governments -- deals that are not only enriching the Trumps but appear to be impacting foreign policy.   (See Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About The Emoluments Clause But Were Afraid To Ask)

Speaking of his businesses, The Washington Post recently published a report, "As the ‘King of Debt,’ Trump borrowed to build his empire. Then he began spending hundreds of millions in cash" which takes a deep dive into the Trump Organization's real estate holdings -- a business Trump remains involved in -- and strongly suggests they were funded not through borrowing but through money laundering.

And we still don't have his federal tax returns.

And then there's his consigliere, Michael Cohen.  The latest revelations detail various entities including Russian oligarchs and major U.S. companies making payments through a shell company set up by Cohen which was used to pay hush money to at least one adult film actress.  As The New Yorker's Amy Davidson Sorkin put it, "this all starts to sound pretty much like the textbook definition of a slush fund."  Such arrangements raise questions not only about legality but, more relevant to U.S. security concerns, whether Trump's unsavory conduct has opened him up to blackmail.

And how about the cascade of sleaze that has infiltrated just about every cabinet official and agency head.  Scott Pruitt, the EPA's Administrator, personifies the degradation that is well underway:  grossly unethical and scandal-driven while laser-focused on destroying our resources.

The level of corruption is unparalleled in modern American politics.  And we haven't even begun to talk about the myriad connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, including, of course, Donald Jr.'s fateful meeting with a Russian agent in which he expressed eagerness to obtain negative information about Hillary Clinton.  Or Trump's clumsy, but nevertheless inappropriate and likely illegal efforts to obstruct the investigation that he characterizes as "fighting back."

Meanwhile, the Senate is on the verge of confirming -- with Democratic votes -- a CIA director who engaged in torture and destroyed evidence of torture -- a vote Senate Republicans will allow to take place despite the absence of critical information about the nominee's role because it has been deemed classified.  After stealing a Supreme Court seat, the Senate continues to confirm in record numbers extreme right wing judges to lifetime appointments, rejecting Senatorial courtesy that Democrats (foolishly) afforded Republicans when they were in the majority.   (See Senator Leahy Can Go Fuck Himself)  And on and on.

The Democrats are the minority party in both Houses and so they have limited opportunities to directly thwart the Administration and its Republican enablers.  But that doesn't mean they should not take every opportunity to remind the public that THIS IS NOT NORMAL.

The media and mainstream pundits appear to be focused on whether it is prudent for Democrats to talk about impeachment as an electoral strategy going into the mid-terms -- and whether it would be better for Democrats to focus on economic issues that will resonate with a wider swath of voters.  But there is no reason why Democrats can't campaign on policy issues (which they have been doing) while also stressing how Trump's rampant corruption and unmitigated ignorance has undermined those policies -- from affordable health care to  immigration to the environment.

Brian Beutler is exactly right that while Democrats do not need to commit to impeachment, "[t]heir refusal to acknowledge Trump’s basic incompatibility with high office is instead normalizing the idea that corrupt businessmen can use the presidency to enrich themselves at the expense of the public."
It is completely reasonable for Democrats to weigh the political costs of acknowledging or dwelling on Trump’s obvious unfitness for office. But it’s also a mistake in both the near and long term to pretend the obvious doesn’t exist. It’s a dangerous thing—for people and for the institutions that make the country governable—that Trump is president. The fact that he won’t divest himself from his businesses, won’t stop mingling his public duties and his financial interests, and also won’t say whom he owes money to, or who could otherwise ruin him financially, is an affront to all citizens, and a national security emergency. Democrats will have the power to reduce these harms, and pressure the president to get his interests and the public interest aligned, if they control at least one chamber of Congress. Whether that leads to impeachment or not, it’s a better argument than the Republican appeal that Republicans must keep Congress so that Trump can continue to be historically corrupt and conflicted without oversight.
During a presidential debate in 1988, Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis was asked by moderator Bernard Shaw if his wife were to be been raped and murdered whether he would favor the death penalty for the killer.  It was an outrageous question that demanded a passionate response.  We all know what happened.  Dukakis calmly, rationally responded: "No, I don't, Bernard.  And I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life."  And so he lost the debate and perhaps the presidency.

The Democrats' response to Trump and the GOP's utter disregard for ethics and norms of democratic governance remind me of a tepid, eminently reasonable Michael Dukakis -- calm, rational, policy-driven.  No sense of outrage.  No indication that the pillars of democracy are being dangerously whittled away.

Enough.

Between now and the mid-terms, the Democratic Party must eschew tradition and courtesy, and throw sand in the gears -- not as an electoral strategy but as a matter of principle.  They must use every technicality and procedural rule from objecting to unanimous consent requests to forcing roll call votes on every matter.  They must slow down government business to a crawl. They should take advantage of the Senate’s rules encouraging free and open debate to skewer Republicans for their refusal to hold their leader accountable, and flood the floor with speeches. They may not be able to shut it down completely, but they can't pretend that this is normal.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Passover And The Plague Of Trump

Three thousand years of beautiful tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax.  -- The Big Lebowski
Passover is a celebration of the liberation of the Jewish people from Egypt three thousand years ago. We've been telling and re-telling the story ever since -- and it continues to resonate with us because, as Jews do, we ask questions, and then struggle to answer them as we try to connect the ancient story to our lives, our experiences and the society we live in today. Critically, our story is a universal story of liberation that not only reminds us that Jews were not always free but challenges us to recognize that others here and throughout the world have also suffered from and continue to struggle against oppression in its many forms.  This is their story too.

Some like Schmuel Rosen, who wrote an op-ed in the New York Times last year, believe that the Passover Seder shouldn't be politicized -- that bringing contemporary politics into the mix of ritual and tradition trivializes this sacred festival.  But I don't see how we can meaningfully celebrate our story of freedom and redemption without reflecting on today's impediments to social justice. 

As Jonathan Chait pointed out, "this would not be such a problem if the sitting president did not bear such an uncanny resemblance to a villain from a traditional Jewish narrative. Like the Pharaoh, Trump is a builder fond of exploitative labor practices and an arch-nationalist, with a nasty habit of making deals then welching on his side of the bargain."   

Trump is a plague on this country and on the world.  He rose to political power by promoting a racist lie about President Obama and then scapegoating and demonizing Mexicans and Muslims.  He continues to exploit our Nation's darkest and most racist tendencies, inspiring and encouraging white nationalists and anti-Semites.  He has unleashed the Justice Department on undocumented immigrants, breaking up families and sweeping up hard-working, law-abiding, long-standing residents.  In short, he is pursuing policies that cause fear and hardship to the most marginalized and vulnerable in our society.

If Passover isn't a time for speaking out against injustice and calling out today's tyrants and their enablers, then, to paraphrase that great Jewish scholar Alvy Singer, "what's the point?"

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Great Orange

The Mets have made a lot of disastrous trades over their ignominious history.  Fans can cite the familiar litany that includes trading Nolan Ryan for a washed up Jim Fregosi; Amos Otis for a never-was Joe Foy and, of course, Tom Seaver for spite.  One of their worst trades that does not often get discussed is Rusty Staub for an over-the-hill Mickey Lolich in 1976.  Rusty was a beloved member of the Mets -- a key part of the 1973 World Series team despite a shoulder injury that forced him to pathetically flip the ball underhand from the outfield while hitting over .400 for the Series.  In 1974, he was the Mets' best hitter (admittedly, not saying much) and in 1975, Rusty became the first Met to knock in more than 100 RBIs.  He was only 31 years old when the Mets traded him to the Tigers.  Not sure what they were thinking.  In return, the Mets got Lolich, a star pitcher for the Tigers in 1968 but more recently had lost 18 games in 1975 -- and lost 21 the year before that.  And not  to fat-shame him or anything, but when Mickey came to the Mets he was shall we say, somewhat rotund.

After Lolich lost 13 games for the Mets in 1976, he returned to Detroit where he opened a donut shop.  (Not kidding.)  Meanwhile, Rusty had three great seasons with the Tigers, including an All Star appearance (his sixth trip to the All Star game) and he came in fifth in the MVP voting in 1978 (the aforementioned Amos Otis came in fourth).

Luckily Rusty came back to the Mets, signing as a free agent in 1981 and stayed until 1985.  Rusty continued to hit -- he could always hit, no matter how hurt he was or how old he got -- and in his last few seasons, became one of the best pinch hitters in baseball.  When he hit a home run in 1984, he became the second player in history (Ty Cobb was the other) to have hit a home run in his teens and in his forties (Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez have since done the same and are now a part of this excellent trivia question)

Before the Mets acquired him in 1972, Rusty was an original Montreal Expo, their first star and huge fan favorite. He was given the moniker, Le Grande Orange because of the color of his hair.  (Before that he was a star with the Houston Astros.)

 Rusty was loved by fans and teammates wherever he went.  After he retired he opened a couple of pretty good restaurants in New York, called Rusty's.  More significant has been his charitable works, including raising millions for families of policemen and firefighters killed in the line of duty.

The vulgar talking yam in the White House has given orange a really bad connotation but here's to one who made it special.  RIP Rusty.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Time Begins On Opening Day

You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.  -- Jim Bouton
Thomas Boswell, the long-time sportswriter for the Washington Post, wrote a timeless piece collected in a book of the same name, Why Time Begins On Opening Day, published in 1984.  Boswell muses on the "resolute grasp" that baseball maintains for so many of us" and why our "affection for the game has held steady for decades, maybe even grown with age."  He asks what baseball is doing among our other "first-rate passions."  And, indeed, when one looks over the posts on this blog, it could seem incongruous to have baseball pieces interrupting the rants on politics and pleas for social justice. 

Boswell explains that "in contrast to the unwieldy world which we hold in common, baseball offers a kingdom built to human scale.  Its problems and questions are exactly our size.  Here we may come when we feel a need for a rooted point of reference."  It is not that baseball is an escape from reality, "it's merely one of our many refuges within the real where we try to create a sense of order on our own terms." 

This refuge has never seemed more urgent than this season. What Boswell wrote more than thirty years ago speaks volumes today:  "Born to an age where horror has become commonplace, where tragedy has, by its monotonous repetition, become a parody of sorrow, we need to fence off a few parks where humans try to be fair, where skill has some hope of reward, where absurdity has a harder time than usual getting a ticket."

As Boswell points out, baseball "offers us pleasure and insight at so many levels and in so many forms."  There is history -- an "annual chapter each year since 1869."  At the ballpark itself there is "living theater and physical poetry."  And perhaps, "baseball gives us more pleasure, more gentle unobtrusive sustenance, away from the park than it does inside it," pouring over box scores, crunching statistics, debating players and teams with our cohorts, and watching games and highlights on tv.  "The ways that baseball insinuates itself into the empty corner, cheering up the odd hour, are almost too ingrained to notice."

Opening day is just about here.  Play ball!

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Monday, March 26, 2018

Streamin' Jazz

(Originally posted 8/22/17; updated in italics on 3/26/18)

Being somewhat of a late adopter, a couple of weeks ago I finally signed up for a music streaming service that, lo and behold, gives me access to just about all the music I could ever hope to listen to.  What I've quickly learned is that I am more of an albums guy than a playlist guy.  Also, I don't like to shuffle songs but prefer to listen to an album in the order the artist/producer intended.  Most interesting, at least for me, is where I chose to go first -- the dozen musicians that form the core of my jazz listening pleasure. 

When I started this blog about seven years ago, I began profiling some of my favorite jazz albums from different artists that ultimately comprised an idiosyncratic Top 50.  It wasn't meant to be a definitive or comprehensive list; my choices often depended on what I was listening to that week.  It included some unsung musicians (so to speak) while omitting more seminal ones.  I also included only one album per artist even though there were often multiple albums in an artist's oeuvre that deserved greater attention.

Below, I've taken a different tack, having started from scratch with practically the entire universe of mainstream jazz recordings. These are the artists and albums I decided to save/download to build the foundation of my new virtual jazz library.  In some instances I've eschewed the more familiar, arguably superior, recordings of a given musician and gone instead with some of their less renown work -- sometimes this includes albums I've never heard before like Cannonball Adderley's Fiddler on the Roof -- how'd I miss that one?  Oh, and I've also included Frank Sinatra even though he isn't technically a jazz musician because, well, he's Frank Sinatra.

1)  John Coltrane.  The Atlantic Studio Recordings (including Bags & Trane (1959), Giant Steps (1960), Plays the Blues (1960), Ole Coltrane (1961), My Favorite Things (1961), Coltrane Jazz (1961), and Coltrane's Sound (1964)).  It is unfathomable how brilliant and prolific Coltrane was during this brief period, with many of these albums recorded at the same sessions in late 1960.  After that, I decided to go backwards, instead of forward, adding three gems, Blue Train (1957) and two from 1958, Lush Life and Soultrane.  And how could I not include Love Supreme (1965)And to make this an even dozen, there's the wonderful album he did with vocalist Johnny Hartman (1963).  I could quit now and have a pretty satisfying jazz library.

2)  Art Pepper.  Two classics from his first great period, Meet the Rhythm Section (1957) and Plus Eleven (1959), and The Complete Galaxy Recordings from his remarkably fruitful comeback that began in the 1970's after years of drug addiction and incarceration.  I added another album from his early years, Surf Ride (1956).

3)  Horace Silver.  Horace-Scope (1960), The Tokyo Blues (1962), The Cape Verdean Blues (1965).  A disclaimer:  These aren't my favorite Horace Silver albums; there are easily another half-dozen from 1955-1965 that I could (and probably will) add.  I decided to start with those recordings that I haven't played to near-death, including one (Tokyo Blues) I had never heard before.  Eventually, I had to add most of his other recordings from this period to the mix, including Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers (1955), 6 Pieces of Silver (1956), The Horace Silver Trio (1957), The Stylings of Silver (1957), Finger Poppin' with the Horace Silver Quintet (1959), Blowin' the Blues Away (1959) and Silver's Serenade (1963).  As you can tell, I can't get enough of Horace Silver.

4)  Bill Evans.  The obvious move would be to go with the incomparable Village Vanguard recordings from 1961 with his first great trio.  Instead I went for less trod ground:  Moonbeams (1962), At Shelly's Manne-Hole (1963), Trio (1964) and The Best of Bill Evans Live on Verve. There's nothing quite like hearing a Bill Evans album for the first time -- even some of his well worn classics sound different because he never plays them the same way twice.  Revelations for me include Bill Evans at Town Hall (1966) and, particularly, California Here I Come (1967).  And I had to eventually succumb and add The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings.

5)  Sonny Clark.  Sonny Clark Trio (1957), Cool Struttin' (1958) and Leapin' and Lopin' (1961).  One can't go wrong with Sonny Clark.  These three albums and all of the others he made in his way-too-short life (he died at the age of 31 in 1963) are absolutely stellar.  Indeed, so I've added Dial "S" for Sonny (1957) with Art Farmer on trumpet and Hank Mobley on tenor, Sonny's Crib (1957) with Coltrane, Donald Byrd on trumpet and Curtis Fuller on trombone, and My Conception (1959), with Byrd and Mobley.

6)  Miles Davis.  I'm particularly partial to Miles' first quintet (Coltrane on tenor, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, Philly Joe Jones on drums) that recorded four remarkable albums in 1956:  Workin', Relaxin', Steamin' and Cookin'.  For a change of pace (pun intended), I also went with his recordings from 1961, with a band that included Wynton Kelly on piano, Hank Mobley on tenor, Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums:  Someday My Prince Will Come and In Person (Friday and Saturday Nights at the Blackhawk).  I added two favorites, Bag's Groove (1954) and Walking (1957) to the mix. 

7)  Sonny Rollins.  Sonny Rollins Plus Four (1956), with the four including the great Clifford Brown on trumpet and Max Roach on drums, Way Out West (1957), and The Sound of Sonny (1957) featuring another Sonny, Sonny Clark, on piano.  Added The Bridge (1962), recorded after a three-year lay off, and features guitarist Jim Hall, and two spectacular albums from 1956, Saxophone Colossus and Tenor Madness, in which Coltrane joins Sonny on the title track.

8)  Stan Getz.  I absolutely love his bossa nova albums.  Even though they are pretty well worn, they never sound tired to me:  Getz/Gilberto and Getz/Gilberto #2 (1964).  I also included a non-Latin Getz recording:  Stan Getz and The Oscar Peterson Trio (1957).  Treated myself to more Stan Getz:  Stan Getz and J.J. Johnson at the Opera House (1957) and Stan Getz with Cal Tjader (1958).

9)  Thelonious Monk.  Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall, recorded in 1957, but only recently discovered.  Also the Complete Prestige Recordings, the Complete Columbia Solo Studio Recordings and the Complete Columbia Live Recordings.  I should probably add the Complete Riverside Recordings and Complete Blue Note Recordings too. 

10)  Cannonball Adderley.  Somethin' Else (1958) with Miles Davis sitting in, is a true classic, as is Mercy, Mercy, Mercy at the It Club (1966).  So much other great stuff in between.  I chose Things Are Getting Better (1958) with Milt Jackson on vibes, and the aforementioned Fiddler on the Roof (1964).

11)  Chet Baker.  Chet Baker Sings (1956) and Chet Baker Plays and Sings (1964).  The world is divided into those who love Chet's voice and those who love his trumpet playing.  Nothing wrong with his blowing, but I'm partial to the singing.

12)   Yusef Lateef.  I didn't really discover this singular artist until his passing a couple of years ago.  Eastern Sounds (1961) and Live at Pep's Volumes I and II (1964).

13) Frank Sinatra.   Don't judge me.  In the Wee Small Hours (1955), A Swingin' Affair (1957) and Come Fly With Me (1958).

Where to go next?  I will need to add the big band sounds of Duke Ellington and Count Basie, and some swing from Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young.  Bebop from Charlie Parker and Bud Powell, and hard bop from Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, as well as from the Jazztet (formed by Art Farmer and Benny Golson).  And, I know, I inexcusably omitted the vocalists -- Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday and Anita O'Day.  Other favorites include the great tenors, Hank Mobley and Dexter Gordon. Then there's Charles Mingus and Wayne Shorter and McCoy Tyner and . . . .

Here's where I did go -- mostly more late 1950s-early 1960s jazz of the hard bop variety, with  recordings by many who are just a degree or two of separation from Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. 

14) Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.  So many amazing incarnations with so many musicians that became legends in their own right -- and who are, not surprisingly, heavily represented throughout this list.  Moanin' (1958) with Bobby Timmons on piano, Benny Golson on tenor, Lee Morgan on trumpet; The Big Beat (1960), with Wayne Shorter replacing Golson on tenor; and Mosaic (1961) and Caravan (1962) with Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Shorter on tenor and Cedar Walton on piano. (And don't forget the earlier band with Horace Silver, Hank Mobley on tenor and Kenny Dorham on trumpet listed above).

15) Speaking of Hank Mobley, the great tenor saxophonist's most well known album is Soul Station (1960) (with Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Art Blakey on drums).  Other favorites:  Roll Call (1960) (Kelly, Chambers, Blakey and Freddie Hubbard on trumpet), Workout (1961)(Kelly,  Chambers, Philly Joe Jones on drums and Grant Green on guitar), and Dippin' (1965)(Lee Morgan on trumpet).  

16)  Another gem that fits well here is one led by the great pianist Kenny Drew, Undercurrent (1960), which features Mobley on tenor and Hubbard on trumpet.

17)  Kenny Dorham, another Blakey alumnus, made some classic albums, including Quiet Kenny (1959) with Tommy Flanagan on piano, and Whistle Stop (1961) with Kenny Drew on piano, Mobley, Chambers and Philly Joe Jones.  I found another fantastic recording that I had somehow never heard before,  Afro-Cuban (1955), that includes Mobley and Blakey as well as Horace Silver on piano, J.J. Johnson on trombone and Cecil Payne on baritone sax.  Wow.  

18)  An easy segue to the early recordings of the great saxophonist, Joe Henderson, because Dorham's trumpet was so instrumental, so to speak:  Page One (1963), which also included McCoy Tyner on piano and Our Thing (1963) with Andrew Hill on piano.

19)  Another former Jazz Messenger is Bobby Timmons, an incredibly soulful piano player whose compositions became standards made famous when he played with Blakey (Moanin') and Cannonball Adderley (This Here).  His first two albums as a leader are well worth listening to: This Here Is Bobby Timmons and Soul Time, both released in 1960.

20)  Lee Morgan, yet one more Jazz Messenger, was an absolutely brilliant trumpet player, probably most known for his funky cross-over hits like The Sidewinder and Cornbread but he could play anything, from hard bop to ballads to stuff that is a bit more out there, all of which he did with a stellar lineup of musicians.  The Sidewinder (1963) features Joe Henderson (see above) and Barry Harris (see below); Search for the New Land (1964) with Wayne Shorter on tenor, Herbie Hancock on piano and Grant Green on guitar; Cornbread (1965) with Mobley on tenor, Jackie McLean on alto and Hancock on piano; and The Gigolo (1965) with Shorter on sax and Harold Mabern on piano.

21)  Barry Harris has been playing bebop piano since the mid-1950s, and is still going.  Two of his finest are Newer Than New (1961) and Barry Harris Plays Tadd Dameron (1975).

22) Dexter Gordon deserves to be in the pantheon of all time great tenor saxophone players.  I particularly love his Blue Note recordings from the early 1960s.  He had an incredible run with Doin' Allright and Dexter Calling (1961), A Swingin' Affair and Go (1962), and Our Man in Paris (1963).

23) Hampton Hawes, considered a Bud Powell-influenced piano player (as is pretty much every post-1940s piano player), released some great albums in the 1950s, including Four! Hampton Hawes!!! and For Real, both from 1958.

24) Bud Powell.  Might as well add recordings from the master himself.  Time Waits (1958), from his later period is one of my favorites.  Also essential is The Amazing Bud Powell, Vol. 1 (1951).

25) McCoy Tyner.  Can't get enough of McCoy's piano genius from the Coltrane sides and other albums listed above, so I've added Live at Newport (1963) and The Real McCoy (1967), and a compilation, The Impulse Story (2006).

26)  The Jazztet.  This was an incredible band let by Benny Golson on tenor and Art Farmer on trumpet or cornet, and included McCoy on piano and Curtis Fuller on trombone. Meet the Jazztet (1960) was their debut album and has their big hit "Killer Joe."  And The Portrait of Art Farmer (1958) with Hank Jones on piano  is a worthy addition too.

27)  Speaking of Curtis Fuller (yes, another former Jazz Messenger), a couple of his great records are Blues-Ette (1959), with Golson, made right before the Jazztet session, and The Opener (1957) with Timmons and Mobley. 

28)  Wayne Shorter.  The great saxophonist and composer who played in one of the Jazz Messengers' greatest lineups and in Miles Davis's second great quintet.  Juju (1965) (with McCoy Tyner on piano), Adams Apple (1966)(with Herbie Hancock on piano) and last but certainly not least, Speak No Evil (1966)(with Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter on bass and Elvin Jones on drums) one of the greatest albums of all time.

29)  Oliver Nelson's The Blues and the Abstract Truth (1961) is another of the greatest jazz albums of all time, with an all time lineup: Bill Evans on piano, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Eric Dolphy on alto, Paul Chambers on bass and Roy Haynes on drums, along with Nelson on tenor. 

30)  Donald Byrd, another former Jazz Messenger well represented above, made some great albums with baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams, including Off the the Races (1958), which also features Jackie McLean on on alto and Wynton Kelly on piano, and Cat Walk (1961).

31)  Any serious jazz collection should have Charlie Parker.  For my virtual library, the Parker album I listen to the most is actually Charlie Parker with Strings, recorded in 1950 but released in expanded form in 1995.

32)  Same goes for Clifford Brown, the phenomenal trumpet player whose life was cut short at the age of 25 when he was killed in a car accident.  The Complete Paris Sessions from 1953, and Alone Together: The Best of the Mercury Years, which includes his great recordings with the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet from the mid-50s.

33)  Three from the incomparable Charles Mingus: Pithecanthropus Erectus (1956), The Clown (1957) and Mingus Ah Um (1958).

34)  And two from a great, unsung pianist Elmo Hope:  Trio and Quintet (1957) and The Elmo Hope Trio (1959)

35)  The alto saxophonist Sonny Criss was also unsung, purportedly because remained on the West Coast.  Three albums from 1956 packages as The Complete Mercury Recordings is a joy to listen to, ans is This is Criss (1966)

36)  Another great saxophone player from the West Coast was Harold Land.  Harold in the Land of Jazz (1958) and The Fox (1959) which not only features the aforementioned Elmo Hope on piano but includes several of Hope's compositions.

37)  More West Coast jazz of the cool variety -- more melodic, more chill.  Dave Brubeck, Time Out (1959), which is more than just Take Five and never gets old; Paul Desmond, Take Ten (1963), which includes a worthy sequel to Take Five, and Bossa Antigua (1964); The Complete Gerry Mulligan Quarter with Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan Meets Ben Webster (1959).

38)  Guitarist Grant Green, included on some of my favorites above, recorded Idle Moments (1963) with Duke Pearson on piano and Joe Henderson on tenor, and Matador (1964) with McCoy Tyner on piano.  

39)  The vocalists:  Dinah Washington, Dinah Jams (1954) with an extraordinary band, including Clifford Brown, Harold Land and Max Roach; Sarah Vaughan (1954), also featuring Clifford Brown and In the Land of HiFi (1955), featuring Cannonball Adderley; Ella Fitzgerald, Rogers and Hart Songbook (1957) and the Jerome Kern Songbook (1964); Anita O'Day, Anita Sings the Most with the Oscar Peterson Quartet (1957) and Pick Yourself Up (1957); Mel Torme Sings Fred Astaire 1956) and Mel Torme Swings Shubert Alley (1960); and and Johnny Hartman, I Just Dropped By to Say Hello (1963), from the same year he recorded his classic album with John Coltrane, listed above -- this one includes Illinois Jacquet on sax and Hank Jones on piano. 

40)  The more traditional route:  Count Basie, The Complete Atomic Basie (1957). And a couple of Duke Ellington albums -- unfortunately Spotify doesn't have my favorite (And His Mother Called Him Bill) so I went with Ellington Uptown (1957) and Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins (1962). 

And a few more classics:  We Three (1958)(Roy Haynes on drums, Phineas Newborn, Jr. on piano and Paul Chambers on bass); Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing (1958); Wynton Kelly and Wes Montgomery, Smokin' at the Half Note (1965); Duke Jordan, Flight to Jordan (1960), featuring Stanley Turrentine on tenor; and The Great Jazz Trio, Some Day My Prince Will Come (2004)(the Great Jazz trio was comprised of Hank Jones on piano, Elvin Jones on drums and Richard Davis on bass)

If you're counting, that's about 150 albums. To be continued.

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Friday, March 23, 2018

Could Be Worse. Could Be Raining

[Dr. Frankenstein and Igor are digging up a body from a graveyard]
Dr. Frankenstein: What a filthy job.
Igor: Could be worse.
Dr. Frankenstein: How?
Igor: Could be raining.
[it starts to pour]
-- Young Frankenstein
Last year, the unthinkable happened and choose your epithet -- a malevolent orange shit gibbon, vulgar talking yam, fucking moron, mentally deranged U.S. dotard -- became the President of these United States. The way he has brazenly violated well-established norms and degraded the office, not to mention high crimes and misdemeanors, and has demonstrated his utter lack of intellectual, psychological and moral fitness for office, has been far worse and far more frightening than most of us living in the rational world could have imagined.

He is seemingly incapable of telling the truth and, according to a Washington Post tally, averages about a half-a-dozen falsehoods a day.  He and his family continue to enrich themselves by commingling their business interests with the White House, not merely ignoring conflicts of interests but affirmatively benefitting from them. But it could be worse.  Could be raining.

He has stocked his administration with a remarkable collection of venal, ethically-challenged men and Betsy DeVos, who are systematically destroying the agencies in their charge with enormous ramifications for the environment, education, energy policy and criminal justice. He withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement and is pushing fossil fuel production that will exacerbate global warming.  But it could be worse.  Could be raining.

He continues his relentless attacks on democratic institutions, from judges to U.S. intelligence agencies to the press -- and most recently, on the Special Counsel investigating his and his administration's involvement in Russia's interference with the 2016 election.  He has already fired the FBI director to thwart this investigation and there are rising fears that he will take steps to remove the Special Counsel too. And he has refused to take meaningful steps to stop Russia from interfering again.  But it could be worse.  Could be raining.

His racist and xenophobic rhetoric has energized Nazis and white supremacists.  The hastily crafted Muslim ban and unilateral rescission of the DACA program, as well as the unleashing of his Justice Department on undocumented immigrants, has been needlessly cruel and destructive, heartlessly breaking up families and sweeping up hard-working, law-abiding, long-standing residents.  But it could be worse.  Could be raining.

His nomination of extreme right wing judges to fill vacancies left open due to Republican obstruction during the Obama presidency (including, of course, the Supreme Court), most of whom are that are anti-LGBT, anti-choice, anti-civil rights, anti-regulation, anti-labor, will very likely transform the federal judiciary for a generation or more.  But it could be worse.  Could be raining.

He has just chosen John Bolton to be his National Security Advisor who, together with Mike Pompeo, nominated for Secretary of State, creates, as the New York Times describes "the most radically aggressive foreign policy team around the American president in modern memory."  As a Times editorial states, Bolton's views are simplistic and wrong-headed, he disdains diplomacy and arms control, and "there are few people more likely to lead us into war."

It's raining.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Just Some Folks Torturing Other Folks

Gina Haspel oversaw a secret prison in Thailand where she approved the torture of at least one detainee.  She also signed off on the destruction of evidence of these so-called enhanced interrogations. Although it seems that initial reports of her involvement in the brutal torture of Abu Zubaydah was in error, this does not undermine the view of the New York Times, which editorialized:  "when it comes to torture, no American officials have been more practiced in those heinous dark arts than the agents and employees of the Central Intelligence Agency who applied it to terrorism suspects after 9/11 [and] few American officials were so directly involved in that frenzy of abuse ... as Gina Haspel."  Neither she nor any other government official was prosecuted when President Obama determined to look forward instead of backward, and so instead of spending these last years in prison, she has moved up the ranks of the CIA and is currently the agency's deputy director.  The current president, an unabashed torture supporter, has nominated current CIA director and fellow torture supporter to be Secretary of State, and has announced that he was going to name Haspel to head the CIA.  We thus have to once again debate what should not be debatable, but it is a debate worth having.  Below is a piece I wrote in August 2014 about the need for a true reckoning.

Previewing a declassified report that concludes the prior Administration used techniques on terrorism suspects amounting to torture, President Obama conceded that "we did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks."

Of course, Obama couldn't quite make himself confront Bush, Cheney & Co. with a point blank accusation.  First, he had to couch the statement by using the pronoun "we" as if either he or his political party or the citizens of the United States were responsible for torture.  Then, like a good Dad who praises his child before making a critical remark, he stated that a lot of things were done right, before pointing out that "we tortured some folks."  'That's OK, Junior, try harder next time.'  And, by the way, what were those "right things" to which he was referring?

To further minimize the impact of his statement, Obama relied on the colloquialism -- "folks."  We tortured "some folks."  He sounds like President Gomer Pyle.  'Well, golly.  I guess we tortured some folks.'   Those who were tortured were real flesh and blood people, human beings capable of feeling the extreme pain and humiliation of "enhanced interrogation techniques."  They were entitled to being treated as such.

It gets worse.  The President then rationalized the use of torture in the context of the stressful times we were in.  While it was certainly not cool to torture folks, it was understandable that our government would resort to such techniques because, you know, it was kinda scary back then.
I think it's important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the twin towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this. And, you know, it's important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. A lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots, but having said all that, we did some things that were wrong.
So, our folks -- meaning, the leaders of our government -- were frightened and working under pressure, but, nevertheless, they were "real patriots" and so we shouldn't hold them accountable just because they tortured other folks.

As if the use of torture was simply an understandable spontaneous reaction to the tragedy of 9/11 and not a well calculated policy decision that those in the Bush Administration and their allies and apologists continue to believe was justified. As Charles Pierce puts it:  "Quite simply, nobody who engaged in torture, nobody who worked to establish a legal rationale for torture, nobody who applauded torture or encouraged it or welcomed its practice, has any right to be referred to by anyone, let alone the president, as a patriot."

I've written before that President Obama's biggest mistake when he first took office was refusing to allow his Justice Department to investigate, much less prosecute, the government officials who authorized torture.  He maintained that since his Administration wouldn't condone torture we can simply move forward.  (See, e.g., Pitfalls of Only Looking Forward, Tortured Logic.)  But we are not moving forward.  If we are to remain a nation of laws, when high government officials break the law or cynically bend the law to justify human rights violations there must be consequences.

Obama's latest comments, as mealy-mouthed as they were, elicited the predictable backlash from the right while the media noted that they "reopened debate."   The upcoming report by the Senate Intelligence Committee is significant, but without a true reckoning that confirms once and for all the immorality, illegality and inefficacy of torture, we remain stuck in a debate that should have been resolved.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Relative Madness

Monarchs and dictators name relatives to high-level government positions regardless of their qualifications.  Presidents in democratic countries not so much.  JFK received all kinds of criticism when he nominated his younger brother to be his Attorney General -- but at least RFK had to be confirmed by the Senate.  Meanwhile, Trump's daughter and son-in-law run amok in the White House as senior advisers to the president, sorely lacking security clearances, much less the requisite qualifications and experience.  And his two sons run the family business from which Trump has refused to divest, ignoring conflicts of interests and reneging on promises to not engage in new foreign deals.

Ivanka headed a delegation to South Korea that went far beyond merely attending the closing ceremonies at the Olympics.  With no background or training in government policy, foreign relations or diplomacy, she met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to discuss U.S. - North Korea relations -- somewhat of a sensitive topic given the recent round of nuclear brinksmanship between her daddy and Kim Jung-Un.  Ivanka reportedly briefed the South Korean president on economic sanctions and other ways our two countries can put pressure on North Korea.  Feel safer?

Why the fuck not?

Then there's Jared who, as the Times reports, was finally "stripped of his top-secret security clearance after months of delays in completing his background check, and will now be limited in his ability to view highly classified information."  Just in the nick of time given the Washington Post bombshell that "officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared ... by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience."  One wonders how the boy wonder will solve the Middle East peace process and negotiate foreign deals without access to classified information.  One also wonders how he has already compromised our national security -- unwitting or otherwise -- while trying to get his own badly indebted financial house in order.

And then there's Donnie, Jr., back from his trip to India, where he mixed business with politics as only a Trump can.  Promoting luxury condos on behalf of the Trump Organization, attending a conference with the Prime Minister (although he did cancel what was to be a foreign policy speech in the face of much criticism), and selling access to himself (aka the President's son) for $38,000 a person.  He also traveled to Mumbai to christen a demo unit at Trump Tower, a project being built by a firm run by a state legislator in the Prime Minister's political party.

Just another week in the Kleptocracy.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Trump Goes All Captain Queeg

"For god's sake, somebody tell him the mess boys ate the strawberries." -- Charles Pierce
It is hard not to draw parallels to Nixon's unravelling in the waning days of Watergate, when Tricky Dick was drinking heavily, scribbling incessantly on legal pads and making bizarre late-night phone calls while his Chief of Staff, General Al Haig, tried to tamp down the chaos and run the government. Imagine if Nixon had Twitter. 

Now picture the malevolent orange #shitgibbon alone, washing down cheeseburgers with diet cokes, gorging himself on cable news and raging about how the indictment of 13 Russians confirmed the truth of what he has long disparaged as a hoax -- Russian interference in the 2016 election.  He knows that the indictments have not by any stretch absolved him of "collusion" and he knows that Mueller is just getting started.  Meanwhile, Melania is surely not providing badly needed ballast after yet another bombshell report about another affair -- this time with a former playmate of the year, rather than a porn star.

Isolated and feeling cornered he does what rats do -- lashes out at all his perceived enemies.  As this headline from Talking Points Memo puts it:  "Trump Attacks Congressional Dems, FBI, McMaster, Clinton, Obama, Schiff, Others."   Rather than focus on how he can use the power of the presidency to protect the country from further Russian interference or provide solace and reassurance to a nation grieving from another mass shooting, he takes to spewing out a series of increasingly unhinged, defensive tweets that display a level of ignorance and dishonesty and a lack of sensitivity and empathy that is remarkable even for this despicable sociopath. What is really frightening is that the indictments don't directly implicate him -- imagine what he will do and say if and when he is implicated.

The most offensive tweet was this one:

As EJ Dionne says: "it is hard to capture the horror of using the deaths of young Americans as part of his campaign of denial and self-protection."

Digby, who copies the entire gruesome collection at least as of 9:30 this morning here, wonders whether his tweetstorm is not a reflection of his narcissism but his guilt:
What if he goes to these lengths because he's actually guilty? I certainly am not saying that he has a strategy. He's clearly incapable of that. What I'm saying is that his crazy reaction to the Russia investigation isn't necessarily attributable to his insane ego. It might just be attributable to the fact that he knows he did something very bad and he knows he's going to be caught. It is not normal for a 71 year old man to behave this way, certainly not normal for a president. But there is no reason to assume that his abnormal behavior is simply a function of his narcissism. It might just as easily be a function of his guilt.
The bottom line is that we have another stark reminder that this #shithole is utterly unfit for office.  And we must not forget that his shameless enablers in the Republican Party continue to support him, vote at his direction and refuse to investigate him.  It would only take two GOP senators for fuck sake to bring him down but it isn't going to happen.  This is not going to change until November.  Let's get busy.

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Who Said It: Mitt Or Groucho?

Mitt Romney has announced that he is running for the U.S. Senate in the State of Utah (it must be nice having residences in multiple states).  It is a sign of how degraded our politics have become that he is now considered by some to be an honest broker and paragon of American values -- and compared to the current occupant of the White House, I suppose he is.  But only by comparison.  We should not forget the mendacity of this loser of both the popular vote and the electoral college in the 2012 presidential election.  (See, e.g., Mitt Romney and the Odor of Mendacity)  In the piece below, originally posted on May 18, 2012, I attempted to make this point with more humor and less rancor.

Mitt Romney is sounding more and more like Groucho Marx all the time -- except he's not trying to be funny.  Take the quiz below, and identify the quote as coming from Mitt or Groucho.  (And here's wishing Mitt would sound more like Harpo.)

(a) "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them, well, I have others."
(b) "I’m not familiar precisely with what I said, but I’ll stand by what I said, whatever it was.”
(c) "People ask me, 'what would you do to get the economy going?’ and I say, 'well look at what the president's done and do the opposite.’"
(d) " I don't know what they have to say, it makes no difference anyway, whatever it is, I'm against it."
(e)  "The president should have built a credible threat of military action and made it very clear that the United States of America is willing, in the final analysis, if necessary, to take military action to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon."
(f)  "It's too late [to prevent war]. I've already paid a month's rent on the battlefield."
(g) "I'm not a big-game hunter. I've made that very clear. I've always been a rodent and rabbit hunter. Small varmints, if you will."
(h) "I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I'll never know."
(i) "I believe marriage should be preserved as an institution for one man and one woman."
(j) "Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution?"
(k) "Money frees you from doing things you dislike. Since I dislike doing nearly everything, money is handy."
(l) "My wife drives a couple of Cadillacs."
(m) "My dog likes fresh air."
(n) "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."
(o) "I worked my way up from nothing to extreme poverty."
(p) "I should tell my story. I'm also unemployed."
(q) "I believe in an America where millions of Americans believe in an America that's the America millions of Americans believe in. That's the America I love."
(r) "Members of the faculty, faculty members, students of Huxley and Huxley students.  Well I guess that covers everything."
(s) "America cannot continue to lead the family of nations around the world if we suffer the collapse of the family here at home."
(t) "Behind every successful man is a woman and behind her is his wife."
(u) "If you think this country's bad off now, just wait till I get through with it."

Answers: (a) Groucho; (b) Mitt; (c) Mitt; (d) Groucho; (e) Mitt; (f) Groucho; (g) Mitt; (h) Groucho; (i) Mitt; (j) Groucho; (k) Groucho; (l) Mitt; (m) Mitt; (n) Groucho; (o) Groucho; (p) Mitt; (q) Mitt; (r) Groucho; (s) Mitt; (t) Groucho; (u) Mitt Groucho

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Republicans Have No Solutions To Gun Violence; They Are The Problem

"[T]here are many reasons you might have for voting for candidates of one or the other party that have nothing to do with guns. But the fact is that one of our two parties has in recent years decided that it will stop any and all efforts to address gun violence, no matter how reasonable they are and no matter how much of the public favors them."  -- Paul Waldman
Nikolas Cruz legally purchased the semiautomatic AR-15 rifle that he used to kill seventeen people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.  He appears to have some connection with white nationalist groups.  But we're not going to hear anything from the president or his party about easy access to guns or the rise of those very fine people wearing white hoods.  Instead we get the usual meaningless claptrap:  thoughts and prayers, proclamations and half-mast flags.  We also hear that the problem is not that there are too many readily-available assault weapons but that there are too many mentally ill people (as if one somehow cancels out the other).  Imagine the response if the shooter had been an immigrant, or Muslim, or a person of color.  

Meanwhile:
  • The GOP has prevented the CDC from conducting gun violence research
  • The GOP has repeatedly stopped renewal of the ban on assault-style rifles
  • The GOP has refused to allow passage of a ban on devices that can turn rifles into automatic weapons
  • Bush signed a law shielding gun manufacturers from liability
  • The GOP opposes strengthening background checks
  • Trump rolled back a rule that would have made it harder for the severely mentally ill to buy guns
  • The Trump DOJ purged from the current background check system 500,000 “fugitives from justice”
  • The latest Trump budget calls for $12 million in cuts to the current background check system
  • Trump shifted focus of a government program designed to counter all violent extremism, including from white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups, to "Islamist" extremism
  • Trump also proposes cutting $625 million from federal mental health programs, and $1 trillion from Medicaid, which provides health insurance for the mentally ill.
We can offer thoughts and prayers. We can issue proclamations and lower flags to half mast.  Or we can do the only thing that has any chance of addressing gun violence in America.  Vote Republicans out of office.

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Monday, February 12, 2018

Resist Trump -- Play Ball!

As the #shithole that lurks in the White House seeks to delegitimize truth, justice and the American Way, it is critical that we #resist by protesting, mobilizing and organizing.  We must insist on truth and push relentlessly for justice, but we also can't forget to celebrate the American Way -- by which I mean reveling in those profoundly American institutions that cannot be tainted by that malevolent shit-gibbon who is befouling just about everything else.  For me those sacred institutions include jazzmovies and, of course, baseball. 

And so spring and Spring Training could not come too soon. 

Cue the Ken Burns music and read the next paragraph in a deep baritone voiceover.

Spring training, like spring itself, is a time of renewal and rebirth; a time when even the lowliest team has hope for the season ahead.  Critical trades and free agent signings over the winter have bolstered the team's weaknesses.  Players coming off injury-plagued seasons are returning in the best shape of their careers.  Hitters have corrected the flaws in their swing and pitchers have discovered devastating new pitches. 

It may be hackneyed and trite, but I buy it every year. 

As a Met fan, for most of the last decade or three, after enduring yet another dismal season filled with heartbreaking losses, underachieving performances, devastating injuries, and mind-boggling player moves or non-moves, I would nevertheless approach Spring Training with a na├»ve optimism that would endure at least until Opening Day. 

I would then delude myself through much of a hopeless baseball season that my team could pull it together and make a run for the playoffs down the stretch.  I refused to face reality until sometime in August, when forced to accept the inevitability of a losing season, I would be stuck watching a team play uninspiring baseball for the last month or so, with little to root for other than spoiling another team's playoff run and the individual achievements of favorite players.  With a team going nowhere, much of the luster and lyricism of the game was lost -- at least until the spring, when it all began again.

And here we are.  But, unfortunately, with a couple of notable exceptions, the Mets seem determined to bring back the same team that was so disappointing last year when things fell apart a whole lot earlier than August.  Only two years removed from a World Series appearance, the 2017 squad regressed to the mean -- back to their usual combination of bad luck, baffling injuries, poor management and complacent ownership.  In contrast to their rival in the Bronx, the Mets refuse to act like a major market team that spends money for players that could put them over the top.  Instead, they hope to placate the fans by doing just enough to make the team competitive so that if everyone stays healthy and they get a little lucky, they can squeak into the playoffs -- never mind that they never stay healthy and they haven't been lucky since 1986. 

But wait -- there is no room for skepticism.  It's Spring Training. The Mets' great young pitchers, most of whom were hurt last year, are all feeling good and are ready to blow away hitters.  Yoenis Cepsesdes, their one true superstar, also back from injuries, is primed for a stellar year.  Budding star, Michael Conforto, is healing well from surgery and should be back and better than ever early in the season.  They have an exciting phenom at shortstop in Amed Rosario and a recently-signed slugger Todd Frazier to play third and hit homers.  Overmatched and overweight Dominic Smith is in the best shape of his life.  Juan Lagares has a new swing and catcher Travis D'Arnaud has (again) figured out the flaw in his.  And, finally, there's a new manager, Mickey Calloway, who brings badly needed confidence, energy and baseball acumen.

If only most of this turns out to be true, the Mets could have a magical year.

As for the fate of the country?  If we protest, organize and mobilize, and if we continue to protect our precious institutions, as the late, great Joaquin Andujar described both America and baseball "in one word:  you never know."

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Friday, February 9, 2018

Rob Porter And The Deplorable Republicans

Rob Porter could not get a security clearance from the FBI because of accusations from two ex-wives that he physically abused them.  Neither his conduct nor his lack of a clearance mattered to the Trump White House.  He was given a critical position -- staff secretary -- in which, as oval office gatekeeper, he reviewed everything that reached Trump's desk.  (Assuming most of these documents were more than a couple of pages, in a regular-sized font and not filled with graphs and pictures, he read a whole lot more than the president himself.)  Chief of Staff John Kelly and others in the Administration knew about Porter's proclivity for thrashing his wives but even after it became public, they continued to praise him effusively and vouch for his stellar character ("“a man of true integrity” about whom Kelly could not say “enough good things.”)  Kelly reportedly asked him to stay on until public outrage -- and a photo of one of Porter's wives with a black eye -- left the Administration with no choice but to push him out.

There is so much wrong with this story.  It provides yet another example of the degrading of the office of the presidency.  It reminds us as if we need reminding that this White House is stocked with a remarkably awful collection of human beings.  One would like to think that those who assault women -- or for that matter, those who are racist or corrupt or xenophobic or anti-Islam or anti-LGBT -- would have no place in the White House.  With this presidency these seem to be bona fide job qualifications.

There has been no proper vetting of any of them.  Indeed, who knows what salacious dirt is out there on the rest.  As with Michael Flynn, Porter's behavior could have subjected him to blackmail, creating a national security risk.  But they don't care.  Their disregard for national security concerns is further shown by their blithe attitude towards security clearances -- Jared doesn't have one either. 

As with Roy Moore (and President #Shithole himself) there is a knee-jerk defense of white men accused of physically and sexually assaulting women.  It took a fucking photo before they would concede that Porter had to go -- and only did so because the photo was publicly released.

For Trump and his inner circle, it didn't matter that Porter was violent and abusive to women.  What mattered was that he was good at his job. Kelly relied on him as a critical ally in bringing order to the chaos.  Trump apparently was fond of him (birds of a feather, I suppose).

Which brings me to the non-troglodyte Republicans in Congress and Trump's non-deplorable supporters (i.e., those who continue to support Trump although they are purportedly not misogynists or racists themselves). If they are at all honest, they will acknowledge, if minimize, the disturbing truth that Trump has groped, assaulted and insulted women, that he has a long history of racist behavior, and that he is intolerant of non-Christian religions and non-heterosexuals.  But, just like the way the White House viewed Rob Porter, these Republicans are willing to overlook the more unsavory aspects of his character.  They will put up with Trump's misogyny, racism and bigotry -- and his other odious qualities -- because of the positive things they think he can do for them -- cut taxes, appoint right wing judges, deregulate industry.

But this requires failing to take sexual and physical assault and degradation of women seriously and ignoring not just the legacy of racism in this country but how it continues to fester.  It overlooks that this is a feature of Trumpism, not a bug.  And therefore it means acquiescing to some pretty dire consequences for public policy -- from undermining women's health, reproductive rights and pay equity to rolling back civil rights enforcement and exacerbating mass incarceration to brutally harsh and nativist immigration practices.  Republicans might be able to live with that.  The rest of us cannot.

Finally, what this sorry episode with Rob Porter has really shown us is that Trump has created an Administration in his own image.  They are an unprincipled bunch of miscreants who apparently can only be stopped if there is a photo proving their malfeasance -- or a pee tape perhaps?

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Thursday, February 8, 2018

Countdown To Zero

Guest Post by Marisa Handler

I come from a city surrounded by water.  Cape Town sits at the tip of Africa, where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet.  In precolonial times, the indigenous Khoena people called the Cape Peninsula “the place where clouds gather.”  The winters of my childhood were memorable affairs, with frequent storms bringing gale force winds and drenching rains.  But two years of severe drought have changed things, and now a different kind of storm is gathering.

Two and a half weeks ago officials announced the countdown to “Day Zero,” when the city will run out of water.  That’s the day provincial dams are estimated to sink to a mere 13.5% of capacity.  In the words of Cape Town mayor Patricia De Lille: “We have reached a point of no return.”  Initially announced as April 21st, after farm irrigation was curtailed, Day Zero was moved up to mid-May.   Unless the heavens unhinge or residents immediately begin abiding by strict rationing, Cape Town will become the first major city in the world to exhaust its water supply.  Faucets will run dry, and Capetonians will have to collect their daily water ration from supply points.  “The challenge exceeds anything a major city has had to face anywhere in the world since the Second World War or 9/11,” said Helen Zille, the Western Cape province premier.

Officials have begun announcing the 200 collection points throughout the city, at which the population of almost 4 million will be required to line up for their daily 25 liters (6.6 gallons).  That’s around 20,000 people per supply point.  Pundits are calling it a national disaster in the making, potentially crippling the “Mother City” of South Africa.  Most schools will need to close.  Jobs will be lost, property prices fall.  Tourism, which accounts for 9% of the country’s annual revenue—Cape Town alone draws 2 million visitors each year—will certainly drop.  Only hospitals and clinics will retain normal water supply.  Despite the mayor’s explanation that “prior to filling their vessels, each person will be given a dose of hand sanitizer,” the inevitable sanitation issues mean serious potential for disease spread.  While many affluent residents will likely leave the city, the millions living in the townships have no such recourse.  At best, circumstances portend a logistical nightmare; at worst, chaos of dystopian proportions.

How did the situation get so dire?

In short, if you’ll excuse the pun, it’s the perfect storm: global warming meets incompetent leadership.  The city is currently experiencing the worst drought in a century.  By some calculations, a drought this severe should normally occur only once in a millennium.  Researchers at the University of Cape Town estimate that low-rainfall years have become twice as frequent over the past century.  According to the climate models, it’s only going to get drier.

Meanwhile, both city and provincial governments have been twiddling their thumbs.

Other than a tepid #ThinkWater public relations campaign, the warnings of water management experts have largely gone unheeded.  Infighting within the Western Cape provincial government, currently run by the Democratic Alliance—the ANC’s main opposition on the national scene—has stalled effective action.  When the city asked residents to limit water use to 87 liters (23 gallons) a day, only 39% complied.  Residents are now being asked to limit themselves to 50 liters (13 gallons), but given the previous failure of voluntary appeals, this is clearly an inadequate measure.  Until two weeks ago, officials had failed to follow through on pledges to fine excessive users.  Given the long-term outlook—clear skies—the city has seven major water initiatives underway, but six of these are currently behind schedule.  And four of them are desalination plants on the Atlantic Ocean, even though experts say that large-scale use of desalination will be too expensive for Cape Town to afford.

It’s a heady mix of denial and ineptitude.  As Nic Spaull writes in South Africa’s online Daily Maverick, the crisis comes down to an outright failure of leadership.  Of the 76 tweets in 2018 by the City of Cape Town, Spaull writes, less than a quarter have addressed water issues: “More than half are inane messages like “Top of the morning to you, Cape Town. With a high of 22, you can expect clouds and sunshine with a windy afternoon.” I don’t want the City to wish me a joyous morning and a jolly good night. I want them to make sure that I have water in my taps.”  In a flourish of satirical proportions, the “Resilience Officer” of the Cape Province, who is charged with dealing with the drought, is currently on garden leave following an internal squabble over municipal bus procurements.

What is a thirsty city to do?  Other than ration drastically, Capetonians can’t do much more than look to iconic Table Mountain and pray that its legendary waterfall of cloud—the “tablecloth”—will turn into rain.  As for the rest of us, it’s a dire parable about the convergence of climate change, inept governance, and collective denial.

Marisa Handler is the author of the award-winning memoir Loyal to the Sky: Notes from an Activist.  Her work has appeared in numerous publications, and she teaches Creative Writing at Mills College and Stanford.  This piece was originally published in Tikkun