2:00PM Water Cooler 1/12/15

By Lambert Strether of Corrente


Presidential hopefuls parties agree: “Economic mobility, and the feeling of many Americans that they are being shut out from the nation’s prosperity, will be a defining theme of the 2016 campaign” [WaPo]. So, we can’t say “class warfare,” but have to say “income inequality,” but now we can’t say that, and have to say “economic mobility”?

“You talk to any pollster, on the Democratic side or the Republican side, they’re in complete agreement on the idea that there has to be an economic populist message,” said Matthew Dowd, a top strategist for former president George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns.

Please kill me now.

Democrats set up a tax fight; “middle class” tax breaks paid for with a fee on financial transactions and cutting tax breaks for the 1% [WaPo]. Randall Wray called his shot on this one, and I agree with him.

Rubio has checked with his family, and they’re OK with a Presidential run [National Journal]. “I’m confident that I can raise enough money. … I’m past that point in my deliberations.” So he has a squillionaire backer?

Rand Paul hires Chris LaCivita, the Republican who just got Pat Roberts re-elected [Wall Street Journal]. The theme here being oppo. I mean, that’s always the theme, but LaCivita is the Swift Boat dude.

Democrats outraise Republicans among disclosed donors [Politico].

Thomas Frank fires a last salvo before taking time off to write a book [Salon]. It’s a nice takedown of Obot talking points. The peroration:

What I am suggesting, in other words, is that the financial crisis worked out the way it did in large part because Obama and his team wanted it to work out that way.

That is the simplest and most direct explanation.

The notion that Democrats might have agency is shocking, I know, since it means they bear some responsibility for our unhappy situation. However, once you acknowledge that it might be true, it occurs to you that this simple and direct explanation might also be the key to all kinds of Democratic betrayals and failures over the years, from the embrace of NAFTA to the abandonment of the Employee Free Choice Act. Maybe these episodes weren’t failures at all. Maybe it’s time we confronted the possibility that these disasters unfolded the way they did because Democratic leaders wanted them to work out that way.

One can only wonder what Democratic apparatchik and Salon editor-at-large Joan Walsh thinks of Frank’s article. And not to be churlish, but one could have wished that Frank’s “Road to Damascus” moment had come a little earlier; I [lambert blushes modestly] am a member of the Class of 2008, not the Class of 2016. (The “Class of” trope comes from Brad DeLong.)

“The Joe Biden random compliment generator” [WaPo]. I tried it! I got: “Look at those eyes. You have beautiful eyes” [lambert, again, blushes modestly].

The Hill

Implementation issues with Obama’s free community college plan [McClatchy]. Why not focus resources by need?

Not enough votes to over-ride Obama Keystone veto [The Hill].

Charlie Hebdo

Three million march in Paris [Wall Street Journal]. As with #illridewithyou in Australia, it’s possible that common humanity rises to the occasion in a way that “world leaders” (let alone zealots and jihadists) cannot.

“Heureusement, un pigeon est venu les sauver durant le défilé : alors que François Hollande serrait dans ses bras l’urgentiste et chroniqueur de l’hebdomadaire Patrick Pelloux, l’oiseau lui a « chié sur l’épaule »…” [Le Monde].

“Last Wednesday’s incident takes its place in a chain of events, of which the most prominent include the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, author of “The Satanic Verses” (published in 1988). Rushdie lived in hiding for several years, for fear of assassination….” [Haaretz]. Odd that Haaretz’s “chain of events” doesn’t include the Iraq War, Abu Ghraib, etc., etc. I mean, I’m all for free speech, but the 100,000 minimum dead civilians from the Iraq War can’t really exercise it, now can they?

Wednesday’s upcoming million-copy Charlie Hebdo will “naturally” contain cartoons of Prophet Mohammed, along with jibes against politicians and religions across the board, said the stricken weekly’s lawyer [Daily Telegraph].

“The Kouachi brothers were products of the West – and of the traumatic collision between Western power and an Islamic world that has been torn apart by both internal conflict and Western military intervention. They were, above all, beurs, French citizens from the banlieue: Parisians of North African descent [London Review of Books]. Much like the 9/11 hijackers. Too bad the Bush administration decided to invade Afghanistan and Iraq instead of staging a peaceful march of three million, but America, fuck yeah! Also too, ka-ching.

“By directly targeting satirical journalists, the terrorists highlighted Islamicist politics’ assault on widely shared Enlightenment values” [Economist]. How unlike official Washington, which wouldn’t dream of kowtowing to fundamentalists. Oh, wait

“[O]ne may mourn the dead and condemn their senseless slaughter, and hail their courage in carrying out a mission in which they deeply believed, without celebrating the magazine for virtues it did not espouse” [The Atlantic].

“When all is said and done, humankind must be free to be Charlie Hebdo, and yet we must be free to not be Charlie Hebdo. Otherwise, we are not truly free” [Will Bunch, Philadelphia Inquirer].

“What we need is to not be afraid” [Bloomberg]. Truer words.

Black Injustice Tipping Point

Darren Wilson grand juror suing to reveal deliberations has a good case, if they can get standing [St Louis Public Radio].

“I hereby charge Timothy Loehmann and the Cleveland PD with the murder of 12-year-old Tamir Rice” [Daily Kos]. See especially the video transcript.

NPYD Soft Coup

“Why protest won’t get the NYPD what it wants” [Waging Nonviolence]. Uses Gene Sharp’s numbered categories to classify the NYPD actions.

Slowdown has cost city over $46M in lost revenue [NY Post]. In other words, “broken windows” makes New York just like Ferguson: Law enforcement is a profit center. That’s a disgusting perversion of state power. Stick with “absolutely necessary” arrests, say I. All that extra revenue just bloats the cops, the courts, and the prisons anyhow. Downsize it all.

America the Petrostate

ICYMI, EIA bullish fracking forecasts are based on coarse-grained studies of major formations. New analysis shows such formations have smaller “sweet spots,” and so more conservative forecasts are warranted [Nature].

Drillers pulling back from marginal fields in North Dakota to sweet spots [Reuters]. “200-person ‘man camp’ to house oil workers” on hold. Is that what they call them? “Man camps”? Yikes.

Mapping project confirms pullback: “it’s clear that drilling has contracted to focus mainly on a core area in the center, rather than pushing out into new areas” [Wired].

Center for Biological Diversity files suit to force the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to disclose fracking operations in the Gulf of Mexico [Grist]. What, they’re secret?

Gas terminal proposed 19 miles off Jones Beach, New York, and 29 miles off Long Branch, New Jersey [Yahoo]. Developer swears up and down it’s for import, not export.

77 Ohio earthquakes caused by fracking, seismologists show [Bill Moyers]. The Moyers web site hasn’t slowed down any.

Class Warfare

One reason to take money away from the 1%: “For the children” [New York Times]. Their children.

Stats Watch

Overtime for durable and non-durable goods workers highest since crisis [Joe Weisenthal].

The mean duration of unemployment remains extraordinarily high [Joe Weisenthal].

I don’t see why “state terrorism” is too strong a term for this.

News of the Wired

  • EHRs don’t include “end of life” instructions [Politico]. Well, that’s hardly remarkable. They want to suck the last dollar out of your dying body, right?
  • “60 Habits You Formed In Japan That Will Never Work In Your Country” [Naruhodo].
  • Albert Speer on his Qatar World Cup stadia designs, and sustainability generally [Der Spiegel].
  • Military refuse to overturn Sri Lanka election results [Wall Street Journal]. A big deal, actually.
  • Haitians can’t sue UN for introducing cholera to their country [Reuters].
  • Music reviewer Sasha Frere-Jones leaves the New Yorker for Rap Genius [New York Times]. The Times seems bemused, but this is great. Rap Genius does annotation, and (if nothing else) that brings the meta in a whole new way.
  • If you want to know what those darn kids are talking about, try Yik Yak [New York Times].
  • “America’s Angriest Store” [Medium]. You guessed right! Obot Central!

* * *

Readers, feel free to contact me with (a) links, and even better (b) sources I should curate regularly, and (c) to find out how to send me images of plants. Vegetables are fine! Fungi are deemed to be honorary plants! See the previous Water Cooler (with plant) here. And here’s today’s plant (furzy mouse):


Willow tree in Svendborg. And I have to say, I have never seen a willow that looked like that.

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Talk amongst yourselves!

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Anon

    There’s a small mix-up with the NPYD – shouldn’t it be NYPD? Unless I’m missing something here.

  2. Ed Walker

    Rules of Democratic Party Playbook:

    Mustn’t talk about wealth inequality even indirectly. Mustn’t talk about class at all. Mustn’t talk about two-tier justice system. We have social norms here, so just because you have freedom of speech doesn’t mean you have to use it.

    Rules of Media:

    Same; plus, ignore that billionaire and that creepy banker paying off that Democratic congressional. It’s just politics, nothing to see there.

    1. DanB

      What’s that old Trotsky apocrypha? “Any society is only three square meals away from a revolution”. Put this together with, “You talk to any pollster, on the Democratic side or the Republican side, they’re in complete agreement on the idea that there has to be an economic populist message,” said Matthew Dowd. So cue Bernie Sanders and Liz Warren to deliver the “message”, but not the goods. How can Hillary be even a fake populist? Lord knows what the Republicans will come up with, but it’s got to be based on a lot of sotto voce ethnic and other “out-group” divisiveness.

      But if “messaging” fails and people ask, “Where’s the beef?!” What shall the corporations instruct their employees -AKA politicians- to do? Fly more air force jets over football games? Display bigger flags at halftime? Release another movie from Clint Eastwood proclaiming us “the greatest country in the world?’ Start a war with N. Korea or Russia or … you get the idea? Or, we can hope, maybes they will start fighting amongst themselves.

  3. Jim Haygood

    Sleeper story of the month:

    ‘An [IMF] team will begin its work in Kyiv on January 8, immediately after Orthodox Christmas, as agreed with the authorities. The mission is expected to conclude its work before the end of January.’


    This mission is the IMF’s follow-up on the delayed Dec. 2014 tranche, which remains on hold. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s foreign reserves have fallen to $7.5 billion — about one-fourth of already-defaulted Argentina’s $30 billion, serving a population slightly smaller than Ukraine’s.

    Push is coming to shove, and the IMF faces the same decision it faced in Argentina in 2001: throw good money after bad, or cut and run? Even our best scriptwriters will be severely challenged to formulate ‘a good concept and a good story’ to paint more lending in a rosy light. The U.S. is already on the hook for a $1 billion loan guarantee. Maybe they’ll pay us back in bribes brides.

    1. Banger

      Well, I trust in the holy power of smoke and mirrors and sleight of hand that seems to be the dominant policy in the West.

    2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      About our $1 billion share, were it the case the Russian Ruble was the global reserve currency, we’d be looking at restructuring and emergency loans from the IMF and the World Bank.

      But luckily, we can just print that $1 billion past-due bill.

  4. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    That willow tree reminds me of something…someone’s hair cut…maybe of a Medieval monk. Didn’t the monk from Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood have a hair cut like that? Or maybe it was that Chinese paintings of Hanshan (cold mountain) by Yuan artist, Yintuoluo or by the Southern Song painter, Yan Hui?

  5. Banger

    Just on the “populist” message. The RP trots that out every now and then as in “the opportunity society” and then continue to do absolutely nothing about it and the their demographic eats it up. Most Americans get by, more or less, and until that changes there I don’t see how there can be a movement towards a more egalitarian society–does anyone here see anything I’m missing?

    Mind you, the DP, trots out the same sort of message and does precisely nothing about it so I don’t want to demonize the RP.

    1. Banger

      Interesting isn’t it? Just read the WaPost’s article pretty quickly. Democrats now support a Wall Street sales tax (essentially) just when it is absolutely impossible it cannot pass! What slimeballs! Where were they a few years ago when everybody was braying about the budget deficit?

      1. Doug Terpstra

        The DP really does see the people as chumps, with Obama leading the way. It’s pure political theater, a complete lack of basic integrity. I think this is why Jesus was so militant toward Pharisee politicians, high priests, and moneychangers, all of them propagandists, and all of them warned about a fate worse than drowning by millstone for leading others asrtray.

  6. diptherio

    “there has to be an economic populist message.”

    A message. Not policy, mind you, but a message. We’ve got the best messaging money can buy…

    1. Ulysses

      That’s our whole problem in a nutshell. Politicians try to sell mindless policy like deodorant. No one in D.C. is motivated to actually do anything except carry water for kleptocrats. Even the supposed do-gooder foundations only want to do a good job of cashing checks from wealthy liberals with guilty consciences.

      As Banger says, they “trust in the holy power of smoke and mirrors.” When that fails– they trust in a militarized police state to crush anyone gaining traction by pointing out the emperor’s lack of clothing.

      1. Ed S.


        Umm, I think you’re being a bit disrespectful to the good folks at Proctor and Gamble (and others).

        My Right Guard actually DOES work – I don’t sweat and smell “good”. Now if I opened the Right Guard package and the package was empty,THEN it would be like a Rep/Dem policy – nothing but blather and packaging.

        (Disclaimer: gentle kidding in line one. I don’t actually think that he’s disrespectful).

        1. Ulysses

          Our political classes make used car salesmen (and advertisers of deodorant!!) seem like paragons of transparency and decency. Indeed, I have had much better experiences– counting on representatives of the Patriarca and Gambino crime families to keep their promises– than counting on any elected “representatives” to the U.S. government to keep theirs!!

  7. McMike

    Re Thomas Frank. Like, duh.

    It has long been my policy to assume that people who wield tremendous power, wealth, influence, intelligence, education, and ability to project violence and confer rewards are generally getting the outcomes they seek.

    1. Banger

      Amen–only in America (I hope) are people so naive as to think anything else. Still, I like Thomas Frank.

  8. mike

    Along with that transactions tax, how about a hefty tax on all paid political campaign services like ad production, opinion polls, consultants, oppo research, etc.?

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      More taxes and they don’t have to do with fighting inflation.

      I am speculating if we need a college degree tax for companies hiring college grads.


      1. Education is for enlightenment and not as a career stepping stone.
      2. Colleges are not cost-free training camps for professional sports nor for big corporations.
      3. Since colleges are being used as cost-free training camps for corporations, and a lot of small businesses hire high school grads (hairdressers, taxi/truck drivers, trash-haulers, some computer programmers, gardeners, waiters/waitresses, etc), essentially, mom-and-pop stores are subsidizing big corporations.

      That’s what I am thinking – we need to go back basics, meaning, we need to encourage kids to get education for enlightenment, and we need tax big corporations for this particular subsidy, among other subsidies,

  9. John

    Call it a “sales tax” on all Wall Street financial transactions…the public understands what that is because they are used to paying sales taxes. As in, why can’t Wall Street pay sales taxes too?
    It might then have a chance of happening.
    Salix caprea ‘pendula’, weeping pussy willow with a good bowl haircut.

    1. hunkerdown

      Apparently Stephen Gowans sees enough people thinking otherwise to spend more than a dozen pages out of 65 ruining Christmas for the youngsters by scuttling the twin Anglo-Saxon delusions of the beneficence of authority and the degree to which we actually choose our outcomes before applying to the topic at hand, namely, Canadian foreign policy. Promoting Plutocracy (pdf)

  10. aliena

    Hi Lambert, you forgot a few links, ones that actually do not support your bigot view of what is Charlie Hebdo. But you wouldn’t know what is real free speech in America when everything is so politically correct.

    Is it a surprise that Obama is a no show when the liberal press in the US is screaming “racism” (when it’s not)? Kind of like the Muslim world press. I don’t know how you resolve 3.5 millions people in the street in France and calling Charlie Hebdo a racist publication.

    Anyway nobody in France needed all these statesmen, Charlie Hebdo was a ferocious critique of any authority (especially the US one).
    My modest monthly contribution to Naked Capitalism will now go to Charlie Hebdo.

    The Hooded Utilitarian’s Cheap, Lazy Criticism of Charlie Hebdo

    About the cover depicting Boko Haram sex slaves as welfare queens.
    “… Charlie Hebdo is known for being left-wing attached and very controversial, and I think they wanted to parody people who criticize “welfare queens” by taking this point-of-view to the absurd, to show that immigrant women in France are more likely to be victims of patriarchy than evil manipulative profiteers.”
    “This cover is a double snipe in classical Charlie style, both against Boko Haram and our right wing, NOT against the sex slaves or “welfare queens”. To misunderstand that shows complete ignorance of French press and the left wing / anarchist tradition of Charlie.”

    Understanding Charlie Hebdo (but even this article cannot go over the polital incorrectness of Charlie Hebdo).

    “”In 2011, John Lichfield of the Independent called it a “garish, scatological, cartoon-dominated publication that mocks religious faith of all kinds and defends women’s rights and a leftist viewpoint.” It is little-read and lowbrow. Its editorial philosophy is one of defiance, and it presents that defiance as being uniquely French.””

  11. Winston Smith

    Sales tax on Wall Street!?!

    How about we just federalize the Federal Reserve Bank, go back to 50’s era income and estate taxes, bring back Glass-Steagall, revoke that corporate citizen nonsense. Junk the Mortgage Back Security while you’re at it. That damn thing just enabled egregious price appreciation relative to incomes.

    As for the masses, they need to wake up from their delusion.

    “Until they became conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.”

  12. DJG

    Tom Frank, letting off more steam. Now, as to Lambert, and blushing, some chronology: Before you blush yourself into permanent ruddiness, you do recall Frank’s essays at The Baffler and his association with Harper’s Magazine? I recall that right after the 2008 election, Harper’s put out an essay called something like, Barack Obama, Hack. The editors followed up with another essay that had a title something like Barack Obama, Our New Herbert Hoover. So Tom Frank did not come to Obamaskepticism recently.

    How to move forward, or What Is To Be Done? (according to whatshisname, who was good with titles and bad with policy and personnel):

    Frank has given a diagnosis. The dilemma that I have had is that once you assign agency to the Democrats, you’re stuck wondering about their genial incompetence (which is widespread in the USA: Have an Ineffective Day!). Or else you begin to look again at Hannah Arendt’s work and think thoughts of the banality of evil.

    Obama has been the great squanderer. A large majority of votes in two presidential elections, squandered. Majorities in both houses of Congress, squandered. Time, squandered. He passed himself off as an innovator and hired re-treads. He is intellectually lazy (constitutional scholar?). I consider the endless playing of golf a sign of moral laziness. (And there’s an article floating around about Obama’s choices for ambassadors that made him look purely meretricious and downright cheesy). The squandering gives me pause, at times.

    Frank, in this Salon piece, talks a lot about questioning things. But that’s what the chattering class does. The vital issue is how to recharge this republican form of government before it fails completely, not to fill the virtual pages of Salon. And that likely means throwing out our elites (government, arts, media). And if I’m reading Arendt correctly, coming up with some kind of governmental arrangement that goes beyond bureaucracy and its indifference to civil rights and economic outcomes. That’s going to take some doing. No wonder Frank tossed his bomb and ran off to write a book. He raises class struggle as politics, and then he walks out the door.

    1. Ed

      The Frank essay comparing Obama to Herbert Hoover was excellent, and mostly prescient.

      There was one critical way where the comparison was not prescient. When Hoover was first elected in 1928, the Republicans were the more left wing and the Democrats the more right wing of the two parties, to the very limited extent you can apply the continental European political spectrum to American politics. The Democrats were the party of the urban political machines and the boll weevils. The Democrats nominated the Governor of New York in 1932, a cousin of a president who had worked in the one Democratic administration in the previous thirty years, and he didn’t offer much other than platitudes during the campaign and the party swept into office. The new president and new Congress then implemented a whole miscellaneous raft of measures to deal with the Depression, borrowing ideas from the left as needed, and the great realignment was set.

      The current version of the Democratic Party has not been close to the left for over twenty years, but arguably still is in relation to the Republicans. There is a huge space on the left for the Democrats to be outflanked. The Republicans only have to adopt a few populist economic policies that would have the effect of redistributing money downwards. A Republican president and Congress could come in and limit immigration, which the Republican base wants anyway, implement a basic income guarantee, which is fairly popular among libertarians, repeal alot of corporate welfare measures and red tape restricting small businesses, and actually prosecute some financiers and financial firms like the last Bush administration did. They could go back to the original Republican polices on protectionism. All of this would contribute to stopping the concentration of wealth.

      So this is the dog that did not bark. There is a huge electoral advantage to the Republicans to do this, but instead in 2012 they nominated a venture capitalist who was active in dismantling companies and moving their jobs overseas. The first business of their new Congressional majority is to attack social security. The refusal of either party to adopt any measures that reverse the concentration of wealth -even when they are consistent with their proclaimed philosophy and to their electoral advantage- is quite telling.

      1. Ulysses

        “The refusal of either party to adopt any measures that reverse the concentration of wealth -even when they are consistent with their proclaimed philosophy and to their electoral advantage- is quite telling.”

        Yes!! And this refusal is telling us that our two-party system is irremediably broken, and that we the people need to rise up fast, and demand a real voice in our government. Our current crisis stems from the fact that the system has been thoroughly exposed as completely illegitimate, lacking any true consent of the governed. Yet this illegitimate, kleptocratic regime that rules over us has a huge apparatus of state violence– and people are understandably cautious in how they go about challenging its power.

  13. jpalm

    Has any one just thought of firing/laying off half the NYPD force to save the money lost by all those arrests not done and tickets not issued?

  14. Oregoncharles

    “Thomas Frank fires a last salvo”
    My personal response, on Salon, was churlish, because the last time he said something like that, he wound up telling us to vote for Obama anyway (in 2012).
    Maybe he’s changed his mind. We shall see.

Comments are closed.