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Oh My God! The problem is the 401K!!

Suddenly, there are bloggers and writers popping out of the woodwork claiming that there is something very wrong with a retirement system built around a 401K.  It’s like a collective light bulb going on.  How did they miss it when it was staring them in the face all along??

Yes, many of our problems, from insufficient retirement funds to lack of labor protection to massive layoffs to wildly irrational corporate greed and testosterone fueled gambling at the global casino by the finance industry leading to global market catastrophes can be traced back to the 401K.  I am not being hyperbolic here.  I’ve been writing about the 401K monstrosity for several years and have been highly suspicious about it for many years before that.  Here are just a few of the many, many posts I’ve done on the recklessness of the 401K.

Is the 401K system a Ponzi Scheme? Discuss.

And now for something Radical and Extreme: Get rid of the 401K 

Convergence: Reckless Endangerment, Can you afford to Retire?

By the way, although Atrios is right about increasing social security benefits, he is wrong about having people invest more of their money in 401Ks.  The 401K should not be an opt out default retirement account.  It should be stepped down and offered as a supplement to a regular boring pension.  It’s not that the politics of abolishing the 401K as a primary retirement fund is very difficult.  It’s that we don’t really have a choice if we want to reign in the runaway finance industry’s ability to carelessly destroy economies and people’s lives.  I mean, what does a banker care if he loses a billion here or there?  For one thing, the money will get replenished in the next payroll cycle and for another, the US government will frantically cover all loses in order to prevent nationwide insurrection.  Go ask Neil Barofsky about the trillions of dollars in government funds that banks have access to in order to cover their losses and make themselves look healthy.

But wait! There’s more!

You can’t touch your 401K before you’re almost 60 without a heavy excise tax.  Oh sure, there are some hardship exceptions but just paying your bills because you’ve been out of work or using the funds to start your own business (to buy hardware and software licenses for example), not possible.  Now, I suppose this is the benevolent governmental entities preventing you from spending your retirement before you retire and in normal economic circumstances, this would be perfectly understandable.

But these are not normal economic circumstances and with the House controlled by a bunch of hardass Republicans bent on a new Civil War against Americans using stinginess and closing the tap on the money supply to people who desperately need it, the fact that the finance industry is able to sit on our nest eggs and play with them to their heart’s content while there are people out here who are losing everything so they don’t have to pay a crazy excise tax, well, I’m sorry but that’s just immoral.  Sure, you can’t spend your pension in this manner but you know what you’re going to get at the end of 40 years of work with a pension.  With a 401K, the only people who are going to make out for sure are the financiers.  Why should the rest of us be paying for that?

401K’s are bad investments with insidious consequences.  They have to go.

See Jon Stewart’s interview with Helaine Olen on her book Pound Foolish for more about what havoc has been wrecked by the 401K.

Why questions

Why does Adam Davidson even have a recurring Sunday column in the NYTimes?

Why are there so few women opinion makers and so many male opinion makers who go on to become pompous gasbags on Sunday morning talk shows?  Why do I get the feeling that when MoDo dies or retires, she’ll be replaced by someone like Kevin Drum?

Why do I get the feeling that the lack of female voices in major media outlets has to do with the fact that they are unlikely to identify with the villagers?  Why are the villagers so much like the Taliban in their repression of women in the public forum?

***********************

Why do otherwise smart bloggers make a big f&*(ing deal about re-electing an African-American president when it was clear that the re-elected dude’s whole campaign revolved around making giant leaps of hyperbolic meme planting about how evil his opponent was while simultaneously re-inforcing learned helplessness to make sure his own disgusted base didn’t defect to third parties?  Why doesn’t this blogger see that many people felt they didn’t have a choice and it had nothing to do with melanocyte density?  Why doesn’t the blogger understand that if the disgusted had a choice they would have ditched the dude even if he had been the first purple skinned president in history?   Why doesn’t he understand that this is not a triumphant moment but an indication of the feeling of impotence in the electorate?  And why doesn’t the blogger admit that the ability to “win” a nomination and have a series of unfortunate events lead to winning an election is no guarantee that the candidate will be anything more than an inexperienced, mediocre, banker sycophantic president who is a notoriously poor negotiator, even in his second term?  Why won’t the left shut up about Obama because going on about racism and politics is about as out-of-touch with everyday living conditions as it is possible to get and the rest of the electorate, even the ones on their side, is starting to resent it?

Why doesn’t the blogger understand that it is even less possible now for an intelligent, left of center female to win the presidency than it was 4 years ago and that it will probably never happen in my lifetime because Obama’s campaign showed how to take out the female competition?

Why doesn’t the blogger understand that there were/are dozens of women who were more qualified to be president and had years more legislative experience than Obama and they were never even considered by the Democratic party?  Why do we just assume that they wouldn’t have been better presidents than Obama?  Why do I get the feeling that the next conservative grand bargaineer that the Democrats try to rush through will be a woman and the meme machine will say “It’s her time!” and everyone will jump on the bandwagon and inadvertently elect another Reagan lover?

Why do most left blogosphere bloggers act like no damage was done to women by the hateful way women candidates were treated in 2008?  Why are they living in la-la land about how women’s standing has been set back?  Why are they so fucking clueless?

Why do I get the feeling that Democrats are as dumb as a box of rocks?

Childhood songs mondagans

Atrios put up the lyrics of two childhood songs yesterday but he got them all wrong.

Here are the correct lyrics for the Battle Hymn of the Republic and Old Smokey:

My eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school
We have tortured every teacher, we have broken every rule
We are marching to the office now to hang the principal
Our school is marching on

Glory, glory, hallelujah
Teacher hit me with a ruler
I bopped her on the bean
With a rotten tangerine
And now she’s not so mean

(note that the original lyrics predates the use of assault weapons in school)

And here is Old Smokey:

On top of old Spaghetti, all covered with cheese
I lost my poor meatball, when somebody sneezed
It rolled of the table, and onto the floor
And then my poor meatball rolled right out the door

It rolled into the garden and under a bush
And then my poor meatball,
Was nothing but mush.

The mush was as tasty
As tasty could be,
And then the next summer,
It grew into a tree.

The tree was all covered,
All covered with moss,
And on it grew meatballs,
And tomato sauce.

So if you eat spaghetti,
All covered with cheese,
Hold on to your meatball,
Whenever you sneeze.

Kids in the 60s and early 70s were less violent. We knew all the words to the protest songs and no one we knew owned guns except bad suburban dads wwho beat their kids on Sundays as prophylactic punishment and hunters.

True story.

An answer to Atrios on how old you need to be to ride a city bus to school

Taking the public bus to school in Nuremberg, Germany

Atrios asked the question in response to Lenore Skenazy’s post on FreeRangeKids about a mother who was reported to CPS for allowing her 10 year old to ride the public bus to school by herself. Here’s my take on it.

My kid spent the summer in Nuremberg, Germany as an summer study award recipient from the German government (Long story.  She earned it). She was paired with a girl who was a couple of years younger than Brooke.  We’ll call her C.  C is 14 and attends the equivalent of eighth grade.  Germans go to school well into July so Brooke went to school with C and spent time in the high school level gymnasium as well. Additionally, in Germany, it seems like the school isn’t necessarily in the immediate neighborhood.  The gymnasium Brooke and C attended was in the middle of Nuremberg but C lived about about 8-10 miles away.

To get to school every morning, Brooke and C would get on the city bus, just like all the other students in Nuremberg.  They took the bus to the train station and then took the train into town. Then they walked.  Brooke didn’t say how young the youngest students were that took the bus and train but you can expect that from about the 6th grade on, the public transit system was the transportation that the students were expected to use.   She was given an unlimited transit pass for the month that she was there but that was part of her award.  C and her family used a more limited pass with a certain number of rides and they needed to buy new ones periodically, sort of like a metro card.

But wait! There’s more.

Brooke says that a typical gymnasium day is broken into two parts.  The compulsory parts of the curriculum are in the morning.  The electives are in the afternoon and afternoon scheduling varies depending on what you’re taking.  It’s difficult to describe but it sounds like more of a college schedule in the afternoon because the elective classes don’t meet every day of the week or meet hours apart, that kind of thing.  So, after your morning classes, you’re pretty much free to do what you want until your afternoon electives begin.  And she didn’t have lunch at school.  You’re on your own after your morning classes are finished and that means you can leave the school if you want.  Students either go home or they roam the city foraging for food, usually at McDonalds.  Brooke said she ate more lunches at Mickey D’s in Nuremberg than she ever has in the US.

That kind of behavior is unheard of here in the states and yet it seems to work just fine in Nuremberg.  There aren’t gangs of kids getting into trouble during the middle of the day or getting kidnapped at the bus stops.  You can imagine what it was like when she started school this fall back in her old high school.  Suddenly, she was treated like a feeble minded toddler again after a summer of expectations of mature and responsible behavior.  There is no public transportation in this town and no way for her to go and explore the city or walk around.  There really aren’t that many destinations here anyway.  It’s a suburb and all the businesses are on a busy main drag without many sidewalks.  It’s strictly SUVLand.  There aren’t any cathedrals or museums or gathering places nearby. No place where a bunch of teenagers with time to kill before their classes can hang out without suspicions of  wrongdoing. Not only that but leaving the campus during the middle of the day is strictly forbidden.  You can’t just go off to a local coffee shop or a cafe order a sausage and a beer, which you can drink at 16.  Nooooo.  Your movements are strictly controlled.  Can you imagine that?? Nuremberg lets a whole junior year’s worth of students loose in a city where it’s legal to drink beer at 16 and no one bats an eye.  Here in NJ, a 16 year old can’t go anywhere without a strict chain of custody.

And the weird thing is that the whole time she was in Germany riding the buses and trains from town to town with her friends, and many times without the chaperone, I never worried about her.  During her time in Berlin, her group had several opportunities to explore the city on their own without the chaperone.  And they did.  For a bunch of American kids to go to a city in a different country and not have to be tied to a chaperone who practically has to be in the bathroom with them to wipe their asses just doesn’t happen here.  It must have been very liberating.  And they all made it back to the hotel in one piece.  Fancy that.  Will wonders never cease.

Why the people of central New Jersey think it is good or healthy to regulate their kids’ every move is beyond me.  Brooke really resents being curtailed.  She can’t go anywhere without a car, which is too expensive for her to learn to drive in our present domestic circumstances, and the system acts like it can’t trust her or her classmates to keep their commitments.  They’re assumed to be up to no good before they’ve even done anything.  Around here, little groups of teenagers can’t walk through the neighborhoods talking and laughing without some irate citizen calling the police on them for making noise.

But the more I see it, the more I am convinced that it’s not really a safety issue.  It’s a control issue.  There are many things we can’t control anymore.  Our jobs and retirements seem very uncontrollable.  We can’t control the wars our elected officials got us into.  We can’t control gas prices or food prices or global warming.  But we can control our kids.  It seems like some people are hanging onto that power way past the point where it serves any useful purpose.  You have to let your kids grow up sometime.

As for Brooke, the summer in Germany matured her quite a bit.  A couple of weeks ago, I drove her to Philadelphia Airport  to catch a flight to visit her grandparents in Houston.  I left her off at the curb in front of the terminal, got her bags out of the car, and told her to wait inside for me while I parked the car.  Before I had even found a spot, she buzzed me on the phone.  She had checked in, gotten her boarding pass, checked her baggage and was going through security.  I could leave because there was nothing left for me to do or hover over or fret about.  She jumped on the plane without any help at all.  Thank you, Nuremberg.

So, the answer to the question about how old should a student be in order to take public transportation to school is: find out what the best practices are in the rest of the world and use that as a guideline.  If it’s ok for a 10 year old in Nuremberg to take the public bus to school, it’s probably ok for an American kid to do it.  It would be nice if the kid had other friends doing it too.  There’s comfort in numbers.  But as long as the kid can navigate the bus route and use the token/card system by themselves after practice with a parent, why not?  Give the kid a cell phone and tell him/her to call if they get stuck.

They’ll probably do fine.

And here’s how they get to school in the Netherlands.  Now THIS is what I’d love to see in more places in the US:

Repeat after me, Duncan

Nobody outside of your little circle of Democrats gives a flying fuck about what you call “neoliberalism“.

Yes, you think there is a big, dark ugly political philosophy behind neoliberalism.  We are aware of the theories. To me, it sounds like you have blown up the neoliberal boogieman disproportionately to its actual effect.  But we don’t care.  No, we do not.

We have our own theories about what the Clintons were up to and we simply disagree with you.  We disagree strenuously because we weren’t brain dead during the past 20 years.  We know how to keep score.

Give up already.  It’s bad enough that you committed us to 4 years of Obama with Gitmo, Kill Lists and 9.8% unemployment in NJ.  Remember, in 2008 he was touted as the cure for “neoliberalism”.  And how did that turn out?

Don’t make us dislike you.

Commence the defensive whining about Clinton

Well, that didn’t take long:

Whether or not he deserves any credit – and he certainly deserves a lot of credit for some bad things – what I think has been lost is the fact that the latter half of the Clinton years were good times. Good times in a way that that hadn’t been experienced since the late 60s or so. I don’t just mean in terms of purely quantifiable things – though the numbers there are good – it was also the case that there was a real sense of optimism. America, we’re back, bitches! It wasn’t all a horror story in the previous couple decades, but “morning in America” ads aside, there was a feeling of stagnation.

Dems have plenty of reasons to be mad at Bill Clinton, but for those wondering why there’s fondness – it’s because the economy boomed and he ultimately kicked their asses.

I was a Democrat and ran for the Board of Ed on a Democratic ticket back when Clinton was president and I don’t have any reason to be angry.  Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard all the reasons why people in Atrios’ clique think I *should* be mad at him and it’s not like I’m politically naive and don’t know what they’re talking about. Perhaps they overestimate their own self-importance and authority.  Or it just might be the case that a good chunk of the Democratic base (more than half), analyzed the data with their own set of criteria and expectations, which are no less legitimate, and came to a different conclusion.  And you’re never going to be able to convince us otherwise no matter how hard you try.  We only end up resenting the people who seem determined to rewrite history to reflect their own cultural biases.  They just frustrate our will, leave the Democratic party in a permanently broken state and make it easier for Republicans to win. I’m pretty sure that’s not what they want but they keep undermining their party with their futile attempts to make us change our minds.  It’s like they can’t evolve until they’ve stamped out every bit of good feelings we have for the Clintons.  They seem to be on a mission to delegitimize our perceptions.  I don’t think this is a good use of their time or effort.  It’s like an evangelical fundy spending 40 years trying to convert a non-believer.  At some point, it becomes disrespectful and we have to disassociate ourselves from the zealots.

Except for the Gramm- Bliley bill, which passed thru Congress with a veto proof majority, I just don’t see Clinton’s terms as a string of bad things.  Atrios’ little ditty sounds a lot like Reg and the People’s Front of Judea complaining about the Romans.

Whatever you think of Clinton, Obama can’t hold a candle to him.  Not even close. I can’t see either Clinton compromising our civil liberties or turning their backs on the unemployed or soon to be homeless for even one year compared to Obama’s four.  Clinton is a true politician and did Obama a huge favor last night that he didn’t deserve.  Some  of us don’t even recognize the Obama that Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Bill Clinton talked about last night.  THAT Barack Obama is a fictional character and we all know it.

I hope Clinton got something out of it, but don’t hold your breath for Hillary in 2016.  We were cheated out of that possibility by the people in Atrios’ tribe of Democrats.  And he would have to be politically naive to believe that the powers that installed Obama over our objections will ever let someone like her run unless they are defeated and scrubbed from the party.  It is my mission to deprive those people of power and that’s why I am voting third party this year.

But in any case, the proof is in the data, which Atrios readily admits to, as much as he doesn’t like it.  People like Bill Clinton because he was a good president, a masterful politician and their lives improved while he was in office.

Alas, beautiful theories destroyed by ugly facts.  Or, in this case, ugly theories destroyed by beautiful facts.

Cocktail Hour: Resistance September

Update: Bev Hendricks writes that Hal David has died. He was 91. David was the lyricist for many collaborations with Burt Bacharach.  Instead of playing a song, I thought I’d post the lyrics to one of my favorite Hal David songs, Alfie.  Some songs never go out of style and this one is perfect for 2012.:

What’s it all about, alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What’s it all about when you sort it out, alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give
Or are we meant to be kind?
And if only fools are kind, alfie,
Then I guess it’s wise to be cruel.
And if life belongs only to the strong, alfie,
What will you lend on an old golden rule?
As sure as I believe there’s a heaven above, alfie,
I know there’s something much more,
Something even non-believers can believe in.
I believe in love, alfie.
Without true love we just exist, alfie.
Until you find the love you’ve missed you’re nothing, alfie.
When you walk let your heart lead the way
And you’ll find love any day, alfie, alfie.

****************************

Lambert says he thinks the problem is malaise.  Atrios says he just doesn’t think the election matters anymore.

I think it’s a case of learned helplessness.

It’s like being half drowned a dozen times. No matter what you do, someone is still going to try to drown you. After awhile, you stop struggling.

And this has been my point all along. We *KNOW* they’re trying to drown us so we should make it really, really hard for them to do it. As long as we still have a vote, we have the power to make the powers that be miserable. We don’t have to eat our poisoned mushrooms. Resistance isn’t useless.

You shouldn’t be surprised if learned helplessness is exactly what they are trying to create. The people who don’t think these things through all the way seem to think that if they vote for Obama this year that the beatings will ease up. They will never ease up until we decide we’re not putting up with it anymore.

If Obama loses this year, the next two years will be pretty tough on us. But it might be of shorter duration than if Obama wins. It’s not even like the Republicans are the only ones into promoting misery anymore. Only that Obama gets away with it because he has a D after his name.

It would have been better if we had agitated for Hillary this year. That would have shaken them up and there is still time.  Nothing is settled until the balloons drop in Charlotte.  But the left has been very well conditioned against her. So, in a way, they’ve contributed to their own demise. The tools to fight this thing were there all along like Dorothy’s ruby slippers.

So, what’s it going to be, left blogosphere?  Are you going to give in or are you going to resist?  Are you going to jump on Obama’s bandwagon, knowing that he’s going to ignore you or are you going to stand up and step away from the party and give it something to worry about?

What do you have to lose?  Let’s put it this way, what do you have to gain by helplessly letting them deep six you?  Get up and resist.  Let the Democratic party worry about what that means.  You are not under any obligation to give up your vote for nothing in return.  When we say jump, they should ask how high.

This year, we need to seriously consider looking after our own interests.  I’ve proposed an organizational model before.  We need to put something like that in motion.  Call it the Federation for Democratic Reform.  It has a catchy abbreviation.  It could be an umbrella group for various left of center organizations.  We need to draft a platform, organize some committees, get some lobbyists and vet some candidates to run for office.  Discuss.

Rico’s tending bar and the drinks are on me.  I’m having a Blue Moon.

If you’re out there and you’re reading and you’ve had enough, play your own resistance song.

All Very Predictable

Today, Atrios wrote:

I imagine I’ll write a version of this post a million times, but the people in charge are failures. If, in January 2009, I given a rough outline of what would happen in policy, the economy, and the financial system over the next 3.5 years, people would have thought I was crazy. No one would have believed that the people in charge would tolerate such sustained high unemployment. And yet they have. It is indeed a choice. They can make things better but they have chosen not to.

And on December 20, 2008, I wrote:

Face it, Obots.  Obama is the biggest triangulator we have ever had.  We know this because he has already won the election but he acts like he’s scared of his own shadow.  He has plenty of backup in Congress and an angry constituency that is ready to tar and feather any Republican that gets in his way.  What is stopping him from promising to rescind “don’t ask, don’t tell”, the Conscience Rule and Gitmo?  What is stopping him from loudly demanding that the Treasury account for every penny right this minute?  What is stopping him from getting ahead of the game on HOLC?  He’s not in office yet but there is no downside to adjusting his rhetoric so that he can ask and demand anything he wants.  He ran like Genghis Khan but if he wants to be a real Messaiah now, there is nothing Hillary or Bush or Rove or the outgoing Republicans can do about it.  He is *not* operating in the same environment as Bill Clinton.  In fact, everything has changed.  Everything but Obama’s approach to politics.

HE seems to be stuck in the triangulating past.

Why is that Glenn?  I’ll tell you why.  It’s because Obama has been bought and paid for.  And not by you.

It wasn’t that hard to figure out.  Everyone was hoping he would do the right thing.  But the writing was on the wall early in the primary season and it only got clearer as the year went on.  It was the way the campaign operated, who was giving him money, the propaganda and screaming at Hillary Clinton to get out of the race after she had racked up big wins on SuperTuesday and then Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, the misogynism directed at Hillary and Palin, the telecomm immunity bill after the RBC hearing forced Clinton to suspend her campaign.  If you weren’t smitten with Obama, it was a lot easier to read.  I suspect that women and working people (low and middle class alike) were a lot more literate with that kind of stuff.

I keep circling back to the primaries not because I am *trying* to be annoying but because it was all right there, staring us all in the face.  Everything you needed to know about Barack Obama and who he was really going to represent was right there. He wasn’t even hiding it all that well.  It’s just that if you were already infatuated with the guy, nothing he said or did was going to make you abandon him.  The dude was a nasty piece of work, his whole campaign was scripted and he reeked of corporate ladder climber.

The damage the primaries had on the political system is incalculable.  The primary votes were compromised and redistributed, the convention was rigged and now, we are stuck (I’d replace him but that’s just me) with a candidate who is not the Democrat he ran as.  The party has a huge wedge driven between its major constituencies.  The whole damn caucus doesn’t operate like it’s a Democratic caucus. How will we ever be able to piece all of this back together and make the nomination procedure trustworthy again? You can bet the Republicans are going to use this as a model for future electoral skullduggery.  All this sacrifice for the self-actualization of one man who hadn’t earned all of the support he was getting.  Was it worth it?

Of course, there was nothing to stop Obama if he’d wanted to be the biggest M&^*(F^()ing liberal this country has seen since FDR.  But right off the election, he was already lowering expectations because he never had any intention of being the reformer the left wanted or that the country desperately needed.

And, yes, Atrios, people thought I was crazy.  Being prematurely correct is a surefire way to get yourself banned from all the A list blogrolls so, you know, I’m not surprised that the left blogosphere is having a Condi Rice “no one could have imagined” moment.  The truth hurts and no one wanted to hear it in 2008.  I’m only relieved to see the people I respected the most finally coming to terms with it.

Liquefaction

I’m on the way to the garage this morning.  Yellowish oily liquid is seeping from the left front tire area.  Could this be a symptom of imminent failure?  I’ve noticed another expensive sounding noise from my front wheel drive on my commutes to Philly this week.  The last thing I want is to be stranded on 95 during rush hour.

{{sigh}}

Some interesting things on the interwebs to look at:

Atrios is doing his Top Ten Wankers of the Decade.  These are really good.  Check out who he’s tagged so far and pray you don’t make his top ten list.

8th Runner Up : Richard Cohen

9th Runner Up: Megan McArdle

************************

Yesterday, Digby featured a clip from Chris Hayes show on MSNBC where his panelists discussed what is wrong with those people on Wall Street.  The most interesting panelist was Karen Ho, professor of anthropology at University of Minnesota, who conducted some field work on Wall Street while she was employed there as a management analyst.  She wrote it all down in a book called Liquidated, An Ethnography of Wall Street.  (If you’re going to download an ecopy, go with Amazon.  It’s $10 cheaper than iBooks.  No audible version available.  Dang!)

I read a bit of it last night before I fell asleep and Ho and I come to strikingly similar conclusions.  Hard to believe that this post it a year old already but check out my farewell on my last day of work last year after I was laid off.  You don’t need to be an anthropologist to see what’s going on but all of the background research helps.  Basically, what we’re seeing is the trickle down effect of the finance industry’s management and compensation system on the rest of corporate life.  The finance industry values “increasing shareholder value” (or at least it says it does) and all incentives are directed towards that goal.  Long term productivity strategies are chucked out the window because the finance guys and the corporate CEOs have to satisfy quarterly expectations.  It’s my grasshopper theory.  They’ll keep eating away until there’s nothing left and they don’t care what happens afterwards because of IBGYBG (I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone).

Now, how these assholes got to be in charge is the territory of the anthropologist.  Here’s what I am seeing in the pharma industry.  You only get a job these days if you a.) graduated from an ivy league university or other prestigious lab, b.) you know the right people and they offer to mentor/protect you (it helps if you are in the possession of a Y chromosome) or c.) play political games with the confidence of a grand master.  None of those three things guarantees that you will be good at discovering groundbreaking new drugs.  Trust me on this.  I’ve met ivy league PhDs fresh out of school and they need seasoning.  Industry is a whole different animal than graduate school.  I don’t care how smart you are, translating that smartness to practical drug discovery is an art.  Some master it quickly, some take more time.  But an ivy league degree is no guarantee of success.  It could mean that the candidate is so burned out by the time he/she gets a decent salary that the best years are behind them, but I digress.

What seems to matter is the perception of “smartness”.  A person with this quality can do no wrong.  Pedigree and connections are essential for this perception and as you can imagine, if you are from a working class background, it is much, much harder to obtain these things.  You may not have the economic means to stick it out for 10 years to get your PhD or you may not have been able to get into the best colleges.  You’re probably not a legacy or part of some favored ethnic group.  In other words, it’s harder to get the pedigree or connections you need.  We are rapidly devolving back to Jane Austen’s world where people fight for a “living” and socialize with the expectations of making favorable “connexions” to get that living and where where your relatives are on the social ladder is likely to save or doom you.  Your intrinsic worth or aptitude with learning new things or hard work and achievements are not necessarily going to save you.  A lot depends on your willingness to kiss up to the level above you and your ability to keep credit for your own work.  Not an easy task because if you don’t already fit among the “smart” class, your own work looks like luck or the work of other people.

Ho’s book also explains how it is that we ended up with the crazy and insecure working life most corporate employees live in.  We are always worried about the next layoff.  The pace of work is exhausting.  You don’t realize it when you’re in it.  It’s only after you’ve been away from the toxic environment that you realized how much stress your body has been under from the constant restructurings, mergers, downsizing and increased workload burden.  And at the bottom of it all, you’re constantly made to feel like you’re only a drag on the bottom line.  It looks like I wasn’t imagining it when I got the feeling that the executives up the road considered the research staff to be little more than the laborers who worked with their hands.  It was obvious in the way we were spoken to whenever we had to go outside the lab environment to get something done.  It was apparent in the percs.  Their cafeteria was better, no question about it, and they didn’t pay more for that.  They had a nicer and bigger gym, better classes.  They were able to mail their personal packages to Europe at a discount. They stopped letting the lab staff do that.  The computers were set up to make life easier for the marketing department.  If it made life a lot more difficult for the chemists, too f^&*ing bad.  We were told to stop whining or risk our jobs.  In fact, our jobs were made much harder by the absolute disinterest of the executive branch.  Research just got to be one workaround after another and lots of them.

We are seen as expendable.  I think the executive class has made a huge mistake assuming that those of us who have been liberated will be so ingenious without money that we will make discoveries in our garages that they can swoop down and buy for pennies on the dollar.  It’s not as easy as they think.  In fact, our jobs are much harder than they gave us credit for.

And I hate to bring up politics at this point but after reading just the opening chapters of Ho’s book, it becomes pretty clear that the Obama administration is infested by the “smartness” crowd.  Indeed, Obama himself is a prime example of this class.  It is no wonder that Larry Summers was one of Obama’s appointees.  Summers is the former president of Harvard and is on the board of advisors of hedge funds like DE Shaw, run by a billionaire biologist.  Pedigree, pedigree, pedigree.

Gotta go.  Will let you know how the book turns out.  Should be interesting.  But everything I’ve read so far has been independently confirmed by the research staffs of the major big pharmas.  I’m not sure what can be done about it.  I guess we’ll have to wait until the players are gone.

Later taters.

What’s wrong with this picture?

The NYTimes had an article yesterday about Indian college students attending American schools.  But something about this just doesn’t sound right:

NEW DELHI — Moulshri Mohan was an excellent student at one of the top private high schools in New Delhi. When she applied to colleges, she received scholarship offers of $20,000 from Dartmouth and $15,000 from Smith. Her pile of acceptance letters would have made any ambitious teenager smile: Cornell, Bryn Mawr, Duke, Wesleyan, Barnard and the University of Virginia.

But because of her 93.5 percent cumulative score on her final high school examinations, which are the sole criteria for admission to most colleges here, Ms. Mohan was rejected by the top colleges at Delhi University, better known as D.U., her family’s first choice and one of India’s top schools.

“The problem is clear,” said Kapil Sibal, the government minister overseeing education in India, who studied law at Harvard. “There is a demand and supply issue. You don’t have enough quality institutions, and there are enough quality young people who want to go to only quality institutions.”

American universities and colleges have been more than happy to pick up the slack. Faced with shrinking returns from endowment funds, a decline in the number of high school graduates in the United States and growing economic hardship among American families, they have stepped up their efforts to woo Indian students thousands of miles away.

Representatives from many of the Ivy League institutions have begun making trips to India to recruit students and explore partnerships with Indian schools. Some have set up offices in India, partly aimed at attracting a wider base of students. The State Department held a United States-India higher education summit meeting on Thursday at Georgetown University to promote the partnership between the countries.

Ok, let me see if I’ve got this right.  American universities are seeing a decline in the number of American high school graduates and an increase in the number of students seeking financial aid. But every year, the exclusive top tier universities take great delight crushing the hopes and dreams of the best high school students America has to offer.  In fact, some schools think it’s a mark of distinction to turn down so many overqualified students each year.

BUT, then they go ahead an offer quite substantial scholarships to Indian students.  And let’s be clear about this, there is no shortage of foreign students, especially Asian students at quality American universities.  In the hard sciences, they are the dominant demographic.  The problem is in India where the number of qualified students exceeds the number of top ranked university slots so we offer them our limited seats because… ??

So, overqualified but poor American students will be rejected and similarly qualified Indian students will be lavished with money.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we are still good enough to attract a foreign clientele even if we are their “safe schools”.  But this is a real slap in the face to thousands of American high school students who can’t get a foot in the door and who routinely burn themselves out only to receive rejection letters.  Then there are the mountains of student loans they have to take out just to get through the second tier colleges who admit them.

This is why occupywallstreet is attracting so many people to its movement.  Education is extremely expensive and now we have to compete with Indians for the few slots and scholarships in our own country, as if the high school product here, which has generated many Nobel prizes over the last century, is somehow not quite good enough anymore.

Disgraceful.

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Other Stuff:

Atrios says that the Galtian overlords don’t know what’s best for them:

Sure their lawyers and accountants and lobbyists might have a pretty good idea what some specific provision might mean for them, but there’s no reason to think that they really understand how to run the macroeconomy for their benefit. I think a lot of the mess in the housing/mortgage markets post-bubble was due to the fact that the securitization contracts were poorly done, giving mortgage servicers very bad incentives, but I also think a lot of the mess was because the banskters didn’t really know what was good for them, or at least their companies. It’s hard to imagine that large scale principal modification with some sweeteners from the government, along with bankruptcy cramdown, wouldn’t have actually been better for both the macroeconomy and the banks.

This is true of the pharmaceutical industry, which for the past 15-20 years has been run by a bunch of MBAs who do not understand the business they run.  They’ve made a business out of merging companies to the detriment of their research pipelines.   It’s almost like they have a complete disconnect between the money they play with and the actual source of that money.  It’s all catching up with them now with the patent cliff looming.  You’d think that some political types would want to fix this problem but apparently not.  It’s just a simple case of companies acting like adolescents with very permissive parents.  Someday, they’re going to end up in rehab.

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Krugman says he thought occupywallstreet was imminent back in 2008:

…Occupy Wall Street site today, reminds me of the closing passage in my introduction to The Great Unraveling:

I have a vision – maybe just a hope—of a great revulsion: a moment when the American people look at what is happening, realize how their good will and patriotism have been abused, and put a stop to this drive to destroy much of what is best in our country. How and when this moment will come, I don’t know. But one thing is clear: it cannot happen unless we all make an effort to see and report the truth about what is happening.

It *was* imminent, Paul.  There were those of us who saw the manipulation of the Democratic primary process in 2008 as a deeply disturbing harbinger of things to come.  We were alarmed more than heartbroken that our candidate didn’t win.  We thought that the foundations of the Democratic party were fatally compromised.  So, we said, Party Unity My Ass and went to Denver to protest.  And we were promptly marginalized and called racists.  After the election, we tried to form a movement but some people wanted to go back to their old progressive tribes and others wanted to join the Tea Party, against our advice.  In any event, nothing was going to get going until Barack Obama was shown to be the politician we thought he was.  That is, one with an outsized ambition who was bought to serve the overlords and who didn’t have much political talent.  Now that the honeymoon is over with Obama, suddenly everyone is aware of how corrupt the system is and how little influence the rest of us have in Congress or in the electoral process at large.

You didn’t have to be a Nobel winning economist to see it.  All you needed to be was an menopausal, uneducated, working class, sino-peruvian lesbian type that the Obama campaign used to characterize us as, even though no one I know fit that description.  So, welcome to Party Unity My Ass, Paul, one of the early ancestors of occupywallstreet.  We will send you our new members package with complimentary white sheet and hormone replacement therapy samples.

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Oh really?  Go read this post at Susie’s place.  It will make your blood boil.  And then, go to Occupytheboardroom and give these bastards a piece of your mind.

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