2:00PM Water Cooler 5/30/2017

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

This is a travel day for me (as is tomorrow), and so I need to keep it brief.

Readers have noticed that I tend to confuse Thomas Frank with Robert Frank. I’ve noticed it myself, and this is the reason my deep well of unconscious cerebration conflates them: Robert Frank is the author of The Americans, a wonderful photobook, one of whose themes is how strange and terrible and various America is, which might be said to be a theme of Listen, Liberal as well, though with and for a different class of people.

Here’s Butte, Montana, from that book, which sold for some unholy sum at Sotheby’s, sigh.

Skim through it. The “normal” is often not (which, come to think of it, is a theme of Thomas Frank’s as well).

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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 (RH):

RH comments: “Lady slippers almost ready.”

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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. Altandmain

    File this one for class warfare. More drama from Flint’s water crisis, this time on trips out of state.

    Wikipedia becoming https has loosened up censorship:

    At this rate, I am thinking that all progressive websites should move to Https at some point, especially with net neutrality now gone in the US. The situation is going from bad to worse.

    Bernie Sanders interrogates Trump’s new budget director:

    Here is Bernie Sander’s commencement speech:

    Yeah Bernie isn’t perfect (I wish he were more outspoken about being anti-war), but when push comes to shove, at the end of the day, you know who is on your side and who isn’t.

    1. ambrit

      New NSA or Homeland Security catchpledge: “If you’re on the internet, you’re never alone. We guarantee it.”

      1. Jim Haygood

        Or as Louis Quatorze blustered back in the day, “L’internet, c’est moi.”

        1. ambrit

          Had Jacquard been just a few years earlier with his punch card looms, the basis of a steampunk AI, or Ancien Intelligence would have been assured. As the Reich showed, with much help from IBM, the similar Hollerith system enabled true Panopticon style “management” of subject populations. Since Le Grand Louis was an amateur clockmaker, the technology would not have been beyond his grasp.

    1. ambrit

      Give allan the “Rap-Pun-Zilla” award for today. When he lets his hair hang down…

  2. diptherio

    Why did that photo sell for so much? I like photos of Montana mining towns as much as the next guy, but…what’s so great about that one?

    The train photo is the best one in the link. The contrast between the black gentleman and the white child both looking directly at the lens, their similar –almost mirrored–pose both with expressions bespeaking courage, sensitivity and discomfort…a moral pain of some sort. The man’s expression is a more intense version of the boy’s, as if they are two points along one continuum, one timeline — the boy’s expression becoming the man’s over time. Powerful…

    1. curlydan

      I liked that train/trolley photo as well. I just put the book on hold at the library to see all the photos and read Kerouac’s intro.

    2. John Zelnicker

      @diptherio – I think Lambert was referring to the sale of an original copy of the book, not an individual photo from it.

      For me, an amateur photographer, black and white photography can communicate so much more emotion than color photography can (YMMV). The ones from this book are all very powerful, but I agree with you about the train photo, well said.

      1. DorothyT

        Don’t miss this: another New Yorker article about Robert Frank’s year long trip photographing Americans. There’s a gem of a paragraph about the Butte, Montana photo. (My mother was born there in 1918.) This is what I love about NC: serendipity.

        In fact, he took around twenty-seven thousand. There were more than seven hundred and sixty rolls of film to develop: an impressive tally, even to snap-happy profligates of the digital age. Then there were contact sheets to print and mark up; from those, he made a thousand work prints, which were tacked to the walls of his apartment on Third Avenue, near Tenth Street, or laid flat on the floor for closer inspection, before being whittled down to a hundred. The final count, from all those months on the road, was eighty-three pictures: enough for a slim book, which was published in November, 1958, in Paris, as “Les Américains,” and here, in January, 1960, as “The Americans.” For his pains, Frank was paid two hundred dollars in advance, a sum that rose to just over eight hundred and seventeen dollars by the end of the year. By then, the book was out of print.

    3. Chauncey Gardiner

      Don’t know why the buyer paid $175,000 for this particular photograph, Dip, but assume Sotheby’s was able to generate the requisite level of interest mainly because the photographer was Robert Frank. Perhaps it was also a technically difficult shot in 1956 with the cameras of that day. Question: Why did Lambert select it?

      I appreciated the framing of the denuded hillsides through the period lace curtains of the old Hotel Finlen, where Robert Frank was staying. Butte’s best days were behind it as evidenced by the few cars on the largely deserted street below. Sense of ennui.

      To me, Butte itself epitomizes the colonizing of the American West: Opportunistic resource extraction… the physical energy of the Boom… the desolation of the Bust… Move on… leaving the toxic waste, polluted waters, and abandoned towns.

      My personal Montana “Jared Diamond” favorite is the gigantic slag heap below the stack of the old copper smelter outside Anaconda juxtaposed against the art deco Washoe Theater and Club Moderne in that small Montana community.

      1. sleepy

        I enjoyed my brief stay in Butte several years ago at the Hotel Finlen. A great town to explore.

      2. justanotherprogressive

        Maybe nostalgia? I’m always amazed at the people who have connections to Butte.

        That Butte (of my childhood) no longer exists……..so much has been burned down or torn down….
        The picture appears to looking east, but there is now a big pit where that hillside used to be….

  3. allan

    Vladimir Lenin: “The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.”

    Nicolás Maduro: “The Capitalists will buy our deep-discounted debt with which we will hang the opposition.”

    Lloyd Blankfein: “ A dollar is a dollar We’re doing God’s work.”

    1. Jim Haygood

      It’s deja vu all over again, Allan. From Dec 2015:

      For the last year [2015], Puerto Rico has been locked out of international credit markets. Benchmark bonds currently trade as low as 30 cents on the dollar.

      This was when “vulture” hedge funds like Fir Tree Partners and Appaloosa Management and Och-Ziff made their move. “They started to buy debt on the secondary market at 30, 40, 50 cents on the dollar, and tried to get a complete dollar [repayment] plus interest,” says Manuel Natal, an at-large member of the Puerto Rican House of Representatives.

      Hedge funds also became the sole investors willing to lend to the commonwealth, making up nearly all the participants in the 2014 sale of $3.5 billion in low-rated, 8.7 percent general obligation bonds, the biggest U.S. municipal junk bond sale in history.

      Vulture funds DoubleLine Capital and Avenue Capital were still buying up discounted debt as recently as November. Jeffrey Gundlach of DoubleLine recently called Puerto Rican debt his “best idea” for investors.


      How did that work out for them? It didn’t. Fast forward to May 2017:

      The territory owes all bondholders $33.4 billion in debt payments between now and 2026, according to [Puerto Rico’s Title III quasi-bankruptcy filing}, but it proposes to pay only about $8 billion. The government hasn’t said how bondholders should divide those payments, or which group is first in line.

      General-obligation bondholders claim that the entire Cofina [sales tax bond] structure violates the island’s constitution, and all the sales-tax revenue is owed to them. If the general-obligation claims are supported in court, all of the Cofina debt could be ruled invalid and [sales tax bond] investors could receive nothing at all.



    2. JohnnyGL

      Note to Taibbi: Maybe “autocrat” and “dictator” aren’t the appropriate labels if the guy wins free and fair elections? Carter Center vouched for them.

      1. Carolinian

        Here’s a somewhat balanced if minimalist sum up of the situation.

        To an agonizingly large degree, Venezuela’s crisis is of the government’s own making. Instead of easing or ending it, the government’s actions—and inactions—over the last several years have made it far worse. Yet, the government has not acted in a vacuum, but in a hostile domestic and international environment. The opposition has openly and repeatedly pushed for regime change by any means necessary. In addition to fostering a politically toxic climate, the opposition’s actions over the past three years—its refusal to recognize President Nicolás Maduro’s April 2013 victory, despite absolutely no evidence of electoral fraud; ensuing violence that targeted state-run health clinics and left at least seven civilians dead; another wave of violence beginning in February 2014 that left 43 dead, approximately half of them due to opposition actions; and recent and repeated calls for military and foreign intervention—have also had a very damaging economic effect.

        The US government has not only cheered, and funded, these anti-democratic actions. By absurdly declaring that Venezuela is an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to US national security and pressuring investors and bankers to steer clear of the Maduro administration, the White House has prevented Venezuela from obtaining much-needed foreign financing and investment.


        Which is to say the USG thumb has been on the scales from the get go including the brief and unsuccessful coup attempt against Chavez himself. In Venezuela just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.

        Taibbi probably knows all this but he seems more than a bit erratic lately.

          1. Art Eclectic

            Wow. It’s almost like there is a world-wide class war happening right in front of our eyes on every continent. The powers that want a dirt poor, cheap labor force to exploit resources until there are no more to exploit are taking a run at every government around the globe.

            If they win, we’re living The Hunger Games.

            1. Left in Wisconsin

              All we have to do is get people to stop voting for them! Apparently easier said than done.

              1. fajensen

                They got that angle pretty much covered now: Machines can vote too. Party machines vote for selecting candidates that suck and of course the new and digital kind for fixing the outcomes.

                The only non violent way is to stage an ambush with a surprise massive voter participation. Right now everything is running on fractions which are easier to manage.

  4. clarky90

    Why Is the Media Branding the Portland Train Stabber a Trump Supporter? He’s Not


    “Christian’s still-accessible Facebook page features a bizarre collection of viewpoints expressing support of both the Nazis and Ashkenazi Jews, as well as against them. While fervently anti-Antifa in recent months, Christian’s actual politics over the span of a year are difficult to parse as his posts appear confused and contradictory—but they can be explained with further insight.

    Over the past year, Christian’s Facebook statuses included his hatred for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and support for Bernie Sanders and Black Lives Matter……..”

    I think of the “news” as “A Hollywood entertainment”, concocted to help me question everything, and to also be amusing. Fun times

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      Free mental health (i.e. zero premium, zero co-pay) would have helped.

      Not sure if free college would have, in his case.

    2. Art Eclectic

      What they should be doing is branding him as a bully and Islamaphobe. Trump supporter as a label is benign, the dangerous part is the bully and religious attacker. To be sure, Trump’s rhetoric certainly fueled that fire and he opened the door to invited the alt-right into our living rooms like they are fit to be a part of the national conversation instead of shunned and driven out to some lonely cabin the in woods to make explosives and write letters to the FBI.

  5. hreik

    Adam Schiff‏Verified account @RepAdamSchiff May 27

    Trumpcare by the numbers: 850% premium spike for elderly, 14 mil lose healthcare in 1st year, 1 in 6 w pre-existing conditions lose coverage

    1. Lynne

      I believe he means 14 mil lose health INSURANCE. I have health insurance, but no access to healthcare, thanks to the crapified plans that Obamacare requires. So either Schiff is completely clueless (which we can’t rule out) or he is a tool.

      1. Art Eclectic

        I’d venture a guess that 90% of the US electorate can’t distinguish between healthcare and health insurance. Those are waters intentionally muddied by looters who don’t want that difference discussed because it leads to questions about why the heck we have health insurance in the first place except as a catastrophic policy for heart attacks and cancer. The longer people can’t distinguish between the two, the longer the con rolls on.

    1. Art Eclectic

      Just as soon as Rachel sexually harasses somebody and/or abuses her position to demand sexual favors.
      The only rational reason I can’t think of for any woman to be defending Fox at this point is stockholm syndrome.

    2. jrs

      oh who really care if jerks like Sean Hannity have a platform (and afterall Fox will still be Fox and biased regardless).

      I mean free speech is wonderful, but it doesn’t require a major media platform. They can join a protest, or hand out flyers on the street corner, or make twitter posts, that’s free speech, but otherwise who cares what happens to them. Tell them: noone owes them a job.

      Trust me they don’t care what happens to 99% of us.

  6. Ronald Pires

    I’ve only come across Lady Slippers every now and then, and mostly they had always been pink and quite alone in the forest. That was until I stayed on Mackinac Island for a summer. There when the Lady Slippers bloom it’s almost as if they’re having a convertion, with thousands of then blanketing the forests on the island. Best of all, they are all a quite bright yellow, almost as if they are begging for attention from among all the other wildflowers there. If you love wildflowers, Mackinac in the springtime is the best, with almost a second season of different flower visiting in the fall. Bring a wildflower guide, and you’ll be wearing the pages out. [Note that there’s not a lot in the summer, but that’s peak tourist season, and the rates are quite a bit higher.]

  7. allan

    Months after vote, Northwestern U. faculty members unionize [Chicago Trib]

    Nontenure-track faculty at Northwestern University will form a union, nearly a year after contested ballots delayed results of a unionization vote.

    Service Employees International Union Local 73, which announced the outcome Tuesday, will represent the union members. That could include more than 675 part- and full-time adjuncts and faculty members from seven schools and colleges at Northwestern.

    A group of instructors first filed a union election petition with the National Labor Relations Board in June. Calls for representation came amid concern that too much university teaching has been placed in the hands of an unstable workforce due to a move away from tenured positions.

    Now the private university is legally obligated to bargain with the unionized faculty members over terms and conditions of their employment. …

    The now-unionized Northwestern faculty members follow their counterparts at the University of Chicago, who voted to form a union in December 2015, and at Loyola University Chicago, who voted for a union a month later. In February, graduate students at Loyola working as teaching and research assistants also voted to unionize. SEIU Local 73 now represents more than 1,500 faculty members and graduate students.

    Weirdly, there were no adjunct administrators to unionize.

  8. Oregoncharles

    Yes, Robert Frank. I have several of his books, The Americans and a later, retrospective one. One of my inspirations when I was trying to be a professional photographer. And a key influence in later-20th C. American photography.

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