The GOP Has Become a Malevolent Force in American Life

The GOP Has Become a Malevolent Force in American Life

Consider these words written in 2012 by non-partisan political scientists Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein:

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

Eight years on things have got demonstrably worse. Republicans continue efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act both legislatively (in 2017, which failed) or in court as GOP states led by Texas pursue a lawsuit currently pending before the Supreme Court that may see the ACA overturned next spring. The consequences to millions of Americans would be devastating.
This in the face of a virulent pandemic with more millions of Americans losing their jobs and their health care who will likely need the ACA. In the current health crisis, the Republicans’ rush to open up the economy before infection rates have decreased or we have adequate testing and contact tracing capabilities promises to cause thousands of unnecessary deaths – particularly among the elderly.

Meanwhile the GOP’s stubborn and obtuse denial of climate change threatens the future of our children and grandchildren. The depressing litany of destructive policies the GOP has embraced over the years whether its unravelling environmental protections and workplace safety regulations, beating up on the poor in America, suppressing voting rights of minorities to name but a handful, do enormous harm to the American people. The reality is of a political party and conservative movement that rejects the worth and role of government to do good and runs it incompetently to prove its point, while doing everything possible to impede the other party from governing effectively.

In this the GOP is robustly supported by its perpetually angry base, and a right-wing media machine that pushes both to the extremes. Negative partisanship is bipartisan but at least most Democrats get their news from reliable mainstream media as opposed to Republicans who are far more likely to be misinformed thanks to conservative media even on something as critical as the coronavirus. The latest conservative conspiracy theory, for example, is that the COVID-19 death rate is vastly exaggerated, a dangerous illusion that promotes a lethal complacency.

In short, Republican governance at every level is severely hazardous to our health and well being. In the present emergency, a GOP administration first weakened the federal government’s ability to combat a theoretical pandemic then thoroughly botched its response to a real one. And while a pragmatic Democratic House has tried gamely to bring some sanity to the government’s response to the economic and health calamities, it’s an uphill struggle against an ideologically driven, boneheaded GOP majority in the Senate. For example, an obvious need to support states with an infusion of federal funding as their economies tank and their revenues plummet is being blocked by a hatefully partisan GOP leadership that sees it as disproportionately (and erroneously) benefitting Democratic states.

When this catastrophe is finally over, Americans need to have a serious conversation on the future of our democracy in light of the bitter divisions that are unlikely to ameliorate even without the vile and divisive presence of either Trump or Senator “Moscow” Mitch McConnell. I don’t pretend to know the answer but I do know that we can never move forward as a country while this extreme polarization, without parallel in any other democratic nation, persists.

Trump Fucker Cocktail Recipe

Trump Fucker Cocktail Recipe

What should you drink during the six months between now and Election Day? I think you should try my tasty new cocktail recipe that allows you to vent your frustrations with Donald Trump while you make it, laugh while you sip it and savor the complex, somewhat bittersweet orange-spice flavors that result from the perfect harmony of ingredients and the cathartic process of preparing it.

Everything you need for a Trump Fucker cocktail.

Ingredients

  • ¾ oz vodka
  • ¾ oz Ferrand Dry Curaçao (this is important – do not substitute – and it’s also great in a Mai-Tai)
  • ½ oz dark rum (Pyrat, Cayman Reef Barbados, and Kōloa Gold are good choices for dark rum. Bacardi would probably be good too)
  • ½ oz Campari
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • juice of one whole small mandarin orange
  • 3 dashes of orange bitters

Preparation

Pour all the ingredients in a shaker about one-third full of ice cubes. Pick up the shaker and raise it to eye level. Imagine that it’s Donald Trump’s head and then shake it violently. Feel free to scream as you continue to shake it mercilessly until your hands are so cold they hurt.

Pour the drink into a old fashioned glass or rocks glass (or even an absinthe glass) with ice – preferably one large ice cube but, in a pinch, a few normal size cubes will do. The color of the drink should match the orangey hue of Donald’s spray tan.

Garnish with one or two lychee fruits and, for optimum presentation, place a blueberry in the opening of the each lychee. If you make it right, it looks like this.

A perfect Trump spray-tan color with white eye sockets.
“That fucking cocktail is such a pretty color. Reminds me of someone… Oh, right. Me! My beautiful self! So wonderful, so unbelievably wonderful looking… too bad I don’t drink, but you go right ahead and drink that beautiful cocktail. I heard it ends with a perfect, so perfect bitter aftertaste. Why is that? I wonder…” – Donald Trump

Trump’s character traits are really disturbing

Trump’s character traits are really disturbing

Near the end of a book I was reading recently was this description of a familiar political leader:

He was impervious to advice. He listened but did not absorb the opinions of others. If critics persisted (according to one of his senior staff members) ‘he would break into short-tempered fits of enraged agitation’. He brushed aside uncongenial facts so habitually that his staff began to filter out intelligence of the worst complexion. He displayed in all this not a shred of self-criticism. When things went wrong he blamed others’.

Characterizing his subject as sulky, vindictive, intolerant and irascible, the author goes on to cite his subject’s poor powers of leadership which were masked with a self-constructed myth of infallibility. Add a few more equally unpleasant traits such as bullying, endless lying and bullshitting, a complete absence of empathy and a demand for loyalty from others which goes unreturned and we have a fairly complete picture of Donald Trump, right? Indeed. But the the excerpt is from Why the Allies Won by historian Richard Overy, published in 1995, and the subject is Adolf Hitler.

Klessheim Palace (now a casino) to Mar-a-Lago (now a playground)

Now obviously Trump is no Hitler. For one thing, Hitler wrote a book, Mein Kampf. Trump, who has the attention span of a gnat and can’t even sit still long enough to read the President’s Daily Brief  (with potentially disastrous consequences) has likely never even read a book cover to cover much less written one (having a book ghost written for you doesn’t count). 

More significantly, there is no evidence that Trump harbors a megalomaniacal desire to conquer the world; in fact he has more of a penchant for retreating from commitments abroad and betraying allies – Kurds and Afghans so far, and probably our NATO allies too given half a chance. And whilst Trump is monstrously incompetent, narcissistic and vile (among other things), there is no evidence that he is an actual monster capable of acts of unspeakable evil. Fortunately for us, Trump is constrained by his own enormous limitations, principally his own monumental stupidity; for example, he is still unable to accept the deadliness of the coronavirus pandemic even after everything that’s happened.

There really isn’t much doubt about this and it has been amply demonstrated both publicly before our eyes and in myriad accounts from those who have had to deal with him. He has some smarts, of course, but they’re confined to a gift for relentless self-promotion combined with an uncanny ability to manipulate the media and to exploit the vulnerable by drawing out their very worst instincts.

Second his ambitions, thank the Lord, seem to be limited to getting re-elected and, as Max Boot writes, “..the rallies and the ratings“. His ineptitude protects us from his worst authoritarian instincts but also carries with it devastating consequences for the nation in the face of a deadly pandemic.

All the caveats aside, however, the similarities between the two men’s character traits are unmistakable. Trump’s demonstrated lack of empathy even for the people on whom he is depending for re-election echo Hitler’s studied unconcern for his people suffering privation and under constant bombing, or his soldiers later in the war sustaining one crushing defeat after another.

One more trait they share is a gross overestimation of their own abilities. Hitler thought he was a better general than his field marshals whilst Trump thought he could actually function as president of his nation. Both were wrong. For Germany it brought catastrophe but then a better future. Will America salvage something good also from our own ongoing catastrophe? The jury is still out on that one.

Grocery Store Heroes

Grocery Store Heroes

It’s not hard to be moved close to tears when we hear the myriad stories and see photos of our heroic doctors, nurses, medical technicians, EMTs and all of the hospital support staff who are risking their lives while striving to save ours in the midst of a pandemic that is lethal to so many. How on earth are we ever going to thank them or truly show our appreciation after all this is done? Their efforts and their sacrifices are simply beyond words.

There are others who have also carried on essential work at great personal risk to whom we owe our undying gratitude including public transit drivers, police officers, postal workers and others who have given a new meaning to the term “public service”.

But I would like to say a special word here for our grocery store workers who have served the public faithfully and well and without whom our situation would be dire indeed. They have done so despite often poor pay and the ever present risk of daily public contact that has resulted in an increasing death toll around the country.

For my family special thanks go to the hard working and devoted staff of Ballard Market (part of Town and Country Markets) where we mostly shop but also to PCC, Trader Joe’s, QFC (part of Kroger) and to our local Safeway. But to all the grocery store workers everywhere in the country: Thank you guys for sustaining all of us in this most difficult of times.

More of the Best New Music of 2020 so Far

More of the Best New Music of 2020 so Far

Many people are not familiar with Terry Allen and the Panhandle Mystery Band. I think I first heard him on KEXP’s Swingin’ Doors show around twenty years ago when Don Slack played “Gimme a Ride to Heaven” from the the 1983 album Bloodlines. I bought that album and have been following him ever since. No Depression describes his new album, Just Like Moby Dick, like this;

Instead of a voyage on the Pequod, Allen takes his listeners on a journey that covers a lot of ground, from Houdini facing death after life in “Houdini Didn’t Like the Spiritualists” to a town lamenting the loss of its last local dancer in “Death of the Last Stripper.” Allen brings clown-killing vampires into the light on “City of the Vampires” and delivers the storytelling masterpiece “Pirate Jenny,” which serves as a nod to Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s original of the same name.

Here is “Sailin’ on Through”. Enjoy!

Drive By Truckers have been putting out great southern rock music for decades now. They are not shy about expressing their political views, so it’s no surprise that during this year of a presidential election they have released their most political album ever, The Unraveling. Here’s their response to the nutjob, Christian, second-amendment crowd who won’t do anything about the epidemic of mass killings committed with ridiculously powerful automatic weapons except offer up their “Thoughts and Prayers”.

Stephen Malkmus has put out several solo albums, and they all sound a little different – some sound similar to his seminal band Pavement, some a little like Sonic Youth, some are bit electronic, and this new one titled Traditional Techniques is less rock, less electric, more acoustic, and maybe sounds a little bit like Wilco.

This next one is the title track from Tré Burt’s new album, Caught it From the Rye. You will probably find that the instrumentation and vocals sound very much like someone you know. Sean Jewell over at American Standard Time, in a somewhat amusing fashion, goes to great lengths not to name that singer/songwriter, because well… Sean has his own set of principles to which he must adhere.

I, on the other hand, will name that person. He happens to be an artist I have been listing to quite a bit lately. Bob Dylan has released two new songs on YouTube in the past three weeks. I won’t post the actual videos, because they are already ubiquitous on the internet. “Murder Most Foul“, about the assassination of President Kennedy and what it means to the American psyche, was released a few weeks ago. Today he released “I Contain Multitudes” which seems to be about all the things that have influenced his work.

Credit the mainstream media – they’re doing a great job in the age of COVID-19

Credit the mainstream media – they’re doing a great job in the age of COVID-19

Over the years those of us who follow politics and policy from a more liberal perspective have certainly had our bones to pick with the mainstream media. We only have to recall the 2016 election and the media’s treatment of Hillary Clinton’s email non-scandal whilst it simultaneously went through painful contortions to normalize the candidacy of the abnormal, not to mention utterly vile, Donald Trump to get our blood boiling. But as we face our greatest trial since World War II in the form of the COVID-19 coronavirus, we should recognize the bang-up job the mainstream media has done during this challenging time. 

In the face of a crescendo of nonsense, bullshit, lies and outright hostility both from the president and from his propaganda machine at Fox News, the American mainstream media have steadfastly delivered facts, truth and useful analyses on a daily basis from the moment it was clear that we faced the mortal threat of a pandemic. Certainly from January onward, the media was sounding the alarm by reporting on what was happening in China and on what was being said in response by public health professionals here.  Crucially, the media refused early on to be deflected by a clueless Trump and continued to press him and his administration on their actions, or lack of them, and to hold them accountable. Particular kudos, I believe, are owed to the brave souls of the White House press corps who face unprecedented vitriol from Trump who is quick to anger and lashes out with a vitriol and meanness we simply haven’t seen before in a president – and hope we never see again. Whether it’s Amiche Alcindor of PBS and others who commit the unpardonable sin of quoting Trump’s own words back to him or Jonathan Karl of ABC asking about a report published by his own government inconveniently highlighting equipment shortages in hospitals, Trump resorts to bullying and belittling the offending journalists who are simply trying to do their jobs.

Alcindor and Karl are professionals, of course, for whom this is all merely water off a duck’s back. But they are human too and it cannot be pleasant for even them to be treated this way before the world, and especially galling by someone they know is completely unfit to hold the office of president. And although divided along partisan lines the media has a good deal more credibility with the American electorate than does Trump.

So a tip of the hat to the journalists of the mainstream media. Keep up the great work guys!!

John Prine has Died from COVID-19

John Prine has Died from COVID-19

Here is the opening of his obituary published on No Depression‘s website:

After nine days in intensive care at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, John Prine passed away at the age of 73 due to complications from COVID-19. Last weekend, he was intubated — a process that involves inserting a tube down a patient’s throat to assist with moving air in and out of the lungs — as family members and the Oh Boy Records team continued to update fans on his condition via social media. Prine was a high-risk patient, due to his squamous cell cancer diagnosis in 1998, lung cancer in 2013, heart surgery last summer, and recent hip injury that canceled his February tour dates.

Beloved, of course, in the roots music community, Prine was also greatly respected around the world for his vivid, often humorous storytelling. Beginning with his 1971 self-titled album — a record that Rolling Stone dubbed one of the 500 greatest of all time, replete with classics like “Paradise” and “Angel from Montgomery” — and through to his 2018 LP Tree of Forgiveness, Prine captured the simplicities and the complexities of the human existence in stark and stunning glory.

Yesterday evening, friends texted me regarding his death, and I asked them what songs they would like to see posted. Here’s Zippy’s selection from John Prine’s first album.

And Jen chose “In Spite of Ourselves” the title track from his 1999 album.

Gorby chose what is probably his most-famous song covered by Bonnie Raitt.

And Kyri chose “When I Get to Heaven” live from Austin City Limits.

Rest in Peace John…

Marianne Faithfull Hospitalized with Coronavirus

Marianne Faithfull Hospitalized with Coronavirus

Rolling Stone has reported that Marianne Faithfull was admitted to a London hospital with cold-like symptoms and tested positive for coronavirus. Her manager, François Ravard, says she is stable and responding to treatments.

The album of hers that first caught my attention is her 1979 masterpiece, Broken English.

Here is the title track set to an “Anti-war film made with a montage of various images including Picasso, Goya, Heartfield, Daumier, Kollwitz, and others”.

And here is a video of Marianne working with Nick Cave and Warren Ellis in the studio recording “The Gypsy Faerie Queen” and getting interviewed by Nick.

What Ballard Looks Like During the Coronavirus Pandemic

What Ballard Looks Like During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Ballard is the neighborhood where I live in Northwest Seattle, Washington that was a sleepy little Scandinavian neighborhood when I moved in. It’s gone through many changes over the past few decades that have made it a destination for Seattleites and for tourists from all over the country and the world. It’s where people go to drink, because there are many great bars and restaurants, plus the world famous Tractor Tavern music venue.

I took a walk through Ballard last weekend to see how the coronavirus shutdown has changed it.

Ballard was a bustling neighborhood with many thriving locally owned businesses, but now they are all hurting because of the severe economic slowdown brought on by the social distancing required to stop the spread of the highly contagious, deadly coronavirus. I can only hope the pandemic soon wanes and that Ballard, Seattle, Washington, and the rest of America and the world can get back to normal. I want all of these businesses to survive, but I don’t think all of them can without some huge help from the state and federal government, and from all the locals pitching in to buy what they can from them when they can.

The Great Recession was about “Too Big to Fail”. This recession is going to be all about “Too Small to Fail”.

Update: While drafting this post last night, I was listening to The Roadhouse with Greg Vandy, the best weekly radio show on KEXP. During his show Greg informed us listeners about You Don’t Bother Me: A Fundraiser For Ballard Ave Music Venues put together by Seattle band, The Cupholders.

This compilation is a fundraiser for the staff of the Ballard Avenue music venues that have been forced to shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The bartenders, sound technicians & door attendants at Conor Byrne Pub, Hotel Albatross, The Sunset Tavern & The Tractor Tavern are our family and make sure that we as musicians have a place to play as well as build and sustain our community.

To celebrate these noble warriors, all the artists on this compilation have recorded their own version of Casey Ruff’s song “You Don’t Bother Me” a song celebrating friendships, good times and hangovers made on Ballard Avenue

Facebook page here.

Also, there are links in the photo captions to most all of the businesses in the photo gallery, but you’ll need to scroll over the words to see them. Try it!