May 19, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Trump and Biden, potential 2020 rivals, both head to Pennsylvania, a key battleground (JANET HOOK and ELI STOKOLS, MAY 17, 2019, LA Times)

The latest Quinnipiac University poll in Pennsylvania found Biden out-polls Trump 53% to 42%, with especially wide margins among independent voters and women.

The Trump team's own polling shows him trailing in the state.

That's a far cry from his stunning 2016 victory in Pennsylvania, which, along with narrow wins in Wisconsin and Michigan, demolished Democrats' "blue wall" of support across the industrial heartland. Not since 1988 had a Republican presidential nominee carried Pennsylvania or Michigan. Wisconsin hadn't voted for a Republican nominee since 1984.

But Trump's margin of victory in Pennsylvania was only about 44,000 votes out of about 6 million cast.

Ever since that upset, warning signs for the GOP have been flashing in Pennsylvania. In special elections in 2017, Democrats flipped some long-held GOP local offices, and Democrat Conor Lamb, a centrist, won a House seat in the heart of Trump country. The 2018 midterm election was a statewide blowout as Democrats won the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races by double-digit margins.

Moving to get a grip on the situation, the Trump political team a few weeks ago traveled to Harrisburg, Pa., for a meeting with Republican National Committee and state GOP officials to address concerns over party infrastructure, organizational readiness and their string of losses, according to two officials with knowledge of the meeting. [...]

[R]epublicans concede that Biden will be a much more formidable opponent than Clinton in 2016.

"He was raised in northeast Pennsylvania, spent a large part of his political career in southeast Pennsylvania and fancies himself as a candidate who can garner a lot of blue-collar support from the building trades -- all of those are areas that were nontraditional supporters of the Trump campaign last time," said Mike DeVanney, a GOP consultant in Pittsburgh.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Self-Limiting Revolution (Andrew Ferguson, 5/18/19,  The Atlantic)

Representative Joseph Crowley. At the time of his gibbeting, Crowley was the fourth-ranking member of the House Democratic leadership. Pink and fleshy, with a toothy perma-grin, he could have been drawn by Thomas Nast to represent the Machine Hack, the very symbol of complacent incumbent. He saw Ocasio-Cortez coming too late and never knew what hit him.

The film leaves it unclear what Crowley's offense was, why he deserved his unhorsing--beyond being one of the world's seemingly bottomless supply of "white dudes in suits," to use the phrase of one activist in Knock Down the House. (It's the filmmakers' bad luck that they never caught him wearing a suit.) As a liberal Democrat, he sat in the middle of his caucus ideologically--no Barbara Lee or Jamie Raskin, but a reliable "yes" vote on whatever enthusiasm public-employee unions and environmentalists placed before him.

Crowley initially avoided a debate with Ocasio-Cortez but at last relented. She tagged him for living in suburban Virginia rather than his district, as so many congressional lifers do, and for sending his children to school in their neighborhood rather than to the diploma mills back home (ditto). Crowley, she charged, helped defeat an obscure amendment to the Dodd-Frank bank-regulation bill; the amendment would have helped "working families," Ocasio-Cortez assures us. And although Crowley did his duty and called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) "fascist," he refused to join Ocasio-Cortez in her demand that the agency be abolished.

"If you think this system is fascist," she said to Crowley, "then why don't you vote to eliminate it?"

He had no answer. That's how you know when a congressman has been in Washington too long: He loses the courage of his own demagoguery.

Posted by orrinj at 4:49 PM


HUD's Ben Carson broke law with furniture order, GAO says (KATY O'DONNELL, 05/16/2019, Politico)

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson broke the law when he failed to report an order for a $31,561 dining room table set for his office as well as the installation of an $8,000 dishwasher in the office kitchen, the Government Accountability Office found in a report published Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 2:18 PM


Deutsche Bank Staff Saw Suspicious Activity in Trump and Kushner Accounts (David Enrich, May 19, 2019, NY Times)

 Anti-money laundering specialists at Deutsche Bank recommended in 2016 and 2017 that multiple transactions involving legal entities controlled by Donald J. Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, be reported to a federal financial-crimes watchdog.

The transactions, some of which involved Mr. Trump's now-defunct foundation, set off alerts in a computer system designed to detect illicit activity, according to five current and former bank employees. Compliance staff members who then reviewed the transactions prepared so-called suspicious activity reports that they believed should be sent to a unit of the Treasury Department that polices financial crimes.

But executives at Deutsche Bank, which has lent billions of dollars to the Trump and Kushner companies, rejected their employees' advice. The reports were never filed with the government. [...]

[F]ormer Deutsche Bank employees said the decision not to report the Trump and Kushner transactions reflected the bank's generally lax approach to money laundering laws. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


Joe Biden's Bet That 2016 Didn't Change Everything: In many ways, he's running the same kind of campaign he would have in a pre-Trump, pre-Sanders era. (EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE, 5/19/19, The Atlantic)

If the new rules of politics post-2016 were to hold up, the official launch rally Joe Biden held here on Saturday would mean that he is in trouble: The crowd wasn't huge, was largely white and older, and, for the most part, only really got into it when he mentioned Barack Obama or Donald Trump.

Yet Biden's high-and-getting-higher poll numbers, the early fundraising success that has surprised even his own aides, and the enthusiastic responses I heard from supporters who came out on a hot afternoon to see him don't show a candidate in much trouble at all. Biden's campaign is a bet: that in the four years since Trump launched his campaign, the country hasn't changed, the Democratic Party hasn't changed, and politics hasn't changed. that Bernie and Donald don't have Hillary to run against.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


The Hell of Working at Trump's New Favorite Network: Conspiracy theories, racist outbursts, and a whole lot of Putin love. Working for the far-right One America News Network was a deeply weird experience, former employees say. (Kevin Poulsen, 05.17.19, Daily Beast)

Ernest Champell realized there was something unusual about One America News Network during his first day on the job as a writer, when the young staffer assigned to show him the ropes announced matter-of-factly, "Yeah, we like Russia here."

Founded and helmed by 77-year-old circuit-board millionaire Robert Herring Sr., OANN launched in 2013 as an answer to the chatty, opinionated content of mainstream cable news channels--and a place for viewers too conservative for Fox News. Under Herring's direction the network embraced Trumpism enthusiastically starting in 2016, and in recent months the once-obscure cable news channel has been basking in a surge of attention from Donald Trump.

Nearly all of OANN's 24-hours of daily programming is centered at an anchordesk, with a polished TV anchor delivering headlines and introducing packaged segments in the time-honored manner of Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite. But there's a twist: The segments, the interviews, the words the anchors are speaking and even the crawl at the bottom of the screen are a slurry of fake news mixed with genuine reporting; internet conspiracy theories blended with far-right rhetoric and drizzled with undiluted Kremlin propaganda.

If you don't live in a world where Donald Trump's inauguration drew record crowds, Roy Moore won the Alabama special election in a landslide, and Hillary Clinton has her political enemies assassinated, viewing OANN for a couple of hours is a surreal experience that inspires the same vague, uneasy dread you get from a David Lynch movie.

Working there is a million times worse.

"It was a really bad chapter in my life," a former OANN anchor told the Daily Beast in an interview granted on condition of anonymity. "There were lots of afternoons where I would just sit in the car and cry. I didn't understand why they were doing what they were doing." exchange your soul for Donald's Islamophobia and Nativism when you decide to defend him.

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


Morrison's miracle: why the Australian Labor party suffered a crushing defeat (ADRIAN PABST, 5/19/19, New Statesman)

[I]t was in Queensland where the election was ultimately lost. The primary popular vote for the ALP was a paltry 26 per cent. After counting all the votes (Australia has a preferential voting system, where voters score candidates in order of preference), the swing to the Liberals ended Labor's hope of becoming the largest party and ultimately forming a government. A Labor activist summed up the mood in the party: "I have never drank so much and felt so sober".

There are some stark lessons for the ALP and other social-democratic parties in Western countries. The first and most important is that the centre-left cannot win without cultivating working class support. Rather than staking its platform on workers and their jobs, Labor instead defended a position on climate change that appeals largely to middle-class voters.

In Queensland, for example, the party's constructive ambiguity over the controversial Adani coalmine backfired. By attempting to be all things to all people, the party lost core working class voters. And what goes for rural seats in southern Queensland also applies to a host of suburban seats across the country.

Secondly, the centre-left needs a strong narrative that binds together economic and cultural concerns. Progressive themes such as climate change, equality and the inclusion of minorities are key in the battle against the Green Party and some independent candidates, but they do not deliver a popular or parliamentary majority. If it is to prevail against the Liberals, Labor also needs to speak to small-"c" conservative values of belonging to community and country.

This is even truer in the fight against the far-right populism of the One-Nation Party and the new United Australia Party led by Clive Palmer. Immediately after the results, Labor MPs and Senators have rushed to blame Palmer and his multi-million scare campaign for the party's defeat. But in reality the ALP lacked a strong story that connected with people's values - economic justice, but also social cohesion and stability in an age of upheaval.

Thirdly, Labor requires leadership that embodies the party's purpose of defending both the labour interest and the national interest. Bill Shorten, who took over in 2013, was more of a party fixer than popular leader, and could never quite shake off his image as a trade union official.

Anglospheric voters are conservative, which is why parties of the left win when they run as compassionate conservatives, not Progressives--Blair, Clinton, Obama, etc.--and why Donald's loss of the House was such a staggering achievement. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


In Iran, economic struggles trump fears of US confrontation: Iranians would rather see tensions with Washington resolved through negotiations, but are prepared to fight if war breaks out (MEHDI FATTAHI and NASSER KARIMI, 5/19/19, AP)

The Associated Press spoke to a variety of people on Tehran's streets recently, ranging from young and old, women wearing the all-encompassing black chador to those loosely covering their hair.

Most say they believe a war will not come to the region, though they remain willing to defend their country. They think Iran should try to talk to the US to help its anemic economy, even as they see US President Donald Trump as an erratic and untrustworthy adversary. [...]

Still, many pointed to the economy, not the possible outbreak of war, as Iran's major concern. Iran's rial currency traded at 32,000 to $1 at the time of the 2015 nuclear deal. Now it is at 148,000, and many have seen their life's savings wiped out.

Nationwide, the unemployment rate is 12 percent. For youth it's even worse, with a quarter of all young people unemployed, according to Iran's statistic center.

"The economic situation is very bad, very bad. Unemployment is very high, and those who had jobs have lost theirs," said Sadeghi, the housewife. "Young people can't find good jobs, or get married, or become independent."

Retired accountant Sores Maleki speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in downtown Tehran, Iran, May 17, 2019. (Vahid Salemi/AP)
Sores Maleki, a 62-year-old retired accountant, said talks with the US to loosen sanctions would help jumpstart Iran's economy.

"We should go and talk to America with courage and strength. We are able to do that, others have done it," Maleki said. "We can make concessions and win concessions. We have no other choice."

But such negotiations will be difficult, said Reza Forghani, a 51-year-old civil servant. He said Iran needed to get the US to "sign a very firm contract that they can't escape and have to honor." Otherwise, Iran should drop out of the nuclear deal.

"When someone refuses to keep promises and commitments, you can tolerate it a couple of times, but then certainly you can't remain committed forever. You will react," Forghani said. "So I don't think we should remain committed to the deal until the end."

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


Rhiannon Giddens and What Folk Music Means: The roots musician is inspired by the evolving legacy of the black string band. (John Jeremiah SullivanMay 13, 2019, The New Yorker)

To grasp the significance of what the twenty-first-century folksinger Rhiannon Giddens has been attempting, it is necessary to know about another North Carolina musician, Frank Johnson, who was born almost two hundred years before she was. He was the most important African-American musician of the nineteenth century, but he has been almost entirely forgotten. Never mind a Wikipedia page--he does not even earn a footnote in sourcebooks on early black music. And yet, after excavating the records of his career--from old newspapers, diaries, travelogues, memoirs, letters--and after reckoning with the scope of his influence, one struggles to come up with a plausible rival.

There are several possible reasons for Johnson's astonishing obscurity. One may be that, on the few occasions when late-twentieth-century scholars mentioned him, he was almost always misidentified as a white man, despite the fact that he had dark-brown skin and was born enslaved. It may have been impossible, and forgivably so, for academics to believe that a black man could have achieved the level of fame and success in the antebellum slave-holding South that Johnson had. There was also a doppelgänger for scholars to contend with: in the North, there lived, around the same time, a musician named Francis Johnson, often called Frank, who is remembered as the first black musician to have his original compositions published. Some historians, encountering mentions of the Southern Frank, undoubtedly assumed that they were merely catching the Northern one on some unrecorded tour and turned away.

There is also the racial history of the port city of Wilmington, North Carolina, where Johnson enjoyed his greatest fame. In 1898, a racial massacre in Wilmington, and a subsequent exodus of its black citizens, not only knocked loose the foundations of a rising black middle class but also came close to obliterating the deep cultural memory of what had been among the most important black towns in the country for more than a century. The people who might have remembered Johnson best, not just as a musician but as a man, were themselves violently unremembered.

A final explanation for Johnson's absence from the historical record may be the most significant. It involves not his reputation but that of the music he played, with which he became literally synonymous--more than one generation of Southerners would refer to popular dance music simply as "old Frank Johnson music." And yet, in the course of the twentieth century, the cluster of styles in which Johnson specialized--namely, string band, square dance, hoedown--came to be associated with the folk music of the white South and even, by a bizarre warping of American cultural memory, with white racial purity. In the nineteen-twenties, the auto magnate Henry Ford started proselytizing (successfully) for a square-dancing revival precisely because the music that accompanied it was not black. Had he known the deeper history of square dancing, he might have fainted.

As a travelling "Negro fiddler," Johnson epitomized the one musical figure in American history who can truly be called "ur." Black fiddlers are the trilobites of American musical history. A legal record from the mid-seventeenth century details a dispute between Virginia households competing for the services of an enslaved man who had played the fiddle all night for a party on the Eastern Shore. After that, for more than two hundred years, black fiddlers are everywhere in the written sources. Then, around the start of the twentieth century, they fade, abruptly and almost completely.

Johnson was born in the late eighteenth century, most likely on a plantation owned by a family named Hawkins, in North Carolina, near the Virginia border. Early on, he was recognized as a prodigy who could master almost any instrument, but his specialty was the fiddle--the instrument most desired for dances. His owners started hiring him out for parties and dividing the earnings with him, a common practice. Sometime in the eighteen-thirties or forties, he became free. The only attempt at a biographical treatment of him, an article written around 1900 by the Virginia newspaperman Frank S. Woodson, says that he bought his own freedom "on a credit," using money that he had made playing music. He then, according to Woodson, purchased the freedom of his wife, a seamstress named Amelia. His former master "threw in the five or six children, all boys, for good measure." The boys became his band. Johnson and his wife tended to produce talented sons.

What did they sound like? It is a profound frustration, for a person interested in early African-American music, not to be able to hear them. Johnson died ten years before the recording era began, and by then his influence had grown diffuse. But a defining quality of his band's sound is how much mixing it involved--how many styles and instrumental arrangements. There were brass instruments and wind instruments. Johnson's sons played horns of all kinds. Frank, Jr., played a snare drum. There was a bass drum. Cymbals. In 1853, a kettledrum was introduced. But there were also the instruments we associate more closely with a "minstrel" band--fiddles and banjos. A fife-and-drum sound is mentioned in a Wilmington Daily Journal article published in 1858. Johnson's band played everything at once, moving across a range of stylistic attacks, all geared for dancing. It seems impossible that its sound would not have approached, at times, proto-jazz.

It is a genuine challenge to describe how prevalent Johnson was, how dominant. According to one source, he had "for half a century ruled with absolute autocracy the aristocratic ball-rooms of the South." By any calculus, he was one of the first black celebrities in the South. I have never come across an ostensibly "lost" figure who, once you know to look for him, turns out to have left behind such an obvious trail. Johnson went from being hard to find to being impossible to escape. Researching him was like writing a history of baseball and "rediscovering" a hitter named Babe Ruth. His music was so woven into the social life of the South that it would not be an exaggeration to describe it as a kind of ever-present soundtrack. Plantation balls, picnics, barbecues, sporting events, Renaissance-style "tilting" tournaments (they were big for a while), random town ceremonies (think cornerstone-layings), university commencements (for many years, he performed at Chapel Hill, and for at least some years at Wake Forest), state fairs, agricultural fairs, firemen's balls, military "muster days," moonlight excursions on trains and boats, extended summer bookings at resort hotels, society weddings, holiday parties (including an annual Christmas party in Wilmington, where his band performed for mixed audiences, "thereby creating a warmer fellowship between the races," according to the Wilmington Star), funeral processions, and political rallies. In 1840, "when the new Capitol building was completed in Raleigh," according to an item in an 1873 issue of the Hillsboro Recorder, there were "two successive nights" of dancing, with "the well-known Frank Johnson . . . furnishing the music." During the Civil War, his band often marched at the head of regiments and was called in to play at recruitment parties. According to a story recounted by Woodson, Johnson accompanied a Confederate brigade into battle, but turned around when the shooting started.

Johnson fell on hard times after the war, and, in the end, according to a 1901 piece written by someone with the initials A.M.W., he "moved about a pathetic figure--a sort of melancholy reminder of departed joys." His death, in 1871, was reported all over--in Cincinnati, in Chicago. One newspaper in Wilmington described the turnout for his funeral as "the largest, we think, that has ever occurred in this city, it being estimated that there were at least two thousand persons in the procession, including the colored fire companies in uniform, with standards draped in mourning, the colored Masonic fraternity in regalia, etc., the whole preceded by a brass band." Pine Forest Cemetery, where he was buried, is down the street from my house; I've spent countless days looking in vain for his grave.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


Academe's Extinction Event Failure, Whiskey, and Professional Collapse at the MLA (ANDREW KAY, May 10, 2019, The Chronicle Review)

How can I conjure MLA 2019 for you?

Have you ever seen that viral picture from 2017 of a party of Oregon golfers calmly putting while, in the near distance, a wildfire consumes the landscape? Trees blacken; smoke, pinkish-gray, shrouds everything in impasto blots; nature itself seems to creak, groan, and at last give way. But the golfers go blithely on. The conversion of this Edenic place into Dantean incandescence won't interfere with the genteel game they know and love -- or, if it will, they are determined to get in one last round before the region is razed. "Eye on the ball, Chet!" one can hear them saying. "Not on the cataclysm!"

Thus MLA 2019. In conference rooms located in the depths of the hotel, the field's most vigorous minds -- Lauren Berlant! Bruce Robbins! -- teed off powerfully before hushed spectators, launching fresh takes on everything from satire to the nature of critique. They often began the same way: with the stated intention to "trouble" or "disrupt" the existing paradigm by staging an "intervention." A windup would follow: "If, as Foucault suggests, ..." the speaker would say, gathering might. Then a swing, swift and superb -- the intervention sailed through the intellectual firmament, and, with luck, found its critical mark to the dazzlement of those present: birdies of theoretical acumen, eagles of originality.

Other scholars opted for modest putts, readings of Coleridge and Coetzee greeted by polite clapping. Now and then a bogey: A reading would be less than convincing, and the author would, during the Q&A, "get a little push-back" from one or more listeners (that's academese for "I'm not buying this"). It was all mannerly and urbane. People were getting in one last round.

Upstairs, the lobby served as a kind of clubhouse. There was a bar at the center with a restaurant beside it, and, at the outer edges of the room, furniture on which people lounged. In between was an open space populated by islands of academics who shared a self-conscious aesthetic that, in the case of the men, might be termed formal-flippant: hair mummified with product; scarf; sport coat; too-short khakis; and, like a bit of irreverent punctuation dropped at the end of some sartorial sentence, New Balances. A dozen women unwittingly wore the same suit from Ann Taylor, while myriad others went full flight attendant.

Old friends bumped into one another, clutching at lattés, trading news, dropping casual references to the "capitalocene." A scholar described some new project or life development; her friend nodded, wide-eyed and hypercaffeinated, uttering that trending expression of assent among the grotesquely overeducated: the rapid-fire "YahYahYah!"

All around them, the humanities burned. The number of jobs in English advertised on the annual MLA job list has declined by 55 percent since 2008; adjuncts now account for all but a quarter of college instructors generally. Whole departments are being extirpated by administrators with utilitarian visions; from 2013 to 2016, colleges cut 651 foreign-language programs. Meanwhile the number of English majors at most universities continues to swoon.

College costs too much for students to tolerate nonsense.